Battersea CLP passes DRIP motion

This week Battersea CLP passed a robust motion on data surveillance. Proposed by Battersea CLP member and LCHR supporter Dan Garrigan, the motion came after the legislation nicknamed DRIP (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act) was rushed through Parliament in the absence of proper scrutiny. Concerned with potential indiscriminate use of the bill, its lack of transparency, and scarce accountability, Dan said on his blog:

“Anything that fundamentally disrupts the balance between the individual’s right to privacy and national security must be very carefully examined and the onus must surely fall on the state to demonstrate why further impingements of our liberty are necessary.”

The motion below is an important contribution to the debate on data surveillance and helps to sustain the pressure on the Government for a revision of the enshrined legislation.

 

CLP motion against mass surveillance

In 2013, the whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the existence of a mass surveillance programme operated by the UK government. It gives the government access to information such as who we send messages to and which websites we browse. This surveillance is not targeted at suspected criminals or terrorists, but rather at the entire population.

In July 2014, Parliament passed the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP), entrenching aspects of mass surveillance into UK law. It passed with little scrutiny or debate.

This CLP notes:

  1. Information about our communications and internet use can reveal intimate details about our lives, including our health, legal and financial affairs, and relationships.
  1. There is a distinction between carrying out surveillance against an individual suspected of a crime or involvement in terrorism, and mass surveillance carried out against the whole population regardless of innocence or guilt.
  1. There is potential for abuse or misuse of surveillance powers. In recent years the security services and police have been accused of spying on or infiltrating groups of political activists, students’ unions, human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, charities like UNICEF, unions, and prominent individuals in the Labour Party like the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan and Doreen Lawrence.
  1. The public are sceptical about mass surveillance. A poll from May 2014 shows that 88 percent of people believe their phone records, for example, should be kept private.
  1. The stated intention of the Conservative Party is to increase mass surveillance with further legislation in 2016 when DRIP expires.
  1. There is a need for the Labour Party to demonstrate it can responsibly balance privacy and security.
  1. The way DRIP was passed with little scrutiny or debate risks undermining public confidence in the security services and Parliament.

This CLP resolves:

  1. Any legislation dealing with an issue as complex and ethically challenging as data surveillance should always be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and it is regrettable that DRIP was not.
  1. Surveillance is a vital tool in tackling terrorism and crime, but it should only be used if there is reasonable suspicion of the subject’s involvement in such activity.
  1. The Snowden revelations have shown there is a need for greater oversight of the security services to ensure they have the public’s confidence. Authorisation of surveillance by a judge would also be a helpful step in ensuring proper accountability.

If you are a Labour member and would like to propose a similar motion then please contact andrew.noakes@lchr.org.uk.

LCHR statement on emergency data retention law

We are concerned about the plans to introduce emergency legislation governing collection of personal communications data.

The proposed legislation will force phone and internet companies to retain data about who we call and send messages to, in addition to when and where from. This data will then be used by the government for surveillance. The data gathering is indiscriminate, meaning millions of innocent people can be spied on.

There are many questions about data surveillance that need to be addressed through proper parliamentary scrutiny and public debate.

Can we trust the security services not to misuse these powers? There is a long history in Britain of intelligence agencies and police conducting inappropriate surveillance and clandestine operations, including spying on benign activism groups, the union movement, and even people like Doreen Lawrence.

Do these powers go too far in undermining privacy? A recent poll showed 88 percent of the public think it’s important to maintain the privacy of their phone records. And yet this bill would allow mass collection of these same records.

Will these powers even be effective? The Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremism think thank, says mass surveillance will backfire, further fuelling terrorism.

We need time to address these questions. MPs need time to understand and scrutinise what is being proposed. If this is simply rushed through, the public will suspect an establishment “stich-up”, which will in turn undermine confidence in the security services. LCHR would like to see the passage of this bill delayed to allow time for a proper debate.

This is an important issue for Labour. We must show people that today’s Labour Party can be trusted to responsibly balance privacy and security. That’s why we need more time to look at these proposals.

Please send an email to your MP asking them to ensure there is a proper debate. You can use the sample text below. You can find out who your MP is here. If you click on their name you will be taken to a page with their e-mail address.

—-

Dear

I am writing because I am concerned about the announcement that emergency legislation regarding the collection of personal communications data will be rushed through Parliament.

The legislation will force phone and internet companies to retain data about who we call and send messages to, in addition to when and where from. The data collection will be indiscriminate and it will then be used by the government for surveillance.

I believe you and other MPs must have the time you need to consider this intricate issue. It is not possible for MPs to scrutinise and debate this legislation over the course of a few days.

I am writing to ask you to press for this bill to be delayed so that it can be fully understood and debated, and so the public can be confident that new powers are justified.

Yours sincerely,

Introducing: Human rights on the doorstep

Today the Labour Campaign for Human Rights is launching a pamphlet aimed at identifying the best way to defend human rights against Tory attacks. It is called Human rights on the doorstep. It provides an overview of the strongest arguments for building public support for human rights and examines the question of reform.
 
