Archive for July, 2018


The Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, aims to ease the suffering of women in conflict areas.  Will action follow?

We have often posted items on this site concerning our support for, and arming of, the Saudi regime in its war in Yemen and the awful human toll that this has caused.  Thousands have died, cholera is at epidemic proportions and civil society has been catastrophically damaged.  A blockade is making matters worse.  The has been considerable evidence that UK arms have been used to attack civilian targets including schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals.  Yet we continue to aid the Saudis and the sale of weapons continues.  The Royal family is used to visit the regime and to welcome them here on a recent state visit.  The sale of weapons is so valuable that any concern at the destruction caused is effectively ignored.

In the context of the Yemen, as in many other conflicts, it is women and children who suffer often disproportionately.  The destruction of their community, the bombing of medical facilities and schools, the difficulty in acquiring food and clean water, all make life extremely difficult for them.  So it was interesting to read that the Defence Minister, Gavin Williamson, attended a meeting in London with representatives of countries experiencing conflict.  Countries included:  the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Ukraine, as well as several international action groups, were welcomed to discuss the issues faced in their countries, particularly by women.

It is noticeable that Yemen was not among them.

Mr Williamson said:

Conflict can have devastating effects for anyone caught in its path, but life can be particularly traumatic for women. They are subject to violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and their calls for justice are often falling on deaf ears.

I am determined we do more to listen to those who are often not given a voice. It is only by understanding the situation faced by women and girls that we will be able to protect them. Ministry of Defence news story, 19 July 2018 [accessed 27 July]

It appears that most if not all the countries attending had UK-trained peace keepers deployed there.  The news story went on to claim:

The UK has already increased peacekeeping in Sudan and Somalia, has deployed four Military Gender and Protection Advisers to DRC and has established a UK centre of excellence to integrate guidelines on women, peace and security into its work.  It is also among the first countries to publish a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security

The minister claims that he is determined to ‘do more to listen to those often not given a voice‘.  This raises the question of what happens when he is told it is your weapons which are destroying our lives.  What more does he need to be told?  There have been countless authenticated reports on the destruction our weapons (and those of USA and France) have caused in war zones like Yemen.  A Médecins sans Frontières report is another example among many.  Countless reports, evidence on the ground, news reports and footage, all graphically describe the terrible events in that country.

So the questions for Mr Williamson are – when you have read the reports and done your ‘listening’ what are you going to do?  Will you take steps to cease arming the Saudis with weapons they are using to cause such mayhem?  Will you bring home the RAF personnel who are involved in the conflict?  What in short will you do to ease the plight of women caught ‘in its path’ as you put it?  Or was this just an exercise in public relations which will have no tangible or beneficial effects on the lives of women in war zones?

Will you listen and do nothing?


If you live in the Salisbury area we would be pleased to welcome you to our group.

 

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Sajid Javid proposes allowing ISIL individuals to be sent to the USA with the risk of torture and execution

UPDATE: 1 August.  Article by Bharat Malkani in British Politics and Policy published by LSE which goes into the wider aspects of British policy in connection with executions on foreign soil. 

UPDATE: 26 July.  Following considerable protest over this decision, the government today announced a temporary suspension of the cooperation with the US over the case.

It has been widely reported today that the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, is withdrawing the long-standing objections the UK has had to sending people to the USA where they risk being executed. The USA is the only country in the Americas which still has the death penalty. We continue to document cases in our monthly reports.

The two individuals who are involved are Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, both from West London.  They were part of a group of individuals from the UK who joined ISIS and allegedly perpetrated some dreadful crimes including beheadings.  They allegedly murdered two US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and aid worker and Iraq war veteran Peter Kassig.  Investigations have been continuing for 4 years and the question has arisen of where they should be tried.

The UK government has a long-standing policy of opposing the death penalty abroad in all circumstances.  It has also been active in trying to persuade those countries which continue to use it, to stop.  Amnesty is opposed to the practice as it has a number of serious flaws.  It is ineffective in preventing crime and it is not a deterrent.  Mistakes cannot be put right.  In the case of terrorists, it risks creating martyrs and spawning others who want to avenge the executions.

It is therefore particularly depressing to see our home secretary acceding to the request.  The full text shows that it is because he believes a successful federal prosecution in the US is more likely to be possible because of differences in their statute book and the restrictions on challenges to the route by which defendants appear in US courts.  In his leaked letter to Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, he says on the matter of sending them to the States:

[…] All assistance and material will be provided on the condition that it may only be used for the purpose sought in that request, namely a federal criminal investigation or prosecution.

Furthermore, I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.  From the letter published in the Mail Online [accessed 23 July 2018]

The decision has received widespread criticism.  Alan Howarth, the head of advocacy and programmes, at Amnesty International said:

This is a deeply worrying development.  The home secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain’s longstanding position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast-iron assurances from the US that it will not be used.

