SOMETIMES it is worth going back to basics. As public standards are attacked and begin to be dismantled, it is worth asking – why are those standards there in the first place? And when you ask that you think, perhaps, last week was a good week for human rights.
Last week, as a flight with asylum seekers was about to take off for Rwanda, it was grounded due to an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. There were two instinctive reactions. The first was to be glad asylum seekers had benefited from international protections, and the other was outrage because national sovereignty was being interfered with by a foreign/international court.
Agreeing with the latter view, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, immediately flexed by questioning Britain’s long-term commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Court which is its guardian.
From the moment Brexit was mooted and the long-term commitment of Britain to the European Union was going out the door, the European Court of Human Rights and the Convention itself have been conflated with membership of the European Union. They are of course entirely separate arrangements and bodies, but if you have been fed for decades the English nationalist lie that foreign “interference” in domestic affairs is a bad thing, then it is easy to see how all non-English norms, courts and standards are viewed as the “enemy” and such lazy conflation gets rarely corrected. When England voted for a government that views rules, laws and norms as undesirable inconveniences, the hatred for this perceived “interference” was vindicated. But why is Britain in something it apparently hates so much?
 Who hoodwinked them in such times of weakness past?  Of course, not without irony, it was Winston Churchill just after Britain and the Allies won World War II. It was at a time when international cooperation had defeated the extreme right and the horror of the most devasting of wars demanded higher international laws providing recognisable standards and protections to mitigate against such horror ever happening again.
What had happened during Germany’s Nazi regime was entirely legal in domestic law, and popular. From the early 1930s state power had enshrined discrimination and hatred so that the Holocaust became possible. Protections of minorities and the vulnerable through law and agreed international courts  were seen as essential to end the cycles which led to crimes against humanity.
The European Convention on Human Rights was signed as the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights’ local application. Britain was a key player in both documents.  It is notable that their ‘Empire’ was crumbling all around them and they were engaged in awful foreign policy, yet somewhere there was a recognition that something greater was possible and desirable.
This century in Britain the exact form of state abuse and populist politics that the Convention was designed to protect against has emerged. The same contempt for law and human rights is being espoused on a daily basis from the centre of power. Which is why what happened last week at the European Court of Human Rights was so important. This is exactly why the Convention was drafted and the court was established, for these are the exact circumstances when minorities are so vulnerable and state power so putrid. And, thankfully, it is proving its value in these dark times. Long may it be protected.