Category: Human Rights


I never thought I’d join another political party. When I became active in the Liberal Democrats, I thought that was me, settled. No one else really reflected my views, no party had such a beautiful and evocative preamble.

Today, I felt compelled to join a different political party: Alliance.

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Yes, it’s confirmed, President Barack Obama has been returned to the White House for another four years as leader of the free world, and with an impressive majority.

I’ll confess, I thought it was going to be a lot closer than it turned out to be. Lets look at why.

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English: Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations ...

English: Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish text. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The European Court of Human Rights – note, nothing to do with the European Union, you’re thinking of the European Court of Justice – has ruled that Britain is breaking the law by preventing all prisoners from voting. It’s a heated issue… and I seem to disagree with everyone I talk to.

To start off with, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) isn’t forcing the government to give all prisoners the vote. The 2004 ruling against Britain, and the recent Italian case, ensures that the government does have the right to take away the power of voting from some prisoners. But a blanket ban, the kind we have in the UK, is  illegal and incompatible with human rights law. The ban is indiscriminate, and that is what the court is attempting to forbid.Now that that unpleasant thing, the truth, is out of the way, let’s look at some of the issues.

Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that…

1 . Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

This means that voting is a right held by all individuals, regardless of their actions, or any personal identification. It would, for example, be illegal to say that being Jewish disallows you from voting. It also doesn’t allow for these rights to be taken away because they’re incarcerated. It is held by ALL individuals, inalienable and intrinsic.

But, but… law-abiding citizens may feel sick because prisoners can vote and apparently David Cameron felt similarly at PMQs. Frankly, I don’t care. Some fundamentalist Christians may feel sick because gay people might actually be allowed to marry, shock horror. Just because some people may feel sick that, for example, Jews are allowed into the same schools as Christians, does that mean we shouldn’t have equality and human dignity for all?

Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams has said that prisoners on short services should be allowed to vote as part of their Rehabilitation - This is interesting because it opens the possibility of those prisoners who will almost certainly never be released having their vote taken away. It would also comply with the court’s judgement. However, in order to interact with prisoners politically and re-engage them in wider society, the vote isn’t strictly necessary. Education on the power of the vote matters, the actual matter of putting an X on a ballot isn’t, at this stage, all that crucial. I’d rather see education and re-engagement, instead of abandoning prisoners.

My views? I don’t see any justification for preventing prisoners from voting. They are still subjects of the British government, impacted by its decisions, and thusly have the right to participate in those decisions.We may try to dehumanise criminals, but dehumanising our fellow humans hanever ended well, and I can’t see it ending well now. Most will be released someday, and will emerge into a world they will have been prevented from playing a part in forming. They still hold basic human rights and deserve human dignity. The vast majority of us would not agree with prisons being places where all prisoners are beaten, starved and abused. Look at Abu Ghraib.We accord prisoners human dignity, and the right to vote is a large part of that.

This also calls into question the nature of prison – punishment, rehabilitation or society’s safety? Is a prisoner in prison to teach him a lesson? If so, then a) I disagree and b) losing the right to vote isn’t really part of the punishment. If its rehabilitation, as I believe it should be, then human dignity plays a crucial role in that. If its for society’s safety, are we worried they’ll elect axe-murderers who will slaughter a council ward?

The crux of the matter is that of human rights. They are inalienable and intrinsic to every human being. Saying today that murderers can’t vote, tomorrow that people with parking tickets, over the weekend taking the right away from Muslims, and then all non-Christians by next week, is an all too easy progression the second we step away from the principle that every last human holds these rights.

A blanket ban on voting is arbitrary and damaged human dignity by dehumanising a subset of society. This is always wrong. Even allowing just some prisoners to vote is not sufficient, to my mind – where is the cutoff point? They also are still impacted by state’s decisions and have a right to participate in making them.

We all have that power. Don’t let the government take that right away from some of us. After all, If you tolerate this, then your children will be next…

The future teaches you to be alone
The present to be afraid and cold
So if I can shoot rabbits
Then I can shoot fascists

Bullets for your brain today
But we’ll forget it all again
Monuments put from pen to paper
Turns me into a gutless wonder

And if you tolerate this
Then your children will be next
And if you tolerate this
Then your children will be next
Will be next
Will be next
Will be next

I understand this position is probably NOT popular. Given that, feel free to comment below!  I’d love to hear from you. Stay respectful, but I answer all comments.

In the meantime, enjoy!

I’m angry. I blogged how cautious I was last night (Civil Liberties- The LibDem’s Home Turf on Spineless Liberal). But now I’m angry. Here’s why.
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Ah, April Fool’s Day.  The day when you can’t believe anything you read on the internet. So I shouldn’t be worried about the news on the BBC , the Independent and Metro that the government is planning to allow the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) new powers to snoop into people’s online communications.

Right? RIGHT?

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