Peace & Progress
A party for human rights
Who will decide our future?
The general election is taking place at a time of profound crisis, as natural and
man made disasters wreak terrible tragedies across the world. At the last general
election we called for a ‘world without fear and poverty’, a slogan that few could
oppose. We face this election with fear and poverty as the only solutions on offer:
‘savage’ cuts in public services, continued war in Afghanistan, uncritical support of
Israel, military build up against Iran, the demonising of immigrants and asylum
seekers who flee from war and poverty, and less controversially, though no less
significant, attacks on human and democratic rights.
At the beginning of this year Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake, which killed
over 250,000, displacing a third of the population and destroying the capital city,
leaving the country without government or infrastructure.
‘Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis
occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.
That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies,
to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes
politically inevitable.’ Milton Friedman.
The ideas lying around are of course the ideas of the ‘free market’, and an
ideological conviction that private ownership is better than public ownership.
Debt relief activists were immediately concerned that the IMF promised $100
million loan to Haiti would come with the same conditions as the terms attached to
a pre-existing loan of $165 million, namely: raising of electricity prices, keeping
inflation low and freezing pay for all state employees except those on the
minimum wage; that what was politically impossible might become politically
inevitable overnight. It’s what Naomi Klein calls the ‘shock doctrine’, the
exploitation of disaster shocked countries and people. It is evident throughout the
world in countries such as Greece who are trying to find a way out of the debt
crisis. Fears that Haiti would become an investment opportunity for US based
capital sparked an international protest which has forced the IMF to clarify the
terms of the new loan and indeed give a commitment to existing debt cancellation.
“Klein says that this is "unprecedented in my experience and shows that public
pressure in moments of disaster can seriously subvert shock doctrine tactics." Neil
Watkins, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, likewise hails the IMF's response.
"Since the IMF's announcement last week of its intention to provide Haiti with a
$100 million loan, Jubilee USA and our partners have been calling for grants and
debt cancellation--not new loans--for Haiti. We are pleased that Managing
Director Strauss-Kahn has responded to that call." IMF Clarifies Terms of Haiti's
Loan, by Richard Kim - 20 January, 2010
For the moment at least another man made disaster in Haiti has been averted.
A little more than two weeks later Barack Obama put forward a budget, in which
he increased military expenditure to nearly $1 trillion.
‘This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about
$70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan; 225,000
military “contractors” (mercenaries and workers); and veterans’ costs. Add $75
billion (nearly four times Canada’s total defence budget) for 16 intelligence
agencies with 200,000 employees.
The Afghanistan and Iraq wars ($1 trillion so far), will cost $200-250 billion more
this year, including hidden and indirect expenses. Obama’s Afghan “surge” of
30,000 new troops will cost an additional $33 billion — more than Germany’s total
defence budget.’ Eric Margolis Toronto Sun.
The increase in the US defence spending comes at a time of a record US budget
deficit, predicted to reach $1.35 trillion by this year, and the world’s worse
recession since the 1930s. The shock of which has reverberated around the globe,
with 43 of the world’s poorest countries suffering the consequences of the global
recession leaving them to face a $11.6bn shortfall in core areas such as education,
health, infrastructure, and social protection as export market demand in the
poorest countries has dropped between 5-10% in 2009, due to a downturn in trade.
Private capital flows to the poorest countries are projected to have dropped $13
billion in 2009, declining from $21 billion in 2008 and $30 billion in 2007.
Remittances to the poorest countries are anticipated to fall between 5 and 7% in
2009, recovering only modestly in 2010. The global economy is projected to fall by
2.9%, according to Bank estimates from June 2009. And world trade is projected to
fall by 10%. Developing countries are expected to grow by only 1.2% this year. As
many as 90 million more people will be living in extreme poverty, less than $1.25 a
day by the end of 2010. More than 1 billion people could go chronically hungry this
year, according to projections. This would reverse gains in fighting malnutrition.
According to UNICEF, 25,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die
quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny
and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying
multitudes even more invisible in death.”
In 2010, 30-50,000 more babies may die in Africa.
In the last thirty years there has been an unyielding transfer of wealth from the
poor to the rich. At present the poorest 40 percent of the world’s population
accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-
quarters of world income.
