We have pleasure in attaching the minutes of the July meeting in which we discussed the Death Penalty, the barbeque, the Trump protest and urgent actions.  Thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.

July minutes (Word)

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Trump protest

Posted: July 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

Salisbury group carries out protest concerning President Trump’s policies

Members of the Salisbury group gathered in the vicinity of the Guildhall in Salisbury to conduct a protest against President Trump’s human rights policies.  The president is visiting the UK at present en route to Helsinki to meet president Putin of Russia.  He has been shepherded around carefully by the government to steer him away from the many protestors who are out in force.

Our protest is connected with his activities concerning human rights in particular, his government’s treatment of Mexican children separated from their parents and placed in cages, his statements about refugees and the decision to take the USA out of the Human Rights Council.

Unfortunately, this is not the sort of event the local media want to cover so people were unaware of what we were doing.  However, we were pleased at the number of Americans who stopped and expressed support.

Group members in costumes. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty


Attached is the current death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  Grim news on several fronts with Sri Lanka thinking of re-using the penalty.  China leads the world it is believed in the use of the penalty although details are a state secret.

On the issue of China, readers may like to read the website of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders which charts the systematic denial of human rights freedoms by the Chinese government.  Links to many human rights sites can be found at the bottom of this site.

Report – June/July (pdf)

 

 

Group meeting

Posted: July 11, 2018 in Group news
Tags: , , ,

Group meeting Thursday 12th at 7:30 as usual in Victoria Road.  Supporters welcome.


Select committee issues two damning reports on UK’s role in torture

The Intelligence and Security Committee released its report in the UK’s role in torture on 28 June 2018 and this revealed the shocking extent of MI6’s involvement.  It is government policy, and the legal position, that the UK does not use torture nor does it outsource the practice to other agencies or governments.  It is counterproductive since under torture, victims are likely to say anything to get it to stop.  The evidence thus gleaned is of doubtful value as was dramatically shown in Iraq and our decision to invade.  It is also a key part of the Human Rights Act.  Article 3 protects you from:

– torture (mental or physical)
– inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and
– deportation or extradition (being sent to another country to face criminal charges) if there is a real risk you will face torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the country concerned.
As you would expect, public authorities must not inflict this sort of treatment on you. They must also protect you if someone else is treating you in this way. If they know this right is being breached, they must intervene to stop it. The state must also investigate credible allegations of such treatment.  Equality and Human Rights Commission

That we were involved in this activity has been known for some time although often the details were not available.  So were the denials and here is Jack Straw – the Home Secretary for much of the time when this was happening – claiming in an interview:

Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.  Quoted by Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2012 [accessed 3 July 2018]

Peter Oborne continued: After Mr Straw spoke out, further denials followed. Tony Blair insisted that Britain had never engaged in the practice.  Mr Straw’s successor, David Miliband, was equally adamant.  Sir John Scarlett, until recently head of the Secret Intelligence Service (and the official responsible for the notorious dossier of September 2002 which asserted that Saddam Hussein was capable of deploying weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes) was forthright. “Our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else,” he said, adding that there was “no complicity in torture.  (ibid)

The scale of the activity revealed by this report was a surprise.  Up until the report was published it was known that the activity had taken place on a modest scale but the facts show otherwise:

• On 232 occasions UK intelligence officers were found to have continued supplying questions to foreign agencies between 2001 and 2010, despite knowing or suspecting a prisoner was being tortured or mistreated.
• There were 198 occasions when UK intelligence officers received information from a prisoner whom they knew was being mistreated.
• In a further 128 cases, foreign intelligence bodies told UK intelligence agencies prisoners were being mistreated.
• MI5 or MI6 offered to help fund at least three rendition operations.
• The agencies planned or agreed to a further 28 rendition operations.
• They provided intelligence to assist with a further 22 rendition operations.
• Two MI6 officers consented to mistreatment meted out by others.  Only one of these incidents has been investigated by police.
• In a further 13 cases, UK intelligence officers witnessed an individual being tortured or mistreated.
• MI5, MI6 and the military conducted up to 3,000 interviews of prisoners held at Guantanamo.
• No attempt is being made to find out whether guidelines introduced by the coalition government in 2010 are helping to prevent the UK’s intelligence agencies from continuing to be involved in human rights abuses.
• The UK breached its commitment to the international prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
• On at least two occasions ministers took “inappropriate” decisions.
• Jack Straw authorised payment of “a large share of the costs” of the rendition of two people in October 2004. The Guardian 2 July 2018

