Talk organised by the Romsey group

Dr Claire Lugarre. Picture, Salisbury Amnesty

On Monday March 19 the Romsey group of Amnesty hosted a most interesting talk by Dr Claire Lugarre who is a lecturer in Human Rights Law at the Southampton Law School, part of Southampton University.

An element of the desire of those who wish for the UK to come out of Europe is a wish to regain our (i.e. the UK’s) sovereignty.  There is also a desire, expressed most strongly by some members of the Conservative Party, to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.  This has been promised in the party’s manifestos and has been talked about for about a decade but details of what the BBoR will look like and how it will differ from the existing HRA is still largely opaque.  It seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

The Conservatives are not alone in wanting us to come out of the European Convention along with Brexit: most of the media have kept up a barrage of criticism and denigration of the Court and all its doings.  As the example on the right of the Daily Mail shows, there is talk of a ‘triumphant week for British values,’ the ‘crazy decision’ making by European Court judges – usually referred as ‘unelected’ judges and the ‘human rights farce’.

The talk

Claire Lugarre explained some of the background issues surrounding the issue of the European Court and what it might mean for the country if we left.

Her first point is that the notion of human rights is not just a western construct and similar ideas are seen throughout history even if they were actually called that at the time.  She also emphasised that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had a utilitarian purpose not just a moral one.  There was an urgent desire after the carnage of WWII to construct a legal basis of good behaviour between states.

States have to comply with European Court judgements.  The Human Rights Act – often referred to by critics as ‘Labour’s’ Human Rights Act which it isn’t as it received all party support – incorporates the ECHR into British law thus removing the need for litigants to go to Strasbourg to get justice.

One matter is the vexed question of prisoner voting she said.  The European Court rejected the Government’s case which banned all prisoner voting and said that to ‘prescribe general, indefinite and automatic deprivation of a right to vote’ infringed a prisoner’s article 3 rights.  Thus far the government has ignored the ruling.  The issue was one of proportionality.

She spent some time on the often confusing difference between the Council of Europe and the European Union the latter being what we wish to leave (it was announced yesterday that the Article 50 notice to depart will be served on 29th of this month).  The Council of Europe consists of 47 states and within which the European Court sits.  This deals with human rights issues.  The European Union consists – at present – of 28 states and is a political and economic union.  There seem to be many who think that Article 50 means we will no longer be subject to ‘crazy decisions’ of the European Court.  To do that we have to leave the European ConventionThere have been reports that the prime minister Theresa May wishes to do that as well.

All legislation and legal judgements have to be in accordance with the HRA she said.  Indeed, the number of judgements already made by the courts represent a considerable body of precedent based on the HRA and the European Court.  Even if we come out of the European Convention the effects will be present for a considerable period.  It is also forgotten that the European Court is not the only thing which binds us, we are also signatories to a host of other treaties which will still be in existence.

BBoR

One of the arguments frequently heard is that it is not just about rights but also about responsibilities.  It was this principle which led to the desire to have a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.  This is a difficult argument to fathom.  Sometimes, people talk about responsibilities in terms of the government’s responsibilities to its citizens to uphold the Act.  Others argue that the citizen has responsibilities not just rights.  There are other arguments about the need to fight terrorism because the act has undermined this ability, it is claimed, and this requires responsibilities in some ill-defined way.   Claire was unclear what the BBoR would contain.

The relationship between rights and responsibilities needs to be understood.  Most rights are qualified in any event and, in practical terms, depend on the responsibility of everyone in society to respect one another’s freedoms (so that one party’s right to free expression, for example, does not impinge too far on another’s right to a private and family life).  These rights cannot be subjected to any all-encompassing limitation, such as that they are legally contingent on performance of set of duties and responsibilities. Their application regardless of such considerations is precisely the point of their existence.

It is often claimed by critics that the European Court was ‘imposed’ on the UK.  It wasn’t and the UK was a key participant in its formation after the war with many British lawyers involved.  It is also argued that the HRA should only be used for the most serious of cases but what this would mean in practice is not clear.  Who would decide on seriousness?

