Monday, September 12, 2005

PACE President warning to UK

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)issued this press release on Friday last (quoted in full because of what I believe to be its fundamental importance):

The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), René van der Linden, today expressed his concern at recent statements by the UK Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.

Mr Clarke, speaking of the possibility of the European Court of Human Rights finding UK anti-terrorism legislation to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, had appeared to suggest that such a judgment could lead to a reconsideration of whether or not the UK should remain party to the Convention, since it would contradict the 'consensus' on how rights should be defended.

“The European Convention on Human Rights is the heart and foundation of the Council of Europe's human rights protection system,” said Mr van der Linden. “Its effectiveness depends upon its Court, the first international judicial mechanism for human rights protection in the world and a crowning achievement of civilised values. I find it very alarming that a politician may be making statements that could have the effect of undermining the judicial independence of that Court, by stating in advance that an undesired judgment might have negative political consequences.”

Mr van der Linden also replied to those who felt that the Convention was no longer relevant to the current circumstances of the fight against terrorism. “The Convention was drafted in the immedate aftermath of the bloodiest, most destructive war the world has ever seen. It is not a luxury for times of peace, but a necessity to prevent tyranny and conflict."

He puts his finger on what should be our instinctive response to the oft trotted out rhetoric of politicians on the "war on terror." Yes Mr Clarke and his counterparts have a difficult job overseeing security in the face of people prepared to engage in destructive acts to undermine their respective societies. But how can a blueprint for protecting human rights, drafted as René van der Linden says "in the immedate aftermath of the bloodiest, most destructive war the world has ever seen", be "outdated" just because it provides checks and balances on the actions of people in power, who, no doubt with the best of motives, want to be seen to be "doing something" in response to the perceived "new" terrorist threat. Reacting, as western governments have been, disproportionately to the real and perceived threat of terrorism, in haste, by dismantling fundamental protections for civil rights in the name of protecting those civil rights, will see us "repenting at leisure" the long term consequences.

Thanks to Caspar Bowden for the link.

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