Yes, you read that right. A Saudi by the name of Faisel Trad, who is the kingdom’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, was elected chair of an independent panel of experts on the UN’s human rights council.
This blog – and many, many others – has highlighted the appalling human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. The big increase in the use of the death penalty, often in public, floggings including that of Raif Badawi and most recently, the proposal to crucify a man. Along with a lack of free speech, and that women are denied basic rights and cannot drive for example, means that the country ranks as among the worst in the world.
UN Watch Director Hillel Neuer said according to the Independent (20 September):
Saudi Arabia has arguably the worst record in the world when it comes to religious rights and women’s rights and continues to imprison the innocent blogger Raif Badawi.
It’s bad enough that Saudi Arabia is a member of the council, but for the UN to go and name the regime as chair of a key panel only pours salt in the wounds for dissidents languishing ins Saudi prisons.
A UN Watch representative also said “This UN appointment is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief”. It gives Mr Trad power over the appointments of key UN human rights representatives.
We have been engaged in correspondence with our local MP to persuade the government to do more and we await a reply to our letter to him. This was sparked by the FCO’s decision to drop the abolition of the death penalty as a specific policy.
Olly Sprague is Amnesty’s Arms expert and for the first time ever, he was barred from the London Arms Fair this week. Maybe they didn’t like the ad campaign we made for them… Or maybe they had something to hide? At every one of the last five Fairs, we’ve uncovered illegal torture equipment and other illegal weapons being advertised, including leg irons, gang chains, electric-shock batons and cluster bombs.
It seems to be something of an own goal since if what was being sold was legitimate and in accordance with current regulations, then why ban a representative of Amnesty International?
So are they selling torture equipment or aren’t they?
UPDATE: 8 October. Richard Glossip has been given an indefinite stay of execution (Oklahoma)
We attach an urgent action on behalf of Richard Glossip with whom visitors to this site will be familiar with. He has won a temporary stay of execution. His legal team has presented new evidence to the appeal court. The evidence against him is weak as we have pointed out before and relies partly on a plea bargain by the man who committed the actual murder. Oklahoma is a hard line state as far as the death penalty is concerned.
A man, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was convicted when he was 17 is to face death by crucifixion after his appeal was turned down. The appeal was heard in secret and he was not present. He was accused of participating in illegal protests and of firearms offences. As is usual in Saudi, he was denied access to a lawyer and is likely to have been tortured and forced to sign a confession. See International Business Times for the full story.
Amnesty believes that Saudi has one of the highest rates of executions in the world and is exceeded only by China (details of which are a state secret) and Iran.
We are engaged in correspondence with our local MP John Glen about the government’s policy towards the kingdom and we were initially assured both by Mr Glen and a FCO minister Mr Tobias Ellwood, that the abolition of the death penalty was an important policy for the government. These matters were raised at the highest level with the Saudis we were told. Within days of these assurances, it was announced that the abolition of the death penalty was no longer an explicit policy of the government. We have written to Mr Glen on this and a reminder was sent this week. A reply is awaited …
Richard Glossip’s execution has been deferred by two weeks only hours before he was due to killed. This was an urgent action by Amnesty International and members of our group have written to the Oklahoma authorities. You can read the full report in the New York Times here.
There is no physical evidence linking Glossip to the scene and a major part of the evidence is a plea bargain by Sneed who admitted to the murder but escaped execution by implicating Glossip.
Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty and this case reveals one of the reasons: flimsy evidence combined with a plea bargain means the likelihood of a wrongful conviction leading to a man’s death with no prospect of putting it right in future if fresh evidence appears.
The group is holding a vigil against the death penalty on 17 October in Salisbury starting at 12.45. Further details here and on Twitter soon.
Will torture equipment be on display this week in London?
The London Arms fair, DSEI, opens on 15th September at the ExCel centre at which – in addition to the range of arms large and small – torture equipment has been displayed in past years. No doubt drones will be on display which enable executions to be carried out from thousands of miles away. The exhibition runs under conditions of great security and in the past, the comedian Mark Thomas was able to set up a fake stall and interest various passing visitors with his torture equipment.
The four day exhibition is supported by the government and is an exclusive expo of deadly weapons and arms with a history of companies advertising illegal torture equipment. Britain has sold arms to 19 of the 23 countries listed by the UN for grave violations against children.
