Do not disparage human rights - a letter to British party leaders

A group of foundations and philanthropists who are members of Ariadne – the European wide network of human rights funders – have issued an open letter to politicians and party leaders asking for thoughtful, accurate and truthful consideration of human rights issues in the run up to the UK general election
openDemocracy Opendemocracy
31 March 2010

A group of foundations and philanthropists who are members of Ariadne – the European wide network of human rights funders – have issued an open letter to politicians and party leaders asking for thoughtful, accurate and truthful consideration of human rights issues in the run up to the UK general election.

This is an open letter to all politicians and, in particular, to the leaders of the main political parties in advance of the forthcoming election. It comes from a group of Trusts and Foundations, as well as private philanthropists, who support human rights and social justice, both within the UK and globally.

Collectively, we spend more than a hundred million pounds annually in this field. Our work covers a wide area, dealing with people around the world for whom the principles of universal human rights are beacons of hope and sanity in often terrible circumstances. The right not to be tortured or unlawfully killed, the right not to be imprisoned without due process, the right to asylum in the face of persecution, the right not to be discriminated against or excluded from society because of gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation are enormously important ideas. They underpin the structure of decent communities and enable us to hold individuals, states and institutions, like the church and the media, to account. This can be an uncomfortable and uneasy process and it involves some of the most difficult decision-making in the modern world.

For the past ten years the UK has incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights through the Human Rights Act: that is now up for debate by the main political parties. As charitably registered institutions we have a duty to stand outside party politics, which is why this letter is being written before the start of the election campaign. But we have become deeply concerned at the way in which the words “human rights” and the principles that underlie both the European Convention and the Human Rights Act are being brought into disrepute. Demonstrably false myths, for instance that the Human Rights Act prevents the police from publishing mug shots of those on their most wanted lists, continue to be given credence by front bench spokesmen and women and parts of the media. This is not helpful to anyone, particularly the public being asked to make an important choice on the basis of incorrect information.

We ask that this debate, which is an important one that deserves time, concentration and focus, is not conducted in a shrill atmosphere for party political gain, that party spokesmen and women, whatever their politics, do not disparage human rights and the principles that underlie them, and that statements about the Human Rights Act and the European Convention are not used to exploit peoples’ fears, but instead are thoughtful, accurate and truthful. To do less than this sells the British people short and risks negating centuries of effort to improve peoples’ lives, effort that politicians from all traditions have invested in.

For many years the UK has been an influential and effective promoter of fundamental rights: it is a country that genuinely cares about justice and fairness and serves as an example for others to emulate. The willingness to protect human rights within the UK has been carefully watched around the world, both by those who support and sometimes give their lives to defend human rights, and also by those who wish to deny them. What happens here will be viewed with great interest and is liable to have an impact far beyond our borders. It is important to remember this and not to lose sight of the larger issues, which are the ones on which, ultimately, the country, will be judged.

Debbie Berger, Co-founder and Board Member, Unbound Philanthropy
Yves Bonavero, Chairman, AB Charitable Trust 
Dr Astrid Bonfield, Chief Executive, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund 
Ruth Cadbury, Chair, Barrow Cadbury Trust
Teresa Elwes, Grants Executive, Bromley Trust
Sara Harrity, Director, AB Charitable Trust
Taryn Higashi, Executive Director, Unbound Philanthropy
Susan Hitch, Trustee, Sigrid Rausing Trust 
Charles Keidan, Director, The Pears Foundation
Peter Kilgarriff – Director, LankellyChase Trust
Sara Llewellin – Chief Executive, Barrow Cadbury Trust
Fiona Napier – International Advocacy Director, Open Society Institute
Marion McNaughton, Chair of Trustees, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
Stephen Pittam, Trust Secretary, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
Dr Elaine Potter – Trustee and Co-founder, David and Elaine Potter Foundation
Andrew Puddephatt – Trustee, Sigrid Rausing Trust
Sigrid Rausing, Founder and Trustee, Sigrid Rausing Trust
Bill Reeves, Co-founder and Board Member, Unbound Philanthropy
Gordon Roddick, Philanthropist
Angela Seay – Director, David and Elaine Potter Foundation
Nicholas Tatman – Chairman of Trustees, LankellyChase Trust
Rebecca Tinsley – Co-founder and Trustee, Tinsley Foundation

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