The Supreme Court in the UK has found against the government’s decision to provide information to the USA to facilitate prosecution for crimes carrying the death penalty

In a unanimous decision delivered yesterday, 25 March 2020, agreed that the British government acted unlawfully in providing, or agreeing to provide, information to the United States without seeking assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed.  The USA is the only country in the Americas which retains the penalty and we have highlighted in many of our posts, the poor legal process, countless mistakes and lack of proper protection for suspects during interrogations.

This appeal concerned two individuals, Shafee El Sheik and Alexandra Kotey (nicknamed the ‘Beatles by parts of the UK press at the time) who were alleged to be a part of terrorists operating in Syria and who were involved in the murder of British and US citizens.

In a press release by the Death Penalty Project they say:

It has never been in dispute that Mr El Sheik and Mr Kotey should face trial for the serious crimes alleged against them, but any trial, if it is to take place, should be held in the UK.  We intervened in this case because we believed the earlier actions of the UK government were contrary to its long-standing approach on the death penalty and could lead to a death sentence being imposed or carried out.  The importance of this decision is wider than just this case.  It has implication for any individual who may be facing the death penalty and concerns what assurance the UK government must seek before deciding what help or assistance it may give.  there are fundamental issues concerning the right to life.  Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director 

It is interesting that one of the motives for leaving the EU was to ‘take back control’ and to be free of he judgements of the European Court.  Yet the government has shown itself all too craven when it comes to ceding power to the US justice system.

Arguments went on about where to prosecute them and the CPS had amassed a considerable body of evidence, sufficient for a trial to take place in the UK.  Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.  The use of the penalty was abolished in the UK over 50 years ago.

 


We had a short meeting this month because the meeting date coincided with the Evensong at the Cathedral.  The minutes are attached with thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.

March minutes (Word)

The two speakers from south America at the SW Regional conference (Pic: Salisbury Amnesty)

 


Annual Evensong held in the Cathedral

Update: 14 March.  Ben Rogers has kindly sent us the text of his talk which is attached at the bottom of this post.

The Salisbury group is grateful to the Cathedral for holding an Evensong once a year marking the work of Amnesty International and enabling us to nominate a speaker during the course of the service.  About 60 attended last nights service.  For many years the Cathedral has provided space for the group to display each month an appeal for a Prisoner of Conscience.  This month it is Ahmed Mansoor a human rights defender and POC who is in prison in Abu Dhabi.  The Cathedral has a window dedicated to the work of Amnesty.

We were delighted to invite Benedict Rogers (pictured) to speak who, among other things, has a particular interest

Ben Rogers at Salisbury Cathedral (picture, Salisbury Amnesty)

in North  Korea.  Ben is East Asia Team Leader of CSW, a Christian charity which promotes religious freedom around the world.

He said that the UN regards North Korea to be in a category all of its own as far as human rights are concerned.  It violates every single human right.  As a member of CSW, they were the first to call for a commission of enquiry and two years later in 2014, the UN did so.

The gravity, scale and nature of abuses has no parallel in the modern world he said.  The report found that:

North Korea had committed crimes against humanity and manifestly failed to uphold its responsibility to protect. These crimes entail “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.  Source, Wikipedia

In 2007, CSW produced a report A Case to Answer.  A Call to Act which concluded that the human rights situation in North Korea was a crime against humanity.   Although things seem bleak, he said there were some glimmers of light.  In a recent report, Movies, Markets and Mass Surveillance, it was noted that North Koreans were getting more information about the outside world.  They were beginning to realise that life south of the border was better.  There was anecdotal evidence that prison guards did realise the world was watching.

The regime saw Christianity as a particular threat.  Anyone caught practising it faced severe punishment or could be executed.  If a carol was allowed it would only be ‘We three Kims of Orient are!’

Those who did manage to escape to China were sent back to face severe punishment in the prison camps.  There were around 200,000 thousand people in the prison camps he said.  He ended with the famous quotation mistakenly attributed to Edmund Burke:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing

Ben Rogers talk (Word)

 

 

 


We are pleased to attach our monthly death penalty report compiled by group member Lesley.

