The European Court of Human Rights. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

It is crucial that Britain takes the lead in defending human rights

Some Conservatives are desperate to see Britain withdraw from our international human rights obligations. They are wrong, argues the Justice Minister Simon Hughes.

It is crucial that Britain takes the lead in defending human rights

In recent days Britain’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights has been in the spotlight.

Some Conservatives, perhaps fuelled more by their anti-European views than familiarity with the Convention, are desperate to see Britain withdraw and pull away from our international human rights obligations.

They are wrong. The Convention is part of the mark of a civilised society and these international standards for human rights benefit all of us.

 It doesn't take long to look around the world and see basic liberties and rights under threat in other countries.

It is crucial that Britain takes the lead in defending what should be an international consensus around the basic rights which we ensure all people are entitled to.

Among the fundamental rights and freedoms safeguarded by the convention are:

  •  The right to life
  •  Freedom from torture
  •  Freedom from slavery
  •  The right to liberty
  •  The right to a fair trial
  • The right to respect for private and family life

These and all the other Convention rights are all rights which I believe all rational minded people would agree should be protected. It is small minded and dangerous to sacrifice the principles and protections which the ECHR provides at the altar of ideological Europhobia.

This is not a foreign, or alien, Convention imposed on us but something drafted by British lawyers in the aftermath of the Second World War. Amidst the aftermath of the horrors of that conflict Britain and her allies set about building what has become a central pillar of democracies across Europe.

The Convention works to protect citizens in their everyday lives. In the UK almost all cases are settled in our own courts, as the Convention has been incorporated into domestic law.

Of the cases that are brought against the UK, the vast majority are ruled in the UK’s favour. But for countries with a worse record on civil liberties, such as Russia, the court plays a crucial role in holding them to account.

The judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have helped to improve British law. For example, the Court decided that national rules prohibiting gay men and women from serving in the military were contrary to the Article 8 right to private and family life. As a result the UK and other Member States changed their policies.

The Court has given judgments which have protected the right to a fair trial of those charged in criminal proceedings. It means that generally the disclosure of all material evidence to the accused is required.

The Conservatives have a problem with Europe. They don’t know where they stand. That is why we see them offering an arbitrary referendum on our membership of the EU and talk of withdrawing from the Convention in favour of some Bill of Rights as yet undefined. Many Conservative members want to pull up the draw bridge and turn our backs on our international commitments.  These attempts may be in the interests of the Tory party but are not in the interests of Britain.

Liberal Democrats are clear. We will not consider walking away from our commitments to human rights.

We will make sure that our membership of the European Convention continues, so we can from a position of strength confront those countries and regimes which do not live up to these international human rights standards.

As long as Liberal Democrats are in government there will be no withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights.

Simon Hughes is Lib Dem MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties

Felipe Araujo
Show Hide image

Manchester's Muslim community under siege: "We are part of the fabric of this nation"

As the investigation into last week's bombing continues, familiar media narratives about Islam conflict with the city's support for its Muslim population.

“You guys only come when something like this happens,” said one of the worshippers at Manchester's Victoria Park Mosque, visibly annoyed at the unusual commotion. Four days after the attack that killed 22 people, this congregation, along with many others around the city, is under a microscope.

During Friday prayers, some of the world’s media came looking for answers. On the eve of Ramadan, the dark shadow of terrorism looms large over most mosques in Manchester and beyond.

“People who do this kind of thing are no Muslims,” one man tells me.

It’s a routine that has become all too familiar to mosque goers in the immediate aftermath of a major terror attack. In spite of reassurances from authorities and the government, Muslims in this city of 600,000 feel under siege. 

“The media likes to portray us as an add-on, an addition to society,” Imam Irfan Christi tells me. “I would like to remind people that in World War I and World War II Muslims fought for this nation. We are part of the fabric of this great nation that we are.”

On Wednesday, soon after it was revealed the perpetrator of last Monday’s attack, Salman Ramadan Abedi, worshipped at the Manchester Islamic Centre in the affluent area of Didsbury, the centre was under police guard, with very few people allowed in. Outside, with the media was impatiently waiting, a young man was giving interviews to whoever was interested.

“Tell me, what is the difference between a British plane dropping bombs on a school in Syria and a young man going into a concert and blowing himself up,” he asked rhetorically. “Do you support terrorists, then?” one female reporter retorted. 

When mosque officials finally came out, they read from a written statement. No questions were allowed. 

“Some media reports have reported that the bomber worked at the Manchester Islamic Centre. This is not true,” said the director of the centre’s trustees, Mohammad el-Khayat. “We express concern that a very small section of the media are manufacturing stories.”

Annoyed by the lack of information and under pressure from pushy editors, eager for a sexy headline, the desperation on the reporters’ faces was visible. They wanted something, from anyone, who had  even if a flimsy connection to the local Muslim community or the mosque. 

Two of them turned to me. With curly hair and black skin, in their heads I was the perfect fit for what a Muslim was supposed to look like.

"Excuse me, mate, are you from the mosque, can I ask you a couple of questions,” they asked. “What about?,” I said. "Well, you are a Muslim, right?" I laughed. The reporter walked away.

At the Victoria Park Mosque on Friday, Imam Christi dedicated a large portion of his sermon condemning last Monday’s tragedy. But he was also forced to once again defend his religion and its followers, saying Islam is about peace and that nowhere in the Koran it says Muslims should pursue jihad.

“The Koran has come to cure people. It has come to guide people. It has come to give harmony in society,” he said. “And yet that same Koran is being described as blood thirsty? Yet that same Koran is being abused to justify terror and violence. Who de we take our Islam from?”

In spite of opening its doors to the world’s media, mosques in Britain’s major cities know they can do very little to change a narrative they believe discriminates against Muslims. They seem to feel that the very presence of reporters in these places every time a terror attack happens reveals an agenda.

Despite this, on the streets of Manchester it has proved difficult to find anyone who had a bad thing to say about Islam and the city’s Muslim community. Messages of unity were visible all over town. One taxi driver, a white working-class British man, warned me to not believe anything I read in the media.

“Half of my friends are British Muslims,” he said even before asked. “ These people that say Islam is about terrorism have no idea what they are talking about.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

0800 7318496