What the celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta tells us about Britain’s idea of human rights

Yesterday, 15 June, Britain celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. The text proclaimed some of what we now call “human rights”, related to fair trial and the rule of law. It was meant to be a peace treaty between English barons and a particularly bully monarch, King John. Magna Carta did not really apply at the time, war resumed soon after and most of the text was repealed throughout history. However, yesterday, the birthday was greeted with royal splendour and the Prime Minister said that Magna Carta “changed the world”. Not bad for someone who not long ago didn’t know the literal translation of Magna Carta (it’s “Great Charter”, by the way).

Copyright Steve Bell 2015/All Rights Reserved e.mail: belltoons@ntlworld.com tel: 00 44 (0)1273 500664
Copyright Steve Bell 2015/All Rights Reserved e.mail: belltoons@ntlworld.com tel: 00 44 (0)1273 500664

David Cameron is not alone in his enthusiasm. Others have claimed that we still enjoy the rights “won” in 1215. BBC refers to Magna Carta as “the document that heralded modern democracy”. And the rather obsessive-looking historian David Starkey is convinced that the proclamation of property rights in Magna Carta was “the foundation of everything else”, in a way that other countries, like China and Russia, have not experienced to this day; Magna Carta was “unique in Europe” and Americans and continental Europeans learned about civil liberties from it.

I must confess my fascination. Continue reading “What the celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta tells us about Britain’s idea of human rights”

What matters in the EU debate? Numbers, authorship or content?

article-2330871-19FEC6D0000005DC-122_634x434I attended yesterday an event organised by the European Institute of the LSE. The title was: “European Parliament Elections: What is at stake?” The speakers were Stuart Wheeler, UKIP treasurer, Maurice Fraser and Sara Hagemann, from LSE, and Mark Leonard, director of ECFR. The event was supposedly chaired by John Peet, Europe editor of The Economist. I say “supposedly” because he was there, but he didn’t do anything to prevent questions from the audience from becoming speeches from the audience. He didn’t really do a very good job, to tell the truth.

Anyway, one of the points that stirred up most comments was the issue about the amount of legislation that comes “from Brussels”. Mr. Wheeler said it was more than 70 or 80%. Others responded it was only 7 or 8%. My conclusion: Who knows? My question: Considering that 31% of Brits would vote for UKIP, does it mean that nearly 1 out of 3 don’t care about who decides in Brussels and, more importantly, what kind of decisions they make? Continue reading “What matters in the EU debate? Numbers, authorship or content?”

Ruggie versus Ecuador: Will a human rights norm ever emerge regardless of Western support?

unhrcIn September 2013, a number of countries issued a joint statement in favour of an international treaty on business and human rights. The statement was drafted by Ecuador and signed also by the African Group, the Arab Group, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru. These countries believe that a legally binding treaty “would clarify the obligations of transnational corporations in the field of human rights” and “provide for the establishment of effective remedies for victims in cases where domestic jurisdiction is clearly unable to prosecute effectively those companies”. More than 90 national groups, international NGOs and trade unions have expressed their support for this initiative.

On 28 January, John Ruggie, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University and UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights between 2005 and 2011, released a response to the mentioned statement. Thereby he defends the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework developed during his mandate as Special Representative and praises the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that he himself drafted and were endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. The Guiding Principles were severely criticised by several civil society organisations that deemed them overtly ineffective to regulate the human rights responsibilities of transnational companies. However, Professor Ruggie is pleased with his own framework and expresses in this way why he believes Ecuador and the NGOs are mistaken: Continue reading “Ruggie versus Ecuador: Will a human rights norm ever emerge regardless of Western support?”

What does a 6.5% public surplus mean from the perspective of the ICESCR?

201416114832861621_20Earlier this month, the Greek Government assumed the Presidency of the Council of the EU for this semester. In an attempt to show off the austerity efforts made by his Government, the Deputy Prime Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, said in a recent interview with Euronews:

Over the past three and a half years, Greece has made the biggest fiscal adjustment in the history of the western economy. We began back in 2009 with a 12 percent primary deficit, and now we have achieved a primary surplus, which in terms of structural surplus – that is not taking into account the circumstantial results of the recession – is as high as 6.5 percent. We are by far the best-performing country in Europe in terms of primary fiscal results, and one of the best in the world.