Report: February – March (Word)

 


Cathedral Evensong takes place this evening (Thursday 12th) at 5:30.  We are delighted to welcome Ben Rogers to give the address.  There will be an opportunity for participants to sign a petition on leaving if they wish.

Joining

If you were thinking of joining the group, this would be an opportunity to make yourself known even if you do not wish to take part in the service itself (Amnesty is not a religious group).  Several members will be around to great you.


The SW Regional conference was held in Exeter on Saturday 7 March 2020

Four members of the Salisbury group attended the regional conference in Exeter yesterday, a truly

Some members in front of Exeter Cathedral

uplifting event.  We had four excellent speakers and we had a photo opportunity in front of the cathedral.

With all the talk from the current government, echoed in large parts of the press, of getting rid of the Human Rights Act and their desire to pull away from the ECHR, it was good to be among people who believe in the importance of these rights.  They are not there to help terrorists go free and to help hardened criminals escape justice which is the common refrain now, but to protect all of us in our everyday lives.  This is especially so as we do not have a constitution.

But one of the high spots was a young woman, Geraldine Chacón (below right) from Venezuela who is a human rights defender who was arrested by around 10 armed men and spent 4 months in prison before being released.  She has not been tried however so can be arrested again if and when she goes back.  The rights we take for granted were denied her.  No warrant for her arrest; no access to a lawyer; constant interrogations; never brought before a judge; no access to her family, particularly her mother who came every day but was not allowed to see her; and no charges brought. She was labelled a terrorist and her release was used to present the government in a positive light ‘look, we’re releasing terrorists’.  Calling anyone a ‘terrorist’ is the standard claim by nearly all authoritarian regimes for people who campaign for democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The two speakers from south America

She became an Amnesty ‘prisoner of conscience’ POC case and thousands of letters were written.  She said they made a difference.  She was feeling vulnerable and abandoned she said and the letters made her realise ‘you are not alone’.  The letters ‘made me brave because I knew I had you with me’.  She only knew there were letters as news of them had to be smuggled in: she was allowed no correspondence directly.  It was a very uplifting talk.  In all this denigration of human rights by sections of our media and some of our politicians, it was good to know the basic business of Amnesty’s work, did and does make a difference.

One of the other speakers was Laíze Benevides Pinheiro from Brazil (left).  She spoke of her work in Brazil and the threat and risk from the most dangerous police in the world.  In 2019, they killed 1810 young men most of whom were black.  The murder of Mariella Franco has polarised opinion but she said a network had been created to help people who were the victims of violence.

There was another talk on climate and its link to human rights which may be the subject of a future post.  Kate Allen (Director of Amnesty) also spoke about the future direction of Amnesty and the worries about the attitudes towards human rights by some in the current government.  This is a worry expressed on this site in previous posts.

A really worthwhile day and congratulations to the Exeter Amnesty group for organising it so well.


There will be an Evensong this Thursday 12 March starting at 5:30 in the Cathedral.

 

 


This is an extract of the HRW 2020 report for Europe focusing on the UK.  Seeing all the issues grouped together in this way makes for shameful reading.

The UK’s planned exit from the EU (Brexit) strained democratic institutions and put human rights and the rule of law at risk.  In September, the government was forced by parliament to publish a key planning document outlining potential impacts of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement (known as “no-deal” Brexit).  Its publication raised serious rights concerns including those related to access to adequate food and medicine, fuel shortages, interruptions to social care for older people and people with disabilities, possible public disorder, and the risk of increased dissident activity in Northern Ireland. The government accepted that a “no deal Brexit” would have the greatest impact on economically vulnerable and marginalized groups.

In September, the Supreme Court ruled unlawful the government’s five-week suspension of parliament earlier the same month, leading to parliament’s recall.  The government was forced by law adopted by parliament in September to seek an extension to the UK’s membership of the EU aimed at avoiding a no-deal Brexit.  Government sources criticized the Supreme Court ruling and threatened to ignore the binding law requiring an extension request.

