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The U.N.: Meddling in Britain's Affairs or Impartially Protecting Our Disabled?

  • Published: 2015-09-07 (Revised/Updated 2015-10-05) : Author: Paul Dodenhoff
  • Synopsis: Britain has been criticized many times in the past by the UN for human rights abuses, over many years and over many different issues.

Quote: "The Department for Work and Pensions itself has declined to comment on the UN inquiry, although pointing out that the UK spends around £50billion a year on disabled people and their services, as justification for their behavior."

Main Document

On the 15th August 2014, The Disability News Service became the first UK media source to break the news that: "The UK government has become the first country to face a high-level inquiry by a United Nations committee, as a result of "grave or systemic violations" of the rights of disabled people". This announcement came informally during the Sixth International Disability Law Summer School at the National University of Ireland in Galway in June, with an address from Professor Gabor Gombos, a former UN committee member on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

While Professor Gombos's words quickly went viral all around the world via social media, most of Britain's mainstream press curiously remained silent, and Britain's main opposition party seemed to show a complete disinterest in the matter. A rather strange response until we remember that Britain has been criticized many times in the past by the UN for human rights abuses, over many years and over many different issues - with very little change in behavior from the Government in charge. Perhaps then, both media and Britain's politicians expected this latest probe to go the way of previous others, to eventually frizzle out and particularly if nobody happened to mention the matter again.

The UN: Hypocrites, Idiots and Brazil Nuts?

Arguably in response to the enormous interest created from disabled people both in the UK and worldwide, on the 27th August 2014 'The Mail' became Britain's only major news organization to briefly break the silence. Going overboard in its criticism of the UN and denouncing the organization (with help from various 'minor' Conservative MP's) as 'absurd', 'idiots' and 'useless', they also launched into a character assassination on the UN housing 'rapporteur' involved in the investigation, Raquel Rolnik.

This wasn't the first time that 'The Mail' had taken a keen interest in Raquel Rolnik. In 2013 The Mail published at least two articles into the UN's apparent probe into Britain's welfare and housing reforms. Mocking Ms Rolnik as an 'hypocrite' for staying in an 'comfortable' British hotel during her twelve day stay within the UK, and for her alleged practicing of 'witchcraft' in her student days (by offering 'sacrifices' to spirit of Karl Marx, no less). Denouncing Ms Rolnik as a former 'Marxist' and dubbing her the 'Brazil Nut', 'The Mail' continued to seriously belittle her role within the UN, while quoting the words of Britain's Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who in one article castigated Ms Rolnik for being 'a loopy Brazilian Leftie' whose 'actions undermine the impartiality of the UN'.

A 'Google' search on Raquel Rolnik actually reveals her not to be a 'loopy Brazilian Leftie' at all as far as I can tell, but an highly qualified, respected and experienced Professor of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Sao Paulo, as well as being an experienced United Nations expert on urban housing.

However, it's interesting that 'The Mail originally turned to Iain Duncan Smith for some words of wisdom on Ms Rolnik's 'fitness' to be world ranking academic and an UN representative. Particularly as IDS is a man who had lied about his own university career and qualifications in the past. He is a man who has repeatedly lied in parliament about the negative effects of his welfare reforms and his 'successes'. He is also the man who once argued that low income families should receive welfare payments on 'prepaid' cash cards in order to help control their spending, despite having his own official parliamentary credit card suspended recently after running up more than £1,000 in expenses debts. A man who also previously bragged that he could quite easily live off £53 a week in benefits payments if he had to, but according to parliamentary records also managed to spend £39 of taxpayer's money on a breakfast. Which is not actually a good indicator of somebody who knows how to survive on a tight budget of £53 a week, nor of somebody whose head actually resides in the real world.

The same can be said about 'The Mail' which is part of a media conglomerate run by Viscount Rothermere, its chairman and controlling shareholder. Viscount Rothermere is estimated to be worth around £700 million and is not impartial to staying in comfortable hotels himself. He also owns his media businesses through a complex structure of offshore holdings and trusts which entitle him to pay almost no UK tax on his income, investments or wealth. Not illegal, but morally suspect to say the least considering that his newspapers happen to make moral judgments about Britain's welfare claimants, and primarily for 'sponging' off Britain's taxpayers. Viscount Rothermere is also reported to be a keen supporter of British Prime Minister David Cameron. Although, no surprise in that.

'The Mail' is not impartial either to the dissemination of inaccurate news stories, stories that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Such as 'George Clooney's disapproving mother in law' , 'Restaurants in Nigeria selling human meat to customers' and 'Flights and bus loads full of Romanians and Bulgarians heading for the UK'.

However, 'The Mail' has also been one of those newspapers that has regularly and fervently latched onto the 'benefit scroungers' rhetoric of Government, disseminating sensationalist and often misleading information whenever possible about Britain's welfare system and it's welfare claimants. The Mails editor, Paul Dacre is reported to be Britain's best-paid newspaper editor with a whopping impartial £2.4m pay package. Not bad for an editor of a newspaper that often accuses the UN of meddling in the UK's affairs, but who also seems to do a fair bit of 'meddling' - for whatever political agenda. But a meddling that may certainly help to negatively influence public opinion towards disability.

