New Head of Human Rights group

At 30 years old Martha Spurrier has just started a tough new job, as Head of Liberty, a UK human rights group she’s stepped straight into the battle over the Human Rights Act being thrown away by the current government.

The Guardian reports:

The Human Rights Act, passed in 1998, allows individuals to defend their rights in UK courts while also ensuring that public organisations such as the police, and local and national government treat all citizens equally and respectfully. So it is no surprise that Spurrier is horrified by the prospect of its abolition – particularly as details of what might replace the act are so vague.

“We’ve got to a pretty bad place where a government is even considering repealing the Human Rights Act,” she explains. “I don’t think the government would put in its manifesto that it would repeal the Equality Act, and I can’t see the difference between that and the Human Rights Act.”

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What does the UN do?

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Well today in the news we have an answer: they do everything in their power to promote world peace. Senior UN officials are reporting that a Syrian government plane has bombed a refugee camp near the Turkish border killing at least 28 people. This is how the UN has responded:

  1. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said he was outraged by the incident and called for those responsible to be held accountable”. Ban urged the security council to refer the situation in Syria to the international criminal court.
  2. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights said Thursday’s attacks were almost certainly a deliberate war crime.  Al Hussein said: “Given these tent settlements have been in these locations for several weeks, and can be clearly viewed from the air, it is extremely unlikely that these murderous attacks were an accident.” He too urged members of the UN security council to refer Syria to the ICC so that there would be “a clear path to punishment for those who commit crimes like these”.
  3. Other countries have felt confident enough to make comments too with France describing them as a “revolting and unacceptable act that could amount to a war crime or crime against humanity”.
  4. UN-organised peace talks in Geneva are however deadlocked after an opposition walkout and the government delegation’s refusal to discuss a political transition that would see Assad eased out of power.

Some people see the United Nations as a world government. This might be seen as good to promote world peace and human rights everywhere or dangerous if it isn’t your own national government making important decisions…

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If you can’t remember the basics about the United Nations you might look at the CBBC page which gives this as a summary:

The UN works for world peace and development in many different ways.
a) It organises peace-keeping forces in trouble spots around the world.                                    b) It is also linked with organisations which help people around the world. These include:
– UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
– UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)
– UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation)
– FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation)
– WHO (World Health Organisation)

Lots of people know about the UN because it sends peacekeeping troops to areas of conflict:

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Or watch some YouTube clips:

  1. How does the UN work?
  2. How effective in the UN?
  3. Craziest moment of the General Assembly at the UN
  4. Emma Watson actress speaking at the HeForSheCampaign at the UN 2014
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio actor speaking as a UN Messenger of Peace at a Climate Summit 2014

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Above you can see in the photograph how in 1942 the name “United Nations” was first coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was  used in the Declaration by United Nations of 1 January 1942, during the Second World War, when representatives of 26 nations pledged their Governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers.

Everyone deserves human rights, even a cold blooded killer

A few weeks ago we reported on the the Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breiviks who’d successfully argued that his human rights were being denied in prison because there’d been so much isolation forced upon him. Some people feel that if you’ve killed someone that you no longer deserve the same rights as a citizen who keeps to the law and respects others. Meanwhile others take human rights law exactly as it says: all humans are born equal and deserve their rights no matter who they are or what they’ve done.

Anders Behring Breivik arrives in court on fifth day of trial

Well a survivor of Breiviks killings, where 69 people died, has spoken out that he thinks it shows Norway’s strength that they’ve taken Breivik’s complaints seriously:

“We can see his grievances separately from his acts. We can say that everyone is equal before the law in Norway, including Breivik. He should be treated with the same respect for human rights as any other inmate in our prisons.”

Start planning a holiday in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is not a country that attracts huge numbers of tourists, unless they are heading to Makkah on the Hajj pilgrimage. Well the country is planning to change that by investing millions of dollars into their tourism industry. They hope to pull themselves away from their reliance on the oil industry and make tourism their big money earner.

