Politicians in the UK are gearing up for next year’s general election. Certain issues are already dividing the battleground, with one issue being proposed as a vote winner by the party in the power, the Conservatives
We have also pledged to scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act, ending the era of farcical human rights rulings handed down from Europe
That issue is the scrapping of the loved and loathed Human Rights Act. This week, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote what amounted to a soft manifesto in a supportive UK newspaper. In it, he makes quite clear his intentions.
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Further anti-terrorism raids were carried out days before. Five Muslims, including a medical student, were arrested and charged for “ISIL inspired” threats to the UK. One of the suspects, Tarik Hassane, was initially arrested for tweeting “Oi lads I smell a war”, while four were charged with downloading a fatwa – a religious edict – issued by ISIL spokesman, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani.
Until now, there has remained, a significant brake on new security-related proposals which the current government has waiting in the wings and which increasingly disturb the significant Muslim population in towns and cities across the United Kingdom. Namely, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), of which Britain remains – for now – a signatory. Cameron has now in clear terms announced that a future Tory government would replace the Human Rights Act (HRA), with a “British Bill of Rights”. This measure is a sop to his own anti-immigration party members who wish to see the UK government – rather than the European parliament – have more control over the laws it implements.
The Conservative party has never been at ease with the HRA to which the UK became a signatory in 1998 under then Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair. From the day it was introduced, it’s been dogged by a ceaseless flow of right wing headlines. So incessant was the “outrage” of the conservatives and their allies relating to the Act’s implementation in high profile, controversial cases that headlines featuring the phrase “political correctness gone mad” became a staple of parliamentary jargon and a favourite topic for political satirists.
Now it appears the right wing in British politics have found the “hook” they have been seeking with which to sell the repeal of the act to the public; security.
The government’s Syria-related anti-terrorism measures now include: asking Muslim mothers to spy on their children, cracking down on online activities, humanitarian aid workers arrested, bank accounts of Islamic charities closed, last-minute cancelation of Syria awareness events, and Schedule 7 stops at airports. It has become a widespread view amongst many British Muslims that the government is attempting to silence the genuine support for the removal of a brutal dictator by revoking the right to a fair trial and life, the freedom of thought, movement, belief, religion and expression of individuals they believe to be linked to extremism.
The Chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), Massoud Shadjareh, told Al Jazeera:
“We will see people’s rights being trampled over and more tiers to the system being created where foreign nationals will be discriminated against. Their rights to family life and to be free from torture will be ignored for political capital.”
With the HRA in place, Home Secretary Theresa May’s recent proposals to revoke citizenships and confiscate the passports of British terror suspects, have faced legal and political opposition.
To not have these protections in place will lead to a situation where governments will have the power to abuse people’s rights by sending them to countries that routinely practice torture
A media officer for advocacy group CAGE, Amandla Thomas-Johnson, told Al Jazeera:
“There have been many instances when the Human Rights Act and more specifically recourse to the European Court of Human Rights have protected the rights of individuals such as Abu Qatadah, and for a time, Babar Ahmed. To not have these protections in place will lead to a situation where governments will have the power to abuse people’s rights by sending them to countries that routinely practice torture.”
The truth is that even with the ECHR in place, Muslims arrested on terror charges have faced punitive and unusual measures. Human rights lawyer, Fahad Ansari, told Al Jazeera:
“For over a decade, we have witnessed various punitive measures imposed on terror suspects where no formal charges have ever been brought against them. Whenever the courts have ruled against the government in these cases, the government has simply legislated for replacement measures which are equally draconian.”
Right-wing and liberal opponents of the HRA
Meanwhile, right wing political parties such as UK Independent Party (UKIP) and the British National Party (BNP) are lauding plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. They perceive the Act to be a European influenced protectorate of religious and ethnic minorities, illegal immigrants and “terrorists”.
Cameron’s conference speech centred on prisoners having the right to vote, application of human rights on the battlefield and independence from Strasbourg. These have wide reaching implications which are causing great unease amongst the Muslim community. They should be causing unease for everyone.
With British Tornado jets deployed to Iraq to bomb ISIL targets, the voice of civil rights groups, not only in the UK but across Europe, could be drowned out beneath the drumbeats of war.
Dilwar Hussain is a journalist specialising in MENA politics. He’s also the Deputy Editor of 5Pillarz and blogs at Huffington Post.