If, as is threatened, we do come out of the European Convention the effects could be traumatic.  At present countries like Russia and Turkey are part of it.  Russia’s human rights record is already poor and Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of judges, lawyers, academics and police.  If the UK pulls out of the Convention, of which it was a founder member, the effects could be even more serious in those countries.

The HRA has had a steady and beneficial effect on many people’s lives in this country.  In countless day to day decisions by authorities of various kinds, its provisions have to be adhered to and lawyers regularly use it to defend their client’s interests.  Perhaps its chief problem is that it shifts some power down to the individual, a fact which those who were in control find uncomfortable.

This was a most interesting evening about a subject which is bound to be in the news for some time to come.


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If you would like to join the Salisbury group you would be very welcome.  We meet once a month for a planning meeting and perhaps the best thing is to come along to an event and make yourself known.

 

 

 

Jihyun Park gives moving talk to an audience in Salisbury

Jihyun Park. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

Jihyun’s story is one that is difficult for British people to comprehend.  She has endured privation both in China and in her home country of North Korea.  She escaped from North Korea and spent six years in China effectively as a slave.  She has been trafficked and forced into marriage.  Eventually she was arrested and sent back to North Korea and was confined to a Labour Camp where she endured the severest of treatment.  She escaped a second time via Mongolia and now lives in Manchester where she has been reunited with her son.

Part of her harrowing story was how she managed to regain contact with her young son on the phone while she was still in North Korea.  He had been told she had deserted him and would not speak to her.  It took several calls before meaningful contact could be resumed.

Jihyun and Kenny Latunde-Dada speaking at Five Rivers. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

On Thursday 16 March, Jihyun came down to Salisbury and spoke to an audience at the Five Rivers Leisure Centre in the city.  Over 50 attended and were immensely moved by her experiences.  The evening started with a short film called The Other Interview (which can be viewed by following this link) followed by questions.  The moderator was Amnesty regional representative Kenny Latunde-Dada who came down from Cambridge for the event.  The audience asked many questions about both her experiences and life in North Korea.

There was some discussion about the role of China in both Jihyun’s story and more generally.  North Korea is a sensitive issue for China and they are concerned about such an unstable country with its equally unstable leader on its doorstep.  There are indications that they are tightening their policy of returning escapees to North Korea.

We were delighted to welcome Jihyun Park and were grateful for her making the trip down from Manchester to speak to us.  We were also grateful to Kenny Latunde-Dada for coming down from Cambridge.  Jihyun said she is writing her memoires and it should be published soon.  Those interested may wish to read In Order to Live by another escapee Yeonmi Park published by Penguin (2015).


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North Korea Video made by the Salisbury group

We receive a reply from the state of California

Think of California and we call to mind Hollywood and the film industry, Silicon Valley and major companies such as Microsoft and Google, cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, important universities such as Caltech, the home of surfing, and altogether a state which is a pace setter in the world and one which is much admired.  There have recently been some TV adverts in the UK promoting the state as an exciting place to visit.

But there is a dark side which is that the state is keen on the death penalty.  USA is the only country in the Americas to retain this penalty and California is one of the states which retains it in the Union.  The web site Death Penalty Information Center gives the statistics for those executed and on death row and explains that the county of Los Angeles has more prisoners on death row than any other county in the USA.  California has 741 inmates on death row (2015).

Last year there was an attempt to end it with something called Proposition 62 which failed.  Proposition 66 to retain it was successful.  So the state will continue to execute.

Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances.  It is ineffective as a deterrent, mistakes – and there are many – cannot be undone and it is a barbaric and uncivilised practice.  Juries are less and less willing to convict if they know the defendant may be executed.  During the course of the debate about the propositions Amnesty members wrote in favour of 62 as part of the consultation process.  Anyone who has doubts about its use as a penalty should read Clive Stafford Smith’s book on the subject reviewed here.  Chapter after chapter reveals the unfair processes which lead to someone ending up on death row.  Poor defendants cannot afford proper counsel and failures in the trial can mean avenues of defence are ‘procedurally barred’ at an appeal.