The UN: Meddling in Britain's affairs?

Interestingly, we hadn't heard further from 'the Mail' on the UN investigation of human rights abuses against our disabled until just a few days ago, when it suddenly burst back into action to condemn a 'new' UN investigation. Intervening after Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland (a consortium of disability organizations) confirmed to a Scottish newspaper that he had been contacted by the UN after submitting a report to the UNCRPD, 'the Mail' went ballistic again, denouncing the latest UN probe as 'meddling', 'absurd' and 'politically motivated'.

However, Instead of rolling out the dreadful IDS for a quote, this time we had the equally dreadful Tory, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP weighing in with some fine words: 'We have a proud record in this country for the way we treat disabled people' .

Fine words until we actually recall Britain's long history of brutal treatment towards disability, a history that includes institutionalization, Britain's poor laws, its horrendous workhouses, as well as its equally horrendous freak shows and Eugenics movement. And that's not to mention it's more recent abuses such as Britain's widespread political and media scapegoating of sick and disabled people as benefit cheats and spongers, and it's extremely high rate of public abuse, harassment and violence directed towards disabled people under the banner of 'hate crime'. Not really something to be proud of Mr Liddell-Grainger. But then again, a brief look at Mr Liddell-Grainger's own political history reveals him to be someone who recently had a vote of no confidence in him undertaken by his own constituency counselors for alleged abusive and bullying behavior.

Other newspapers have also picked up on the news of an UN investigation, albeit some twelve months late, and certainly not as negative and aggressive towards disability as 'The Mail' has been. For example, 'The independent' (30th August 2015) states: "The UN's special investigator on housing has previously urged the government to scrap the bedroom tax, after hearing "shocking" accounts of how it was affecting disabled and vulnerable people". And that: "Research by The Center for Welfare Reform found that disabled people have already been hit up to 19 times harder by cuts than others".

While the 'Huffington Post' points out that : "Last week, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was accused of launching a "new attack on disabled people" after announcing plans for a benefits shakeup to get more people off benefits and into jobs. The minister said that sickness benefits assessments needed overhauling and argued that there needed to be more support for people with "common" mental illnesses to get them into work. He said that work is "good for your health" and lambasted critics for "scaremongering" over his welfare reforms, insisting that the vulnerable were still protected".

Britain's history of 'meddling' and of Human Rights abuses

While IDS has ironically lashed out at his critics for 'scaremongering' over his welfare reforms, The Department for Work and Pensions itself has declined to comment on the UN inquiry, although pointing out that the UK spends around £50billion a year on disabled people and their services, as justification for their behavior. I'm not sure if those figures are absolutely correct, but I will certainly accept them for now as being a true reflection on the matter, until I know better. However, its funny how 'money spent' always seems to raise its ugly head whenever allegations of British wrong doing are raised - as if spending money is proof in itself that "Britain simply doesn't do that sort of thing, old boy".

Britain is certainly not averse to spending money in order to 'meddle' in the affairs of its own citizens or in the affairs of other nation's citizens. A brief look through history reveals that out of nearly 200 countries worldwide, Britain is reported to have invaded some 90% of them at some point, either by colonization, war or an armed presence of some sort. Money spent primarily in order to reap even richer rewards.

For example, profits accrued from the slave trade and slavery during the 1700's led to major investment in Britain's industrial revolution, and with much of the wealth enjoyed by Britain's current Royal Family being generated by the Royal African Company, an English slave- trading outfit that was founded by the Royals at the time - namely the Duke of York and his brother Charles II.

Since the end of the Second World War, the UK has continued to 'meddle' (militarily) in the affairs of other countries and arguably for strategic influence : Indonesia, Argentina, Albania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, North Korea, China, The Soviet Union, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Israel/Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Nigeria, Libya, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan. That is not to mention other countries that the UK has interfered with 'economically' over the years by its involvement in the European Union or by calling for UN sanctions, while also 'spying' upon other nations or suppling money and arms in order to protect British 'interests' abroad - sometimes even helping countries to oppress their own citizens.

In 2012 the British government revealed that three-quarter's of Indonesia's £400 million national debt to the UK comes from loans for military equipment alone - including exports of aircraft and tanks that were later used against the Indonesian people themselves. And In 2013, The UK Government was found to have issued more than 3,000 export licenses for military and intelligence equipment worth a total of £12.3bn to countries which were on its own official list for human rights abuses.

Indeed, Britain's past 'meddling' is responsible for many of the continuing and major conflicts and atrocities' around the globe today, particularly the Israel-Palestine problem, Iraq and Afghanistan. As well as being partially responsible for the Syrian refugee crisis that has engulfed the whole of Europe in recent days. A Syria that the UK was also continuing to bomb, arguing that they are simply targeting 'Islamic State' strongpoints.

