Archive for March, 2016


Prominent lawyer released from house arrest

Zhang Kai

We are pleased to announce that a lawyer who has been active in defending the attacks on churches, has been released although the reasons for his release are unknown.  It is good news however.  Many lawyers have been harassed or detained in China under the current crackdown.

Full details from the Amnesty factsheet:

Lawyer release

 

 


Parliament debates security Bill

The Investigatory Powers Bill was debated in Parliament on 15 March in a lengthy second reading debate and there were many good quality contributions made by Members on all sides of the House.  Only days after the debate we had a terrible reminder of the terrorist threat with the attacks in Brussels on 22 March.  The need to maintain an intelligence system to find potential terrorists before they take action and to track them down afterwards was recognised by all the speakers in the debate.

There were several concerns about the Bill one of which was what Andy Burnham called the ‘point of balance’ between security and privacy (column 824).  This was occasioned by the concerns about mass surveillance and the desire to collect and store Internet Connection Records (ICR) for 12 months.  Dominic Grieve – although supportive of the Bill – said that it did not ‘include a clear statement on overarching privacy protections’ (836).

A similar point was made by the SNP MP Joanna Cherry who felt the Bill did not go far enough to ‘protect civil liberties’ (839).  The powers sought went beyond those of other western democracies and she worried that they set a dangerous precedent to Commonwealth countries in particular.

One concern in particular was the clause about economic well-being which could be used against trade unions (862).  In past eras, the security services had been found to use the powers and techniques they then had to frustrate trade union activity.

There was a lot of debate about the difference between ‘content’ data and ‘contact’ data (855).  Many say that the security services are mostly interested in the latter to help them track movements and contacts between criminals, they are less interested in the content which may be encrypted anyway.  David Davis pointed out that two law lords had expressed incredulity because the government had sanctioned illegal surveillance of discussions between a lawyer and his client (864).  This highlighted the issue of trust: that the Bill proposed that the sanctioning of interception would be by a minister and ultimately, can they be trusted?

To what extent are Ministers accountable?  One MP said that attempts to find out information are refused either because it is a criminal matter or, the information was a matter of national security.  Hence the argument was ‘misconceived’ (845).

One of the beliefs behind this activity is that bulk collection will help with finding intelligence.  Evidence from the USA concerning the activities of the NSA (American equivalent of GCHQ) was that the bulk collection of data had not led to the discovery of previously unknown terrorist plots or the disruption of a terrorist attack.  It was initially claimed that 50 such plots had been prevented but once they were examined in detail only one money laundering case was found.  In other words there is a lot of false claiming of success going on.

The notion that ‘the more privacy we sacrifice the more security we gain’ was challenged by more than one speaker (843).  This concept underpinned several speakers in favour of further intrusion citing cases of abducted children and paedophile activity in support of their case.

It was clear throughout the debate that members are struggling with the rapid increase in technology which is increasing the number of ways to communicate and the ability to store and sort vast amounts of data.  As the technology advances, so the issue of privacy and civil liberties comes into play because it is some much easier today to intrude into someone’s life.  The point was made that this intrusion can include digital cameras, games consoles and baby monitors (846).

A lack of clarity with some of the wording is a key issue.  The need for precision of language about what and how much can be intercepted was stressed (843).  Trust is an issue and it is important to remember that the debate may not have happened had it not been for the revelations by Edward Snowden.  We were blissfully ignorant of the sheer extent of the penetration of phones, emails and so forth and the relevant committee knew little of it either.

So the key issues appear to be the bulk collection of data and whether this is advisable or even achievable; the conflict between security and privacy and the control mechanisms to ensure that there is suitable oversight.  Linked to the latter is the issue of trust especially in the light of actions by previous governments for example intruding into Doreen Lawrence’s phone.