As our pamphlet argues, to push back against negative perceptions we must speak about the example Britain sets to the rest of the world with its human rights record, emphasise that human rights are compatible with longstanding British traditions, and most importantly celebrate the myriad of ways human rights help ordinary people on a daily basis.
 
Labour should also engage with the dissatisfaction of some voters surrounding human rights. Of course, LCHR believes the priority should be to defend the existing framework. But if reform is seen as unavoidable, we believe there are options that could strengthen rather than undermine human rights.
 
The pamphlet examines contentious reform proposals like a Bill of Rights and reforming the European Court of Human Rights. It also looks at the possibility of adding new rights to the Human Rights Act and extending its scope to cover the private sector.
 
If you have any comments about the pamphlet, do not hesitate to contact LCHR’s Chair at andrew.noakes@lchr.org.uk.

 

Human Rights Act/ECHR policy consultation

HRA/ECHR POLICY CONSULTATION

The Labour Campaign for Human Rights is asking individuals and organisations with an interest in the debate around the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to submit their ideas and recommendations for how the Labour Party can best defend the HRA and ECHR at the next election.

These submissions can be in the form of existing publications or briefings that cover some or all of the questions. Alternatively, you can answer the following questions directly. If you are answering directly, we are looking for concise responses of no more than a page for each question. Answers shorter than this are also welcome.

You do not have to answer all of the questions. You can focus on only one or a few questions if you wish.

Your answers will be crucial in informing our policy recommendations to the Labour Party. Your answers will not be made available to the public. The questions can be viewed below and answered here. Please return your completed sheet or send publications/briefings to andrew.noakes@lchr.org.uk

The deadline for answers is Friday 30 May.

 

1. Do you think there is any room for reform of (a) the HRA, (b) the ECHR, (c) and/or the European Court of Human Rights that would improve them and strengthen the case for their retention? If so, what kind of reform would you suggest?

 

2. What do you think is the best way to win public support for the HRA/ECHR? How can we make human rights more appealing to people?

 

3. Do you think there is a case for introducing a British Bill of Rights? If so, what form could this take? If not, you are welcome to explain why not.

 

4. How has the HRA/ECHR affected you or your members? Please give examples.

 

5. What role, if any, do you see for the EU in the debate on human rights (in particular the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights)?

Guest blog: Make no mistake. FGM is not cultural. It’s harmful.

By Fiona Dent

The UK is known as a bastion of human rights throughout the world. However, I sometimes wonder why we have gaping blindspots and fail to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society. There are few people supportive of human rights in the UK that would defend the abuse known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Why is it then that schools are having to be instructed by Michael Gove (and only after pressure from the recent Guardian campaign) to take action in protecting young girls from these life-restricting and life-threatening abuses? Full details on how extreme FGM and it’s consequences can be are available from the World Health Organisation.

Safeguarding procedures have been in place for years but recent Freedom Of Information (FOI) responses have shown that councils, schools, social services and the NHS have rarely utilised such mechanisms. Why are all these well-educated, well-informed, caring professionals failing in what is such an important task?

Having been vocal about FGM for many years, I campaign and make contemporary fine art on the subject, I believe I have an insight into the problem by way of the responses that I have received from certain quarters. One very common response is that it is “part of their culture;” from that I infer the sub text that the people who do it are not like ‘us,’ and therefore do not have to conform to ‘our’ human rights standards. They are free to do what they like to their children with impunity. I find this response one of the most saddening; for me it is racist. My suspicion that racism is at the heart of the problem is strengthened by the fact that very few of the victims are white.

On occasion, I have been criticised as a ‘cultural imperialist’. Detractors claim that I am seeking to impose white, Western cultural norms on people from other cultures (I am a white Westerner). The criticism has come from a wide range of sources; from as far away as Africa to as near as senior people within the UK establishment. My critics suggest that the parents know their culture best and also know what is best for their children. They indicate their belief that to be anti-FGM is equivalent to saying Western culture is superior to others. Nothing could be further from the truth. Patriarchal values are largely universal across most ‘cultures’, and I cannot think of any country that defends girls and women from gender-based violence successfully. Indeed, the UK is considered the FGM capital of Europe and we have considerable problems of rape, domestic violence and other issues. No – violence against women is so ‘normalised’ that cultural excuses are always made for it and the West is no better than anywhere else; “she was asking for it.” “she provoked him,” “a man does not like to be nagged.” Patriarchy can only exist if women are controlled and kept down and FGM is just one, very extreme, form of control.

The purpose of FGM is to remove the girl’s interest in sex for the rest of her life and thereby make her an amenable, marriageable commodity. The result is far more profound than that. It teaches the little girl that even the integrity of her body is at the disposal of her community’s ‘culture’ and that she is powerless to resist. What better way to teach a child that she is worthless and that she must take her place at the very bottom of the cultural hierarchy?

One of the scariest things about FGM is that this extreme form of abuse is done to girls within the context of the family and therefore little is being done by the Government to actively defend the girls. The removal of, or permanent damage to, external genitalia is something that has been done to boys and men in war zones as a form of punishment and torture, and it is rightly considered a war crime. I can only concude that our collective inaction to protect 65,000 British girls (most recent estimate from ‘An unpunished crime,’ Julie Bindel, published by the New Culture Forum) is one of the most malignant signs that sexism is alive and well in the UK.

