With the news Priti Patel is looking to reduce prison sentence required before deportation to 6 months, it seems appropriate to remind everyone that we are talking about people's lives. People you may know. Everyone deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. Deportation goes against that.


First published in January 2021.


2021 & Human Rights

2021 is gearing up to be a difficult year for human rights.

It is all a question of seeing how individual comments and policies create a pattern, but that in turn risks you sounding like a conspiracy theorist, so let’s break it down.

From Priti Patel and Boris Johnson’s comments about “lefty do-gooders” and “activist lawyers”, there has been a gradual narrative built up that human rights are some kind of left wing stalking horse. Yet in practical terms they should be apolitical. They apply to all of us.

This is an excellent article by Director of Runnymede Trust, Halima Begum, about the language the government is using to create division. I fear that it could lead some to think that she is saying the voters being targeted are white supremacists though.

Culture War

Let’s be totally clear here, the “culture war” being gamed by the government is a myth, but it is a myth which resonates with people who feel disconnected from society. A year of isolation, fear, and economic concerns has likely increased that disconnect.

Public attitudes fluctuate, and I am not denying that there is still a massive problem of racism within society, but attitudes towards immigration for example are, on the whole, softening. Problem is, those against it tend to be more vocal.

There is a reason why we use the phrase “dog-whistle terminology”. Its true meaning can only be heard by those receptive to it, for others it may seem reasonable. Take Liz Truss’s recent comments regarding inequality.

If you are in a socially deprived area, hearing that we need to focus on geographic inequality sounds reasonable. You probably aren’t interested in how race and gender are the two core global drivers of inequality when you struggle to put food on the table.

This is how the government works with this though. They make it sound “reasonable”. They make human rights sound like something to be afraid of. That rather than protecting you, they limit your options and chances.

Socially deprived area. | Pixabay

Othering

Look at all the stories about asylum seekers this year. There is a few reasons why channel crossings have increased. Arguably the main being other routes have been closed due to the pandemic. Yet, we have seen a decline in overall asylum applications.

Listening to the Home Office though you would be forgiven for thinking there had been a vast increase in the number of asylum seekers coming to the UK. Why else would the government set up prison camps for them if not to protect the public after all?

“Othering” is an age old technique for politicians to try and shift blame away from themselves and appeal to voters. This year it has proven particularly useful for a government which has overseen such a massive failure of leadership with Covid-19.

The problem with “othering” is that it automatically erodes human rights. It creates a sense that some people are “more deserving” than others, while some are actually to blame for our individual issues. It ignores that human rights are there for everyone.

Look at the argument for reducing foreign aid. It was framed as, “Why spend money abroad when it could be spent here?” Reasonable argument I guess, but the savings made from cutting it were wiped out by an increase in spending on the armed forces.

Instead, it actually risks harming the UK economy and creating lasting negative impacts on global safety and security, which in turn present greater long term costs, particularly during a global health emergency. We all suffer for this.

Then you have domestic legislation specifically aimed at reducing compliance with international law. Why should a “sovereign state” be bound by international law? Well, it ensures others are as well. Laws are only as strong as the will to follow and impose them.

The Overseas Operations Bill, for example, has been condemned for providing a possible way for British forces to avoid prosecution and punishment for war crimes. Aside from the obvious implications of violating the human rights of those in conflicts...

It poses other risks for the rights of those back in the UK. Firstly, it undermines potential trust in the armed forces which makes cooperation those they are ostensibly tasked to protect harder. Secondly, it opens the door for other countries to do the same.

Only last Monday it was revealed that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was prepared to deny protection to British citizens arrested overseas. It isn’t a long line to draw between UK setting a precedent to break international law and human rights and others following suit.

Holding Them To Account

Then we have the whole issue with “judicial review”. Again it has been framed as “lefties undermining the government”. What it is in fact is judges holding the government to account and ensuring that it can’t violate the law.

Many of the rights we all value, no matter our politics, are based on principle the government cannot deny us of. Judicial review maintains that. Whether you agree with individual judgements or not, you have to question who will protect your rights in future without it.

This is just a small snapshot of how the government is gearing up for a wider attack on human rights and playing voters by trying to make out that it is a left or right issue. It is not. Losing them for one loses them for all.

There are racists and white supremacists, bigots of every stoke, who would dearly love to see human rights limited for some while their own are protected. They tend to be in the minority though. If human rights are eroded further in 2021 then it will hurt all of us.

Priti Patel. | Flickr - Number 10

The ‘Outrageous’ Priti Patel

For all her many sins it would be a mistake to think Priti Patel is stupid. By mixing obviously unworkable suggestions, such as wave machines in the channel, with genuine ones which could pass she ensures that people’s focus is split.

There is never enough time for a lot of people to get a coherent argument against genuine stuff before others are outraged over ridiculous stuff. It helps her portray activists as “permanently outraged”, which in turn means that she can diminish their arguments more easily.

If we are going to combat the government’s attacks on human rights and migrants we need a coherent strategy. One which isn’t derailed every time she comes up with something like bringing back the death sentence, which we know is highly unlikely.

We also need to be proactive. It is no good always being on the back foot. There are many great organisations working on this, such as the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Detention Action. I would urge people to throw their support behind them and work together, instead of playing the government’s game.🔷




Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional and Director of Stand For All.


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🗳️ Priti Patel

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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 4 January 2021 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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