Human Rights


The story of creation says that ‘God made mankind in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27). This divine gift of life and God’s image is something that every person shares in equally. Throughout the Bible, there are various exhortations to ‘love one another’ (John 13:34) and ‘value others above yourself’ (Philippians 2:3), as well as reminders that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23), ‘God does not show favouritism’ (Romans 2:11) and that ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28). This builds up a strong image of a God who loves everyone and considers everyone equal.

The UK has a proud history of standing up for human rights. From the Magna Carta to the advent of parliamentary democracy to the abolition of slavery, our country has led the world in recognising and implementing human rights. After the Second World War, Britain was one of the first signatories to the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). Furthermore, it was Winston Churchill’s call for a ‘human rights charter’ that inspired the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which was largely drafted by the British lawyer David Maxwell Fyfe. The ECHR represented a huge step forward in terms of human rights protections and democracy in Europe, guaranteeing rights to life, freedom of thought, expression and religion, the right to a fair trial and no punishment without law, and the prohibition of forced labour, torture and the death penalty, all legally enforceable by the ECHR court in Strasbourg. The passage of the Human Rights Act (HRA) in 1998 to give the ECHR rights legal status in British courts was one of Labour’s most important achievements in government.

echr.jpgThe UDHR and ECHR are both significant documents which reflect our God-given gifts of life and equality. The preamble to the UDHR invokes ‘the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’[1]. While it does not explicitly mention our creator, Christians on the Left believes that our Father in heaven is the source of this inherent dignity and equality.

However, many of our leading politicians have called for the removal of human rights protections, with opposition to the ECHR particularly strong in some quarters. Last year, one Theresa May, then home secretary, said:

The ECHR can bind the hands of Parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals – and does nothing to change the attitudes of Governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights.  So regardless of the EU referendum, my view is this.  If we want to reform human rights laws in this country it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its Court.[2]

It is clear that the prime minister has long cherished the idea of repealing the HRA and leaving the ECHR. Technically these are two distinct actions, but they go together, and many ministers, perhaps most notably former justice minister Lord Faulks, are clamouring for both[3].

Although the Conservative manifesto commits to the HRA in the short term, there is an explicit promise to ‘consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes’[4]. This gives a strong indication that repealing the HRA and potentially withdrawing from the ECHR remain very much on Mrs May’s medium-term agenda. Such a course of action would be extremely damaging and must be strongly resisted.

Human rights are universal by their very definition, as God’s love and care is universal. Our exit from the ECHR to establish our own set of rights would seriously undermine this principle. Britain would not only lose all moral authority on human rights matters but would provide a template for other countries wanting to disregard international human rights covenants.

While it is highly likely that there would be a ‘British Bill of Rights’ to replace the ECHR, including many fundamental rights, it is inevitable that some rights would be lost, most likely in the area of individual privacy and surveillance. The process would also be lengthy and costly, an inefficient use of taxpayers’ money.magnalge.jpg

It is also worrying that Mrs May’s opposition to the ECHR seems to come from unfavourable decisions handed down by the Strasbourg court on prisoners’ voting rights and deportations. The independence of the judiciary is a cornerstone of democracy, and a country in which the government is reluctantly subservient to a court is one that is showing much stronger signs of functioning as an accountable democracy than one in which the government removes the jurisdiction of a court because it disagrees with its decisions.

It is clear that human rights are vitally important, and that the UDHR, ECHR and the HRA must be protected. Labour is the only party with a track record of standing up for human rights in government, and will commit to standing up for them in future. But while equality under the law is vital, actual equality is often a different matter.

The government’s refusal to guarantee the rights of European citizens in the UK is disgraceful. These 3m people are not bargaining chips but human beings, and must be recognised as such. A Labour government would take action to secure their rights and status as soon as possible.

Despite unequal pay being illegal for more than four decades, there remains a gender pay gap of 18% in the UK[5]. This must be addressed. Additionally, the fact that 117,658 crimes against women and girls were prosecuted last year (a rise of 9.8% on the previous data)[6] is a tragedy, and the government must take strong action to combat this problem. Labour will end cuts to domestic and sexual violence services and appoint a Violence Against Women Commissioner to look the issues of gender-based violence.

Disabled people have suffered perhaps more than any other group from the punitive austerity measures of the present government. In a damning report last year, the UN found that by making unfair cuts to welfare and social care, the government is consciously causing ‘systematic violations’ of disabled people’s rights[7]. This tragic situation is completely unacceptable, and must not be allowed to continue.

hatecrimes201516.PNGAnd in a time when some wish to promote divisions in society, it is essential that the government communicates a strong message that Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination and prejudice are wholly unwelcome in the UK. The present government has made drastic cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, even as the prevalence of hate crimes shows a worrying increase [8]. A change of direction, an end to unwise cuts and a renewed focus are needed.

Worldwide, there is work to do to ensure that human rights are recognised everywhere. It is profoundly worrying that Britain supports and trades with governments with little apparent regard for human rights. It is very encouraging that the Labour manifesto explicitly commits to protecting human rights through trade policy, implementing a proposal submitted by Christians on the Left in conjunction with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights, the Labour Campaign for International Development and our friends at Open Doors UK. Only a Labour government will stop the scandal of an arms trade that allows Britain to earn billions by arming governments proven to use those arms to violate human rights.

It is especially important for Christians on the Left that freedom of religion, as laid out in Article 18 of the UDHR and Article 9 of the ECHR, is maintained both at home and abroad. Secularisation in many parts of British society makes it more, not less, important that freedom of religion and of conscience is not unreasonably compromised by laws and court judgements. Furthermore, we must use our international influence to be a strong voice protecting religious minorities from intimidation and persecution across the world. Unlike the Tories, Labour promises to appoint a ‘dedicated global ambassador’ for religious freedom. This would be a major step forward and shows that Labour alone is willing to be decisive on a major human rights issue that many Christians care deeply about.

Past experience shows that the Conservatives have failed in their duty to uphold human rights. Only a Labour government can be trusted to protect the HRA and our place in the ECHR. Only a Labour government can be trusted to take action to secure our vital, valuable human rights.

Our God is a God of justice. He created us all equally in his image. He shows us his love and commands us to love one another. Loving, caring and respecting others is a central aspect of what it means to seek our Father’s heart. It has never been more important to have a government committed to protecting and extended human rights to all.

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