Thursday 8 November 2012

Riding Roughshod over Due Process

The idea of human rights is as complex today as ever, with new entitlements evolving regularly from live legislation and expanding treaties. Human rights, as portrayed on the international stage, have adopted a proselytising stance whereby western European, liberal nations appear to foster a monopoly on legal rights and wrongs. This popular, yet naïve, conception of the status quo misses the hypocrisy inherent in international law in the 21st century.

Former UK MP, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey from County Tyrone, recently enunciated a useful perspective for those who advocate for civil rights in 2012:
“Our attitude to government, any citizen's attitude to government, is that we have a right and a citizen duty to hold government to account. They are the duty bearers… Why does a government decide to operate by violation of human rights and risk the wrath of human rights agencies? And risk the wrath of being in breach of human rights legislation? Of being brought before this court and that? It's because they know they can.”

The Irish Republic was last month reminded of just one area in which it is failing its citizens. The shameful condition of St. Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders in Dublin is a reflection on the values of this State. The relatively calm reaction to this despicable and “shocking” report is ludicrous in an era when the Irish Republic claims to adhere so closely to the European Convention of Human Rights.

Another State whose disregard for international human rights norms is well documented is the United Kingdom, which has come under severe scrutiny as a result of its response to the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland since the 1970s. A plethora of cases in the European Court of Human Rights were taken against the UK and it might have been believed that this epoch of abuse had come to an end with the dawn of comparative domestic peace.

One example of poor civil liberties standards within the UK, that continues to be a thorn in the side of the Westminster authorities, is that of militant Irish Republicanism. A number of individuals currently find themselves detained in prisons in both the Irish Republic and in Northern Ireland. One high profile case is that of Marian Price McGlinchey, which has attracted wide public and political support since her detention in 2011.

Her case is complicated, but hangs on a misplaced document. Having been convicted of the Old Bailey bombing and subsequently released ‘unconditionally’, she is now being detained on the Secretary of State’s authority, which, seemingly, doesn’t exist. To aggravate the complexity of her case, she suffers from rapidly declining health, both mental and physical. To summarise, Marian Price McGlinchey “was released [32 years ago] not on a licence but on a Royal pardon which no Minister has the authority to overturn. Conveniently, the Northern Ireland Office claims to have lost the pardon document, so its terms cannot be checked.

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is an outspoken member of the ‘Free Marian Price’ campaign. The lack of political movement on this issue is a frightening manifestation of the UK State’s willingness to override basic civic freedoms. Regardless of Marian Price McGlinchey’s past deeds, to imprison her without legal basis is a travesty. If the State is permitted to act as such in her case, it will be permitted to do so again. Her innocence is not at issue here. Rather, what is at issue is the promotion of the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights for all.

In consideration of human rights abuses across the world, it is empowering to listen to the inspiring words of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey from only a few months ago:
“We must demand and exercise solidarity with all those whose rights are trampled underfoot simply because governments feel strong enough to ride roughshod over due process and international obligation to respect and protect the integrity, dignity and freedom of the human beings they despise, not for anything they may or may not have done, but simply because of who and what they are--or what political overlords believe them to be… Each violation, wherever it occurs, threatens the rights, humanity and integrity of all of us and must be challenged by all of us, or in time, none of us will have any democratically enforceable rights at all.”

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