Tag Archives: human rights

Refusing refugees – a modern genocide?

I am ashamed  that our government will not accept more asylum seekers into the UK.

From the comfort of my warm dry living room that is easy, while I watch the hardship and efforts of others as cold, drowned people are pulled from the Med.

Easy but for the fact that I see each one as somebody’s daughter or somebody’s son. I am also sad and angered by our collective UK government response, because we could do better.

It’s “genocide — nothing less than genocide, really,” Maltese Prime Minister Muscat told CNN this week.

Genocide is not word we should use lightly, and many still associate with WWII.

Back in 1943, seventy two years ago, the British Cabinet also debated what to do with wartime refugees, mainly Jews and Czechs but including a wide spectrum of persecuted minorities. At the time the Cabinet did not recognise genocide in progress. Their conversations appear not to have recognised any humanitarian crisis, so much as much as a political inconvenience. Yet the same minutes suggest they were aware of massacres. [source: National Archives]

Just like today, the 1943 politicians focussed the problem of what to do with ‘refugees’ on themselves and their response.  It was a problem for them, the British cabinet, not the refugees at risk.

They discussed how it would look and what anti-semitism / racism may occur at home to accept more. What language to use. And how difficult they suggest it was to rally international support. They discussed which departments would take the criticism and how to pretend that political discussions were taking place that weren’t. They wonder if they cancontinue to pretend in the H/C [House of Commons?] to be holding international conversations.” [p.93] Other meetings were to be held in secret.

They seem  little concerned how to solve the problems of people whose lives they would forever alter and many more  indirectly besides.

They seem more concerned to ensure that the refugees will get sent back where they came from than in their welfare.

They made decisions which would have far reaching consequences into the future, for example on Palestine.

Today’s British politicians and media tend towards using migrant rather than refugee, and often conflate the terms immigrant, refugee and asylum seekers. Usually centred on a problem real or imagined that immigration poses in the UK.

I wish we could start talking about solving the problems of these ‘people’ instead.

Politicians blame each other for lack of action. Blame the traffickers for unseaworthy boats and exploitation. Blame helps no one.

Part of the solution lies in not creating the problems to start with.
Afghanistan, Libya, Palestine. Syria. Yemen. So many places in Africa. The list is long of places to whom we sell arms and fund violence.

Yet our pre-election government could not find funds for the humanitarian needs of children and adults who needed our help until voters saw enough coffins on the evening news, a political embarrassment which forced action.

Camps will be built for internment on arrival – but is that a way to solve the problems of people who have fled their homes under duress?

Nations will now unite in yet another new war. A war on traffickers.

The well organised merchants in manslaughter expect to lose their vessels to the waves or have them confiscated. Most of these open caskets are navigated by a non-culpable refugee and the traffickers don’t care if they founder.

‘Let them drown’ has not been a policy exclusive to European leaders.

What effective difference will destroying more boats make?

This is a refugee’s only option in the last leg of a long journey from war; torture, rape and harassment. How will it stop them leaving or wanting a safe and better life for their children? Why should it? Will this policy not simply push up the price of every place on a remaining boat and drive more unworthy ones into service?

Will sending arrivals back solve anything or create some sort of game of Risk in which they can ‘play again’ until they die trying? How will they be treated if they refuse to go?

The failure of governments to listen and the resulting deaths, is indefensible when organisations and individuals predicted and publicised the effect of withdrawing search and rescue months ago.

I wondered in the interim how big the number had to become to be embarrassing. Turns out it was 900. And that’s not the total, but the one incident on one night.

The only good thing to have come from that night is some return to rescue work. But the decision to take no asylum seekers is wrong.

The right to seek asylum is set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It is one of the most important obligations in international law.

People in the UK care about the callous ‘let them drown’ policy affecting would-be asylum seekers and refugees. We see through hyped-up threats of  ‘immigration’ voiced by right-wing minorities or pandered to in party mugs.  Sadly the pandering has become passivity towards the real needs of real people. It is shaping a political discourse the majority in the UK do not want, with real consequences at home and abroad.

The fear of loss  of political face is costing lives in the Mediterranean. It is making British politicians of all colours too quiet. The 7th May may see the inconvenient batten handed over to a new government.

How many will perish in the mean time?

One child drowned is one child too many. How long will our leaders focus on what they perceive as protecting our own interests and borders, and not on the people who need our help?

These people have no future if they don’t leave. They have no future if they don’t arrive alive. And no future if not welcomed when they do.

I will never forget that ten o’clock news picture of a dead  boy being carried onto the craggy Greek shore. I can imagine his mother putting that patterned warm hat on his head in the hope it would protect him from the cold weather on a rough crossing.

I see his lifeless hands hanging free in the fisherman’s arms.

And I wonder how today’s Cabinet Office minutes will read in the years to come.

photo: twitter adapted from a poster of the Italian Red Cross. #WhereisEurope

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1943 Cabinet Office minutes.

February. Refugees.

