How we forget to remember: In defence of the HRA

Home Secretary Theresa May told the Sunday Telegraph that she would "like to see the Human Rights Act go" to be replaced with a “British Bill of Rights” something we have heard rumbles of for some time. What a shame that Theresa May has jumped on the band wagon, of political posturing designed to play to the gallery of public opinion. Opinion born of misinformation, scandal and scare mongering.

What a shame that someone whose job it is to care for the population of Britain and all of our rights is adding to the myth and misunderstanding, instead of busting those myths. What a shame that another kick has been leveled at human rights, on the political football field on the eve of a party conference, instead of grown up discussion of the implications of what she is proposing. What a shame that the home secretary has endorsed the idea that “we need our own” instead of realising that we have already got that.

Theresa May should be an advocate of the hard-won legislation that we Brits have been the forerunners in championing for so long, a legacy we should be proud of.  Consolidating immovable rights based on universal principles of entitlement happened as a direct response to the horrors of the Second World War, lest we forget. These rights are designed to designate what every human is entitled to. Regardless of race, age or gender. These are fundamental beliefs that we share as a country, and as people. We do not believe in torture. That is an immovable timeless truth that we decided together. We believe in education, safety, a family life, religious freedoms, the right to peaceful protest and to a fair trial.

These are not pick and mix rights. They all co-exist and apply to everyone. Yet human rights have long been the whipping boy of parts of the media, and politicians. There is an idea being put about that human rights send power to Europe and that Europe makes us do things we don’t want to. Critics of the HRA should be honest- if we scrapped the HRA then instead of cases being heard in UK courts, people would have to go to European courts in Strasbourg if they wished to challenge a decision. Far from bringing power home, it would further outsource decision making.

Listen to Tara Lyle, our Policy Adviser, speaking on BBC Radio Newcastle this morning (19 mins in), exploding some of the myths and misunderstandings that commentators continue to pedal (including the interviewer!) such as the idea that hate preachers stay here because the Human Rights Act obliges us to keep them because of their right to free speech.

I am always struck by how meager the provisions of the HRA are. The right to life, and a family and not to be tortured seem so obviously…right. The least that anyone should expect. I even wondered if I was missing the next page. I would like to ask which rights we would scrap- if there is an attack on these entitlements, then which are we prepared to give up first? It is a frightening notion that any one is under threat.

Human rights have been made some sort of Machiavellian pantomime villain which snarlingly rob us of free will in Britain and maliciously seek to impose on us things we do not want or agree with. It is absurd to suggest that a list of basic beliefs in what humans are entitled to has some sort of malevolent vindictive agenda. It can not have. We wrote it down because it is what we hold sacred. This is the least of what you can expect. All of you. All of us.

Neither is it as blunt and inflexible as is being put about, some rights are subject to limitations, such as the right to freedom when people are deprived of it-  in jail. But rights are there because we declare them to be basic dues. It reduces our capacity to champion human rights in fledgling democracies such as Egypt and Libya if we are trying to get rid of our Human Rights Act at home. It seems to me to be a topsy-tervy world where our own Home Secretary is denouncing human rights when our Foreign Secretary is trying to promote them. We should be proud of our legacy as human rights forerunners. This discussion of scrapping the act, is nothing but an easy win to play to a gallery who has been fobbed off with untruths about what human rights are designed to do, and what they afford us.  The Human Rights Act should be here to stay and suggesting that we cannot punish criminals without abusing their human rights is simply lazy and untrue.

For all these simple reasons we should be rallying to protect the Human Rights Act – after all, it exists purely for our protection so it’s only fair. What’s right, is rights. 

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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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