Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Act’

H.G. Wells’ The Rights of Man Back in Print

May 16, 2016

This probably may not be news to many of you. Looking along the politics section of the Bristol branch of Waterstones this afternoon, I found that Penguin have reissued H.G. Wells’ The Rights of Man, which is his defence of human rights, written during the first two years of the Second World War. The blurb for it on Amazon states

H. G. Wells wrote The Rights of Man in 1940, partly in response to the ongoing war with Germany. The fearlessly progressive ideas he set out were instrumental in the creation of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the EU’s European Convention on Human Rights and the UK’s Human Rights Act.

When first published, this manifesto was an urgently topical reaction to a global miscarriage of justice. It was intended to stimulate debate and make a clear statement of mankind’s immutable responsibilities to itself. Seventy-five years have passed and once again we face a humanitarian crisis. In the UK our human rights are under threat in ways that they never have been before and overseas peoples are being displaced from their homelands in their millions. The international community must act decisively, cooperatively and fast. The Rights of Man is not an ‘entirely new book’ – but it is a book of topical importance and it has been published, now as before, in as short a time as possible, in order to react to the sudden and urgent need.

With a new introduction by award-winning novelist and human rights campaigner Ali Smith, Penguin reissues one of the most important humanitarian texts of the twentieth century in the hope that it will continue to stimulate debate and remind our leaders – and each other – of the essential priorities and responsibilities of mankind. See: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rights-Man-H-G-Wells/dp/0241976766?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Looking at the Amazon entry, it appears it came out last year in 2015, so obviously I’m somewhat late in just noticing it. Or perhaps it’s only recently that it’s found its way onto the bookshop shelves. I didn’t buy it, but I’m mentioning it here in case there are people, who are interested. And the blurb is right: human rights in Britain are under attack, and the millions of displaced people around the globe have been left without homes through murderous and oppressive regimes, so it is, as the blurb says, still very relevant.

I also thought I’d mention the book because, as the Channel 4 skit Mike put up on his site pointed out, the team that drafted the European Convention on Human Rights included British lawyers. Traditional, historic British conceptions of what constitute our inalienable human rights are a fundamental part of the European Human Rights legislation Cameron, Osborne and IDS despise, and wish to replace with a much weaker British Bill of Rights. And they, like Bliar and Broon, are totalitarians, who wish to expand the secret state while doing everything they can to prevent public scrutiny of government and officialdom. They were trying to find ways to water down the Freedom of Information Act to prevent the release of information they may find awkward or embarrassing. In the view of the present Tory administration, information released under the Act is only to be used to understand how a particular official decision was made, not to challenge that decision. And they have done their best to protect the firms that have signed up to workfare by steadfastly refusing to release their names, in case public pressure forced them to withdraw from this highly exploitative scheme and it ceased to work.

This is a government hell-bent on taking our rights away, and reducing Britain to what Jeremy Corbyn has rightly described as ‘a zombie democracy’, a political sham, which retains some of the forms of democracy, but where they substance has long been hollowed out and removed. In this ominous political climate, it’s good that Wells book is being republished.

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E-Petition, Meetings and Demos against Hackney Council’s Criminalisation of Rough Sleepers

June 4, 2015

I got this request to sign a petition on Change.org yesterday from Zahira Patel in Bromley. She writes to protest against the new police powers Hackney Council is proposing to give to their police so that they can fine and prosecute rough sleepers in the borough. She states

Hackney Council’s new “Public Space Protection Orders” will give police and council officers the power to ban “anti-social” activities such as sleeping rough or begging. Those who breach an order could be issued with a £100 fixed penalty notice or a fine of £1,000.

As homeless charities have pointed out, this will criminalise the homeless who are already vulnerable. It is absurd to impose a fine of £1,000 on somebody who is already homeless and struggling. People should not be punished for the “crime” of not having a roof over their head – there is nothing inherently “anti social” or criminal about rough sleeping. Criminalising rough sleeping privileges the appearance of Hackney and the convenience of customers over the damage caused to the vulnerable and homeless.

Note that Kay Zell Huxley, a duty manager at a pub in the area was reported to have admitted that the “vagrants hanging around” do “respect the businesses and the pubs and are generally well behaved.” It is completely unjustifiable to criminalise these people simply because they “may be intimidating for people outside.” We should not privilege the convenience and desire of customers to have a good night out without having to see any homeless people over the lives and rights of those who are homeless and vulnerable.