Response

We have just received a reply from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Motto: A Safer California through Correctional Excellence) in the state capital Sacramento with over 30 pages of material.  Essentially it contains detailed information of a bureaucratic nature concerning how the death penalty is to be administered.  There is something ghoulish about such a document and reading the fine grain of how someone is to be put to death.  There are pages and pages of details and we can only provide a short extract here.  Hannah Arendt’s phrase ‘the banality of evil’ springs to mind.   Here are some extracts:

inmates sentenced to death shall have the opportunity to elect to have the punishment imposed by lethal gas or lethal injection.  Upon being served with the warrant of execution, the inmate shall be served with CDCR Form 1801 – B (Rev 10/15), Service of Execution Warrant […]  subsection 3349

the inmate shall be notified of the opportunity to elect lethal gas or lethal injection and that, if the inmate does not choose either lethal gas or lethal injection within ten calendar days after being served with the execution warrant, the penalty of death shall be imposed by lethal injection.  […]

Infusion Control Room means the space allocated for the Lethal Injection Chemical preparation area and is the room designed to accommodated the Infusion Sub-Team designated members of the Intravenous Sub-Team, the Team Administrator Team Supervisor, designated members of the Record Keeping Sub-Team, San Quintin Litigation Coordinator  and one representative each from the Governor’s Office, the Inspector General Office and the Attorney Generals Office.  Subsection 3349

The Team Administrator shall ensure training on the lethal injection process is provided to each Lethal Injection Team member.

Ensure the inmate has a copy of the current California Code of Corrections, Title 15, Division 3, for review of general rules and procedures that shall be utilized during the days leading up to the date of execution.

The Lethal Injection Chemical selection shall be done on a case-by-case basis, taking into account changing factors such as the availability of a supply of chemical.  The San Quintin Warden shall make the selection in consultation with medical personnel and notify the CDCR Secretary of the selection.

Inform the inmate that he/she shall be executed by lethal injection, the Lethal Injection Chemical and amount to be used, and document this information on CDCR Form 1801-A (Rev. 10/15), Choice of Execution Method.

Refer the inmate to the Intravenous Sub-Team for a vein assessment to determine the size, location, and resilience of the veins.  The vein assessment shall identify the primary, backup, and alternate backup locations.  […]

[information] shall be used to determine if there is good reason to believe the inmate has become insane, pursuant to Penal Code Section 3701.  […]

Accommodations for the last meal shall be reasonable and not exceed a fifty dollar $50 limit.

Thus far, it has been 20 pages of material concerning the events leading up to the execution.  The document begins to become more gruesome when it starts to describe the actual execution process itself:

After the inmate is secured in the Lethal Injection Room, the Intravenous Sub-Team members shall […] inspect the restraints to ensure they do not restrict the inmate’s circulation or interfere with the insertion of the catheters. p22

#1 -60cc syringe containing the specified amount of the designated Lethal Injection Chemical shall be administered, followed by a consciousness assessment of the inmate; the Intravenous Sub-Team Member shall brush the back of his/her hand over the inmate’s eyelashes, and speak to and gently shake the inmate.  Observations shall be documented.  If the inmate is unresponsive, it will demonstrate that inmate is unconscious.  The process shall continue as follows:

#2 -60cc syringe containing the specified amount of the designated Lethal Injection Chemical shall be administered

[then syringe #3; #4; #5 then a saline flush] p23

If, following the administration of syringe #1 the assessment indicates the inmate is not unconscious, the Intravenous Sub-Team member shall check the catheter for patency.  After checking for patency, syringe #2 shall be administered followed by a second consciousness assessment of the inmate in the same manner [as described earlier] […]

