In this episode, I explain how the European Convention on Human Rights was not meant to reach colonial subjects.
I use the example of the East African Asians case. After Uganda and Kenya became independent, the governments of these countries started to make the life of the Asians who lived there increasingly difficult. Many Asians had British passports. In order to prevent them locating to the UK, over the course of three days in February 1968, the British Government introduced legislation specifically designed to take away their right to enter.
A case was lodged at Strasbourg. As the case was proceeding, a voucher system was put in place which made it possible for a relatively high number of East African Asians to gain entrance into the UK, but not without long delays and many difficulties.
The European Commission of Human Rights considered the UK’s actions to be degrading and inhumane treatment. Noteworthily, the case did not proceed to the European Court of Human Rights. Moreover, its effects on the ground were a far cry from the recognition that the people affected were British passport holders with a right to enter the UK.
The East African Asians case is mostly remembered by lawyers for its affirmation that inhuman and degrading treatment can encompass racial discrimination. In many ways, however, the case also demonstrates that the ECHR failed to protect the rights of all humans equally.
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