Kenyan President uses Tory human rights plans to defend war crimes charges

24 October 2014 by Adam Wagner

Photo credit: Guardian.co.uk

Photo credit: Guardian.co.uk

It is easy to forget that our domestic debate over the European Convention on Human Rights might be having an international impact. But the UK is only one of 47 states which is party to the Convention, and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg protects over 800 million people.

This morning, we brought you exclusive interviews with survivors of the Beslan massacre who are rightly worried that if the UK leaves the Convention, or even threatens to leave as the Conservatives did recently, that will affect their fight for justice. In short, Vladimir Putin would have a ready excuse for ignoring any conclusions reached by the Court.

Well, here is another example of the effect which political trash-talking about the ECHR can have. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is facing war crimes charges in the Hague relating to ethnic violence which erupted after the 2007 elections leaving 1,200 dead and 600,000 displaced.

He has recently stepped down in order to face the charges. He made a speech to the Kenyan Parliament (PDF) on 6 October strongly asserting Kenya’s “sovereignty”, and in doing so he said this:

The push to defend sovereignty is not unique to Kenya or Africa. Very recently, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom committed to reasserting the sovereign primacy of his parliament over the decision of the European Human Rights Court. He has even threatened to quit that court.

It is easy to overstate the ‘domino’ effect of the withdraw of support for international human rights in the UK. However, the UK is still respected internationally for its approach to the rule of law and human rights. And, the international legal system relies in the most part on the willing cooperation of states, even if that means some loss of sovereignty. As former Tory Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC has said, his party’s plan “undermines entirely the principles that underpin international law.” Don’t be surprised if Kenyatta’s is the first of many appeals to the UK’s assertion of “sovereignty” to defend unlawful acts.

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7 comments


  1. Reblogged this on Revel Law Review and commented:
    This follows thematically from my first blog entry regarding the UK’s threat to withdraw from the ECHR and the Council of Europe. ‘Putting Britain First’ policies that ignore that Britain is part of the international community in order to quell short-sighted, nationalistic and isolationist political minorities threatens to undermine the reputation of the UK as a global role-model for the adherence to the rule of law (including international law to which all countries are bound) and as supposed champions of human rights at home and abroad.

  2. Tim says:

    I think Adam’s argument here is pretty watertight. Democracy, even when it is sexed up with fancy olde terms like ‘Parliamentary sovereignty,’ doesn’t have a place in Human Rights for a simple reason – the mob of bullies at the ballot box could pick on minorities – and that goes right against the principle of universality of Human Rights.

  3. Ma. says:

    I wouldn’t trust this government to write a mobile phone contract, let alone a Bill Of Rights.
    CSA Inquiry demonstrates why….

  4. Sir Bufton Tufton says:

    I’m afraid this is yet more hyperbole around the UK’s future position on the ECHR and not warrented. Historically African states have been under the governance of major western countires and most nations in the west have agreed over time that autonomy is required. However there still remains great political, cultural, social and tribal issues to overcome and that is clear to everyone. African nations have, over many years, gained their independence and have struggled to develop the internal governance processes required. Its taken the UK centuries to achieve what we have and where we are today. Having given Africa their freedoms, the international community continue to interfere and try to impose their will and sometimes usurp the sovereignty of the nation by various means. In reading the speech overall, not just three selective sentences, it is clear that his comments concern the nature of national sovereignty and how the international community often see it as a right to impinge on that sovereignty. To my reading he is just saying if the UK can stand up to international institutions, then so can they.

    1. jon says:

      But what you’re saying is incoherent nonsense. Britain – or the Tory part of Britain’s executive – isn’t standing up to international institutions, all that is occurring is said faction is setting its face against Parliament, a Parliament which decided the executive must honour the ECHR regime. In fact said Tory faction is not even doing that, it is simply making noises concerning a future manifesto commitment which won’t be passed by the lower house in any case.

      Likewise, Kenya’s obligations here arise from a treaty it itself signed, and which it can resile from if it chooses.

      Sovereignty isn’t in issue in either case. We can make and unmake what laws we choose, as can Kenya, but what we cannot do is make laws which run against the rules of a club which we wish to be in, at the same time as remaining in that club. As it happens we don’t wish to leave the Strasbourg system, it’s just political noisemaking.

    2. John Allman says:

      @ Sir Bufton Tufton

      Don’t think for one moment that the recent Scots referendum finally settled forever the last of UK’s *own* remaining great political, cultural, social and – yes – *tribal* issues. They’ll come back with a vengeance if a government is elected that tries to withdraw from both the Convention and from the EU, you mark my words. (The option to remain in the Convention, but to withdraw from the EU, isn’t on offer from the UKIP, or I’d vote for UKIP myself just to spite the Lib Lab Con Trick. The vice versa option is one that the EU won’t offer the Tories. Convention membership is a condition of EU membership.)

      We now have a straight Hobson’s choice, between a UKIP-Tory axis that wants to smash human rights, and a Lib Lab axis that embarrasses itself wearing feminist t-shirts, implying a desire to smash marriage, fatherhood and the nuclear family. It’s enough to make a fellow believe in conspiracy theories. I doubt that I shall find any candidate for whom I willing to vote at the next general election, unless I stand myself, in my home constituency.

  5. raincoaster says:

    Reblogged this on The Cryptosphere and commented:
    Wow. A tyrant who supervised a racial massacre is using Britain as a precedent to say that Human Rights Law does not apply in sovereign nations. An ugly result to an ugly precedent. And potentially a very, very powerful one if copied by other leaders.

Comments are closed.

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