The extension was granted by the EU27, and the Brexit date at time of writing was the end of January 2020 (now taken place).  Parliament was dissolved in November after opposition parties agreed to a December 2019 general election (which had yet to take place at time of writing).

In May, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty published a report on the disproportionate negative impact of austerity-motivated spending cuts, combined with social security restructuring, on the rights of women, children, older people, and people with disabilities living on low incomes.

Reliance on emergency food assistance grew.  The country’s largest food bank charity network, the (Salisbury based)Trussell Trust, reported distributing 1.6 million parcels containing a three-day emergency supply of food across the country.  The Independent Food Aid Network reported that, at time of writing, at least 819 independent centres were also distributing food aid.

The UK continued to detain asylum seeking and migrant children.

In October legislation passed by the UK Parliament to decriminalize abortion and provide for marriage equality in Northern Ireland in 2020 came into force when the region’s devolved government failed to reconvene having been suspended since January 2017.

More than two years after the deadly Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 71, there has been little accountability for the deaths or the fire.   In October, the findings of the first phase of the public inquiry into the fire were published, focusing on the day of the fire.  A criminal investigation was ongoing at time of writing.

In February, a new counterterrorism law entered into force, including measures that criminalize viewing online content, overseas travel and support to terrorism and could result in human rights violations.  UK authorities continued to exercise powers to strip citizenship from UK nationals suspected of terrorism-related activity.

In July, the government refused to establish a judicial inquiry into UK complicity in the CIA-led torture and secret detention.  At time of writing, no one in the UK had been charged with a crime in connection with the abuses.  In November, a media investigation found evidence of a cover up by UK authorities of alleged war crimes by UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Human Rights Watch)


Some of the forthcoming events the group is planning.

These are always subject to change so please look here or on Facebook or Twitter for the up to date position before coming along.

Evensong  An event largely organised by the Cathedral which we have held every year now for quite some time.  12 March starting at 5:30 pm.  Free to come

Thrill of Love  This is a play at the Studio Theatre in Butts Road concerning Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK.  We hope to hand out leaflets at the event (subject to permission from the theatre).  We have abolished the penalty in the UK but from time to time, a desire to reinstate it emerges especially after some terrible crime or terrorist attack.   Amnesty is opposed to the penalty in all circumstances.  We publish a monthly report on the subject.  23 – 28 March

Citizenship day  Schools event 30 June.  If anyone from one of the local schools is reading this and would like us to do our presentation in your school, please get in touch.

Market stall  In Salisbury market place morning of 11 July starting early.  Goods to sell would be welcome and we can collect if needed.  No electrical items (we cannot sell them untested) or VHS tapes please.

Film, Just Mercy  Brilliant film concerning the racially segregated south of America and a black man sentenced to death for the murder of a white girl, a crime he did not commit.  Not shown in Salisbury.  Showing at the Arts Centre 4 November.

These are the things we have planned at present.  If you are thinking of joining us you would be most welcome and introducing yourself at one of the above would be the easiest thing to do.

We are keeping a watching brief on human rights issues in the UK because several ministers and politicians would like to see the Human Rights Act abolished.   

 


The minutes of the February group meeting are available thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.  They contain details of our activities and forthcoming events.  These are listed towards the end and are a good opportunity for someone thinking of joining to come along and make yourself known.

February minutes (Word)


The appointment of Suella Braverman as Attorney General raises further fears for our human rights

The Attorney General is an important legal post in the UK and is responsible for advising the Crown and the Government on legal aspects affecting their decisions.  They are not usually present in Cabinet meetings to preserve a degree of independence although the previous incumbent, Geoffrey Cox, did so because there were frequent matters to do with Brexit to discuss.  The appointment matters therefore and their views and opinions on issues such as human rights are important.

The new person in the role is Suella Braverman and she has strong legal credentials having been a barrister for seven years.  Her views on human rights are worrying however and are worth examinining.  In an article in the Daily Telegraph entitled: Britain is so obsessed with human rights it has forgotten about human duties (16 December, 2015) she sets out her thinking.

