Parliamentary candidates answer questions about human rights
We asked the parliamentary candidates in Brighton & Hove to outline their positions on a few key human rights issues.
So far, nine have responded. Here are their answers:
Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party Parliamentary Candidate, Brighton Pavilion)
Thank you for getting in touch about my views on human rights. It's been a privilege to work with Amnesty International both locally and nationally as an MP, and I very much hope that we can continue that working relationship if I am re-elected. You've highlighted some specific areas of concern and I've addressed those below. If you'd like any additional information about my track record on standing up for human rights, please do feel free to get back in touch.
Human Rights Act (HRA)
Whenever anyone talks about scrapping this Act, I urge them to think about what it does.
- It protects the right to life, including by requiring the state to investigate suspicious deaths and deaths in custody.
- It prohibits of torture and inhuman treatment
- It enshrines the right to a fair trial and no punishment without law. If accused of a crime, you have the right to hear the evidence against you, in a court of law.
- It grants you the legal right to freedom of thought, religion and belief, to free speech and peaceful protest. To an education and to free elections. The right to marry, to privacy and to raise a family.
- And it offers legal protecting against discrimination. Everybody’s rights are equal.
I don’t think any of these constitute a threat. Those who tell you they do are the same people who brought you mass surveillance. The same people who want to lock up suspected terrorists for unspecified lengths of time and have passed laws that mean secret courts can reach a verdict against you without giving you the chance to defend yourself, or even not what you are being charged with. Sadly, these things happen when the HRA is in place – can you imagine what they’d get away with if there was no such Act?
It's David Cameron who wants to replace the HRA with a Bill of Rights. Many Conservatives are particularly unhappy about Article 8 of the European convention, which supports the "right to family life". They argue that several foreign criminals have used this as an excuse to stay in the UK. I would argue that if there's evidence against these people we should try them here in Britain- in the really high profile cases the Government opposes this because a trial would expose eg how the UK has been complicit in torture.
The prospect of a Conservative/UKIP coalition post May 7th would pose a serious threat to our human rights legislation. If re-elected I'll do all I can to make sure the HRA is protected and to push whoever forms the next government to instead strengthen it.
I definitely think this needs to be a priority. Successive governments have presided over a deeply concerning tendency to justify the use of torture, and I have consistently raised the urgent need for action. For starters, we need to not be condoning the use of illegal torture equipment. On two occasions I have exposed the sale of such equipment on UK soil at the DSEI arms fair. I've campaigned against the fair, arguing that the UK should not be promoting arms sales or the sales of things like leg irons and stun batons. The customers at these fairs include representatives of some of the most repressive regimes in the world and the UK's refusal to host the event would send a strong signal to the international community about zero tolerance of torture. There's more information here:http://www.carolinelucas.com/latest/companies-ejected-from-arms-fair-after-lucas-raises-questions-in-parliament
Internationally, I've spoken out about the use of torture and lobbied the government to make opposing human rights abuses like torture more of a foreign policy priority. I have also intervened in a number of individual cases involving torture, execution or other violations of human rights, including that of Iranian woman Reyhaneh Jabbari.
I helped secure a parliamentary debate into the UK's extradition laws and the extent to which they undermine human rights, highlighting the cases of Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmed and ultimately helping secure changes to the law (see here for further details: http://www.carolinelucas.com/latest/reforming-the-uk-us-extradition-treaty) These cases are important because both men, and countless others like them, were subjected to torture and our extradition laws need to better protect them. I am pleased that some changes were made but I think if we are serious about torture prevention we must be resolute about not sending anyone to a country where they are at risk.
Human Rights Violations
Over the last 5 years I have worked to hold the Government to account over its inquiry into the UK authorities involvement in torture and the mistreatment of detainees. This letter to the Justice Secretary sets out some of my concerns: http://www.carolinelucas.com/caroline/parliament/letter/letter-to-rt-hon-kenneth-clarke-mp-secretary-of-state-for-justice and I've also tabled parliamentary questions about the nature of the inquiry and to expose who knew what in individual cases, including that of Binyam Mohamed, and more broadly.
And I have championed the case of Shaker Aamer, the only remaining UK citizen detained in Guantanamo Bay, meeting with the Foreign Secretary to demand he speak to his US counterpart to advocate for Shaker's release, securing and speaking in parliamentary debates (for example here:http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130424/halltext/130424h0001.htm#130424h0001.htm_spnew16), taking part in various protests and tabling numerous parliamentary questions. I have said on many occasions that Shaker's brutal treatment amounts to torture and I remain deeply concerned by indications that the US and UK are collaborating to get him released to Saudi Arabia, a move that is widely held to be an attempt to prevent the UK's role in his mistreatment being exposed. I have put these concerns on the parliamentary record and challenged Ministers to ensure he is brought home to Britain at the earliest opportunity.
If re-elected I would work to ensure that a proper light is shone on the UK's complicity in human rights violations, including torture and rendition, historically and at present. Whoever forms the next government is likely to have sanctioned the UK's involvement in human rights violations, and only an independent strong minded MP like myself can be relied upon to make sure there is proper transparency and accountability.
The increasing threat of terrorism, conflict overseas leading to humanitarian crises as well as the movement of large numbers of people, and the growing clamour for the UK's human rights and equalities legislation to be watered down all require an approach that upholds fundamental principles. I hope you feel you can trust me to continue to be principled and brave on your behalf. Thank you for getting in touch and for all the excellent work Amnesty International does championing and defending human rights in the world. You make a real difference and I am very proud to live in a city like Brighton which has such a long standing commitment to human rights.
