Belfast: Shami Chakrabarti’s keynote address…

Shami Chakrabarti began by giving thanks to the organisation ‘No to ID’s’ for bringing the ‘Convention on Modern Liberty’ to a wider audience than it has enjoyed in the past.  Asking if ‘modern’ was to be to ‘liberty’, what ‘new’ was for the Labour party; Ms Chakrabarti reaffirmed the normative standing of liberty and rights in 21stcentury Britain, and their increasing importance in the face of present threats.  Ms Chakrabarti made clear that liberty was not specific to any creed, nationality or period of time, but consisted in a shared concern for the defence of fundamental rights in the face of government-led violation.  She emphasised that this shared concern is gaining an increasing urgency, as liberties have been eroded incrementally over time and such erosion represents the beginning of a slippery slope leading away from the values of the democratic-liberal state.  Asserting that such a process has been underway for quite some time, Ms Chakrabarti maintained that many of our liberties, often taken for granted, have been eroded to some degree or other already.  The expansion of government held information, the effect of the ‘war on terror’, and the use of torture in said war, were quoted as evidence for this erosion of modern liberties.  Thus, Ms Chakrabarti emphasised the dualism of the UK government’s erosion of rights and liberties both domestically and abroad, recently illustrated by the recent return of Binyam Mohamed from the US camp at Guantanamo.  Addressing the status of human rights and liberties in this context of erosion, Ms Chakrabarti emphasised the enduring importance of human rights and liberties beyond the vicissitudes of public opinion and modern celebrity-culture.  She ended by quoting, with some irony, Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s assertion that “Human rights are universal, and no injustice is forever”.

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