It’s time to stop taking liberties with human rights

first_imgAdolf Hitler wouldn’t have known a human right if he had found one nibbling on his breakfast pumpernickel. We’re all agreed on that. The British people, on the other hand, are upstanding citizens who champion the weak and whose love of cricket embodies our profound devotion to fair play.Except a lot of us wouldn’t recognise a human right if we found it drowning in HP Sauce on a plate of bacon and eggs, either. How else to explain the widespread ignorance of what human rights mean to us? There’s a whole urban mythology around the subject. There’s the jailed sex offender who was allowed hardcore pornography because of his human rights. (He was refused.) How about the criminal lurking on the roof who was fed chicken and chips by the police because of his human rights? (They fed the guy to get him on their side, then talked him down.) Or you can pick ‘n’ choose from the terrorists or benefit cheats or bogus asylum seekers or single mothers with children from five different men who jumped the social housing queue because of their human rights. (Some losers believe anything.) So let’s get back to basics and remind ourselves of what human rights should really mean to us. Now is a good time to be doing this, because last week was wall-to-wall human rights. Thursday 10 December was not only International Human Rights Day, it was also the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And not to be left out, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that day marked 50 years of hearing claims against Council of Europe states that had contravened their citizens’ fundamental rights. The University of Westminster School of Law hosted an afternoon event: Promoting and Protecting Human Rights in the UK. The speakers were all manning the barricades on behalf of human rights. Justice minister Michael Wills fired a broadside at ‘feral backbenchers’ in the Tory party who opposed the Human Rights Act (HRA), a piece of ‘motherhood legislation’ to which surely nobody could object. Wills also referred to the leader of the Third Reich. ‘Hitler was democratically elected,’ he said. ‘He and his judges believed they were acting within the rule of law. They were wrong. There are fundamental rights to which we are all entitled simply because we are human. These include the right to life, to liberty and security, to a fair trial, and to freedom of thought and peaceful assembly. They are basic and immutable rights and they transcend all other laws.’ And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what human rights should really mean to us, except an unholy alliance of Europhobes and alarmist media commentators have skewed public perceptions. This angers Andrew Dismore MP, chairman of parliament’s joint committee on human rights, who also spoke at the event. He conceded that the British people were largely ignorant of human rights, vaguely thinking they were something to do with Europe, but lashed out at ‘Tories backed by the Daily Mail’ who aimed to scrap the HRA and take us out of the EU. ‘Changes of attitude can happen,’ Dismore said, ‘as they did to overcome resistance to the breathalyser, for instance. We must to do more positively to promote the good that human rights have done and are doing.’ He gave examples of how they had assisted the elderly, the mentally ill and other vulnerable individuals, as well as helped counter human trafficking and the abuse of power by big business. Justice director Roger Smith also slammed the Daily Mail’s campaign against human rights, but added the Sun and the Express newspapers for good measure. He warned delegates not to see the HRA too much in terms of being a direct descendant of the Magna Carta, which ‘protected the rights of noblemen only, and discriminated against Jews and women’, or of the Bill of Rights 1689, which was ‘anti-Catholic’. The HRA genuinely protects the fundamental and inalienable rights of all human beings, Smith said, simply on the grounds that they are human beings. It’s as simple as that.last_img

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