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The human rights industry exposed


The writer is in Australia.

IF THERE is one thing this Covid pandemic has shown us, it is the hollow and massively politicised nature of the lawyer-driven human rights complex. I refer to those NGOs with ‘human rights’ in their title that purport to stand up for individual rights, and to the university-housed centres in law schools that claim to be focused on advancing the cause of human rights. Then there are the law firms that promote their human rights credentials and expertise. And let’s not overlook the many barristers who style themselves as experts in human rights law. Heck, we can even throw in more than a few virtue-signalling big corporations who advertise their ‘social justice’ credentials. 

Now ask yourself where this motley crew have been these past 18 months as government in this country (and in Britain, Canada and the US) have made more inroads on citizens’ freedoms and civil liberties than at any other time in our history. The retired top judge in Britain, Lord Sumption, has called these Covid restrictions ‘the most significant interference with personal freedom in the history of [Britain]’ – it being at least as bad here, I’d say, if not worse. Lord Sumption made clear that he was referring to the state’s ‘cavalier use of coercive powers’. Again, I’d say it has been even worse here. Sumption summed it up in terms of ‘the ease with which people could be terrorised [by government and its handmaidens in the public health caste] into surrendering basic freedoms which are fundamental to our existence’. That seems like a pretty fair summary to me.

But notice whom you aren’t hearing pushing back against any of this despotism that’s been imposed in the name of a disease that has at least a 99.7 per cent survival rate (before vaccination) and one where the average age of victims is higher than the country’s life expectancy for both men and women.

You aren’t hearing from all those ‘human rights experts’ in the lawyerly caste and law professoriate. With only a few honourable exceptions, we’ve been met with a deafening silence from the virtue-signallers. It turns out that if those in the lawyerly-industrial human rights complex agree with what a heavy-handed government is doing – and my Lord, it’s plain that most of them are in lockstep with the lockdownistas – then concerns about colossal inroads on our freedoms and civil liberties make anyone voicing such concerns (you have to say these next two words with contempt) ‘a libertarian’. Forget the far too many instances of police heavy-handedness during this pandemic as constables enforce petty, incoherent, despotic rules – think of the police officers who handcuffed the pregnant woman in her home for trying to organise a protest, the rubber bullets, the mounted police forcing isolated beach sitters to move on, the man who wasn’t wearing a mask and so was handcuffed, causing him to have what seemed to be a mild heart attack; the list goes shamefully on and on. Had any of this happened in non-Covid times to some recent entrant to this country who was claiming refugee status, the lawyerly-industrial human rights complex would have gone into overdrive. Or had someone voiced words that might at a stretch be thought to offend another, or to look like hate speech. Then we’d see them screaming about rights violations.

Think about what is happening in a supposed liberal democracy like Australia when politicians start mooting a vaccine passport that will create a two-tier citizenry and lead to an unavoidable segregation of society. I’d be hesitant to impose that sort of certification requirement for a disease that had an infection fatality rate (IFR) of 20 or 30 per cent. With Covid the IFR is under 0.3 per cent (almost two orders of magnitude lower) and yet the vast preponderance of those claiming to have their fingers on the pulse of human rights thinking have been silent about vaccine passports.

This takes me to the issue of bills of rights, the desperately desired offspring of the human rights wing of the lawyerly caste. I’ve always been against these instruments because they transfer so much power from the elected parliament to the unelected judiciary. I’ve also long claimed that when you buy a bill of rights all you buy – in total, nothing more – are the political and moral views of the top judges who interpret them. This pandemic was a perfect chance for the bill of rights brigade to show the worth of one of these instruments. Instead, as we look around the anglosphere, we see that countries with bills of rights have not had the judges step in to mitigate the strictures of these cavalier and coercive lockdown laws, just as they haven’t done here. Not in Britain with its potent statutory bill of rights. Not in Canada with its incredibly potent constitutionalised bill of rights. Not in the US. This is no surprise to me. The judicial class will not touch laws they agree with, bills of rights notwithstanding. I’ve had all sorts of people call me and ask if lawsuits might be brought to have judges unwind some of these despotic laws. ‘Save your money,’ I say. ‘It won’t work. It wouldn’t work if we had a bill of rights either.’

This despotism and governmental heavy-handedness has been a political failing and it has to be remedied politically, through the ballot box. That may take quite some time. Meantime, one thing that is now plain as day is the hollow and massively politicised nature of the lawyer-driven human rights complex in this country. They should be ashamed of their silence this past year and a half. And none of us should take them remotely seriously in future. So many of them are plainly in the game of left-wing politics, run through the courts and disguised under the rubric of ‘human rights’.

This article was first published in the Spectator Australia on October 2, 2021, and is republished by kind permission.

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James Allan
James Allan
James Allan is Garrick professor of law at the University of Queensland.

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