The UK authorities’s introduction of latest restrictions to take care of the “omicron emergency” has prompted backlash from some politicians. When the modifications have been put to the House of Commons, greater than 100 Tory MPs voted in opposition to the plans. Several expressed concern over the influence measures equivalent to having to point out proof of vaccination to enter sure venues would have on individuals’s “civil liberties”. They have basically been invoking human rights arguments to oppose pandemic emergency powers. However, their opposition is predicated on a misguided and libertarian understanding of the character of human rights.
Such libertarian opposition to the brand new restrictions will be seen from some MPs’ latest commentary. Conservative MP Steve Baker, who’s within the Covid Recovery Group and a vocal backbencher, accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of making a “depressing dystopia” by bringing again guidelines on face masks and testing and introducing vaccine passes.
Libertarians basically argue that human rights forestall the state from appearing or interfering together with your freedom. Any interference to which you don’t consent is an act of aggression and is subsequently illegitimate. In my e-book Emergency Powers in a Time of Pandemic, I argue that libertarian understandings of rights as solely limiting the ability of the state are inappropriate for coping with a pandemic.
On the face of it, human rights equivalent to these within the European Convention on Human Rights and included into British legislation by the Human Rights Act 1998 seem to require non-intervention by the state. Everyone has the correct to life, everyone has the correct to liberty, everyone has the correct to privateness, everyone has the correct to freedom of expression. Essentially, the state ought to simply go away individuals alone.
A pandemic, nevertheless, truly requires states to be extra lively, taking optimistic steps to guard human rights.
For instance, the correct to life enshrined in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights doesn’t merely require states to chorus from taking individuals’s lives, it additionally requires states to guard individuals from “actual and rapid dangers”. Likewise, the state should spend assets and implement measures to make sure that situations in state-run establishments (like hospitals and prisons) don’t deteriorate to the extent that they infringe on individuals’s rights to humane therapy.
If MPs actually wish to defend individuals’s rights, they need to be in favour of a strong pandemic response. An individual can not train their different rights if their proper to life shouldn’t be protected. A human rights legislation limiting the state’s skill to guard individuals from a lethal menace wouldn’t be of a lot worth. Rather than conceiving of human rights legislation as merely stipulating non-intervention by a state, the important thing to the success of the human rights motion is its skill empower or “emancipate” individuals. This locations robust obligations on states to guard and vindicate individuals’s rights.
Whose rights matter?
At the time of the vote, over 800 individuals had died throughout the previous seven days from COVID-19. While these numbers seem comparatively low compared with the peak of the pandemic, they’re considerably greater than the deaths brought on by different threats which have prompted the British state to enact draconian powers. From April 2003 to March 2020, for instance, 95 individuals have been killed in terrorist-related incidents in England and Wales.
It is putting that, whereas they’re opposing new COVID-19 restrictions on a civil liberties foundation, MPs are reluctant to voice issues over different laws that clearly infringes on human rights. On the exact same day because the vote, the federal government proposed putting modifications to the 1998 Human Rights Act, together with limiting the correct to household life to make it simpler to deport individuals.
Conservative MPs additionally not too long ago voted via laws permitting the house secretary to strip individuals of their British citizenship with out discover, and considerably curbing the correct of individuals to protest —- a elementary proper in any democracy.
At greatest, that is inconsistency. At worst, it’s rank hypocrisy.
The cause for this may be boiled right down to an “us v. them” mindset. Ultimately, it’s the concept most of “us” – “unusual”, law-abiding individuals – will really feel that counterterrorist powers don’t have an effect on us, or that we ourselves aren’t susceptible to being deported. Instead, we view these sorts of human rights restrictions as solely impacting the rights of the “different” -— the terrorist, the undeserving. In distinction, the results of COVID emergency powers apply to everybody.
While this distinction explains opposition to some rights restrictions however not others, it can not justify this inconsistency. This concept of these deserving versus these undeserving of civil liberties has no place in human rights. We have rights by advantage of the truth that we’re human, not just because we’re good residents.
Alan Greene doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.