Sport being used to whitewash unsavoury regimes

When we turn to our spots pages, we expect to read about who is beating Britain at cricket, the latest in the long-running saga of the English football team or Andy Murray’s latest exploits on the tennis courts.  We do not expect to read about human rights or to see quotes from organisations like Human Rights Watch or this one – Amnesty.  They are to be found on the news pages surely.

But on Tuesday 18 July, the Guardian in the UK devoted nearly two whole pages in its sports section to the sponsorship by Bahrain of a range of sporting activities and sportsmen in an effort to create a more favourable image for itself.

And it needs to.  The country has a quite appalling record of human rights abuses.  These include torture, in particular beatings and the use of electric shocks.  Freedom of assembly has been severely restricted and peaceful protests have been violently put down.  Nabeel Rajaab – a human rights defender is in prison.

Alan Hogarth, head of policy and government affairs for Amnesty said:

It seems pretty clear that the Bahraini authorities have stepped up efforts to associate the country with major sporting events as glitzy cover for an ever-worsening human rights crackdown.  For the most part, Bahrain’s harnessing of the glamour and prestige of sport has helped deflect attention from the arrests of peaceful critics, reports of tortured detainees, unfair trials and death sentences.

But you would not know this from the sports pages where all is glamour and excitement.  Pictured is the Olympic gold winner

Alistair Brownlee. Pic nztri.co.nz

Alistair Brownlee – featured in the Guardian article – promoting a Bahrain sponsored event.  Other sports include F1 motor racing, football with FIFA siting its conference in the country and cycling.  Spokesmen for the various organisations involved in laundering Bahrain’s image claim that they are not competent authorities to assess the human rights violations taking place there.  There are also claims that the sporting activities will help overcome the problems.  This might have a grain of truth if during coverage, human rights issued were raised by commentators.  Of that there has been no sign.

Bahrain cycling team colours. Photo; Bettini

Their promotional activities are not limited to sport as members of the UK’s Royal family have been pressed into service.  Her majesty the Queen herself welcomed King Hamad to the Royal Windsor horse show and there are pictures of Prince Charles and Prince Andrew with various members of the Bahraini royal family.

We do not have to look far for reasons for this rolling out of the red carpet for members of this royal family as it is our old friend arms sales which are behind it.  It led Theresa May to visit the country last year.  As CAAT reports we are keen to foster arms sales there including Typhoon jets and we have established a naval base at Mina Salman.  Defence clearly trumps human rights considerations.

At present, the sportsmen and women can collect their fees and promotional monies free in the knowledge that the majority of those reading of their sporting achievements probably do not concern themselves too much with goes on in the countries like Bahrain and how they treat their own citizens.  And only rarely do the stories touch on these matters since sport seems to exist in a kind of box as far the rest of coverage is concerned.  Sport, money and politics are now closely entwined.  Sports stars enjoy huge acclaim and some have a large fan base.  They have huge influence over the young who spend large sums on their merchandise.  This is a big responsibility.

But is it too much to ask that sporting people should have a conscience and should be concerned that their names and images are being used to hide serious abuses taking place?  Where a regime such as Bahrain is using sport to whitewash its reputation then sporting people should be aware of the role they are playing and the harm they are doing.  Should they not be concerned that they are being used by these regimes?


An Amnesty post on this topic

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Clemon’s trial delayed again until January

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)

The trial of Reggie Clemons in Missouri has been delayed yet again until January.  This has come about because the defense has claimed that Reggie’s phone calls and visitor logs have been accessed by the Attorney General’s office since March 2016.  They claim that at least three of these calls to his lawyers and may have revealed names of expert witnesses to called to testify at his trial.  The Attorney General office deny these claims and said that Clemons had waived his attorney client privilege.

He has been in prison now for 22 years and the trial had been set for August.

The group sent a card to Reggie in anticipation of the trial taking place in August.

Here is a factsheet produced by Amnesty USA giving background to this disturbing case.