A.E. Rpt. on recent mtg. re Jews. No progress with U.S.A. No immed. chance of direct conversns. Can we continue to pretend in H/C. tht. we are holding internat. conversns. We here can do so little tht. difficult for us to take it up internationally unless U.S. co-operate.

H.O. I cd. take 1.000 or so as part of U. Nations move – but only to bring the others on. Rathbone & Co. all pressing us to admit some to encourage other A. Nations. My feeling is we’ve done too much already w’out guarantee tht. other Nations will help. Danger of anti-Semitic troubles here.

S/Doms. Advantages of explaing. diffies. in Debate – what we have done, and diffy. of doing more.

W.O. Risk of provoking discussion of Jewish Army.

A.E. Agree advantages. Trouble is disclosure of U.S. delay.

H.O. Arrange Parly. Ques. to P.M. askg. what contribn. we and Empire have made – and give it publicity.

M/L. Can Cab. Sec draft Answer to show what we have done.

Agreed: Have Ques. subject to Cab. seeing answer. Otherwise, stand firm. Have put to U.S. Chargé d’Affaires last week-end 3 points a) mtg. here. b) Agreed – await replies to these points. Ch. Whips to be asked to discourage undue interest.

****

Reception and Accommodation of Refugees.

A.E. Shd. we take line “done all poss. nil more” or “This is for U. Nations. We will try more, if others do their share”.

We favour second course. This is apart fr. what C.O. can do in Pal. for women and children. (Limited nos. give priority to w. and children)

Amendment of para 4 of telegram – agreed.

****

March 1943 Refugees.

L.P.S. Debate in H/Lds. Tomorrow. Can I use some of these figures?

P.M. Yes: don’t use ‘em all.

H.O. M/I. to seek publicity for this statement. Law. “Czecho-slovak nationals” vice Czechs”

M.A.P. Cd. a total be put in: small gobbets don’t give impn of large total.

K.W. Only if the total is really impressive.

P.M. Consider this point.

****

April 1943

A.E. U.S. have asked if we cd. take few hundred Stateless refugees. ? Say we’ll take a few more if U.S. will take a few.

*****

Refugees: Bermuda Conference. May 1943

A.E. Neutral countries to take more. Camp in N. Africa to relieve immed. pressure on Spain. Revival of inter-Govt. Cttee. These are the 3 main points. Encouraging tht. we & U.S. delegates (not all easy) got on v. well together.

G.Hall. a) Diffy of U.S. doing anything: for 2 days: then they came along v. nicely

L.P.S. Anti-Semitic letters: put it on basis of all refugees, not Jewish refugees – i.e. by describing them by nationality not race.

L.S.A. P.5. India has taken 11.000 not 5.000. para. 14. 185 W.O. Para. 15. Arabs have already got the farms. We have now asked them to put up camps H.O. Minor corrections – notify to applic. Authy. for record?

A.E. Debate. Peake to open qua Conference. Senior Minister to wind up (? Member of War Cabinet)

L.P. Giving assurance to neutrals tht. they won’t have to keep them indefinitely. Does this mean they will go back whence they came?

H.O. This is the understanding. Our only undertaking is to see tht. they get back.

****

July 1943

P.M. I’m committed to creation of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Let us go on with that […]

S/Doms. Don’t dissent. But what I want is to face up to formulation of a proper post-war policy.

P.M. Not a good time for statements on long-term policy.

 

____

Minutes source: National Archives

Human Rights – real threats today vs theories of tomorrow

Theories on Thursday, furore on Friday. By Saturday the social media had hit the fan.

What we must remember whilst caught up in the recent Human Rights fuss, is that this is discussing a future theory. In practice, we are at risk of missing three* current and upcoming human rights threats, which are very real.

Whilst future policy change may already be doing harm to the spirit of the human rights law and those ideals today, current policies are having effect today in practice.

The Deregulation Bill, and other current policies and projects.

Regular readers will know, I have followed closely the care.data plans [see past posts] to extract our confidential GP medical records and centrally store, sell and share the information.

I hadn’t realised until recently why I care so strongly about doing this the right way. It simply felt wrong that the original plan was not to inform patients at all, and not ask for consent to remove the foundation stone of our confidentiality. The delayed plan, had a terrible junk-mail leaflet drop.

The current extraction plan is pending [roadmap end of page], but details unknown.

I have concerns about how it will harm the trust in the patient-GP relationship, potentially discriminate and segment certain groups and  I’m still unhappy how open the records will be for use by third parties, not for clinical care. There needs work done to make it done well, and to be transparent and trustworthy for patients.

But I’ve realised now, it feels wrong, simply because it impinges on one of our basic human rights. Our right to privacy.

This post is not about care.data per se, but the recent Bill of Rights debate made me take a closer look at the bigger picture.

There are many discussing this, far better informed on human rights than me. But perhaps it’s time the ordinary public pay more attention to our rights, and where they fit into our lives in the UK. Rights which are easily eroded if we don’t pay attention.

I’ve had a look at the current Bill proposal [my notes & comment at the end], but at least for now, I’m more concerned about the actual plans already underway, which will in  practice,  affect the application of our human rights today, and we may not know it.

