Terrorism and Human Rights

The president of the Supreme Court defended the Human Rights Act tonight as “a vital part of the foundation of our fight against terrorism”.

Delivering the Gresham College special lecture at Lincoln’s Inn, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers argued that a failure to respect human rights would fuel support for terrorism.

This is how Britain’s most senior judge developed his argument.

The so called “war against terrorism” is not so much a military as an ideological battle. Respect for human rights is a key weapon in that ideological battle. Since the Second World War we in Britain have welcomed to the United Kingdom millions of immigrants from all corners of the globe, many of them refugees from countries where human rights were not respected. It is essential that they and their children and grandchildren should be confident that their adopted country treats them without discrimination and with due respect for their human rights.

If they feel that they are not being fairly treated, their consequent resentment will inevitably result in the growth of those who, actively or passively are prepared to support terrorists who are bent on destroying our society. The Human Rights Act is not merely their safeguard. It is a vital part of the foundation of our fight against terrorism.

Lord Phillips is, of course, right in saying that Britain should respect the human rights of immigrants. But there seems to be no evidence that people turn to terrorism because their rights are not respected. And it must be even harder to sustain the corollary of that argument – that respecting the rights of immigrants will reduce the risk of attack by terrorists. Those behind the London bombings of 7 July 2005 are not thought to have been concerned about any perceived inadequacies in the Human Rights Act.

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