Guest blogger: Tom Bisgood
After two hours on three trains I arrived in Salisbury to attend one of the BIHR Human Rights Tour Events – admittedly the London one might have been an easier journey, but the opportunity to go to a community-based event outside of the capital was one not to be missed.
The day started much as it meant to go on – with lots of debate and discussion among the participants. The first thing we tackled was a biggie – what we felt human rights were all about. For my group this provoked a wide range of views including ideas of fairness, equality, checks on state power and even wars and bombs.
Learning a bit about the history of human rights and the particulars of the European Convention on Human Right and the Human Rights Act set us up for the rest of day. The somewhat tongue-in-cheek history video tracing some of the roots of human rights was apt given that Salisbury lays claim to be home of the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta.
Arguably, one of the most important parts of the day was the case studies and the chance to look at how human rights might apply to a variety of real life situations. I have no doubt from the discussions in my group that this session was extremely useful to those working in social care and community groups – what we learned was so clearly applicable to their work. We explored the case of Alex who, due to his history of mental illness was deemed unsuitable to be a reliable witness in a case against a man who bit off part of his ear and so the prosecution against his attacker was dropped. I don’t want to give too much away in case you get to look at Alex’s case on the Human Rights Tour, but it brought to life how human rights are about the person and looking at how the actions or inactions of officials can make us vulnerable or put us at risk. I’ll leave it there and wish you luck with your group discussions if you “meet” Alex on the Tour!
For me the most eye opening part of the day was the “fact-checking” sessions, where we investigated the reality behind some of the things about human rights in the press, from politicians, on the bus (or two-hour train journey!). The BIHR team were definitely put to the test, with the group throwing out some pretty big issues from FGM to deportation.
For me one of the most interesting bits was unpicking “cat-gate”, where the Home Secretary and many papers talked about how human rights and owning a cat meant a person couldn’t be deported. This case was actually about a Home Office policy which said deportation (here because a man overstayed his student visa, not because he’d committed a crime) should go ahead unless the person is in a relationship of more than two years. The man had been in a relationship and there was evidence to show this, like owning a cat – something lots of people in relationships do! So yes a cat was involved, but in a really minor way, which had nothing to do with human rights. Yet it presented by the media and politicians in a way which undermines human rights, making them seem silly or even dangerous. And that led us to the case of Abu Qatada. I was surprised to learn how human rights helped the UK deport him to Jordan. Practically the whole world has agreed to the legal ban on torture (of course practice might be different), and this means Governments can’t just send someone to be tortured in another country and turn their face away. What they could do was get proper assurances that torture wouldn’t happen, and by convincing Jordan to agree to the international legal ban on torture – by using human rights – the deportation could go ahead. But none of that seems to have been explained by politicians or the media.
All in all the Human Rights Tour was an incredibly thought-provoking day. It was a great space for a real mix of people to firstly meet up and secondly to learn about and debate human rights, in a far more balanced way than is often seen in the media. At the end of the day I feel I’ve learnt a substantial amount about human rights and really got to develop my knowledge further. So now you’ve finished reading this, what are you waiting for? Book your free place at the Human Rights Tour now!