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International Human Rights Day

I rose at 4.20 pm


I thank the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh), and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), for leading this debate.

We as a nation take pride in our historical championing of liberal democracy and human rights. The two are placed side by side as though living in a democracy means automatically that we should have a strong human rights record, but that is not always the case. Simply celebrating the UK’s efforts is one sided and slightly misleading. We must recognise the contradictions at the heart of our human rights policy and beliefs.

Why do the Government continue to hold Saudi Arabia—a country that routinely commits the gravest violations of human rights—as one of their closest allies in the middle east? Why did we back its bid for the Human Rights Council, despite its systematic discrimination against women and religious minorities, and its awful track record of executions, including of those on peaceful protests?

Our human rights failings occur not only in terms of international complicity but here at home. Our immigration detention system is inhumane and a violation of detainees’ human rights. We are unique in the EU in our policy of detaining people without a time limit—a policy the Government voted to uphold on Third Reading of the Immigration Bill. A recent parliamentary question I asked revealed that the longest a woman without outstanding criminal offences has been held in detention since 2010 is 588 days. This should never happen. The rights and dignity of people in this country should not depend on a piece of paper.

Why are the Government trying—although I would say unsuccessfully—to attack the Human Rights Act? We should be proud of what the Human Rights Act has achieved. It has upheld the right to peaceful protest, it has helped to defend journalistic freedom, and it has revealed the extent of racism in prisons. If we want to stand up today for human rights, we need to acknowledge the contradictions separating the Government’s rhetoric from their policy.

Human rights means human rights for everyone. It means standing up for ordinary people subjected to human rights abuses by our diplomatic allies. It means reforming our detention system. Fundamentally, it means saving our Human Rights Act.

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Kate Osamor MP

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