There are at least three real changes in legislation right now which I believe should command our attention.

First, the Deregulation Bill.

This Bill will go to the Lords Committee stage on October 21st.

This is a real and present threat to human rights, as stated in the Joint Committee Report on Human Rights, June 14th 2014:

The Bill provides that a person exercising a regulatory function specified by the Minister:

 

The Government intends this economic growth duty to apply to the EHRC. We believe that applying this growth duty to the EHRC poses a significant risk to the EHRC’s independence, and therefore to its compliance with the Paris Principles and the Equal Treatment Directives as implemented by the Equality Act 2010. The Government is therefore risking the possibility of the EHRC’s accredited “A” status being downgraded and of putting the UK in breach of its obligations under EU equality law. Unless the continuing discussions between the Government and the Commission satisfy the Commission that the growth duty will not in any way impact upon its independence, we recommend that this duty not be applied to the EHRC.
Sections of the Deregulation Act currently passing through Parliament suggest the removal of any regulation that conflicts with the interests of a profit-maker. There are other domestic and regulatory bodies for which we should carefully consider this implication, not least from my perspective, in the NHS.

 

The Deregulation Bill creates a conflict when a law must consider commercial gain above human rights.

Further;

“The Bill would remove the power conferred on employment tribunals by the Equality Act to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases.”

 

The EHRC regards the power [conferred on employment tribunals] as useful, both for the employer to whom the recommendation is made and to the Commission itself for following up tribunal decisions, and it does not consider that sufficient evidence has been gathered to make out the case for abolition. We therefore recommend that the power of employment tribunals to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases should be retained.”

 

 

 

The Deregulation Bill also poses some concern for those interested in the requisition process for information, and press representation groups spoke out, worried it offers a back-door for seizing journalists’ material.

 

Seen all together, aspects of the Bill which is a mish-mash of all sorts of subjects, which was derided in some reports as being about knitting yarn, means it may well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing when it comes to human rights.

 

Second and Third, the recent changes in legislation & access

Other real threats to our universal human rights in the UK, I consider as points two and three, are already having an effect.

Recent legal changes to both a) the legal aid and b) the judicial review processes mean it is harder for many people to use the available processes due to cost.

(current consultation closing October 15th here and anyone can write to their MP for support, guidance at end of page.)

This results in inequality to use rights, which should be human rights for all by creating:

1. restrictions of individual access  (who can get a fair trial, the ability to appeal)

 

and

 

2. reducing the universality of application to human rights law (limiting the circumstances and reasons ‘the how and when’ under which rights may be applied)

 

 

These are the changes in progress right now. So what of the actual projects underway or recently effected?

 

Current threats in practice to our UK Human Rights

Mr. Grayling said this week that any future policy change will continue to ensure to promote the values of individual human dignity, equal treatment and fairness as the foundations of a democratic society. Many disagree.

The whole debate of this future policy change may already be doing real harm to the spirit of the law and those ideals today.

In my opinion, current actions are having real effect today in practice which risk undermining rather than strengthening our position towards universal human rights.

Current government policies and projects sign-post current thinking on the value of universal human rights and future direction.

Consider three things:

1. the recent changes which undermine access to use our rights, [access and universal applicability for all]
2. what value rights are given within current policies and practices,
3. the direction of travel in recent legislation, such as in surveillance, affecting universal rights for all.

It should come as no surprise then to hear of a more wholesale move towards the removal of rights in the proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act, and more. Steps have been taken on this path for some time.

A current sample of some areas with flaws in their approach to human rights include from my lay perspective:

If we in the ordinary public, in response to the proposals this week, are now concerned about about the theoretical threats to human rights by a potential future government, and care about getting it right, I’d suggest we:

don’t wait to worry about what might be in June next year. Encourage those who can, such as our MPs, to look at these real and practical human rights’ threats today. Support MPs & others who are.

Start the list, with the Deregulation Bill.  (Unless NHS England Patient & Information Directorate decide to begin care.data extractions before October 21st.) Watch this space.

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*there is clearly more of significance in this area, with which those better informed and active than me would say is missing, but with which I’ve not taken as close an interest. The Deregulation Bill will potentially affect NHS bodies, and I’ve looked at it before on care.data.

Notes on the proposals, and my references below:

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Reference sites:

The Deregulation Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 23 January 2014. It received its Second Reading in the Commons on 4 February 2014, completed its Committee Stage on 25 March and began its Report Stage on 14 May. The Bill has been carried over to the next Session of Parliament. The Bill was preceded by a draft Deregulation Bill which was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the ad hoc Joint Committee on the Draft Deregulation Bill.