Here in the UK the re-distribution of wealth from the poor to the rich has carried
on relentlessly. Since Tony Blair’s third election victory the poorest 10% of
households have seen weekly incomes fall by £9 a week to £147 once inflation is
accounted for, while those in the richest 10% of homes have enjoyed a £45 a week
increase to £1,033. Making the income gap between the rich and poor, after 11
years of New Labour, higher than it was at any time during the Thatcher
government (Larry Elliot, the Guardian 8/5/09).
A recently published report by The National Equality Panel, entitled: ‘An Anatomy
of Economic Inequality in the UK’ Gives a detailed and startling analysis of how
unequal Britain has become where the richest 10% of the population are more than
100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society (Guardian 27/1/10).
Yet, there is no prospect of reversal to this structured inequality as each major
party is committed to ‘savage cuts’ to public spending in an attempt to reduce the
budget deficit, potentially swelling to 150% of national income by the bail out of
“Put all these things together, and the state we’re in doesn’t look peachy. The
imminence of the general election doesn’t help. Broadly speaking, the
circumstances are such that it shouldn’t much matter who wins the election, not
in economic terms. The economic realities are harsh and are likely to determine
most of what the new government does. Labour have promised to cut the deficit
in half within four years. They haven’t spelled out how they are going to do it,
and until recently Gordon Brown was talking about ‘Tory cuts versus Labour
investment’ – which, given what he must know about what the figures mean, is
jaw-droppingly cynical. The reality is that the budget, and the explicit promises of
both parties, imply a commitment to cuts of about 11 per cent across the board.
Both parties, however, have said that they will ring-fence spending on health,
education and overseas development. Plug in those numbers and we are looking at
cuts everywhere else of 16 per cent. (By the way, a two-year freeze in NHS
spending – which is what Labour have talked about – would be its sharpest
contraction in 60 years.)
Cuts of that magnitude have never been achieved in this country. Mrs Thatcher
managed to cut some areas of public spending to zero growth; the difference
between that and a contraction of 16 per cent is unimaginable. The Institute for
Fiscal Studies – which admittedly specialises in bad news of this kind – thinks the
numbers are, even in this dire prognosis, too optimistic. It makes less optimistic
assumptions about the growth of the economy, preferring not to accept the
Treasury’s rose-coloured figure of 2.75 per cent. Plugging these less cheerful
growth estimates into its fiscal model, the guesstimate for the cuts, if the ring-
fencing is enforced, is from 18 to 24 per cent. What does that mean? According to
Rowena Crawford, an IFS economist, quoted in the FT: ‘For the Ministry of
Defence an 18 per cent cut means something on the scale of no longer employing
the army.’ The Great British Economy Disaster, John Lanchester, LRB 11 March.
Cut the army? Of course not, not out of existence, but cut they will and elsewhere
the pain will be much sharper. The result - whether implemented immediately or
at a later date - will be a further rise in poverty as unemployment rises.
The prospects for those looking to find work are grim with unemployment already
at a 12 year high, 511,000 people lost their jobs in the year to December 2009. For
many the best options that remain lies in low pay, short-term agency contract
work. It is through agency work that many British workers come into contact with
immigrant workers, workers desperate to send money back to their families, or
refugees granted the right to remain in the UK. It is here on the common ground of
the job market where the attacks on immigration and asylum rights become the
reality for all. The precedent set by differentiating the benefit rights of asylum
seekers from everyone else, created the conditions for the Welfare Reform Act,
shifting the principle from entitlement to earned welfare support for all.
Immigration will be a central issue in the up and coming general election as each
party competes to be the toughest on ‘illegal’ immigration, protect ‘British values’
and ‘British jobs.’ And whilst there is a points system for immigration to service
the government’s quota system and the economy, there remains a drive to send
back as many migrants back as possible, regardless of their situation, and
regardless of the cost.
In response to a question from Clare Short about the removal of people from the
UK, Phil Woolas, Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, outlined the
following figures: The total number of charter flights conducted by the UK Border
Agency for the purpose of removing those with no right to remain in the United
Kingdom, and the total number of individuals removed on those flights, from l
January to 8 December 2009. Number of flights - 64. Number of persons removed -
1,973 in 2009 (to 8 December).
