Falklands : PUBLIC MEETING REPORT TUESDAY, 26 JULY 2011 (Part 2)
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 30.07.2011 (Article Archived on 13.08.2011)
I hear all sorts of comments that FIG corporate directors were ordered to attend sessions. Perhaps middle management were ordered to attend perhaps rather fearful of there not being sufficient numbers to carry any weight of the day
PUBLIC MEETING REPORT TUESDAY, 26 JULY 2011
(Part 2: Human Rights)
By J. Brock (FINN)
A public meeting was held in the Court and Assembly Chambers of the Town hall at 1700hrs on Tuesday, 26 July 2011. Present were Councillors Edwards (EE), E, Edwards, R (RE), Short, G (GS), Halford, S (SH) and Summers, M (MS). The Hon Mr Gavin Short Chaired the meeting.
Lewis Clifton (LC): Another subject Ė perhaps somewhat regrettably Ė I just didnít have the time Ė in the way the sessions were awarded last week to go to any of the Human Rights groups. I hear all sorts of comments that FIG corporate directors were ordered to attend sessions. Perhaps middle management were ordered to attend perhaps rather fearful of there not being sufficient numbers to carry any weight of the day. I heard on the Radio that perhaps this is a 10-year programme being rolled out maybe a little forcefully from London. I just wondered what Honourable Members views might be in terms of the rolling out of a whole Human Rights package here in the Falklands. Clearly itís going to further constrain the ability of the Government to provide deliverables that weíve all heard about here this evening; that the Government is cash constrained, time constrained, human resourced constrained and I just wonder, as do a lot of others, where this all begins to fit.
SH: I believe Government people were told to go to sessions but thatís no different than what happened the last time they were here. I believe people were told they should be attending the sessions as well. On this occasion I chose not to go because I was going to be out of Stanley on the days that they could offer them and I went last time they were here. I donít see the need of going year on year. Yes, if they are visitors sent down from the UK, I have no problem in going every couple of years but I donít see the need to have to go to a session every year when itís going to be repetitive.
MS: I went to almost the last session, which was to do with whether there was a need for a national action plan in terms of human rights because thatís the one that interested me most. And I went with a fair degree of scepticism, I have to say, having been to one or two of the earlier sessions when this project first started up because itís fully funded by the Foreign Office (this info was later corrected to DFID) and covers all of the overseas territories. And thereís an obligation on this group to report to the Foreign Office on whether the European Convention on Human Rights is effectively being observed in the overseas territories as is required under UK law.
I have to say I found a surprisingly refreshing approach to the practicality of the application of human rights in the Falklands from the group that was there. Richard might like to say something about it but I thought it might have been a sticky start but actually there was a clear appreciation amongst that group that we are a very small society; we have a limited amount of resources and only certain things can be done and we have to take a very practical approach to what can be done in our circumstances.
So I came away from that meeting not overly concerned that we would be burdened with a whole lot of new public obligations that would be difficult to enforce. It remains to be seen, I guess, when the report is produced whether thatís right or not. But I was sort of mildly happy about that.
We had an interesting discussion initiated to some extent by Richard about civil society and the role of civil society in looking after people in our community and taking the view that itís not only the responsibility of the government but of civil society much more widely to look after the interests of the community.
And the other thing that came out of it was that in terms of human rights they donít all go one way. Individuals have a responsibility to society as well as society having responsibilities to individuals; and where the rights of an individual conflict with the rights of the community at large, you have to be very careful about how you start interfering with that process. At the end of the day you probably wouldnít uphold the rights of an individual if it significantly devalued the rights of the rest of the community. That, I think, was very clearly spelled out in that session.