Not that this is the full story.  The government prevented individual officers from giving evidence so there may well be more to come out in future.  On this matter, Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty said:

It is obvious that the ISC was prevented by the Government from producing a thorough report about what really happened – it says so itself.  The ISC had no powers to summon witnesses or demand full evidence, and its findings were always subject to redaction and veto from the Prime Minister herself.  Instead of the independent, judge-led torture inquiry promised by David Cameron, we’ve had an under-powered, over-controlled review by a committee that was never empowered to get the job done.  While the Committee’s report represents a helpful step forwards, it is not the definitive account of what really happened. It was always the wrong tool for the job.
With the President of the United States personally praising waterboarding and the CIA led by someone closely linked to torture, now is not the time to brush this issue under the carpet. We need a full judge-led inquiry now.  Amnesty statement 

The Response

In the face of damning evidence and a considerable amount of research carried out by the committee over many years, one might have thought that a contrite response from the head of MI6 at the time, Sir Richard Dearlove, would be appropriate, if not a full apology.  Not a bit of it.  Here he is quoted in the Sun* newspaper:

As far as my former service is concerned, the mistreatment issue has been blown out of proportion by pressure from certain interest groups [one assumes Amnesty is among them].  There never was a systemic problem, and there are no skeletons in the cupboard from my time.  The staff served the nation magnificently and with due care for our respect for the law.  In extreme circumstances, there will always be incidents that one regrets.  But nothing illegal was perpetrated – which is as achievement given the extent of the provocation.  Warning of the chilling effect that the MPs’ withering criticism could have, the ex-spymaster added: It’s time to move on and not allow our willingness to take risks to be diminished.  The Sun 29 June 2018

No mea culpa there.  Quite what the ‘provocation’ is not explained.  Torture seems to be part of a need to ‘take risks’.  This quotation – if it is an accurate statement of his position – is disgraceful.  That the former head of the service brushes aside a comprehensive and detailed description of our – and his service’s role – in water boarding, stress positions and other forms of degrading treatment is utterly reprehensible.  His defence seems to rest on the fact that MI6 officers did not actually do the torturing themselves.

But he is not alone.  This is the Sun’s editorial position:

WHAT did we gain by MPs blowing five years probing what MI5 and MI6 knew of the US torture of terror suspects back in 2001?  Their report admits our spooks were directly involved only twice.  And if it extracted vital intelligence preventing further atrocities after 9/11, so what if we turned a blind eye?  Yes, torture is barbaric.  But the CIA firmly believes it saved lives.  Would those people wringing their hands over it prefer to have risked thousands more being massacred by al-Qaeda?

Still perpetuating the myth that torture is necessary and saves lives.

As a nation we pride ourselves on civilised behaviour.  We promote such behaviour around the world and in the UN.  We are signatories to key treaties and it is government policy that we do not torture people.  We have the Human Rights Act which prohibits it.  Government ministers constantly claim that such practices are alien to our culture and way of doing things.  We have a fundamental sense of decency it is claimed.  However, Peter Beaumont, a journalist with the Observer, says over the years he has ‘been lied to a lot’.

British intelligence officers, despite all the denials, were aware of the mistreatment, they benefited from it and even supplied their own questions for the victims of mistreatment despite knowing those being interrogated were being brutalized.  1 July 2018 

Even now, people like Sir Richard Dearlove are in denial.  The government has done all it can to frustrate the enquiry and to prevent it getting to the truth.  Jack Straw and others have many questions to answer.


Joint statement by human rights organisations

*a tabloid newspaper part of the Murdoch group in the UK.

 


The Court of Appeal has granted permission for Campaign Against the Arms Trade to appeal the legality of arms sales to Saudi Arabia

The destruction of Yemen continues and our role in that destruction becomes ever more clear as time passes.  The case brought by CAAT failed and it is welcome news that the Appeal Court has allowed an appeal.  The decision was profoundly flawed and needs to be challenged.  It raised disturbing questions, not just about our role in the bombing of Yemen, but how our supposedly independent legal system operates in cases like this.

