This is not just about Abu Qatada, it's about a climate of contempt for human rights principles

Human rights are for the rest of us, as well as the best of us. Anything approaching a sliding scale of entitlement is frightening, says Amnesty's Campaigns Director

Share
Related Topics

For two hours yesterday I almost believed that the United Kingdom was about to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights. Experts at Amnesty’s UK and global headquarters started to prepare a response.

It came to nothing – and of course, legally that was inevitable. It appears that a Government press briefing ahead of the Home Secretary’s statement to the House of Commons sparked baseless speculation. But if I’m a schmuk for being taken in by the rumours, then I’m in good journalistic company. The fact that the rumours were given that degree of credibility speaks volumes about attitudes to the ECHR in Parliament, in large segments of the press and beyond.

At the centre of the furore was, predictably, Abu Qatada. The Government want him gone, the Courts keep getting in the way. Public opinion is largely on the side of the Government. Amnesty International is on the side of the Courts.

Periodically my employers send me out to defend Abu Qatada's human rights. It’s a task that I carry out, not just because it’s in my job description, but because it’s fundamental to my ability to defend the human rights of all people around the world. Human rights are for the rest of us as well as the best of us and anything that approaches a sliding scale of entitlement is frightening.

And this is the point. Basic principles are at stake. This is not just about Abu Qatada and I think it is worth considering just some of the “what ifs” that arose from yesterday’s rumour-fest.

• If the UK withdrew from the European Convention on Human Rights, we would be hanging out with Belarus – “Europe’s last dictatorship” and the only country on our continent that stands outside the Convention;

• The wheeze of withdrawing from the convention only to rejoin as soon as Abu Qatada was handed over to the Jordanians would have been noticed everywhere – and then potentially copied by governments less dainty than our own – to the detriment of their people.

• William Hague’s ability to talk about the rule of law and human rights observance in countries from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe would have been in tatters.

In fact, Theresa May stood up for the rule of law, although if you read some of the papers today you’d think she was on the edge of the dismal and dangerous step of withdrawal. I’m not sure that she is and I don’t think the political arithmetic is in her favour anyway. It all sounds like dodgy politics.

If I’m right, this is to the credit of Theresa May and this country. Global power is shifting but the UK remains very influential. Its actions continue to matter, which is why Amnesty’s response would have been global, as well as local.

Human Rights are universal, they are not handed down by any state. But you could argue that this country was (in rhetoric, if not practice) an “early adopter”. This is manifest in habeas corpus, Magna Carta and the agreement of the European Convention under Winston Churchill’s government. Those who want to chuck away the ECHR over the tough case of Abu Qatada should pause before they throw away this legacy, diminish the UK’s future influence and undermine the human rights protections of more than seven hundred million people.

What we are talking about at base, is suspending our duty to play by the rules. Rules which we drafted, in the main. Rules which we insist others sign up to. The proposal is that we send someone to an unfair trial, where evidence obtained through torture might be used – both a denunciation of the use of torture and an insistence on the right to a fair trial are two of the most basic principles of our collective society.

It would be a dark day indeed if we abandoned those principles because of one person. Human rights cannot be served ‘pick and mix’ style  - you’re either in or out.  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable