UCL students document erosion of human rights
26 February 2009
The UCL Student Human Rights Programme (SHRP), a non-profit organisation led by UCL students and advised by human rights professionals, has published a research report, ‘The Abolition of Freedom Act 2009’, which focuses on the loss of human rights liberties in the UK over the past ten years.
The report is the first extensive audit of civil liberties in the country, and documents the restrictions on freedoms of British citizens. It was researched for the ‘Convention on Modern Liberty’ taking place on 28 February at the Institute of Education. Jon Butterworth, a recently-graduated Masters LLM student at UCL Laws and president of the UCL SHRP, will present the report at one of the panels at the Convention, speaking alongside Dr Meg Russell, Reader in British and Comparative Politics (UCL Political Science); Andrew Blick, author of ‘How to go to War’; Murray Hunt, a barrister specialising in human rights; and Stuart Weir, Director of Democratic Audit.
The report presents a concise inventory of acts passed by parliament which curtail individual rights, such as laws allowing 28-day detention without charge and restrictions on protest, and legislation allowing email, telephone, and letter interception. While the report is organised around the articles of the Human Rights Act, it emphasises that many of the freedoms that are disappearing have never been codified, making it all the more difficult to implement coherent educational programmes on citizens’ liberties.
The report responds to the topicality of debates on human rights. It also addresses the need for transparency on complex issues. Jon Butterworth, president of UCL SHRP, commented: “The report was researched and compiled by student members of the UCL SHRP and co-authored with the Convention on Modern Liberty. The breadth and depth of rights erosion it uncovers has sparked a strong media outcry and has armed the public with an extensive and accurate account of liberties lost in the UK. Beyond this, the report evidences the vital role students now play in safeguarding human rights.”
The report was launched at a press conference on 22 February, hosted by the Foreign Press Association. Convention co-directors Henry Porter and Anthony Barnett, and David Davis, former Shadow Home Secretary, contextualised the research of the report for the media. A more sustained profile on UCL SHRP was published by ‘The Guardian’ on 22 February.
Beside the frenzy of activity surrounding the report, SHRP has long-term objectives. Jon adds: “The debate about our rights as human beings need not be confined to university lecture theatres and libraries, and certainly not the law section of the library! We want to see human rights introduced into the conspicuous elements of our culture: such as music, fashion, art, literature, food and academia. We intend to begin this by inspiring and contributing to the proliferation of human-rights-infused creativity and expression.” To demonstrate this, Richard Walker, the group’s vice-president, wrote a ‘Stop’n’Search’ rap for the SHRP website.
To read the report and for more information on the story, follow the links at the top of the page.
Image: Jon Butterworth (left), president of UCL SHRP, and Richard Walker, vice-president of UCL SHRP
UCL Context: UCL Student Human Rights Programme
President of UCL SHRP, Jon Butterworth, describes the history and activities of the society.
“The UCL Student Human Rights Programme (UCL SHRP) is a dynamic proactive human rights organisation. We are led by students and advised by human rights academics and professionals, with members from all walks of life. Because our rights are worth protecting, the UCL SHRP seeks to foster a vibrant culture of human rights within UCL and wider communities by initiating awareness, instigating debate and inspiring action.
“A few scribbled posters advertising a human rights project brought a group of students to UCL’s Bentham House in mid-September 2007. It is here that, following a lively discussion, the foundations were laid for the Programme. Within a year, the UCL SHRP had blossomed into lectures, panel discussions, research group, a bulletin, a law journal, a moot competition and a website.
“We are currently based at UCL and are predominately composed of UCL students and staff. However, we seek to engage the wider community by establishing a network of Student Human Rights Programmes throughout the UK and beyond.”