Sources: St Louis Dispatch and Amnesty USA


UN speech by the Commissioner for Human Rights well worth a read

It is perhaps a sign of the times that Theresa May, the UK prime minister, should find herself quoted in the opening paragraph of a speech by the UN Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.  Not in a flattering way but quoting her remarks that human rights should be overturned if the ‘got in the way’ of the fight against terrorism.  These remarks were made during the election campaign which did not go the way intended by Mrs May.  They followed a terrorist attack in London.

Whatever the background, Al Hussein thinks the remarks were ‘highly regrettable’ and are a gift to the many authoritarian

Al Hussein, UN. Pic: Times of Israel

governments around the world.  It seems that any idea that the UK is some kind of a beacon for civilised behaviour in an increasingly troubled world has all but gone.  The desire to promote arms now matters more than the victims of their use for example in Yemen.  Despite the appalling behaviour of the Chinese government, most recently with the death of Liu Xiaobo, our response is the minimum necessary: we are more interested in trade than decent behaviour.

It is disappointing to see the prime minister of the UK being mentioned in this way because whatever her faults, there is no comparison between the behaviour of her government and that say, of Russia, where journalists and opposition politicians are gunned down and which has been described as a mafia state.  The activities of governments in the Gulf also leave a great deal to be desired.  There are many other countries in the world where autocratic regimes mistreat their citizens, use torture routinely, violently put down peaceful protests and deny freedom of expression.

The remarks were perhaps made more in sorrow reflecting the fact that it was the UK government after the war which was one of those who were active in promoting the role of international law and human rights.  Today, Al Hussein notes in his speech, for some politicians see human rights as an ‘irritating check on expediency.’  Some are indifferent to the effects of austerity on their own citizens.

A question he asks are ‘what rights does the prime minister mean?’ a question we asked of our Salisbury MP Mr Glen.  It is seldom if ever clear what it is they want to see done away with.  This might arise because they are responding to tabloid media pressure which maintains an unceasing campaign against the European Court, the European Convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.  A recent example is from the Daily Mail claiming that the Act does help terrorists.  Other newspapers run similar stories presenting a drip, drip of negative material against the act.  Throw in a hatred of anything European and it is small wonder politicians follow the line.  As Al Hussein expresses it:

So why did Prime Minister May said this?  At least part of the answer may lie in market conditions. Human Rights law has long been ridiculed by an influential tabloid press here in the UK, feeding with relish on what it paints as the absurd findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This viewpoint has some resonance with a slice of the public unaware of the importance of international human rights law – often seen by far too many people as too removed from everyday life, very continental, too lawyerly, too activist, ultimately too weird. How can the Court consider prisoners’ voting rights, and other supposedly frivolous claims, when set against the suffering of victims? The bastards deserve punishment, full stop! This may be understandable, at some emotional level. However, one should also acknowledge that British ink, reflecting an enormously rich legal tradition, is found throughout the European Convention on Human Rights.

Although some members of the government seek to reduce the influence of human rights in our society, not all do and the organisation Bright Blue, which describes itself as an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism, has recently published a report arguing that the Conservatives should make Britain the ‘home of human rights.’  Clearly some fundamental attitudes will have to change if that ambition is to be realised.  This report is also well worth a read.

Unless countries like Britain and the USA are willing to provide moral leadership then a further deterioration in human rights around the world is to be expected.

 

 


Nobel Peace Prize laureate hastily buried at sea

Liu Xiaobo. Picture: thefamouspeople.com

On Thursday, the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer.  He had been in prison since 2008 mainly because he argued for greater democracy in China and was convicted of ‘inciting subversion’.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 which infuriated the Chinese government and he was not permitted to go to Norway to receive it.  He was only the second laureate to have been in prison at the time of the award.  Once the cancer was diagnosed he was released to a hospital where he was still under heavy guard.  According to Human Rights Watch, even as his illness worsened the Chinese government continued to isolate him and denied him freely choosing his medical treatment.

