Year 12 students take part in human rights workshop and mock trial

Students from six Hillingdon schools participated in the ‘human rights and mock trial day’, delivered by the Knowing Our Rights (KOR) project, in collaboration with the widening participation office at Brunel University London. The students participated in various interactive exercises throughout the day, from debating the Human Rights Act to participating in an exciting criminal mock trial.

The day began with the Dean of the College of Business, Arts and Social Sciences, Prof Thomas Betteridge, introducing the concept of human rights; a reference to the clash between divine and state law in Sophocle’s Antigone caught students’ attention. The director of the KOR project, Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, presented students with an overview of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, explaining how these were perhaps living on borrowed time in the UK; Brexit had forced the government to temporarily postpone its plans for the repeal of the Human Rights Act.

The students were then split in two groups and were asked to debate for and against the Act. They began by identifying their rights such as the right to life, freedom of speech and the right to privacy. Students voiced their opinion on whether the Human Rights Act should be repealed. Both sides of the debate were passionate, but there was a consensus from all students in favour of the Human Rights Act. Not a single student in the workshop was in support of the Government’s plan to repeal the Act. They fervently advocated why the rights protected by the Act are integral for society and how the state may not be able to keep those rights protected sufficiently if the Human Rights Act were repealed. It is clear that the students are human rights enthusiasts, and their debating skills resonated throughout the day.

Next came the criminal mock trial, where the students were keen to take on the roles of judge, jury, advocates and witnesses. Brunel Law students first guided the school students on what examination in chief and cross examination would entail, while the ‘jury’ watched a video from a former mock trial and discussed the role with Law School students and academics. The mock trial gave the students a valuable insight on how the trial process works. Their enthusiasm and commitment to their roles made it a joyous experience for everyone. The mock cross-examination of witnesses was incredibly entertaining and the jury deliberations and verdict made clear that the students understood the practicalities of a trial. It was inspiring to see their confidence grow throughout the day and the conviction of their speeches no doubt shows their appetite to learn. Perhaps in the hopes of becoming a human rights defender one day….

One of the Yr12 student attending the workshop commented: the “Knowing Our Rights” workshop “inspired me to research further into human rights and has opened my eyes to such a vast and complex area of not just law, but society at large … On behalf of the students in our school, we would like to thank the Brunel students and staff that made the event so insightful and enriching”.

The day ended on a positive note and students keenly listened to the legal talk given by Bridget Lavin on careers in law. Each student was presented with a certificate and the knowledge they departed with will hopefully inspire them in their future endeavours.


Interdisciplinary symposium sheds light on interconnections between the human body and human rights

An exciting interdisciplinary symposium took place on 12 February 2018, at the Friends’ House in Euston, London, on ‘The Body and Human Rights’, hosted by Brunel University’s Global Lives Research Centre, the ‘Knowing Our Rights’ (KOR) research project, and the Britain in Europe (BiE) think tank. The symposium, which attracted several international speakers and a large audience, was convened by Meredith Jones, director of the Global Lives Research Centre, and Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, founder and director of KOR and BiE.

The symposium drew together major disciplinary areas in the arts and social sciences. It was kicked off to a great start with two panels convening at the same time. One entailed the ‘Reproductive Rights and Abortion for Women’ and the other related to ‘Criminal Law and Destruction of the Body’.

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Prof David Gallear, Vice-Dean (Research) at Brunel University, highlighting the crucial role of interdisciplinary research collaboration, such as between the Global Lives Research Centre, BiE and the ‘Knowing Our Rights’ research project

The criminal law panel was led by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC and Nevanka Tromp, where they discussed in great detail the Destroyed Memories of the Srebrenica mass graves and the destruction by the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia of artefacts belonging to genocide victims. The talk was insightful and allowed the audience to understand the sequence of events that happened after the discovery of thousands of artefacts, with the speakers highlighting that the interests of the victim will often be overlooked and lied about when they clash with the interests of powerful states or international organisations. The next talk was led by Igor Vuletic and concerned criminal liability for ‘Robots’ Mistakes in Medicine’ and the quandary of who or what is to blame. This talk captured the realities of modern medicine, exploring whether ‘the dawn of autonomous systems will have far-reaching consequences for many industry sectors as well as our daily lives’. Michelle Farrell’s paper focused on ‘the tortured body’. Michelle developed a critique of the jurisprudence of the ECtHR that tends to depoliticise and rationalise the act. ‘The Court does not automatically draw the link between suffering and a violation of the right against torture’, she argued, and feels the need to ask: ‘Has this body suffered enough?’

