Archive for July, 2016


There is something of an execution spree going on in Indonesia at present with a number of people already executed by firing squad and more likely to follow.  This is a message sent out by Amnesty UK: –

I’m getting in touch with sad news.  Last night, Indonesian authorities killed four prisoners by firing squad.  All four had been convicted of drugs crimes, their families only told yesterday morning that their loved one would be killed that night.

Indonesian Fredi Budiman, and Nigerian prisoners Humphrey ‘Jeff’ Jefferson Ejike, Michael Titus Igweh, and Seck Osmane had their right to life taken from them in the depth of night in the middle of a raging storm. They were shot dead by a firing squad on Indonesia’s infamous ‘execution island’.

But ten more prisoners received a last-minute stay of execution.

The lives of ten more people hang in the balance.  And we need to make sure the Indonesian authorities do not go ahead with these executions.

Thanks to [Amnesty supporters] contacting the Indonesian authorities and sharing the story, the tragic execution of four people last night made headlines around the world.  All we can do now is keep calling for justice and for an end to the executions – with the hope that pressure from around the world will save the ten lives at stake.

Do please share our action to stop the remaining executions.  Go to the Amnesty UK site for more details on how to take action.

action@amnesty.co.uk

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War in Yemen

For most of this year we have been commenting on the war in Yemen and the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.  We wrote to the Salisbury MP John Glen, who replied enclosing a bland statement from the Foreign Office Minister, Tobias Ellwood.  We have noted the government’s activities in getting the Saudi’s onto the UN’s Human Rights Council and the continued supply of arms to the Saudis despite their use in Yemen on civilian targets, schools and medical facilities.  We have also noted the steady softening of policies to make it easier – it is believed – for arms companies to ply their trade.  The Telegraph reported in an article in February, the difference between Syria and Yemen.  In the former country, bombing of a MSF hospital led to outrage by press and politicians in the UK:  by contrast, bombing of MSF hospitals in Yemen is greeted by a deafening silence :

Alas, this is not merely about Western indifference but about complicity and collusion. Last October, Britain and the US successfully blocked plans for a UN independent investigation into potential war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. This was a unique opportunity to hold all sides of the conflict accountable for their actions. Instead, Saudi Arabia has been allowed to investigate itself through its own internal commission.  (24 Feb 2016)

Then, on Thursday 21st July when parliament rose, there was a curious statement issued by the FCO.  It has been forced to retract numerous written and oral statements to parliament which said ministers had assessed that Saudi Arabia was not in breach of international humanitarian law in Yemen.

The admission led to calls by the Liberal Democrats for an investigation into Saudi behaviour in Yemen and a suspension of UK arms sales.  The Liberal Democrats have repeatedly claimed that the Saudi military campaign has targeted civilians.  We also drew attention in a previous blog to the presence of British service personnel in Saudi control rooms.  The Foreign Office said the incorrect statements – made by three different ministers, some as far back as six months ago – were errors and did not represent an attempt to mislead MPs over its assessment of the Saudi campaign.

It stressed that other written answers had made clear that the UK government had made no assessment of whether the Saudis were in breach of humanitarian law.

The last day of parliament is a favourite time to slip out inconvenient statements since there is no time for questions or debate to take place.  The FCO simply said it had been reviewing the correspondence.

The government is facing a court case arguing that it should ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  The Guardian newspaper said:

In its written answer published on Thursday, the Foreign Office said written answers in February 2016 had stated: “We have assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL (international humanitarian law) by the coalition.” The correction said these should have stated: “We have not assessed that there has been a breach of IHL by the coalition.”

The Foreign Office also corrected a written answer by the then foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, who stated on 4 January 2016: “I regularly review the situation with my own advisers and have discussed it on numerous occasions with my Saudi counterpart. Our judgment is that there is no evidence that IHL has been breached, but we shall continue to review the situation regularly.”

This is something of a volt face and to issue such a statement on the last day of parliament is shameful.  It achieved its object however with next to no media coverage.  Why does it matter?  We are currently suffering a severe threat from ISIS with a recent outrage in Nice said to be inspired by the group.  Saudi Arabia’s activities in Yemen, supported by US and UK weapons, personnel and political cover, provide an ideal recruiting ground for this terrorist group.  At present all eyes are on Syria but how long will it be before our activities in Yemen come under the spotlight?


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A senior judge at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has concluded that powers letting police and public bodies grant themselves access to people’s communications data with no external oversight or suspicion of serious criminality breach human rights law.

