Archive for April, 2015


The arms trade is deadly corrupt business.  It supports conflict and human rights abusing regimes while squandering vital resources.  It does this with the full support of governments around the world.’  Campaign Against the Arms Trade [see link at the bottom of the home page]

A fuss broke out today in the UK election campaign about who said what and who did what concerning the invasion of Libya.  The argument is that by attacking Libya and not sorting out a stable regime after the fall of Gadhafi, we laid the foundations for the thousands of refugees who attempt to reach Italy from its shores.

Not for the first time in this election, the arguments seems to swirl around everything other than the real one.  We have commented before in the role arms have to play in the Middle East and elsewhere.  Figures from Janes reveal that the trade is now worth $64bn up from $54bn in 2013.  Total Global military expenditure is said to worth around $1,776bn (SIPRI).

UPDATE: May 2015.  Transparency International has produced a new anti-corruption index for defence companies.  Local companies like Chemring and QinetiQ feature in it.

Articles about the defence industry tend to discuss sales of helicopters, aircraft, ships, tanks and the like – that is big items of military hardware.  While these weapons can be deadly, in fact most people suffer from the sale of small arms.  It is guns and grenades that are the biggest killers of ordinary people.

The plain fact is that the biggest sellers of arms are 1. USA, 2. Russian Federation; 3. France; 4. UK; 5. Germany (2014).  The first four are permanent members of the UN security council.  The arms trade supplies the arms which fuels the many wars and conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.  When thousands are displaced from these wars and attempt to flee to somewhere where they can lead a peaceful life, we then refuse to deal with the problem.  There is a kind of disconnect between the causes of these conflicts and the inevitable results.  We get excited and argue over images of laden vessels in the Mediterranean, and we get upset when one capsizes and hundreds die, but we do not seem to get at all upset over the role of arms companies, dealers and brokers who provide the means for the conflict in the first place.


It has been revealed in the last week or so that FBI analysis of hair samples is seriously flawed and that astexas execution many as 32 people have been sentenced to death based on this evidence, of whom 14 have been executed or have died in prison .  The problem has arisen because of sloppy work by FBI examiners who have made claims about the ability to identify people from hair samples that are scientifically unsound.  It is, according to the Washington Post, possibly the largest forensic science scandal in America’s history.  Another 1,200 cases remain to be investigated.

Our view of the American justice system is strongly influenced by programmes like CSI and NCIS where clean cut, young, handsome and amazingly certain forensic examiners solve cases by clever scientific means.  Stories often centre (or should we say ‘center’ for our American readers) around one of them poring over a crime scene and finding a tiny piece of evidence.  Then back to the lab where they announce that said tiny piece of evidence is crucial in identifying the killer.  Forensic scientist and police officers dash about the place and sure enough, find the killer who has a matching piece of evidence tying him to the scene.  There seldom seems to be any doubt in what they say and we are left at the end of the episode with the right man or woman ‘going down’.

The problem is that not all science is like that.  There is not always that degree of certainty, merely probabilities.  When it comes to condemning a person to death – the ultimate penalty from which there is no retreat – then it is necessary to be certain.  The problem is made worse because defendants who are poor are not able to employ lawyers able to challenge the evidence properly.  Some lawyers may be doing their first capital trial and have little relevant experience.

You might think that having admitted a major flaw in the evidence given by FBI experts, speedy reviews would be underway to put matters right.  Well no, not in every state there isn’t.  Appeal courts often refuse to look at newly discovered evidence because claims of actual innocence are never grounds for habeas corpus relief.

The USA is the only country in the Americas with the death penalty and the southern states are the keenest users of it.  As we have commented before, it may seem unfair that we frequently highlight the use of the death penalty in the States:  China is the worlds biggest user of the death penalty, the precise number is unknown because it is a state secret, but it runs into thousands.  Iran is close behind.  The difference is that the States is the de facto leader of the free world.  But there is a point here that China is a closed society which severely limits access to the internet and curtails a free press.  America by contrast is a more open society and newspapers like the Washington Post are able to publish this information.  So we can read about it and comment on what we see.

