Human Rights Day

10 Dec

Today is the 64th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet last week 72 Tory MPs voted for a bill that would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. Happily they were soundly defeated.

But the question remains, what is it about human rights that these people object to?

In 2009 Lord Bingham, the first judge in modern times to be appointed as both master of the rolls and as lord chief justice, gave the keynote speech at Liberty’s 75th Anniversary Conference, in which he expressed dismay that anyone would seek to remove or weaken such fundamental rights:

The rights protected by the [European] Convention and the [Human Rights] Act deserve to be protected because they are, as I would suggest, the basic and fundamental rights which everyone in this country ought to enjoy simply by virtue of their existence as a human being. Let me briefly remind you of the protected rights, some of which I have already mentioned. The right to life. The right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The right not to be enslaved. The right to liberty and security of the person. The right to a fair trial. The right not to be retrospectively penalised. The right to respect for private and family life. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Freedom of expression. Freedom of assembly and association. The right to marry. The right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of those rights. The right not to have our property taken away except in the public interest and with compensation. The right of fair access to the country’s educational system. The right to free elections.

Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any them un-British? There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not of their number. Human rights are not, however, protected for the likes of people like me – or most of you. They are protected for the benefit above all of society’s outcasts, those who need legal protection because they have no other voice – the prisoners, the mentally ill, the gipsies, the homosexuals, the immigrants, the asylum-seekers, those who are at any time the subject of public obloquy.

So, if you are unfortunate enough to live in a constituency represented by one of the 72 anti-Human Rights MPs, I would urge you to take the time to write and ask them which of the fundamental basic rights enshrined in the European Convention and the Act they would like to do away with; which of them do they consider unnecessary?

Those of us living in Newham are lucky in at least one respect – both of our MPs turned out to vote against the stupid and shameful repeal bill. I don’t often applaud Lyn Brown and Stephen Timms, but on this occasion I do.

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