We already know that homeless people are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and are already victims of exceptionally high levels of violence, crime and victimisation which is often committed by the general public and largely goes unreported. Researchers at the London School of Economics confirmed this in a study commissioned by Crisis as far back as 2004 and the rate of homelessness has only increased since then. We should not allow measures which will make the lives of those with nowhere else to go even harder than they already are.

We have seen public pressure stop similar measures when they were proposed by Oxford City Council. Let’s make sure we also stop this in Hackney and everywhere else it is proposed – we must force councils and policy makers to deal with the lack of affordable housing and rising levels of homelessness in London as a whole, rather than allow them to get away with shifting the “problem” into another borough.

Please take a moment to sign this petition. Let’s make sure that Hackney Council doesn’t make rough sleeping harder than it already is!

The petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/hackney-council-stop-criminalising-hackney-s-rough-sleepers?utm_source=action_alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=320853&alert_id=ZxcmqaXGXS_By7w7G1xVoDY42RgG6ngIOusxjs8nXPXPHSTeSF%2By1s%3D

Tonight I got this update, reporting that they were holding a public meeting against these laws and were planning demonstrations for the 22nd of this month. It’s again from the organiser, Zahira Patel. She writes

Everyone has done an incredible job of spreading this petition. We now have over 70,000 signatures and there is lots of activity being planned!

If you are free and near Hackney tonight, you may want to attend a public meeting to plan a direct action in response to the Council’s PSPOs. It will be held tonight at 7pm, Halkevi Centre, Dalston Lane.

Hackney Renters are also organising a demonstration on Monday 22nd June, 6PM, outside Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street, E8 1EA London, United Kingdom.
Please see the events page here- https://www.facebook.com/events/1403275666667416/ and attend if you can!
You can follow Hackney Renters on Twitter by following @Hackney_renters for further updates about this.

There has also been a lot of media attention on this, with stories being featured by The Independent, The Guardian, The Huffington Post and others. Singer Ellie Goulding has also criticised the Council’s PSPOs which will hopefully raise even more public attention.

Here are a few of the articles which have been published:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/thousands-sign-petition-calling-on-london-borough-of-hackney-to-stop-criminalising-homeless-people-10295269.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/06/04/hackney-homeless-to-be-fined-london_n_7508716.html
http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/jun/04/ellie-goulding-challenges-british-councils-treatment-homeless-hackney-pspo
http://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2015/jun/03/councils-help-rough-sleepers-not-fine-them-hackney

You can follow me on Twitter using @ZahiraPatel if you would like to be kept updated on further media stories on the PSPO.

I will be in touch soon over the next few weeks about how we can deliver this petition or arrange a meeting with the Council if possible. So far we have done an incredible job of building public awareness of this issue – now let’s use our collective 70,000-strong voice to persuade Hackney Council to remove rough sleeping from its PSPOs! Please keep writing to, tweeting or contacting the Council and urge them to follow Oxford City Council’s decision to leave out rough sleeping from its PSPO.

Thank you once again for all your help and I hope many of you will be able to attend the demonstration.

This is chilling, and is definitely one for Johnny Void, who is particularly interested in homelessness and the authorities’ policy of social cleansing – forcing the poor and working class out of London, in order to make it nice and attractive for the middle class and super-rich.

It also shows how reactionary the Tories are. Under Thatcher, they were determined to drag us back, kicking and screaming, into the golden age of cut-throat capitalism, the 19th century. Now they’re trying to drag us even further back to the Sixteenth Century. This was a time when the nascent industrial economy first suffered a serious recession. Thousands lost their jobs and their homes, and were forced to take to the road to look for work. This frightened the authorities, who saw ‘masterless men’ – those without a craft employer or manorial lord, as a threat to public order. Local authorities also did not wish to see their areas burdened with supporting the poor from outside. They reacted by passing a series of legislation providing for vagrants to whipped and sent on their way. The laws against vagrancy in Halifax and Hull were so severe, that they became immortalised in a ‘beggar’s prayer’

‘From Hell, Hull and Halifax, good Lord deliver us.’

This is the modern version of that legislation. They can’t whip the poor souls, so they’re reduced to fining them instead. Which is particularly ridiculous, considering that if they had any money, they wouldn’t be on the streets in the first place.