No to the death penaltyAmnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.  It is the ultimate cruel and degrading punishment.  It is not a deterrent and there is plenty of evidence to show that it acts against the poor and those least able to defend themselves.  That one of the main methods of condemning people is flawed is yet another plank in the argument to end the use of this penalty in the USA.

Sources:

Washington Post: 18 April

Guardian: 23 April

Wikipedia

Social Science Research Network The Shifted Paradigm: Forensic Science’s Overdue Evolution from Magic to LawWilliam Tucker Carrington, University of Mississippi and M Chis Fabricant, Innocence Project Inc.


We today erected the display in the cloister at Salisbury Cathedral to celebrate the signing of Magna Carta and to illustrate the #StopTorture campaign.

Display in the cloister

It will remain in place for many weeks.  There is also a panel on the Human Rights Act.


Reading this blog can sometimes seem depressing as we highlight individuals imprisoned for their beliefs; the widespread use of torture around the world; the use of the death penalty and recently, a desire by some of our (UK) politicians to abolish the Human Rights Act.

Successes

There are successes however, some of which have been a long time in the making. After six years of legal proceedings and campaigning by Amnesty members around the world, Shell Oil have at last been made to pay for the devastation caused by oil spills in the Niger Delta.

wire tap imageOthers successes have been unprecedented. For the first time ever, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that UK secret services acted illegally in their surveillance activities.

And that’s not all. Because of you Guadalupe found justice in El Salvador. With a window of just 48 hours, we asked you to tweet El Salvador’s members of parliament calling for a pardon for Guadalupe – a young woman imprisoned after suffering a miscarriage. Every tweet counted: her pardon was granted by a majority of just one vote. Thank you. We’re continuing our work to ensure Salvadoran women are not criminalised by the total abortion ban in the country

Burma has dropped off the radar in the last couple of years and things have improved there.   But not totally and there are still prisoners of conscience. For example, long-standing prisoner of conscience Dr Tun Aung has recently secured release.

February saw two historic victories in the age-old battle for the right to privacy and free expression. The USA and UK’s past intelligence-sharing on Communications surveillance was ruled illegal and the Security Services conceded their current regime for intercepting legally privileged communications is also unlawful. These landmark rulings, in which Amnesty were co-claimants, should mean there are more significant positive changes ahead.


A great step towards justice was made in January when three journalists imprisoned in Egypt had their sentences overturned on the basis of a flawed trial. Peter Greste was allowed to return home to Australia but Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed are awaiting a retrial in Egypt, currently set for 22 April. Egypt must now drop all charges against them and free, not retry these prisoners of conscience.

Forced to sign a confession after being kidnapped and tortured by marines, Claudia Medina Tamariz has had the last of the charges against her dropped, and she is now a free woman.  Claudia thanked the 300,000 Amnesty members around the world who demanded justice.  We continue to call for an investigation into the torture she suffered, and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

A month after Claudia’s release, the Mexican president came to the UK and we delivered your Stop Torture petition signatures to him – in a giant piñata. Ahead of the visit you called on the UK representatives meeting him to raise the issue of torture. Guess what? They did. Thanks to Amnesty supporters campaigning, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Scotland all helped send a strong message: it’s time for Mexico to respect human rights.

So campaigning does sometimes work.


UPDATE: 28 APRIL

Human rights myths  Thanks to http://www.RightsInfo.org – see link at the bottom of this site.

As we pointed out in our previous blog, the Conservatives, if they form an administration after the election, want to abolish the Human Rights Act #HRA.  Amnesty has launched a campaign with a link to KeeptheAct spelling out the benefits of the act for everyone in the UK.  For example:

  • An elderly couple faced separation after 65 years of marriage – until their local authority finally allowed the wife to move in into her husband’s care home to be with him.  Thanks to the HRA
  • When a woman had to flee a violent husband, social services said she’d made herself ‘intentionally homeless’, refused to house her and tried to put her children into foster care.  But she was able to keep her family together – thanks to the Human Rights Act
  • Families of British soldiers killed in Iraq were able to call the government to account for failing to protect them properly – thanks to the human rights Act
  • A woman with multiple sclerosis got her local council to increase the amount of care she receives – thanks to, well you know the story.