Picture: Boston Magazine

In the event all six syringes from Tray A have been administered, the ten minutes countdown has elapsed and death has not been declared, the Record Keeping Sub-Team member shall advise the Team Supervisor, who will then advise the Team Administrator and the San Quentin Warden.  The San Quentin Warden shall direct the Lethal Injection Chemical administration process set forth in subsections (43) – (8) be repeated, but using the backup intravenous catheter and the six syringes from Tray B.  p24

This paragraph is then repeated and ends with the use of Tray C. It then goes on:

In the event of all six syringes from Tray C have been administered, the ten minutes countdown has elapsed and death has not been declared, the San Quentin Warden shall direct the Infusion Sub-Team to prepare a set of five addition syringes of Lethal Injection Chemical, each containing 1.5 grams of Lethal Injection Chemical.  The Lethal Injection Chemical shall be mixed according to the manufacture’s instructions.  A medically trained Infusion Sub-Team shall prepare the syringes.  A separate medically trained Infusion Sub-Team member or Intravenous Sub-Team member shall verify proper preparation of each syringe.  The Warden shall direct the Record keeping Sub-team member to initiate the ten minute countdown and the Infusion Sub-Team to administer a syringe containing 1.5 grams of the Lethal Injection Chemical in the alternate backup intravenous line, and wait for ten minutes.  If the inmate’s death has not been declared by the end of that ten-minute period, the San Quentin Warden shall direct the same process be followed until five syringes have been administered.  If at any time during this process the inmate is declared dead, the administration of Lethal Injection Chemical shall stop.

This paragraph is then repeated to say that if the inmate is still not dead after another ten minutes then the process is repeated.

In the event that all ten syringes of Lethal Injection Chemical referred to [in the document] have been administered, ten minutes have elapsed, and death has not been declared, the San Quentin Warden shall stop the execution and summon medical assistance for the inmate as set forth in subsection (d) p25

The meticulous detail and the amount of injections which might be necessary and the successive periods of waiting to see if he or she has died – to see it all methodically described and set out in laborious detail is decidedly chilling.


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Clive Stafford Smith is a member of Reprieve

 

 

 

 

Talk by someone who escaped from the hermit state of North Korea

Jihyun Park. Picture: Right to Remain

This Thursday 16th March Jihyun Park who managed to escape the closed country of North Korea will be giving a talk at the Five Rivers Leisure Centre, Hulse Road starting at 7:30 pm.  Ji has led an incredible life having managed to escape the prison state of North Korea to China.  In China she was trafficked and entered into a forced marriage.  She worked more or less as a slave in China and was subsequently arrested and returned to North Korea where she was sent to a labour camp.  She escaped again and now lives near Manchester.

North Korea is seldom out of the news these days with missile launches into the Sea of Japan and the murder of Kim Jong-un’s half brother in Malaysia.  But the human rights situation in that country is dire and people live in situations of great adversity.

The event is free and there is a departing collection to help with our expenses.


See our video on North Korea

Flyer for the talk

Group minutes for the March meeting are now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.  We covered a lot of ground and there are a number of events including a talk by Jihyun Park this Thursday at the Five Rivers Leisure Centre, Hulse Road, Salisbury at 7:30.

March minutes (pdf)

Attached is the death penalty report for mid February to mid March compiled by group member Lesley.  A lot happening around the world and some worrying increases in execution activity.  Note the report does not cover China – the world leader in executing its citizens but keeps the numbers a state secret.

Report Feb – March (Word)

 

Monthly meeting took place last night Thursday 9th March at Victoria Road.  It was a full agenda including North Korean talk at Five Rivers; NWR meeting; Films at the Arts Centre; Social media and Death Penalty reports and the market stall.  Minutes will be posted soon.

