A most serious threat to our human rights
So we’re really here. After years of misrepresentation, demonisation and untruths, has the Human Rights Act had its day? Will the government turn its back on the sense of fairness we’ve aspired to since Magna Carta to say that some rights aren’t actually for all of us?
I hope not. But the risk of that happening is now very real.
‘Most serious’ limitations to our rights
Our new Justice Secretary has made it clear he intends to press ahead in replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights (note the missing word ‘human’). We don’t yet know what exactly that could mean, but we got some worrying insights last October.
Take this line, for example: “limit the use of human rights laws to the most serious cases”.
That sentence could effectively gut almost everyone’s ability to challenge decisions or laws that affect their basic rights. Would Jan Sutton’s claims for better social care have been heard under this narrower definition of universal rights? Would Jenny and Tim’s claims about their council’s illegal surveillance have been heard?
We don’t know yet. But one thing seems clear – the proposals we’ve seen are not about widening our protection under human rights. They’re about restricting our protections, wrapped up as a gift of freeing the system from the ‘trivial’.
Will the UK throw away its leading role in human rights?
Another very worrying path that this leads us down is the possibility that government takes us out of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UK was one of the first signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950 – long before the EU was in the picture, and with the spectre of World War II still looming large. The Convention is one of Churchill’s legacies – a clear, pan-continental commitment to basic rights for every person from Land’s End to Siberia. The Convention and that commitment from 47 countries should be one of our greatest sources of pride.
Instead we could go from leading the way on universal rights for all – for the best and worst of us – to providing dictators and despots a playbook in how to undermine the rights of ordinary people. Only one country in Europe hasn’t signed the ECHR: Belarus, Europe’s last dictator. Is this the company we want to keep? And what will the UK’s influence around the world look like if we take that step?
We’re really here. We know the risks to our rights are real. We don’t yet know what the alternative will be in detail, but we know some of the broad brush strokes, and it’s not pretty.
So we really need your voice and your passion. Join the campaign to protect our rights. Join Amnesty and stand up for human rights. Tell everyone you know how the Human Rights Act has made us all better off, not poorer.
The fight starts now.
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.