Democracy, Pluralism and Human rights

by George Hatjoullis

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?
           (Act One, scene seven) A Man for all seasons

The blogs on democracy have clarified that what we understand as ‘democracy’ in the west is actually pluralist democracy. If you have not found this clarification helpful then try comparing how so-called democracies around the globe compare with those of the UK, USA and, in particular the EU. Pluralism allows all members of the society to feel they are stakeholders and have access to the centers of power within society and will be protected within the society. The constitution, written or otherwise, provides many of the protections for each citizen. However, the definition of a citizen may be vague and the government of the day may have power to remove citizenship and thus the protection of the constitution ( Theresa May is doing so now). It was this flaw in democracy that led to the notion of human rights and the UK has, ironically, always been in the forefront of promoting and enforcing the concept of human rights. Until now, that is.

Human rights extend certain protections and rights to humans irrespective of citizenship. Basic human rights need to be universal and extend across all states in the human planet. All states need to sign up for the basic package and this package needs to be enforced by a supranational body. The UK has frequently condemned other states for their failure to sign up and enforce such rights. One of these human rights is, of course, the right to citizenship, somewhere. A person cannot be made stateless. A stateless person has no society on the planet and is thus condemned to death, de facto. The events of WW2 had a big impact on the Human Rights movement as the capacity for nominal democracy to turn into oppression of a minority was illustrated with graphic horror. The essential feature of human rights is that they are NOT subject to democratic backstop. The rights are universal and immutable. They exist to make it impossible for a government-of-the-day, whatever its mandate, to oppress an individual or minority. Human rights provide protections to all humans according to a commonly agreed standard and ensure the pluralist nature of states.

It is thus rather disturbing to hear that the UK wishes to claim a democratic backstop to the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. Moreover, it is threatening to withdraw from the court if it does not get its way. To do so would undermine the pluralist nature of British society and open up possibilities of dictatorship of the majority. It would make it possible for Theresa May to change the definition of citizenship at will and to remove citizenship from anyone the government-of-the-day deems unworthy of citizenship. It would allow the government-of-the-day to make such unworthy people stateless. Is this really the direction we wish the UK society to go?

There are now, and have been in the past, individuals that are a threat to British Society. These individuals can be arrested and tried and if convicted imprisoned through a judicial system that protects British society. If individuals have committed crimes abroad then there are extradition procedures to allow them to stand trial abroad. These judicial processes exist to enable the society to protect itself whilst ensuring the individual cannot be arbitrarily abused by the government-of-the-day that simply finds the individual’s presence politically unacceptable. Human rights play an important part in individual protections against abuse. To remove such rights is as much a threat to pluralist democracy in the UK as the individuals from which the government claims it is trying to protect us. It is neither necessary nor desirable. If there are citizens that have religious or ideological objections to British Institutions and that pursue such objections through violent means then arrest them, try them and imprison them. The mechanism already exists. In doing so we need to extend human rights to such people in order to protect ourselves. For if we deprive them we risk losing our own rights. This is the point of the rule of law.