The three talks brought to light the challenging questions of how the human body should be legally understood and defined.

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In the ‘Reproductive Rights and Abortion for Women’ panel, Gerard Conway gave an insight of the forthcoming abortion referendum in Ireland, situating it in the context of conflicts of rights. JoAnna Wall’s analysis on the erosion of reproductive rights in the US provided an illuminating contrast in that respect. Arianne Shahvisi similarly explored the conflict between a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and the interests of the state, by highlighting inconsistencies in dealing with abortion, genital alteration, on the one hand, and fertility treatment, on the other.

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from left to right: Gerard Conway, Arian Shahvisi and JoAnna Wall

The afternoon consisted of thought-provoking discussions ranging from ‘Hospitality and Resistance of Syrian Refugees’ to ‘Gender (Self)-Identification in the UK’.

Lisa Blackman’s keynote caused a stir, with intriguing observations about the human body and the idea that there is nothing fixed or nothing natural about what it means to have and be a body.

“How can we develop a non-human body politics, which recognises the complexity of different scales of matter, some of which have been fundamentally changed, altered and reformed as part of human-technological industrial practices?”, asked Lisa.

She added: “In this context, what counts as a body? Where does this leave “us” and our capacity to apprehend, experience, live and commune with the “alien”? Does this question still assumes a sovereign human subject (white and masterful) encountering a foreign element that exposes how entrenched political and even biological resistance to otherness is? What resists our capacity to truly understand or apprehend fragility, finality, death, dying, torture, extinction and brutality, and our increasing anxieties about the future when the human (as a generic and unmarked) species is displaced from its fantasy of mastery, boundedness and control?

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Lisa Blackman: “We are all Martians”

Up next was Evelyn Callahan’s thorough review of Gender Identification in the UK and how the current system excludes non-binary people and children and teens when registering their ‘new gender’.

Following on from this was Marzieh Kaivanara’s in-depth talk about the use of cosmetic surgeries in Iran, and how they have become a social and cultural problem.

Annabelle Mooney talked about our inability to recognise human suffering even as we are presented with it; she invited the audience to take the othering of economically marginalised bodies as a starting point, before they could perhaps reach the conclusion that depriving these people of benefits is a form of torture.

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Evelyn Callahan on gender identification in the UK

Another perceptive discussion by Maria Kastrinou surrounded the current issues among Syrian Refugees in Greece, namely how the Greek Government views the refugees and the lack of hospitality they provide.

Hazret Cetinkaya examined the issues of ‘women’s subjection in a post-colonial frame’ and how women are viewed in Namus. It was revealed to the audience that Namus is a system that uses Human Rights discourse but their cultural identity still remains.

The last talk was given by Anita Howarth whose discussion primarily dealt with corporeality and force feeding in Guantanamo Bay. Anita articulated how the body is stripped of its political rights and is exposed to unchecked violence throughout the course of their sentence.

The astute discussions throughout the course of the symposium exhibited that the body has indeed become a major area of research and feminist scholars have made important interventions in the ways that bodies are represented.

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Symposium co-convenors, Dr Meredith Jones and Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos

Dr Meredith Jones’ explanation of how the research areas explored in the symposium complement each other offer a useful afterthought: “The body has become a major area of research across many disciplines. Feminist scholars have made important interventions in the ways that bodies are represented, managed, regulated, treated medically, and modified”, she explained.

“Simultaneously, human rights scholars have engaged with challenging questions of how the human body should be legally understood and defined, and what may legitimate the State to become involved with individual choices about what to do with one’s body,” she concluded.

Referring to the work of the French legal philosopher and Sorbonne academic Mireille Delmas-Marty, Dr Giannoulopoulos added that the symposium brought the participants face-to-face with the perennial conflict between ‘the human and the inhuman’, forcing them to see how the recognition of international human rights, and of a right to human dignity, often go hand in hand with resistance by the states to international law and the violation of this universal right in practice.

