On Thursday 5 May, as voters went to the polls in a general election dominated by immigration and asylum, the House of Lords issued a judgment which effectively condemns hundreds of immigrants to a premature and painful death, according to human rights lawyers.
Five Law Lords, sitting as the highest appeal court in the land, held that the European Convention on Human Rights’ prohibition on inhuman treatment does not prevent deportation of people with advanced HIV/AIDS who are dependent on the anti-retroviral treatment they receive here, even if this means they will die for want of such treatment abroad.
The appellant in the case, Ms N, had been kidnapped and raped by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. She sought asylum in Britain, which was refused. Meanwhile, she became very ill and was diagnosed with advanced HIV/AIDS. Doctors saved her life by putting her on anti-retroviral treatment, and her health improved. The Home Office sought to deport her as a failed asylum seeker. She argued that the treatment she would need to save her life was unavailable in Uganda to all but the very rich. She had lost six of her brothers and sisters to HIV/AIDS and had no prospect of getting treatment. Without it, the medical evidence showed that within weeks or months she would be very ill and she would die within a year or two of return. An immigration adjudicator accepted her arguments and allowed her appeal. But the Home Office appealed the decision, and on 5 May the House of Lords said the Home Office position was correct. The Human Rights Convention, they ruled, was not meant to prevent deportation and ensure indefinite medical treatment for immigrants with no rights to stay. Although they agreed that her case was tragic, they said it was not exceptional, since there are 25 million people with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
The judgment has been condemned by human rights lawyers, who argue that human rights should not be diluted for immigrants or subject to political considerations based on numbers. They are considering taking the argument to the European Court of Human Rights, which in 1996 held that the deportation from Britain of a terminally ill drug smuggler was inhuman. Meanwhile, however, hundreds of HIV/AIDS sufferers from Africa, Latin America and Asia without a secure immigration status, who are currently receiving treatment here, are under threat of imminent deportation as a result of the decision.