After the recent attacks in Manchester and London the Prime Minister has pulled out her dog whistle and is blowing as loud as she can about the Human Rights Act. Again. The idea of changing the law to make it easier to prosecute suspected terrorists is tempting. But when it’s introduced by a government that has been challenged multiple times on its human rights violations against the most vulnerable people in society, I worry.
Let’s look at the concept of human rights for a second. These are the basic rights that we as a society agree that ALL people are entitled to. By planning to deny basic human rights to anyone we are basically saying that a subsection of society aren’t going to be treated as human beings. In fact, the Human Rights Act covers a few basic precepts.
- Article 1 Responsibility of the government to enforce human rights
- Article 2 Right to life
- Article 3 Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment
- Article 4 Freedom from slavery and forced labour
- Article 5 Right to liberty and security
- Article 6 Right to a fair trial
- Article 7 No punishment without law
- Article 8 Respect for your private and family life, home and correspondence
- Article 9 Freedom of thought, belief and religion
- Article 10 Freedom of expression
- Article 11 Freedom of assembly and association
- Article 12 Right to marry and start a family
- Article 13 Right to effective remedy
- Article 14 Protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms
- Protocol 1, Article 1 Right to peaceful enjoyment of your property
- Protocol 1, Article 2 Right to education
- Protocol 1, Article 3 Right to participate in free elections
- Protocol 13, Article 1 Abolition of the death penalty
I can’t see any of those rights that are excessive, and yet the government wants to be able to choose who is entitled to them. Let that sink in. We’re saying that the government can decide who is treated as a human being, and who doesn’t deserve it. There’s an argument that says people who commit atrocities such as mass murder have forfeited these rights (and some of the arguments are quite compelling).
But is this a decision that we want a minister to decide? Or is this something that should be decided by a court, weighing up evidence and making an informed decision using legal precedent and a robust framework? While she was Home Secretary our current Prime Minister was frustrated by the fact that she wasn’t able to incarcerate suspects without due process.
She spoke out many times about the Human Rights Act and regularly declared her desire to replace it with a “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”. Basically giving the government the power to decide what people would have to do in order to be considered eligible for the “right” to be treated as a human being.
While in and of itself this isn’t necessarily a smoking gun, it certainly could be used as the thin edge of a wedge to create a society based on (for example) the idea that only taxpayers are responsible enough to be eligible for human rights. If we find ourselves ruled by a party who have a strict idea of what is right, there’s the potential for them to abuse this.
With every law passed that strips away rights in the name of security, we erode our own freedom. It’s entirely possible that Mother May and her team haven’t considered this. It’s entirely possible that they have nothing but the best of intentions. But can we be sure that she (or any potential PM in the future) won’t abuse it?
This is one of the considerations I’d like you to think about before you make your mark today. How much of your freedom are you willing to sacrifice to be kept safe? Do you want a government who can decide to take away your right to liberty, or a fair trial, or even your right to life because they feel that you are a threat?
I’m not saying that this government will do it. But can you be sure that *no* government will ever abuse this power?