Human Rights Day presents an opportunity, every year, to celebrate human rights, highlight a specific issue, and advocate for the full enjoyment of all human rights by everyone everywhere. Read the rest of this entry →
January 25, 2012 in Articles
Wednesday 25 January 2012 | By Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
Prime minister to accuse court of unnecessarily overturning judgments reached in credible national courts
David Cameron is to warn that the European court of human rights is in danger of turning into a “small claims court” that fails to deal with serious violations of human rights, unless it embarks on reforms.
Amid anger in Britain at last week’s decision of the court to block the deportation of the Islamist cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan, the prime minister will on Wednesday accuse the court of undermining its reputation by unnecessarily overturning judgments reached in credible national courts.
In a speech to the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Cameron will say the ECHR has a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to reform its work to ensure it focuses on the original intentions of its founding fathers – upholding human rights across the European continent.
The court enforces the European convention on human rights, drafted in 1950 by the Council of Europe, which is designed to ensure universal human rights across Europe. The council has 47 members and is separate from the 27-strong EU.
The prime minister will say: “The court should be free to deal with the most serious violations of human rights; it should not be swamped with an endless backlog of cases. The court should ensure that the right to individual petition counts; it should not act as a small claims court. And the court should hold us all to account; it should not undermine its own reputation by going over national decisions where it does not need to. For the sake of the 800 million people the court serves, we need to reform it so that it is true to its original purpose.”
Britain, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of Europe, wants to implement the reforms by the first half of 2014, when Austria will take over the presidency.
Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, is to chair a meeting of fellow justice ministers in April to agree on a ministerial declaration, which will have three elements:
• Immediate steps that the court can take to reduce the backlog of cases, which now stands at 152,800. It is estimated that two-thirds of these cases are inadmissible under the court’s rules. Cameron will say that there should be new and more transparent rules for the appointment of judges on the court.
• Look at amending procedural parts of the convention to set out more clearly which cases the court should have the power to examine.
• Look at the future of the court over the next 20 years to ensure it does not become a court of fourth instance in which appellants seek a “fourth bite at the cherry” if they are unhappy with the decision of their national courts.
The UK government privately believes the court should spend less time focusing on countries such as Britain, France and Germany, which have well-regarded legal systems and a strong record on human rights, and more time focusing on countries such as Russia and Ukraine with less impressive records. Russia accounts for 26.6% of the backlog at the court. Cameron contrasts Britain’s record with other Council of Europe member states, which face cases over extrajudicial killings and torture.
The court found against Bulgaria after an inmate was forcibly placed in a psychiatric institution and held against their will for years. It found against Ukraine over the ill-treatment of prisoners in “training exercises” by special forces, and it found against Russia over the persecution of the children of Chechen dissidents.
The prime minister will make clear that the court should focus on such violations, and will say Britain has a long and exemplary record on human rights. “Human rights is a cause that runs deep in the British heart and long in British history.
“In the 13th century, Magna Carta set down specific rights for citizens, including the right to freedom from unlawful detention. “In the 17th century, the petition of right gave new authority to parliament; and the Bill of Rights set limits on the power of the monarchy. By the 18th century it was said that this spirit of liberty is so deeply implanted in our constitution, and rooted in our very soil, that a slave the moment he lands in England, falls under the protection of the laws, and with regard to all natural rights becomes instantly a freeman.
It was that same spirit that led to the abolition of slavery, that drove the battle against tyranny in two world wars and that inspired Winston Churchill to promise that the end of the ‘world struggle’ would see the enthronement of human rights.
“These beliefs have animated the British people for centuries – and they animate us today.”
Nick Clegg told the cabinet on Tuesday that he wholeheartedly supported Cameron’s campaign on the grounds that defenders of human rights should support the government as it seeks to tackle a backlog of 150,000 cases at the court. The cabinet discussion took place after Sir Nicolas Bratza, the British president of the court, criticised “senior British politicians” for pandering to tabloid newspapers over the court.
In an article in the Independent, Bratza wrote: “It is disappointing to hear senior British politicians lending their voices to criticisms more frequently heard in the popular press, often based on a misunderstanding of the court’s role and history, and of the legal issues at stake.”
The intervention by Clegg shows that Cameron has been careful to calibrate his reforms. The Liberal Democrats agreed in the coalition agreement to establish a commission to “investigate the creation of a British bill of rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European convention on human rights”. The commission has been carefully balanced to include critics and defenders of the court that enforces the convention.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, said: “David Cameron – instead of engaging in a positive debate about ensuring the workings of the European court on human rights are fit for purpose in these modern times – resorts to the peddling of myths that denigrate the human rights successes of the court and the convention.
“It smacks of throwing ‘red meat’ to the hungry pack of Conservative backbenches so recently emboldened by the prime minister’s waltzing away from the European negotiating table.”
© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
December 15, 2011 | By Natalie Shobana Ambrose
A FEW years ago there was a landslide along Jalan Duta after a downpour. For weeks it was covered with tarpaulin and sealed off with cautionary tape. It was alarming and personally worrying. Each year there are mini landslides, erosion and siltation around the Damansara Heights-Jalan Duta area. Fast forward to today and a short distance from the said landslide area, acres of land have been cleared for development – development in an area already highly congested and clearly prone to landslides. It’s considered prime land today, but what will it be in years to come?
Certainly when the Honda factor in Rojuna Industrial district, Ayutthaya in Thailand was built, no one could foresee the whole factory sinking in flood waters – or could they? We cannot change the weather or confidently predict swelling rivers and the breaking of riverbanks, but the wisdom of foresight might caution against building in a low-lying area or on a hillside that is already unstable.