With strict laws against alcohol and big restrictions against women, it remains to be seen whether they’ll be successful or not. There is also the issue of their human rights violations.

The Saudi Kingdom is already the home of Mecca and Medina, two of the most important sites in the Islamic faith, and it has developed a sizable and growing industry for religious visitors. According to figures from the World Bank, the total number of tourists arrivals to Saudi Arabia reached over 18 million in 2014, though the large majority of those visitors are said to be religious visitors or pilgrims. The obvious problem of only inviting lots of pilgrims is that they tend not to be big spenders!

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Pilgrims walking around the Ka’ba above, and on Mount Mercy on the Plain of Arafat below:

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Finally the enormity of Hajj is shown by Tent City:

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European Convention on Human Rights is pulled into EU debate

There is a lot of disagreement amongst the government’s top politicians in the Cabinet over whether the UK should leave the European Convention on Human Rights no matter what happens with the EU vote in June.

It was the Home Secretary Theresa May who pushed for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights and was quickly criticised: “sacrificing Britain’s 68-year-old commitment to human rights for her own miserable Tory leadership ambitions”.

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What the Home Secretary had said precisely was:

“The ECHR can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals – and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights. So regardless of the EU referendum, my view is this: if we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court.”

Meanwhile David Cameron the Prime Minister has put out this comment through his advisers: “The PM has made clear he wants to see reform of the ECHR and has ruled absolutely nothing out if we don’t achieve that.” But sources admitted that the government’s position did not require withdrawal from the ECHR.

Norway Murderer Wins Human Rights Case

This is a Human Rights case which really makes you think about what is morally right: should someone who has taken so many people’s lives away by killing them indiscriminately receive the same human rights as others?

It was five years ago that Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik killed dozens of young political activists who were meeting on a Norwegian island and killed eight further people in a car bomb in Oslo. Well today he won part of a human rights case against the Norwegian state. In class we talk about how human rights were first made into legislation with the UDHR – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the United Nations and were then filtered down to a European and National level of law. It was the European Convention on Human Rights which Breivik believed he was being denied, and the this is also what the court agreed.

In article three of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) it is required that prisoners be detained in conditions that did not exceed the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, given the practical requirements of the particular case. The court upheld Breivik’s claim that some of his treatment amounted to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The judge Helen Andenaes Sekulic said the right not to be subjected to inhuman treatment represented “a fundamental value in a democratic society” and also applied to “terrorists and killers”. Do you agree?

Breivik, a right-wing extremist, killed dozens of young centre-left political activists in an attack on the island of Utoya in July 2011. Earlier that day, he set off a car bomb in the capital, Oslo, killing eight people.

MP’s imply that trade is more important than human rights

In 1948 after the horrors of World War Two had finally been brought to an end the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in Paris. It was the first time that human rights would be universally protected for all people and was a huge milestone in world history.

But today British ministers are being criticised for their words and actions which seem to imply that trade with countries such China, Saudia Arabia and Egypt is more important to Britain than pressing these countries on their human rights abuses. Examples are when in October, Sir Simon McDonald, the Foreign Office’s most senior civil servant, said human rights was “not one of our top priorities” and comments made by Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood, who has said he could not remember whether he had raised human rights during a visit to Egypt with a business delegation.

The saddest thing is that with all these comments the impression is given to British people that trade is more important than human rights when actually the British foreign office has been taking huge action on protecting human rights too. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said improving human rights was a “core function of the Foreign Office” and a special fund for human rights has been doubled.The UK actually supports over 75 human rights projects in more than 40 countries.

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For some up-to-date stories about human rights battles around the world make sure you check out Amnesty International‘s website. The global movement exposes human rights abuses and then fights for the UDHR to be followed by protesting, writing letters and raising awareness of issues with governments and the public. Its founder Peter Benenson said: “Only when the last prisoner of conscience has been freed, when the last torture chamber has been closed, when the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for the world’s people, will our work be done.”