A failure to seek assurances on this case seriously jeopardises the UK’s position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and its work encouraging others to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice.

Other criticisms have come from Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow Attorney General and Lord Carlile who said on the BBC the decision was extraordinary and:

It is a dramatic change of policy by a minister, secretly, without any discussion in parliament.  It flies in the face of what has been said repeatedly and recently by the Home Office – including when Theresa May was home secretary – and very recently by the highly respected security minister, Ben Wallace.

Britain has always said that it will pass information and intelligence, in appropriate cases, provided there is no death penalty.  That is a decades-old policy and it is not for the home secretary to change that policy.  BBC Today programme 23 July 2018

There is also the question of the use of torture.  Will either or both of them be sent to Guantanamo Bay to receive abusive treatment including water boarding?  Coming so soon after a select committee roundly criticized the government for its role in torture and rendition, this is a surprising and disappointing development.

The full text of the letter can be seen here.

Sources: Amnesty; BBC; the Guardian; Mail on line


If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in human rights issues please feel free to join us.  Keep and eye on this site and Facebook for events and come along and make yourself known.  It is free to join the local group but there is a joining fee to join AIUK.

 

 


Torture report released

Amnesty has just published a report on the use of torture in Yemen.  This adds to the severe stress the country is in.  UK involvement and the critical comments by a select committee can be read here.


We have pleasure in attaching the minutes of the July meeting in which we discussed the Death Penalty, the barbeque, the Trump protest and urgent actions.  Thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.

July minutes (Word)

Trump protest

Posted: July 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

Salisbury group carries out protest concerning President Trump’s policies

Members of the Salisbury group gathered in the vicinity of the Guildhall in Salisbury to conduct a protest against President Trump’s human rights policies.  The president is visiting the UK at present en route to Helsinki to meet president Putin of Russia.  He has been shepherded around carefully by the government to steer him away from the many protestors who are out in force.

Our protest is connected with his activities concerning human rights in particular, his government’s treatment of Mexican children separated from their parents and placed in cages, his statements about refugees and the decision to take the USA out of the Human Rights Council.

Unfortunately, this is not the sort of event the local media want to cover so people were unaware of what we were doing.  However, we were pleased at the number of Americans who stopped and expressed support.  UPDATE: 19 July.  A brief report and photo sent to the Salisbury Journal was not published by the paper.

Group members in costumes. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty


Attached is the current death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  Grim news on several fronts with Sri Lanka thinking of re-using the penalty.  China leads the world it is believed in the use of the penalty although details are a state secret.

On the issue of China, readers may like to read the website of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders which charts the systematic denial of human rights freedoms by the Chinese government.  Links to many human rights sites can be found at the bottom of this site.

Report – June/July (pdf)

 

 

Group meeting

Posted: July 11, 2018 in Group news
Tags: , , ,

Group meeting Thursday 12th at 7:30 as usual in Victoria Road.  Supporters welcome.


Select committee issues two damning reports on UK’s role in torture

The Intelligence and Security Committee released its report in the UK’s role in torture on 28 June 2018 and this revealed the shocking extent of MI6’s involvement.  It is government policy, and the legal position, that the UK does not use torture nor does it outsource the practice to other agencies or governments.  It is counterproductive since under torture, victims are likely to say anything to get it to stop.  The evidence thus gleaned is of doubtful value as was dramatically shown in Iraq and our decision to invade.  It is also a key part of the Human Rights Act.  Article 3 protects you from:

– torture (mental or physical)
– inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and
– deportation or extradition (being sent to another country to face criminal charges) if there is a real risk you will face torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the country concerned.
As you would expect, public authorities must not inflict this sort of treatment on you. They must also protect you if someone else is treating you in this way. If they know this right is being breached, they must intervene to stop it. The state must also investigate credible allegations of such treatment.  Equality and Human Rights Commission

That we were involved in this activity has been known for some time although often the details were not available.  So were the denials and here is Jack Straw – the Home Secretary for much of the time when this was happening – claiming in an interview:

Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.  Quoted by Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2012 [accessed 3 July 2018]

Peter Oborne continued: After Mr Straw spoke out, further denials followed. Tony Blair insisted that Britain had never engaged in the practice.  Mr Straw’s successor, David Miliband, was equally adamant.  Sir John Scarlett, until recently head of the Secret Intelligence Service (and the official responsible for the notorious dossier of September 2002 which asserted that Saddam Hussein was capable of deploying weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes) was forthright. “Our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else,” he said, adding that there was “no complicity in torture.  (ibid)

The scale of the activity revealed by this report was a surprise.  Up until the report was published it was known that the activity had taken place on a modest scale but the facts show otherwise:

