Shami Chakrabarti: 'It's difficult to spread democracy from the barrel of a gun'

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The Independent Online

We should all be proud of the UK's democracy Human-rights campaigners in other countries get locked up and tortured, but here we get to talk openly, lobby parliament and bring cases to court. The trick is not to turn pride into complacency: we should be setting examples for the rest of the world and consider what sort of example we'd set if we scrapped the Human Rights Act.

I'm not a pacifist and I would take up arms to prevent a holocaust, but I do think it's difficult to spread democracy from the barrel of a gun.

I'm more interested in what my nine-year-old son thinks of me than leaving my name in the history books He likes a good argument, and I get a taste of my own medicine all the time. Any hint of domestic hypocrisy – say, blaming him for something he didn't do – will be responded to with an appropriate human-rights argument. I fall short sometimes and he lets me know it.

Equal treatment is the most precious human right of all But most of us are willing to compromise the freedoms of others if we think it will have no impact on us. It's why people put up with detention without trial. But when we started seeing the worst excesses [of Government legislation] having an effect on unexpected people – sending a vulnerable man with Asperger's off to the US – the public started to think again.

You can't leave asylum seekers in limbo for years Whatever your views on immigration, everyone can agree that you have to run an effective administration. It's not fair for a family who have put down roots and got on with life to be removed years later.

Anyone's equal but no one is superior It's the motto I try to live by for myself and want from my son. It's about walking the line between confidence and not being arrogant; thinking you can do anything, as long as it doesn't hurt other people.

I'm not a good cook but using a pestle and mortar is a great way to release aggression I've been messing around with guacamole recipes; it's relatively quick and tasty, and all that grinding is really satisfying.

Shami Chakrabarti, 42, is the director of the civil-liberties organisation Liberty

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