Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

You don't like human rights rulings? Then live in Dubai

Hope for evil: Jeremy Bamber

I am as irked as the next person about Jeremy Bamber – who murdered his family for cash – bleating on about his human rights. Okay, I'm not as irked as the next person if that person is Jim Davidson, or one of those Ukip candidates, who wears a Union flag waistcoat on election night.

Not a jocund little liberal like myself. Don't we adore human rights? Ah, the comforting Oxo whiff of the EU gravy-train speeding to help multiple killers Peter Moore, or Douglas Vinter.

Every strangler, rapist and child-killer given a solid hearing, room for a second chance, regular visiting sessions and the chance to bat things higher when things don't go their way? We love this, don't we?

Well, actually, no. As a liberal, I find it problematic and infuriating, but I'd still argue our necessity to be vigilant around human rights.

This week's verdict from the European Court of Human Rights, branding whole-life tariffs for murderers "inhuman and degrading" certainly sticks in the throat, but I'm still grateful we take the time to question this.

Basic human rights are a buffer-zone between inhumanity and the quiet savage lurking in all of us. If I was invited to take tea with the Taliban, I doubt we'd find much common ground on gay marriage, atheism, arts-funding, abortion, or feminist rights.

But, on subjects like nightclub bouncer Levi Bellfield – currently serving a life-meaning-life sentence for the murder of Milly Dowler – we'd possibly feel vaguely similar. I'd let him slowly rot in a dank cell, with a variation of slop for meals twice daily.

But I live in Britain – not Dubai, not Hong Kong, not Moscow – and will never leave, and love my country, because at its heart it is civilised, fair and mindful about the concept of human rights. It does this on my behalf – even during the times I may feel wholly savage.

This week, life-serving murderers were afforded the right to ask for parole. Not, importantly, the right to be granted parole. Merely to ask for it.

They were allotted the right to a degree of hope. Do I want these men I've discussed to have hope? Not particularly, but I know that's wholly uncivil.

Some experts argue that, when prisoners have no hope, they have nothing to lose and it makes them more dangerous to the guards, nurses, admin staff and therapists caring for them.

If the ruling saves a few lives along the way, then it's a fair outcome. Human rights are difficult, infuriating and divisive, but I'm grateful to live in a country where we take time for cogent debate.

If Strasbourg each year has to field a number of British cases involving legal-aided appellants at a cost to the public purse, then it's a small price for civility.

As Strasbourg wrestles with an increasing glut of British human rights cases – criminal, employment-based, gender, freedom of speech – and the necessity of 'rights' become a stickier, more rage-making subject among the right-wingers, I often wonder why these furious types don't simply admit defeat, sell up and go somewhere gorgeous, sunny and under-the-surface-barbaric – like Dubai.

Surely, this would be ideal? Tons of expats to carouse with about how the old country has gone down the dumper. A beautiful climate, y'know, just like Britain in the olden days, when everything was simply more brilliant and sensible and unspoiled?

None of your boozy youth taking over the High Street. And, more importantly, literally no human rights, in fact no philosophical discussion, or empathic thought afforded to criminals at all.

Or to migrant workers, gay people, women, or literally any human being without the upper hand in any given dispute.

But, gosh, don't the buildings get hammered up quickly? I watched the case recently of three young Britons held in Dubai for seven months without trial, before being jailed for four years for allegedly possessing synthetic cannabis.

The boys claim to have been tortured by police in the desert and in hotel rooms, had electric shocks and guns held to their heads. Now they stew in cells, their human rights are negligible.

There is, it feels, a wafer-thin line in the human condition between what makes us fair, civil, humane and decent and what makes us barbarians.

Right now, I'm happy for Strasbourg to carry on patrolling these borders.

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