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Human rights and special measures

A recent development in Britain suggests one side of “human rights” in today’s world: Home Secretary threatens to suspend human rights laws after terror suspects go missing.

“Control orders” in Britain restrict movements and contact with other people for terror suspects who cannot be brought to court. They replaced detention without trial, which was ruled illegal. There are problems with the system, and several radical Islamists who had been on “control orders” have recently disappeared. The Home Secretary therefore wants to impose tougher curbs on terror suspects, but cannot do so because of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR, which entered British law via the Human Rights Act, allows countries to suspend parts of it in “time of emergency.” The Secretary wants to derogate from it so he can do what he believes necessary.

All of which makes sense. Government does what it thinks it has to do, and in special circumstances the basic rules under which it operates must either let it do so or get ignored.

The question, though, is how human rights principles will apply in the world they, and other features of the present regime, are bringing about. How often will there be special situations? A borderless world inhabited by populations with no common standards or loyalties and animated by by any number of resentments and animosities is likely to throw up lots of them. The recollections of the British ’50s I commented on yesterday depict a society with a profound sense of what is normal. Such a society is, of course, radically at odds with human rights principles if only because it’s so radically antimulticultural, and the showcasing of favorable recollections suggests that our rulers are confident that it is gone forever. In the present situation, though, in which the abolition of particular culture and settled informal ties is basic state policy, what will constitute normality?

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