From Times Online
The United States has lost its moral compass and fallen out of step with the rest of the world in the wake of September 11, the former United Nations human rights commissioner has warned. Mary Robinson expressed sadness and regret at America’s erosion of human rights as part of its “War on Terror”. In a speech in central London, Mrs Robinson praised the British courts for taking a global lead on interpreting international human rights laws.
Highlighting the US’s opposition last week to the creation of a new UN Human Rights Council, Mrs Robinson said: “It illustrates the seismic shift which has taken place in the relation of the US to global rule of law issues. Today, the US no longer leads, but is too often seen merely to march out of step with the rest of the world.”
She added that she hoped it was a “temporary loss of moral compass”.
Speaking at an event organised by human rights and law reform group Justice, Mrs Robinson – who is also the former President of Ireland – criticised government’s use of Big Brother-style language to cover up their activities. “Misuse of language has also led to Orwellian euphemisms, so that ‘coercive interrogation’ is used instead of torture, or cruel and inhuman treatment; kidnapping becomes ‘extraordinary rendition’,” she said.
The former Irish leader disputed the argument that the post 9/11 world meant that human rights could be curtailed in the name of security. This would lead to democracies “losing the moral high ground”, she said. “Almost five years after 9/11, I think we must be honest in recognising how far international commitment to human rights standards has slipped in such a short time,” she told an audience at Middle Temple Hall.
“In the US in particular, the ambivalence about torture, the use of extraordinary rendition and the extension of presidential powers have all had a powerful ‘knock on’ effect around the world, often in countries that lack the checks and balances of independent courts, a free press and vigorous non-governmental organisation and academic communities.
“The establishment of an off-shore prison in Guantanamo (and) its retention in the face of the most principled and sustained criticism … are all aspects of this situation.”
Mrs Robinson went on: “The tables have turned, and it is UK rather than US courts which are taking a lead as interpreters of fundamental human rights, on the basis of the European Convention and – by extension – the body of international human rights treaty law.
“This new situation is well illustrated by recent House of Lords decisions, most notably their ruling that evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible in any proceedings before UK courts.” But she warned that “political decisions” in Britain – such as pre-trial detention periods or limiting the right to peaceful demonstration – could become examples used to justify the behaviour by the state in less democratic countries.