A coalition of over a hundred organisations has been brought together to try and counter the threat to the Human Rights Act and proposed changes to the process of judicial review. The Conservative government has introduced a range of bills to try and curb or limit protest, human rights and judicial review of their actions. The coalition has been put together by the Humanists.

The unprecedented coalition of over 220 organisations has spoken out against the UK Government’s new plans to reduce the scope of judicial review. They have together formed a coalition [the link provides a list of supporters] to defend human rights and judicial review from Government attack. The coalition, established by Humanists UK, is believed to be the largest human rights coalition in UK history. Those joining include charities, trades unions, human rights bodies including Amnesty, and religion or belief groups. On 21 July 2021 the Government published a new Bill that will curtail judicial review, if it becomes law.

The coalition reflects widespread concern that the various moves made by the current government are taken together, a threat to our freedoms. The Conservatives have long disliked the HRA, characterising it as ‘Labour’s HRA’ when in fact it was cross-party. We await the review itself but there is little doubt it will recommend changes that will weaken it.

Sources: Each Other, Humanists, Amnesty, Politics.co.uk


Israeli company involved in supplying spyware to some of the world’s worst regimes

The Israeli company NSO has been involved in selling spyware to a variety of regimes including Hungary, India, Mexico, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE. The Spyware, called Pegasus, enables the governments and their agents to penetrate mobile phones and listen to messages, download call lists and turn the device into a microphone. Amnesty International has been a key player in uncovering the scandal.

The technology is used to intercept all manner of individuals who are critical of the regime or who are engaged in uncovering corruption. Lawyers, human rights defenders, opposition leaders and journalists are all able to be targeted by the technology. The victims will be unaware that their phones and all their personal details and contacts have been penetrated. The Israeli firm claims it ‘does not operates the systems that it sells to vetted government customers’. NSO has said the claims are false.

The evidence of Amnesty’s Security Lab is extensive and on many of the phones it has forensically examined, it found evidence of Pegasus activity. Even the editor of the Financial Times was found on a list of phone numbers leaked to Forbidden Stories who are leading the investigation.

There is extensive coverage in the Guardian in the UK and in other newspapers around the world. Clearly the story has not ended yet and there will be more revelations to come. There will also be reactions when the extent of penetration, the use the information has been put to to stifle debate and silence opposition is uncovered. Whether the Israeli government is more involved than it claims remains to be seen.

Followers of this blog will be familiar with this activity and the technology used to penetrate phones and iPhones. We published a blog concerning a firm near Salisbury which makes and sells equipment similar to NSO, concerning the firm Gamma TSE at Porton. There is no suggestion they are associated with the NSO organisation.


CAAT Webinar focusing on the role of UK arms firms in causing misery and death in Yemen

The purpose of the webinar was to focus on the role of UK arms suppliers in the continuing war in Yemen.  It featured a speaker from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT; one from Forensic Architecture and thirdly, Emily Thornberry MP.

The UK is not the only, or even the largest, supplier of weapons to the theatre, that role was taken by USA.  We must also not forget the role of the Iranian government who are supporting the Houthi rebels in the conflict.  Half of the Saudi air force is supplied by the UK and that includes spares and maintenance as well to keep them airworthy. US sales have been temporarily suspended by President Biden.

The Saudi government could not continue without UK support they suggested, not just in supplying weapons but diplomatic support as well in the UN.  We reported in 2015 the amazing news that Saudi had a seat on the UN’s Human Right’s Council.  It seems beyond belief that a country which executes people by decapitation with a sword, often in public, denies basic rights to women and uses torture as a matter of course, should have such a seat let alone be supported by the UK government.

The webinar put the role of arms suppliers in the spotlight who refuse to take responsibility for the mayhem their weapons cause.  Thousands have died and schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals have all been the subject of Saudi air raids.  RAF personnel are in Saudi to advise the Saudis yet many of these raids are in breach of International human rights.  There have been 55 airstrikes on health facilities alone. 

