The State of Human Rights- Screwed?

By Dan Morrison

I’m pretty sure Human Rights are screwed for the next few years.

At the start of the week, there were grounds for optimism, as Gambians had just ejected President Yahya Jammeh from office, after 22 years of rule. He didn’t rule for the “one billion years”, as he promised to, but his regime did torture opponents and promise life sentences for “aggravated homosexuality”.

It looked like former Argos security guard Adama Barrow, leader of the opposition, would be sworn into office in January, but –uh oh- Jammeh decided yesterday that he actually rejected the results.

This is just the tip of the iceberg though.

On December 10th 1948, an idea that began with Cyrus the Great when he freed the slaves of Babylon and allowed folks there freedom of religion, was finally realised with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN General Assembly proclaimed that:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights… Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration, without distinction of any kind.”

With World War Two (WWII) and the Holocaust for a backdrop, this was a powerful document. The post-WWII world still had its abuses and tragedies, but the century generally moved in the right direction as more governments became more democratic.

Soon, though, the most powerful office in the land will be home to you know who. At best an overly sensitive buffoon, Trump shows no respect for human rights, but that’s probably not much of a shock to you.

I read the Declaration. His presidency threatens all of those articles, at home and abroad. It is a document that wants to protect people from inhumane treatment and interference in your personal lives and from the arbitrary acts of state, to ensure freedom of belief, expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Now, I am fully aware that nothing I am saying is game-changing- you are not about to ring up your mum and tell her about this article.

But it really does need reflecting on.

Because the near future of humanity is not one in “dignity” and “spirit of brotherhood”.

It is a future dominated by the arbitrary and the chaotic: what’s even scarier is that we don’t know if that is by design or not. Unless Canada and Germany can emerge as leaders of the ‘free world’, the world of Trump and Putin will be the status quo.

How will things get noticeably worse?

In Syria, the shackles will come off completely. Think it is bad already? Assad already barrel-bombs civilians and uses chemical weapons – imagine what it’ll be like with the consent of the United States. Trump has said before that he would side with Putin and Assad to defeat Daesh (ISIS). In Iraq too, Shia militias already accused of human rights abuses will be able to act with increased impunity.

Trump has claimed he will make the “ultimate deal” in the Israel-Palestine conflict, while also giving support to the expansion of Jewish settlements. The settlements are illegal under international law and the Obama administration has previously condemned any potential expansion. He will also make the unprecedented step of recognising East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which has been illegally occupied since 1967. In ramping up support, he is giving Israel the green light to continue acting with impunity, following a year in which it has been accused of a series of extrajudicial killings, to go with its litany of human rights abuses.

Slightly further off, but a Trump presidency is a risk to the Balkans. Currently, the region is underpinned by the America-led Dayton Accords, a peace agreement signed by local powers to end the war in Bosnia. Now, a mixture of American isolationism, Russian interference, refugee influx, growing nationalism and the Saudi Wahhabism flowing into Kosovo could prove a deadly cocktail. With Macedonia seemingly going backwards, the next five years in the Balkans should be watched closely.

At home, we are at risk as well, with Conservative plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. The idea is that we can’t deport bloody foreigners for doing bad stuff. But, as Labour Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon wrote:

“For every Abu Hamza [Jordanian cleric the UK struggled to deport to Jordan for fear of torture] there are many more Gary McKinnons… a UK citizen under threat of extradition… his extradition rightly blocked by Theresa May on the grounds of mental illness.

Ask the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster whether the Human Rights Act is the friend of enemy of ordinary people”.

He also cites the example of the family of Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement, a soldier who committed suicide after alleging she was raped by colleagues- human rights laws helped the family get a new investigation into her death.

The point of human rights is to protect everybody. In the case of the UK, so what if it means we cannot deport somebody we have already punished or are already punishing? It is weird logic that we’d want to repeal legislation protecting everyone in order to punish a few particular cases.

Ach, but that is the weird utilitarian world we are living in, where people use Skittles analogies to explain that some refugees are definitely always terrorists.

Still, there are the civil society organisations that will continue to do their bit in protecting rights, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. We probably won’t realise how much we need these groups until our human rights have gone. It should be remembered that governments can choose the extent to which they respect your human rights as arbitrarily as many other things they do.

There are gazillions of groups that deserve our attention and our cold, hard cash. I’ll finish by briefly mentioning one- Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG).

The group operates in rural southeastern Burma (Myanmar) “a leading authority on issues such as forced labour, landmines, internal displacement and conflict” in the region. Even since the government opened up and western sanctions were dropped, the state has been continually rubbish on human rights, hence the need to support groups like KHRG.