Speech by Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London at a demonstration outside Belmarsh Prison

4th April 2004

We are told we have to make a choice between protecting our civil liberties or having effective measures against terrorism. This is a false choice.

Repressive measures alienate many of those very people whose help might be needed to provide information or reduce tacit support and sympathy for those who believe that indiscriminate murder, violence or fear will really solve any political problem.

Indefinite detention, whether in Belmarsh, Woodhill at Milton Keynes or anywhere else is a shameful thing. There is a spurious legality attached to it, which lacks justice and certainly lacks compassion. That is a dangerous combination.

Indefinite detention also has a spurious legality because, in order to make it happen, our Government has had to derogate from Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) - the right to freedom and security.

Our Labour colleagues in the European Parliament (EP) are so deeply divided and embarrassed at this action, that many did not vote in Parliament this week on the report by my French Green colleague, Alimah Boumedienne-Thierry (herself of Moroccan background and one of the EP's few practising Moslems) on the state of Fundamental Human Rights in the European Union. Her report specifically criticises the British Government on this derogation from the ECHR.

Their "failure" to vote meant that the report was defeated by 7 votes. So the EP has no position on human rights in the EU. We have a position on fundamental rights in the rest of the world. We have a strong and critical position on Guantanamo Bay. But our double standards and lack of political bravery do not allow us to criticise ourselves.

But I am not surprised my Labour colleagues have trouble with the Government position. Many of us here campaigned long and hard for the incorporation of the ECHR in British law through the Human Rights Act. It is shameful that the same government that introduced it has now derogated from one of its key Articles.

But this is a shameful position not just in its questionable legality but in terms of the tragedy for the detainees and the families of the men held here.

I was told only a few days ago of the plight of the wife of one of those held at Milton Keynes. She speaks little English; her daughter was only 2 months old when her husband was detained - she is now 14 months old. Her mother's mental health has deteriorated and she has spent time in hospital; she is terrified that her daughter may be taken in to care. She has no idea how long her husband may be held - possibly forever. Even getting to see him is difficult as she has little money to make the journey. She feels alone. Imagine how her husband must feel, knowing her situation and powerless to do anything.

These people's lives are at best on hold. Other governments, such as in Saudi Arabia, look at the example set by the USA and the UK on indefinite detention and use it to justify similar policies.

That is why the Greens support a position of charge or release these men. Wasting lives is not acceptable for a country that claims to uphold values of human rights and civil liberties - it is shameful.