On Thursday 2nd February, BPP Human Right Unit hosted its first speaker of 2017. Sam Hawke, a policy assistant at Liberty, gave an engaging and highly relevant talk to students about human rights after Brexit and Trump.
Sam stressed that these are difficult times for human rights, with long standing and serious human rights challenges in the UK existing before the Brexit vote. The refugee crisis has presented a critical challenge to Europe to live by the values it espouses. There has been an ongoing criminalisation of illegal migrants — there is, for example, now a criminal offence of driving whilst in the UK illegally. Additionally, a concern for Liberty has been the increasingly divisive and discriminatory policies in schools in attempts to identify illegal migrant families and in response to the threats of radicalism.
Equally, there were serious concerns with human rights in relation to the United States before Donald Trump’s presidency. Most significantly was the mass surveillance of the public by British and American agencies disclosed by Edward Snowden, the machinery of which in the US will now be operated by Trump and his administration. These extensive powers have been codified and extended in the UK with the coming into force of the Investigatory Powers Act (‘the Snoopers’ Charter’) in December 2016, a statutory instrument of which there is no counterpart in any other liberal democracy.
Sam reminded the audience that we have lived through other serious human rights challenges following the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, such as rendition and torture in which the UK government colluded, into which Liberty is still calling for an investigation. The challenges faced now, in a post-Brexit and Trump era, are continuations of old challenges in addition to some novel threats.
Key among the threats presented by the new US administration are the controversial and discriminatory ban on immigrants and refugees, including green card holders, from certain Muslim-majority countries, President Trump’s oral commitment to waterboarding and other forms of torture, the new CIA director Mike Pompeo’s support of the use of torture and the leaked executive order proposing the reopening of ‘black site’ prisons.
In the UK, the current government has continued to collapse rights, and threatens to, at some point in the future, repeal the Human Rights Act. In what Sam called the ‘clearest stain’ on the UK’s human rights record currently, the UK is unique among European nations in the indefinite detention of migrants and refugees, with allegations of Article 3 European Convention of Human Rights (torture and inhuman and degrading treatment) violations common in these detention centres.
In light of these challenges, Sam informed the audience of the vital work that Liberty is doing, and encouraged students to join Liberty to enable them to continue to work with Parliament and within the legal system to protect our rights and the rights of the most vulnerable in society.
Human Rights Unit Student Director