Do you agree that the following is a leading question?
Q: Do you agree that human rights have become a charter for criminals and the undeserving?
Apparently 75% of people in Britain do, according to this article in the Daily Mail. Bad news for Amnesty and for everyone interested in promoting and protecting human rights. Sounds like the battle’s lost.
I’m not so ready to concede defeat yet, though.
It was reassuring to read Angela Patrick, from Justice’s, comment piece in the Guardian this week. She was skeptical about this consensus of condemnation also, saying of the Daily Mail stats:
“The answers were obtained by asking 2000 people whether they agreed that human rights have become a charter for criminals and the undeserving. That is a question that suggests its own answer. In court, it would be called 'leading'. Contrast this with the results of other research which asks what people think about rights themselves and a very different set of figures emerge: over 90% support for a law protecting individual rights; the vital right to privacy and family life, fair trial and freedom from torture, ComRes/Liberty, Oct 2011).”
Yet it would hardly be a revelation to discover that people in the UK were less that fanatical about human rights. Indeed as Tara Lyle wrote in a comment piece for the Independent today; “we have spent the last few years watching the Court being painted, manoeuvred and scripted into the guise of pantomime villain and now it looms before us, fully fledged – insisting that criminals get the vote and suspected terrorists get to stay. It’s human rights gone mad.”
The UK is currently chairing a special conference in Brighton to consider how to reform the European Court of Human Rights with the aim of producing a declaration agreed by all 47 nations in the Council of Europe, which will modify the way the court handles human rights cases. Ken Clarke is hell bent on reducing interference from Strasbourg in British affairs. This is worrying on a number of levels, not least because the UK courts do not always get decisions right here - it was this self-same European Court of Human Rights that reprimanded the UK government when it wanted to indefinitely retain the DNA of innocent people, when it prevented the Sunday Times from breaking the Thalidomide story and when it decided that it was happy to indefinitely detain terror suspects without charge or trial.
But also because countries like Russia and Ukraine will undoubtedly plead that their courts can be relied upon to get it right – they will be the first to jump on the bandwagon the UK government has built.
Cases from Britain account for only 2.4 per cent of those reviewed by the court. More than 25 per cent of cases come from Russia. Collectively, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Poland and Bulgaria account for more than 50 per cent of its caseload. For individuals from those countries, the court provides the only means of redress for millions of people.
This February, the court found Russia responsible after police took a man from his cell into a forest where they beat, kicked and throttled him to force a confession to murder. The court also held Ukraine responsible for a police beating, which left a man disabled. In both cases, the authorities failed to investigate police crimes and to bring those responsible to justice.
It warrants repeating: If we are looking for someone to cast as a villain, perhaps we need to look at the people in the dock, rather than the dock itself.
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.