Disregard for human rights cannot be election promise

JANE LOUISE KANDUR
ISTANBUL
Published 09.06.2017 23:23
Updated 09.06.2017 23:24
Disregard for human rights cannot be election promise

What will happen next week in British Parliament is still unclear. Will there be a forced vote of confidence? A forced vote of no confidence? Perhaps a scrambling for a coalition – unlikely due to the numbers – or will May try to go to the country once again? Whatever the result, interesting times lay ahead.

Yet, a very serious question remains: Why did so many voters swing away from the Conservatives? Contrary to predictions, the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) lost a great deal of support. Although the UKIP voters were given what they wanted – out of Europe – by the Conservatives, the predictions that UKIP voters would support the Conservatives proved false. Instead, many UKIP voters turned to Labour, results also reflected in the Scottish National Party (SNP) votes.

The voter's shift could be explained in a number of ways, the hard line May adopted, forcing cuts in social benefits, a hard Brexit and greater austerity, have all been put forward as likely candidates, though May's many U-turns, or broken promises, have also been indicated.

But there was one toxic statement that may have had a great effect on many voters. In the middle of last week, in the run up to the general elections, the leader of the Conservative Party Theresa May stated that her government would fight terrorism every way they could, even if it meant scrapping human rights laws. She also said she would toughen anti-terrorism measures and not let human rights laws stand in her way in the fight against terror as she put security at the heart of her election campaign on Tuesday evening.

Prime Minister May stated that she would demand, "Longer prison sentences for people convicted of terrorist offences … [to] make it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terror suspects to their own countries."

She went on to say: "We should do even more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects … And if human rights laws get in the way of doing these things, we will change those laws to make sure we can do them."

The reaction by the opposition was immediate outrage. Keir Starmer, former Director of Public Prosecutions, claimed that this was little more than a tactic to take attention away from May's numerous of broken promises and her misguided scaling back of police forces just as the country faced unprecedented terrorist attacks.

In the past five years, the Conservative government has made heavy cuts to the number of police officers, reducing the British police force by 20,000 officers.

Starmer also stated that the suspects for the terrorist acts in the U.K. over the past months had never been on the radar. However, Starmer stressed: "The Human Rights Act's got absolutely nothing to do with that," adding: "I was director of public prosecutions for five years. I worked very closely with security and intelligence services, and we prosecuted very, very serious criminals, and the human rights act did not get in the way of what we were doing."

In short, it is not the Human Rights Act that has prevented the government from stopping the terrorist acts that have taken so many lives in major British cities, but rather the very acts of the Conservative government through cutting back police forces and the inability to track the right people.

The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, reacted to May's threats to human rights by saying destroying rights and democracy is not the way to defeat terrorism. Rather, Corbyn said, "We defeat terrorism by our communities, by our vigilance and by police action to isolate and detain those who would wish us harm."

This brings up an interesting dilemma. How should a state fight terrorism? There are two approaches. The first is May's approach by acting swiftly and mercilessly against those who are suspected of being terrorists, negating proper trials or evidence.

There is history of such an approach in the U.K. During the Troubles, when the British government was fighting the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), internment, or imprisonment without trail, was introduced in 1971. In Northern Ireland, 342 people were arrested in three days. The riots that broke out in protest of these arrests led to the death of 11 civilians in Ballymurphy.

The internments in Northern Ireland were carried out with great cruelty. Prisoners were placed in painful positions and subjected to loud measurements.

Although the reason being given for the suspension of human rights was the terrorist acts of the IRA, these internments did not bring an end to the Troubles. Five months later, the massacres known as Bloody Sunday took place. It was not until the end of the century that the Friday Peace Accord was signed and peace started to be restored in Northern Ireland.

In response to the terrorist attack on the London Bridge, Prime Minister May stated that her government would suspend human rights to fight terrorism. This is yet another example of her many U-turns and many broken promises. In the Tory Manifesto, there is a very clear statement: "We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next Parliament."

Yet, there is another approach, and perhaps an approach that would have been a better gamble for May. Rather than cracking down on terrorists, governments can solve the social issues that lead people to become radicalized in the first place. According to the U.K. director of Amnesty, Kate Allen: "This is exactly the time that human rights must be protected and cherished, not attacked and undermined … Human rights are there to protect all in society – that is just pure common sense … Whoever is in government after the June 8 election must ensure our human rights are protected." Indeed, the leader of the Labour Party has reiterated that the only way to fight terrorism is by building stronger communities and vigilance.

And yet, more and more right-wing political parties seem to be taking stances that, for lack of a better term, can be considered a new form of state terrorism. While the definition of state terrorism is a state using violence and coercion to govern the population, there is a new trend where the state uses torture and coercion against marginalized populations in an effort to prevent acts of violence.

In fact, terrorism first appeared in modern history at the hands of a state. Maxmilien Robespierre introduced the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution. Robespierre justified the terror he unleashed by stating it was necessary to transform the country into a liberal democracy: "Subdue by terror the enemies of liberty, and you will be right as founders of the Republic." It was only in later centuries that terror became a weapon against governments or people to attain a political end.

There is a consensus that the root cause of the terrorism Daesh has unleashed is rooted in the radicalization of young people. There is also a consensus that the best way to prevent such radicalization and to curb extremism is not through further alienation or oppression, but rather to work with the community. In short, education is key. If young people are encouraged to think, debate and talk about the problems they face, they will be more immune to extreme ideas whatever their so-called justifications may be.

More importantly, marginalized communities need to be included. Their concerns and opinions need to be considered and heard. These communities need to be offered more employment opportunities and increased interaction with mainstream communities.

Unfortunately, we live in a time of terrible tragedies. There are terrorist organizations throughout the world, be they Daesh, PKK or the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). The effort in the southeast of Turkey to provide more employment, better education opportunities and a more stable infrastructure have weakened local support for the PKK. Any other approach would have been doomed to fail. In fact, a brief examination of the late '90s in the region makes this abundantly clear.

Although Turkey is in a state of emergency, any suspects from FETÖ or the PKK undergo a fair trial, and can only be imprisoned if there is sufficient evidence to do so. The rule of law is paramount, and human rights are a fundamental part of this.

The vote on Thursday was a vote lost by the Conservatives. There are many reasons why May found herself ousted by her own rhetoric. Her boast of repealing human rights laws was probably the straw that broke the camel's back. The British people have demonstrated, though they want strong leaders, they do not and will not tolerate democratic leaders who have scant regard for the law, for humanity or for common sense. The British electorate has said enough is enough and delivered a message to their leaders that they want to live in a land of law and order, where social needs are taken care of, where the country is governed with a bit of humanity and where human rights are recognized as fundamental instruments of the judicial system.

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