Opinion

Shami Chakrabarti: The best new year’s resolution for 2023? Defend our human rights

To mark International Human Rights Day, Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti argues that it's a vital time to fight for the right to speak up

Dominic Raab, International Human Rights Day

Former deputy prime minister Dominic Raab. Image: Number 10/Flickr

Past and aspiring US President Donald Trump recently boasted to the One America News Network that he hasn’t read his country’s constitution. Nonetheless he felt able to argue that “…from what I’ve been told, most of it is a waste of paper, quite frankly…The fifth amendment is the only part worth saving.” That famous clause in the American Bill of Rights grants a number of fairness protections to those facing criminal charges – notably the right not to incriminate themselves.

Our own deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab is currently under a Number 10 investigation into allegations of bullying staff. He takes a similar “cherry-picking” approach to human rights. His plan to scrap and replace the Human Rights Act would remove or reduce many of its protections, not least the positive obligations upon the police and other public authorities to protect vulnerable victims of crime.

He and his ministerial colleagues take an equally hard line on climate protesters and workers striking for a living wage at home and the victims of persecution overseas. In a year when the government allowed the British public to open their hearts and homes to those fleeing war in Ukraine, no equivalent “safe routes” were provided for refugees seeking to escape Iran, Syria or most of the most dangerous places in the world. If they get here they are detained and dehumanised for their trouble. So “cherry-picking” rights and freedoms, quickly becomes choosing between worthy and unworthy human beings.

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

International Human Rights Day is celebrated each December 10 to mark the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the war in 1948. I always think it just as appropriate that it should be so close to Christmas, when we think about those we love and those less fortunate than ourselves.

This year it also coincides with the Fifa World Cup and we have already witnessed the grim spectacle of players being forced to give up rainbow armbands of support for LGBTQ+ people – oppressed in the host country of Qatar. Migrant construction workers are also treated as second class humans there. Thousands of them died in the years leading up to the most prestigious football showcase.

England’s team has had an impressive tournament so far, conceding only two goals on the path to its quarter final against France. They were scored by Iran during its six-two defeat to the Lions. Still, few would deny where the real courage lay when the Iranian team fell silent during their national anthem, in solidarity with anti-government protesters, including a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl recently beaten to death back home.

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Approaching the festive season in a cost of living crisis, the lower price tags next to “Made in China” labels will be tempting. Still we should spare a thought for the Uyghurs and other Muslims subject to mass detention and torture in Xinjiang.

Our best New Year’s resolution would be to defend rights and freedoms here at home and preserve our ability to speak up for them around the world.

Shami Chakrabarti is a Labour peer. She served as shadow attorney general from 2016 to 2020 and previously as the director of human rights charity Liberty.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Four million Brits struggle with problem debt. Now's the time for the next government to step up
debt
Vikki Brownridge

Four million Brits struggle with problem debt. Now's the time for the next government to step up

My child was awarded disability benefits after five years of fighting. Why don't I feel victorious?
disability benefits/ mother and child
Cathy Reay

My child was awarded disability benefits after five years of fighting. Why don't I feel victorious?

There's so many questions needing answers this general election it's hard to zone in on just one
Rishi Sunak calling a July 4 general election on May 22
Paul McNamee

There's so many questions needing answers this general election it's hard to zone in on just one

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand
Cath Hill

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know