I can, however, see this situation changing. A couple of decades ago you could hear the more extreme Tories talk approvingly about the birch in the Isle of Man. The island still retained this medieval corporal punishment, in which criminals were caned by the local police. There’s still nostalgia amongst some of the older generation for caning in schools, despite the horror stories you can hear from some of them about the abuse and violence meted out by sadistic teachers. Amongst tales of caning, my father told me how one of the teachers at his old school once threw one poor child out the window when he couldn’t answer a question.

I’ve got a feeling that some of the pressure against caning, and the birch, comes from international human rights legislation. This will go if the Tories succeed in getting rid of it. Then they’ll be nothing – or at least, very little – preventing the Tories from reintroducing the cane and the birch. And they can exercise their full, atavistic hatred of the poorest in society by having them flogged for daring to appear in public.

Vox Political: Channel 4 Documentary and Churches’ Report against Mass Sanctions

March 2, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has a piece on a documentary tonight by Channel 4’s Despatches, Britain’s Benefit Crackdown. The documentary covers a recent report into the appalling consequences of the sanctions regime by a coalition of Baptist, Methodist, the United Reformed Church, and Welsh and Scottish churches, Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions. The churches condemn the sanctions regimes because of the hardship it inflicts on the poor, the sick and the disabled. They point out that the sanctions regime is worse than the criminal justice system and ordinary employers. The courts cannot order a convicted criminal to be denied food, and ordinary employers can’t stop peoples’ wages for petty infractions, like coming to work ten minutes late. But jobcentres not only can, but do.

And Mike is most infuriated by the harm this does to children. His piece is called Coalition government condemned over sanctions regime that tortures children. It begins with the horrifying statistic of the number of children, who have been the victims of sanctions.

Around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions between the beginning of April 2013 and the end of March 2014, according to a new report.

In the same period, nearly seven million weeks’ worth of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.

The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, entitled Britain’s Benefits Crackdown.

The report – Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions – is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under ‘welfare reform’, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.

It features the stories of people like James [not his real name] who have had their benefits sanctioned: “During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to.

“By the fourth week, however, I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating, but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly,” he added.

The churches are also concerned with the degradation and humiliation inflicted by the sanctions regime, which they feel contravenes the proper respect and love due to all humans as created by the Lord.

“But sanctions don’t just have a financial impact. The people we’ve spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system. As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity.”

Mike also points out that the deliberate infliction of hunger also contravenes the UN Convention on Human Rights, Article 3, as also contained in the Human Rights Act. The British civil liberties organisation, Liberty, also considers this to be the case. Mike provides the link.

He also quotes Dr Barry Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales, who is also concerned that the DWP guidelines knowingly discuss the use of hunger and deprivation on benefit claimants. The good churchman also makes the point that the amount of suffering the sanctions regime has inflicted in Wales may be much greater, but he doesn’t have the statistics on it. They haven’t been released, despite requests for them under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mike’s article concludes

It is clear that the DWP is in breach of the Human Rights Act and is subjecting benefit claimants to torture as punishment for late attendance at appointments.

This report by the churches is to be welcomed. Now, what can they do to punish the government for torturing its own citizens?

It’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/02/coalition-government-condemned-over-sanctions-regime-that-tortures-children/.

No doubt after the Despatches programme tonight, the Tories will start their using moaning about ‘left-wing liberal bias’. They’ll say the same thing about the churches’ report. Just as they did to the 50-page letter attacking benefits drafted by the Anglican bishops under Archbishop Welby. The Tories like to pretend that they are the protectors of Christianity against secularism and militant Islam. In fact, as their behaviour to the various churches shows, they have absolute contempt for them when their social attitudes and theology is not in absolute agreement with theirs. And that’s shown in the derisory treatment the Archbishop of Wales and his team have received from them in the government’s blatant withholding of information. Just as they also treated Mike and the other inquirers with contempt and disdain when they requested this information.

The sanctions regime is a criminal, humanitarian disaster. It should be scrapped, and those behind it humiliated and forced to leave office.

Secret Society: 1980s Documentary on British Culture of Political Secrecy

January 16, 2015

The government’s response to the terrible events in France last week, when gunmen murdered 12 people, including the staff of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and then held people hostage in a Jewish supermarket, has been to pass further legislation attacking basic civil rights. This legislation not only gives the security services further powers to monitor telephone and internet communications, it also provides for suspected returning terrorists to be denied entry to Britain. Terrorists and those convicted of ‘terrorist-related activity’ may also be subject to a form of ‘internal exile’, under which they can be removed from their homes and placed anywhere up to 200 miles away from their family and friends.

