I think this might be another one of those cases where a politician is saying outrageous things to distract the public from what’s really going on. I honestly don’t know what Theresa May’s agenda is. She’s not as transparent as say Jeremy Hunt. We know he’s trying to crush the doctors’ unions because of the massive amount of money that will come his way from a privatised NHS. May? Perhaps I just don’t know enough about her. But at the moment she’s making noise that rather than leave the EU, Britain should just leave the European Convention on Human Rights. (Let’s not entertain, for the moment, the fact that membership in the EU requires membership in the ECHR.)
Her position, according to The Guardian, is that the ECHR has tied Britain’s hands with regard deportation of extremists such as Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada, ‘and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights.’
This is where I usually stop reading when these things come up. The point of human rights conventions is to bind the signatories to be better at this stuff than non-signatories. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what any other country does when it comes to human rights. The UK decided at a certain point to be one of the good guys in this regard and say, ‘We will respect very basic human rights and will treat all with due process.’
It’s a very short document, clocking in at just 55 large-print pages, many of which are taken up with repetitions of ratification and depository information. Life, liberty, security, prohibition of torture, and prohibition of slavery all appear on the first page. The other basics, including due process, right to thought, expression, religion, privacy, and assembly come on the next seven pages. The next 16 cover the court itself. The balance covers the various protocols on human rights and freedoms. Interesting bit: In 1983, when the death penalty was abolished under Protocol 6, there was an addendum specifying that the death penalty could be imposed under certain circumstances in time of war. In 2002 this addendum was rescinded under Protocol 13.
With this in mind, it’s BS about other countries keeping us from doing what’s right (not just what’s right according to treaties we’ve signed) that got people so worked up when Dick Cheney said we had to torture to get information out of supposed bad guys. No, we don’t. We’re better than that, and have signed conventions (in that case, The Geneva Convention, but the idea is the same) as outward signs that we strive always to be better than that. Except when our leaders say, ‘Nah, we don’t have to be better – we’re exceptional.’ Or some such noise.
May was discussing Britain’s ECHR responsibilities in the context of a speech ostensibly supporting continued EU membership. She went on to say, however, ‘The states now negotiating to join the EU include Albania, Serbia and Turkey – countries with poor populations and serious problems with organised crime, corruption, and sometimes even terrorism. We have to ask ourselves, is it really right that the EU should just continue to expand, conferring upon all new member states all the rights of membership?’ Good question, I suppose, but the UK has an equal say in the admission of other countries to the EU. Organised crime and corruption weren’t issues when Italy and Greece joined. Or perhaps not to the same extent. She just wants some to be more equal than others.
May went on to say that Britain should be able to draft and amend at its own bills of human rights that apply to Britons. Again, we’re better than that. (Yes, I’m an American married to an English woman and say ‘we’ even though I have few rights to call myself a Brit. According to one friend, knowing why the M25 is called The Road To Hell is sufficient.) We should be able to look Europe and the world in the eye and say that the rights we enjoy should be available to all and that we’ll fight for that to be so. (It demeans weasels to say that May is trying to weasel Britain out of her responsibilities under UCHR.)
A week or so ago I read a screed denouncing new film versions of The Jungle Book and naming Rudyard Kipling a racist expletivedeleted. This article quoted extensively from Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden. Yeah, racist to the core with its references to colonised peoples as ‘half-devil, half-child’. The title itself makes us modern progressives cringe at the thought that whiteness alone made one group responsible for bringing others to modernity. What Kipling was arguing for, however, is that those who consider themselves civilised ‘fill the mouth of famine and bid the sickness cease’ even as others, no matter what we name them ‘bring all (y)our hope to naught.’ Yes, it’s terribly racist to name those others ‘sloth and heathen folly’, but the burden Kipling lays upon us is to do the work. In the Jewish tradition, there’s the concept of Tikkun Olam, heal the world. Get out and do the work of peace, of healing, of working for the safety of the disadvantaged. While Kipling names both the objects of the work and its obstacles with terms we consider abhorrent now (and were, in truth, abhorrent in 1899), the call is to be the good guy and do the work of making the world better.
May, on the other hand, is calling on Britain, do default on its obligations to better itself and contribute to the betterment of the European collective.