After the terrible events in Brussels, there will be an understandable desire for ‘something to be done’.  Had the debate taken place after that outrage then it might have taken on a different tone.  Politicians have to reflect the media and since much of our media is already ill-disposed towards the Human Rights Act, it is understandable that human rights and the free movement of people around Europe would be questioned.  It is more than ever necessary to keep a cool head.  Terrorism is about an attack on values and one of our key values is respect for individuals and the rule of law which includes basic rights enshrined in the HRA.

The Bill moves onto the committee stage and it will be interesting to see how the debate on control and oversight is played out.  Peter Curbishley


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We reproduce a piece written by Fiona Bruce MP on the subject of violence against women and the denial of human rights in North Korea [DPRK]

As we mark International Women’s Day, I am minded to reflect upon the recent conference in the House of Commons hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, of which I am Co-Chair.  Titled Addressing Violence against Women and Girls in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the conference looked to a forgotten corner of Asia and a forgotten group of people: North Korea’s women and girls.

Notorious for its diplomatic belligerence, its disregard for international law and its nuclear programme, the DPRK (or North Korea) successfully concealed its widespread human rights violations from the world for decades.  An era of silence ended in 2014 when a United Nations Commission of Inquiry reported:

The gravity, scale and nature of [North Korea’s human rights] violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.

The severity of this UN statement is worth repeating: North Korea’s human rights situation has no parallel in the contemporary world.

Violence against women

As the international community slowly awakened from its slumber, it was no longer farfetched to recognise North Korea as the largest concentration camp the world had ever known or to rank the horrors of Yodok, Hoeryong, and Pukch’ang alongside Auschwitz, Belsen, and Dachau.  It became a fact that North Korean women have and continue to experience sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault and harassment in public and private spheres of life; human trafficking; forced abortions; slavery; sexual exploitation; psychological violence; religious and gender discrimination; and institutional and economic violence.

This violence in North Korea is neither occasional nor confined to certain quarters — it is endemic; it is state sanctioned; and it is perpetrated against women precisely because they are women.  In every sense of the term, North Korea’s abuses are ‘gendered’.

Why has the international community been silent on this issue?  We can look to many factors, but first and foremost is the discourse that surrounds North Korea.  Dominated by talk of nuclear weapons, regional security, engagement, unification, and humanitarian aid, there has been little room for North Korean women.  And, if truth be told, advocates have simply not been loud enough on this issue.

This year’s International Women’s Day marks an important phase for women’s rights.  Just months after the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women, and fifteen years since the pioneering UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, this is the year that the world is developing the Agenda for Sustainable Development looking to 2030.  The Sustainable Development Goals include a stand-alone goal to achieve gender equality and empowerment for women and girls.

North Korea’s female population should not be forgotten on March 8th.  Gendered violence and discrimination are destroying lives and ruining families in North Korea.  Women are enduring unimaginable suffering and the UK must use what engagement it has with the DPRK to push for real change.  The APPG’s conference on VAWG in North Korea brought together North Korean victims, exiled DPRK Government officials and experts on gender and the rights of women and girls.  Women’s and girls’ human rights is an area in which the UK exhibits international leadership. Let us draw from our knowledge and set out to challenge gendered violence in the DPRK just as we do in so many other countries in the world.

Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton, is Co-Chair of the APPG on North Korea jointly with Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP and Lord Alton of Liverpool.


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A back bench committee is to probe arms sales to Yemen

Readers of this blog, other human rights sites as well the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, will be familiar with the story of Yemen.  There is a war going on there and civilians are being killed.  Médécins sans Frontières facilities are being bombed.  The UK is busy supplying the Saudis with arms and British military personnel are present in the command centre.  £2.8bn of weapons have been supplied since the war began.

At long last the cross party committee on arms exports controls is to look into the matter.  We await their report with interest.

