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Theresa May Should Defend, Not Denigrate, Human Rights

New UK Government Should Put Human Rights at Heart of Domestic and Foreign Policy

(London) – In the final days of the United Kingdom’s election campaign, Prime Minister Theresa May made a dangerous, ill-judged, and unwarranted attack on human rights laws, suggesting that they can be an obstacle to tackling terrorism. But she provided no evidence to support this claim and she has no mandate to weaken human rights laws from which we all benefit, Human Rights Watch said today in a public letter to Theresa May.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the media outside 10 Downing Street, in central London, Britain April 18, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

“After the Westminster attack, Theresa May asserted – clearly and commendably – that human rights are one of this country’s defining values. Yet just weeks later, in an astonishing U-turn, she threatened to tear up the very rights she claimed to hold dear,” said David Mepham, UK director at Human Rights Watch. “Theresa May’s loss of her parliamentary majority – and her dependence on another party, the Democratic Unionists, to stay in office – should make it untenable for her to scrap established human rights protections.”

The Conservative Party manifesto committed to retain the Human Rights Act during the Brexit process and adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights, a document which was largely drafted by British lawyers and championed by Winston Churchill in the aftermath of the Second World War. It is vital that the Conservative government honour those commitments, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Right Watch’s letter to the Prime Minister identifies seven areas of concern and urges a clear commitment to human rights in these areas by the new UK government: counterterrorism and counterextremism; the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights; human rights during and after Brexit; the UK’s responsibilities toward refugees; modern slavery and workers’ rights; the rights of women and girls; and the role of human rights in broader UK foreign policy – for example in respect of UK support for, and arms sales to, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

“Human rights and the rule of law are what distinguish democratic, free societies from terrorists and despots alike,” said Mepham. “They should be jealously guarded and defended, not denigrated and undermined.”

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