Last week I began working through the United Nations International Bill of Rights which contains 30 clauses relating to our rights as humans. With each of those rights there is an obligation and a responsibility by the individual to work with the system. That is not always the case, particularly when associated with the law. If we are entirely honest with ourselves; many of us break the law ‘a little’ from time to time. We justify it of course in a number of ways and it also seems to depend on whether we can get away with it.
This week I continue with our rights as laid out officially and look at our obligations as recipients of those rights.
Rights and the Legal System
Everyone has the right to be recognised as a person and equal before the law and are entitled to the protection of the law without discrimination.
This is another right that we take for granted in our own countries but is not available to millions of others around the world. Unfortunately even under our enlightened system of law and order, there are failures. Our obligation is quite simple. Don’t break the law!
This does not just apply to the accepted definition of crime such as murder, theft, assault for example, where those we deem to be ‘criminals’ break the law.
We are human and we tend to classify crimes according to the statute books… A little like white lies we manage to justify certain misdemeanours as acceptable. However they are not, and for those who feel that texting whilst driving is a minor offence, you might consider these facts – Number of Driving accidents each year
- Worldwide globally there is a motor vehicle accident every 60 seconds
- Approximately 5.25 million accidents a year are reported globally.
- 43,000 or more of the USA population will die each year in a motor accident.
- 2.9 million will sustain injuries from minor to life-changing.
- Car accidents kill a child every 3 minutes.
- It is estimated that by 2020, road accident casualties will exceed HIV/AIDS mortality and disability rate.
In the United States 1.6 million accidents have a cell phone involved in them. That’s 64% of all the road accidents in the United States. If this doesn’t make you realize just how potent it is, what will?
Each year, over 330,000 accidents caused by texting while driving, lead to severe injuries. http://www.icebike.org/texting-and-driving/
In the UK the statistics based on population size is just as damning
According to the UK Department of Transport, there were 1793 traffic fatalities in 2017 and 170,993 injuries due to road traffic collisions. Of these, mobile phone use was found to be a contributory factor in 33 of fatalities, 90 serious injuries, and 308 less serious injuries. This does not include pedestrians, and these numbers are based on 93,125 accidents.
For those who are tempted to have just one more little drink before driving home because everybody else does… don’t they?
- In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
- Of the 1,233 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2016, 214 (17%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.
- In 2016, more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.3 That’s one percent of the 111 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year (figure below).
- Drugs other than alcohol (legal and illegal) are involved in about 16% of motor vehicle crashes.
- Marijuana use is increasing and 13% of nighttime, weekend drivers have marijuana in their system.
- Marijuana users were about 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers with no evidence of marijuana use, however other factors–such as age and gender–may account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users.
To put these figures into perspective there were approximately 17,284 homicides in the United States for 2017. A figure that is reported daily by the press throughout the year, but road accidents are rarely quoted as an accumulated figure.
In the UK the statistics show the same pattern Road Safety Drinking and Driving
- In 2016, figures show that 230 people were killed and there were over 9,000 casualties in total in drink drive accidents.
- Over 200 people are still killed in drink drive accidents every year.
- Over 70,000 people are still caught drink driving annually.
- In 2016, 100 pedestrians were killed or seriously injured by drink drivers, as were 390 car passengers. 40 children were killed or seriously injured by drink drivers that year.
- In 2017, 325,887 roadside breath tests were carried out by the police, of which 44,893 drivers or riders (14% of those tested) failed or refused to take the test.
In the UK there were 716 homicides in 2017. And the 230 deaths due to drink driving should be added to that figure in my mind, as they are the result of a person knowingly getting behind the wheel of a lethal weapon whilst drunk.
Everyone has the right to remedy by tribunals for violation of the fundamental rights.
I agree with this in general, and as part of the European Union, that ‘right’ has been well exercised. There is no doubt that many were justified. However, you have to ask yourself exactly who wins from these long drawn out appeals. Usually it is the lawyers. There are some areas however, where I do question this ‘free for all’ approach to the right to appeal on the grounds of Human Rights.
Foreign prisoners including murderers and terrorists have a ‘right’ to appeal for example against deportation to their own countries. This is an expensive process that is not funded by the prisoners themselves but by the taxpayer. As is their incarceration in UK jails at £40,000 + a year per prisoner. (Their rights already include – well heated accommodation, three meals a day, television, free medical and dental).
