Human rights

The human rights clampdown on free speech

On Wednesday, in a decision that ought to get a good deal more attention than it will, our Supreme Court said that it was unacceptable that the press should be allowed to tell us that someone is being investigated by the police. It confirmed that someone in that position, an international businessman being investigated over alleged serious irregularities and frauds, had rightly been awarded a five-figure sum in damages from Bloomberg when it entirely truthfully pointed out that fact. Known only as ZXC, the man, said their Lordships, had a reasonable expectation of keeping disreputable matters like that quiet, even if they became known. From this it followed that unless

The crazy, corrupt world of the Beijing Olympics

Gstaad OK sport fans, have you been enjoying the concentration camp Olympics? I’m sure the Uighurs in the Chinese gulag are riveted, especially watching the downhill, the trouble being that most of the one million Muslim prisoners have been issued with Equatorial Guinea-made TV sets, apparatuses that only show crocodiles swallowing humans. Joe Biden, in the meantime, has steered clear of the Games and has sent a message via pigeon to the Chinese: ‘You’re way out of line as far as King Kong is concerned and unless you sign the Schleswig-Holstein agreement do not expect any Americans to attend the première of Madame Butterfly.’ Good for you, Joe, you’ve finally

Will the human rights industries finally stand up for Christians?

A Christian-owned bakery harried through the courts for refusing to produce a cake endorsing same-sex marriage and a nurse driven out of her job for wearing a small cross. The two are apparently unconnected but have found themselves in the same news cycle this week. The ‘gay cake case’, as it’s invariably billed, has been trundling along since 2014, when gay rights activist Gareth Lee commissioned Belfast-based Ashers Baking Company to produce a cake featuring the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’, the logo of the organisation QueerSpace, and Bert and Ernie, two Sesame Street characters ‘shipped’ as gay by some fans of the children’s TV series. Ashers, whose owners are Christian,

Have we reached peak human rights?

After the Colston debacle, you might be forgiven for having missed the other legal story that broke this week. The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed the complaint in the Ulster ‘gay cake’ case, so the decision in favour of the baker will stand. In case you need reminding, seven years ago a Belfast gay rights activist called Gareth Lee asked Ashers, a high-class bakery, to produce a cake inscribed with the phrase ‘Support Gay Marriage’ for an event he was organising. The bakery owners refused, citing Presbyterian religious scruples, whereupon Lee sued for discrimination. He lost. Our Supreme Court held that he had not been discriminated against because he

The burden of being a Newcastle United fan

The second thing I learned about football, after moving to London, is that you can never, ever switch your allegiance. That was unfortunate, because the first thing I discovered was that I liked Newcastle United and had already chosen them as my team. It’s been fairly relentless pain ever since. In 2016, I watched Newcastle get relegated. They bounced back to the Premier League the next season, but it’s been utter mediocrity ever since. I’ve followed them from stadium to stadium, unwavering in my support, cheering on often extremely boring and disappointing football. I like the idea of loyalty in sports; to ditch a team because they depress you would

How the ancients handled refugees

Hardly a day goes by without headlines about immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. In the ancient world, movements of people were also very common (state boundaries did not exist), often because war, famine or exile left them with no option. So how did refugees try to win acceptance? In Homer’s world of heroes (c. 700 bc), a man indicated he was harmless by kneeling before his (proposed) helper, perhaps touching the knee, and appealing for aid in the name of Zeus, god of suppliants. He expected a welcome into the household as a guest, and becoming part of that household, or being helped on his way. When Athens was a democratic

Is Ireland cosying up to China?

In 2019, the then-deputy prime minister of Ireland Simon Coveney spoke at the UN Human Rights Council, where he underlined Ireland’s commitment to defending human rights – which he said was strengthened by his country’s membership of the EU. As he told the summit, freedom and justice are: woven through our foreign policy, through our bilateral engagement and through our determined and committed membership of the European Union. The speech came in the midst of the Brexit negotiations, where Ireland were keen to be portrayed as noble victims of the Brexit vote, pitted against an isolationist, knuckle-dragging UK. How times change. Coveney, now Ireland’s foreign minister, has just gotten back from

Why does China think it can bully backbench MPs like me?

Does the Chinese Communist Party understand how our parliamentary democracy works? The evidence from the last 24 hours suggests not. Along with some of my Conservative colleagues in the House of Commons – Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Tim Loughton, Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien – as well as two peers, a QC and an academic, I have been banned from entering China, had any assets in China frozen (not that I have any there) and have had Chinese citizens and institutions prohibited from doing business with me. All because I have voiced well-evidenced concerns about the persecution of the Uyghur Muslim minority by the Chinese government. The Beijing authorities, in

Meghan Markle and the trouble with human rights law

Meghan Markle hailed her victory in a high court privacy case as a ‘comprehensive win’ over the Mail on Sunday’s ‘illegal and dehumanising practices’. But is that right? If you dig beneath the headlines and read the judge’s ruling, it becomes clear that her victory has much to do with a burgeoning expansion of privacy rights based on human rights law. This change in the law has taken place with little fanfare and the victim – the press – generate little sympathy. Yet it is something that should worry any supporter of free speech. Until about twenty years ago, the English courts were pretty robust about celebrities’ privacy suits, then known as

What the West can do about China’s Uyghur labour camps

Coca-Cola’s most controversial bottling plant is a huge factory located in an industrial zone just outside the city of Urumqi in western China. Logistically, the factory is well situated: the international airport is a short drive away, as is the high-speed train station close to the fashionable Wyndham hotel. But the problem for Coca-Cola — and other western companies such as Volkswagen and BASF, which operate plants in the same region — is the existence of hundreds of facilities not mentioned on any official map. The Cofco Coca-Cola plant, a joint venture with a Chinese state company, is surrounded by prisons and re-education camps in which China suppresses local ethnic