• On 232 occasions UK intelligence officers were found to have continued supplying questions to foreign agencies between 2001 and 2010, despite knowing or suspecting a prisoner was being tortured or mistreated.
• There were 198 occasions when UK intelligence officers received information from a prisoner whom they knew was being mistreated.
• In a further 128 cases, foreign intelligence bodies told UK intelligence agencies prisoners were being mistreated.
• MI5 or MI6 offered to help fund at least three rendition operations.
• The agencies planned or agreed to a further 28 rendition operations.
• They provided intelligence to assist with a further 22 rendition operations.
• Two MI6 officers consented to mistreatment meted out by others.  Only one of these incidents has been investigated by police.
• In a further 13 cases, UK intelligence officers witnessed an individual being tortured or mistreated.
• MI5, MI6 and the military conducted up to 3,000 interviews of prisoners held at Guantanamo.
• No attempt is being made to find out whether guidelines introduced by the coalition government in 2010 are helping to prevent the UK’s intelligence agencies from continuing to be involved in human rights abuses.
• The UK breached its commitment to the international prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
• On at least two occasions ministers took “inappropriate” decisions.
• Jack Straw authorised payment of “a large share of the costs” of the rendition of two people in October 2004. The Guardian 2 July 2018

Not that this is the full story.  The government prevented individual officers from giving evidence so there may well be more to come out in future.  On this matter, Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty said:

It is obvious that the ISC was prevented by the Government from producing a thorough report about what really happened – it says so itself.  The ISC had no powers to summon witnesses or demand full evidence, and its findings were always subject to redaction and veto from the Prime Minister herself.  Instead of the independent, judge-led torture inquiry promised by David Cameron, we’ve had an under-powered, over-controlled review by a committee that was never empowered to get the job done.  While the Committee’s report represents a helpful step forwards, it is not the definitive account of what really happened. It was always the wrong tool for the job.
With the President of the United States personally praising waterboarding and the CIA led by someone closely linked to torture, now is not the time to brush this issue under the carpet. We need a full judge-led inquiry now.  Amnesty statement 

The Response

In the face of damning evidence and a considerable amount of research carried out by the committee over many years, one might have thought that a contrite response from the head of MI6 at the time, Sir Richard Dearlove, would be appropriate, if not a full apology.  Not a bit of it.  Here he is quoted in the Sun* newspaper:

As far as my former service is concerned, the mistreatment issue has been blown out of proportion by pressure from certain interest groups [one assumes Amnesty is among them].  There never was a systemic problem, and there are no skeletons in the cupboard from my time.  The staff served the nation magnificently and with due care for our respect for the law.  In extreme circumstances, there will always be incidents that one regrets.  But nothing illegal was perpetrated – which is as achievement given the extent of the provocation.  Warning of the chilling effect that the MPs’ withering criticism could have, the ex-spymaster added: It’s time to move on and not allow our willingness to take risks to be diminished.  The Sun 29 June 2018

No mea culpa there.  Quite what the ‘provocation’ is not explained.  Torture seems to be part of a need to ‘take risks’.  This quotation – if it is an accurate statement of his position – is disgraceful.  That the former head of the service brushes aside a comprehensive and detailed description of our – and his service’s role – in water boarding, stress positions and other forms of degrading treatment is utterly reprehensible.  His defence seems to rest on the fact that MI6 officers did not actually do the torturing themselves.

But he is not alone.  This is the Sun’s editorial position:

WHAT did we gain by MPs blowing five years probing what MI5 and MI6 knew of the US torture of terror suspects back in 2001?  Their report admits our spooks were directly involved only twice.  And if it extracted vital intelligence preventing further atrocities after 9/11, so what if we turned a blind eye?  Yes, torture is barbaric.  But the CIA firmly believes it saved lives.  Would those people wringing their hands over it prefer to have risked thousands more being massacred by al-Qaeda?

Still perpetuating the myth that torture is necessary and saves lives.

As a nation we pride ourselves on civilised behaviour.  We promote such behaviour around the world and in the UN.  We are signatories to key treaties and it is government policy that we do not torture people.  We have the Human Rights Act which prohibits it.  Government ministers constantly claim that such practices are alien to our culture and way of doing things.  We have a fundamental sense of decency it is claimed.  However, Peter Beaumont, a journalist with the Observer, says over the years he has ‘been lied to a lot’.

British intelligence officers, despite all the denials, were aware of the mistreatment, they benefited from it and even supplied their own questions for the victims of mistreatment despite knowing those being interrogated were being brutalized.  1 July 2018 

Even now, people like Sir Richard Dearlove are in denial.  The government has done all it can to frustrate the enquiry and to prevent it getting to the truth.  Jack Straw and others have many questions to answer.


Joint statement by human rights organisations

*a tabloid newspaper part of the Murdoch group in the UK.