Dangers of the Government’s Anti-Terror Laws

There are provisions within the new legislation to regulate and protect the public, such as the creation of a human rights committee to oversee the law’s application and prevent abuse. Critics of the laws have pointed out that it is unclear how the proposed committee would operate, and who would sit on it.

This should be a cause for serious concerns, considering the way the government has already tried to cut down on our basic democratic freedoms, all under the pretext of protecting us from terrorism. The Tories and their Lib Dem lackeys have tried to pass legislation creating secret courts. These would try cases relating to national security in secrecy, excluding the press and the public. The accused and their lawyers would denied access to sensitive evidence, and would not know who their accusers are. This is a Kafkaesque travesty of justice, of the type the great Czech writer described in his novels The Castle and The Trial. It is an attack on the basic foundation of British justice since Magna Carta, that you may know who your accuser is, and the crime for which you have been charged. It is telling on this point that Cameron, when asked what Magna Carta was when he appeared on American television, didn’t know.

Official Secrecy, Workfare and ATOS

And then there is the culture of official secrecy, which still continues despite the Blair government’s publication of the Freedom of Information Act after the American model. The government has passed further legislation to weaken it. It has refused to publish the precise figures of the numbers of people dying after they were found fit for work by ATOS after requests by bloggers and disability rights campaigners, including Mike over at Vox Political. Johnny Void and others have described how the government has also refused to release the names of the firms signed up to the workfare scheme. The government’s excuse for this is the frank confession that the measure is so unpopular that if they do, the firms using unpaid workers under the scheme would be placed under such stress that they would be forced to withdraw and the scheme collapse.

Highly Placed Paedophiles and Murderers

The most sinister, odious and pernicious aspect of this culture of official secrecy has been the protection it has given to highly placed paedophiles, such as the Lib Dem politician, Cyril Smith. A dossier of 22 paedophile politicos has now been passed on to the police. Horrifically, three people may have been murdered by a paedophile ring of politicians using the Elm Tree guest house in the 1980s. A male prostitute, who went to these orgies claimed that the ring had been responsible for murders of two boys, one White and one Asian. A worker for Lambeth Council, Bulic, was also found dead a week after stating that he felt his life was in danger due to his knowledge of the ring and its activities. Leon Brittain, Thatcher’s secretary of state, was handed a dossier on such highly placed child molesters by Geoffrey Dickinson in the 1980s. Brittain claims that he passed them on to MI5, who misplaced them.

The obsession with official secrecy, in which successive governments have withheld information from the public, is responsible for serious miscarriages of justice and threatens to undermine basic political and civil freedoms. It has also allowed the vicious, sadistic and exploitative abusers of the young and helpless, such as Thatcher’s friend, the monstrous Jimmy Savile, to escape justice.

Duncan Campbell’s Documentary, Secret Society

Government secrecy was also a major issue of national importance and interest in the 1980s. One of the small, single issue parties that appeared in the 1987 general election was the ‘Deep Throat’ party. This was a group of five men, who refused to make any statements, and refused to show their faces as a protest against ‘excessive government secrecy’. More seriously, that same year the BBC broadcast the documentary Secret Society by Duncan Campbell. In the words of the blurb put up for it on Youtube on Edgar Lobb’s channel, this covered

‘secret groups, committees and societies that operate silently within British government. The first episode about secret cabinet committees features author Peter Hennessy, Clive Ponting and MP Clement Freud amongst others. In this freedom of information tour de force Campbell exposes the secret decision to buy U.S. Trident nuclear submarines as well as laying bare the cabinet level dirty tricks campaign against CND and its general secretary Bruce Kent. Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan, the British Atlantic Committee, The ultra-right Coalition for Peace Through Security and the cabinet secretary come in for sharp criticism for keeping key decisions secret from MP’s. The series consists of the following 6 programmes: 1. The Secret Constitution: Secret Cabinet Committees; 2. We’re All Data Now: Secret Data Banks; 3. In Time Of Crisis: Government Emergency Powers; 4. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO): making up their own law and policy; 5. A Gap In Our Defences – about bungling defence manufacturers and incompetent military planners who have botched every new radar system that Britain has installed since World War II; 6. Zircon – about GCHQ with particular reference to a secret 500 million satellite. Missing are last two (5 and 6) programmes. His support for this series was one of the key reasons BBC Director General, Alasdair Milne (who was replaced by Michael Checkland, an accountant) was sacked. This Journalistic Coup d’Etat was conducted by Lord Victor Rothschild, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Marmaduke Hussey in 1986. The BBC’s independence has been under sustained assault ever since. Secret Society was suppressed from high above since it was simply too controversial as it openly exposed various secret groups operating invisibly inside British government. They made damn sure no one would ever discover them but they were very wrong. Find out who they are and what are they doing without your knowledge.’

