After the shock and awe of last month’s election results – which most commentators agree have shifted the dynamics of British Politics – we are left with the task of trying to make sense of what this all means. One of the standout commitments of the present government is a determination to “scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights”. But what does this actually mean for those of us who are concerned about social justice and a commitment to racial justice? It’s ironic that the current Home Secretary Teresa May has gone further than any of her predecessors to call attention to police abuse of stop and search powers and issues of deaths in police custody whilst leading the line against the Human Rights Act
The other irony is that the state has been commemorating this year’s 70th anniversary of the defeat of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. The European convention on Human Rights was framed as a guarantee of non-repetition of the dehumanization seen during that period. The end of the Nazi regime did not signify the end of Nazism or racism which has been a constant presence across Europe.
Perhaps more than any other group within our society, young black people have a major stake in the debate about this country’s commitment to human rights. The ‘black lives matter’ campaign does not apply to the USA alone; it resonates here in the UK, Europe and indeed across the globe. The campaign speaks powerfully to our human rights.
It was Malcolm X who dismissed the notion of racial injustice as a ‘civil rights’ issue but spoke of the need to think more in terms of human rights. The proposal therefore to introduce a ‘bill of rights’ for some reason does not inspire confidence that we are moving in the right direction. We know also that in this coming parliament there will be legislation brought forward to tackle terrorism and extremism as outlined by the government along with the tricky issue of enforcing so-called ‘British Values’.
These measures all have potential consequences way beyond what is intended and could impact greatly upon those within society with the least power and influence within the system. With this in mind, we perhaps need to remind communities and ourselves why Human Rights matter.