China’s human rights crackdown is getting worse

The Chinese Communist Party regime’s repression is pervasive and intensifying. Over the past five years, Xi Jinping’s brutal assault on basic human rights has accelerated with horrifying ferocity and speed.  But while the incarceration, forced sterilisation and enslavement of millions of Uyghurs is increasingly recognised as a genocide, and the dismantling of Hong Kong’s promised freedom and autonomy a grave breach of an international treaty, it is worth remembering that numerous groups in China are under attack. Christians in China are facing the worst conditions since the Cultural Revolution, the Falun Gong spiritual movement continues to be hounded, repression in Tibet increases, and human rights defenders, civil society activists, bloggers,

The anti-Trump protesters forget where Britain’s true friendships lie

American politics – like our own – is more polarised than ever. More than perhaps any other president in living memory, Donald Trump has divided opinion. To his supporters, he can do no wrong. None of the old political orthodoxies seem to apply. To his detractors at home and abroad, his presidency is an embarrassment, arousing expressions of hatred rarely seen in Western politics. But we would be foolish to muddle a dislike of a particular President with our historic and deep commitment to an enduring, strong, British-American relationship. Even more foolish to presume that everything he says or does has no merit. This week we will commemorate our shared sacrifices

The real wizard of Oz

What makes a barrister famous? At one time, many of the best advocates were also prominent politicians, whose day job was in court and who moonlighted in the Commons — think F.E. Smith. But it is impossible today to double up with any distinction. As long as capital punishment survived, public attention also attached to those great defenders who rescued their clients from the noose — think Edward Marshall Hall. But English judges no longer don the black cap to pronounce the sentence of death. Geoffrey Robertson, the author of this riveting memoir, ticks the boxes which guarantee the reputation of the modern celebrity silk: chiefly, a concentration on the

A court’s contempt

The issue of sovereignty has mysteriously disappeared from the debate over Brexit. Some business-focused commentators even like to assert that in a ‘global, interconnected world’, sovereignty is meaningless. But a court judgment, delivered earlier this month, perfectly illustrates what is at stake. The case is about national security. Specifically, it is about the legality of techniques used to identify and disrupt people intent on unleashing terror: the kind of terror we have seen recently in Manchester, Westminster, Borough Market and Parsons Green. The technique at issue is the bulk collection of communications data (BCD). This data is the ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘with whom’ of communications, not what was written

Punks vs. Putin

What makes for meaningful political protest? In regimes where ideology was taken seriously (such as the Soviet Union or America during the Cold War), dissidents and dissenters could target rulers’ political ideas, whether communist or capitalist. But in regimes where ideology is used more to distract than indoctrinate (such as Putin’s Russia or Trump’s America), directly opposing the leaders’ ‘narrative’ (one which can change, depending on political expedience) risks playing right into their game. As Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon revealed in an interview with American Prospect, Trump’s race-baiting has provoked Democrats into focusing on identity issues, which is just the argument Bannon wants them to obsess over: he believes

An untouchable star

This slight book comes with heavy baggage. In 2009, Rampling handed back a hefty advance for her contribution to a conventional authorised biography, and then used the Human Rights Act to prevent Barbara Victor from publishing anything based on their collaboration, on the grounds that it would violate her right to privacy. The Mail typically demanded to know ‘what can possibly remain untold in her audaciously open life’. What it meant was that, having been so extensively naked on-screen, Rampling had no business pulling down the shutters on her private life. But Rampling’s extraordinary sexiness has always derived from an immaculate meeting of exposure and reserve. Even with her breasts

Diary – 16 March 2017

In the NHS clinic where I work, adults who suspect they may have Asperger syndrome wait almost a year for a diagnosis. The clinic takes referrals from all over Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (a population of 860,000), but we have to see all of them in the hours of a single full-time doctor. And the clinic is not given funds to run a follow-up support service once someone has been diagnosed. These individuals struggle to socialise, are neurologically different, and are overlooked because their disability is invisible. Many have experienced bullying in childhood, underemployment in adulthood and exploitation because of their social naivety. Many are made to feel inferior despite their

War and law

From ‘The confiscation of enemy property’, The Spectator, 17 February 1917: It is perfectly possible to remove German influences without confiscating German property. This, as far as can be gathered, is the policy which the French have followed, and in their interest as well as in our own we ought also to follow it. The Germans, to give them in this matter the full credit which is due to them, have been very slow to take any steps against British property held in Germany… We do not wish to give them an excuse for fresh crimes. Our business is to punish them as a nation for the crimes they have

It’s time to drop the British Bill of Rights for good

The Government plans to scrap plans to scrap plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. Here we go again. Following snugly in the footsteps of her two predecessors as Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss has promised to implement the so-called ‘British Bill of Rights’ in its place. There were never good reasons for this policy, but at one stage there were at least some bad reasons. Now, even they have run out. The European Convention on Human Rights affirms the rights to life, a fair trial and freedom of expression, among others. Until 1998, a Brit who thought their human rights had been violated needed to exhaust all their legal options

‘I have become their voice’

When the model and actress Anastasia Lin was crowned Miss World Canada last year, a fairly easy and lucrative career lay in front of her: magazine shoots, sponsorship opportunities and being paid to turn up to parties. She instead decided to use her position to confront the Chinese Communist party and call out its human rights abuses. Her new film The Bleeding Edge is a feature-length dramatisation about the organ trade in China. It might not be in a cinema near you soon, but it does screen in the House of Commons next week, in front of MPs and peers. And this is the audience that 26-year-old Lin is seeking.