Sunday, November 14, 2010

No Human Rights for Prisoners..?

This is a common refrain from some of the more populist political mouthpieces, as well as in the pub. It is often based upon a complete misunderstanding of human rights coupled with a profound ignorance of what the specific rights are.

What we wrote, agreed and signed up to 60 years ago was the principle that individuals have a right to insist that the State not commit certain acts against them. And that these specified rights adhere to all people, without exception. This is a fundamental point about human rights they are unearned, they accrue merely by being human. It was intended that governments would be rendered illegitimate if they attempted to single out groups that they, or the wider society, disliked and then oppressing them. Jews, communists, homosexuals, gypsies, democrats...

Rather than meander through a very long legal document, it serves the purpose to select just one of the rights contained in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

"Article 3 - Prohibition of torture.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

We can, obviously, debate the meaning of the operative words and the Courts are perpetually engaged in that discussion. But as a broad prohibition, I would hope that this prohibition is self evident and needs no justification? No government should be free to abuse its citizens.

And for those who wish prisoners to exempt from this prohibition on being misused, consider this - for every Huntley or West, there are ten thousand thieves and burglars. There are people in prison for non-payment of fines arising from not having a TV license.

Anyone who says that prisoners should not have human rights must be prepared to justify torturing grandmothers in a dispute with TV Licensing.



  1. Well said Ben, but did you mean 'misunderstanding' in your first paragraph?

    Normally 'slippery slope' type arguments are fallacious, but not here; I think it is a very good point to make that as soon as you try to say a certain group of people are not entitled to human rights, then where will it stop?

    The clues to the point of it all are often in the words themselves. For example, universal declaration if human rights.

  2. This is a good article, with the small exception that you quoted Article 3 not Article 2. Article 2 is the right to life.

  3. A very evocative and thought provoking read.