Governments declare to hold human rights at their core but what are the realities? Obligation to international law and the European Court of Human Rights have been avoided continuously. This undermines rights everywhere, for everyone, without borders.
It is a principle of international maritime law that all vessels answer and assist vessels and persons in distress at sea.1 ‘All vessels’ includes military vessels. Yet in March this year a boat carrying 72 people including children sent out a distress signal and ‘Despite alarms being raised with the Italian coastguard and the boat making contact with a military helicopter and a Nato warship, no rescue effort was attempted.’ 2 Father Moses Zerai one of the last people to contact the boat: “There was an abdication of responsibility which led to the deaths of over 60 people, including children,” he claimed. “That constitutes a crime, and that crime cannot go unpunished just because the victims were African migrants and not tourists on a cruise liner.” 2
This news arrives along with reports from Greece; ‘witnessed the Frontex boats effectively turning over migrant boats in the water by going towards them, turning quickly and creating the waves that turn the boats over. Then rescuing some people. Returning the boats without its oars to turkey and leaving vulnerable people in the water including pregnant women. ’ 3 Both cases go against EU and international regulation. What’s more there is something that people might hope exists beyond law, beyond regulation- not to leave others to die.
Whilst responsible vessels and governments are evading their duties in the Sea- MPs on land in the UK have ruled that prisoners will not have the right to vote. A move which the European Commission of Human Rights found was a breach of their human rights. 4 It is interesting, therefore, that Home Secretary Theresa May should declare one of the fundamental and universal ‘core ‘British’ values’ to be ‘Human Rights’ 5, and the UK government’s revised anti-terrorism strategy should define “Extremism is vocal or active opposition to fundamental ‘British’ values’’6.
By their own words and actions the governments define themselves as extremist and as illegal. By failing to answer to distress signals or rescue vulnerable people from the water they have acted illegally. By voicing opposition to self-described fundamental ‘British’ value of human rights they have acted ‘extremist’.
Perhaps trying to avoid this obvious hypocrisy, the government has set up a commission to research creating a ‘UK’ bill of rights 7, different from the Universal declaration of human rights. How will it be different? It will not be universal in probably more ways than one.The opening UDHR article stated: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. 8 From the actions of governments, the companies they fund and certain politicians – It’s questionable that they have read this article.
These actions undermine the rights of everybody. BUT they are the actions of certain law makers and enforcers. They are the laws of law enforcers and law makers.
If you know that you do not need a law for you to answer someone in distress. If you believe all humans ARE born free and equal, whether or not it is a human right- then there is hope for the rights of all of us.
1(Article 98 of UNCLOS)
SOLAS regulation V/7
3(Ann Singleton) / (http://firstname.lastname@example.org/4178-1-ann_singleton.ogg)
5 http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_commons/newsid_9506000/9506818.stm (address to parliment 07-06-11)