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The minutes of the last meeting are here thanks to group member Lesley for writing them up.  We discussed North Korea and the forthcoming video planned with Clare Moody; the Death Penalty report which highlights the events in Saudi, Pakistan and elsewhere; plans for the Human Rights Act, forthcoming events such as the stall in the market, and social media statistics including the success of the post about the war in Yemen and our role in arming and supporting the carnage, and several other topics.  The next meeting is on 14 April.

March


 

We have just added a link to an organisation, based in the USA, which campaigns for human rights of those who work in sometimes appalling factories for a pittance to bring us cheap clothes.  Called The Institute for Global Labour (sic) and Human Rights, it came to light in an article on the German retailer Lidl and its latest offering of a pair of jeans called ‘jeggings’ for the princely sum of £5.99 ($8.62).  The article alleges that the factories that make them in Bangladesh do so by paying a pittance to their workforce.  Source: The Observer 13 March 16

It’s sometimes easy to forget that human rights can be infringed in clothing factories as well.

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“Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty to silence dissent sends a chilling message to anybody who dares to speak out against the authorities.” James Lynch
The families of three young men arrested for their involvement in anti-government protests while under the age of 18, fear their sons are among four people reported to be facing execution tomorrow, Amnesty International said today.
The family of Ali al-Nimr expressed fears on social media that he, along with Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, is among the prisoners referred to in a government-run newspaper article published today. The article said the scheduled executions will complete a wave of punishments for terrorism offences that saw 47 people executed on the same day in January.

See the full story:

Executions


Attached is the death penalty report compiled with thanks by group member, Lesley.No to the death penalty

Death penalty report


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Video highlighting violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean

This is a must-see video produced in Venezuela by Amnesty which describes the range of attitudes and policies which need to change if violence against women is to cease.  No, it is not about women being beaten up but the wide range of policies concerning rape, reproductive rights and the treatment of ethnic groups which amount in some cases to torture and to the violation of human rights.  Only 2 minutes.

YouTube Video


Secretive Security and Policing Exhibition this week

This week, in Farnborough, the secretive Security and Policing Exhibition takes place behind closed doors.  On the face of it, the event, organised by the Home Office, is innocent enough.  It brings together firms providing security equipment with police and other security personnel who might have an interest in purchasing it.   The UK has a high-profile in this industry.

The first puzzle however, is why the taxpayer is funding this exhibition?  The current government is extremely keen on the private sector and in promoting free enterprise.  It has a distaste for the public sector and seeks every opportunity to outsource or privatise services previously provided by them.  So why, may one ask, is the Home Office organising and sponsoring this event?  Surely since these are profit-making enterprises – some hugely so – can they not organise their own event without subsidy from the taxpayer?

But the bigger concern is the use some of this equipment is put to and the customers being invited to the exhibition.  The list of countries include many well-known abusers of human rights and include Brunei; Indonesia, Saudi Arabia; Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and UAE.  The equipment being sold is likely to be used to violently and brutally repress individuals or groups of protestors who may be carrying out perfectly lawful demonstrations.  Once arrested, many will be tortured, mistreated and in some cases ‘disappeared.’  The UK will be complicit in this activity.

There is clearly some sensitivity around this exhibition – which as we’ve noted, is not open to the public – and its website says:

Established as one of the most important events in the security calendar, this unique event is aimed at police, law enforcement and offender management professionals who are tasked with security, civil protection and national resilience.
Security & Policing enables those with operational needs to meet companies with the relevant solutions. Exhibitors get the opportunity to display products that would be too sensitive to show in a more open environment. Visitors get to see the very latest products, services and technologies available – all within a secure environment. (emphasis added)

Reading some of the exhibitors’ websites is quite chilling with descriptions of real-time interception, harvesting millions of communications a minute and access to the ‘dark web.’  Clearly, if the public were to see some of the equipment it would be alarming so making the exhibition closed gets over that.

In addition to the Home Office, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be attendance to show the delegates round and make them welcome.  John Glen MP is PPS to the Minister and will no doubt be taking part.  We look forward to his piece in the Salisbury Journal telling us about this.  UPDATE 17 March – no mention in the Salisbury Journal (17th March) so perhaps he didn’t attend.

