Labour must never turn its back on human rights

The left should highlight the ways human rights help ordinary people on a daily basis.

The left should highlight the ways human rights help ordinary people on a daily basis

Defending human rights must be a key priority for Labour. This week the Labour Campaign for Human Rights (LCHR) has launched a pamphlet that identifies the most effective arguments to achieve this, against the backdrop of Conservative threats to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and repeal the Human Rights Act (HRA).

Our pamphlet also examines the question of reform. It is intended to open up discussion, rather than present a single solution.  However, one point is non-negotiable: Labour’s commitment to the universal standards of human rights must be unyielding.

Just over half (51 per cent) of respondents to a 2011 YouGov poll believed that human rights were bad for British justice. Given the media misrepresentation of the issue, perhaps that figure is not altogether surprising.

As our pamphlet argues, to push back against negative perceptions and defend human rights we must speak about the example Britain sets to the rest of the world with its human rights record, remembering how difficult it would be to act on the world stage regarding human rights abuses abroad if we do not uphold the same principles here.

We should emphasise that although the ECHR is the European Convention on Human Rights, it is in fact based on a rich tradition of British legal history and was largely drafted by a (Conservative) Briton.

Most importantly, let us celebrate the myriad of ways human rights help ordinary people on a daily basis. The HRA and ECHR can be used to compel authorities to tackle abuse of the elderly in care, or ensure police investigate rape claims.

Alongside other laws, they can help stop discrimination in the workplace and ensure the mentally ill are treated with dignity.

These are in addition to the rights we so often take for granted, such as freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial and the prohibition of slavery and torture.

It’s also important that Labour engages with the dissatisfaction of some voters surrounding human rights. Of course, LCHR believes the priority should be to defend the existing framework. But if reform is seen as unavoidable, we believe there are options that could strengthen rather than undermine human rights.

The question of a Bill of Rights is perhaps the most contentious reform issue. For some, the idea of a ‘British Bill of Rights’ as advocated by the Tories would undermine the universal character of human rights and be used as an excuse to strip rights away. LCHR strongly rejects any reform that would serve these purposes.

But there is also a view that Labour could pull the rug from under the feet of the Tories by creating its own Bill of Rights, different in substance to what the Tories are proposing. It could be dually advantageous in both acknowledging public concern on the issue and enabling us to improve the HRA.

These opportunities, however, must be carefully weighed against the risks outlined above.

New rights could also be added to our human rights framework. Ideas range from including trial by jury, a free-standing right to equality, incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, digital rights and economic and social rights.

This last point is particularly salient. Adding access to healthcare and education, the right to shelter, and the right to a living wage to the HRA could be ground-breaking, taking human rights into a recognisable everyday context. It would also complement Labour’s core message of being on the side of ordinary working people.

Another option for reform would be to define ‘public authority’ as including private companies that perform public services. Given that this is increasingly the case, people face human rights abuses at the hands of private companies as much as they do at the hands of the state.

Extending the coverage of the HRA in this way would create more of a deterrent against abuse of power.

A Tory ‘British Bill of Rights’ would no doubt focus on its disdain for Europe. Some suggest reforming the Strasbourg court as an answer to this.

However, since UK courts already have considerable leeway in interpreting Strasbourg judgments and the European Court of Human Rights is obliged to respect national differences, it is hard to see what more can be done.

Any reform would of course require forensic examination into all associated risks – state liability in regard to adding social and economic rights to the HRA being one example.

But it’s important we weigh up all options carefully. The threat posed to human rights is not arbitrary: under the coalition, the cuts to legal aid and the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees have already marked a regressive step for human rights in the UK.

Labour must be the party that will never turn its back on human rights. We hope our pamphlet will act as a useful tool in helping the party to mount the strongest possible defence of the HRA and the ECHR, while prompting careful thought on the tough reform choices ahead.

Charlotte Thomas is a campaigns officer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

4 Responses to “Labour must never turn its back on human rights”

  1. Jane Young

    A right to independent living would be near the top of the list for disabled people! Have you seen the report I authored for Just Fair, launched on Monday?