Hope for the future

The constant tide of grim stories which emerge from Yemen and the failure of our courts to hold the government to account, might make one despair at change ever being achieved.  The UK depends on the arms industry – and the network of City banks and agents who facilitate the movement of money – for a significant chunk of its exports.  They have been able to continue with this gruesome business because getting news and footage from the country is extremely difficult.  If the carnage was a regular feature of the news on TV things might have changed.  As it is, it can carry on largely unseen.

This might change with the arrival of an organisation called Forensic Architecture.  They are able to use forensic techniques to form linkages between airstrikes and the companies supplying the weapons.  They can show the impact of arms exports and the continuing targeting of civilians.  They can link therefore the sale of a jet to the bombing of a hospital.  Up to now, the companies, supported by the UK government, have been able to claim these violations are isolated incidents following the Court of Appeal decision to ban such sales.  Liz Truss claimed a review had been undertaken enabling sales to continue. Evidence gained by these methods will show complicity and make it harder to argue against complicity in what are war crimes.  This might be a game changer.

Forensic evidence might be a game changer

Emily Thornberry MP

Emily Thornberry is the shadow Secretary of International Trade opposite the minister, Liz Truss MP.  She said there have been 5 years of deceit practised on the British people.  The so called ‘isolated incidents’ based on the curious logic that as they were at different times and in different places therefore they are isolated.  British staff in Saudi ‘were in a different room’ therefore not complicit the minister claimed.  She pointed to the changing statements about the use of cluster munitions.  Her main point was that the UK has come to rely on these sales and it has distorted our policy in the region.  The government is caught in a web of complicity from which it cannot easily escape.  They will never change their position unless forced to do so by the Courts (which on previous experience is unlikely) or public opinion. 

Companies, civil servants and ministers are subject to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.  Will a case against those who were complicit in these crimes or who turned a blind eye, find themselves in front of the ICC?

A CAAT report on the arms trade was published today (14th July)


See also Mwatana and the Yemen Data Project and Human Rights Watch


We are pleased to attach the minutes of our meeting in July thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.


Parliamentary committee produces damning report

Report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee accuses China of genocide towards the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. The report is entitled: Never Again: the UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinxiang and Beyond. It does not pull its punches. It is perhaps one of several events which are leading to a reappraisal of our relations with China. The previous Conservative administration was keen to see an improvement in our relations and with it, increases in trade and development. The treatment of the Uyghurs, the repression in Hong Kong, threats to the integrity of Taiwan and the poor behaviour in the early months of the Covid pandemic, is slowly forcing countries to think again.

The crimes being committed against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are truly horrifying. The Chinese government is responsible for the mass detention of more than a million Uyghurs, for forcing them into industrial-scale forced labour programmes, and for attempting to wipe out Uyghur and Islamic culture in the region through forced sterilisation of women, destruction of cultural sites, and separation of children from families. It is altogether a gruesome picture and shocking behaviour from on the UN’s Security Council members.

The Committee heard that under the guise of counter-terrorism, the Chinese government is committing mass atrocities and human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Reports include the use of forced labour programmes, arbitrary detention in internment camps, cultural erasure, systematic rape, forced sterilisations, separation of children from their families, and a high-technology surveillance system – all endorsed by the Chinese government’s central leadership. Thousands of mosques have been demolished.

One element of the report relates to cotton. It is estimated that some 570,000 people are forced to work picking cotton 84% of which comes from Xinjiang. Satellite imagery shows the use of surveillance equipment, factories surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers. The report notes that ‘virtually the entire’ UK textile and clothing is linked to the abuses.

Virtually the entire UK textile and clothing industry is linked to the abuses in Xinjiang

The UK government has adopted a low profile in this matter although there are signs of a stiffening of attitudes. The Committee argues that guidance is insufficient and that ‘stricter methods’ are needed.

