There is a reason terrorist states such as Russia and certain politicians (who may have a history of disingenuous behaviour) dislike the ECHR – the European Court of Human Rights – which begs the question: why is the UK government committed to advocate for the removal of the same? It may be that they are ideologically committed to a radically deregulated country – and devoid of reason on that count – or that they perceive laws are machinations of the so-called ‘wokerati’.
I have a suspicion that the UK government may want to downplay the significance of the ECHR before there is any decision on Russian interference in politics in the UK during the Brexit referendum. Alternatively, do the Conservatives intend to advocate the removal of the right to life, the right to a fair trial, or wish to get away with torture? (see key rights below).
The ECHR and the European Convention on Human Rights
It must be firmly clarified that the ECHR – the court itself – is not a European Union construct as some might mislead the public to believe. It is a collaborative international court developed with the assistance of the UK and established in 1959. Its purpose is to supervise the enforcement of the European Convention on Human Rights (that came into effect in 1953) – an international treaty between the states that are members of the Council of Europe, again separate from the EU – and it obligates signatories, including the UK, to guarantee civil and political freedoms.
Amnesty International UK describes it as “a treaty to protect the rule of law and promote democracy in European countries”. Actions include individuals against the state, groups against the state and states against states. The ECHR’s judgments bind countries to stand by its rulings which is why a Conservative government advocating for the withdrawal from the ECHR and the court’s current investigation of the Brexit case may not be a coincidence.
EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS (key rights)
- Article 2: right to life
- Article 3: prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment
- Article 4: prohibition of slavery and forced labour
- Article 5: right to liberty and security
- Article 6: right to a fair trial
- Article 7: prohibition of retrospective criminal penalties
- Article 8: right to private and family life
- Article 9: freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- Article 10: freedom of expression
- Article 11: freedom of assembly and association
- Article 12: right to marry
- Article 13: right to an effective national remedy for breach of these rights
- Article 14: prohibition of discrimination in the protection of these rights
I have always viewed the ECHR as the arbitrator of best practice. The court, after all, is made up of leading judges from the signatory states. Tim Eicke KC currently sits in the court from the UK. The UK was one of the first states to ratify the European convention. You can read about the European convention and the court here: The ECHR in 50 questions.
Creation of the ECHR – ending the atrocities of the 20th century
The idea for the creation of the ECHR arose in the 1940s during World War Two to ensure that governments would never again be allowed to dehumanise and abuse people’s rights with impunity, and to help fulfil the promise of ‘never again.’ Winston Churchill was an avid supporter.
In 2020 I wrote:
“The 27th January 2020 marked 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Belsen. As the world united to pay tribute to those whose lives were lost and to pay respects to those who survived, the world has entered 2020 in turmoil – human rights are being eroded and disregarded.
“Isn’t it time for us to show our respect for those who suffered in the past by an unequivocal commitment to human rights in the future? After all, aren’t human rights the most important of all ‘rights’?”
Over 200 Auschwitz and Holocaust survivors took part in the commemoration of the 75th Anniversary at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp near Kracow. Between 1935 and 1945, the Nazi party constructed six camps for people Hitler considered ‘undesirable’. At least 11 million people died during the Holocaust, including at least 1.1 million children. At least 6 million Jews were killed during this period representing approximately two thirds of the Jewish population in Europe at the time. A minimum of 250,000 Roma people and at least 200,000 people with disabilities were exterminated.
Modern day human rights abuses
Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious or national group. It is naïve to believe that this type of atrocity is firmly in the past.
In China, there are modern-day camps holding over one million Muslims. Cambodia (1975, death toll unknown), Rwanda (1994, death toll approximately 800,000) and Bosnia (1992, death toll exceeded 200,000) all have their own history of genocides. The war conducted by Russia in Ukraine, presided over by Vladimir Putin, is genocide.
Other trends, some much closer to home, indicate a worrying direction of travel. In 2018, anti-Semitic incidents in the US rose to their “highest level in two decades”. And in 2021 it was reported that “anti-Jewish hate incidents” had surged to a record high in Britain. Any cause for concern would be well founded.
The 2018 Windrush scandal illustrated how poorly the UK decided to treat people whose origin was not the UK, even though the people in the Windrush generation were invited to come to the UK to help rebuild the nation and, indeed, were British citizens at the time in accordance with the British Nationality Act 1948.
More recently politicians have turned their attention to refugees:
The ECHR safeguards all of our rights
There is currently a pernicious and wholly misleading government and media narrative that effectively dehumanises and objectifies human beings. People who are refugees are not ‘illegal’ or seeking to ‘invade us’. Rishi Sunak’s express desire to remove the UK from the ECHR because of refugees seeking asylum neglects the fact that withdrawal from the ECHR would expose every UK citizen – including those born here – to the loss of access to the court if the government chooses to breach our (currently protected) human rights.
It is, quite simply, dangerous. Not just for refugees, but for each and every one of us who wish to live our lives with the freedoms that we currently enjoy. These rights can be eroded almost imperceptibly.
On a visit to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, I sat and read the list of every law introduced leading up to the concentration camps. Mass genocide did not start with the camps, it started with an ego-centric sociopath advocating the supremacy of the Aryan race and the dehumanisation of ‘others’ and introducing laws to chip away at their legal rights and democracy.
Politicians and members of the media who advocate disharmony based on race, or on presumptions about refugees, or who attempt to argue the supremacy of a particular race, are complicit in destroying the UK’s democracy law by law.
We must repeatedly say ‘never again’ but we must also mean it. Only a government content to allow the abuse of its own citizens would advocate pulling us out of the ECHR.