The Corbyn effect on human rights?
Party Conferences have always been a predictable affair. The party faithful gathering en masse for days (and nights) on end to campaign, gossip and grumble about their party and their policies – often fuelled by little sleep, warm white wine and sandwiches.
We are there to encourage the party faithful of the importance of human rights - a popular message it seemed, as this year human rights fans were out in droves. Whether it was the ‘Corbyn effect’ or rising concerns about the erosion of our rights in the UK, our Labour conference fringe event on security and human rights was standing room only (with a queue down the corridor.)
Our panel with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights focused on a number of issues from protecting the Human Rights Act, ending mass surveillance to dealing with Europe's refugee crisis. Lord Falconer, Catherine West MP and Keir Starmer MP all gave a passionate defence of our Human Rights Act.
This was so good to hear given the Human Rights Act protects us all, especially the most vulnerable, allowing us to ensure the government respects our rights, or is held to account if it doesn’t. As Lord Falconer said “what is the use of human rights if the government gets to decide what rights you have?” Couldn’t agree more and we’ll be looking to Labour and the other opposition parties to oppose repeal of the HRA altogether.
Richard Howitt MEP spelt out the international costs of potential backtracking on rights here at home, which of course is also critical. How can the UK expect to influence respect for rights, rule of law and accountability abroad, if those things are being undermined here? The take home message from the Party activists who attended was one of a desire to stand up for their rights and to stand shoulder to shoulder with others fighting for theirs across the globe
This year I also ‘celebrated’ a decade of Party Conference attendance for Amnesty, and so allowed me to reflect on Conferences gone by - the one where Brown didn’t call the election or the one when the ‘other brother’ was chosen. This one felt different. No one, if asked a year ago, would have predicted this leadership result - but it certainly made the Party Conference an interesting place to be.
It would good to see many people’s minds were still outside of the Brighton bubble. The refugee crisis was on everyone’s mind; from the new Shadow Development secretary, to the Shadow Foreign Secretary, urging the British people to “change [David Cameron’s] mind again to offer shelter, not just to families still in the region, but also to the most vulnerable already here in Europe”.
And then there was the much awaited Leader’s speech… Listening for your issues to be highlighted in a leader’s speech is a bit like playing Bingo, sitting waiting for your ‘numbers’ to be called. In years gone by, at all the conferences we have waited in hope for Party Leaders to champion human rights. Mentions came in dribs and drabs, if at all; this year it felt like we got a full house.
Jeremy Corbyn is a long-time activist on human rights issues and as he said, being leader wasn’t going to stop him raising a whole raft of human rights issues the government had to deal with.
- Calling on David Cameron to intervene to stop the beheading of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
- Calling on the Ministry of Justice to terminate a bid to provide services for Saudi Arabia.
- Criticising the Government’s desire to repeal the Human Rights Act and potentially leave the European convention on Human Rights.
- Calling for more action to tackle the worst refugee crisis since World War II – stating the “scale of the response from the Government isn't enough”
- Challenging the UK’s uncritical support to regimes like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain - who abuse their own citizens and repress democratic rights.
- Highlighting the use of British weapons in the Saudi led military coalition’s assault on Yemen.
He also celebrated the tireless work of campaigning groups calling for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay.
So whether Jeremy was speaking to the room or not, I will leave to the ‘commentariat’. But the admiration he showed for human rights defenders all over the world will be heard far from the shores of Brighton. What I do know if those brave human rights defenders who he has met and spoke up for today will be listening; from Saudi to Bahrain he has made it clear that human rights will be a top priority.
Next week we're at the Conservative Party Conference - and we'll report back on how they fared from a human rights perspective.
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.