Human rights should be defended for every person on the planet and the UK, in particular, should set a good example. The suggestion that somehow children are exempted from legal protection because they ‘belong’ to their parents is abhorrent to me. Parents and communities are an important part of caring for, protecting and making decisions for their children but the state also has responsibilities to protect children and uphold their human rights.

So, am I against the very worst excesses of patriarchal domination of women by ‘cultural’ means? Of course I am. Is this imperialist? No. I am simply upholding the basic human rights that most of the world is signed up to. To quote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
“All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”

Please support my e-petition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/57666.

Further details can be found at www.actiononfgm.com

Fiona also blogs at www.fionaforlabour.blogspot.co.uk and www.facebook.com/FionaDentLabour

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Labour Campaign for Human Rights.

If you have an idea for a guest blog, please get in touch with Charlie Yaxley at charles.yaxley@lchr.org.uk

Event: “Human rights under attack: how can Labour defend the Human Rights Act?”

We are very pleased to announce our next event: “Human rights under attack: how can Labour defend the Human Rights Act?” This is a joint event with the Society of Labour Lawyers.

Format: Panel discussion followed by Q&A.

Date/Time: Wednesday 30 April, 6:15pm-8pm

Location: Parliament, Committee Room 15

Speakers:

Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Justice Secretary

David Mepham, UK Director of Human Rights Watch

Richard Arthur, National Coordinator of Trade Union Law, Thompsons solicitors

Sanchita Hosali, Deputy Director of the British Institute of Human Rights

Hannah Reed, Senior Policy Officer, Equality and Employment Rights Department, TUC

Amanda Ariss, Chief Executive, Equality and Diversity Forum

This event will officially launch our campaign on defending the ECHR/HRA, and our associated policy consultation. It will be an opportunity to develop, through an exchange of views, a set of ideas that will inform LCHR’s recommendations for how Labour should defend the ECHR/HRA.

It will seek to address the following three questions in particular:

  1. Whether the ECHR or the Court should be reformed.
  2. Whether there should be a British bill of rights.
  3. What arguments constitute the best defence of the ECHR/HRA on the doorstep.

Please join us on 30 April to discuss these important questions. This is a public event, open to all.

If you’re coming from outside Parliament, please use the Cromwell Green entrance and allow 20-30 minutes to pass through security.

If you would like to attend, please RSVP to Ayesha Carmouche at ayesha.carmouche@lchr.org.uk

Introducing LCHR’s new campaigns

Dear friends,

After six months of campaigning on data surveillance and international counter-terrorism, LCHR has brought these two important campaigns to an end. We are now moving on to two new campaigns, which will run between April and October 2014. The first is focused on defending the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Human Rights Act (HRA). The second is on women’s rights in Afghanistan.

We look forward to getting all of you involved with these campaigns. You can find more details about them below. For both, we will be organising events, doing grassroots campaigning, and conducting advocacy and policy work among other activities.  If you’d like to help, send a message to our Chair at andrew.noakes@lchr.org.uk.

The ECHR/HRA

The Conservatives have pledged to repeal the HRA and have threatened to withdraw from the ECHR if they win the next General Election. We will campaign to equip the Labour Party with the best possible defence for the ECHR and HRA as we move into election season.

The ECHR is an international treaty that protects human rights. Numerous European countries, including Britain, are signatories. There is also a European Court of Human Rights that enforces compliance with the ECHR through its judgements. The HRA is the piece of legislation, passed by the Labour Government in 1998, that incorporates the ECHR into UK law. This means people do not have to take cases to the European Court of Human Rights if their rights under the ECHR have been violated in Britain. They can take their cases to British courts instead.

The ECHR and HRA have given critical protection to people facing all sorts of challenging circumstances. In Britain they have been used to help women fleeing domestic violence, stop cases of modern day slavery, ensure equal treatment for LGBT people, prevent older people from being separated from their husbands and wives in care, stop discrimination in the workplace, and maintain the ban on corporal punishment in schools.

The ECHR is heavily influenced by British legal and political traditions, and has allowed us to extend protection for basic rights across Europe.

LCHR will campaign vigorously to stop the Conservatives from denying these protections to British people.

Women’s rights in Afghanistan

As NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan this year, women’s rights are increasingly under threat. The Afghan government has, in the last few months, threatened to remove protections against rape in marriage and re-introduce public stoning for adultery. The Afghan Parliament recently nearly overturned key provisions in Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence Against Women Law.

With NATO pulling out, the Afghan government is more vulnerable than ever. They will be under strong pressure to appease conservatives and make a deal with the Taliban, both of which could involve abandoning women’s rights.

Britain must use all of its influence and leverage to ensure this does not happen. There can be no true peace without respect for women’s rights. Opinion may be divided on the war in Afghanistan, but there is no doubt one of the main gains over the last decade has been in women’s rights. Girls are now able to attend school and get an education. They have proper protections against rape and other sexual crimes. And they can seek legal recourse for infringements of their rights. It is vital these gains, achieved in large part due to the sacrifice of British soldiers, are not lost.