ARTICLE 19 is alarmed by the UK prime minister’s threats to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and, as a result, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in the country.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suggestion that the United Kingdom could abandon the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) has met with widespread condemnation and alarm from human rights organisations and advocates, including ARTICLE 19.
“The UK Government’s apparent willingness to abandon the European Convention on Human Rights is shocking, and demonstrates a reckless disregard for the UK’s most cherished values. Should the UK make this move, it would join Russia and Belarus as the only countries that are not a part of the European human rights system. The Prime Minister’s statements raise questions about the Government’s ability to protect the human rights that underpin the country’s robust democracy,” said Barbora Bukovska, ARTICLE 19’s Senior Director for Law and Policy.
“If the government is willing to backtrack on its previous promise to remain party to the Convention and deny people in the UK to seek protection from the European Court of Human Rights, it could be catastrophic for human rights protection and freedom of expression in the UK,” added Bukovska.
The Convention and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights have been a fundamental instrument in protecting freedom of expression in Europe and the UK, including by enhancing the protection of journalistic sources and material; strengthening the protection and rights of whistleblowers; protecting the right to protest; and asserting the press and non-governmental organisations’ essential role as watchdogs in a democratic society.
ARTICLE 19 believes that the UK’s departure from the Convention would not only erode the rights of individuals in the UK but would utterly undermine the UK’s role as an advocate for international human rights and media freedom around the world. To date only two countries have withdrawn from the Convention (through their withdrawal from the Council of Europe) – Russia after illegally invading Ukraine and Greece in 1969 after that country’s military coup. After the fall of the Greek junta in 1974, Greece was re-admitted to the Council of Europe. Belarus is not a party to the Convention and its application to the Council of Europe was suspended due to its lack of respect for human rights and democratic principles.
The Prime Minister expressed his apparent willingness to leave the Convention — which has served as the key instrument to support human rights and political freedoms in Europe since 1953 – after a plane due to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda was grounded prompted by a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights.
When asked whether the UK was considering leaving the Convention in order to avoid further legal battles over the new agreement with Rwanda that the latter would take in refugees appealing for asylum currently in the UK, the Prime Minister said the move was possible and that ‘options are under constant review’.
The latest statement by Johnson follows the Government’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates into UK law the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, a move that was already set to significantly weaken human rights protection in the UK (for more information, see the response by ARTICLE 19, Index on Censorship and English PEN to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation).
However, even plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights included an intention to uphold high standards for human rights in the UK. ‘The UK will remain party to the Convention, and the rights protected under the Bill of Rights will continue to be based on the rights protected under the Convention,’ the consultation paper published by the UK government stated.