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For your reference and to their credit, I’ve found the following three websites useful and kept up to date with care.data information:

Dr. Bhatia, GP in Hampshire’s care.data info site

HSCIC care.data site

medConfidential – campaign for confidentiality and consent in health and social care – seeking to ensure that every flow of data into, across and out of the NHS and care system is consensual, safe and transparent

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On Legal Aid – consultation responses or write to your MP: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/stories/moj-consultation-on-duty-crime-contracts-support-pack-for-member-responses/

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For reference – background Bil of Rights / scrapping the HRA

The theory

The outline future proposal this week suggested, “A majority Conservative Government will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act, and will end the ability of the European Court of Human Rights to order changes to British laws.” [Jack of Kent, October 2nd]

Some of these plans were discussed here> on the Daily Politics. From 32.30 minutes in.

The plans have been met with widespread criticism in the press and by campaigners showing where the plans are flawed.

Myths abound how human rights are applied inappropriately to whom, and how they lack common sense.

In contrast, real examples have been presented of when the Human Rights Act and ECHR have been used to enhance and protect UK citizens, not least in the Mirror.

Looking to the future, individuals have further pointed out the fundamental flaw if limits of application were to be brought in which would for example, not use the law for ‘trivial cases’.

Tim Hancock, campaigns director of Amnesty UK, said in the International Business Times of this week’s announcement: “This is electioneering on the backs of Europe’s most vulnerable.

“Under these plans human rights would be reserved for only those people the Government decides should get them.”

Whilst we may each have our own political opinions, it is valuable to stay outside them and see changes objectively.

We must also see past the UKIP defection, knee-jerk reaction which conflates everything ‘Europe’, into something from which which the UK could ‘opt out’. As long as Britain remains a signatory to the ECHR, UK citizens could still directly petition the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg to hear their case. In fact, could be more likely to, rather than go through the British courts first. These proposals conflate the 1951 Convention on Human Rights, the UK 1998 Human Rights Act and our rights under current European law, and more.

If next May, a Conservative majority were to be elected, this proposal might form a basis of proposed legislative changes.

It is highly unlikely to be as is, or without debate. It is a partisan approach which ignores the fact that cross parliamentary support would likely be needed, as was the case when Parliament voted in favour of the introduction of the UK Human Rights Act in 1998.

But that is an if, and thus far, actually moving towards this legislative change is theoretical.

 

 

Human Rights proposals – stripping away the Spirit of the Human Rights Act (1998)

News today confirms what has been on simmer for some time in England:

“A majority Conservative Government will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act, and will end the ability of the European Court of Human Rights to order changes to British laws.” [Jack of Kent, October 2nd]

The Rt Hon Lord Howard of Lympne, CH, QC said:

“The argument is not about human rights, to which we all subscribe […] the way in which the Convention on Human Rights has been interpreted is far removed from its founders’ intentions.

“We are simply restoring parliamentary sovereignty, and some much needed common sense, to our human rights laws.”

If it is truly only about common sense, everyone with common sense must support it. So why the wide press and social media uproar, and statements by other parties they would vote against such a proposal in Parliament?

“No, the argument today is whether arrangements such as the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act actually help to protect such rights or, by the way in which they have operated, bring the concept into disrepute.”

The argument appears to suggest, that there should be no need to be concerned about the removal of laws which ‘protect such rights’, that there is nothing to hide, nothing to fear. That in fact, we will do better by removing the framework which supports the common sense process. Common sense will operate and prevail without legislation.

If we believe the policy statement that under these changes, in effect, little would change for many people, why are the changes needed? By many accounts, many good results of the 1998 Act affect many of us.

Those much better informed than me, are debating this in the media and online, and is worth following. But I think we should be careful we don’t get so caught up in looking ahead, that we miss changes going on now.

The debate makes me ask myself, what is the purpose of a law, and whom should it serve?

If we are convinced change is needed, we assume a belief that the current process is flawed.  This comes in part from myths and misrepresentations in isolated cases. We should in discussion see past the UKIP defection, knee-jerk reaction which conflates everything ‘Europe’, into something from which which the UK could ‘opt out’ and what risks and benefit it would actually bring for whom.

Even if these changes were simply a case of choosing to ‘opt-out’ from the protections of the European Court for UK Citizens (which it is not) and even if one were to agree common sense can make better decisions without legal protection, one must consider that by removing the UK Human Rights Act [which had cross party support in 1998], and the European aspect of the laws, and by suggesting amendments to the 1951 European convention on human rights, changes would remove a layer of external protection and last support channel outside the UK system, for us as citizens.

Stripping away a spirit of Governance

Does this affect the opportunity for citizens and courts to benefit from external objectivity?

The 1998 Act was intended to reduce the number of cases going to the European Court. You can still take a case to the European Court, but the Human Rights Act meant a case has to go through the UK courts first. Whilst Scotland (and Wales to a lesser extent) has some devolved and historically founded independent law making processes, the 1998 Human Rights Act covers the whole of the UK. As does the ability to go to the European Courts as an extra layer of legal protection, guidance and enlightenment if exhausted at home. 

Will we no longer be able as legitimately, to call on bodies with cross-border, external best practices to learn from which has any accepted weight? Or cases to set precedence? But does the European Court have these powers anyway or do these policy statements just cause confusion?

