Human-Rights Madness

What time is it? “Time to Stop the Madness”, according to the nation’s most popular daily newspaper, the Sun. The paper that brings you moral outrage and page three girls is not advocating pumping Prozac or anti-psychotic drugs into our water-supply (more’s the pity), so what particular madness is it wanting to stop? Is it global poverty that kills millions? The increasingly war-like stance adopted by the world’s most ‘civilised nations’? The beginning of yet another season of Big Brother (please, Lord, let it be this one)? No. The Sun, along with some powerful pals, is calling for an end to the Human Rights Act (HRA). Not quite your traditional bogey-man used to stir up popular fear and hysteria, but the Sun, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor, that nice David Cameron and even UKIP have this week all been in the news (and agreement) suggesting that the HRA is something Britons should fear more than that thing under the bed.

So, what is this Act, the root of what the Sun last week called “the human rights madness” that is supposedly rife in our country? It’s the Act that makes the European Convention on Human Rights (signed 50 years ago to make sure Nazi-style war-crimes were never again allowed) legally binding in Britain. Not that sinister, but still the kind of thing I would expect UKIP to oppose and even that nice David Cameron (who is still a Tory, even if he does ride a bike). But why is Labour gunning for it?

Could it be because of those Afghan refugees who hijacked a plane full of asylum seekers in order to escape the Taliban? Because of the HRA, they were cleared by a UK court, granted refugee status in the UK and not deported. But then, if deported, they would have been killed by the people from whom they were trying to escape. A harsh sentence, and too ironic, I feel, particularly because they are unlikely to need to hijack another plane to escape the marauding hordes of Taliban soldiers rampaging through England.

It seems unlikely, but then, the Sun represents the people in its fear of “crazy human rights laws”. Tony Blair last week said: “the criminal justice system is the public service most distant from what most people want.” But is ‘what most people want’ always good? After all, ‘most people’ in Britain are in unsustainable debt. ‘Most people’ care more about whether their football team wins than a foreign civil war that is killing thousands. ‘Most people’ in Germany supported Hitler. Without wanting to seem anti-democratic, ‘most people’ are not always that sharp, at least in the heat of the moment. That’s why human rights should stand above the changing political moods of the time. Christians who understand that human dignity is not dependent on legislation must be at the forefront of defending Human Rights.

Yes, laws will at times be ineptly applied. Yes, I have my doubts about the ability of a truly secular society to define the concept of human dignity upon which Rights-legislation rests. But we need to think very carefully about making changes based on recent events or popular moods to documents that, while not Holy Scripture, are intended to articulate values that are more transcendent than the hysterical shrieks of our newspapers. The views of this columnist included.

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