Saturday, June 24, 2006


Recently, we were greeted with the story in the Newspapers, about a gentleman by the name of Barry Chambers who climbed up onto the roof of a house as a mark of protest. What he was protesting against wasn’t clear but a likely probability was his imminent arrest having recently stolen a car.

Where this story seems to mark a bizarre departure from reality, which sadly is not the case – its all true – is that the police then spent 19 hours getting him down. Over the course of which ordeal, at a total cost of 45,000 pounds, involving hydraulic cranes and many many personnel, they served him a KFC meal and a Pepsi. He wasn’t happy with the can of Pepsi, so he was then given a sealed 2 litre bottle. Finally, he was given a cigarette and he then decided to take a nap, on the roof. Before this he had thrown tiles at the police and at passers by. The quote from the police spokes person in the Metro, June 7th goes “Although he is being a nuisance, we still have to look after his human rights”.

This then is the nub of the issue. A massive parody under the guise of protecting human rights. Strangely enough, on the same planet that houses Guantanamo, Darfur and the Taliban. Admittedly we can’t change the planet in one go. But what price human rights? And for whom? Mr. Barry Chambers endangered the lives of people in a car chase, could have caused grievous harm to people he threw tiles at from the rooftop and created a massive public inconvenience that cost the exchequer a sum of money that could have sustained 150 people in Bangladesh for a year. And yet in protecting his “human rights” all of these were never brought into the equation. He was treated almost like a VIP.

We learnt in school that rights and responsibilities go together. Those of my generation who studied “civics” will remember the 2 chapters “Fundamental Rights” and “Citizen’s Responsibilities” snuggled next to each other. The separation of rights and responsibilities has always yielded some of our less glorious chapters. Be it in politics, business or indeed crime-fighting.

What seems to be a missing piece in the whole “Human Rights” area is a clear and acceptable definition of Human Responsibilities – and the Human Responsibilities Charter must be adopted by the all the bodies that adopt human rights – be it in Europe, the UK, or the whole world. A human responsibilities charter must outline the specific areas where such responsibilities need to be discharged. This could include

- endangering other people’s lives or potentially causing damage to people
- damaging or misappropriating property belonging to others
- causing trauma or distress to other people
- accepted standards of causing offence outside of the boundaries of free speech

I’m sure the right people given time could draft a reasonably comprehensive but simple charter which every person can understand.

More importantly, the behaviour of people such as Mr. Chambers, which is in flagrant abdication of such human responsibilities should result in an appropriate curtailment of rights. Of course this leads to debate about what rights can be constrained. But I believe it’s safe to say that when a public miscreant is endangering his and other people’s lives, serving him a meal and a drink with public funds could be considered beyond his realm of rights.

There are other debates associated with this. In the UK, in recent week's we've had the government and Mr. Blair come out with counter intuitive and sometimes downright perverse comments about the "rights" of burglers, "thieves" and other miscreants.

Underlying this, there is the insidious assumption that a small violation of the rights of a number of people is all right in order to safeguard the rights of a few, selected not by their deeds but by the virtue of being in the public eye. It’s as though the taxpayers who’s money is being used to serve Mr. Chambers the Pepsi he desires, are not affected at all. But they are of course, and are their rights not being violated?

Link to story about Barry Chambers
Link to Picture of Barry Chambers tucking in to KFC
The police try to defend their stance
The Human Rights Declaration

And here are some links to existing work on Human Responsibilities Charters - may be we should all be doing some more thinking along these lines.