  2. Nour

    Thanks for reading it, it’s very important,

    A life of a human been like you and me is in danger

    Nour Djenidi Algeria/ Algiers capital



    In the name of God the Merciful

    To Your Highness King of Morocco Mohamed VI

    Re: Request the intervention of King Mohammed VI for
    the release of Sheikh Mohammed al-Hashemi

    King of the faithful believers, who is blessed by the Great God, a descendant
    of the Prophet’s family.

    Protective of human ꞌ man and the ꞌ humanity, the
    noblest of human qualities that gave birth and glory to Morocco again, who
    cherished his people and nation, and made his country the Atlantic until the
    Moroccan Sahara one of the most visited by innovative science and prestigious
    people from various parts of the world who live under the auspices of his holy
    throne, without racial, ethnic or sectarian hatred, for all the world is equal
    to the name of the ꞌ humanity and rights rights ꞌ man.

    We as daughters of Mr.
    Mohammed bin Rashid bin Eid al-Hashimi (founder of the television channel Al
    Hakika) have the ꞌ honor to request your Majesty kindly release our
    father in the shortest possible time, which is held from 19 / 01/2014 in Salé
    Prison N ° (1), under number 88,945, pending his extradition, which has already
    been rejected by the German judicial authorities in accordance with the
    decision of the Supreme Court of Frankfurt No. (AUSL A236/102) dated 27/7/2011,
    the extradition was also rejected a second time by the Algerian judicial
    authorities in accordance with the decision by the Supreme Court of Algeria No
    (830718) dated 09/01/2012.

    The Moroccan government
    has also refused to extradite the third time, according to the implementation
    of the decision by the UN Committee against Torture of the Office of Human
    Rights No. (G / N 2293 / 31MAR dated 25.03.2014 under section 114 of the rules
    of procedure to refuse extradition, in addition to the fact that Morocco has
    become an active member of the International Committee on human Rights and
    against torture.

    Our father is
    considered as an investor since 2008, the Kingdom of Morocco, this generous
    country that encourages and attracts businessmen from around the world to
    contribute to the development and growth of the economy. It is also a provider
    of more than 1,600 employees, as he does not take long to pay his financial
    obligations, so to departments of taxes, social security and insurance.

    The fact that our
    father is the sole support of our large family (14 children) who has been
    deprived of his paternal presence, his love, his compassion and his paternity.

    It is for all these
    reasons that we desperately need him.

    Highness, we rely on your humanity and your compassion, your understanding and
    wisdom kindly release our father, and ending his arrest to meet our new family
    that is separated for more than six months, and to allow our father to help and
    to work even more needy people.

    And may God reward your acts of charities.

    Thanking you in
    advance to pay kind attention to this request, we pray your Majesty to believe
    the assurance of our gratitude and our highest consideration.

    to Your Highness from:

    1. Rokia Bent Mohamed Ben Rashed Al Hashimi

    2. Fatima Bent Mohamed Ben Rashed Al Hashimi

    3. Safia Bent Mohamed Ben Rashed Al Hashimi

    4. Shaden Bent Mohamed Ben Rashed Al Hashimi

    Casablanca – Route Jadida – Residence Perla – Building
    4 – Room 37
    0611808080 – 0625598864
    to 0611100010

  3. swatnan

    True, but we can’t have people of the likes of Abu Hamza making a laughing stock of British Justice. So the HRA is in need of Urgent Reform, otherwise its not worth the paper its printed on. The appeals system for a start could be simplified, and costly litigation to the State avoided, and much time wasting stopped. Its meant to protect the vulnerable not the facists and scroungers and illegals, but the decent honest citizen.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    Rights are universal. Simply because you hate someone’s views does not mean they don’t have a right to not be tortured…the second you start restricting rights to the “vulnerable” is the second they become conditional, and conditionality is frequently ratcheted downwards to expose more and more people to abuse.

    Even lazy, illegal scrounging rich criminals, if you’re one of them. Scrapping basic appeals and preventing lawsuits being brought over basic rights is not the answer.

    It’s really that simple – the rights are meaningless if you can’t claim them in court.

Comments are closed.