The Situation Today

Maggie’s Politicisation of the State

It’s a very interesting series, and still deeply relevant today. It shows how deeply ingrained the culture of secrecy is in Westminster. Conservative hacks on the Spectator, Daily Mail and elsewhere, like Quentin Letts, lined up to criticise Blair’s administration for politicising the civil service with the immense numbers of SPADs – special advisors – they took in to supplement and replace that of the civil servants, whose job this traditionally was. Yet this programme shows that it really began with Thatcher and her campaign against CND. It also shows how the Maggie’s government was prepared to lie and spread what was basically propaganda in order to support a pro-nuclear stance, as well as spy on and disrupt CND members, meetings and protests, quite apart from the use of government resources and civil servants for her own political campaign.

Official Sale of Personal Data

The episode ‘We’re All Data Now’ also remains relevant. It shows how official bodies were intent on spying on us, and governmental bodies were keen to sell our personal information to private companies right at the beginning of that trend. It’s grown immensely in the nearly thirty years since that programme was first broadcast, and is now, more than ever, a danger to our privacy and personal freedom. Especially as the Coalition believes it has a right to sell our personal medical history to private health companies. All in the interest of promoting greater efficiency and competition, of course.

It’s important here also to note that the weak legislation that was put in place to protect our personal details from government acquisition did not come from British politicians, but was forced on them by the Council of Europe. The Conservatives and Farage’s UKIP would like to scrap the current human rights legislation, because it has, they feel, been imposed on us by the European Community. It hasn’t. As Mike and others have shown, it comes from the Council of Europe. This episode, nevertheless, shows what we can expect if the Tories and UKIP go ahead with their plans. The present protection for personal information was only grudgingly conceded after pressure from the Europeans. With that removed, we can expect the wholesale scrapping of the current human rights legislation, and the further development of an authoritarian surveillance society, which regards its citizens’ personal details as just another product to be acquired and sold.

Nuclear War and the Britain of V for Vendetta

As for the discussion of the secret preparations for the establishment of American military authority in Britain, and the more or less complete dismantlement of democracy and its replacement with a military dictatorship, this is very much the kind of Britain that Alan Moore and John Lloyd portrayed in V for Vendetta. In the original Warrior comic strip, the Fascist British state had arisen after a nuclear war between the West and the Warsaw pact over the Solidarity crisis in Poland. It was a projection of the worst elements of the Thatcher administration, and followed from a general concern in British comics at the time with the renewed anti-immigrant campaigns of the National Front and the Monday Club within the Tory party. The Britain portrayed in V for Vendetta was not under American control. However, the provisions in the secret treaty with America providing for the establishment of secret courts, the mass conscription of labour, the imprisonment and internment of pacifists and political dissidents, and the creation of a dictatorship are very much like that of the dystopian Britain in the strip.

Anderton, ACPO and the Underground Press

As for ACPO, James Anderton was notorious at the time as the right-wing policeman, with a bitter hatred of homosexuals and other social deviants and misfits. A biography of him that appeared a few years ago bore the title, God’s Cop, after his statement that he believed he was doing ‘God’s work’. Manchester’s Picadilly Press, which published, among other literature, the highly transgressive Lord Horror, which cast Hitler, the Nazis and Lord Haw Haw in the style of characters from the fiction of William S. Burroughs, were raided regularly by Anderton. They took their revenge by sending him up in their comics and fiction.

Duncan Campbell remains very much active today, campaigning against the growing encroachment on our civil liberties of state surveillance. There are a number of videos of him speaking on this topic on Youtube, and he also has his own site on the web.

See Part 2 of this article for a description of the contents of individual episodes.