An analysis of the decision by Oxford Human Rights hub and others revealed profound flaws in the Appeal judges ruling and handling of the case.  These are:

  • statements by the government were taken at face value despite claims that the case would be looked at objectively
  • the judges regarded evidence from NGOs as necessarily being of lesser value than the government’s arguments.  They said they were ‘second hand’ despite the fact that the NGOs had representatives on the ground and had collected considerable first hand evidence of what was happening
  • the close relations the government has with the Saudi government (to which we could add many members of the Royal family) puts them in a good position, it was claimed, to take statements by the Saudis at face value namely that they were compliant with International Human Rights standards
  • the court took no account of the stake the government has in the trade namely that 46% of our arms exports are going to this country.  That this might bias their case was not something that the judges seemed to consider.  Indeed, they went further pointing to the ‘highly sophisticated, structured and multi-faceted process’ of government decision taking in comparison with that of the press and NGOs.  Altogether, the judges exhibited an unduly deferential approach to the government
  • But perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of their judgement was the issue of ‘inference’.  This argument centred on the idea that it was not necessary or practical for the government to infer that civilian causalities and breaches of IHL arose from the supply of weaponry to the Saudis.  Because this destruction was taking place in another country, it was not practical for the Secretary of State to have access to all the relevant information.  So on the one hand, the judges say that the government has a superior and sophisticated decision making process compared to that of the NGOs and media, but on the other hand, when civilians are killed, suddenly they are not in a position to know it was our weapons which were involved.

There are other criticisms of the judgment and the dubious logic on which it was based.  Overall, they seemed to adopt a unduly deferential approach to the government’s position.

In another development the Committee on Arms Export Controls criticized many aspects of the government’s dealings with arms supplies to the region.  One key aspect is the question of brokerage.  This is where a company, registered in the UK, uses a broker to circumvent the controls on the sale of arms.  The Committee concluded:

The Committees conclude that it is a significant loophole in UK arms export controls that a UK company can circumvent those controls by exporting military and dual–use goods using an overseas subsidiary. The Committees recommend that the Government states whether it will close this loophole, and, if so, by what means and in what timescale.

The Committees continue to conclude that it is most regrettable that the Government have still to take any action against “Brass Plate” arms exporting companies who have the benefit of UK company registration but carry out arms exporting and arms brokering activities overseas in contravention of UK Government policies. 35 The Committees’ Recommendation: The Committees again recommend that the Government sets out in its Response to this Report what steps it will take to discontinue the UK registration of such companies  [Extracts from the Select Committee Report]

The government does not accept the committee’s conclusions on this matter.

In yet another aspect, the government is alleged to use opaque licensing procedures to conceal hundreds of millions of pounds worth of British-made missiles and bombs sold to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen under a licensing system that makes tracking arms sales more difficult.

Currently, the sale of arms is governed by the Arms Trade Treaty and the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.  It is clear from the opinion of the sub committee, CAAT and other NGOs that the government is using every stratagem to sell arms to Saudi and to keep on doing so.  Royalty and ministers are pressed into service to keep the Saudi regime sweet.  The effects of our arms – and those of other arms suppliers such as the USA – on the people of Yemen has been devastating.  With 10,000 deaths and many more thousands injured and displaced, it is a calamity on a massive scale.  We must hope that the higher court will overturn the highly dubious and flawed decision.

In the future, post Brexit,  there will be a reduction in the degree of control over this trade in the opinion of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.  In a commentary they say:

Either way, it is likely that Brexit will lead to a reduction in the EU’s ability to promote its standards in the field of export controls internationally. […]  If Brexit means the UK starts to water down its export controls in order to facilitate transfers to Saudi Arabia, or otherwise boost its arms exports, the implications may be more severe. Such a move could trigger a ‘race to the bottom’ among EU member states, many of which are seeking to boost their own arms exports in order to help domestic producers offset the impact of post-2008 national defence cuts.

Let us hope they are wrong.  It is likely however that post Brexit, there will be a keen desire to secure trade deals – to include arms sales – with any foreign nation including those with poor human rights records.

Sources:

Oxford Human Rights Hub; Ibid (part 2); Opinio Juris; CAAT; The Guardian; Amnesty International; European Journal of International Law


Local protest planned

The local group is planning a short demonstration against the visit by Donald Trump to the UK.  It will take place in the market square on 13 July starting at 11am for an hour.  The purpose is to highlight his attitude towards immigrants and the decision to withdraw the USA from the Human Rights Council.

Readers are welcome to join us.


We held our stall on Saturday and it was extremely successful. Since the move from the side of the Guildhall, we have found the new location to be less than satisfactory but Saturday was different.  It started almost as soon as we arrived and we continued on until noon with a few stragglers still buying as we packed up.

Thanks to all members who volunteered for the morning.

