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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Cameron's plan to leave the ECHR will open the door for abusers of human rights

The Telegraph reports on comments by Frans Timmermans, the First Vice-President of the European Commission and the former Dutch foreign secretary, who believes that David Cameron's plan to withdraw Britain from European courts will encourage Vladimir Putin to disregard human rights laws.

Mr. Timmermans has warned that Russia would leave the European Court of Human Rights if Britain did so. He said EU countries must be "tied" to a common European human rights system as they cannot be trusted alone to defend the rights of their citizen:

The court's membership goes beyond the EU, taking in states including Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan which have poor human rights records.

Mr Timmermans said Britain must accept that overseas bodies must be allowed to criticise its human rights record if it wants to pass judgement on other countries.

“You can only challenge others if you are ready to be challenged yourself,” he said in an address to Tilburg University in the Netherlands. “

“I take issue with people in the UK who say ‘we don't need a Court in Strasbourg to check what we're doing’. If you take that position in London, the same position will be taken in Moscow or elsewhere.”

Court officials noted how Alexander Konovalov, the Russian interior minister, in January said that Russia could disregard a ruling from the ECHR over Yukos, the energy giant whose ownership is disputed. "The United Kingdom does not execute quite a few decisions by the European Court,” Mr Konovalov told the Russian parliament.

Mr Timmermans said that countries should be “tied to the mast” of a common European human rights system because of ”their inability to safeguard the rule of law, to protect citizens' rights, to uphold constitutional government by themselves.”

“You could compare it to the Greek hero Odysseus, demanding to be roped to the mast of his ship to be able to resist the call of the Sirens: 'take me and bind me to the crosspiece half way up the mast,'” Mr Timmermans said.

“Homer describes him as saying, 'If I beg and pray you to set me free, then bind me more tightly still.'”

The language may be colourful but the sentiments are correct. How can Britian hope to have any moral authority with those who abuse human rights if we opt out of the framework we set up to provide justice for those whose rights are being infrnged?

The thought that a UK exit from the ECHR might be followed by the likes of Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan should shame Cameron into rethinking his plans.
Judging by Cameron's performance on the news last night on accommodating Syrian refugees, it was hard to discern that the man has any capacity for shame. Cowardice, cynicism and hypocrisy yes but shame no.
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