On the facts established in the report, there is prima facie evidence that the human rights of those who died in and were affected by the fire were violated. The rights to life, to family life and to property are all protected under domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1998. The UK is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognises the rights to adequate housing and to the highest attainable standard of health. If there is a foreseeable risk to human rights of which the government (local or national) is or should be aware, and the government is in a position to ameliorate that risk, then a failure to do so amounts to a failure to secure the right in question. Human rights, however, are effectively ignored in Moore-Bick’s report.
I met Aung San Suu Kyi just the once. It was in August 2012, quite soon after she was released from fifteen years of on-off house arrest. Myanmar’s military junta looked ready to loosen its grip on power, and I was there on behalf of an international organisation of human rights lawyers to investigate how the legal order might be stabilised. Serious business, but you wouldn’t know it from my souvenir photograph. I look thrilled to bits.
Last month, Amnesty International’s decision-making body meeting in Dublin voted ‘to adopt a policy that seeks attainment of the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers, through measures that include the decriminalisation of sex work’. The policy rests ‘on the human rights principle that consensual sexual conduct between adults is entitled to protection from state interference’.
Equal treatment under the law only really works when not everybody counts as human. The classical Athenians enjoyed their freedom behind a franchise firewall that kept most people out; the parliamentarians of John Locke’s time accorded each other equal respect but contrived to notice no one else. The truths held to be self-evident by the founding ‘fathers’ of the United States a couple of generations later only applied to rich white men. During the 19th century, British labour activists and Irish nationalists found the law to be good at protecting the Salvation Army and anti-nationalist rabbles, but not so good (entirely absent actually) where their own activities were concerned. In 1925, the home secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, defended an egregious prosecution of Communists by explaining that they had not been engaged in the ‘right kind of freedom of speech’. Fascists could march but protests by unemployed workers were brutally broken up.