RH: Just on a point of clarification; I stand to be corrected but I think I am right in saying that the project referred to is not in fact funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is funded by the Department for
MS: it might be DFID
RH: Itís DFID. And itís really sponsored and energised as it were by the Commonwealth Foundation. And Iíve been involved in it from the beginning since it was offered to us some three or more years ago quite simply because I am aware, as I am sure lots of other people are here can hardly read anything which any TV news programme or current affairs these days, internet or newspaper Ė the lot Ė without coming across the notion of human rights. It is ubiquitous and whether you like it or not it is a part and parcel of everyday life. I am persuaded, although I have real serious theological questions about the notion of human rights. It focuses hugely on the individual and the right; and from my prospective as a Christian it doesnít gather in with it the sense of responsibility and privilege and all the rest of it. Thatís another matter.
I am rather surprised, if I may say so, Lewis, to hear you speaking in the way that you are because I urge you to go back quickly home and get off your shelf your copy of the Falkland Islands Constitution and read your first chapter and get yourself reminded that whether you like it or not the European Convention on Human Rights and things like that have been signed up to by the UK Government and have been extended here to the Falkland Islands. As a matter of fact, the immense privileges which the individual enjoys here in the Falkland Islands are enshrined within our Constitution and there are laws and perhaps there might need to be more laws in future to ensure that we are compliant. It is a given Ė I think youíll find Ė and it doesnít need (I may just say one last thing and I will shut up) it doesnít necessarily require a rather sort of narrow approach to the idea of human rights where everythingís got to be tied up in legislation, regulation and so on.
Thatís the whole point that Mike was making Ė I think Ė was that civil society, organisation and others Ė the big society if you will Ė can play a key role especially in a small society like this in identifying real issues. And I think there were one or two issues resonating in the background from what we heard this evening and it is perfectly possible for ordinary people like you and me to identify some of these issues and to be involved in instigating a community approach that has a minimum of legislation attached to it but is motivated out of a proper respectful appreciation of the dignity of the human person and our needs as human beings that we enjoy here.
KW: Itís not such a problem but the overload is that the Human Rights Act in England was brought in 2008 or so and adopted the European Convention on Human Rights but the UK doesnít have a written constitution. The Falkland Islands has a written Constitution and the individuals and the societyís rights should be catered for in our constitution. You donít need an overload of adopting European/English legislation down here when weíve got a perfectly good Constitution.
What I was saying to Richard on Saturday was a bit of a generalisation
RH: In the Victory Bar
KW: In the Victory Bar Ė yes
RH: You didnít offer to buy me one
KW: I am sure I did
SH: You had too many already as I remember
KW: Sorry, itís a bit of a throw-away line, this, and itís a generalisation and generalisations are always likely to be shot down by exactitudes. The common law allows you to do anything you like unless the common law stops you. Thatís going back to Magna Carta. You can do anything you like unless Ė the law says you canít murder, you canít rape, you canít steal, etc. Human rights, as far as I interpret them, and have read about them is a state saying you canít do anything unless we, the state give you the right to do this, the right to have that. It is the reverse of the coin. I prefer the common law preventing you from doing the wrong rather than the state giving you the right to do something. Our Constitution is in place; it has been debated; there have been three constitutions since I have been involved in the Falkland Islands. We donít need legislative overload.
MS: I donít think there is any intention of introducing the UK Human Rights Act or anything equivalent to it here. I think there are some small areas where parts of the law regard it as being deficient. But I donít think as a result of this project we are likely to see any great movements in legislative application.
KW: In my case, I donít mind people coming down and explaining things and debating things but why do you need outsiders coming down to build on or interpret our Constitution. If you donít want to adopt the human rights act which we certainly donít in my personal opinion, with a perfectly adequate Constitution, why do we need people coming down telling us how to conduct our lives? Weíve got a framework by the Constitution; weíve got a framework we might want to live in our own particular houses. Do we need anybody else to tell us how to regulate it?