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said the plans were flawed. The Tory MP said they would be “difficult to implement” and risked “undermining” the UK’s – and his own party’s – tradition of upholding human rights.
Proposals state: ‘In future ‘Britain’s courts would no longer be required to take into account rulings from the Court in Strasbourg. This would make our Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.’

The statement gives the strong impression that the UK will regain a lost level of independence as a deal for giving up a layer of objectivity and governance.

In fact, we would not do so by repealing the 1998 Human Rights Act, the European Court would keep its role in the UK in practice.

Liberty clarified: “The Human Rights Act did not make Strasbourg a precedent-setting Court, as the proposals claim. This proposal will not increase the Supreme Court’s constitutional standing. It is already the ultimate arbiter of human rights cases in the UK but, if we remain part of the Convention, British people will still be able to take claims to Strasbourg once domestic litigation is exhausted. The dilution of Convention rights proposed makes it more likely that Strasbourg will find against the UK. The Court has no ability to require the UK to change British laws. Parliamentary sovereignty is intact, as made clear by the non-implementation of the prisoner voting judgment. But the British Government has ratified the Convention and so undertaken to comply with its international law obligations to respect the decisions of the Court.” [Liberty]

However the side comments on the 1951 Convention are of much more concern to me.

Are the Conservative proposal really going so far as to say it would remove that Convention undertaking, and no longer respect international law? Surely not in practice, but in spirit, it seems to suggest just that.

They would seek to: “Clarify the Convention rights, to reflect a proper balance between rights and responsibilities.”

that would be a huge change with respect for our position towards international law.

It seems to suggest that there would be a trade off giving up the universally applicable nature in the 1951  convention on Human Rights, to enable selective decisions which and when, rights would apply.

 

Stripping away the rights which apply to all

The basic principles of universality, inalienability and indivisibility, [outlined here by Liberty] are under threat through these changes:

 

“Human rights are universal. They apply to all people simply on the basis of being human.

Human rights are inalienable. They cannot be taken away simply because we do not like the person seeking to exercise their rights. They can only be limited in certain tightly-defined circumstances and some rights, such as the prohibition on torture and slavery, can never be limited.

Human rights are indivisible. You cannot pick and choose which rights you want to honour. Many rights depend on each other to be meaningful – so, for example, the right to fair trial would be meaningless without the prohibition on discrimination, and the right to free speech must go hand in hand with the right to assemble peacefully.”

Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy has taken apart some of the implications here. Her post is worth a thorough read.

Stripping away rights of access

 

It appears that we are moving towards a state in which the suggestion is that laws from the top down to control citizens’ rights will be applied universally, whilst at the same time, the rights of those who may feel unfairly treated by them are becoming restricted, through policy and in practical terms.

 

If British citizens would still be able to take claims to Strasbourg once domestic litigation is exhausted, they have to be able to not just in theory, but practice.

Courts which exist as channels to a fair appeal are only applicable to all as a right effectively, if they can be accessed by all. In the UK the  judicial review practices have changed on charging, which make universal access to judicial review harder. Recent changes to legal aid funding mean fewer people can afford access to representation.

 

This report from the International Council on Human Rights Policy may be ten years old, but is still I feel, relevant.

“…individuals, particularly those who are vulnerable because of exclusion, poverty and discrimination, unable to obtain benefits and rights to which they are entitled in law? This report examines the impediments that obstruct large numbers of people from accessing the full range of human rights. It analyses the performance and responsibilities of governments and other institutions, and identifies new forms of action that official and human rights organisations might need to undertake if access is to be improved.”

If Human Rights law is not accessible to all, and does not apply equally to all, it is not universal. Either not all are humans or they are not rights. Either way, the law is flawed.

 

I believe being universally applicable must also ensure universal access in order to be meaningful.

 

Stripping the Spirit of accepted Human Rights

Whilst the Acts  and declarations have legal weight which are of intrinsic importance and value, I believe it is also of importance to value the philosophy of the principles. It is this loss which worries me as much as the thought of losing concrete governance. We risk losing not only the protections of the law, but the Spirit of the law.

The spirit acts as an additional layer of conscience accompanying lawmakers and politicians in their decision making process.

I fear that he spirit of the values the state places on human rights,has been injured in recent times.

 I fear an ‘accepted’ element of barbarism has crept into our own humanity in the treatment of our ‘prisoners of war’.

 

The right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way is an absolute right. It should never be limited and it is a commonly held belief that there are no circumstances where this type of treatment of people can be justified.

 

However torture has become apparently justifiable recently. Justified by the highest authority in the US, some may see as the highest ‘western world power’. “We tortured some folks” was justified with the near flippant tone of a bumper sticker. Little official repercussion  appears to follow.

 

In doing so, the affiliated powers revealed how far we have fallen from our ideals of humanity embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Our values and self created global ethic in which some human rights are absolute.

It appears we have allowed through our government’s use of torture, an absolute boundary to be broken. So should we be surprised if that was only a first step? What is perceived as acceptable in how our government treats others, can only lead to a contagion in perception of what is right and acceptable in how others will treat our people abroad.

Crucially, I believe it also affects our own public perception of acceptance and ‘the norm’ in how we treat our own people.