Chris Bowers (Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate, Brighton Pavilion)
1. Do I support the repeal of the Human Rights Act?
No, in fact I would fight very strongly to retain it. The Lib Dems supported its introduction while in opposition and have fought off blatant Conservative attempts to repeal it.
2. Do I regard Torture prevention as a priority for the next government?
Yes. The Lib Dems have put human rights and the prevention of torture at the heart of the UK's foreign policy, and we would do the same in any new coalition.
3. Do I support a proper investigation into UK involvement in Human rights violations overseas?
Yes. I am worried about the UK's role in rendition, and in places like Afghanistan and other places where British troops are stationed. I'd want us to have understanding for any mitigating circumstances that led to improper acts by British citizens, but I think it's the sign of a civilised society that we don't tolerate any violations of human rights at home or abroad.
Howard Pilott (Socialist Party Parliamentary Candidate, Brighton Pavilion)
Thank you for your email which has been forwarded to me as the Brighton Pavilion candidate. We have much sympathy with your position which stems from the concern we share about the extent to which power in our society is used to further the interests of vested interests mainly against members of the working class: I am sure most the victims of human rights abuses are working class. Sadly we hold that unless the nature of the power structures in our society is radically altered, pieces of legislation and conventions are likely to be more honoured in the breach than the observance. The state, as the perpetrator of most of these abuses is there to reflect the interests of the rich and powerful and will find ways to circumvent such constraints if they stand in the way of business opportunities. Look at the USA post 9/11 and the extent to which codes of decent conduct were simply torn up and discarded. A society of haves and have-nots will always create conflict and the haves will enact measures to suppress the have-nots; measures moreover to teach them a lesson and punish them for their aspirations beyond their station. Even if every government indiscretion were investigated and some fall-guys identified and punished, it will make little difference: the real culprits will go unmolested, because the law and the legal system is there mainly for them.
It will only be when the power balance is redressed that we can be honest and hopeful about these issues; that there can be some possibility of real human rights - where one group of people does not have the power to inflict these vile degradations on others. Only in a socialist world can we permanently preclude the possibility of the power relations which allow such abuses. Whilst there is no possibility of a socialist victory at this election, and it is a long road, the journey must start sooner than later: for the sake of humanity and for the sake of the planet [capitalism is no friend of the environment]. It is incumbent on every conscientious person to vote socialist to begin to turn the page.
Paul Chandler (Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate, Brighton Kemptown)
Simon Kirby (Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate, Brighton Kemptown)
Protecting fundamental human rights is a hallmark of a democratic society, and it is central to the values of the Conservative Party.
We are clear that torture and other forms of human rights abuse are wrong and that’s why we are working with other countries and organisations to prevent torture by funding projects to make criminal justice systems fairer. We are also working to improve the human rights of women and girls around the world by tackling issues such as sexual violence in war and Female Genital Mutilation.
The UK government supports human rights, democracy and good governance around the world to increase Britain’s security, to protect British citizens overseas, and to secure political freedom globally.
· Tackling torture around the world. Torture is an abhorrent violation of human rights and human dignity and we have been following a strategy to prevent it around the world. This involves working to ensure the legal frameworks we need to prevent and prohibit torture are in place and enforced, other countries have the political will to stop torture, and organisations on the ground have the expertise and training to prevent it.
· The UK’s torture prevention work is helping to reduce the mistreatment of British nationals imprisoned overseas. The UK is continuing to pursue the three goals of the FCO Torture Prevention Strategy: ensuring legal frameworks are in place and enforced; developing political will and capacity to eradicate torture; and giving organisations on the ground skills to ensure its eradication.
· Britain is seen as ‘best in class’ for human rights. When asked about Britain’s human rights record, Secretary General of the European Council Thorbjørn Jagland said: ‘you are the best pupil in the class.’
· Leading the fight against sexual violence in war. Britain hosted the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. This launched the first ever guidelines on how to gather evidence to prosecute for these crimes, agreed millions of pounds of funding for rape survivors, countries announced plans to better responds to survivors of sexual violence and more than 155 countries endorsed a declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict
· Protecting the human rights of women and girls by tackling female generation and forced marriage. We held the first Girl Summit in July, which led to new action and funding to end Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage in a generation – both here and around the world.
· Tackling modern slavery. Our Modern Slavery Bill will be one of the first of its kind in the world and will tackle this appalling crime that is an affront to the dignity and humanity of us all.
Davy Jones (Green Party Parliamentary Candidate, Brighton Kemptown)
I have been a lifelong supporter of Amnesty International ! And I attended your excellent event on the beach last week to commemorate the tragic deaths of so many people desperately fleeing their home countries looking for sanctuary in Europe.
I fully support the Human Rights Act and oppose its repeal.
I entirely endorse Amnesty's stance that prevention of torture should be a priority for ay incoming Government. It is shameful that successive governments have allowed torture to occur on their watch. And so finally yes of course I support the proposed investigation into the UK's involvement in any human rights violations.
Nancy Platts (Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate, Brighton Kemptown)
Labour is not only a champion for human rights at home - we take our role as a global ambassador for human rights very seriously. The last Labour government worked with governments to advance human rights for citizens across the developing world and Ed Miliband has committed the party to continuing this work over the next five years.
Graham Cox (Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate, Hove & Portslade)
3. I have some experience of a limited investigation into similar allegations concerning the extraordinary rendition conducted by Tony Blair’s Government. I would support the proper investigation you suggest.