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Rights and derogations

Jun 11,2017 - Last updated at Jun 11,2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May must have startled many European leaders when she said, on the eve of the snap elections held in her country on Thursday, that she would not let human rights stand in her way in the fight against terrorism.

This declaration came in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on London Bridge and its environs, in London, last week which claimed the life of eight people and injured sixty others, many critically.

Prime Minister May must have felt frustrated by her inability to preempt acts of terrorism in her country because of the high human rights standards imposed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The European human rights treaty imposes many restrictions on police actions or activities and effectively inhibited the British authorities from expelling so-called undesirables or detaining people before they commit terrorist acts.

This frustration must have been one of the reasons for Brexit, to which the British government is now committed.

The new international and regional environment of rising radicalism and extremism is making many democratic nations rethink their commitment to the highest standards of human rights, believing that such standards impede the detention or extradition of suspected terrorists, if they are not British nationals.

I believe there is now a sudden realisation that the human rights pendulum may have swung too far in the direction of individual rights, at the expense of collective rights to safety and security.

Contrary to the belief that human rights are indivisible, they are not. This means that some human rights may indeed be dispensed with or derogated from when a war is fought against terrorism.

Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights outlines certain rights that cannot be derogated from, but also others that can indeed be suspended in case of an emergency, as was the case with England, France and other European nations over the last year or two.

This provision stipulates that no derogation can be made, for example, from the right to life, or protection from torture or cruel or inhuman treatment, but exemptions regarding less critical rights are possible.


Detaining or extraditing a potential terrorists even without the due process of the law can therefore be viewed as lawful as long as there is a probable cause to do so in case of a state of emergency.

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