Charter flights were conducted to the following destination countries:
Afghanistan, Albania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Jamaica, Kosovo,
Nigeria. The UK Border Agency (UKBA), however, is unable to disclose the number
of flights to each destination country, as this information is confidential for
operational reasons. UKBA keeps records of the overall annual costs of charter
flights by financial year. Figures for the financial year 2009-10 are not yet
available, as they are subject to audit and may therefore change; however, for the
financial year 2008-09, the cost of charter flights was £8,227,553.38.
More costly of course is the policy of detention. It is far more costly to lock up an
asylum seeker, the vast majority of whom want to work, than it would be to pay
them benefits. It costs £130 a day to keep a person in detention; in the most
extreme situations, detaining a family of four for between 4 and 8 weeks costs over
£20,000. Men, women and children are detained by the UK Borders Agency.
According to the Home Affairs Committee it is estimated that up to 2,000 children
a year are detained in UKBA immigration detention centres. Why is our government
detaining children who are guilty of no crime what so ever and who will suffer
irreparable damage? On average, children spend over a fortnight in detention
(15.58 days). Detention for up to 61 days is not uncommon. On 30 June 2009, 10 of
the 35 children in detention had been held for between 29 days and 61 days.
Tinsley House, the detention centre where 10 year old Adeoti Ogunsola attempted
to take her own life after being forcibly re-detained, is run by a private company
called G4S. G4S’s chief executive Nick Buckles was recently awarded a £1.4 million
pay package. John Reid the former Home Secretary is paid £50,000 a year as a
consultant to G4S. Christopher Hyman, the chief exec of SERCO, the private
company that runs the notorious Yarlswood detention centre, reportedly earns
£3,000 a day for his services. It is difficult to see any purpose for these detention
centres other than as a means of transferring public money into private pockets at
a considerable cost to human lives.
The protection of UK borders and security has been used as justification for the
attack upon basic human and democratic rights. We are in a war, we are told,
against extreme fundamentalism which seeks to destroy ‘British values’. The ‘war
on terror’ has changed only in name and continues to be used to make the
‘politically impossible inevitable’. For those who govern the casualties are a small
price to pay. We are not of course just talking about the loss of British servicemen
in foreign wars of occupation. We are talking about the lives of innocent civilians
they kill, and closer to home, the ruining of the lives of those innocent people
identified as ‘enemies’ in this war, some of them tortured with the collusion of the
One has to look no further than the case of Binyam Mohamed. Binyam was arrested
in Pakistan and subsequently tortured there under US and British supervision before
being ‘outsourced’ to Moroccan torturers and sent to Guantanamo where he was
eventually released without charge. For years the British Government has tried to
suppress evidence that it colluded in the torture of Binyam by restricting
documentary evidence on the grounds of national security. Eventually the
restriction was overturned.
The disclosure of the evidence by three of Britain’s senior Judges, and their
subsequent condemnation of the security services was in stark contrast to
government claims that it has adhered to the conventions on torture, and that it
was unaware of the use of torture at Bagram, Guantanamo and the many ‘black
sites’ spread around the world.
‘The court's final ruling forced the Foreign Office to publish a seven-paragraph
summary of 42 classified CIA documents that were handed to MI5 before Witness B
travelled to Pakistan to interrogate Mohamed. These show that MI5 was aware
that Mohamed was being continuously deprived of sleep, threatened with
rendition and subjected to previous interrogations that were causing him
"significant mental stress and suffering". If administered in the UK, the summary
says, it would clearly be in breach of undertakings about interrogation techniques
made by the British government in 1972.
The three judges referred to a recent case in a US court where the judge found
Mohamed's claims about how he was tortured to be truthful. This vindicated his
assertion that "UK authorities had been involved in and facilitated the ill-
treatment and torture to which he was subjected while under the control of the
USA authorities".’ Guardian 10 Feb 2010.
