Following the public emasculation of the much reviled “Rwanda plan”, a very neutral name for a plan to ship refugees thousands of miles away, the right wing and its dogs of war have immediately mounted an attack on the ECHR, the European Convention on Human Rights. The very fact that its name contains EUROPE seems to intrinsically link this organisation with the EU and has therefore drawn the well worn ire of brexiteers who cannot hear the word Europe without brimming with detestation. But what IS the ECHR, why was it formed and what is its purpose… and why is this attack from the right deeply troubling?
At the end of World War Two the world was reeling from endless atrocities, both well publicised and kept away from the mainstream for various reasons and Winston Churchill, along with several other states, realised that there must be an overarching accountability for human rights protections that extends beyond states. Though Churchill is rightly a controversial figure now, this need to create a council to protect human rights at a Europe-wide level was a master stroke in accountability for the protection of individual rights and, indeed, group rights. Thus was born the ‘Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms’.
Since 1949, a scant few years after the end of the war, the ECHR has overseen judicial decisions to ensure that human beings in countries under its membership- not citizens, simply persons within these countries- are treated with dignity, humanity and that their individual rights are respected.
The ECHR has overseen many different fundamental rights, listed on its’ own site, but shortlisted here:
- the right to life (Article 2)
- freedom from torture (Article 3)
- freedom from slavery (Article 4)
- the right to liberty (Article 5)
- the right to a fair trial (Article 6)
- the right not to be punished for something that wasn’t against the law at the time (Article 7)
- the right to respect for family and private life (Article 8)
- freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9)
- freedom of expression (Article 10)
- freedom of assembly (Article 11)
- the right to marry and start a family (Article 12)
- the right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights (Article 14)
- the right to protection of property (Protocol 1, Article 1)
- the right to education (Protocol 1, Article 2)
- the right to participate in free elections (Protocol 1, Article 3)
- the abolition of the death penalty (Protocol 13)
As you can see from the list, the ECHR is not simply extant to meddle in country affairs; it exists to add a veil of accountability overarching that of government: something which, in normal times, the law does too- but we are not in normal times.
The prime minister himself has broken the law and, but for a £50 fine, escaped punishment. The government as an entity seeks to undermine the NI Protocol which could destabilise the uneasy peace in Ireland and has already led to huge issues across the length and breadth of the UK.
The reason this is so concerning? The law of the land won’t hold the conservatives back from their degradation- but the ECHR just has…
The “Rwanda Plan“
The plan to ship refugees off to Rwanda is sick, jingoistic and appeals only to those people who think that genuflecting the Union Jack is the essence of patriotic behaviour, rather than trying to improve the land on which it’s flying. Claims from the likes of Priti Patel that it will deal with traffickers are laughable: those desperate to flee to the UK are not going to be put off by threats of further deportation at tax payers expense- they are regularly fleeing war zones, atrocities, mass murder, truly authoritarian governments, rape, war…
Patel has shown herself to be reductive and appeal to the likes of the above before (we’ve all seen that interview where she defends the death penalty even for innocent people)- but I refuse to believe she does not understand how ridiculous a policy like this is. If you want to stop people crossing the channel unsafely: make safe passage.
Were it possible for refugees to apply for asylum from outside the UK, were it possible for them to travel here safely and be met safely to be processed, were the processing times quicker, the process more humane- this would completely depower traffickers at source. They rely on fear and lack of option. Offer options. Unfortunately, “make it easier” doesn’t read well with those who would read the Daily Mail or the Express with beady eye. They fear a tsunami of people suddenly deciding they don’t like where they are who would flood to the UK’s “easy” immigration system. It wouldn’t happen. Those desperate to flee would continue to flee, they just wouldn’t die on dinghies at sea any more.
But this is the essence of why Patel and her slowly marching army of gormless nationalists are so heinous- and why the “Rwanda plan” is so ineffectual. She knows this. And she does it anyway.