MS: I never thought Iíd hear myself sitting here defending this group of people but I donít actually think thatís what happened, to be fair. What they did with a whole series of people Ė not only government people but other people who were interested in civil society Ė was to give them some assistance in interpreting Chapter 1 of the Constitution, which is pretty dry actually. You might enjoy it but itís not easy and a lot of people do misunderstand the notion of human rights and how it applies both to individuals and the community. And largely what they were doing was trying to help different groups of people understand how Chapter 1 works and the effect of it on their lives. Itís a project that the UK decided it wanted to put together for the overseas territories so it could be satisfied that it had dealt with its responsibilities under the ECHR. I donít think there really was a question of anybody coming and telling you how to live your life or preaching to you. Itís much more an educative process.
RMB: there is one thing that there is a relevance within the ECHR in that a lot of what is in Chapter 1 is actually fairly similar to what is in the European Convention of Human Rights. And rather than re-inventing the wheel, the Constitution actually provides that you look at UK decisions and Stroudsburg decisions to the extent itís about the same sort of thing; then you look at that as to what it means. I take your point and agree entirely that the trainers that have come down have been very down to earth, very practical and actually facilitated people here identifying issues of relevance to them and not them telling us how to solve problems. I think they moderated, facilitated discussion and debate and actually sometimes trying to stop some people running away with misunderstandings about what some of these rights can mean and more importantly what they donít mean.
I think it was intended to be constructive and is my experience from some of the feedback I got is that most people seemed to find it a fairly constructive experience and a constructive process.
LC: I am sorry if Richard feels I should have a need to rush home and read the Constitution. I think I am broadly familiar with it as I have been with its predecessors. I like many others in the community am just getting ever fearful of the death of common sense and we heard quite a bit about here tonight from the single mums who canít grow a cabbage because they are not allowed to have a garden. Thatís all about the death of common sense. And itís the infiltration of views from elsewhere that are permeating our society and are doing it no good whatsoever. I simply refer back to some of the comments made by you, Mr Chairman in the last Legislative Assembly proceedings where you were fearful of bureaucracy just driving its way through our society here, which is frankly pillaring us to death.
Folks are concerned about new wedges of whatever coming through that are simply burdening and crippling the government to be able to deliver practicals on a day to day basis. They are fearful of the continuing supply of a good educational system, a good medical system and we hear more and more about these things being quietly pushed down the wire from the Foreign Office or the newest management plan for the restructure in government. Look at how much chaos and havoc that has reaped across society. The single moms here tonight are a perfect example. Itís the continuing death of common sense in what was a very much self-sustaining, di it yourself and proud community. Thatís what I am fearful of.
GS: Luis I fully agree with you. I did meet the human rights people when they first came down here some years ago now. I met them from the Union side and we actually made the point of Ė at least here in Stanley Ė as far as we were concerned, human rights were not being trodden on in any way. We were actually happy and the weird thing was they didnít seem to believe it. So I just sort of gave up at that.
EE: I say that was actually my experience of these human rights people who came down. It was Ďwhat do you know, you poor little colonial types?í ĎYou know nothing. We are here to tell you about this wonderful human rights malarkey.í To be honest with you what they regurgitated to us Ė I can truthfully say we already have in practice one way or another. And I found the whole process quite insulting. So that was my own personal opinion.
RMB: I will certainly feed that back to the co-ordinator.
GS: I am actually curious if they find that we arenít beating each other or whatever it is you do to stop peopleís human rights. Are they going to keep coming back?
EE: yes they are. They are coming back next year. Didnít you know? They are coming back again next year because they already asked us what we would like to do next year. Whoopee! I do have to ask what is the relevance of having so much human rights forced down your throat. I could understand if they came in as the Constitution was delivered but to have it still being delivered year on year on year. They have come out and seen the little overseas territories, they have ticked their box, they have done what they need to do now they are going off and doing it elsewhere. And I personally think that sort of money could be spent much better elsewhere. I donít think we spent a penny on it.
Maybe next year we will send them to the West. The West have very little in the way of human rights.
GS: not wanting to stifle the basic human right of debate, perhaps if we could move on to the next thing.
(100X Transcription Service)