Human rights lawyer, John Fitzpatrick, gave an inspiring talk on 11 December 2007 at Belfast Exposed Photography. : Taking Liberties? Immigration Policy and the Law. The gallery, as Patrick advertised in his recent post on this blog, is currently showing Melanie Friends exhibition, Border Country, which documents the physical structures of UK Immigrant Removal Centres alongside the voices of detainees. Its on until 11 January 2008: do visit. There was a lively debate in the gallery about the rights and wrongs of immigration detention and the broader context of liberties and border controls. Natasha Walter has written a timely article on these issues this week. Natasha is a Guardian journalist, whom Id like to call a friend; I knew her when I worked for Bail for Immigration Detainees. Natashas article this week on the current state of liberties harks back to the days when her father was a Spy for Peace and she comments on the situation today. Shes a journalist who tells it as it is: Immigration detention centres in the UK are stuffed with people whose detention has been arbitrary and prolonged... Although the government says it only detains children or victims of torture under exceptional circumstances, today I could take you to meet children who have been locked up for weeks, and women who bear the marks of torture on their bodies and in their minds - with no idea when they will be released or deported - sitting in fear in these detention centres. Natashas intuitions about the reasons for this oppression are disturbing: I think that's because we are reluctant to extend to alien immigrants ... the same right to justice we believe is due to us.John Fitzpatrick invited each of us to think about something that we find unconscionable in its existence something which the next generation should not inherit. This, as he pointed out, is how the Clapham Set started to think about slavery in the days when slavery was an accepted practice: things did change.Immigration detention would certainly be near the top of my list of unconscionable inhumanities against our fellows. Natasha quotes Helena Kennedy: "What we have forgotten is that the state is there courtesy of us and we are not here courtesy of the state." I think its essential to keep this in mind as we fight against human rights abuses perpetrated by the State in the operation of immigration control and elsewhere. Freedom from arbitrary detention, freedom from torture, freedom from being treated unequally or differently are not human gifts doled out the State. They are human rights. The human rights movement has always been about the assertion of the rights of the individual in the face of the powerful machinery of the State.
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