It is difficult to generate much interest among the public to the proposals by the government – drafted by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary – to introduce the Investigatory Powers Bill.  A few weeks ago, the country voted against staying in Europe which was interpreted by many as a protest against government and the governing class who were seen as out of touch and indifferent to their plight.  There were other matters such as immigration and the EU itself, but it was a cry by the ‘left behinds’ who are finding life, jobs and housing an increasing trial.

Yet they seem relaxed at giving the government yet more powers to pry into their lives.  Of course it is presented as a fight against terrorism and that these powers are needed to fight this ever present menace.  But, in addition to the police and security services, local councils and various government agencies such as the Food Standard Agency will also enjoy these rights.  It is hard to see how the FSA can be dealing with serious crime.  And are there half a million serious crimes a year?  That is the number of requests.

The previous act Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act [DRIPA] was introduced in a desperate hurry by Theresa May because of a previous ruling by the European Court.  This meant that there was an urgent need to introduce legislation to legitimise the high level of interception that was taking place without proper oversight.  Hardly any time was allowed for parliamentary debate.

The new law will go further and the CJEU has fired a warning shot concerning the breach of liberties.  Ah you might say, ‘aren’t we about to leave the EU so we can give two fingers to them.’  The problem is that the EU will want to ensure that we are protecting fundamental rights when the come to negotiate with us as an external partner.

The new PM is not known as a libertarian and this promises to be an interesting struggle.  We do not yet know whether the new Home Secretary will simply trot along behind what the PM left her.  So far the public has remained relaxed having bought the line that this all part of the battle against terrorism.  One day however, one or other of the tabloids might wake up and have a go in which case the mood will change quickly.

 

Souces; Guardian; Privacy International; Liberty; Open Rights Group

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The minutes of the July meeting are available here thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.  A full meeting in which we discussed the death penalty report; the results of the stall; the film at the Arts Centre; social media statistics; the meeting at the Cathedral and the BBQ in August.  We also discussed the letter sent to John Glen about the Maldives (reply awaited).

July minutes (pdf)


The group’s death penalty report for June – July 2016 is now available thanks to group member Lesley forNo to the death penalty compiling it.  USA features strongly where there are a number of struggles going on.  The Maldives appear and we have written to our local MP Mr John Glen, who has a special interest in the country, to intercede.

China remains the country which executes the most followed by Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Details of executions in China are a state secret.

Report June – July (pdf)

 


UPDATE 23 JULY

The following letter has been sent to John Glen MP concerning the imminent use of the death penalty in the Maldives.  Mr Glen has spoken and written often about the human rights situation there.

[…] You may remember that, when you came to speak to our Group about Human
Rights, you told us of your particular interest and involvement in the issues
around Human Rights in the Maldives.
I am sure, therefore, you will have been concerned, as was our Group, to read
of the Maldives Government’s confirmation of the sentencing to death of a
young man found guilty of the killing in 2012 of a lawmaker. I understand that,
days before this ruling, the Government had amended the rules to allow
execution by lethal injection or hanging. This would bring the Country’s
decades-long moratorium on capital punishment to an end.
I would be grateful if you could let me know whether our Government will be
making any intervention in this man’s case, and expressing their concerns at
this change of policy. You will also, I am sure, be aware that the decision is
controversial, and has resulted in the resignation of the Country’s Foreign
Minister, Dunya Maumoon. We would like to ask whether you would be able
to use your influence with any of the Government contacts you will have made
in the course of your work in relation to the Maldives to support the
commuting of this man’s death sentence to a term of imprisonment, and a
reversal of the new policy.
[…]
[UPDATE]
Mr Glen has replied:
[..] I do remain closed involved with monitoring the situation in Maldives and I believer that there are number of issues there give give cause for grave concern.
You may have seen reports about the recent return to Salisbury of Anni Nasheed, the democratically elected president of the Maldives, who has recently been imprisoned in his home country on entirely spurious grounds.  I am pleased that I was able to see him while he was here and bring myself up to date with the latest developments.
As you will know, the UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle and the government continues to call on all countries around the world that use the death penalty to cease its use.
As you say, this apparent selective reintroduction of the death penalty is deeply worrying.  A group of colleagues and I are committed to keeping the Maldives in forefront of the minds of Foreign Office ministers and I will certainly ensure that specific pressure has been brought to bear around this case.
[…]
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Execution set after 34 years on death row

It seems hardly credible that someone who has spent 34 years on death row should now be at risk of execution but that is the case with John Wayne Conner in Georgia.  The details are below and if you are able to write we would be grateful.  This is URGENT however.

Urgent Action details

Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty.  China remains the country which executes more than any other country.  See our monthly report.