This is from a country that likes to continually paint itself as a shining beacon of democracy and freedom in a world dominated by despotic rulers and banana republics. However, in 2013 the UN issued a report that highlighted that the UK has actually a poor recent record on human rights issues. Warning that there were 40 points of action that urgently needed to be addressed in order to ensure that the UK met its obligations under international law. This is even without taking into consideration the effects of current welfare reforms upon Britain's disabled.

However, British 'meddling' in the affairs of other countries is certainly matched by its meddling in the affairs of its own citizens. We Brits have undergone welfare reform many times before in the past, and usually when we have a change of Government. As well as the tightening up of employment law, trade union law and security legislation, and the undermining of Health & Safety legislation and privacy laws. The current government even got elected on a manifesto that included the scrapping of European Human Rights legislation for British people.

So one has to ask just exactly what this government has got planned for us that they need to remove the rest of our human rights first, human rights that they have already been eroding for years. And one has certainly got to ask, what on earth are more than 11 million Brits thinking of by actually voting for a party that has something like that planned on its agenda?

However, if media outlets such as 'the Mail' are portraying anybody as opposed to human rights violations as being 'Brazil nuts' and of the 'loopy left' variety, then that may certainly explain a fair bit of our voting behavior.

Disability abuses and breaking the wall of silence

Britain is certainly not the worse country in the world to live, nor the worse country for its record on human rights abuses - and by far. However, we Brits often have a false impression of own country and that may lead to us to also have a mistaken and a false sense of security over our own personal 'freedoms'. A false perception that buys into the values of the 'free press', 'democracy' and of 'freedom' itself, but an perception that is so far removed from reality, and a perception that may not always match up to the conditions that we happen to live under. Conditions that can be exposed at any moment in time, with the iron fist of authority just waiting to stamp out any form of serious dissent alarmingly quickly and with full force. This was demonstrated during the 2011 London riots, when one rioter was jailed for 6 months after stealing bottles of water from a supermarket - a theft that had the grand value of just £3.50.

The above account of the UK's 'foibles' and 'meddling' is only meant to bring our heads back into the real world. A world were much of the UK's press is not 'free' at all but tied into the vested interests of its rich and powerful proprietors. A free press that speaks up when it wants, but keeps quiet when it suits best. And a world where Government, whether Conservative or Labor led, are similarly tied into the self-interest of the rich and powerful who want things 'swimming' continually in their direction all of the time. A direction that often leads to war, occupation and invasion in order to protect British 'interests' abroad. Or to put it another way - war, occupation and invasion that protects the profits of the private investor. Actions that are backed up by Britain's media machine in order to keep our politicians noses firmly pointed in the 'right' direction (in case they waver) and with the widespread, cynical manipulation of public opinion.

Similarly, changes to domestic policy at home such as welfare reform is often much less about saving the taxpayer money, and much more about ideological change. Ideological beliefs that are aimed at either manipulating social behavior, or aimed at implementing systems that ultimately only benefit the private 'investor', by giving them indirect access to taxpayers money. Indirect access to state resources by the contracting out of public services to the private sector, and often with massive subsidies and/or tax breaks attached.

For example, in 2013, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that private contractors carrying out billions of pounds worth of Government work often pay no corporation tax, a situation that was causing a lack of public confidence in the system. One of these contractors so happened to be (surprise, surprise) Atos Health Care , a private company that had run the Governments controversial Work Capability Assessments (WCA) until quitting its £500 million contract recently. Certainly, a nice little earner for Atos, especially for the easy task of simply trampling over the human rights of sick and disabled people.

The human rights and civil liberties of we Brits have certainly taken a huge tumble since the election of a Conservative Government in 2010. Although, the last Labor administration also did a fair bit of tinkering in that direction too. However, it is Britain's disabled that has arguably been effected the most by recent welfare reform that is not primarily about cost-cutting or saving the taxpayer money, but about an profit making ideology akin to the mentality of the 'gold rush' of 'wild west' 1800's America. Grab what you can, before somebody else grabs it.

We've already heard from Iain Duncan Smith this week, and IDS and his DWP continue to give the impression that they are highly unlikely to change tack on the government's direction of welfare reform. Therefore, it's imperative the UN does not shirk its responsibilities in challenging the UK in its outrageous behavior towards our disabled. If the UK government is indeed in violation of human rights legislation, and it is now over 2 years since talk of a UN investigation into such human rights abuses first circulated, then there should be some kind of action taken about it. Not just the beginning of another 'probe'.

While nobody expects the UN to come charging over the landscape like the US 7th Calvary in order to rescue disabled people from state abuse, its essential that any investigation that the UN begins is carried out to the max, and not hidden simply behind closed doors, in order to fade quietly away. If the only thing the UN can do is to publicly shame David Cameron and IDS into doing what's right, and not what's right for profit making - then that should be the way to go. At least it will break the silence, if nothing else.

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