Tag Archives: article 4

The Convention 6: Freedom from servitude

One of the Axis powers’ most memorable practices during WW2 was the use of slave labour. From the Nazi labour camps to the forced labour of Japanese POWs slavery was rife. Many were simply worked to death. This is the background to article 4, the freedom from slavery and servitude.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that slavery has been eradicated in Europe or even here in the UK. What it does mean is that slavery is unlawful and that forcing another person into slavery is a serious criminal offence.

Josef Fritzl
Josef Fritzl
It is disturbing though to consider the amount of human trafficking and subsequent sexual slavery that comes to light in and between European states. Stories of ‘baby farms’ where kidnapped girls are impregnated and then robbed of their offspring for sale to childless couples ‘no questions asked’ are chilling and yet common enough that they cannot be ignored. Trafficked women in brothels that seem more like prisons seem to have very limited choices and in many cases can only really be described as sex slaves. Equally disturbing are the occasional examples of kidnapped women spending years or even decades as the unwilling playthings of their captors. Cases such as that of Josef Fritzl who imprisoned and enslaved his daughter, Elisabeth in a cellar for 24 years.

Then we see other, less dramatic but no less serious forms of slavery from migrant workers whose passports are removed to illegal immigrants forced to work long hours for little or no wages and kept in secret, overcrowded accommodation with no real means of escape. Piece workers who receive their meagre wages in cash without the protection of ‘above board’ employment and the benefit of a proper contract in a regulated workplace. These are all forms of slavery and servitude and they are all outlawed by the ECHR.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decided in the case of Siliadin vs France that France (and all other European countries) had an obligation to pass laws making it illegal to keep another person as a slave. As a result several European countries enacted such a law. This, along with other offences such as false imprisonment and manslaughter is why Joseph Fritzl, mentioned above, will spend the rest of his life in prison. Imprisoning, enslaving and raping his daughter was and still is a criminal offence in Austria.

In the United Kingdom subjecting another person or persons to slavery was made a criminal offence in section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act (2009). Better late than never! The offence of holding another person in ‘slavery, servitude or forced, compulsory labour’ is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Article 4 may have started because of the labour camps and ghettos of the second world war but it helps a lot more people in a lot more situations than that.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: https://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

The Convention 5: Freedom from torture

Suilemam Al-KhalidiArticle 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights is concerned with the freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

We have grown so used to this freedom in Europe that some of our citizens don’t even consider it a possibility in the modern world. That fact alone is testament to the impact of the ECHR. Consider though what happens outside European borders.

“AMMAN (Reuters) – The young man was dangling upside down, white, foaming saliva dripping from his mouth. His groans sounded more bestial than human. It was one of many fleeting images of human degradation I witnessed during four days as an unwilling guest of Syrian intelligence, when I was detained in Damascus after reporting on protests in the southern Syrian city of Deraa.”

“Nearly two months later, time has helped me absorb the impact of those four days, to the extent that I can record the experiences in writing. But I am haunted by the human cost of the Arab uprisings for people seeking the sort of freedoms which others elsewhere in the world take for granted.”
Suilemam al-Khalidi
May 2011
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/26/us-witness-syria-torture-idUSTRE74P2VD20110526

Suleiman al-Khalidi is a journalist. His ‘crime’ was to report what he had seen in Syria where freedom of speech (another convention right incidentally) is not taken quite so seriously. After four days of torture, degradation and interrogation he was expelled from the country along with other foreign journalists. Of course that sort of thing could never happen here ……

When planning this blog post I found myself with a dilemma. There’s an ‘elephant in the room’ that cannot be ignored in relation to UK compliance with article 3. The uncomfortable reality is called Guantanamo Bay.

This place of detention was operated outside of European soil by a nation state, The United States of America, that has not signed up to the ECHR. It has, however signed up to other international declarations on human rights and was also supported by the UK. As a signatory of the ECHR this country has a duty to oppose torture and inhuman treatment under article 3 and also unwarranted deprivation of liberty under article 5.

Both of these convention articles were ignored at Guantanamo and the claim that UK officials knew nothing of this seems laughable.

So there is an obvious hypocrisy here that I don’t want to ignore. Neither though do I propose to spend much time discussing Guantanamo. That isn’t the purpose of this blog. So I’ll simply acknowledge the discrepancy, serious though it is and move on. I do believe that there are some very important questions to be answered about UK’s support for Guantanamo but this isn’t the place for that.

Essentially Article 3 prohibits all forms of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. It prevents any ‘arm of the state’ such as government departments or public services from treating people inhumanely. It also makes the UK government responsible for ensuring that private citizens don’t torture each other either. This sets up a sort of hierarchy that is the same for all of the convention rights:

The European Court hears cases against the state;
The state (UK) is bound by the ECHR;
The state (UK) created the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) to comply with ECHR;
The UK Courts hear Human Rights cases against departments or individuals;
All UK individuals and organisations are bound by the Human Rights Act 1988.

Of course this all seems fairly straightforward until we consider that torture and inhuman or degrading treatment means much more than political intrigue and over-zealous anti-terrorism practices. A range of abusive uses of authority or position might meet the definition. For example the appalling ‘care’ at Winterbourne View, a home near Bristol is very likely to be classed as torture.

That’s why so many of the home’s employees have been arrested. The UK is responsible for making such abuses illegal (hence the Human Rights Act 1998) and for prosecuting abusers accordingly.

So far so good – the ECHR prevents European states from killing and torturing its citizens. In the next part of the series we’ll consider article 4 – the prohibition against slavery and servitude.
About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: https://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/