We have previously commented on Britain’s role is supplying weapons and service personnel in various countries and in particular Yemen, where civilians and hospitals are being bombed using our equipment.  In addition to selling weapons, we sell repressive regimes the means to crack down on their citizens and we seem to be quite proud to do so as well.  Claims by the Prime Minister, other ministers and Mr Glen to be promoting human rights seem quite hollow in the light of these activities.


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British involvement in the war in the Yemen

News programmes and newspapers generally are currently filled with arguments over Brexit, the American primaries, Syria and immigration.  Only occasionally does the war in Yemen and our involvement in it get a mention.  An exception was an interview by Frank Gardner [FG], the BBC’s Security correspondent, with Michael Fallon [MF] the Defence Secretary on Wednesday 2 March on the BBC’s Today programme.  It is worth reproducing most of it as it lays bare the thinness of the arguments deployed by Mr Fallon and also its inconsistencies.

Gardner introduces the piece by referring to the ‘unseen war’ which has waged for 5 years and the involvement by western powers in supplying the munitions to enable it to be carried on.  Indeed, Mr Cameron recently backed what he termed the ‘brilliant’ arms sales to Saudi Arabia only a matter of hours after the European Union voted to ban further supplies.  More arms firms are cashing in on the Yemen conflict and sales have surged to £2.8bn since the conflict began.

Michael Fallon said ‘British officers are offering training and advice to the Saudi armed forces, they are not involved in advising selection or the approval of targets in the war in Yemen.  On the contrary [they] are there to support the equipment we have supplied.’

FG: ‘You must be feeling a bit uneasy that some of that equipment, or the aircraft used to deliver it, is the Saudis have admitted, hitting hospitals and civilian targets?’

MF: We have some of the strictest arms control criteria in the world.  Before we supply equipment to anyone including obviously our key allies such as Saudi Arabia, we insist that they not only comply with international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict …’ [interview ends]

FG said that he had spoken to a senior Saudi spokesman who denied that civilian targets were being bombed.  He then spoke to a Yemeni researcher about what ordinary Yemeni’s think of western, and in particular US and UK involvement, in this war.  She said that people on the ground are definitely aware of the involvement of the US and UK in the bombing.  What, asked Gardner, was the likely long-term effects of this?  She said:

The long-term effect is not only civilians dying and that the country is at a standstill, [but] what we are seeing is youth joining al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsular and the Islamic State.

Gardner wound up by saying that the longer this war goes on without a result and the continued absence of the rule of law then the greater the risks that terrorist groups will profit from the chaos and build a ‘mini-state.’

Conclusions

There is no doubt that we are helping to fuel this conflict.  If our service personnel are there to ‘support the equipment we have supplied’ why was it all kept a secret until blurted out by a Saudi spokesman?  And what does ‘supporting equipment we have supplied’ mean anyway?  If weapons are being used to kill civilians does our ‘support’ make it better or worse?  The statement is meaningless.

But the big political error is to be involved at all and it could be laying the foundation stones of the next stage of ISIS’s development.  His statement that we have some of the ‘strictest arms control criteria in the world’ verges on the bizarre if the criteria are not being applied.

Our passion for arms sales has blinded politicians to the risks being run.  It’s all very well for the Prime Minister to be praising aircraft builders for their ‘brilliant’ achievements but if those planes are used to kill civilians, where does it take us?

In 2011, the then Foreign Secretary William Hague made a speech on human rights in which he said:

and how we are seen to uphold our values is a crucial component of our influence in the world.

He went on to say:

If change can be achieved peacefully in the Middle East it will be the biggest advance of democratic freedoms since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.  If it cannot, we are likely to see turmoil and unrest which sets hack the cause of democracy and human rights

It would seem these ideas have been forgotten.


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Our next meeting is on10 March at 7.30