As written some time ago, if Greece had been militarily occupied instead of “rescued” by the Troika, international law would have provided some more tools to protect the local population. Having said that, even in the current situation international human rights law imposes certain obligations. In particular, one must question whether such an impressive evolution of the public accounts over a short period of time (from -12 to a projected +6.5 in a lustrum) goes in line with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), ratified by Greece back in 1985. Continue reading “What does a 6.5% public surplus mean from the perspective of the ICESCR?”

Are freedom, social justice, democracy and human rights appealing outside the West?

bricsThe puzzle is probably as applicable to Europe as to the rest of the world. Looking at the way intelligence agencies have been spying over European citizens, or at the “legacy of poverty” that the austerity policies are leaving behind, we can legitimately wonder if freedom, social justice, democracy and human rights are at all appealing within the West itself and, specifically, in Europe. However, the question that I ask myself today is whether these values and norms are still attractive in developing countries, if they ever were.

A few days ago, I attended an event co-organised by Ipsos Mori and KCL International Development Institute, where they presented a research into public perceptions about growth and prosperity in emerging economies. The survey was conducted online and about 6000 people were interviewed in 11 countries: Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, India, China, South Korea, Indonesia and Mexico. When asked about what country/region has the best economic ideas and offer better employment opportunities, the US and China led way ahead (28 and 26%) and the EU came third (16%). In fact, the EU only was first in 2 of the 11 countries: Turkey and South Korea. Interestingly enough, Brazilians, Russians and Indians all agree that China is leading the way among the BRICs. From the perspective of the emerging world, the Chinese model now seems at least as relevant as the American one, and the decline of Europe is just evident.
Continue reading “Are freedom, social justice, democracy and human rights appealing outside the West?”

The future of the “Parot doctrine” and the one thing that Spain can teach the UK

echrThe Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued today its judgment of the case Del Río Prada v. Spain. By 15 votes to 2, the Court held that Spain has violated Article 7 (no punishment without law) of the European Convention of Human Rights, and has unanimously concluded that since July 2008 Ms. del Río’s detention has not been lawful, in violation of Article 5.1 of the Convention. Consequently, the Court has ordered Spain to ensure the release of the applicant as soon as possible.

This case had generated very high expectations in Spain because Ms. del Río had been convicted for a number of terrorist attacks, including several killings. In February 2006, the Supreme Court departed from its previous interpretation of the Spanish penitentiary legislation and adopted a new criterion (known as “Parot doctrine”, due to the name of the first ETA member it was applied to) based on which the release of ETA prisoners sentenced for crimes committed before 1995 (when the current Criminal Code was adopted) would be delayed for some time. Since 2006, the Parot doctrine has also been applied to non-ETA major perpetrators. The rationale of the Strasbourg Court’s decision is that the applicant could not have foreseen either that the Supreme Court would change its case-law or that this change would affect her. Continue reading “The future of the “Parot doctrine” and the one thing that Spain can teach the UK”

The role of Human Rights in foreign policy making in Europe: 4 questions and 2 observations

bad2013This blog post is a collection of open questions rather than the statement of an opinion. I hereby want to share with you the 4 questions and 2 observations that are inspiring the doctoral project that I have recently started at King’s College London.

In a paper published in 1998, Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink famously presented a model of international norm diffusion based on a three-stage life cycle: emergence, cascade and internalisation. States and international organisations play the main role at the second stage, in the “norm cascade”, when they choose to embrace certain norms, understood as “standards for the appropriate behavior of states” (p. 893). Finnemore and Sikkink argue that “states comply with norms in stage 2 for reasons that relate to their identities as members of the international society” (p. 902). 1st question: Do legitimacy and reputation sufficiently explain the motives behind a given country’s decision to be a international human rights norm promoter? Continue reading “The role of Human Rights in foreign policy making in Europe: 4 questions and 2 observations”