Rights and the rule of law, however, have played a much more honourable role in
creating any ‘British values’ of justice over the last eight hundred years than this
Labour Government. Increasingly, the only protection that the poor and vulnerable
have are their fundamental human rights. Human rights have not inhibited the
brutal anti-immigrant and anti-asylum laws of recent years, but it has given some
protection to the persecuted, the impoverished and the tortured. Without human
rights law these people would have been removed from this country without
recourse to any legal argument. Neither have these simple guarantees been enough
for individuals like Binyam Mohammad during the tenure of his imprisonment. But
they are essential to securing justice for him following his release and ensuring it
never happens again. Without Article 2 of the EU Convention of Human Rights
(EUCHR) there would not have been justice following the death of Baha Mousa at
the hands of British forces in Iraq, or the basis for further prosecutions likely to
reveal multiple abuses of detainees by British soldiers in Iraq. Without these rights
there is little doubt that many, many more would have been subject to detention
and torture at the behest of the British state. Indeed Article 3 of the convention
has expressly prohibited the handing over of people from one state to anther for
“This has been the subject of near hysterical denunciation, not only by the
Conservatives but by many in the Labour establishment: there is one remarkable
case in which the judge sets out in detail the then prime minister Tony Blair’s
privately expressed exasperation at the UK’s inability to ship a suspect back to
Egypt to be interrogated by the security apparatus of one of his holiday friends,
Hosni Mubarak.” Conor Gearty, Terms of Art, LRB 11 March 2010
The Human Rights Act incorporated the EU Convention on Human Rights into British
law. Now the Conservative Party has said it wants to repeal the Human Rights Act.
“If Cameron is right to make repeal of the Human Rights Act an issue – right in the
sense that repeal has considerable popular support – then Labour has only itself to
blame. The act was as much maligned by ministers as it was by the opposition and
the right-wing press. It seemed to have been passed almost by accident, at a time
when the first Blair administration was searching for constitutional changes to
make, having promised to follow the Tories’ spending plans for its first two years
in power. It thus had quickly to find ways to ‘sex up’ the party’s first Queen’s
Speech in 18 years. Only recently have ministers begun to defend the values that
lie behind the act, to expose the lies that have been told about it and to support
the real (rather than fantasy tabloid) decisions concerning human rights that have
emerged from the courts.” Conor Gearty LRB 11 March 2010
Cameron must not be allowed to succeed. He argues that repealing the Human
Rights Act and replacing it with a bill of rights would best represent our traditional
freedoms. Labour also proposed a bill of rights with provision for social justice
including health, education and even equality. The problem here however is that
social provision in such a bill would be open to interpretation in a way that a right
is not; the power of a universal right is that it is indivisible from every human
being. We would only support a bill of rights that is underlined by the UN
Declaration, the EUCHR and the Human Rights Act. And as Gearty notes:
“But if we had a social rights charter enforceable by judges and a government
(Labour or Tory) committed to the inegalitarian status quo, who is to say that the
‘exigencies of the national interest’ or the ‘demands of fiscal responsibility’ or
‘the need to take into account the economic interests of others’ (i.e. the rich)
would not trump the right to shelter, or to water, or to work, or to whatever else
such a document had insisted on? Even the UN’s convention on these issues talks of
the progressive realisation of rights and the need to tailor expenditure to an
unspecified ‘maximum’ of ‘available resources’. Such caveats are inevitable in any
kind of instrument intended to be litigable. Were we to have such a charter, we
might find ourselves quite soon trying to convince the poor that their plight was in
full compliance with their human rights.”
To say ‘we are all in the same boat’ as Cameron has told us, is as dishonest as it is
untrue. It is also very clear that not one of the major political parties offer any just
solution to the social and economic crisis we face. And yet who ever wins the next
election will be mandated to decide our immediate and perhaps long term future.
At a time when the poor and weak are more vulnerable than ever, we have never
needed the protection that human rights can provide more. Migrants and asylum
seekers are some of the most vulnerable in our society and they are about to play
an unwitting role in a political game that will destroy lives. We owe it to them to
do everything we possibly can to challenge each party on their stance on
immigration in the run up to the general election and after. Immigration will be
the frontline in the defence of all our rights. Human rights offer particular, yet
universal values and benchmarks for the social and cultural life of every individual,
regardless of class, gender, race or religion. They offer the structure for a fair and
just society. As a party for Human Rights we must continue to insist upon these
values, their defence and their development whatever the colour or make-up of
the next British government.