Legal Jargon – Human Rights

Last month I travelled to Amsterdam, and aptly, on Remembrance Sunday, I visited the Anne Frank museum.
Eerily quiet and filled with the haunting sense of grave injustice, the museum brings the past into the present, serving as a constant reminder of the catastrophic consequences which can ensue should Human Rights be violated.
What Are Human Rights?
Following the horrifying events of WW2, as well as the atrocities discovered thereafter, the UN created the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, and two years later the European Convention on Human Rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 renders the ECHR directly enforceable in the UK. These documents represent the fundamental rights to which every human being is entitled, and are often described as universal, inalienable, and indivisible. The European Court of Human Rights situated in Strasbourg, was formed to uphold the Convention and prevent the abuse of Human Rights, both in Europe and worldwide. Individuals, groups and companies can appeal to the Court if they believe their rights under the Convention have been violated.
How Do Human Rights Affect Me?
Whilst formal recognition of Human Rights is relatively recent, religious scriptures dating back centuries have highlighted the importance of respecting them. For example, Leviticus chapter 19 verse 18 states ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, and the Eastern philosophical concept of Ahimsa, better known as the principle of non-violence towards others, set the early foundations of what we now recognise as Human Rights.
To later generations, the twentieth century examples of Human Rights abuse can appear rather obsolete and far removed from life today. However, Human Rights abuse is still rife in many pockets of society. Ageism, sexism, and racism are but a few of the common instances where rights are violated.
Human Rights or Wrongs?
In January 2012, David Cameron our Prime Minister publicly stated that he felt Human Rights laws in the UK were hindering efforts to make Great Britain a safer nation, because the Court was distorting the concept of Human Rights. The media is outraged in particular by the case of alleged terrorists, who cannot be deported back to their home countries as this would be a violation of their Human Rights because they are likely to be executed. Mr. Cameron went on to argue that by paying heed to dangerous foreign nationals’ Human Rights, the Human Rights of other citizens are violated. This is but one example of the competing tensions the European Court of Human Rights has to adjudicate upon.
What Can You Do?
You do not need to be the leader of the UN, or the head of a humanitarian aid organisation to make a difference.
Organisations such as Amnesty International and Liberty hold campaigns and conferences throughout the year to expose and publicise incidents of Human Rights abuse worldwide. Attend some of their local meetings or log on to their websites to find out more about what they do. A particularly interesting feature on the Amnesty website, trial by timeline, reveals which punishments you would receive, just for being you, in countries which do not protect Human Rights the way Great Britain does – http://www.trialbytimeline.org.nz/
Every year, on 10th December the inauguration of the Universal Declaration is commemorated and is known as Human Rights Day. Individuals, communities and governments worldwide observe the commemoration with the aim of raising awareness. Become a part of that, and in the words of the Burmese Democracy Leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ‘use your freedom to promote ours’.
In the next issue, accompanied with the rather depressing post-Christmas lull, and the inevitable arrival of winter coughs and colds we shall be addressing medical law and some of the ethical issues associated with this constantly evolving topic.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Seema
Undergraduate in Law