These are some of the day to day stories of the HRA and how it helps ordinary people in their daily lives.  But it is a story a lot of our newspapers do not tell, preferring to peddle disinformation and myths.  The act protects ordinary people and means that public bodies like the police and local authorities must respect our basic human rights. abolish hraIt does seem strange that we are celebrating 800 years since the signing of Magna Carta with politicians waxing lyrical over that document whereas its modern version is derided and is under threat, often for quite spurious reasons.  Go to KeeptheAct and add your voice.


UPDATE: 5 May  … still no sign of a draft of what the British Bill of Rights will contain.  People go to the polls in a couple of days time without knowing what is planned.  Since the election campaign has been based largely on the deficit and who is going to spend the most on the NHS, oh and being run by Scotland: what is, or is not, in the BBoR may seem trivial.  But it touches on all our rights and on our relationship with Europe so it is important. 

The #Conservative party #manifesto was published today 14 April and as promised, there is a plan to scrap the Human rights Act #HRA.  The manifesto says on p73:

We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK.  The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights.  It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society.  But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of a wider society.  Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.

This will have profound implications in our relations with Europe and we still do not know what the new bill will look like even after many years of discussion about the abolition of the HRA.  Incidentally, although the Act was introduced under the Labour administration, it was voted for by many Conservatives as well.

A draft of the BBoR has been a long time a coming and the latest we heard was that it was to be published before Christmas.  One assumes a draft will now appear before polling so that voters can see in more detail how it differs from the existing HRA.

The Conservatives seem to have got themselves into something of a bind with this Act.  They were happy to go along with the anti-European sentiment expressed by most of our newspapers and were obviously spooked by the Ukip surge over the last few years.  There has been a torrent of misinformation and disinformation about the workings of the HRA which, apart from the honourable exception of Dominic Grieve MP, they have made little or no attempt to counter with facts.

What got them steamed up most of all – and got our tabloids into a fearsome lather – was the case of Abu Qatada or the ‘preacher of hate’ as he was called.  Many attempts were made to deport him but the problem was not just the HRA but the fact that he might be tortured when he was returned to Jordan, or the Jordanians would convict him using evidence obtained from torturing others.  Is this an example of ‘spurious human rights arguments’?  Since, quite apart from the ECHR, we are signatories to treaties banning the use of torture, there was a problem in getting him out of the country in any event.  We might note in passing that the Jordanians had to clean up their judicial act as part of the agreement to send him back.

A puzzle though is that the other area which gets politicians steamed up is the issue of a right to life yet this is quoted as being ‘an essential part of a modern democratic society.’  Something about a cat.

The fact remains that many ordinary people are beneficiaries of the Act.  Lawyers can use it in their day to day work with individuals and their dealings with authorities of one kind or another.  Little of this gets published in the media and most are unaware of it unless by chance they know of someone who has benefited.

As far as the Strasbourg court is concerned, the UK are the ‘good guys’ since we still have a largely uncorrupted police and judiciary and people can appeal decisions in cases of injustice.  Our police operate under PACE and suspects have a right to a lawyer.  Very few of the cases which go to Strasbourg get overturned – we believe there were only eight last year.

As one of the original countries, along with France, who prepared the ECHR after the war at the behest of Winston Churchill – a Conservative – if we leave the Convention it will have significant repercussions in places like Belarus, Turkey and Russia.  Belarus is the last country in Europe with the death penalty and human rights are largely ignored.

It will be interesting to see how our local Conservative candidate John Glen reacts to this.  When he came to see the local group to discuss this topic he did agree to be more balanced in his comments which we welcomed.  This followed an article in the Salisbury Journal saying he wanted it abolished.  But now it is part of the manifesto for his party we shall have to see…


Please find below the minutes of the March meeting thanks to Karen.

March minutes


This is the monthly report on the state of death penalty around the world, thanks to Lesley for compiling it.

No to the death penaltyThe news that Ray Hilton has been released after 28 years on death row is both heartening and shocking.  That the state of Alabama should have so badly conducted his trial and then refused to allow the fresh ballistic evidence to be heard, which was the only evidence against him, is particularly shocking.  There can be few better examples of the dangers of this penalty than a case such as this.

Death penalty report APRIL 2015