Foresight is necessary in development and in the progress of every country. Post independence, our leaders made a calculated decision to shift from an agriculture based economy to an industrial one, not foreseeing the need to be able to self-sufficiently feed ourselves. Of course that shift has made us the third largest Asean economy and ranked 30th in the world, but what good is it if food supply is low and people cannot feed themselves because floods in neighbouring countries have affected not only the supply of electronic goods but basic daily foods – fruit, vegetables and even chillies?
When we talk about foresight, it doesn’t just stop at predicting what may happen but the courage to make painful yet necessary decisions to forfeit immediate gain for long-term collective stability. Such great foresight can be found in country constitutions and certain UN declarations – the blueprints of society.
I have always wondered in admiration of those who wrote these documents and the wisdom they possessed to include sections that perhaps at the point of writing were not needed but for the future may be extremely necessary. If we look at the Malaysian Constitution, one has to wonder why the founding fathers included a whole second section to protect Fundamental Liberties. Perhaps they had a “crystal ball” or the pure genius foresight to imagine its imperative need in today’s Malaysia where civil liberties are being taken away.
Sadly, instead of safeguarding the sanctity of the Constitution, today’s politicians have made it a scapegoat to promote their own personal agendas and beliefs. They have been allowed to do so also because we the people do not know our own Constitution as we should nor do we confidently know our rights and exert them. We choose to be ignorant and let a handful contest, thanks to scaremongering, yet with every new bill passed, our freedom net gets pulled in, further limiting our constitutional liberties.
Not only do our government and policy makers need foresight – we the people do too. When new laws and bills are deliberated, it is our business to know them well because they affect us, our children and our children’s children. Maybe today the Peaceful Assembly Bill does not affect you personally, but some day it will, just like the impending Computing Professionals Bill 2011. We have to remember that tomorrow is built on what we allow to happen today.
We can tell ourselves that laws enacted will not be enforced; they are just there because they need to be – but some day someone will dig them up and use them. What then can we do when we are bound by the law – all because years past we didn’t have foresight.
Natalie believes that the Constitution may be an “elastic compilation of rules” easily manipulated; yet those who pervert it should rightly be deposed. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
November 3, 2011 | By Natalie Shobana Ambrose
THE issue of human rights is very much contested and everyone from former prime ministers and IGPs to migrant workers, civil society and even you have opinions on the issue not just in terms of what freedoms you should have but what others should too. So I tread carefully as an advocate for the universality of human rights, acknowledging that there are real challenges and realities of it becoming a certainty for every human being including myself. Having presented a paper in Kyoto University last week discussing various perspectives of human rights within Asean, I feel it most apt to share the following story in light of recent statements made on the issue.
Anna served as associate professor in the largest local university for over 30 years and yet her children were never allowed admission into that university on the basis that they were considered migrants, though many foreigners call this university their alma mater. If Anna’s children wanted to attend local university, it meant two extra years in high school which wasn’t a guarantee of university or degree choice. Bella, her daughter, had aspired to be an architect since young and with great effort went through those two extra years. After doing well and fulfilling the requirements for architecture school, Bella was told instead that the only spot available for her was in interior design – the quota system had failed her. Now not only did Bella have to start university two years later, she was two years behind many other students in a course the system chose because she was considered a migrant. It didn’t matter that her parents are citizens, her grandparents citizens and her great grandparents citizens – Anna and Bella were both born with a generational debt that they can never repay no matter how hard they tried.
This story narrates the reality of an age old dilemma of cultural diversity and universal human rights coexisting. Now one can argue that when it comes to human rights, one size does not fit all and that culture, philosophy, belief and history should be taken into consideration and the margin of appreciation apply when implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). To take the point further, many governments in this region in particular attest that such universality of human rights is a western precept and does not resonate with the values of the east; but are not all of Adam’s decendents born equal regardless of race, doctrine and creed? Most religions subscribe to this fundamental belief and many developed minds do too.
Some believe that fundamental rights are the outcome of a developed economy, yet there is no evidence of countries that progress economically automatically according all their citizens basics rights. Neither is there a prescribed level of development to be achieved before fundamental rights can be accorded.
It’s a dangerous line to tread when trying to make a convincing argument on the merits of blatant discrimination for the preservation of human rights for some. The simple equation of continual oppression, as we have witnessed around the world in the last year alone, has the potential to equal a real threat – for some the threat is violence, but in the case of Anna and Bella, the threat is brain drain and mass migration which are extremely detrimental to any economy.
Countries in which the four fundamental freedoms (Roosevelt) – freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from fear and freedom from want – are violated do not develop evenly and breed deep insecurities. An analysis of countries that did not fare well in the United Nations Human Development Index, showed them tending to have a weakened state of human security and human rights.
Hence, in order to have a positive functioning economy, achieving human rights for all (not relative human rights) is necessary as there are no substitutes for good governance and the rule of law to make a functioning state.
The reality is there are many variations when discussing human rights. Some prescribe to it being a gift based on decency, religion and cultural relativism. Then there are the generations of extremists, moderates, liberalists, absolutists, progressives and contextualists with varying intensities of conviction. However, there are no half rights or half truths.
Rights should not exclude groups of people but include rights of the aged, minorities, the displaced and so forth which are all embodied in the UDHR.
Anna’s story is not uncommon but closer to home. Anna’s story is my story, Anna my mother and Bella my sister; a Malaysian family who have lived and served this country for generations and for generations have never had equal rights to education, employment, land and the full privileges of being a citizen.
If the debate in Malaysia today is still against universality, I guess then the question should be is there such a thing as half torture and half discrimination? I’m still not convinced.
Natalie believes that the protection of human rights is a unifying ethic and should not be misused to cause divide. Comments: email@example.com