Thursday, 27 June 2019

British concern for human rights: Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong

This week two events cast clear light on the British government's concern for human rights. The first was the government's response to the court of appeal's ruling that British arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are unlawful. The second was the government's response to the policing of the protests in Hong Kong. Both cases involved the issue of human rights. Yet the government took entirely inconsistent positions.

On Monday, in response to the court ruling arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful on the ground that the British government had not taken into account the use of such arms to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law, the government disagreed with the court's judgement and stated that it would seek leave to appeal. Yet the notion that the arms had not been used to commit such violations was not just false, but blatantly so. The Saudi led coalition waging war on Yemen has killed approximately one hundred thousand people, the vast majority of whom being civilians. The Saudis have targeted schools, markets, residential areas, funerals and weddings. The Saudis have even more lethally imposed an economic blockade upon Yemen, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths from malnutrition and preventable diseases. Nevertheless, the government incredibly asserts that its sales of arms has not resulted in human rights violations and British corporations should be allowed to continue the multi-billion pound business.

On Wednesday, the British government announced that the way the police in Hong Kong had responded to protests violated the human rights of the protesters and that the government would therefore stop the sale of crowd control materials to Hong Kong. It is worthy of note that not a single person died as a result of the protests. Indeed, if one compares the policing of the protests to other protests around the world, the Hong Kong police appear to have behaved relatively normally. In fact, in comparison to say the police response to the Gillet Jaunes in France, the Hong Kong police were remarkably restrained. A similar comparison could be made in relation to the Spanish police's response to Catalans voting for independence. Yet the British government has never felt moved to condemn such policing. Indeed, it has supported the French and Spanish governments in these clear cases of excessive use of force.

The contrast between the two cases is remarkably revealing. In the space of two days, the government denies that a genocidal war that the United Nations judged to be the worst humanitarian catastrophe in modern history involves violations of human rights, and condemns as violations of human rights a policing operation that would pass as normal in country after country across the globe. What this double standard throws into stark reveal is the fact that for the British state human rights are nothing more than a rhetorical weapon with which to attack its enemies.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Michael Gove, cocaine, double standards and hypocrisy

The public admissions by Michael Gove that he took cocaine have caused much media interest and comment. The focus has been firmly confined to how it might effect his bid to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and thus prime minister. All this coverage has completely ignored the fact that Gove has confessed to a serious criminal offence, punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment.

If the police were to charge Gove and the Crown Prosecution Service were to bring a prosecution, Gove would have no defence. The only issue before the court would be the sentence. Gove would, as a result of his public confession, only be able to offer a plea of mitigation, a request for leniency, after the conviction and before the pronouncement of the sentence. Yet no one in the political media elite seems to be aware of this legal fact. As far as the political media elite are concerned, the issue is simply a matter of politics: will it affect his chances of being elected leader of the Tory party?

The double standards and hypocrisy of the elite could not be more blatantly displayed. Whilst Gove was taking cocaine, he was simultaneously publicly denouncing such behaviour. As Education Secretary he presided over a regime that excluded teachers who had a history of taking illegal drugs. Yet, there is no question in the minds of the political media elite of holding Gove to account, either in terms of the criminal law, nor in terms of maintaining professional standards. There could hardly be a clearer case of the law applying only to some. Apparently, it is perfectly acceptable for the elite to impose laws and standards on the rest of society, whilst having complete immunity for themselves.

Such double standards bring the law, politics, the corporate media, indeed the whole of the establishment into disrepute. If senior politicians can break the law with impunity, why should anyone else be bound by the rules? This is hardly a rhetorical question. Yet it is one which is not even being asked, let alone answered.