On Saturday he was hastily cremated and his ashes scattered at sea almost certainly to prevent a grave on land becoming a centre for protest.  Activists were reported by the South China Morning Post to be ‘outraged at the humiliating arrangements’.  His second wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest.

Liu was a supporter of Charter 08 which argued for a fundamental change in the one party state, a whole series of reforms that would result in a separation of powers, a new constitution and legislative democracy.  It was suppressed by the Chinese government.

A spokesman for Amnesty International said:

This is a sad day for human rights, but Liu Xiaobo leaves behind a powerful legacy to inspire others to continue the struggle for human rights in China and around the world

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, made the following lukewarm statement:

I am deeply saddened to hear that Liu Xiaobo has passed away. He was a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a lifelong campaigner for democracy, human rights and peace. His death is a huge loss and our hearts go out to his wife Liu Xia, his family, and his many friends and supporters.
Liu Xiaobo should have been allowed to choose his own medical treatment overseas, which the Chinese authorities repeatedly denied him. This was wrong and I now urge them to lift all restrictions on his widow, Liu Xia.  13 July 2017

This from a man not afraid to be outspoken at any given moment.  Focusing on the restricted nature of his medical treatment is the least of the crimes the Chinese government has committed.  ‘Has passed away’ gives the impression of a natural death not one hastened by harsh prison conditions, poor medical treatment and confining him right to the last.  This is but the latest example of our government failing to stand up to breaches of human rights internationally.  This is only set to get worse as the need to augment reduced European markets in the post Brexit world.

Under China’s president, Xi Jinping, there has been a major crackdown on any form of dissent.  Restrictions on press freedom are well known and access to the internet is tightly restricted.  Booksellers in Hong Kong stocking books detailing the corruption of the Politburo elite have been abducted.  Details of this corruption among what are called the ‘Princelings’ has been revealed in the Panama Papers*.  President Xi’s brother in law is implicated, along with other senior party people, in squirreling away billions in tax havens using the services of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Any discussion of democracy is taboo in China as it is contrary to one of the Four Cardinal Principles one of which is to ‘uphold the people’s democratic dictatorship.’  One can see straight away that ideas of freedom of the press and ideas of running the country on more democratic lines are not going to get far with the government.

The future

China has pursued a policy of economic growth which so far has been successful and has led to the country being second only to the USA.  It is expanding militarily most notably in creating false islands in the South China Sea.  It is present all around the world where natural resources are to be found.  The trick has been to maintain economic growth in return for maintaining its hold on political power.  How long this growth can be maintained is open to question.

On the other hand, China wants to be more of key player in the world and is to be seen at G7 and G20 meetings as well as having a seat on the UN Security Council.  As it grows in economic and military power, it seeks political recognition as well.  This is difficult to achieve if at home it denies basic freedoms and human rights to its citizens; executes more than all the other countries in the world put together; locks up its dissidents; denies access to the internet and treats the people of Tibet appallingly.  Using its power it is able to suppress criticism – cancelling contracts with Norway for example after Liu was awarded the Nobel prize – and tells other countries not to interfere in its internal affairs.

Fundamentally Chinese social policy is not progressing indeed, under Xi Jinping, it has regressed.  So long as they can maintain their tight grip on power and the levers of power, the CPC will continue.  But the lesson of history is that when a crack appears, as with a sheet of ice, it spreads rapidly and unpredictably.


*The Panama Papers, 2017, Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, Oneworld, London (3rd edition).  Details tax evasion by criminals, dictators and politicians – not just the Chinese – as revealed by a release of papers from Mossack Fonseca

Sources: Human Rights Watch; New York times; The Guardian; Amnesty International; South China Morning Post

 

 

 

 


Minutes of our July meeting are available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.  We discussed the death penalty report (see the full version here); North Korea; the forthcoming film evening; the summer BBQ and plans for a Celebration of Human Rights event in 2018 in partnership with the Cathedral.  This has come about because of the governments desire to take us out of the European Court of Justice and abolish the Human Rights Act.  Although it is doubtful if either will actually come about, it does reveal a mindset in the government which is very worrying for the future of human rights in the UK.  It also goes hand in hand with our increasing deals with dubious regimes abroad who are serial human rights offenders such as Saudi Arabia.

