Archive for February, 2017


Letter in the Observer (19 February) from a group of lawyers stressing the importance of ECHR

Theresa May has repeatedly stated her feelings that Britain would be better served by leaving the European convention on human rights than it would leaving the European Union.  As we enter Brexit negotiations, there is now every possibility that both these scenarios could easily come to pass.  The ECHR has been the bedrock of peace in Europe since the Second World War and was instrumental in the remarkable growth of democracy in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  It is no coincidence that the one state that is not part of the convention, Belarus, is known as “Europe’s last dictatorship”.  The withdrawal of Britain from the EU and the ECHR in succession could embolden populist leaders in countries such as Hungary and Poland to abandon domestic and international commitments to human rights.

We face the threat of a human rights crisis with the UK trading away protections against torture for grubby trade deals with foreign tyrants.  We are calling for the EU to make Britain’s membership of the ECHR a legally binding requirement for any future free trade deal with the UK.  The rule of law and human rights are non-negotiable when new countries join the EU; they should be non-negotiable when countries leave and desire a free trade deal.

As parliament scrutinises the bill on withdrawing from the EU and further legislation on Brexit, MPs, peers and the EU itself must make sure that Britain’s membership of the ECHR is a requirement of any future trade deal with the EU.

Signed Sashy Nathan, Baroness Kennedy QC, Lord Lester QC, Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, Alex Bailin QC, Alex Grigg, Ali Naseem Bajwa QC, Alistair Polson, Amos Waldman, Anya Lewis, Ben Cooper

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Celia Graves, David Jones, Dr Leslie Thomas QC, Grainne Mellon, Top of Form

Greg Ó Ceallaigh, Harriet Johnson, Helen Foot, James Wood, Jelia Sane, John Halford

Jules Carey, Keir Monteith, Louise Hooper, Malcolm Hawkes, Mark Stephens CBE, Navita Atreya, Nerida Harford-Bell, Paramjit Ahluwalia, Patrick O’Connor QC, Phil Haywood

Prof. Fergal Davis, Prof. Francesca Klug OBE, Professor Steve Peers, Ravi Naik, Sadat Sayeed, Sally Ireland, Sarah Forster, Sean Horstead, Sir Paul Jenkins KCB QC, Stephen Lue

We should add that our MP Mr John Glen, is in favour of this policy.

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Members of the group took part in the London Refugee march last year

Members of the group took part in the London Refugee march last year

Minutes of the February meeting are now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.  It was a full agenda and we have a lot going on and planned at present.  If you live in the Salisbury area and would like to help that would be appreciated.  If you go to the end of the minutes you will see the list of events and activities.  If you are interested in becoming involved, then come along to one of those and make yourself known.  Follow this site or twitter or Facebook if you prefer those.

February minutes (Word)


The Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, has finally managed to get the problem of our massive sale of arms to the Saudi regime into court – a process which has taken a considerable degree of legal wrangling.

At issue is our arms sales, put at £3.3bn to the Saudis, and the use of these weapons to bomb a wide range of civilian targets in Yemen.  This has caused untold distress with thousands killed and injured, and there are distressing scenes of malnutrition and dying children.  The Saudis have bombed schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, sometimes returning to bomb the rescue workers causing further mayhem.  An estimated 6,000 have been killed.

They have also been shown to use cluster weapons which have been banned.

In today’s hearings correspondence was revealed from the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson in which he says:

The issue is extremely finely balanced, but I judge at present the Saudis appear committed both to improve processes and to taking action to address failures/individual incidents.

Picture: MSF

We will of course have to see what the judges decide in this case but in the debate in the House of Commons, one of the key matters discussed was what was described as ‘glacial’ progress by the Saudi government.  Although there are disagreements about the number of incidents, they number around 100 and yet the number investigations have been eight.  A wide range of agencies have criticised the government and the Saudis for the raids including Oxfam, Amnesty, WWF and MSF.

It seems clear that the arms sales tail is wagging the ministerial dog.  It is a real stretch to say ‘the issue is finely balanced.’  If we did not have so much tied up in these arms sales with money, jobs and local economies in the UK dependent on them, it is doubtful we would continue with such clear breaches of international humanitarian law.

We shall no doubt be returning to this topic in due course.


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The latest death penalty report covering the period 13 January to 9 February is attached and thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  The report notes that many of the countries which feature in the report have close links with the UK as we have described in previous posts.

Death penalty report (pdf)

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)


Amnesty publishes a report today on the programme of mass executions in Syria

A terrifying and sickening report on the execution of possibly 13, 000 Syrians is published in a major report by Amnesty.  The report makes chilling reading as testimony from survivors and guards describe the horrific process of killing and disposal of bodies by the regime.  A summary of the report is published in the Guardian today.  There is also a piece by Kate Allen, director of Amnesty describing the prison as a slaughterhouse.

Saydnaya report

Graphic: The Guardian


Group hosts a showing of refugee film Fire at Sea

On Friday 3rd February the group hosted a showing of the film Fire at Sea in the Arts Centre in Salisbury.  This film won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin film festival and tells the story of immigrants seeking to reach Europe, in this case the island of Lampedusa.  There are in effect two parallel story lines: one involving a small boy of around 12 who spends his time, with a friend, making and shooting a catapult and on his father’s fishing boat.  The other involves the immigrants packed onto boats bobbing about for days in the Mediterranean in their desperate efforts to reach Europe.  Some die of dehydration and others get burned by diesel fuel splashes as they refill the engines.  These burns can be serious and even fatal.  There are harrowing scenes of bodies being retrieved from the boats.

Picture: Spindle magazine

The feature of the film is that the two stories never overlap.  The islanders carry on their lives completely divorced from the drama that is taking place in the sea around them and in the holding centre where the immigrants are looked after.  The doctor is featured who is involved with vetting the immigrants and speaks matter of factly about the dire state of their health and how some of them die.  He is then shown treating the boy who is concerned about his breathing difficulty, which we are led to believe is imaginary.  These two contrasting scenes seem to sum up the theme of the film.

We took the opportunity to ask people to sign a petition on the refugee situation in Greece.

We are grateful to the Arts Centre for hosting this event.


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Obituary

Picture: Essex Uni

We attach a link to the Guardian‘s obituary of Sir Nigel Rodley who was a key member of Amnesty and did so much to get the legal tools enacted in the anti-torture campaign and also worked hard to end the death penalty.

Obituary