Sunday, 4 February 2018

China praises Theresa May for avoiding human rights

The Chinese government has lavished praise on Prime Minister, Theresa May, for ‘sidestepping’ human rights issues during her visit there last week.

Mrs May had promised to confront China on their appalling breaches of human rights, but instead the country’s state-run media congratulated her for avoiding the issue.

Of course Theresa May sidestepped human rights in China. She wants to sidestep human rights in the UK too.

As Home Secretary, Theresa May was behind the Tory Party’s 2015 manifesto pledge to scrap the UK’s Human Rights Act; introduce a new watered-down UK Bill of Rights, and ‘curtail the role’ of the European Court of Human Rights.

Mrs May’s 2017 manifesto rowed back on those commitments somewhat, but not because of any change in principle.

The Conservative Party’s 2017 manifesto ruled out repealing or replacing the Human Rights Act "while the process of Brexit is under way".

However, the party promised that consideration will be given to the UK's "human rights legal framework" when Brexit concludes.

It’s clear that abandoning the UK’s current human rights protections, and leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, is still the long-term goal of Mrs May, and her Tory Brexiters.

Conservative MP and former government minister, Priti Patel, said, 'The sooner we start to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and challenge the judges in Strasbourg the better..'

The key to Mrs Mays anti-human rights ideology is that the UK would have to leave the European Union before it could leave the European Convention on Human Rights.

The EU has commitment to human rights as a non-negotiable membership requirements for all members.

Although the European Convention on Human Rights is completely separate to the European Union, signing up to the Convention and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights is one of the EU membership requirements.

Article 6(3) of the Treaty on European Union states:

“Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, shall constitute general principles of the Union’s law.”

In answer to a question in the European Parliament, the European Commission stated:

"The rights secured by the Convention are among the rights guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”

The EU values include, "respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”

Those values seem more akin to traditional British values. But what sort of values will Britain have once we have left the EU?

It’s looking more and more that Britain will adopt hard-right Tory values after Brexit. Is that the country people wanted back?

Last month MPs voted against including the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit.

A Labour amendment, tabled in the name of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, sought to retain the provisions in the Charter, but was voted down by 317 votes to 299.

Leading civil rights organisations state that omitting the provisions of the Charter will create a ‘human rights deficit’ after Brexit.

In a letter to The Observer, civil rights bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Liberty, the Fawcett Society and National Aids Trust and others wrote to warn about the loss of the provisions of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

“Losing it creates a human rights hole because the charter provides some rights and judicial remedies that have no clear equivalents in UK law,” they wrote.

The signatories explained, “The charter protects rights important to all of us: including rights to dignity, protection of personal data and health; and protections for workers, women, children, and older people, LGBT and disabled people.”

They added, “While securing trade deals is vital for our economy, equality and human rights are also essential. They must also be the focus for the type of country we want to be after Brexit. Current protections must not be jeopardised.”

Another Labour front bench amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill sought to ensure that after Brexit, EU derived employment rights, environmental protection, health, safety and consumer standards can only be amended by primary legislation.

But that too was narrowly defeated in the Commons.

During the debate, strong Remain supporter and Tory MP, Ken Clarke, said that if the Government didn’t intend to water down workers' rights after Brexit, why weren't they prepared to back the amendment to protect those rights after Britain leaves the EU?

But Mrs May and her hard-right, hard-Brexiters don’t care. Mrs May has for years been trying to dilute our human rights protections, and has attempted many tactics to do so.

For example, back in 2011, Mrs May tried to claim - falsely - that an 'illegal immigrant' had won the right under the Human Rights Act to stay in the UK because he had a pet cat.

At the time, fellow Tory, Ken Clarke, then UK Justice Secretary, felt the need to speak out against the claim, which he called "laughable and childlike".

An official from the Royal Courts of Justice confirmed that a cat had nothing to do with the case.

Even though the story wasn't true, it seemed to suit Ms May's attempts to belittle the Human Rights Act.

It was Winston Churchill who in 1948 advocated a European 'Charter of Human Rights' in direct response to the abject horrors of the Nazi regime and the Second World War.

British lawyers drafted what was later to become the European Convention. The UK was the first country to sign up to the Convention, and leaving it would end over 60 years of being legally bound by this first international treaty on Human Rights.

Including Britain, there are 47 countries that have agreed to the Convention, which provides civil and political rights for all citizens.

Under the Convention, individuals, or groups of people, or one or more countries, can appeal to the international European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, to give judgments or advisory opinions on alleged breaches of civic and political rights by nation states.

From 2000, the Labour government brought into law the Human Rights Act. This allows alleged breaches of the Convention to be heard in UK courts, but still retaining the right to appeal to the higher international court in Strasbourg.

The Human Rights Act has been essential to help British citizens. For example:
• The Human Rights Act has brought to account UK police for failing to investigate human trafficking and rape cases.
• Thanks to the Human Rights Act, UK law was changed to prevent rape victims from being cross-examined by their attacker.
• It’s because of the Human Rights Act that the right was established in the UK for an independent investigation to take place following a death in prison.
• Human rights laws have also helped patients to gain access to life-saving drugs and held hospitals to account when failures in mental-health care has directly led to suicide.
• In the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal, 100 claims were made invoking the Human Rights Act claiming that gross or degrading treatment of patients, mostly elderly, had caused or hastened their deaths.
• Human Rights laws have also helped to establish that failing to properly equip British soldiers when on active duty abroad was a breach of their human rights.
Those who believe that Britain will retain hard-won human rights and other protections after Brexit are in for a rude shock. 
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