Additionally, as we spiral further into runaway cost of living the indescribable cost of the Rwanda plan boggles the mind. The UK taxpayer is footing the bill for an ineffective, inhumane and racist policy – and a worrying portion of the UK taxpayer wants it.
To those who believe this policy is in any way useful may I remind you that immigration is a complex topic that takes years to understand and glancing through the pages of 3 newspapers that are written simply enough for fourteen year olds to be adept in their verbiage may not actually give you the nuance and expertise you think.
Colin Yeo speaks eloquently on immigration regularly and has pointed out the ugliness of the UK’s immigration system including the fact that it is, in essence, designed to off-put people from staying in the UK, even with legitimate interests like work or family- so if the system works against the so called “legal” migrants, the people we want to attract to the UK like doctors and nurses, like those who will do the menial jobs so many here believe they’re above, imagine how poorly it treats those who we supposedly don’t want to come here.
The reason the Rwanda plan is so heinous is that at its core it carries the strong reminiscence of cattle trucks; packing up the meat to send it to the factory, knowing the whole time what its’ fate is and doing it anyway. Rwanda has faced criticism for its poor human rights record: Patel didn’t even bother to rebuke this but other tory ministers described Rwanda as a country that respects human rights.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people living in Rwanda face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents…No special legislative protections are afforded to LGBT citizens, and same-sex marriages are not recognized by the state, as the Constitution of Rwanda provides that “only civil monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is recognized”. LGBT Rwandans have reported being harassed, blackmailed, and even arrested by the police under various laws dealing with public order and morality.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Rwanda
Brave Rwandans are working to overturn the attitude towards LGBT+ people in Rwanda but this, as we know, takes time and can turn on a dime- since author JK Rowling began her descent into anti trans rhetoric we have seen a huge and disturbing increase in anti LGBT+ hate crime in the UK, not wholly the fault of Rowling but, many consider, as a byproduct of her huge platform normalising hatred against those from the group.
The real plan?
One suspects that the government always knew that the ECHR would intervene in the deportation of these poor souls to Rwanda, and that they hoped for these events so they could mount an effective case for pulling the UK out of the ECHR. They haven’t been deterred from their assault on our human liberties so far, or that of those who come from abroad- but this government are determined to lessen the scrutiny they face and leaving the ECHR would do just this. In conjunction with Dominic Raab’s quest to water down the Human Rights Act to his own liking, it takes a few steps back to see an overarching picture of a government, fervent in its desire to leave the EU to avoid the scrutiny of Brussels, who has placed a blanket of silence on its own citizens ignoring poll after woeful poll about the prime minister’s standing, who have effectively strangled the right to protest and now who wish to leap straight for the throat of our own home grown human rights (protest, voting and voter ID), and those protected by the ECHR. That in conjunction with privatising channel 4 for the crime of speaking critically of them shows a worrying pattern of desperation to avoid oversight in any form.
I frequently find myself rolling my eyes at the endless comparisons to Nazi rhetoric bandied about by others who are deeply entrenched in political discourse, but once you do move back from the rapid heartbeat pulse of daily drudgery pushed by the conservatives through the media- but one cannot underestimate the simple fact that regular citizens under regimes past must have been raising increasing alarms as the swirling and nebulous tendrils of authoritarianism descended through the streets, taking their voices and binding their hands. It is far too easy to wonder as we look around right now, what the endgame for the conservatives is- whether they simply wish to rule on high, pockets fat with tax money from a pliant farmyard of poor folk beneath who cannot speak for fear of reprisals.
Remember this: you are not the government fat cats shirking laws with no recompense. You are not the prime minister dodging from crisis to crisis and refusing to step down out of vapidity or stupidity or some confection of both. Those refugees, strapped to boards and placed, terrified, on an airplane to be sent thousands of miles are you, and there, but for the grace of God and the ever evanescing morality of the tory party, goes you.