Last Night's Viewing: Rights Gone Wrong?, BBC2<br />Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished, Channel 4

  • @tds153

I do hope someone kept the Wanted poster. At the beginning of Rights Gone Wrong – a rapid-response documentary about the controversial nature of some recent rulings from the European Court of Human Rights – Andrew Neil illustrated some of the wilder stories that had made it into the papers, including the suggestions that a kitten had prevented a criminal's deportation and that a police force hadn't publicised a suspect's picture for fear of breaching his human rights. Cue a mocked-up Police Appeal for Assistance bearing the features of the Daily Politics presenter, a man who has repeatedly breached his own right to dignity in the pursuit of televisual novelty. I still have sweaty flashbacks of him and Portillo doing a cover of "(Is This the Way to) Amarillo" for the 2005 election coverage.

Anyway, the point was that neither story was true, just evidence of the profound suspicion with which the court is regarded. And having spiked them, Neil went in search of some contradictions of the British sense of fair play that would actually stand up to scrutiny – interviewing a bereaved father in Blackburn whose daughter had been run over and killed by a failed asylum seeker and petty criminal. Faced with deportation, this man successfully argued that his right to a family life trumped any other consideration, a line of reasoning that struck Neil as a bitter irony. "He took away your right to a family life," he told the dead girl's father, not for the last time fudging a crucial issue, which is that if rights mean anything at all, then nasty people get them too.

The film had the aroma of a balanced report but the strong and gamey flavour of a Little Englander polemic, at least until the very end when Neil appeared to acknowledge that pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights might actually have worse consequences than putting up with the odd awkward case. Before that, though, it leant pretty heavily in favour of sturdy native suspicion of continental niceties. "Has it lumbered us with a zealous obsession with human rights which flies in the face of British sense of justice and fair play?" Neil asked at one point. Wonder if you can work out what the answer to that question is meant to be?

He did point out that the European Convention was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, and that it had delivered some rulings that would align with even the most die-hard conservative's prejudices. But you were 32 minutes in before you encountered the first real defence of the court, from the lawyer Michael Mansfield (oddly diverted into a squabble about lawyer's fees) and all the longer case histories were calculated to inflame your sense of injustice. Neil also seemed oddly worked up about the fact that judges would occasionally overrule elected politicians on points of law. As a consequence of an independent judiciary that is actually a symptom of a free country, not a cause for indignation.

Ironically, last night also gave us another defence of a country's right to decide for itself what justice means. "It is not for outsiders to impose their judgements or their values on Sri Lanka," said Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Minister of Defence, after Channel 4's last documentary on war crimes committed at the end of that country's brutal civil war with the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished was essentially a work of frustration, a reiteration of the original charges and a repeat of a call for action that went nowhere last time. They had some new facts too: what looked like solid evidence that the 12-year-old son of the Tamil leader had been executed along with his father. As before, the Sri Lankan government deny the charges or just ignore them. "Imposed external solutions breed great resentment," the country's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, told the UN in response to previous calls for an inquiry. Well, quite, busybody foreign judges with their nit-picking insistence on human rights.