Letter in the Observer (19 February) from a group of lawyers stressing the importance of ECHR

Theresa May has repeatedly stated her feelings that Britain would be better served by leaving the European convention on human rights than it would leaving the European Union.  As we enter Brexit negotiations, there is now every possibility that both these scenarios could easily come to pass.  The ECHR has been the bedrock of peace in Europe since the Second World War and was instrumental in the remarkable growth of democracy in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  It is no coincidence that the one state that is not part of the convention, Belarus, is known as “Europe’s last dictatorship”.  The withdrawal of Britain from the EU and the ECHR in succession could embolden populist leaders in countries such as Hungary and Poland to abandon domestic and international commitments to human rights.

We face the threat of a human rights crisis with the UK trading away protections against torture for grubby trade deals with foreign tyrants.  We are calling for the EU to make Britain’s membership of the ECHR a legally binding requirement for any future free trade deal with the UK.  The rule of law and human rights are non-negotiable when new countries join the EU; they should be non-negotiable when countries leave and desire a free trade deal.

As parliament scrutinises the bill on withdrawing from the EU and further legislation on Brexit, MPs, peers and the EU itself must make sure that Britain’s membership of the ECHR is a requirement of any future trade deal with the EU.

Signed Sashy Nathan, Baroness Kennedy QC, Lord Lester QC, Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, Alex Bailin QC, Alex Grigg, Ali Naseem Bajwa QC, Alistair Polson, Amos Waldman, Anya Lewis, Ben Cooper

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Celia Graves, David Jones, Dr Leslie Thomas QC, Grainne Mellon, Top of Form

Greg Ó Ceallaigh, Harriet Johnson, Helen Foot, James Wood, Jelia Sane, John Halford

Jules Carey, Keir Monteith, Louise Hooper, Malcolm Hawkes, Mark Stephens CBE, Navita Atreya, Nerida Harford-Bell, Paramjit Ahluwalia, Patrick O’Connor QC, Phil Haywood

Prof. Fergal Davis, Prof. Francesca Klug OBE, Professor Steve Peers, Ravi Naik, Sadat Sayeed, Sally Ireland, Sarah Forster, Sean Horstead, Sir Paul Jenkins KCB QC, Stephen Lue

We should add that our MP Mr John Glen, is in favour of this policy.

Members of the group took part in the London Refugee march last year

Members of the group took part in the London Refugee march last year

Minutes of the February meeting are now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.  It was a full agenda and we have a lot going on and planned at present.  If you live in the Salisbury area and would like to help that would be appreciated.  If you go to the end of the minutes you will see the list of events and activities.  If you are interested in becoming involved, then come along to one of those and make yourself known.  Follow this site or twitter or Facebook if you prefer those.

February minutes (Word)

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, has finally managed to get the problem of our massive sale of arms to the Saudi regime into court – a process which has taken a considerable degree of legal wrangling.

At issue is our arms sales, put at £3.3bn to the Saudis, and the use of these weapons to bomb a wide range of civilian targets in Yemen.  This has caused untold distress with thousands killed and injured, and there are distressing scenes of malnutrition and dying children.  The Saudis have bombed schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, sometimes returning to bomb the rescue workers causing further mayhem.  An estimated 6,000 have been killed.

They have also been shown to use cluster weapons which have been banned.

In today’s hearings correspondence was revealed from the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson in which he says:

The issue is extremely finely balanced, but I judge at present the Saudis appear committed both to improve processes and to taking action to address failures/individual incidents.

Picture: MSF

We will of course have to see what the judges decide in this case but in the debate in the House of Commons, one of the key matters discussed was what was described as ‘glacial’ progress by the Saudi government.  Although there are disagreements about the number of incidents, they number around 100 and yet the number investigations have been eight.  A wide range of agencies have criticised the government and the Saudis for the raids including Oxfam, Amnesty, WWF and MSF.

It seems clear that the arms sales tail is wagging the ministerial dog.  It is a real stretch to say ‘the issue is finely balanced.’  If we did not have so much tied up in these arms sales with money, jobs and local economies in the UK dependent on them, it is doubtful we would continue with such clear breaches of international humanitarian law.

We shall no doubt be returning to this topic in due course.


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