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David Cameron’s hypocrisy over human rights sets a new low for double standards

Theater-Masks-Iphone-WallpapersBy Simon Davies

It would be a mammoth task to itemise the volume of hypocrisy and double standards in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s latest assault on human rights protection – not the least of which is the fact that he came to power on a commitment to protect the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the same human rights instruments that he now condemns.

In short, Cameron wants to abandon the present rights framework to which Britain is committed, and create a divisible and unequal rights framework under which government can cherry-pick our freedoms within a two-tiered system of rights.

In short, Cameron wants to abandon the present rights framework to which Britain is committed, and create a divisible and unequal rights framework under which government can cherry-pick our freedoms within a two-tiered system of rights.

Of course Cameron can – and sometimes does – highlight the hypocrisy and double standards of the very institutions that claim to protect rights. The United Nations, for example, frequently seems incapable of upholding transparency, accountability or even data protection within its own processes, while the European Commission’s freedom of information regime has – more often than not – degenerated into farce.

Still, Cameron would want to be very careful. He is now acting precisely like his Labour predecessor, whose government he had vilified for years over those same practices.

Double standards and unequal protection had become rampant under the Labour administration. In 2006, for example, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair began a push for mandatory DNA collection across the entire UK population. This was the latest in a litany of initiatives by the Labour administration that resulted in the creation of one of the world’s most pervasive surveillance societies.

Police had initially supported the proposal. They had, after all, become accustomed to enjoying continuously expanding powers over the previous few years through a string of legislative amendments. Indeed, the government had been quite open about its intention to give police whatever powers they desired.

Coupled with this trend, many British people at the time seemed indifferent to even the most draconian surveillance policies, such as universal fingerprinting and a national identity card (this apathy imminently changed once the public became aware of the scheme’s implications).

Within three months, however, a disquieting shift of view emerged regarding DNA testing. The Police Federation, representing front-line officers in England and Wales, subtly changed its tune when officers learned that the provisions could result in DNA subpoenas for paternity checks. Police officers wanted nothing to do with a scheme that might render them subject to such checks, and Blair’s proposal was soon quietly shelved by the Home Office.

Police officers are now required as a condition of their employment contract to agree to DNA testing, but their self-interested shift of view almost a decade ago highlights a endemic hypocrisy that reaches throughout the full spectrum of authority throughout the world.

In the end though, hypocrisy and double standards are the true enemies of rights.

Both the surveillance and the Freedom of Information practices of the UK, for example, treat VIP’s (members of parliament etc) as an entirely distinct category. Indeed the police have provided detailed advice on how this population should be handled. Such apartheid policies might reduce the risk to government of high-profile scandals, but they do little to promote the cause of universal rights.

In many countries – most notably the US – police agencies that are all too keen to hold the public to account by way of mass surveillance and presumption of guilt, abandon that philosophy and run for cover as soon as scrutiny is applied over corruption or unlawful killings by officers.

Of course this double standard can cut two ways. The UK Daily Telegraph, which until2001 had become very much a “hang ‘em and flog ‘em” organ, changed its editorial policy overnight when senior management discovered that the sister-in-law of an Assistant Editor had been harassed and ridiculed by police.

Stunned by the realisation that violation of rights is something that also happens to “us”, editor Charles Moore created the “Free Country Campaign”, reversing the paper’s traditional hard-line policy in favour of promoting many aspects of personal freedom – including openness, privacy and free expression.

In the end though, hypocrisy and double standards are the true enemies of rights. They poison and destabilise freedoms and protections, undermining the equality and certainty that human rights requires. Such double standards – whether by governments or corporations – need to be ruthlessly and unequivocally exposed.