LETTER: Human rights: Britain's obligations and aberrations

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The Independent Online
From Mr Richard Bourne

Sir: You observe that the real problem with the European Convention on Human Rights is that Britain is alone, with the Republic of Ireland, in failing to incorporate it into domestic law ("Human rights on the rocks", 28 September).

This is deeply ironic. For, as last week's report of a human rights mission by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) - Nigeria - Stolen by Generals - points out, "On 23 October 1993, the government of the UK extended the European Convention on Human Rights to overseas territories for whose international relations they retained responsibility, including Nigeria. Nigeria was the first British colony with a Bill of Rights before independence. Following a constitutional conference in London, the justiciable Bill of Rights was the first of many Commonwealth Bills of Rights to be modelled on the European Convention on Human Rights."

What was good enough for independent Commonwealth states was possibly too good for Britain. Unhappily, as we know, the Nigeria military dictatorship has torn up its Bill of Rights in a standing reminder of the vulnerability of paper constitutions. Now Britain is rightly pressing for human rights and good accountable government to be hallmarks of the Commonwealth, not least in Nigeria. We should not forget, though, that with British encouragement the words of the European Convention have been successfully incorporated into common law systems from the Caribbean to Africa. They ought not to cause apoplexy here now.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Bourne


Commonwealth Human Rights

Initiative Trustee Committee

London, WC1

28 September