The Master’s Seminar: Shami Chakrabarti

by Louise Tompkins

IMG_5428.2Last night, the Master’s Seminar welcomed Shami Chakrabarti the former director of Liberty. Chakrabarti, who is a long standing friend of the Master’s, was introduced as being a champion of human rights and carrier of the Olympic flag.

Beginning her talk by discussing how she had once been described as the most dangerous woman in Britain, Chakrabarti moved into examining the challenges and opportunities that face human rights at the moment. Since Liberty was founded in 1934 the world has changed a great deal through reality TV, CCTV, DNA, and most importantly, the internet. These discoveries, the internet especially, may bring with them a great chance for information and understanding but also a greater danger to privacy than ever before. Privacy is a right that Chakrabarti considers especially essential, “how can you have a fair election without a privacy of vote,” she asked the audience.

However, Chakrabarti went on, as far as things have moved on, somethings that were true when Liberty was founded are as true today. Such as the horror that the signatories of the first letter that founded the National Council for Civil Liberties, now Liberty, felt at seeing the Hunger March protesters treated so brutally.IMG_5432.2

It is the unique moment after the Second World War that Chakrabarti considered the most vital instance in the human rights struggle, when Eleanor Roosevelt drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was when all the nations of the world came together and agreed that nothing as awful as what had occurred could be repeated.

The Human Rights themselves, Chakrabarti listed and explained, as she went through, the importance of each right. She especially highlighted the right not to be tortured, and admitted that she was surprised that she had spent so much of her adult life arguing against torture.

Chakrabarti’s favourite right of all is that every person should be treated equally under the law, or empathy. She believes that if we all held that as our core belief and drive, that we would not need the other laws because there would be no torture or slavery for everyone would always act as they would want to be treated.

Finishing with a quote from the late Tom Bingham, she asked “Which of these rights would you choose to discard, are any of them unnecessary, superfluous, un-British? There may be some who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not in their number.”