February 2023

Those following events in Yemen – somewhat eclipsed in the news by Ukraine – will know that the UK has been involved in supplying weapons to the Saudis, which have caused immense destruction and thousands of deaths. In addition to weapons, UK personnel, including it is reported from the RAF, are involved in advisory capacities being careful to stop short of becoming mercenaries. The scale of weapons sales is over £20bn.

A clear pattern to the Saudi bombings was the attacks on domestic targets including hospitals, schools, weddings and funerals. Despite this, the UK has been keen to continue to allow arms sales and to sign off licences. The Court of Appeal ruled in 2019 that the UK had broken its own arms export laws by continuing to allow this trade to continue.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade, CAAT, has been doggedly pursuing this matter through the courts and the High Court has allowed a fresh hearing between 31 January and 2 February 2023. This is hopeful and we await the results of this action.

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Group activities

List of activities the group has planned for 2023

This is a list of activities the Salisbury group has planned for you to note in your diaries. If you can offer to help that would be appreciated but coming along to say ‘hello’ is also welcome. If you are thinking of joining the group, coming along to one or other of these events is a good time to make yourself known and to meet some of us.

  • Coffee morning at St Thomas’s Church in the centre of Salisbury on 18 February starting some time after 10 am. finishing at noon.
  • Market stall in Salisbury market on 22 April. Early start and also finishing midday sometime. It would also be helpful if you have any items we could sell, please let us know if you have.
  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo in the Salisbury Playhouse on 21 – 25 March with two matinees. The Playhouse has very kindly allowed us to have a stand in the foyer so we welcome seeing you there. Volunteers to help man the stand would be helpful as well.
  • People in the Park in Queen Elizabeth Gardens on 20 May, all day. This is the postponed event from last year.
  • Our next group meeting is on February 9th at 2pm
  • We are trying to agree a date for Evensong at the Cathedral and we will let people know the date once agreed.

We look forward to seeing supporters at one or more of these events.

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Refugee report

January 2023

This is the monthly report on the refugee situation in the UK thanks to group member Andrew for producing it. Immigration and refugees continues to generate fierce debate in the UK particularly the problem of people arriving by boat having crossed the Channel.

In his speech in the New Year, the Prime Minister declared his intention, among other things, to resolve the issue of small boats crossing the Channel by making it illegal to arrive  by such means and to immediately arrest and deport anyone doing so. This proposal, if made into law, will undoubtedly meet opposition from the European Court of Human Rights, not to mention the House of Lords. The year’s total of boat arrivals ran up to 45,000.

The High Court in December declared the proposed removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda to be lawful. The matter is now under appeal, to be decided by the end of this month (January). The ECHR’s original objection to the policy under Article 3 of the Convention may be reactivated once the appeal is over.

The PM also pledged in his speech to abolish the backlog of asylum cases by the end of the year. The number of decision makers at the Home Office is planning to be quadrupled to 2,400 in pursuit of this aim. The biggest problem he may face, though, is that the Home Office is presently more prone to accept claims than to reject them, obviating the PM’s desire to remove most of the applicants.

Immigration from Albania has been in the news due to a spike in the numbers. While the government maintains that the country is safe to return arrivals to (and the Albanian government agrees!), the issue of “blood feuds” has been touted as one of the reasons for the increase. The government’s view is that there is sufficient protection in Albania for potential victims.

This month marks the anniversary of the establishment of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, under which legal routes to settlement in the UK were to be offered. Three pathways were established, 1 for people already here, 2 for those referred by the UNHCR and 3 for those who had worked for the UK. Some 5,000 arrivals were planned for the first year, 20,000 in total. The latest available figures indicate that 6,300 have been given indefinite leave to remain (i.e. pathway 1), four have arrived by pathway 2 and none by pathway 3. Thanks to Caroline Lucas and File on 4 for pointing this up.

The Windrush scandal, the subsequent review made various suggestions, among which was the creation of a Migrants’ Commissioner. It is believed that the Home Secretary is minded to abandon this plan, and also to forego planned extension to the powers of the independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Finally, in a ruling over the Christmas period, the High Court ordered the Home Secretary to increase the weekly support rate for asylum seekers to £45. This was unusual in that the judge used the advice from civil servants to make a mandatory order. There has been no sign that the Home Secretary is likely to appeal.


Death penalty report

We are pleased to attach the death penalty report for December 2022 – January 2023 prepared by group member Lesley. Iran features prominently in this report with a spate of executions planned or already carried out following the widespread protests taking place around the country. Note, as ever, that China is not mentioned despite executing more of its citizens than any other country because details are a state secret.

Iran execution imminent

January 2023

It is feared that Iran is about to execute a British/Iranian man, Alireza Akbari, for allegedly spying. It is reported today (11 January) that he has been moved into solitary confinement which is a possible sign of imminent execution. He claims to have been tortured in prison and forced to confess to spying which he denies. The claim that he did so for a reward of perfume and a silk shirt does seem unlikely.

Iran’s human rights record is dismal and it is currently engaged in putting down protests violently.

