Six Weeks High and Rising

MPs will make a crucial decision tomorrow that could undermine the basic human rights of everyone in the UK.

The debate on the Counter-Terrorism Bill starts in parliament today, but as far as the media’s concerned it’s all about Wednesday’s vote and the magic figure of 42 days (which refers to the government’s proposal in the Bill to give police the power to lock people up for 42 days – six weeks – without even charging them with anything. In case you didn’t know).

“42 Days – who likes it and who doesn’t” is the talk of all the papers. Last week John Major waded in; then the Guardian revealed that senior police figures have reservations; the Times says that the public likes it but that Brown’s going to lose Wednesday’s Commons vote; the Equality and Human Rights Commission says it will launch a legal challenge to 42 days if the Bill is passed; while the views of the ‘intelligence community’ have been brandished – curiously, by both sides -  like James Bond’s Walther PPK (prompting MI5 to speak up and say they have ‘no view’ – the spies like to keep their real feelings secret).

Amnesty’s UK Director Kate Allen has written to every potential rebel backbench MP, urging them to oppose any extension to pre-charge detention. Human rights in the UK are under serious threat and it’s time for MPs to defend them. Here’s what she had to say:

This week, you will have a chance to debate and vote on the Counter Terrorism Bill. The vote will be a watershed moment for human rights in the UK.

The Bill would increase pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects to 42 days. If this proposal goes ahead, people could be held for six weeks without knowing anything about the reason for their detention. This flies in the face of justice.

Prolonged detention without charge or trial undermines fair trial rights protected by international human rights law. Everybody who is arrested is entitled to be charged promptly and tried within a reasonable time, or to be released.

I am not reassured by the Government’s recent ‘concessions’.

- The Home Secretary will now have to be satisfied that there is a “grave and exceptional terrorist threat” before authorising an extension. This definition is sweepingly broad.

- Parliament will debate and vote on the extension earlier than previously. However, this debate would be meaningless because of the risk of prejudicing future trials.

- Finally, the Bill makes no provision for proper judicial safeguards.

I understand the complexity of counter-terrorism operations and the threat that we face from international terrorism. The horrific terrorist attacks of recent years, including in our own capital, were barbaric acts and gross human rights violations. All states have an obligation to act to protect people from terrorism. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks must be brought to justice.

However, unless governments respond to the threat of international terrorism with measures that are fully grounded in respect for human rights, they risk undermining the values they seek to protect and defend.

You have an opportunity this week to defend the values that underpin civil liberties in this country. I urge you to stand in support of principles that lie at the heart of our society, principles such as justice and liberty. The alternative is to succumb to the climate of fear that terrorists seek to breed among us.

I urge you to oppose any further extension of pre-charge detention.

What can we do about it? It’s still not too late to contact your MP and urge them to use their vote to protect our human rights – type in your postcode here to get your MP’s contact details. Or go to the BBC’s ‘Your views’ page and get stuck in to the debate. We’ll keep fighting it out – even if the government scrapes the Bill through parliament there’s always the Lords!

About Amnesty UK Blogs
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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