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'A pleasure to read': Baroness Bryan reviews 'Human Rights: The Case for the Defence'

January 2023: Protesters outside Downing Street | Image by: Vuk Valcic / Alamy Stock Photo

Baroness Bryan

Baroness Bryan

3 min read

Baroness Chakrabarti has produced a timely and forcefully argued case for the defence of human rights

Who better to write this book than Shami Chakrabarti? She has served as a human rights lawyer, director of Liberty, shadow attorney general and has been a member of the House of Lords during a time when so much legislation is aimed at curtailing protections of human rights.

The book is aimed at anyone with an interest in learning more about human rights. It is not a textbook and nor is it aimed at experts in the field. It assumes only basic knowledge and takes the reader through the full history of human rights from ancient Persia in 539 BC right up to modern dilemmas around AI and our rights in relation to climate change.

She points out that the concept of human rights is contested across the political spectrum. By going back to basics, she takes nothing for granted in making the case for the defence. She is careful to make a distinction between legislation that she disagrees with and legislation that clearly violates dignity and human rights.

Our own party leaders have been confused in their comments on what they understand as a war crime

We are probably more aware of cynicism about the issue from the right of politics – with complaints about elite lawyers and judges using human rights law to trump politics. But some on the left of politics are critical that human rights can be used to defend the status quo of entrenched global inequality. Chakrabarti forcefully argues that we should not be less critical of human rights abuses in states that claim to be progressive.

There are those who object to any interference in the United Kingdom from international bodies. The role of the European Court of Human Rights is being subjected to criticism and there have been threats to withdraw from the convention. The author points out that neither history nor oppression ends with nation states. When power becomes concentrated and supra-national, so there must be the new means of holding power to account.

While the history of human rights goes back to ancient Persia, we are today still having to adapt to situations that could never have been foreseen even 20 years ago. The development of digital technology has been beneficial but also raises real concerns about both the ownership of the technology and its use to oppress and impinge on a range of rights including the right to privacy, the right not to be discriminated against and the right to safety.

coverWe are living through a real-time debate on the rights that must apply during conflict. Our own party leaders have been confused in their comments on what they understand as a war crime. When violations are perpetrated by our allies, it requires a deep commitment to human rights to call them to account – and when it’s our own government, even more so.

On its own, the book’s introduction is a pleasure to read and would draw any reader in to want to understand more about the immediate questions relating to human rights that need answers now. It can’t be left to experts, whether legal, academic or political. Anyone casting a vote in the forthcoming general election needs to understand the debate on human rights as it is central to so many current political decisions.

Baroness Bryan of Partick is a Labour peer

Human Rights: The Case for the Defence
By Shami Chakrabarti
Published by Allen Lane on Thursday 2 May

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