Tuesday, February 13, 2007


(Video: "Not the Queen's speech, Brian Haw's")

Firstly, the good news. Brian Haw was elected the Most Inspiring Political Figure in the Channel Four political awards (organised in association with the Hansard Society).

The majority was massive. Brian Haw polled 54% of the vote, with General Sir Richard Dannatt, who called for British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, second on 18%. The poll was simultaneously an affirmation of Brian Haw's marathon peace protest, which has now reached 2082 days, and a negation of a Parliamentary system which is in a state of total crisis. Anthony Blair and David Cameron came last, with 8% and 6% respectively. This is further evidence of a fundamental sea-change in British politics.

Flawed legislation such as the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act of 2005 was the product of a long-standing alienation between people and Parliament. For a full resume of the infractions of liberty and criminalisation of peaceful and law-abiding people this law has entailed, please see this comprehensive collection of Indymedia reportage. This entire circus is the product of ever greater privatisation of public space into ever fewer hands: the Commons, and the commons, has not been this enclosed for centuries.

Perhaps the most farcical low-point of this law was that ringing a bell in a certain part of London was temporarily rendered illegal. Although we do not know for sure yet, this may have occured just as our taxation was being used to help the carbon-emitting airflow of a globally 'outsourced' network of torture without trial. The full extent of that is not yet disclosed. However, we do know that Michael Wood of the Foreign Office gave the opinion that receiving or possessing information extracted under torture is not prohibited per se by UN conventions. If we had a referendum tomorrow morning on whether we should use torture to find out information from people who have not been charged with any crime or given a trial, and a referendum on whether people should be arrested for ringing bells in public, how would the people of Britain vote?


Secondly, the bad news. Barbara Tucker (see above - photo by Brian Haw) has been forced to curtail her peaceful protest in the 1km 'exclusion zone' around Parliament. She has been given conditional bail for five months until her trial and warned that she will be imprisoned if she even enters the SOCPA zone for any reason before then.

It is appalling to see the full machinery of the State treating a decent and kind woman like Barbara Tucker in this bullying fashion. Instead of building a network of universal and free hospitals, our taxation is used to abuse the health of individual citizens. Never before has Charter 88's call for a constitutional settlement enshrining and entrenching political, civil and human rights in the UK been so urgent.

In 1998 the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights was incorporated into British law through the Human Rights Act. What exactly is the point of passing such a statute if a bad law like SOCPA is used to intimidate, harrass, marginalise, silence, and villify people who are doing nothing more than peacefully expressing their will that their taxation be used for peace instead of war? In what sense does this tawdry spectacle have any connection to the social contract, without which democracy regresses into tyranny?

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits torture and "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" - with no exceptions or limitations. The European Court of Human Rights further prohibits the extradition of a person to a foreign state if they are likely to be subjected to torture there. This important principle is known as nonrefoulement.

Furthermore, Article 5 of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Despite the Human Rights Act of 1998, the paranoia induced by the spectre of Islamic terrorism has allowed this government to covertly create 'memorandums of undersanding' (or MOUs) that, as far as we are allowed to know, may circumvent the European Convention, and also circumvent the UN Convention Against Torture. According to a report just released by Members of the European Parliament, CIA-operated aircraft have made 170 stopovers at UK airports. The sooner the shroud of secrecy is removed and we can have a full, independent audit of these activities, the better.

As the theorist of the separation of powers Montesquieu argued, unecessary law weakens the necessary law.

An ungentlemanly Memorandum of Understanding weakens a just international Convention.

Law that criminalises those who follow natural law merely makes respect for natural law decline. The bitter fruit of such unnatural law is that criminality of every kind flourishes in the land - and we move further and further into what Philippe Sands QC calls the Lawless World.

A Parliamentary Act such as SOCPA is fit for no purpose but repeal. It is a waste of the trees that it is printed on. The sooner it is recycled, the better.


Conversely, the sooner that the UN Convention Against Torture, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are upheld, the better.

The rule of such international law must be global, and without exceptions or limitations.

As the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal of 1946 observed:

"War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

The thirteenth protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, signed in 1999, confirmed the abolition of the death penalty in the UK, which had been first instituted in the 1965 Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act. While the judges of Nuremberg were correct to try on the basis of wars of aggression, the use of the death penalty as a sanction was not- for it was a perpetuation of the very cycle of violence it sought to prohibit.

Such enlightened law should apply to all equally - be they President, or be they pauper, be they master or be they client. We are crawling, like toddlers, towards a better world - a world based on the rule of international law founded on universal ethical principles.

There is much work to be done to make that world a reality. The statutes are in place, but our ability to apply them needs further evolution. Without that evolution we shall remain with the law of the jungle - life is a war of omnia contra omnes or all against all, and those with the greater physical force prevail until a stronger force arrives to replace them. Such a system, whether internationally or domestically, contains no justice whatsoever.

(photo by Brian Haw)

(Video: "Nuremberg Remebered" from Facing History)

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