Election deals on wheels: human rights fall under a bus

It is, as they say, all very fluid. The Lib Dems + Conservatives? A Lib-Lab pact? Tories plus the Democratic Unionist Party? David Cameron, Caroline Lucas and Amnesty International?

OK, I made that last one up. That’s right, Amnesty International isn’t a political party! (Just having a bit of post-election fun there). But, but … shouldn’t human rights be part of this process after all? Fleeting mentions of “civil liberties” have all but vanished during the election, apparently crushed under the juggernaut of relentless “key message” electioneering.

Defending human rights in the fight against terrorism? Barely a whimper. Women’s rights? Niente. Refugees? Very little – just Bigot-gate, “tough” messaging on immigration and the kerfuffle over the Lib Dem’s proposed asylum for illegal immigrants (none of which is strictly about refugee/asylum anyway).

So, I can’t say the atmosphere in the office is exactly euphoric. Yes the TV debates and social media have livened it up. But it’s basically been a human rights-free election.

Yet … the outrage over those who couldn’t vote last night is an acute reminder of how the right to vote is itself a fundamental human rights issue. In Afghanistan, for example, last autumn’s election made our own travails over ill-managed polling stations seem like small beer. The “re-election” of the Karzai government was a mess and now – as Kate Allen warns in today’s Guardian – there’s a major risk of deals with the Taliban leading to a divestment of the few rights that Afghan women currently cling on to. But … it’s still a significant improvement on the terror of the Taliban era or the carnage of the civil war years.

Or take Saudi Arabia. Never mind vote-rigging or incompetence, there are no votes for anyone there. A photograph distributed by the Saudi authorities recently showing King Abdullah surrounding by unveiled women is being interpreted as a coded signal that the regime is preparing for modest reforms (possibly to include women being allowed to drive, as Fahad Faruqui says). But in terms of the historic trend toward full enfranchisement, Saudi Arabia is living in the middle ages and it’s surely no coincidence that its human rights standards are far from impressive either.

Meanwhile, there’s a presidential election in the Philippines on Monday and Amnesty is warning that widespread violence there – at least five candidates and sixteen campaign organisers have been killed this year – is scarring this election.  On top of this there was the infamous Maguindanao massacre in November. As the Amnesty Philippines expert Lance Lattig says, “This election is being fought with bullets as well as ballots.”

Thankfully there’s no chance of that here (well, I sincerely hope not), but the Philippines is a stark reminder of why elections are fundamentally a human rights issue – both in the way they’re conducted and in terms of what they do and don’t allow to be debated and decided.

 

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