Human rights in the UK: enduring but under attack

Access to justice and the rule of law, so long preached to other countries, is increasingly fragile in Britain.

Human rights

Connie Sozi is a solicitor at Asylum Aid

65 years ago today, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So today is Human Rights Day – a time to celebrate everything this legislation stands for, but also to question whether the UK should still be considered an international leader in human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Human rights legislation is not the mysterious, exotic beast it is sometimes depicted. The rights and freedoms adopted decades ago cover familiar, sensible ground.

They protect the right to life, and prohibit the UK sending people back to countries where they might be tortured or abused (something to remember in light of recent allegations about our immigration detention centres). They uphold the right not to be held as a slave, and the right to a fair trial. They are committed to respect the family life of normal people, and the right to express ourselves and our religions in freedom.

Globally, the UK has taken a lead on this. We were signatories to the UN’s 1945 Charter, with its declaration to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights”. The UK has, or has had, a leading role in all six organs of the UN – including the Security Council and General Assembly – which boast the key function of realizing “fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”. Regionally, the UK is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which mirrors the UN Declaration.

However, the situation at home is more telling, and more worrying. Access to justice and the rule of law, so long preached to other countries, is increasingly fragile here.

In the absence of strong leadership from successive governments, Conservative backbenchers have set their sights on watering-down and substituting the 1998 Human Rights Act. Charlie Elphick MP sponsored a Private Members Bill to do just that, arguing that the effects of the Act had been “wholeheartedly rejected by the British people”.

His Bill was withdrawn in March this year, but is one among several significant political attacks on human rights.

Legal Aid has been withdrawn from social welfare cases, and access to Judicial Review is being restricted. These measures affect not only foreign nationals, but British nationals too, all of whom will struggle to get advice on when someone’s human rights are imperiled.

The poorer someone is, the greater the chance they’ll be frozen out of justice.

Meanwhile, Theresa May’s Immigration Bill targets the right to appeal the government’s decisions, and would allow the removal of someone from the UK even where human rights questions are unresolved for them or their family.

The trajectory of government policy on this fills me with trepidation. The current human rights framework allows all of us to hold the government to account. Without it, there would be no way to ensure that it complies with its obligations in the UK and globally.

There is a stark contrast between these recent changes and the human rights picture we have painted of ourselves over the last seven decades. The UK’s use of the UN to promote human rights is often admirable, but the hypocrisy of the position at home is unmissable.

Whatever happens internationally, the government’s approach to people here is regressing.

21 Responses to “Human rights in the UK: enduring but under attack”

  1. RationalFearOfTerror

    “However, the situation at home is more telling, and more worrying. Access to justice and the rule of law, so long preached to other countries, is increasingly fragile here.

    The reason it is fragile is the following is simply untenable any longer as an aspiration:

    “fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”

    It is because there is an inherent distinction within cultures as to the construct of Other some genocidal which because they are not rationally derived cannot be rationally resolved despite the many numbers of self-espoused so called liberal moderates on whatever side compared to the fundamentalist extremists.enabled by exactly the same cultural foundation codex.

    “Communities (cultures) tend to be guided less than individuals by conscience and a sense of responsibility. How much misery does this fact cause mankind! It is the source of wars and every kind of oppression, which fill the earth with pain, sighs and bitterness.” (Albert Einstein, 1934)

  2. Julian

    I don’t think “Human Rights” is under attack or being diluted in the UK. What is happening is that the intentions of the UN Declaration have been broadened in ways that not everyone agrees with, in particular by European legislation and legal rulings. Disagreement with this broadening is being presented as an attack on Human Rights itself, which it isn’t.

    For example, the UN Declaration has a right to leave your country and return to it. It does not include a right to enter a country that is not your own. It has a right of equal access to the public services of your country, but not to those of another country.

    Connie Sozi complains that the government want to “allow the removal of someone from the UK even where human rights questions are unresolved for them or their family”. That’s something you may think is worth campaigning against but you can’t call the UN Declaration of Human Rights or EU rights legislation in your aid. They say nothing about having a right to stay in another country while all questions about your or your family’s human right are resolved. The UN Declaration has a right to seek asylum from “persecution”. Persecution is a high bar to clear and does was not intended to cover any instance where someone feels their rights are being infringed.

  3. pocketrocket

    The British havent rejected Human Rights, they have rejected the Human Rights act which whilst laudable in its aims forgot to include caveats stating that in order to receive those rights you must adhere to the laws of the land and not cause harm or distress to others; or words to that effect. This allowed people such as the hate preachers, rapists and murderers to evade justice and expulsion from the country making a mockery of the open, welcoming nature to genuine people suffering human rights abuses.
    Who to blame? Most likely those who, contrary to millenia of evidence, still live in some utopian dream world and believe that all people are equal and noone would ever abuse a system put in place to protect the needy.

  4. swatnan

    Nobody in their right minds rejects the HR. What they object to is the sometimes fabricated and completely illogical cases that use the HRA. They really are taking the mickey; the cases are time wasting and completely foul. We should not beng support killers, and nasty people, and abusers. I’ve always felt that its time to revise the HRA and so it encompass ‘Responsibilities’ as well. We should not be supporting ‘evil’ thoughts and actions; and that is plainly what the present Act is doing. Evil doers have to be punished.

