Throwing our Human Rights out with the bath water

Throwing our Human Rights out with the bath water

by Sylvia Anderson
article from Thursday 25, March, 2021

COVID-19 HAS BEEN threatening our human rights and I am highly concerned by this. I was relieved when I heard that the Judicial Review of the Scottish Government policies on preventing communal worship had been proven and the Scottish Government found to have overreached its emergency powers in a disproportionate and excessive way. I don’t believe it is the only area where the Scottish Government has overstepped the mark.

Our human rights were drafted in 1948 by Eleanor Roosevelt and a U.N. committee following World War II. They did a great job and those rights have evolved with society’s needs for 73 years. The holocaust served as a blue print for those rights and it is easy to see why.

The persecution of Jews, Roma, Sinti, disabled and LGBT in concentrations camps demonstrated the need to protect people on the basis of race, religion, disability, age, gender or sexuality. Family groups were split up in concentration camps by generation and gender. Young children were usually murdered and siblings often sent to different camps. This gave rise to the need to have rights to protect the individual’s private and family life, as well as the right to life, liberty and security of person.

The Nazi’s restricted Jews from property ownership, freedom of movement and employment options. Jewish businesses were boycotted and customers prevented from entering by armed guard. Jewish civil servants, teachers and university teachers were dismissed. They could not seek protection from their own, as Jewish lawyers were banned from practice. This correlates to our human rights to freedom of movement, liberty, right to fair legal recourse and to employment of our own choosing. The Jewish people who lost their employment at the hands of the Nazi’s then found themselves being forced into slavery and hard labour in concentration camps. Hence, we have the human right to be protected from slavery.

One of the most sinister aspects of the Nazi’s rule was their highly unethical and questionable scientific experiments. Dr Mengele (Dr Death) was responsible for horrific medical experimentation and we are still unclear what substances and toxins he gave his subjects. Victims of his experiments reported terrible fevers, illness, mutilation, sterilisation and long-term effects, all of which was forced on them. We know some of his victims were murdered after experimentation and autopsied. We are now protected by the human right not to be tortured and to be able to consent or refuse medical treatment or experimentation. 

There is no explicit right to health, medical treatment or against human experimentation. However, the right to a private life and protection from interference of privacy, family, home and correspondence has been interpreted as protecting our physical, moral and psychological integrity and encompasses our right to consent or refuse medical treatment.  

By inference a person’s competent refusal or consent must be informed, thus misleading or withholding information from a patient is in breach of this human right. Medical treatment must also not breach the right to be protected from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. Similarly, human drug trials or experimental medical treatment require informed consent. Experimental treatment and trials must not fall foul of the right not to be subjected to torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

Human rights are a set of universal truths which give us all dignity and equality. Their relevancy is equal in times of peace as well as war. To lose them would be an assault on our humanity and we should never forget their roots. I cannot list or paraphrase all our human rights in this article but I would advise every reader to read them in their entirety.  

Only the human rights to life and not be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are absolute. The rest are qualified and can be infringed by the state in certain circumstances including in the interests of national security, public safety, the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. 

Thus, the government can lawfully infringe on these qualified human rights in the event of a pandemic. However, the government cannot carte blanche do as they will. The state must do the minimum required to achieve its aims; the restriction must legitimately lead to a reduction in the problem; lesser restrictive actions must be considered; blanket policies should be avoided; and they must be balanced against consequential effects on other human rights.

Without being dramatic, it is with horror that I have watched the pandemic threaten our Human Rights. 

I have listened jaw agape as journalists discuss whether the Covid-19 vaccine should be made mandatory. I was amazed that we could forget the lessons of Dr Mengele and debate breaching human rights in the national press. The Pfizer-Biontech Covid-19 vaccine entered phase III clinical trials in November 2020, monitoring of primary outcomes in this phase of the trial which includes safety will continue until August 2021 and monitoring of secondary outcomes will continue until January 2023. 

This is not an anti-vaccine article but a pro-human rights article. Vaccines should be available to those who wish and consent to them, but mandatory vaccination, freedom passes or vaccination passports are in breach of human rights and set a dangerous precedent. They have no place in a system that operates on the basis of informed consent. Also, vaccines do not give sterile immunity and vaccinated people can transmit Covid-19, meaning compulsion is even more nonsensical. 

If the government wishes high uptake of vaccination then education, sharing of safety data and information on side effects should be readily available. It is perfectly lawful for individuals to consent to a vaccine in trial phases as long as they are aware of the trial and pertinent risks. Plenty would happily accept the risks associated with a Covid-19 vaccination trial. Moving to a system of coercion, concealment of facts or mandated vaccination only serves to create distrust between the medical profession and general public that will last beyond the pandemic. If there is nothing to hide, why would vaccination need to be mandated? The entanglement of medical treatment with the absolute right not to be subjected to torture, degrading or inhumane treatment means that informed consent should be meddled with at our peril. 