“Perhaps we can take this as a useful reminder of a certain inevitability of the brutality inherent in state responses to human rights claims”, he concluded, “and continue on the challenging path of searching to ensure that fundamental human rights are effectively applied in practice”.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November)

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November) marks an important day for the lives of women who have suffered egregious human rights violations and still to this day, battle to be free from violence

Violence against women has been a barrier towards gender equality, and those who dare to speak up are faced with continuous aggression.  The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) states that: violence against women means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life(Article 1).  The endless violent intrusions in a woman’s life are caused by root problems such as cultural patterns, injurious influences of traditional practices and other social influences.

The Danish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has called for more action to combat violence against women and girls.

Karen Ellemann, Minister for Equal Opportunities, made the following statement on behalf of Committee:

“Violence against women and girls is the most common violation of the human rights of women, in Europe and beyond.  It affects women of all ages, and from any social or economic background, sometimes at the cost of their lives. More must be done to eliminate this scourge from our societies.

Combating all forms of violence against women and girls has long been a key priority for the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) is the most far-reaching international treaty to tackle this serious violation of human rights.  Denmark, which ratified the Convention in 2014, is fully committed to its implementation and calls on all member States, which have not yet done so to ratify it.

Violence and sexual harassment of women in public spaces are also strongly condemned by the Istanbul Convention. Violence in crowds and digital sexual abuse are other dimensions of violence against women and wide-spread global problems which needs to be tackled. Violence in public spaces and online might restrict women’s freedom of speech. These violations need to be reported and call for a comprehensive response.”

With the CoE Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) the international community took a radical step, facing up to its responsibility to protect women. But there is a long road ahead in implementing its human rights guarantees.

Active women’s rights movements have been crucial to giving women a voice, and their endeavours to seek for justice are a shining beacon in our society. Combined with the efforts of the CoE, we can only hope in generations to come that violence against women will be wiped off the face of the earth.


‘A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy: a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim’

Maya Angelou


By our research student
Amirah Chaudhury

Excessive force on a vulnerable individual during arrest was an ‘infringement of human dignity’ (and a violation of Art 3)

Re: Boukrourou and others v France (application no. 30059/15).

The case involves a death of an individual who was suffering from several psychiatric disorders who became a victim of ill-treatment during a police operation. The victim’s family were the applicants in this case, and they claimed there was a violation of Article 2 (right to life) ECHR and Article 3 (prohibition of torture).

The facts

Whilst the victim was collecting his medication from his local pharmacy, a dispute arose between the victim and the pharmacist. The victim became angry and started raising his voice, it was clear that the victim was unwell as his speech was incoherent. The victim refused to leave the pharmacy and the police were called upon. Four policemen arrived to ask the victim to leave. The victim persistently refused which led to the police seizing him by the arm and leg. Whilst the officers attempted to handcuff the victim, one of the officers punched the victim twice on the “solar plexus”. After being handcuffed, the police applied considerable pressure to various body parts despite the victim being securely fastened on the back seat of the van. Upon noticing that the victim had stopped breathing for some time, the officers called the fire brigade and emergency medical service. Despite the service’s quick response in carrying out cardiac massage, the victim had sadly passed away.

Was there a violation of Article 2 and Article 3?

The court found that there was no violation of Article 2 (right to life), as the officers had not used “lethal force” against the victim. The victim died suddenly due to “intense and prolonged emotional and physical stress”, and suffered from an attack on an artery of the heart. The court concluded that there was no “causal link” between the force used and the victim’s death.

However, the court found that there was a violation of Article 3, due to the injuries the victim sustained when being arrested. It was clear that the police used unnecessary violence, when attempting to subdue the victim. The victim was a vulnerable person and the use of violence against him was inhumane. The excessive force used on a vulnerable individual, was unacceptable and falls completely below policing standards. The court noted that the acts were an “infringement of human dignity”.

Amirah Choudhury
Brunel Law School

Britain in Europe Open Society Foundation Goldsmiths University