Urgent Action: Iran

We attach an urgent action in relation to Iran where the authorities are using the death penalty to silence critics. Iran is already one of the world’s major executioners. In 2021 they executed at least 341 itself an increase on the previous year. If you have time to write that would be appreciated. [don’t forget to put your address on the rear of the envelop and do not use a Christmas stamp].

Good news!

December 2022

In a year when many aspects concerning human rights are depressing, we are pleased – particularly at this time of the year – to report some good news this time from the state of Oregon.

In Oregon, the outgoing Governor, Kate Brown (Democrat), is commuting the sentences of the 17 prisoners currently on death row to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and dismantling the State’s execution chamber in an effort finally to end capital punishment in Oregon. In practice, the death penalty has not been in use since 2011, and, while in office, Ms Brown has exercised her power to grant clemency more than any of the State’s previous Governors, citing personal growth as part of the reason for reducing a person’s sentence.  This final decision is based on her belief that the death penalty is immoral, a waste of money, and does not make communities safer.   The incoming Governor, Tina Kotek, is also a Democrat. Obviously, under the existing circumstances, the 17 prisoners were unlikely to have been executed anyway, but what a relief it must be to have their actual sentences commuted.  The Republicans are reported not to be happy – at least one saying it should have been put to ’the people’.

The Death Penalty Information Center reports that in a year that featured massive campaign advertising attempting to portray legal reformers as responsible for increases in violent crime, candidates committed to criminal legal reform or who promised to continue state-wide moratoria on executions posted key election wins in the 2022 midterm elections. Defying a pre-election narrative forecasting a backlash against progressive prosecutors and conventional wisdom that fear of crime drives political outcomes, reform prosecutors were re-elected to office and gained new footholds in counties across the country.

There is an interesting post on the Oregon State’s Department of Corrections website on the history, use of and methods of execution as it operates there.

December minutes

December 2022

We are pleased to attach the minutes of the December group meeting thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them. They contain the usual abridged version of the death penalty report and a report on the refugee situation. Group events are listed including the carol signing evening. Those wishing to join us are welcome to pop by to one of these and say hello.

Conservatives and the ECHR

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, wants to take the UK out of the ECHR

December 2022

This post is based on an interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper, written by Martin Kettle, concerning the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman’s desire to take the UK out of the European Court of Human Rights. Some of the piece concerned his thoughts of the future of Rishi Sunak which is a political discussion upon which we do not comment. Our concerns focus on human rights implications of Braverman’s wishes to take the UK out of the purview of the ECHR.

Kettle notes that the proposed withdrawal is not Conservative Party policy, nor was is it in the latest manifesto in 2019. This indicates that Ms Braverman is operating on her own. The Home Secretary is one of a number of Conservatives (but by no means all) who see the ECHR as a kind of constraint to their ability to manage the nation’s affairs most particularly in connection with refugees and immigration.

This erupted a few months ago with the last minute abandonment of the flight to Rwanda (which was to take place a stones throw from where this post is written), in which the European Court played a key part. Immigrants crossing the Channel in small boats has been a regular news feature over many months and has caused considerable anger among many. As was noted in our last post, by denying safe and legal means to apply to come here, those desperate to escape war or persecution are more or less forced to use these means. When Suella Braverman was questioned about this last week in front of a select committee, neither she nor her PPS, were able to able to provide a convincing answer.

Kettle goes on to say that the arguments around human rights law “encapsulates and stimulates the Tory party’s haphazard retreat into a bubble of English exceptionalism. Whether it is expressed by Braverman or Dominic Raab, the common threads of this are a bogus sense of victimhood (exemplified by the delusion that Britain is uniquely affected by migration) and belief in greatness frustrated (the lies of Brexit) and an impatience with conventional wisdom in favour of reckless contrarianism”.

One of the party’s electoral strengths over many decades was that it claimed to be the party of law and order. Tougher and longer sentencing, crackdowns on this or that crime, support for the police and other actions enabled it to claim that they were the party to vote for if you wanted to sleep safely in your bed at night. Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General, has noted that today’s ministers seem to display ‘a persistent and almost endemic frustration with legal constraints‘. A combination of rage by some sections of the media about the Channel crossings, combined with their large majority, seems to lead them to believe they can ignore domestic law, international laws and treaties. Laws which stand in the way of ministers pursuing a particular goal are fit only to be ignored or discarded.

In his recent talk to the Judicial Institute (6 December 2022) he refers to the ‘novel constitutional position: that governments are enjoying the confidence of a parliamentary majority have essentially a popular mandate to do whatever they like and that any obstruction of this is unacceptable’ (p10). He points out that this is not the monopoly of the Conservatives – Labour when in power went cold on the HRA and secretly aided American renditions post 9/11. This idea that the law is of value only if it suits the policy position of the government in power is a dangerous one. It goes against the Common Law principle which is key our unwritten constitution. Combined with a belief that a large majority means the public at large are at one with this is also an assumption too far. When there was a Daily Mail assault on the judges putting their photos on the front page under a headline ‘Enemies of the People’ (4 December 2016), because they took a decision their editor did not like, it was noticeable that the then Attorney General, Liz Truss, did not condemn this.

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