Dan Mobbs, Chief Executive, MAP
Human rights are brilliant. Basically, human rights are freedoms. They protect you. Who doesn’t love freedom? If someone is trying to take away your freedom, it’s a big worry. Freedom is a hard-won thing. Just look at women’s rights – the work never seems to end.
We have the Human Rights Act. It’s amazing. It put all the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. But “why should we do what Europe tells us?” some folks ask. Here’s a quick history. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was created after World War Two. It has nothing to do with the EU. The general idea was to ensure we didn’t have Nazis in charge again. At the time there was a lot of freedom hating fascists across Europe – in great nations like Germany, Italy, and Spain, and many in the UK too. It had become very clear you couldn’t rely on national governments to stop terrible things happening. Something had to be done. So, Winston Churchill suggested we should have a convention on freedom and human rights. And get this – the ECHR was mainly written up by British lawyers. Us Brits like our freedoms. We set up a European Court to oversee it.
We put some great things in the convention: freedom to live (not being killed – great start), freedom to be ... free – to have liberty and security, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery and forced labour, freedom from unfair trials (independent courts without political interference), freedom to have privacy and family life, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, freedom of expression – to “responsibly” (it says that) write and think what you want, freedom of association – to come together “peacefully” (it says that too) with who you want, and freedom from discrimination – about “skin colour, sex, language, political or religious beliefs”. This is fantastic.
But, alarm bells, there’s government plans to get rid of the Human Rights Act and replace it with something with fewer freedoms. What? Why remove any of these freedoms? Have we forgotten what human rights are for? They’re for you to live as freely as you can. Freedoms we love already are being chipped away at. Fair trials are getting harder. Legal Aid cuts mean if you end up in court and you can’t afford a lawyer, but the other side can, they are more likely to win. Freedom of expression is at risk. New laws mean protests that are considered too noisy can be outlawed. Protests are usually noisy – I think that’s the point. Now government are even talking about introducing laws to limit unions, risking freedom of association. Unions help people collectively negotiate decent conditions at work. At a time when the cost of living is leaving people hungry and cold, you need to know you can ask for pay that allows you to live. Most people in poverty have jobs. The big question is, who benefits from removing these freedoms? Remember, these ECHR freedoms are only guaranteed because of the Human Rights Act.
Maybe it’s that they don’t want everyone to have freedoms. But wait, that was the whole Nazi idea - that only certain people mattered. Others didn’t. Jewish people, Roma people, LGBT+ people didn’t matter. It ended very badly. Freedoms only work if they apply to everyone. We still celebrate defeating Nazis. People fought and died for you to have these freedoms. Lest we forget – remember? And who today in Europe doesn’t recognise the ECHR? Russia - and look what they’re up to in Ukraine. Your government might not always protect you.
Consider this – if freedoms are removed, will it be your freedoms that go? No, I like this ECHR club that we, the Brits, are proud founders of. I want to stay a member. Let’s keep the Human Rights Act. Don’t let anyone take your hard-won freedoms.
Freedom doesn’t come like a bird on the wing
Doesn’t fall down like summer rain.
Freedom … freedom is a hard-won thing.
You have to work for it, fight for it, day and night for it.
And every generation has to win it again!