Thursday, 8 March 2012

Human Rights and Human Wrongs Part Trois (and I promise, the final piece!)

Part Deux of this post ended with me asking why I ascribe the same claim to human rights for people who have committed violations of human rights themselves as I do to the ordinary, peaceful, every day man, woman and child. 

It's actually a really simple thought process, the conclusion to which I arrived at after reading endless accounts of human rights violations across the globe. 

Anyone who's been on Facebook or Twitter in the past few days can't have failed to see something called Invisible Children, or the "Kony 2012" campaign. In short, there is a viral film approximately 30 minutes long and made by an American man, Jason Russell, documenting his campaign to bring about the arrest of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. The history of the LRA's actions in Uganda is a long and bloody one, incorporating the abduction of children to turn into child soldiers (boys) and sex slaves (girls), murder, rape, pillage, mutilation and torture. The video is an overly simplistic representation of a very complex problem and smacks slightly of a 'Team America' approach to saving the world and easing the "White man's burden" - but that's another blog in itself! 

The reason I bring up this particular issue is because of the incredible speed with which is has become a viral topic and how rapidly it's brought human rights onto the public and social networking agenda. The YouTube video (linked above) currently has 15, 173, 840 views. That's a lot. It's a lot more than this time yesterday. The hashtag #STOPKONY has been a top trend on Twitter for the last 24 hours (although now appears to have slipped down in favour of popular culture references I don't understand). There have also been a huge number of blogs, articles, personal posts and so on critiquing the Invisible Children movement - and this is where the issue gets very complicated. Some look to the organisation's ideology, others to its questionable ethical business practices  (do read this one, it's a much more thorough and well informed assessment of the situation than I could provide) and support of the Ugandan army - a force themselves guilty of rape, torture and murder. 

One thing seems to be emerging (and this highlights my incorrigibly optimistic nature) which is that more people are talking about the complexities of human rights on a larger scale than I've seen since I sat in a university lecture room with 40-odd people who all cared about it very passionately! Of course it may be that x-million people will blindly click "share" on the video link from YouTube and then never do anything else. Awareness is great, but it doesn't solve problems. Blind awareness and support solves even fewer problems, and in fact creates some of its own (another blog! One thing at a time!). BUT if more people take the time to read more widely around the whole issue, learn about Joseph Kony & the LRA, learn about the local community-based projects in Uganda who've spent years tackling this head on, go to organisations like Amnesty International and learn about OTHER human rights atrocities all around the world - SyriaIranPalestineZimbabwe - the list really does go on and on and on - then something positive will be achieved simply through more people acknowledging that this is happening right now. All around the world, people are being oppressed, tortured, executed, detained in horrific conditions, institutionally raped. It's very difficult reading - but try to bear this in mind next time you read a Daily Mail article wailing about how immigrants and asylum seekers are taking over Britain. What would it take for you to flee your country of origin, in fear of your life?

Back to the original issue behind this post then - we've established what human rights are, we've discussed how people around the world are suffering at the hands of others, we've touched briefly upon how misunderstood and underrepresented the plight of so many people is in Western media. What does this mean for my initial point, that even the really Bad People have rights.

As I said slightly earlier - it's actually incredibly simple. If you've been inspired by this post to go and do some more reading about the global human rights situation, you will probably have learned that there are more people living under oppressive and murderous conditions than you ever thought possible. The first time I realised that, I was heartbroken. I don't want to believe that we live in a world where people live their whole lives in fear, where children say they would rather die than try to fight and survive, where bad people go unpunished because of political preferences from national leaders. I WANT to live in a world where bad deeds are punished, bad people brought to justice, good people the world over live a life of freedom and peace. I think it's safe to say that's a ubiquitous desire. We can only ever hope to achieve this if we sustain a certain moral standard - in order to single out and bring justice to the Bad Guys, we must be the Good Guys. We cannot, either directly or tacitly, condone torture or execution, because if we do, we just become part of the spectrum of bad guys. If we deport known or suspected criminals back to their countries of origin where we know they will be tortured or executed as part of that country's penal system, we step into very murky waters and we stop being the good guys. We stop having the right to condemn others for torturing and murdering innocent people, if we are even complicit in the torture and murder of anybody. 

My human rights that protect me from being tortured and murdered exist because our country's moral stance prohibits this, but it should be prohibited worldwide and for all persons. Can we really say that we as a nation are outraged at Christopher Tappin's extradition to the US to face charges for which no evidence has ever been brought before a UK court, amidst an American media campaign to portray him as a truly evil man and a 'danger to the community' - the notion which has been used to deny him bail? Well yes, we can say we are outraged, because he's been treated very badly by what appears to be a corrupt system - there's no transparency to the case against him, and accounts I've read so far appear to believe that he's been falsely accused (or at least that the case against him has been constructed falsely). 

I am in no position whatsoever to speculate on his guilt or innocence - but I can say that his human rights risk being violated through the course of the last few weeks. That's certainly the perspective of the British media in reporting each new turn of events. But... he's not the only person in the current press limelight looking at being removed from the UK to face trial in another country. There's also Abu Qatada, albeit in a very different manner of media portrayal. 

Now, I hear you exclaim, how can I possibly compare the two?! One is a nice, respectable British businessman falsely accused by a corrupt American legal system to provide them with a tidy scapegoat; the other is widely believed to be an Islamic extremist, indicted on charges of terrorism by a Jordanian court and believed to be affiliated with Al Qaeda. But let's look at that for a moment-  Abu Qatada has never been charged with committing a crime in the UK and was arrested and detained indefinitely, without trial, under dubious anti-terrorism legislation in 2002. As far as we know, since living in Britain he's lived a law-abiding life and at one stage was thought to be aiding British intelligence agencies with information about terrorist organisations. The charges against him in Jordan were founded on evidence and testimonies obtained through torture and the argument against deporting him back to Jordan for further trials is based upon the possibility that he himself would face being tortured. Again, whether or not he's guilty of the alleged crimes is something I am in no position to speculate on, but it alarms me that rather than strive to stamp out the use of torture in the Jordanian courts, the British press has instead focused on being outraged that such a dangerous man can be allowed to remain the UK at all, horrified that the European Court of Human Rights forbade his deportation.

 Let's just look at that again - if we take the British media's perspective at face value, we are saying that we would sooner accept the torture of a man than we would put the time and effort into ensuring that he faced a fair trial and was brought to justice for crimes which it had been proven he was guilty of.

That frightens me. Remember what I said before - what right do we have to condemn others for torture and murder if we are complicit in torture and murder ourselves? 

Well the short answer is that we don't. It's not justice if we accept any nation using torture and execution as part of its legal system. It's anarchy. 

I'm no legal expert; I can't tell you whether I think Christopher Tappin or Abu Qatada are guilty of the crimes of which they are accused or not. I can only tell you that the only way of guaranteeing that their respective guilt or innocence is reliably established is to ensure that both men - and all people in these situations - are tried by an uncorrupted court, using evidence that is truthful and accurate, and that if found guilty their punishments are proportionate to the crime. 


At this point, I could start talking about existing laws regarding sentences for various crimes, but then we'd be here for at least another 3000 words! In short, I oppose the death penalty entirely, in all its forms and as a sentence for any crime you could think of. 

There is so much more that could be said on this issue. There are hundreds of books, written by well respected academics in the field of human rights and they are full to the brim of case studies, theoretical arguments and statistics on human rights topics. I started with a book written by my human rights lecturer at university, and I wholly recommend it as a basic start to understanding the subject: Human Rights: An Introduction by Darren O'Byrne

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