To mark World Day of International Justice, our commissioner Emma Martins reflects on justice, individuals’ rights, and the fair treatment of human beings.
The World Day of International Justice is celebrated throughout the world on 17 July as part of efforts to recognise the importance of international criminal justice. It marks the date of the adoption of the treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC investigates crimes of concern to the international community such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Taking a look at the ICC’s website, one of the first things you will see is the following statement –
Justice is a key requisite for lasting peace. International justice can contribute to long-term peace, stability and equitable development in post-conflict societies.
We live in a world where so many people do not have the rights that we, in our community, have and often take for granted. And a day such as this, which you may think has little or nothing to do with you, is a good opportunity to understand and appreciate its relevance to our lives and to the lives of others.
Justice is a word we use and hear a lot – often in the context of ‘fighting for’ or ‘defending’ but how often do we reflect on what we mean by it and what others mean by it as well as the role it plays in our lives?
The root of the word itself, ‘just’, comes from the Latin ‘jus’ meaning right or law and is commonly seen as based on behaving according to what is morally right and fair.
As with the ICC, it is a term often used in the context of law but it is also strongly related to culture. Justice is perceived and applied differently across the globe and what it looks like in any particular place says a lot about that community and culture; what it values; who it values; who has power and who doesn’t.
Early theories of justice came from the Ancient Greek Philosophers. Aristotle considered justice to consist of what is lawful and fair, with fairness involving equitable distributions and the correction of what is inequitable.
In our modern world, the distribution of wealth is largely decided by governments using tax laws and the correction of what is inequitable is largely determined through civil and criminal law. Laws are the basis of much of our lives, shaping and directing so much of our behaviour, sometimes in ways we give little or no thought to. Think how intuitive it is to put a seatbelt on, I very much doubt that when you do so, you are thinking ‘I am only doing this because the law says I must’; you do it because it has simply become embedded in normal, everyday behaviour.
Certainly, law raises important and complex issues around equality, fairness and justice. What sort of society do we want to live in? How do we want to treat each other? How do we want to be treated? Looking at the legislation in place in any jurisdiction will give answers to many of these questions and the fact that we live in a small jurisdiction does not mean that those issues are any less relevant. As Albert Einstein said –
“In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same”.
Looking at the legal foundations that underpin our lives, data protection is one of a suite of laws that provides specific rights to individuals (this podcast talks through the seven data protection principles) and is seen as essential for a functioning democracy. Indeed, the link between privacy and democracy is not at all accidental. If you look at those countries with strong data protection and privacy laws, you will also see countries that have committed to strong human and democratic rights.
Not only does the need for proper protection of our personal data becoming increasingly important as we speed into the digital age (listen to this podcast on your digital footprint, and this podcast on cyber security for more context), it is also a right from which other rights derive – rights such as freedom of association and freedom of speech.
In the context of justice, equality and fairness, I want to highlight one specific element of data protection legislation here in the Bailiwick (and across Europe); the fact that certain types of personal data are afforded much higher levels of protection than others.
The law calls this special category data and it consists of the following –
- Data revealing an individual’s racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religious or philosophical belief or trade union membership
- Genetic data
- Biometric data
- Health data
- Personal data concerning an individual’s sex life or sexual orientation
- Criminal data
It is a list of data types that, for those working in data protection, will likely have been discussed at length on training courses and studied and memorised for exams. I would, however, like to encourage us to think a little deeper about this list, not from a perspective of law or legal text, but from the perspective of a human being.
I have picked out a few examples to help illustrate –
- Racial or ethnic origin – even before the Black Lives Matter protests swept the globe, questions of race and bias were rarely out of the news. In the UK last year, concerns were raised by scientific and civic groups about the possible intrinsic biases in facial recognition software used for law enforcement purposes that disadvantage black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals.
(See BBC article: Use of facial recognition tech ‘dangerously irresponsible’)
- Political opinion – Itai Dzamara was a Zimbabwean journalist and pro-democracy campaigner that disappeared in 2015. He had previously been targeted by state security agents, suffered beatings, abductions and unlawful detentions, his subsequent disappearance is widely believed to be the work of the state because of his pro-democratic views.
(See BBC article: Itai Dzamara: The man who stood up to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and vanished)
- Religious or philosophical belief – The ways in which the Nazi regime collected data to identify, log and locate the Jewish population facilitated the holocaust (listen to this podcast for context on this). It is so important for us to remember that data protection laws include the often-hidden agenda of preventing the reappearance of oppressive regimes that seek to use data for nefarious purposes.
- Sexual orientation – same sex sexual activity is a crime in around 70 countries with some even imposing a death penalty. A photograph was taken of a woman waving a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo in June 2017 and widely circulated. Sarah Hegazi was identified and subsequently arrested, tortured and imprisoned for three months as part of a crackdown by authorities. After her release she was given asylum in Canada but took her own life in June 2020.
(See CBC article: LGBTQ activist Sarah Hegazi, exiled in Canada after torture in Egypt, dead at 30)
These few examples illustrate how interwoven the question of individual’s rights are with the way in which identifying information is collected, recorded and used and the profound affect it can have on people’s lives and on how justly they are treated.
Relating personally to these events may feel like a bit of a leap because they are so alien compared to the world in which we live. But the public health crisis has brought into stark focus that, as much as we are part of a strong local community, we are also part of a wider global community.
Our lives connect in so many ways, so to end with another quote, this time from Martin Luther King,
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.