There is a kind of irony that two weeks ago the country was shaken by the death of Aylan Kurdi which prompted a volte face by our government and has seen Mr Cameron in the Lebanon visiting the camps. The Chancellor, George Osborne spoke of the need to tackle the refugee crisis at source yet we host an event which supplies deadly equipment to countries like Saudi Arabia; Turkmenistan; Pakistan; Libya and Colombia where respect for human rights is almost non-existent.
We want to see the government to stop illegal torture equipment being advertised in the UK.
In all the discussion about the relative merits of refugees from the various war-torn parts of the world, the Syrians are presently claiming most attention. We all understand how dreadful their plight is, and so too those fleeing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the Sudan. But Eritrea? Eritrea is not actually at war with anyone (well, it’s in a face-off with Ethiopia, but wouldn’t dare to take on its bigger neighbor in a full-scale war), and the regime is in total control of the country. So why the desperation of people to escape to Europe? Indeed the British government has changed its view of the country in recent months to say that it is safe for asylum seekers to be returned home. The Home Office said:
its guidance on Eritrea is based on a careful and objective assessment of the situation in Eritrea using evidence taken from a range of sources including media outlets; local, national and international organisations, including human rights organisations; and information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
However they have relied largely on a Danish report, the authors of which have disowned for its misinterpretation, and Eritrean government sources, rather than the reports of human rights groups.
The UK’s position is totally confused, as they are supposedly taking account also of a recent UN report, which would also give a somewhat different picture. The report, by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, cites a raft of human rights violations – some, it says, which may constitute crimes against humanity – of a ‘scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere’. The report strongly urges continued international protection for Eritrean refugees fleeing human rights violations, and warns against sending them back to danger in a country that punishes anyone who tries to leave without permission
Following its independence in 1991, the country has lapsed into a total disregard for the rule of law. Elections have been regularly postponed – President Isaias Afeworki has never faced the electorate – arbitrary detention is rife; torture is so common that the Commission concluded that it was government policy, and mass surveillance and neighbourhood spying is the norm. Justice is arbitrary, detention conditions are appalling, and complete disappearance not unusual. So far, so typical dictatorship but in Eritrea it is egregiously appalling.
The speciality of the state is that, under the pretext of defending the integrity of the State and ensuring national self-sufficiency, much of the population is subjected to open-ended national service, either in the army or through the civil service. When they turn 18 or even before, all Eritreans are conscripted. While national service is supposed to last 18 months, in reality conscripts end up serving for an indefinite period, up to 20 years in extreme cases. Thousands of conscripts are subjected to forced labour that effectively abuses, exploits and enslaves them for years. Women conscripts are at extreme risk of sexual violence during national service.
Many others – detainees, students, members of the militia – are also subjected to forced labour. The report says
The use of forced labour is so prevalent in Eritrea that all sectors of the economy rely on it and all Eritreans are likely to be subject to it at one point in their lives. The commission concludes that forced labour in this context is a practice similar to slavery in its effects and, as such, is prohibited under international human rights law.
The Eritrean Foreign Ministry inevitably claimed the Commission’s report contained ‘wild allegations’ which were ‘totally unfounded and devoid of all merit’ and charged the UNHRC of ‘vile slanders and false accusations’, without addressing any of the issues. The British government have since modified their stance based on Eritrean assertions that military service will be limited to 18 months to 4 years, which would render it legal, but there is no evidence of this happening.
These widespread abuses have prompted thousands of Eritreans to flee their home country in search of asylum in Europe. According to the latest estimates produced by Italian authorities, 32,000 Eritreans were rescued in 2014 as they attempted to traverse the Mediterranean – the majority of all migrants rescued by Italy’s comprehensive Mare Nostrum operation. Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency has placed the number of Eritreans under its concern outside the country at more than 357,400.
This is the country we are intending to return refugees to as being “safe”. The Government needs to think again.
The minutes of the September meeting are now available thanks to Lesley. We discussed North Korea, the death penalty (see separate post on this), the forthcoming vigil on 17 October and agreeing to write to John Glen concerning his failure to reply to our letter of 5 August.
The death penalty report for September is now available thanks to Lesley for compiling it. Links to other blog posts and in particular the continuing correspondence with John Glen MP concerning the government’s policy change on the death penalty.
Report on possible reductions in the use of the death penalty by India and China. This is to be welcomed although we cannot verify the situation in the latter country because the numbers executed are a state secret.