Yet again, at home in human rights law, perception may be that this will not affect us. Not ‘our own’ kind of people. It will only affect ‘others’.

But the others in the case of human rights in the UK, may be our own gender or racial discrimination case at work. It may be how our friend or family member is treated by the authorities in sexual discrimination or in disability claims process.  Those in prison, the poor, minorities – these groups suit some agendas to portray as ‘other’. To thrive, I believe we must strive to remember our togetherness as a society which looks after one another, not treats ‘others’ as outside our realm of protections. As somehow, less ‘entitled’.  Less entitled to welfare. Less entitled to vote. Less entitled to universal rights.

If you think, no not me, then let’s consider closely our own reaction to the arrival of travellers in a local field. Or news of immigrants awaiting asylum rulings being housed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

It seems that to whom our human rights should apply, would become discretionary.

Are some Human Rights Claims more Trivial than Others? What about the same Human Rights for all?

If the majority of rights are non-absolute and can be limited or restricted in certain circumstances, we should not be surprised if these too are now trampled on if found to be ‘trivial’. The circumstances in which there is a need to take into account the rights of other individuals or wider society would become  discretionary.  How would that be defined and by whom?

“Limit the use of Human Rights laws to the most serious cases.”

There will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged, ensuring UK courts strike out trivial cases.

It appears that which subjects and in which circumstances individuals should be entitled access to human rights protection would become discretionary.

By saying some ‘trivial’ cases would not be relevant for consideration, you throw out the spirit of the universal applicability of Human Rights’ legislation.

Where does this leave the Spirit of our Human Rights in practice?

Politicians may say that in practice, any change will continue to ensure that:

But current reality is that changes have already made universal access to judicial review harder. Reality is that the changes to legal aid funding already means fewer people can afford access to representation. Minority groups find access a challenge. Mothers without means are representing themselves in divorce cases. People are facing abusers in court.

If now we further undermine both access and applicability, the reality is under the law some will be more equal than others.

So what of our basic principles?

Human rights are universal. They apply to all people simply on the basis of being human.

Human rights are inalienable. They cannot be taken away simply because we do not like the person seeking to exercise their rights.

Human rights are indivisible. You cannot pick and choose which rights you want to honour.

Whether this policy ever becomes reality or not, it harms the perception of the value we place on human rights, at home and abroad.

Universality of application and universal access are already under real threat, creating inequality for which humans, these laws offer support.

These proposals normalise what is in fact nonsense.

Whilst at least for now, it makes no difference in legal practice, I think the Spirit of Human Rights in the UK under this proposal, just had her wings stripped off.

 

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Chris Grayling’s eight-page strategy paper http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1308660/protecting-human-rights-in-the-uk.txt

[Liberty useful listing of what the Human Rights Act covers.]

Non-human authors wanted. Drones, robots, and our relationship with technology.

“My relationship with the drone is like playing a video game: I feel out a composition and the drone will agree or challenge me. Eventually, though, the drone will develop a creative mind of its own.”  [KATSU, in interview with Mandi Keighran and N magazine, summer 2014].

KATSU, the New York City based artist/vandal/hacker depending on your point of view, raises the question in that interview for Norwegian Airlines’ magazine, of the relationship of “technology to graffiti,” or more broadly, of technology to art as a whole.

This, combined with another seemingly unrelated recent story, the David Salter macaque photo, made me wonder about drones, robots, and the role of the (non-)human author – our relationship with technology in art and beyond.

Ownership and Responsibility – Human or non-Human?

I wondered in both stories, how it may affect ownership and copyright. Rights, which led me to consider the boundaries of responsibility.

I should preface this by saying I know little about copyright and less about drones. But I’m thinking my lay thoughts, out loud.

In the first instance, if drones are used for creating something as in this story, is it as simple as ‘he who owns the drone owns or is responsible for the art it creates’? I wonder, because I don’t know, and while it may be clear today, I wonder if it is changing?

As regards the second story, when the monkey-selfie went around the world focus was sharper on copyright law, than it was in the majority of the photos the macaque had taken.  “Can a monkey own a picture?” asked many, including Metro at the time.

”Wikimedia, the non-profit organisation behind Wikipedia, has refused a photographer’s repeated requests to stop distributing his most famous shot for free – because a monkey pressed the shutter button and should own the copyright,” said the Telegraph.

But whilst most on social media and the press I read, focused on the outcome for this individual photographer, I wondered, what is the impact for the future of photography?

I’ve come to the conclusion, in this particular case I think it is more important we consider it less about the monkey having taken the photo, and more important that it was decided that a human, did not.

This decision was not (yet) decided by a UK court,  but was reached in Wikimedia’s own report.

Since then, the LA Times reported on August 21st, that:

“the public draft of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition —was released this week[1], and, after final review, is to take effect in mid-December [2] — says the office will register only works that were created by human beings.”

This is the first major revision in over twenty years and is an internal manual, so it does not have the force of law.  But it’s still significant.