The lack of respect towards human rights when we openly discuss quarantining returning travellers in hotels for a fortnight is staggering. Quarantining is particularly devastating for those who need to travel for employment or to see family. A friend told me that her husband will need to quarantine for 2 weeks before and after his 6 weeks employment on an oil rig, resulting in 10 weeks away from his wife and children. Another friend is unable to travel home to Poland to see her elderly parents as she cannot get sufficient annual leave to enable her to visit her family and then quarantine. What about their right to a family life? 

Forced quarantine in a hotel in total isolation is false imprisonment. Even convicted criminals in prison are not kept in isolation without visitation rights. This is accepted without evidence as to why returning travellers cannot isolate in their family home with appropriate testing. We must question whether quarantine violates the rights to freedom of movement and to a family life disproportionately. Not to mention loss of employment due to inability to travel easily.

Care home residents are some of our most vulnerable in society (and not in purely Covid-19 terms) and yet residents have been isolated from their families for a year. Even with vaccination, families continue to be deprived of the society of relatives in care homes. In the near future residents may have one nominated visitor. They may be old but residents are still entitled to a private and family life. As a mother of more than one child, I find it absolutely abhorrent that I would have to choose between the society of my husband or one of my children in the future. When lateral flow tests are so readily available and quick to use is this infringement of family life justifiable or proportionate?

Family life has been intruded upon more generally too. Families in different local authority areas are not allowed to meet. Those further afield have suffered as they cannot travel significant distances or meet inside thereafter. My children have not seen my parents for 7 months. Their grandparents are missing out on stages of my children’s childhood that can never be retrieved. My brother has had his relationship with my children severed for a year. I definitely feel my human right to a family life has been infringed disproportionately.  

I have listened to friends crying because they cannot see far flung family members with terminal illness and they know they will only be able to see their relative at end of life. The last precious months of family life have been stolen from them and the consequential trauma can never be undone.

Continuing lockdowns, restrictions and closures on businesses guarantee unemployment in the near future. Businesses have bent over backwards to accommodate modifications to keep their clientele safe, only to have the bitter pill of being told they are not essential. 

Policies seem to disadvantage smaller or family businesses in favour of bigger corporates. 

The truth is that every job and business is essential to their owners and employees. It constitutes their livelihoods, a principle so important that there is a human right to work, to have free choice of employment and to protection against unemployment. Remember those government adverts that the ballet dancer’s next job is in IT “She just doesn’t know it”? 

Currently community COVID-19 rates are very low, but businesses remain shut. Is it still justifiable? The link between poverty and poor health is undeniable. The consequences of destroying the economy on people’s future well-being is frightening, but there is no government discussion on weighing this risk up with interrupting employment for a year. 

Many people disagree with the stringency of government policy in relation to Covid-19 and feel it is disproportionate and illegal. Their opinions (whether you agree with them or not) are protected by their human right to freedom of opinion and expression, including to receive and impart information and ideas through any media, as well as their human right of freedom of peaceful assembly and association. 

Those rights have been denied and arrests have been made during peaceful protest, despite being in the open air and not posing any transmission risks. We all watched with disgust as Police arrested protestors at the Sarah Everard vigil and demonstration. Cressida Dick, Metropolitan Police Commissioner went on to justify the arrests as the vigil was unlawful (she’d be there if it wasn’t). She conveniently misses out that she could have engaged with vigil organisers to dictate the necessary safety to enable her to then sanction lawful protest. Is there another agenda to silence voices? The risk of peaceful protest to national security or health is minimal.

Even if you accept that preventing public protest is necessary you might assume you are free to voice your opinion on social media. Definitely no risk of transmission online. Alas, cancel culture is alive and well! Many have found their Facebook account disabled or fact checkers censoring shared information or thoughts. The expertise of the fact checkers is unknown and eminently qualified scientists have found themselves censored. Let us be honest, the sole issue is somebody somewhere disagrees with you. Your human right to share your beliefs through any media is no longer respected. 

You might well ask if our human rights are being infringed why has there not been extensive judicial challenge? There have been a few attempts like the Dolan case and the Judicial Review by Church Leaders. However, the costs of raising Judicial Review to challenge policies on human rights grounds are huge (don’t expect change out of £50K). It is beyond average incomes and legal aid is unavailable to most on a moderate income.  

In other words, defending your human rights has become the reserve of the elite. If our human rights are easily infringed without challenge, they will be less protected in the future. The success of the Church Leaders is encouraging, but could yet be appealed by the government. I hope there will be further judicial challenge. Eleanor Roosevelt and her committee did a great job and I am truly saddened that these universal truths may be thrown out with the COVID-19 bath water.

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By Sylvia Anderson, Former Solicitor

Photo by abhik dhiman/EyeEm from Adobe Stock 

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