July minutes (pdf)

If you live in the Salisbury area and would like to join us, then the best thing is to come to one of our events and make yourself known.  At the end of the minutes you will see a list of planned events or you can keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook.


Latest Death Penalty report

The latest death penalty report for June/July is available thanks to group member Lesley for the hard work in compiling it.

Death Penalty report


If you would like to join the local group – because for example you have strong convictions against the use of the death penalty – you would be most welcome.  Or you can just write using one of the urgent actions in the report above.

China is the world’s leading executioner.

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Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)


The British high Court today handed down a deeply disappointing and some might argue astonishing decision that arms sales to the Saudi Arabians represents no risk to human rights law.  The case was brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT and concerned the use of weapons sold to the Saudis and being used by them in the ‘forgotten war’ in Yemen.

We have in this blog been drawing attention to the terrible damage being done by the Saudis in Yemen who have used our weapons to bomb civilian targets in that country.  These are not isolated incidents or accidents, but part of what seems to be a plan which has seen the bombing of hospitals, refugee camps, schools, wedding ceremonies and market places – indeed anywhere where civilians are likely to congregate.  10,000 have now died there and the country is in crisis.  CNN has produced a short film (distressing please note) showing some of the dreadful effects of the war being waged.

Despite the considerable evidence that international human rights are being violated, that civilian targets are being targeted and banned UK produced BL-755 cluster munitions are being used, astonishingly the High Court ruled that:

The Secretary of State was ‘rationally entitled to conclude’ the coalition was not targeting civilians.

It further concluded:

Saudi Arabia was respecting humanitarian law and is in constructive dialogue with the UK about its processes and incidents of concern.  There was no real risk that there might be serious violations of International Humanitarian Law.

A CAAT said it was a ‘very disappointing verdict’ and that they were going to appeal.

If the ruling is not overturned then it will be regarded by Whitehall and Westminster as giving a green light to continue arming and supplying brutal dictators and human rights abusers.

An Amnesty International spokesman said:

The shameless arms supplies to Saudi Arabia … may amount to lucrative trade deals but the UK risks aiding abetting these terrible crimes.  This is a deeply disappointing outcome which gives a green light to the UK authorities – and potentially other arms suppliers – to continue authorising arms transfers to the Kingdom despite the clear risk they will be used to commit violations.  James Lynch, head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International (source: Washington Post)

It is difficult to ascribe a rational reason to the High Court’s decision.  True they had access to secret information which the rest of us cannot know.  But the evidence on the ground is compelling and has come from several different sources and experts.  And there is the human rights record of the Saudis themselves in their own country.  A record of executions, torture and amputations which puts them in a league of their own.

Behind it all is that they are major purchases of weapons and our biggest market for such materiel by far.  They are the tail that wags the dog.

Few can be happy that for the sake of jobs, weapons supplied by us are being used to cause such mayhem, death and misery in an already poor country.  We must sincerely hope that the Court of Appeal overturns this disgraceful decision.


Sources: the Independent; Washington Post; New York Times; the Guardian; CNN

 

 

 

 


Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has liver cancer

Liu Xiaobo who has liver cancer and was serving 11 years for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ which means any activity which seeks to undermine communist power.  Liu was seeking reforms in China and improved democracy.  He is now out of prison but essentially under arrest.  Since his diagnosis, the Chinese did not want a Nobel Lauriat dying in prison, so released him to a hospital where he is expected to die.  It is alleged the poor state of medical attention in prisons in China meant he did not get treatment earlier enough and this may have hastened his end.

China is accused of many failings to do with human rights.  Activists and lawyers are targeted and frequently arrested.  There has been a crackdown on lawyers.  People with religious convictions are persecuted.  The internet is heavily restricted and press freedom is also extremely limited.  The country is a heavy user of the death penalty and executes more of its citizens than all the rest of the world put together.  The precise number not known since it is a state secret.

