Human rights have played a crucial role in the progress of human civilization, from the abolition of slavery and the fight against discrimination to the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.
The concept of human rights has roots in ancient civilizations but gained traction in Western political thought during the Enlightenment in the 18th century. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, marked a significant milestone in the global recognition of human rights as an essential element of human dignity and a foundation of freedom, justice, and peace. Upholding human rights allows societies to create a culture of mutual respect, tolerance, and cooperation, leading to a more equitable and just world for all. It is my belief that the recognition and protection of human rights have played a crucial role in the progress of human civilization.
I contend that the protection of freedom of expression and the right to criticize is essential for creating a more just and equitable world. The right to express opinions and ideas freely, without fear of repression or persecution, is a key tenet of liberal democracy and the development of modern society. By fostering a culture of open dialogue and debate, societies can challenge established beliefs, promote innovation, and hold those in power accountable. It is my observation that the protection of freedom of expression and the right to criticize has helped to advance human progress by promoting critical thinking, free inquiry, and the exchange of ideas.
The origins of freedom of expression and the right to criticize can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome, where free speech was valued as a cornerstone of a democratic society. However, it was not until the Enlightenment in the 18th century that these concepts began to gain recognition as fundamental human rights. Thinkers such as John Locke, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau promoted the idea that individuals have the right to express their opinions and ideas freely, without fear of repression or persecution. These ideas have since shaped the development of liberal democracy and the modern concept of human rights. Despite the importance of these rights, the UK government’s policies, policing, and intimidation of journalists have been described as having a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.
The United Kingdom has long prided itself on upholding the fundamental values of freedom of expression, thought, and equal rights for all. Yet recent actions by the UK government threaten to undermine these core principles and compromise the country’s standing as a leader in human rights.
According to the advocacy group Index on Censorship, the UK has been ranked only in the third tier of a new global index of freedom of expression. This is due to a range of factors, including the treatment of journalists, the weakening of Freedom of Information (FOI) rights, and the case of Julian Assange. The ranking highlights the UK’s failure to protect the freedom of expression and the right to criticize, endangering the country’s democratic principles.
In 2022, the UK government adopted laws that violate human rights and weaken human rights protections. The government’s policies on asylum and migration are particularly alarming. By signing an agreement with Rwanda to transfer asylum seekers who arrived irregularly in the UK, the UK government puts vulnerable individuals at risk and undermines the refugee protection system. The Nationality and Borders Act further discriminates against and criminalizes those seeking asylum through irregular routes, increasing powers to strip citizenship and providing for pushbacks at sea and offshore processing. These actions fly in the face of the UK’s international obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers.
But it’s not just in the area of migration and asylum that the UK government is falling short. The government has failed to address institutional racism, particularly in policing, and has proposed significantly weakening human rights protections in domestic law. This includes dismantling key aspects of existing asylum and refugee protections and replacing them with a discriminatory system. The government’s plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a weaker Bill of Rights is also deeply concerning and has been widely criticized by civil society groups, UN Refugee Agency and UN experts.
The UK government’s policies are also threatening the rights of people on the lowest incomes, including access to food and housing. Rising food, rent, and energy prices, coupled with inadequate social protections, exacerbate existing inequalities and undermine the government’s responsibility to protect the most vulnerable.
Moreover, the UK government’s foreign policy agenda lacks consistency in prioritizing human rights and undermines international standards. While the government works with partners to hold other states accountable for failing to uphold their human rights obligations, its own policies and actions fall short of international standards.
It’s time for the people of the United Kingdom to stand up to power and demand that the government upholds its obligations under international law and protects the rights of all individuals, regardless of their status or background. We cannot let the government get away with violating the very values that make the UK a beacon of democracy and freedom. The UK government must act now to restore its commitment to human rights and the rule of law, or risk further damage to its reputation and standing in the world.