The European Convention on Human Rights is not a Suicide Pact

There’s a strain of pragmatism in American political discourse summed up by the phrase “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” The underlying idea is simple: If following some abstract constitutional principle in a particular situation would cause massive problems, then the principle should be ignored or watered-down in that case. This doesn’t mean the principle is abandoned; it’s just not implemented in one particular situation because the consequences could be destabilizing or dangerous.

This is the critical insight John Dalhuisen mentions in his interview, which I quoted yesterday. Throughout 2015 and long after — and still today — human-rights activists are insisting on an extreme reading of asylum and immigration law which would, in effect, result in open borders. His thought experiment is simple: Imagine what the world would look like if every demand made by groups such as Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders (“EU: Your Fences Kill. Provide Safe and Legal Passage“) had been met by European governments.

Word would quickly spread that Europe had decided not to turn anyone away, and the result would have been an influx of millions of migrants from Africa and the Middle East. In the three years since 2015, 5 million, 10 million, perhaps 15 million people would have emigrated to Europe. This is no exaggeration; see the video above.

If you ask activists whether this would be good for Europe, or for the countries which the migrants left — and I have asked them this — they are usually surprised by the question. Because they have never considered the real-world consequences of their positions. They simply insist on a de facto open borders policy because they believe that human-rights treaties, or European “principles”, require this policy. Political backlash? Not their problem. Conflicts over scarce housing and jobs? Not their problem. Exploding welfare budgets? Not their problem. Culture clash? Not their problem. The treaties (or “humanity”, or “European principles”) demand it, and therefore it must happen. End of discussion. Europe can find some way to deal with all these new arrivals. That’s not our problem. We’re activists, not politicians.

This approach is short-sighted and dangerous, as Dalhuisen points out. I would add: childish. Yes, human rights are important, and activists play a vital and necessary role in enforcing them, etc. But most questions of human rights have few broad policy implications: whether a country does or does not execute criminals is not an issue of national survival. Whether press freedom laws allow hate speech is not an issue of national survival. Whether accused criminals are kept in custody for years pending trial is not an issue of national survival. In these cases, arguments based on pure principle are appropriate, necessary, even vital.

But when activists enter the realm of immigration, they are entering an area with huge policy implications, including national survival. Germany would not cease to exist if 7 million Africans entered in any given year, using the “safe and legal” migration routes activists demand. Maybe. But even if it did, it would be a Germany nobody would recognize. And by the time the last of the 7 million arrived, there is not a single chance the EU would still exist. The European Convention on Human Rights, if it still existed, would have been gutted beyond recognition.

For human-rights activists to ignore the implications of their demands on immigration is irresponsible, perhaps even inexcusable. If they insist that the only permissible interpretation of refugee laws and treaties is “suicide pact”, Europeans will soon teach them that they’re not interested in sacrificing themselves on the altar of moral purity. In fact, they’re sending this message right now.

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