To put another spin on this – There are approximately two million pensioners in the UK living below the poverty line, attempting to pay for a roof over their heads, eat healthily and to keep warm on an average of £6,000 per annum. BBC News
Whilst I agree that prisoners should be treated with humanity, I do think we need to ask ourselves whether their depriving their victims of their human rights should be taken into account before granting permission to appeal.
Recently a prisoner brought an appeal based on the fact that he had put on weight in prison due to the abundance of fattening meals. Other spurious suits have been brought all under the label of violation of Human Rights.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
This is one that is not always easy to define. Although it is strenuously denied, profiling does take place. Certainly in the US and UK, particularly following increased terrorist activity, adherence to this right seems to be suspended at will. People do find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, if the authorities are working on the basis that there is ‘no smoke without fire’, and you are associating with people who are involved in criminal activities, then you might be perceived as guilty by association.
Everyone is entitled to a fair trial or public and impartial hearing.
This should be everyone’s right, and having met people who have been arrested and charged despite being innocent, it is a right that we should hold dear. Again, the majority of people who do make it as far as trial invariably do have strong evidence against them. The amount of convictions for innocent people is not huge, but still it is a warning that even the best legal system is not infallible. Unfortunately, in our day and age, people are usually tried and convicted even before their first court date in the media and on social media. Many a reputation has been ruined by overzealous and incorrect investigations even before reaching a courtroom. That damage can be life changing. An example of that is the hounding and public humiliation of Sir Cliff Richard with collusion between the media and the police.
I also have my doubts about a jury of my peers. Does this mean that there will be a panel of 66 year old men and women who have like-minds, judging my actions? Or just those men and women who did not manage to get out of jury duty!
Everyone charged with an offence is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
This is an established right, but again, once an offence and an arrest is made public, then it must be very difficult to be a juror in a high profile case, not go into a trial without some preconceived assumptions. Also, whilst it makes me sound more than a little cynical, I am not convinced that those who have already a long track record of anti-social behaviour should be awarded this right, time after time.
The statistics for this are hard to pin down, but they are unlikely to have changed that much from this report in the Telegraph
- One in three offenders put before the courts, including sex offenders, drug dealers and violent thugs, have at least 15 previous crimes to their name, figures revealed.
- The trend also made a mockery of claims by Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, this week that thousands of people are being wrongly sent to prison to appease the “popular press”.
- The figures showed that almost half of those jailed last year were, in fact, hardened criminals with a long history of offending.
- The Ministry of Justice research also found one in four violent offenders sentenced last year was responsible for at least 15 previous crimes, as were four in ten burglars and a fifth of robbers.
- Other figures showed more than 4,600 offenders were given a caution for a crime last year despite have at least 15 previous offences to their name.
The money involved is in the millions each year and that is taxpayer’s money. Money that could be better spent housing and caring for those in need rather than those who feel they have a ‘right’ to abuse the system.
This is an interesting article by a legal website that shows the extent of the problem in the USA.
According to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, approximately four out of ten people released from prison are returned to prison within three years. In some states, the number of repeat offenders, also called recidivists, is even higher. Repeat offenders can pose dangers to people and property, and state governments spend millions of dollars incarcerating, releasing, and re-incarcerating repeat offenders. Are our laws and policies up to the challenge of preventing recidivism?
I also find it difficult at times to reconcile the lawyer’s contribution to getting their client off, even when they know they are guilty. Whilst everyone might be entitled to a vigorous defence, it is not a job I could do!
There is another critical ‘Right’. To remain silent!
I was once told by someone who went through an arrest and prosecution, who was incidentally innocent; to say nothing if arrested until you have a lawyer with you. It does not matter if it makes you look guilty, as the police have assumed that already. You now need to prove your innocence and everything you say will be taken down in evidence, however innocuous you may think it might be.
It is the prosecution’s burden to find you guilty, but if you have associated with people who have criminal records it does make their job easier.
To bring this particular right down to a personal level, how many of us jump to conclusions in our own relationships and presume innocence first!
Where human rights and reality impact us on a national basis.
