Struggling for rights, defending our liberties | Belfast and Beyond | 2 Feb 2009 | Amnesty International UK

Struggling for rights, defending our liberties

Since World War II, this country and the world have built up a system of protections for all our rights. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to the Human Rights Act of 1998, we saw five decades of progress in the creation of a set of legal defences which give enforcement to the aspiration that all human beings are born equal.

Yet, in the seven years since September 11 2001, we have seen these same rights under assault by those who think the pendulum has swung too far in favour of the individual against the state. Whether detention without trial and the use of torture internationally, or the rise of stop and search powers and the introduction of an ID register nationally, the clear direction of travel has been away from this tradition of advancing the rule of law as a bulwark, in defence of individual freedoms.

Here's Helena Kennedy QC talking eloquently about these challenges.

In the Convention on Modern Liberty, to be held at the end of February in London, Belfast and across the UK, many individuals and organisations who share concerns about this trajectory, will come together to help roll back these attacks on our rights.

This is a chance for a wide range of people to look closely at what we can do on issues of importance internationally, nationally and locally. Right now, Northern Ireland is facing its own human rights challenges, against a backdrop of post-conflict transition, economic stringency, and political devolution but continued division.

How do we devolve powers over policing and criminal justice in a way which will inspire cross-community confidence and ensure human rights compliance?

How can we introduce a Bill of Rights which suits our particular circumstances without being constrained by our petty conflicts?

After Eames-Bradley, can we design a process which addresses our past in a way that ensures truth and justice?

In the Obama-era, are there useful lessons from Northern Ireland's bitter history which can stop the 'war on terror' being experienced as a war of terror?

How do we design a system for parades, protests and policing which respects the rights of all?

What are the implications of an ID scheme for a society with such divided constitutional loyalties as Northern Ireland?

Amnesty International and the School of Law at Queen's University are coming together to make sure that people locally can be part of this discussion and the wider movement for human rights.

As well as sharing in the main plenary sessions from London, via live video-link (featuring speakers such as Shami Chakrabarti, Philip Pullman, David Davis MP and Will Hutton), there will be a complete programme in Belfast examining rights from a Northern Ireland perspective.

With the support of a wide range of locally-based organisations and experts, there will be sessions in Belfast addressing the questions listed above and other issues of immediate importance and future significance to our governance.

This is not a debate just for activists or academics, although they rightly lead the debate in many cases. The Convention on Modern Liberty in Belfast and elsewhere is for all those who want to make sure that we make the right decisions on our future rights and liberties. February 28th is not just a unique opportunity for discussion and debate, but also a launchpad for new alliances and action.

Registration is now open via the QUB School of Law: law-enquiries@qub.ac.uk.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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