To say that 2020 has been an unusual year is an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the package of government measures introduced in response, continue to dramatically impact our day-to-day lives. Even the most ordinary activities are subject to myriad restrictions and we find ourselves consciously weighing up the potential risks that even the simplest acts pose to others. In these respects, the pandemic has highlighted issues that form the crux of debates concerning human rights and civil liberties.
Another week, another U-turn. For anyone that follows British politics this will not come at a surprise. If anything, the U-turn has become a trademark of the current UK government and a defining feature of their first year in power. These U-turns have for the most part been welcomed, generally reversing a course of action that was clearly misjudged and did not align with the will of the British people, but the latest is rather more callous.
It was recently announced that a man had been charged with terrorism offences for a far-right attack at the offices of Duncan Lewis Solicitors in Harrow. The man had entered the firm in September brandishing a knife and threatened to kill a member of staff. The prosecution now allege that he was planning to take a solicitor hostage and fly both the Nazi flag and that of the US Confederacy, both of which were in his possession, from their office.
In the summer, it took a public campaign by Manchester United forward, Marcus Rashford, to force the government into providing free school meal vouchers to children from low-income households during the holidays. Commenting on the government’s U-turn, Boris Johnson, betraying not the slightest hint of shame, stated that “we have to understand the pressure that families are under right now”.
On 23 September 2020, Parliament voted in favour of the Overseas Operations Bill after its second reading. The Bill is part of the government’s plans to prevent ‘vexatious’ claims against military personnel, but Human Rights Watch have suggested that the Bill could prevent individuals being prosecuted for legitimate war crimes.
In 1517, on what became known as Evil May Day, an anti-immigration riot flared up in London. Resentment towards immigrants had been building for some time. Then, a fortnight prior to the riot, a broker named John Lincoln persuaded a preacher named Dr Bell (or Beal) to deliver a sermon in which he blamed immigrants for the abject poverty suffered by the local Englishmen, accusing the former of taking the latter’s jobs and depriving them of their livelihoods.
Earlier this month, Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, announced that the UK would be sanctioning 49 individuals and groups accused of gross human rights abuses. This was the first time the UK had individually imposed sanctions for human rights abuses and in Dominic Raab’s own words, ‘“sent a clear message” in regard to the UK government’s position on these actions.
Climate change is undoubtedly killing us. Climate change itself is not unprecedented and there are records of at least five ice ages in Earth’s history to attest to this. However, when we talk about contemporary climate change we are referring to the rapid climate change caused by the actions of mankind, which is certainly a first.
In a deeply disturbing move, the UK Government announced yesterday that it would continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia despite its own findings that UK arms may have been used to commit violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen.
Terrorism is understandably marked as one of the biggest threats to the safety of the UK. It is callously used as a way to convey the message of abhorrent organisations and to spread fear in the wider public. In the UK the level of this threat has always varied, but since the turn of the century there has been a marked change, both in terms of motives and techniques.