Belarus

Posted: June 17, 2018 in Belarus, Death penalty
Tags: , ,

Pic: Amnesty

Death penalty suspended in Belarus

Belarus is the last country in Europe that maintains the death penalty.  Good news is rare so when it happens it is to be welcomed.   News broke yesterday that the Supreme Court of Belarus, in an unprecedented move, has decided to suspend and review the death sentences of Ihar Hershankou and Siamion Berazhnoy while their appeals are under consideration. Marie Struthers, Director of Amnesty’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, said:

This is a hugely significant and unprecedented decision for the only country in the region that has continued to execute people all these years.  We are not aware of other cases where the Supreme Court of Belarus has suspended an execution.  We continue to monitor the case closely, but it gives us hope that after years of discussion on the death penalty Belarus is ready to ‘walk the talk’ and has urged the authorities to establish an immediate moratorium on executions and to commute all death sentences as a first step towards abolition

Amnesty’s report on Belarus


Film reveals terrible state of Chinese justice system

UPDATE:  if you have arrived here having picked up a leaflet at the Poetika event in Salisbury this evening – welcome!

A small audience at the Arts Centre watched a documentary film hosted by the Salisbury group called Hooligan Sparrow set in China.  The story concerns the attempts by a lawyer Ye Haiyan to get a college principal and his assistant prosecuted for spending the night in a hotel with 6 underage girls.  They were likely to have escaped punishment because of the endemic corruption of the Chinese police and communist party.   Subsequently they gave $2000 dollars to the girls which made them prostitutes and thus made them the criminals under the Chinese system.

Ye was determined to bring them to justice and started with a simple protest outside the school.  The film then charts the subsequent events of harassment, violence and intimidation by the police, secret police and hired thugs.  Remarkably, much of this is filmed and we can see and hear the activities of the police engaged in the intimidation.  Ye ends up homeless having been evicted from flats and hotels.  Finally, she returns to her home village to live in some quite basic accommodation.  A most telling and sad scene shows her and her daughter sat on the roadside with all their possessions piled up unable to find anywhere to live.   This exact scene is recreated in an exhibition in Brooklyn Museum in New York.

Ai WeiWei in prison. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

The exhibition was of work by Ai WeiWei, an artist who has also been intimidated, arrested and interrogated by the police on more than one occasion.  He has a degree of fame outside China which gives him a modest level of protection.  During one of his imprisonments, he was subject to close surveillance 24 hours a day, every day, including when going to the toilet.  This was recreated in an exhibition at the Royal Academy three years ago (pictured)

Ye certainly lived a colourful life and at one time worked in a brothel which is where she acquired the nickname ‘sparrow’. In order to raise awareness for HIV prevention, Ye lived the illegal life of a sex worker, distributing free condoms while claiming that they were government subsidies.

Much of the footage was shaky as the filming took place under extreme duress.  We hear threats to kill her or break her legs.  It is nonetheless riveting work and vividly brings to life the dire state of human rights in China.  The list of infringements of human rights in the country are too many to list here as this report from Amnesty shows:

The government continued to draft and enact new laws under the guise of “national security” that presented serious threats to human rights.  Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo died in custody.  Activists and human rights defenders were detained, prosecuted and sentenced on the basis of vague and overbroad charges such as “subverting state power” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.  Police detained human rights defenders outside formal detention facilities, sometimes incommunicado, for long periods, which posed additional risk of torture and other ill-treatment to the detainees.  Controls on the internet were strengthened. Repression of religious activities outside state-sanctioned churches increased.  Repression conducted under “anti-separatism” or “counter-terrorism” campaigns remained particularly severe in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and Tibetan-populated areas.  Freedom of expression in Hong Kong came under attack as the government used vague and overbroad charges to prosecute pro-democracy activists.  [extract] Amnesty Report 2017/18

Much western coverage of China speaks of its economic progress and remarkable growth.  It is the world’s second most powerful nation and its activities in the South China Sea is causing real concern.  Western politicians fawn over President Xi Jing Ping in the hope of business.  But this film shows a lonely woman seeking justice on behalf of six young girls, being subjected to violence, intimidation and threats by a range of state agents.  China does its best to shield its citizens from outside influence shutting out foreign web sites behind the ‘Great Firewall of China‘.  One is reminded of other countries which behaved like this notably, Soviet Russia, East Germany and Rumania.  Each crumbled and it was the activity of a single person which often started the collapse – the priest in Rumania for example.  It can be like a stone chipping a windscreen.

The question is therefore, quite how powerful is the communist party in China that it feels the need to intimidate and mistreat any who question it?

The film was made by Nanfu Wang.  Our thanks to group member Fiona for organising this event.


If you would like to join the local group you would be very welcome.  We are holding a stall in the market place on 23 June so come along and make yourself known.