  • the mission (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) has failed.  She instances the lack of equality for women in the Islamic world, political authoritarians in Turkey, Hungary and Venezuela
  • the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay means the United States has lost credibility on civil liberties
  • the plight of millions of people belies the noble ambitions of the Universal Declaration.

She goes on to explain that the one reason for this is that Universal Declaration was never a treaty in the formal sense and never became international law.  Another reason is that the rights are ‘described in imprecise, aspirational terms which allow governments to interpret them in any way they see fit’.

And there are:

hundreds of international human rights – rights to work and education, to freedom of expression and religious worship, to non-discrimination, to privacy, to pretty much anything you might think important in a perfect world.  The sheer volume and array of rights imply an all-embracing protection.  This is impossible, because there will always be trade-offs in which some rights are sacrificed to uphold others.

She marries this with an approving comment about Prof. Eric Posner of Chicago who has written a book called Twilight of Human Rights in which he dismisses the value of these rights.  It is clear that Suella Braverman has taken his ideas on board since they crop up frequently in her writings and posts.  For example, the comment above about the sheer volume of rights is a Posner point as is the fact it was never a treaty.  But the significant and chilling example is the issue of torture.

Torture

Posner explains that a poor country has a choice or trade off.  So if the police are torturing its citizens to obtain confessions, then the state can decide to spend its entire budget in eliminating this practice by retraining and monitoring the police’s behaviour.  Then it would have insufficient funds to improve the medical care of its people.

Braverman puts it thus in an echo of Posner’s argument:

In Brazil, there have been several cases of the use of torture by the police in the name of crime prevention.  They justify this by putting a general right to live free from crime and intimidation above their rights and those who are tortured.  To wipe out torture, the government would need to create a robust, well-paid policing and judicial services to guarantee the same results.  The government might argue that this money is better spent on new schools and medical clinics, protecting wider rights to freedom of education and health.  These sorts of value judgements, inherent in the practical application of human rights (whether we agree with them or not), undermine their universality.

We should be horrified that someone who has been appointed to become our new Attorney General, one of the high legal offices of the land, promotes the view that there is some kind of trade-off as far as the use of torture is concerned.  She has clearly swallowed Prof Posner’s arguments without pausing for one moment to think of the moral issues or the fact that torture is neither efficient nor effective in getting to the truth.

The practice was abolished in Britain in the long parliament of 1640.  Yet here we have a barrister, a member of parliament and now a senior law officer, responsible for advising the government and cabinet, that, under some curious reasoning, it might be justifiable because the money might ‘better spent elsewhere’ rather than eliminating it.

Her other main complaint is about the judges.  She was a keen proponent of Brexit and in Conservative Home she says:

Restoring sovereignty to Parliament after Brexit is one of the greatest prizes that awaits us.  But not just from the EU.  As we start this new chapter of our democratic story, our Parliament must retrieve power ceded to another place – the courts.  For too long, the Diceyan notion of parliamentary supremacy has come under threat.  The political has been captured by the legal.  Decisions of an executive, legislative and democratic nature have been assumed by our courts.  Prorogation and the triggering of Article 50 were merely the latest examples of a chronic and steady encroachment by the judges.  Conservative Home 27 January 2020  [Dicey was a Whig jurist and wrote an important book on the British constitution]

Clearly, she and others in government are still smarting from the decision of the Supreme Court not to allow Boris Johnson to prorogue parliament.  In August, Prime Minister advised the Queen to prorogue Parliament from the end of 9 September until 14 October.  The Supreme Court subsequently ruled that this advice, (and the prorogation that followed), was unlawful and of no effect because it had the ‘effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the power of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions’.  Gina Miller has also left her mark.

A review of her comments and articles paints a worrying picture of someone who does not truly value human rights. They Work for You concludes that she consistently voted against laws to promote equality and human rights.  She voted against largely retaining the EU Charter on Fundamental Human Rights for example and for more restrictive regulation of Trade Union activity.