Observer publishes article about use of spyware

Today’s (17 March 2019) UK Observer newspaper published a story about the use of spyware around the world and in particular by countries known for their poor human rights record.  These include Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Readers of this blog will know that this has been going on for some time and a report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen’s Lab has been compiling evidence of this activity and publishes reports of the use of spyware around the world.  Other organisations like Privacy International are also concerned.

What the Observer article reveals is the scale of the UK’s exports which have amounted to £75m since 2015.  Human Rights groups are concerned at this trade since it enables authoritarian governments to penetrate the devices of anyone it doesn’t like and gather information at will from their equipment.   The equipment is capable of intercepting email, instant messaging and VoIP communications, as well as spying on users through webcams and microphones and transmitting the data to a command-and-control server.

In addition to the scale of trade, is the issue of secrecy and attempts to get details of what and who is being supplied from Department of International Trade using FOI are largely fruitless.  The concern is that what matters is trade and not the purposes to which the equipment is put.

Part of the units occupied by Gamma in Porton

Porton Business Centre

This is of interest in the Salisbury area because one of the firms which manufactures this equipment called Finspy is a firm called GammaTSE based in the village of Porton not far from the city (and not far from Porton Down, the chemical weapons centre – the same Porton).  A report by the University of Toronto in 2013 found Finspy installed in 36 countries.  The firm’s website coyly describes its service thus;

GammaTSE has been supplying government agencies worldwide with turnkey surveillance projects since the 1990s.  GammaTSE manufactures highly specialized surveillance vehicles and integrated surveillance systems, helping government agencies collect data and communicate it to key decision-makers for timely decisions to be made.

An earlier post described the firm’s activities in more detail.  The UK is therefore heavily involved in a trade which allows governments to intercept messages of human rights activists, opposition members, journalists and more or less anyone it does not like.

 

 

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Market stall planned for 8 June*

We are planning on holding a market stall on Saturday 8 June in the market square in Salisbury starting early.

Stall in 2018

Members and supporters are invited to bring items for sale please.  Wanted are clothes, plants, hardback books, china and pottery, DVDs and CDs.  Old tools are popular too.  Regrettably, we do not want electrical items, paperback novels (except Penguins), or VHS videos.

If you cannot come in person, please give one or other of us a call (a message on this site will do) and we can arrange collection.

 

 

*formal agreement from SCC awaited


The group will be holding a brief vigil outside the Guildhall on Monday 25th March starting at 10am for 2 hours.  Refugees are a contentious issue in this country and indeed, concerns about immigrants and refugees were a key issue in the Brexit debate.  Although the UK takes in a miniscule number compared to the 25 million or so refugees in the world, they loom large in our political process and in the tabloid press.  Biblical terms like ‘swarms’, ‘hordes’ and ‘floods’ are regularly deployed to describe those fleeing here.

Protest guildhall

Some group members at the Guildhall

We would welcome any support you can give even if it’s just to come and say ‘hello’.  We sometimes feel a little exposed at these events and there are some people who have forcefully held views so shows or support are welcome.

This would also be a good moment if you are thinking of joining the group to make yourself known.  The picture shows a similar event last year.


The minutes of the group meeting in March 2019 are available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.  A full meeting with several events planned, see the end of them for the list.  You can also follow us on Facebook,  Twitter and Tumblr.

March minutes (Word)


Attached is the monthly death penalty report prepared with thanks by group member Lesley.  It covers Egypt; Pakistan, India, Belarus and the USA.  Note, as always, that China does not feature as its death penalty statistics are a state secret.  They are believed to execute more people than the rest of the world combined.

January – February report (Word)

No to the death penalty


The next group meeting is on Thursday 14th March at 7:30 but in Attwood Road number 28.  It will be a busy agenda as we have a lot of things planned at present.  All supporters welcome but to note it is a working meeting so there won’t be a speaker.  Last month’s minutes are available here.


The Oscar nominated film The Breadwinner is showing this Friday, 8 March at the Arts Centre in Salisbury at 7:30 pm.  It concerns a young girl who pretends to be a boy in Taliban controlled Afghanistan to enable her to look after her family.  Cert 12A.  Tickets available from the Arts Centre, 01722 320 333, at the door or on line https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/salisbury-arts-centre/the-breadwinner/#book-tickets

There will be a short introduction by a member of our group.  If you are interested in joining the group we shall be around before and after the showing so it would be a good time to make yourself known.


Following some negative press articles, the Chair and Director of Amnesty UK have responded in detail and this is their statement below.

We both wanted to write to you directly in the light of the recent negative media coverage about Amnesty International. This is a difficult time for our movement and we hope that it is helpful for us to explain what has happened, how Amnesty International UK is affected and how the issues raised are being handled.

There have been two areas of recent media attention:

– the first has been culture and management practice at the International Secretariat
– the second has been allegations of caste-based discrimination at Amnesty India.

Taking each of these in turn:

1.Culture and management practice at Amnesty International, International Secretariat (IS)

In Summer 2018 Amnesty’s International Secretariat (IS) commissioned independent reviews following the tragic suicides of two International Secretariat staff members.
The reports produced describe a very difficult working culture at the International Secretariat and unacceptable management practices, attitudes and behaviours. There has been coverage of all or some of these reports in The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Mail.

We have both been shocked by what we have read in the reports about some of the management practices, and the culture at the IS, and it is absolutely right that the new Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, deals with this as a matter of priority. He has our utmost support in doing that.

Kumi has said:

“The tragic deaths of our beloved colleagues Gaëtan Mootoo and Rosalind McGregor have triggered important questions here at Amnesty International about staff-wellbeing.