The country is extremely sensitive to outside criticism and were furious when Liu was awarded the Peace Prize.  Trade with Norway was curtailed which probably did not concern them too much since they are a wealthy country.  The Beijing government summoned the Norwegian ambassador in protest.  It called Mr Liu a “criminal”, saying the award violated Nobel principles and could damage relations with Norway.  The Norwegian Nobel committee said Mr Liu was “the foremost symbol” of the struggle for human rights in China.  It took six years before relations were normalised between the two countries according to the New York Times.

In some respects China is a powder keg.  As long as prosperity increases then many people are happy to go about their lives and not bother too much about issues of freedom and human rights.  They will not have access to sites or information which discuss or promote such issues (such as Amnesty International) and so the ruling communists need not worry too much about a restive population.  Step by step they are securing hegemony over Hong Kong.  Some ‘below the line’ comments in the press stories suggest that the Confucian tradition also plays a part and that, unlike Western nations, this tradition of loyalty to the state is more a feature of political life.

Another factor is that it is said by some observers that the Chinese rather resent being subjected to Western moral codes, in which they had no part in formulating, being applied to them.  This does have some force except that they were a member of the Security Council when the Universal Declaration was signed in 1948.  It does overlook the fact that the Declaration caused the Western nations some discomfort as well: the British and French with their treatment of the colonial peoples and the USA with its treatment of black people.

If China wishes to become a leading world nation then it is going to have to accept the norms the rest of the world tries to live by.  The treatment of Liu Xiaobo (and many, many others) has been disgraceful.

And what of our Foreign and Colonial Office?  It says:

Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said:

I am pleased that the 24th Round of the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue has taken place. Senior officials discussed the full range of our human rights concerns, including freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, access to justice and ethnic minorities’ rights. They also discussed areas where the UK and China could collaborate more closely, including modern slavery and women’s rights.

The UK strongly believes that respect for human rights is vital for growth and stability, and that these regular talks are an important part of our relationship with China. The dialogue has, once again, been held in a constructive and open manner. I am grateful for the valuable contribution made by civil society organisations before and during this exchange. [accessed 29 June]

Post Brexit the emphasis is going to be on trade and the UK government is unlikely to raise difficult issues with the Chines government or risk being treated like Norway.

Sources: Amnesty International, New York Times, BBC, Guardian.


Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, salisburyai.  If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in promoting human rights please get in touch.  The best thing is to come along to one of our events and make yourself known.


The chair of Amnesty in Turkey has been arrested

Taner Kuliç who is the chair of Amnesty International in Turkey, has been detained by the Turkish authorities having been wrongly accused of being a member of a terrorist group.  This is further evidence of just how shockingly widespread the arbitrary nature of post crackdown Turkey has become.

The crackdown since the failed government coup on 15 July 2016 has been astonishingly widespread. The numbers reported by CNN as of April 2017 are as follows:

  • Detentions: 113,260

  • Arrests: 47,115

  • Journalists dismissed: 2,708

  • Media outlets shut down: 179

We expect these numbers to have risen even higher since.

Please follow the link and send a message to the Turkish government.  Thank you.


If you live in the Salisbury area we would welcome new members to our group.  The simplest thing is to come to one of our events and details of what we are doing can be found at the end of our minutes or by keeping an eye on Twitter.  You can also enter ‘Salisbury amnesty’ into a search engine.


Films at the Arts Centre
lucy maz crop

Prof Lucy Mazdon.  Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

We were delighted to be part of a showing of films at the Arts Centre as part of the Salisbury Festival.  Two films were shown: War Witch and Incendie.  Both were rather sombre films yet managed to have a degree of hope.  War Witch was set in Africa and showed the plight of a young girl caught up in the war where she is abducted and becomes a child soldier.  Incendie is the story of twins who travel to the middle east in search of their mother and what happened to her.  Both films were introduced by Prof. Lucy Mazdon who is head of the Dept in film at Southampton University and we were grateful to her for taking the time to come over to do this.