The problem for the public, many of whom are horrified by the stories emerging from Xinjiang, is that action is difficult. How does one know, when buying a cotton T shirt or blouse, whether it has Chinese cotton in it produced by Uyghur slaves? We have to rely on firms applying due diligence in their supply chains. Undoubtedly, some retailers will take this seriously – not just as a matter of morals but because of the risk of reputational damage – whereas others may not do so. A representative of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) thought that voluntary action would not be enough for some retailers. We rely therefore on government to take the lead.

The government is financially supporting the Australian Strategic Policy Institute ASPI, which produces analysis of Chinese actions. A report on the Uyghurs is available here.

To see in more detail what the Ethical Trade Initiative says about the Chinese situation follow this link.


We are pleased to attach our latest monthly death penalty report with thanks to group member Lesley for preparing it. Note that it does not contain any details from China which is the world’s largest executioner of its citizens because details are a state secret. However, a report of the Chinese execution practices was printed in the Sun newspaper in the UK (warning – contains disturbing images).


Call for corporations to ensure due diligence carried out in supply chains

The main thrust of human rights activity since the war and the creation of the UN Declaration has been at governments and trying to improve their behaviour. Campaigns have been waged to stop the use of torture, arbitrary detention, unfair trials and ‘disappearing’ people the regime does not like.

There is now however, an increasing awareness that corporations are key players and, via their supply chains, can have enormous effects on the environment and on the human rights of millions of people in their supply chains. A parliamentary briefing by the Corporate Justice Commission says:

This parliamentary briefing argues that we urgently need a new law to hold companies to account when they fail to prevent human rights abuses and environmental harms. This law should mandate companies to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence’ across their supply chains.

A Failure to Prevent law is vital to ensure the pursuit of a global green transition and a just recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. It would help the UK to deliver its “Global Britain” vision, retain its leadership on business and human rights, and ensure a level playing field for UK business.

Our proposed law would bring the UK in line with its international commitments on human rights and the environment and build on a 2017 recommendation for such a law from the UK’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. It mirrors existing provisions in the UK Bribery Act and matches developments across several states and the European Union.

Corporate Justice Coalition, October 2020

Amnesty and other groups including the TUC and Friends of the Earth have joined in this call.

Much of this activity is hidden from us. We simply see the end product in our shops without always realising that it may have been produced by forced labour, or even slave labour. Recently, it was alleged that the Chinese were using Uyghur slaves to produce cotton. There is also environmental destruction to extract minerals or timber.

There should perhaps be a greater shift in attention towards the activities of these corporate giants who operate almost outside any law.

Meeting

Posted: July 7, 2021 in Group news
Tags: , ,

Group meeting on Thursday 8th July starting at 7pm (note slightly earlier time) via Zoom. All supporters welcome. If you would like to attend, reply to this (or on Facebook, or Twitter) and we will send you a link. You can see the minutes of the previous meeting here.


Investigators using a range of modern technology to keep track of human rights violations

Looking at the scale and extent of human rights abuses around the world, it is hard not to feel in despair. The ‘never again’ optimism after the Second World War seems to have melted away with wholesale abuses taking place in Syria, Egypt, China, Myanmar and many other places. China executes more of its citizens than any other country in the world and is incarcerating a million Uyghurs in a form of ethnic cleansing. The treatment of Rohingyas in Myanmar is another massive tragedy. Egypt is on an execution spree – 16 in one day – and abuses are evident in nearly all the Gulf states.

It seems that nearly all the perpetrators escape justice. Evidence is difficult if not impossible to obtain. Western governments are more than willing to look the other way. The countries concerned are major buyers of weapons – Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest customer for example – which makes them complicit in the crimes.

But it seems as though there may be cause for optimism with an organisation using a range of modern technology to track down the perpetrators and collect evidence with a view to a future trial. Soon to be launched Investigative Commons will be acting as a kind of hub to enable this work to be done. People are familiar with Bellingcat which used similar methods to track down the two Russian GRU agents who came here to Salisbury in an attempt to murder Sergei Skripal.

