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Liberty fades as rights talk grows

HOW could anyone make a valid argument against "human rights"? Quite easily. Britain incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into its domestic law in 1998. Although it was previously a signatory to the convention and regularly defended itself in cases brought against it at the human rights court in Strasbourg, incorporation has transformed the legal and cultural landscape in Britain — and not for the better.

Real human rights — such as the equality of every human being and the intrinsic value of human life — are indeed universal and should be unarguable. The problem, however, comes with the "rights" that are enshrined in human rights law. These also claim to be universal and unarguable. But they are not. Indeed, the very act of codifying them makes them eminently contentious and divisive.

This is because almost every "right" in the convention is balanced by a rival "right". Judges have to decide between them. The way is therefore open for ideological, tendentious or prejudiced views to be set in judicial stone.

It has created a grasping "me too" culture that is as divisive as it is undemocratic. It has galvanised special interest groups to make demands, created a burgeoning industry of human rights lawyers and — despite acknowledging the ultimate supremacy of Parliament — effectively transferred much political power from Parliament to the courts. Instead of the rule of law, Britain now has rule by lawyers.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, from which the European law derives, was conceived in another era altogether. In the shadow of fascism and Stalinism, its original aim was to protect the individual from the state. But in the half-century that has since elapsed, the relationship between the individual and the state has fundamentally changed.

The emergence of a culture of hyper-individualism has given rise to a radical egalitarianism of lifestyles and values. Morality has been privatised, and all constraints of religion, tradition or cultural taboos have come to be seen as an attack on personal autonomy.

Where, in a previous era, ties of obligation bound individuals to each other and to the state, the new culture of entitlement imposes, instead, an obligation on the state to deliver the demands of interest groups. Since these are presented as universal "rights", such groups become a victim class to be championed against a majority that has denied them their entitlement.

The values of the majority thus come to be replaced by the perspectives of the victim groups. Human rights law gives such groups the means to challenge majority cultural norms, overturning them on matters such as gay partnership rights or permitting transsexuals to lie on their birth certificates about their sex at birth.

No one ever asked the British public for their views on such fundamental social changes. But over the past two decades, English judges have come to see themselves, rather than democratically elected politicians, as the true guardians of the country's values. And for those judges, minority rights have become an article of faith.

As a result, values have been turned upside down. In 2002 an elderly street preacher, Harry Hammond, was fined £300 for displaying a placard that said "Stop immorality. Stop homosexuality. Stop lesbianism". He had been surrounded by 30 to 40 people who had poured soil and water over him. Although he had been assaulted, he was the one who was prosecuted.

More seriously still, human rights law has been used to destroy control over the country's borders. A series of court rulings laid down the right of illegal immigrants to welfare benefits — thus undermining the very basis of citizenship — and refused to allow the deportation of terrorist suspects to countries where there was any record of abuses of human rights.

The ideas that rights in Britain depend on human rights law is grotesque. England, after all, is the cradle of Western liberty as a result of English common law, which held that everything was permitted unless it was prohibited. Now, only what is codified and court-approved can be allowed.

Not surprisingly, liberty in Britain is now in fact much diminished. The universities close down politically incorrect debate. Anyone who criticises a minority group risks vilification and the loss of promotion or job prospects.

Freedom of religious conscience, the defining value of a liberal society, has effectively been abolished. Catholic adoption agencies will be forced to close if they refuse to place children for adoption with gay couples. But then "human rights" has come to be seen, in the words of one activist, as "a religion for a godless age".

Human rights law has nothing to do with true liberalism. It is instead a judicial delivery system for cultural Marxism. In short, Britain's human rights culture should more properly be known as a culture of human wrongs. Australia, be warned.

Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist.

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Phillips' article is a summary of a part of her book Londonistan which should be compulsory reading for all legislators. The civil libertarian lobby is in denial and treats democracies in the same way as dictatorships which deny rights and never restore them. Her point that in pursuing individual "rights", the rights of the majority are undermined, is an extremely important one.

Posted by paul2 on 2007-03-21 11:43:37 GMT

I gree with Melanie Phillips, perhaps we would be better served by an enforceable 'charter of Human Responsibilites' I also heartily agree with Janet Albrechtsen's insightful comment. On a separate note, thank you for facilitating the public availability of Prof Israeli and Rev Durie recently. Australia and Melbourne need to hear the full truth about islam instead of the al-taqqiya spin amplified by forums like the ridiculous recent "Australia Deliberates" fiasco which would have been better named: "Australia's most gullible meet islam's finest liars for a mass debate" Pun intended

Posted by Gavin S Murray, Balwyn on 2007-03-21 01:56:46 GMT