UCL News


Squandering a precious heritage

23 February 2006

A Labour government has caused Britain to be the only one of the 46 members of the Council of Europe to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights, authorising indefinite detention without charge or trial of non-nationals who could not be deported.

A Labour government has argued that certain evidence that may have been obtained by torture overseas could be used in English proceedings.

A Labour prime minister has expressed a willingness to override the UN Charter, suggesting that he might ignore a French veto of a Security Council resolution authorising force against Saddam Hussein's regime. A Labour government has decided unilaterally that Iraq was in material breach of Security Council resolutions so as to justify the use of force.

A Labour prime minister has failed to condemn publicly the conditions under which detainees are being held at Guantanamo. A Labour government has entered into an agreement with the US undertaking not to transfer any US national to the International Criminal Court. A Labour government has sought to sign agreements with Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Libya to ensure that suspected Muslim extremists could be returned to their home countries. A Labour prime minister has stated that if obstacles arise in the implementation of these agreements his government "will legislate further, including, if necessary amending, the Human Rights Act, in respect of the interpretation of the ECHR". And a Labour home secretary has told the press that his government "would not be constrained by international conventions or by the way the judiciary interpreted them".

There is no evidence that any of these actions has made Britain - or the world - a safer place. But there is plenty of evidence that Tony Blair's attitude to international law is undermining Britain's ability to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law in other parts of the world. The British Prime Minister's approach - describing Guantanamo merely as an "anomaly", and announcing after the 7 July bombings that "the rules of the game are changing" - provides sustenance to those who wish to break the rules.

Philippe Sands, UCL Professor of Law, 'New Statesman', 27 February 2006