A significant advance is made possible by Forensic Architecture who are able to match events to individual arms firms. This is truly ground-breaking and in the case of Yemen, they are assembling evidence which may enable individual politicians and others to be put on trial for breaches of International Human Rights.

Up until now, human rights work has depended on people working in the country concerned which of course is extremely risky. Many human rights defenders, lawyers and other activists have been arrested or executed during the course of trying to look into violations.

A potential game changer

This relatively new method enables information to be collected from a wide range of sources and can be put together for a trial. This represents a major leap in the ability of human rights organisations to keep track of what is happening around the world and may in addition, act as some kind of deterrent to abusers.

The organisation is based in the same office block in Germany as the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, ECCHR which has had some success in Syria. The use of open source information and assembling it into a potential case for the International Court does look like a potential game changer.

No doubt we shall be referring to this organisation in the future.

Source: The Observer 27 June 2021


China reported to be using its financial muscle to secure the arrest of ex-patriot Uighurs in foreign countries

This is an extract from the Uyghur* Human Rights Project. China is much in the news recently and the arrest of journalists and the closure of a popular newspaper in Hong Kong has featured strongly in the west. The systematic repression of Uighurs continues unabated however, both within the country and as this report discusses, overseas.

The report is the product of an effort to understand the means by which China targets Uighurs beyond its borders to silence dissent. In partnership with the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs gathered cases of China’s transnational repression of Uyghurs from public sources, including government documents, human rights reports, and reporting by credible news agencies to establish a detailed analysis of how the scale and scope of China’s global repression are expanding.

Since 1997, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has engaged in an unprecedented scale of transnational repression that has reached 28 countries worldwide. The China’s Transnational Repression of Uyghurs Dataset examines 1,546 cases of detention and deportation from 1997 until March 2021 and offers critical insight into the scope and evolution of the Chinese government’s efforts to control and repress Uyghurs across sovereign boundaries. Our data finds instances of at least 28 countries across the world complicit in China’s harassment and intimidation of Uyghurs, most notably in much of the Middle East and North Africa with 647 cases, and in South Asia with 665 cases. The dataset contains 1,151 cases of Uyghurs being detained in their host country and 395 cases of Uyghurs being deported, extradited, or rendered back to China.

China’s transnational repression of Uyghurs has been consistently on the rise and has accelerated dramatically with the onset of its system of mass surveillance in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) from 2017, showing a correlation between repression at home and abroad. In the first stage of China’s evolving system of transnational repression, from 1997 to 2007, a total of 89 Uyghurs from 9 countries, mostly in South and Central Asia, were detained or sent to China. In the second phase (2008–2013), 130 individuals from 15 countries were repressed. In the ongoing third phase (2014 to the end of our data collection in March 2021), a total of 1,327 individuals were detained or rendered from 20 countries. Unreported cases would likely raise these figures substantially, with our database presenting just the tip of the iceberg due to our reliance on publicly reported instances of repression.

International organizations and host governments, particularly those with close political and economic ties to the PRC, can often be complicit in China’s use of transnational repression against Uyghurs, many of whom have sought refuge abroad. China’s transnational repression exists as part of a wider trend of global authoritarianism that threatens to erode democratic norms worldwide. Stopping China’s transnational repression is a moral imperative and crucial to maintaining state sovereignty and the integrity of international organizations like Interpol and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

States that host Uyghur diaspora communities can take concrete steps to combat China’s transnational repression and protect Uyghurs and other vulnerable populations. Governments can refuse to extradite Uyghurs, increase refugee and emigration quotas, and restrict networks of enablers, including tech companies, as well as diaspora groups and organizations acting as fronts for the Chinese government.

This report describes transnational repression and the key actors and methods used by the Chinese government. It then traces the evolution of China’s campaign of repression, showing how that campaign has shifted in emphasis from Central and South Asia, to Southeast Asia, to the Middle East, following the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative. The full report can be read by following the link above.

*There are different spellings