We accept and welcome the findings and criticisms of all three independent reviews that have been commissioned into these tragic events.

While the review into Rosalind McGregor’s death concludes that her working situation at Amnesty International did not play a significant, if any, role in her tragic decision, what all three reviews make clear is that we have a difficult but necessary journey ahead of us in improving wellbeing.

As I have reiterated to staff, I have made it one of my priorities to address instances where individuals have been found wanting, in our senior leadership team or elsewhere. Unacceptable management practices, attitudes and behaviours cannot and will not be tolerated at any level in the organization.

However, the issues highlighted go beyond the question of individual accountability. It is clear we need radically to rethink our approach to staff wellbeing and culture and we are in the process of establishing and rolling out credible and effective wellbeing measures. The recommendations of this review complement current approaches and identify concrete steps towards delivering a comprehensive commitment to staff wellbeing and health. I will be making this one of my core priorities from here on in.”

It is important to make it clear that the reports are not referring to Amnesty International UK. They refer only to our International Secretariat, which is in a different part of London. AIUK has our own building, board of trustees, charity number, senior management and staff team.

However, we are all one Amnesty family, and there must be lessons that we can learn at AIUK from the report, and we too will prioritise work on staff wellbeing and welfare. We completely share Kumi’s commitment to put wellbeing at the heart of our work across the Amnesty movement and his view that we need to look after each other and develop compassion and mutual care to help Amnesty International become the uplifting community it needs to be.

We hope this can give you reassurance that Amnesty, across the movement, is taking these issues very seriously and is committed to improving the way we work together in order to create an environment which allows us to flourish and effectively deliver the important work we do.

We have had some feedback from supporters in response to the media reports. To date we have had 10 membership cancellations. We do hope that your campaigning is not directly affected by this, and please do get in touch if we can help you respond to feedback that you receive.

2. Allegations of caste-based discrimination at Amnesty India

An article relating to allegations of discrimination at Amnesty India was published online in the Guardian on February 15th. The article alleges that staff were discriminated against because of their caste.

Amnesty India has a long-standing policy of promoting diversity through affirmative action in recruitment and tries to ensure the workplace reflects the diversity of India across gender, caste, religion and disability. Over 40% of the current workplace identifies as – using Indian government definitions – Dalit, Adivasi or ‘other backward class’, according to a staff survey in 2018. Across their six offices, there were two formal complaints about discrimination and harassment in 2018. Both were dismissed after thorough investigations.

Amnesty India has commissioned a review by an independent committee whose report has just been published. The committee was headed by Dr. Syeda Hameed, an eminent activist and writer.

The report has now been shared with staff at Amnesty India and is available with responses from the board and management on the Amnesty India website.

Aakar Patel, Head of Amnesty India, has said in response:

“We are grateful to the Syeda Hameed Committee for their report, whose release was delayed because of disruptions caused by the Enforcement Directorate raid on our offices. It reassures us that we’ve made our workplace diverse in many ways and followed due process in dealing with complaints, but also reminds us that we have a long way to go to address discrimination in all its forms.

We accept all the findings of the committee, and we will ensure that we implement the recommendations made by it and the board to protect employee well-being. We will reinvigorate our efforts to show our staff, members and partners, that respect and dignity are not just things we campaign for externally but are values at the heart of our organization.”

It is critically important that discrimination of any sort is not tolerated within Amnesty International. Amnesty UK will support our new Secretary General’s commitment to tackling this.

In conclusion, we are very sorry to see Amnesty in the media in this way and we hope that it doesn’t negatively impact on the important campaigning and fundraising work that you are doing, and on overall our effectiveness as a section.

Most importantly, it is vital that the IS and the Amnesty movement as a whole learns from the findings of these reports, and our experience over the past year. We need to take the steps required to make Amnesty a better place to work and so become a more effective force for human rights change. We are both committed to that and we have both been impressed by Kumi’s commitment to make the changes needed. We are very pleased that he will be at our AGM and National Conference this year to speak and take questions. We hope you will be able to join us there.

Ruth Breddal and Kate Allen

End


If you are reading this in the Salisbury, Amesbury, Wilton or Downton areas, we would be pleased to welcome you to our local group.  The best way is to keep an eye on this site or on Facebook or Twitter and come along to one of our events.  We are hosting a film this Friday, 8 March at the Arts Centre and we shall be in evidence then.


Minutes of the February 2019 meeting are now available thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.  It was a full meeting and we discussed a wide variety of topics including refugees, the death penalty, North Korea, the threat to human rights in the UK, and future events including a film.  At the end of the minutes is a list of forthcoming activities we are planning and if you live in the Salisbury, Amesbury, Downton or Wilton areas and are interested in getting involved, coming to one of these events and making yourself known is the best way to do that.

February minutes (Word)

 

Talk at Bemerton

Posted: February 17, 2019 in "Human rights"
Tags: , , ,

Robert Key to give a talk at Bemerton in March

Robert Key – who was the MP for Salisbury for a number of years – is to give a talk TONIGHT! Wednesday 6 March at 7:00 for 7:30.  The title is My Thatcher years to the Brexit jungle and beyond.  Mr Key has told us that he intends to mention the issue of human rights in his talk which is why we are posting details of it here.  As readers will know, there is mounting concern at the future of human rights following our departure from the EU so it will be interesting to hear Mr Key’s take on this matter.

The talk will take place at St John’s Place, Lower Road, Bemerton, Salisbury, SP2 9NP and there is a Web site.  Free with a parting collection.