You may not agree with all the laws of the land, and find some of them downright ludicrous, but they are not so funny if you are caught breaking them and hauled into court. Our obligation is to obey the laws of the country where we are resident even if they are not laws in our country of origin. This can be difficult, as I found out living in South Africa when there was apartheid. It is also becoming an issue in the UK and it is very easy to forget as you chat amongst your friends on Facebook, that your comments are visible and that you can be prosecuted under the hate crimes statutes.
Human rights state that a person should be able to practice their religion freely which is not in dispute. However, there are certain practices associated with religions that might not fit in with a host culture and can easily be misinterpreted or be found unacceptable.
Part of emigrating to any country is to begin a new life, often in a less restricted environment and with greater freedoms for change. It is understandable that those moving from another culture would want to bring their established legal system with them as in the case of Sharia or Muslim religious Law.
Unfortunately there are interpretations of Sharia that impose penalties in other countries that are particularly harsh for women. This does not fit in with our established cultural beliefs and legal system and it does create a division in society as it is feared women are not being treated as fairly as their fellow British citizens.
Sharia law is used to clarify religious and family issues, as well as some disputes, however none of the councils that are set up in Britain can overrule the regular courts. This is where human rights and reality collide and it will not be resolved by limiting the number of people entering the country, but by establishing a clear understanding of how we can live and work side by side despite our differences.
And the issue is not just one-sided. In the pursuit to satisfy the needs of children who will only eat halal meat from animals that have not been slaughtered in a humane manner, and according to our own Health and Safety food guidelines, here are some facts on school meals. Daily Mail
- Hundreds of schools have banned pork – sausages and bacon – and switched to halal only meat for meals even where Muslims are in the minority.
- Dinner ladies in hundreds of schools are expected to serve halal meat to primary and secondary school age pupils every day of the week whether they are Muslim or not.
- The driving force appears to be cost because it is far easier and cheaper to have a single source of halal meat for everyone, rather than having to provide a segregated menu.
- In most cases the halal meat served in schools will come from animals that have been pre-stunned before slaughter, which welfare experts say is the minimum required to minimise suffering.
- The concern among non-Muslim parents is that it is not clear which schools are using halal only meat. Separately, a move to halal only meat means children have no choice but to eat it or switch to a vegetarian option.
- This is a particular worry for the Sikh community who refuse to eat halal meat on religious grounds.
- A spokesman for the Sikh Council UK said: ‘We are concerned that many schools, councils and other public sector bodies and their caterers are effectively allowed to deceive the public by providing halal meat without declaring it as such.
It is my opinion that should a child have specific dietary requirements that are contrary to those already in place, that they have the vegetarian option which is usually available and eat meat prepared in their own homes. And if the percentage of children requiring halal meat is significantly more than those children who do not, then the parents should be informed and there should be a choice of meats used. And the education authorities should swallow any additional cost.
Some countries have determined that the best way to deal with this issue is to take the stance ‘My house, my rules‘ and ‘If you Don’t Like it.. there is the door.’
And that is the direction I feel the UK is moving towards as the population begins to feel that they are the ones who are expected to change to accommodate new residents. Especially when they recognise that some of their own established customs have been suspended in case they might offend others. This does not encourage integration or a balanced view of immigration policies.
And sometimes the loudest critics are those from your own country, and as an example of this, a couple of years ago I was taken to task for running a series called Sally’s Christmas Grotto. I was called out in a public comment and admonished for using the term Christmas as it excluded those who are non-Christian.
Well, I am sorry but I have celebrated Christmas for 66 years and will continue to do so, and I would never demand that anybody else should change the name of their major religious observances to make sure I was not offended. I am sure that there would be a great deal of resistance to renaming all the other religious holidays at that time of year.
Mawlid el-Nabi — Islam
Solstice — Wicca/Pagan
Immaculate Conception — Catholic
Zarathosht Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathustra) — Zoroastrian
Rohatsu (Bodhi Day) — Buddhist
I have enjoyed many a Christmas with friends of other faiths, who in turn have invited me to join them during their own festivals. We need to maintain our identity however cosmopolitan our society, and sharing each other’s culture is an enriching experience, forcing that culture upon someone however is not.
Our multi-cultural society is only going to increase year on year, and we have to find a way to co-exist, respect each others customs and beliefs and celebrate them together where appropriate.
©sallycronin The R’s of Life
You can find the other chapters in the series in this directory… and your feedback is always welcome: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/something-to-think-about/
Next time Rights and our Personal Freedoms.