Copyright suitability is dependent on that the work “was created by a human being,” and only protects “…the fruits of intellectual labor” which are “founded in the creative powers of the mind.” Animal ownership is expressly excluded. (Section 306 – The Human Authorship Requirement). Pantomimes performed by a machine or robot are similarly, expressly non-copyrightable. (p.527) and continues:

“Similarly the Office will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly, or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.” (p 55)

The Telegraph article {August 6th} by Matthew Sparkes, said:

‘In its report Wikimedia said that it “does not agree” that the photographer owns the copyright, but also that US law means that “non-human authors” do not have the right to automatic copyright of any photographs that they take.

“To claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they’d only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image. This means that there was no one on whom to bestow copyright, so the image falls into the public domain,” it said.’

One would think common sense would mean that without the work by British photographer David Slater, there would have been no photograph. That his travel, equipment preparations and interaction with the animals was ‘substantial contribution’.

I wonder, could this become a significant argument in the future of copyright and access to material in the public domain?  Because the argument came down NOT to whether a monkey can own copyright, but whether there was any human in which copyright was vested.

copyright

 

Photography is changing. Increasingly technology is being used to take pictures. If photographic copyright depends on human ownership, I wonder if the way is opened for claims to creative images produced by drone or other forms of AI? I don’t know, and copyright law, is best left to experts but I’d like to ask the questions I have. I’ve read UK and US legislation, around ownership, and around use of computers, but it could appear to an ordinary lay eye, that technology is evolving faster than the laws to govern it. Users and uses growing in hobby and commercial markets perhaps even more so.

In UK legislation:

“In this Part “author”, in relation to a work, means the person who creates it.”

“In the case of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work which is computer-generated, the author shall be taken to be the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken.” [Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Section 9]

It is easy to see how the macaque can slip through in UK law here, as it is not computer generated. And in the US non-human is clearly defined and excluded. But my question is  how do you define computer-generated? At what point does copyright depend on autonomy or on arrangements by human-intervention?

Remember, in the US, the Office will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly, or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.” (p 55)

“Katsu pilots the drone remotely, but every movement is translated through the machine’s need to keep itself aloft and it adapts his directions.”

Where do you draw the line?

Why does it matter today at all?

It matters because copyright law is a gatekeeper and gateway. It makes it commercially viable for creators to produce and make work available to others. It defines responsibilities. One question I ask, is that if it’s no longer worth it, will we be worse off for not having the work they may have otherwise produced?

The market for work produced by or via drone,  is just becoming to hint at becoming mainstream.

The use of drones in photography, for example in hard to reach situations in useful functions like flood mapping will be of great service. Other uses in sports such as alpine skiing, canoeing, or extreme sports is only likely to increase by amateur, professional and commercial users. Stick a go-pro on the drone and it can get footage from places without the need for an accompanying person.

What questions might it raise for artists & creators today?

Specifically on art and copyright:  will this ruling affect what types of images are worth taking? Will it make some work non-commercially viable, or their value determined by the channels of distribution rather than creator? Will this Wikimedia ruling affect the balance of power between creator and  commercial channel providers, in terms of ownership and distribution? I believe it rather serves to highlight where the balance is already.

Have we lessons learned from the music and book industry that apply here? (Clue: they both start with vowels and control distribution.)

Will the decision now go to a UK court and become a clarified legal position?

David Slater reportedly faces an estimated £10,000 legal bill to take the matter to court, said the Telegraph. At very best, this situation  is disrespectful to him and leaves a bitter aftermath, in the question of the power between artist and distributor.

At worst, we could be on the cusp of being left behind in a brave new world of ownership and control of art and knowledge. A world in which actions may be taken through our technology, the product of which no human is deemed to have ownership.

So how does that affect responsibility?

If it has been legally defined, that there is no human copyright ownership for the product of the action by something non-human, where do you draw the line for human responsibility? Am I not responsible for the actions of anything non-human I own? If an animal I own, creates a road traffic accident, am I responsible for its actions? If so, then why not for artwork it creates? If there are differences, why are there differences, and where does the line of responsibility get defined and by whom?

Where are the boundaries of responsibility if we start to distinguish in law between ownership of the result of a task a human set up, but did not carry out? David Slater enabled everything for the photograph to be taken, but did not press the shutter.

I ask: “is the boundary of responsibility undermined by weakening the boundaries of ownership and definition of autonomy of action?”

I believe copyright, ownership, responsibility and non-human authorship is about more than this man vs macaque debate. Will we leave it at that and learn no more from this? If so, then the real monkey is definitely not the one in the picture.

What about considering wider impacts?

In broader context, I believe the public should be asking questions to stay ahead of the game in terms of all legal rulings, and consider carefully the idea of non-human creation and ownership. We should  ensure that both State and commercial uses of drone are not set in place, from which we need to play catch up later. We should be driving the thinking to help shape the society we want to see, and shape the expectations of commercial and State use of drone technology.

