The Conservative Party’s War on International Law

Since the end of the Second World War, a series of overlapping institutions to which most wealthy industrialised nations were signatories to, have existed in order to ensure the continued prosperity of those in the wealthy club.

They have also existed in order to make sure some basic standards of international law were adhered to (normally ignored by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and their clients).

International agreements and United Nations conventions on genocide, human rights, the maintainance of a free press, the preservation of freedoms from arbitrary arrest were all created in the immediate aftermath of the war.

The horrors of Nazism were such that for a period of time, the victors had to allow a framework of rules that granted protections from persecution and allowed those fleeing violence and persecution a degree of safety.

It goes without saying that the major signatories to agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the USA, the UK, the Soviet Union, China, France, along with states as diverse as Afghanistan and Venezuela, have broken and ignored the document again and again.

However, since it was signed in 1949, the declaration has been the basis of human rights law and has been part of the international language of human rights. A decade later, human rights in Europe were given a far more robust legal standing with the establishment of the European Court of Human Rights, set up by the Council of Europe.

The ambitions of British Home Secretaries to become human rights abusers on an industrial scale are therefore at odds with an entire framework of international law that was built on the ashes of the Holocaust and the chaos of post war Europe.

The European Court of Human Rights, popularly seen as an EU institution (it isn’t and predates Britain’s entry into the EEC by thirteen years) has attracted the ire of the extreme right of the Conservative Party, who claim that it is a threat to Britain’s national sovereignty.

In the eyes of current Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the right of the party, sovereignty means the ability to act unilaterally in the world. It is the ability to act with impunity and the ability to ignore international law when convenient.

In the eyes of the Tory Party’s Brexiteers, the removal of Britain from the European Union should have achieved a level of absolute autonomy for Britain that it had not enjoyed since the mid 19th Century.

A new Britain, unconstrained by international treaties would be able to enjoy a renaissance, would be able to impose itself on international trade and diplomacy and act like a major player in the world of the 21st Century. 

This, so the theory went, would be the antidote to Britain’s relative decline, and would arrest the erosion in Britain’s world power. The ability to act with impunity would also mean that Britain would no longer be subject to laws seemingly drafted elsewhere, or to the inconvenient rules that prevented unilateral freedom of action.

Part of the Conservative Party’s vision for post Brexit Britain was a profound reorientation away from the rules based order of the past. It was assumed that the political and diplomatic anarchy unleashed by Donald Trump in America would last for at least two terms, and that Trumpism would prevail as the new model for countries like Britain to emulate. 

As Trump cosied up to dictators internationally in a more gratuitous and overt manner than most American presidents do, the British government under Johnson followed suit. 

Braverman’s predecessor, Priti Patel, who attempted her own parallel and illegal foreign policy whilst in Theresa May’s government (channelling international aid money to the Israeli Defence Force), came to an agreement to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The plan was to tear up the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and ignore the fact that asylum seekers have a recognised legal status in the UK.

Refugees would be sent to Rwanda, not to be processed as was suggested, but to be handed over to the Rwandan authorities where they might be offered citizenship if they were successful in applying. 

So far there have been no flights to Rwanda, the government’s first flight in October was blocked by a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights, which led to Braverman’s insistence that Britain must leave its jurisdiction.

Leaving aside the fact that the entire framework for the rights of British people would be torn to shreds by this decision, the removal of this obstacle would hand some of the most desperate people in the world over to the tender mercies of one of Africa’s most brutal rulers, Paul Kagame.

Kagame has ruled Rwanda since 1994, when he came to power after the Rwandan genocide. He fought against the genocidal Hutu regime as one of Yoweri Museveni’s commanders and has been popular with western leaders, who sought to distance the culpability of the west in the genocide, ever since.

The relative silence around Kagame has been broken in recent years, with allegations that he has authorised the assassinations of political enemies within and outside Rwanda’s borders. 

It was alleged in a 2021 book, Do Not Disturb, by Michela Wrong, that Kagame authorised the massacre of Hutu people in revenge after he came to power. In the Economist magazine it was reported that: 

‘On september 20th a court in Rwanda found Paul Rusesabagina guilty of links to terrorist groups and sentenced him to 25 years in jail. His real crime, however, was to oppose President Paul Kagame. Mr Rusesabagina had been kidnapped in order to stand trial in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, in proceedings widely condemned as a travesty of justice. That has been the fate, and much worse, of many who have stood up to Mr Kagame. Mr Rusesabagina, however, is no ordinary Rwandan. A hotelier who courageously saved hundreds of lives during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, in which about 500,000 people were killed, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2005. A celebrated film, “Hotel Rwanda”, was based on his life. Yet his appalling treatment and the absurd sentence has scarcely caused a ripple of criticism or pushback.’

This is the country that Britain wishes to deport, permanently, asylum seekers to, and it is a hope that the extreme right of the Conservative Party keeps alive. The British government paid up from £200 million to Rwanda to take asylum seekers, a sum of taxpayer’s money that will never return from Central Africa; the main purpose of this vast expense for such dubious aims was to buy positive coverage in Britain’s most xenophobic newspapers.

It is small wonder that Braverman, who inherited the policy from Patel when Liz Truss appointed her Home Secretary, soon became the darling of that fringe of the Tories that has now openly embraced racist, fascist ideas. 

If the Conservative Party ever achieves its dream of the Rwanda policy, a British government will have handed the most desperate people in the world over to a brutal and murderous dictator. Once they are in Rwanda, the Home Office will be able to happily conclude that they have no further responsibility for their wellbeing. 

What happens next in a volatile and violent part of the world to terrified and desperate people will be something that might elicit a shrug from a British politician, but little more.

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