Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Freedom of Assembly developments

Firstly this from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (which is connected to the European Convention on Human Rights) has issued this statement entitled "Ban on a Moscow demonstration by homosexuals - Written question No 497 to the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers" which is a question (as I understand it) to the Russian representative and thier reply. This is in relation to the violent suppression of the Moscow Pride event last year.

The clear involvement of the Parliamentary Assembly is particularly helpful givebn the ongoing difficulties facing Pride events in Latvia (a member of the EU) as well as Russia.

Second this in relation to the holding of Pride events in Moldova, also in relation to the obligations to allow freedom of assembly under the European Convention, upholding the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

Again it is a welcome sign that national courts are making it clear that freedom of assembly cannot be curtailed in order to prevent Pride events from taking place.

Similarly proposed legislation in Nigeria would have as a consequence, not only the banning of any Pride event, but the banning of LGB people meeting together in a house or setting up a campaign organisation of any kind, in addition ot making a criminal offence with 5 years imprisonment for any positive portrayal of gay people in any media whatever or any same sex religious ceremony - a breech of freedom of assembly, freedomof expressiona nd freedom of religion, guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and People's Rights see arts 8, 9, 10 together with arts 1, 2 and 3.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The need for democracy

My views are becoming clearer on House of Lords Reform.

Seems to me that the inherent argument against electing legislators is dangerous and I'm indebted to Nick Cohen for articulating this in today's Observer.

'Democracy' means that you agree for your society to be governed by people who are elected.

The attitude of people who defend the Lords as an appointed or semi-appointed body is "we need to be saved from having too much democracy" and "democracy is a good thing provided it is tempered with an anti-democratic element".

In fact this constitutional set up is profoundly corrosive because the Lords do occasionally thwart the Government on either controversial or unpopular legislation. What happens then is everybody starts saying "Thank God for the unelected laws for saving us from the tyranny of being governed by elected representatives". As a consequence the elected part of our constitution gets done down which inevitably trivialises our deomcratic set up.

Any one who wields power over laws (and ultimately the Lords do have the power to make the Government 'think again' and change many aspects of laws being passed) just has to do so by virtue of being elected. To do anyting other just exacerbates the problem of the lack of confidence in elected politicians.

Yes there's lots of experience in the Lords. They'll make all the more attractive candidates in an upper house. Don't want to put yourself through an election? Then you don't deserve to be runnign the country. There are, after all, many other ways of contributing to debate withotu obtruding yourself on one half of the legislature.

Finally it does come down to this. Jacques Ranciere wrote a book called "La haine de la democratie" - the hatred of democracy. Although my French is fairly good I can't claim to have understood it in its entirety, but one aspect of his book is imply to point out that people find the concept of democracy hateful because they think government belongs to the wise, the old, the experienced, whereas democracy gives it to eveyone and makes people equal.

To have your upper chamber non-elected debases the very life blood of democratic government, denigrating the very principle of democracy.

Are we really to believe that our country couldn't make decent laws if, like virtually all countries the world over (Canada being a notable exeption) our legislature was founded on democracy - that people elect representative who make and unmake laws?