What of the drones we cannot see, never hear and yet seem to be supported by our Governments? State surveillance piggybacks commercial infrastructures and tools in other fields, such as communications and social media. We should stay ahead of how drones are increasingly used commercially (as in Amazon pilot news) and we should demand much greater transparency of the existing drone use in our name, in security, surveillance and weaponry. [ added 29 Aug 2014 > also see BT case in CW investigation].

Who controls government decisions and the ethics of drone or robot use? In all of these questions, it comes down to – who’s in a position of power? With power, comes responsibility.

The ethics in use in war zones and in other military action, seen and unseen, is also something we should be asking to understand. To date, much of the public dismisses drone use as something which happens somewhere else and nothing to do with us.

But these decisions do affect what is done in the name of our country and that does indirectly, reflect on us, as its citizens.  These decisions will shape the future commercial uses which will affect us as direct consumers, or as indirect recipients of their impacts on wider society.

There’s lots to think about, as drones develop into tools of art and applications in daily life. I know little of the legal aspects, what has been done already or is being considered today, or what will be in future. I just know, I have lots of questions as an everyday parent, considering what kind of society I hope my children, our future adult citizens, will inherit.  Where do I ask to find out?

My questions are not so much about the technology or law of it, at all. They come down to its ethics, fairness & how this will shape the future.  As a mother, that is the responsibility I bear for my children.

Will we see drones soon in ordinary life or in an everyday future?

In this Wired article, Karl VanHemert states part of Katsu’s aim with the drone is simply to raise questions about the transformative effect the machines might have on art. He plans for it to be Open Source soon. Some argue that tagging is not art, but vandalism. You can see it in action via Motherboard’s video on YouTube here. Suggesting property marking will become a blight on society, you can ask what purpose does it serve? Others suggest drones could be used precisely to paint over graffiti and be of practical uses.

In Scotland it is a well known joke,  that once the painters have finished repainting from one side of the Forth Road Bridge to the other, it’s time for them to start again. Perhaps, those days are over?

Will we see them soon in everyday occupations, and will it make a difference to the average citizen? In commercial service, the mundane estate agent [no offence to those who are, you may be 007 or M in your spare time I know] is reported to be one of the commercial market sectors looking at applications of the photographic potential. It could replace cameras on long poles.

“Unmanned drones can be used for a range of tasks including surveying repairs and capturing particularly good views from unusual angles. ” [Skip Walker, stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk]

These uses are regulated in the UK and must have permission from the CAA.

So far though, I wonder if anyone I’ve met flying a hobby drone with camera over our heads (veering wildly between tent pitches, and enthralling us all, watching it watching us) has requested permission as in point 2?

Regulation will no doubt become widely argued for and against in the public security and privacy debate, rightly or wrongly. With associated risks and benefits, they have the potential to be of public service, entertainment and have uses which we have not yet seen.  How far off is the jedi training remote game? How far off is the security training remote, which is not a game? How is it to be governed?

I have a niggling feeling that as long as State use of drones is less than fully transparent, the Government will not be in a rush to open the debate on the private and commercial uses.

Where does that leave my questions for my kids’ future?

Where is the future boundary in their use and who will set it?

The ethics of this ‘thinking’ technology in these everyday places must be considered today, because tomorrow you may walk into a retirement home and find a robot playing chess with your relative. How would you feel about the same robot, running their bath?

Have you met Bob – the G4S robot in Birmingham – yet?

“While ‘Bob’ carries out his duties, he will also be gathering information about his surroundings and learning about how the environment changes over time”

“A similar robot, called ‘Werner’, will be deployed in a care home environment in Austria.”

How about robots in the home, which can read and ‘learn’ from your emotions?

I think this seemingly silly monkey-selfie case, though clearly anything but for the livelihood of David Slater, should raise a whole raft of questions, that ordinary folk like me should be asking of our experts and politicians.  Perhaps I am wrong, and the non-human author as animal and non-human author as machine are clearly distinct and laid out already in legislation. But as the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices [open for comment see footnote 2] decision shows, at minimum the macaque-selfie shoot, is not yet done in its repercussions. It goes beyond authorship.

Who decides what is creative input and intervention vs automatic or autonomous action? Where do you draw the line at non-human? Does Bob – the G4S robot in Birmingham – count?

We may be far off yet, from AI that is legally considered ‘making its own decisions’, but when we get to the point where the owner of the equipment used has no influence, no intervention, of what, when or where an image is shot, will we be at the point where there is, no human author? Will we be at the point where there is no owner responsible for the action?

Especially, if in the words of Katsu,

“Eventually…the drone will develop a creative mind of its own.”

What may that mean for the responsibilities of drones & robots as security patrols, or as care workers? Is the boundary of responsibility undermined by weakening the boundaries of copyright, of ownership and autonomy of action?

If so, photographs being shot, without a legally responsible owner, is the least of my worries.

****

[1] Significant files ref: http://infojustice.org/archives/33164  Compendium of US Copyright Office practices – 3rd edition > full version: http://copyright.gov/comp3/docs/compendium-full.pdf

[2] Members of the public may provide feedback on the Compendium at any time before or after the Third Edition goes into effect. See www.copyright.gov/comp3/ for more information.