  5. pocketrocket

    I am presently studying the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Within that, Section 2 and 3 state what employers must do. But to make sure that there is no abuse of this Section 7 states what the employee must do in order to receive the protection of the Act. An equivalent to Sect 7 is what was missed out from the Human Rights Act and is essentially what is needed. Many are assuming that the proposed “Bill of Rights” mooted by the conservatives will remove human rights, wheras the reality is it will incorporate requirements on individuals too such as the Human right of one should not impinge on the rights of many. I.e If you.murder someone therefore removing someones right to Life, dont expect human rights law to allow you to continue your life as normal.

  6. vinny jennings

    The only thing we are international leaders in is being doormats and a soft touch

  7. vinny jennings

    HUMAN RIGHTS DAY ??
    We have one every day here to all and sundry ,a perfect example is that prat of an ozzie who disrupted the boat race we can’t even kick him out due to some idiot judge infringing his human rights

  8. SonOfTheIsles

    The left is always pro-human rights but never pro-British rights.

    I really think you self-loathing lefties want to destroy the fabric of this nation.

    If your middleclass loony left labour party gets back into power in 2015 then you will shut up for another 5 years and allow your party to abuse the nation once again.

    The left is not really pro-human rights you just want to cherry pick any laws that allow you to carry out your ghastly social experiments, which invariably fail.

  9. eireanne

    how far do people think the UK has upheld the human rights of its citizens in Northern ireland? just have a look at some posts on eurofree3.wordpress,com “HM government says no”, “The ballymurphy massacre” , “Collusion is not an illusion” as well as the latest http://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/the-british-army-military-reconaissance-force-mrf-and-the-new-lodge-6/ which shows how relatives of victims had to organise their own DIY Community Inquiry into killings by the British Army and Loyalist paramilitaries because the state refused.

  10. forgotten_man

    The reason why these excessive examples of HR abuse have taken place is very, very simple.

    There is both money and career advancement in it.

    Contrast the bottomless pit of resource that has, is and will be spent on refining and melding the rights of “poor and downtrodden” as opposed to zilch done to uphold and protect the rights of the “source” in resource , aka ordinary Jo(e) Bloggs, (nose clean, pays taxes for things he doesn’t use and cant afford i.e. legal representation.)

    Since there is no money or career advancement in not taking from the behaving mainstream (who de facto have no human rights) , but huge amounts from taking from them, giving to to some “cause” or other then don’t expect any change any time soon.

  11. Cole

    So you’re against human rights, are you? Typical of the freedom hating right wingers who, we are reminded this week, backed apartheid in South Africa.

  12. Cole

    We can’t have these judges interpreting the law that upsets Daily Express readers, can we?

  13. Jim

    Right to a family life for example doesn’t necessarily mean a family life in the UK. In this, I totally support Theresa May.

  14. vinny jennings

    maybe not so you and the judge pay for the tossers keep

  15. Alastair Sloan

    This from Julian I wholeheartedly agree with

    “I don’t think “Human Rights” is under attack or being diluted in the UK. What is happening is that the intentions of the UN Declaration have been broadened in ways that not everyone agrees with, in particular by European legislation and legal rulings. Disagreement with this broadening is being presented as an attack on Human Rights itself, which it isn’t.”

    I actually also blogged about this issue today – calling for activists in the UK to be more careful about how they use the word “human rights.” I’m a journalist covering the topic and I find it frustrating how often the term is misappropriated – making it harder to land support for “actual” human rights abuse.

    http://unequalmeasures.com/2013/12/10/thoughts-roosevelt-international-human-rights-day/

  16. Cole

    Talking of tossers, have you ever heard of rule of law?

  17. Cole

    Theresa May is just playing games so she can be leader of the Tory Party.

  18. pocketrocket

    And of course republican paramilitaries considered the human rights of the innocent civilians they blew up in Birmingham, Brighton and other cities in the UK (including NI), not to.mention the likes of Special Constable Glen Goodman who was shot by the IRA in Tadcaster, N Yorkshire for stopping a car with a dodgy light.

  19. Sparky

    Asylum organizations exist solely to promote and protect the interests of foreign nationals in coming to live here. They are like trade unions for immigrants. They use arguments about Human Rights as a smokescreen to hide their true purpose, because it lends them a veneer of philanthropy. Trust nothing that anyone from these organisations writes.

  20. TM

    Talk is cheap. If wages are low, people are on low paid and dead end part time jobs, or the hated zero hours contracts, who cares about words anyway? It’s all lawyerspeak and something politicians debate in their ivory tower down in London.

  21. eireanne

    Those atrocities you cited were carried out by a proscribed paramilitary force. Surely the State should be held to higher standards of behaviour and accountability of their actions against people who were/are British subjects?

    Since many of those killed were totally innocent people (See Mr Cameron’s apology for Bloody Sunday) the British policy could conceivably have increased support for illegal organizations, rather than suppressing them.

    Please reflect on the contents of the articles on eurofree3.wordpress.com. See if you can accept that, to our shame, human rights were long in abeyance in Northern Ireland which is an integral part of the United Kingdom

Leave a Reply