We wish seasons greetings to all our followers and readers around the world.
Minutes of the December meeting are attached thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them. A full meeting with both past and future activities discussed. At the end of the minutes you will find details of future events with dates.
If you are living in the Salisbury/South Wiltshire/North Dorset area and wish to join us you would be welcome. The simplest thing is to keep and eye on this site or Facebook or Twitter (salisburyai) and come along to an event and make yourself known
Peace talks in Sweden offer slender hope for peace in Yemen
We have be writing blogs about the war in Yemen for over three years now going back to the time when it was referred to as the ‘forgotten war’. The group wrote to our local MP to raise concerns about war crimes and we received the usual bland reply from a FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood and a covering note from Mr Glen saying:
However, the government recognises that its abolition is not a matter of mere legal reform but would require a seismic societal shift. It has therefore taken an approach which it feels is most constructive – engaging behind the scenes rather than inflaming the situation and triggering a backlash through outspoken public critique.Mr John Glen MP, July 2015
This ‘behind the scenes engagement’ has not yielded anything of any value and indeed, while the slaughter has increased, British arms sales have also increased adding to the misery of this country. It is now estimated over 10,000 have been killed, over 3 million have had to flee their homes and nearly 14 million Yemenis are in fear of starvation.
Over the past 3 years or so, we have reported on critical select committee reports, newspaper revelations about our involvement and trips by our royals, the Foreign Secretary and the prime minister to Saudi Arabia to help promote arms sales. It was originally argued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that we had a tough regime to control arms sales to regimes where human rights were ignored. The shear weight of evidence of violations by Saudi Arabia, both with its own citizens and in Yemen, makes this statement hollow.
The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has written about the conflict in an article in the Guardian saying that the British government is complicit in the death of thousands in the war through its continued sale of arms. He refers to a recently published Christian Aid report pointing to the absurd position our government is in, namely giving half our aid to states and regions affected by chronic violent conflict and at the same time, half our arms sales go to states where military force is used against its citizens. As Dr Williams puts it:
It’s as if we are creating, or at least helping to maintain, the very conflicts whose terrible effects we then spend money of mitigatingBritain’s direct complicity in the war in Yemen must end. Rowan Williams 14 December 2018 The Guardian
The CA report comments on the ambivalence – some might say hypocrisy – of the British government’s position:
The double standards are most stark in relation to the UK’s complicity in the conflict in Yemen. On one hand, the UK is leading calls in the UN for a peace agreement, and is the leading financial supporter of humanitarian aid to Yemenis and the UN Special Envoy’s peace-making endeavours. On the other, it is promoting significant new arms sales to the government of Saudi Arabia and actively supporting military operations of the Saudi led coalition in Yemen. This has included attacks that may amount to war crimes.Christian Aid: For Yemen’s sake: stop selling arms, 13 December, 2018
As events in Yemen got worse and the death toll rose, Britain actually increased its sale of arms to Saudi according to a Sky News report. Despite credible reports of bombing of civilian facilities including schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, we went on with our arms sales and provided RAF personnel to advise the Saudis.
The UK government is in something of a bind however. The extent of our arms sales to the Saudis is such that scaling them back would be extremely difficult in terms of the economic impact on parts of the country which depend on them. With Brexit looming – whatever the outcome – we will need all the business we can get. Dr Williams’ plea to stop sales to certain countries is unlikely to receive more than a polite hearing therefore.
This is a crucial moment for the UK as it looks to redefine its relationship with the EU and the wider world. The UK Government, as one of the world’s largest aid donors, largest arms exporters and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), is a global leader on war and peace. There is much to celebrate about the UK’s role in aid and development, in responding to climate change, upholding principles of multilateralism, supporting the UN Peacebuilding Fund, and committing to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for aid. Yet undermining these peacebuilding efforts are some stark double standards fuelling war instead. Such as the fact the UK is currently on track to become one of the world’s biggest arms dealers, exporting the majority of its arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. If the UK Government is really committed to peace, Christian Aid calls on them to address these stark double standards and champion international law and peace in its foreign and aid policies.Christian Aid, ibid
We hope the peace deal agreed in Sweden will hold and yield results.
The Guardian, CAAT, Sky News, Christian Aid, Amnesty International
If you live in the Salisbury area, you would be welcome to join us. It is free to join the local group and the best thing is to keep an eye on this page, or Twitter or Facebook as you prefer, and come along to the next event and make yourself known.
Signing in the Library passage on Saturday 15 December
We will be holding our annual card signing this Christmas in the Library passage in Salisbury starting at 9 am for around 3 hours. We will have four prisoners of conscience from around the world and we ask that people sign one or more of these. We will then post them to the prisoners.
Prisoners of conscience are people who are imprisoned for their beliefs or because they displease the powers in their country. They are not violent. Thousands are held in this way, often without being charged and without access to lawyers. Many countries which have signed up to uphold human rights standards do this, the most recent example is Turkey. But China has ten of thousands in prisons and in vast camps.
If you are in Salisbury this Saturday, please spend a minute or two to sign a card.
No end in sight
This is the title of a report produced by Amnesty International concerning the use of torture in China. It was only last month that China’s president received a red carpet treatment on his visit to Britain with smiles all round. The subject of human rights was taboo and was not to be mentioned during the course of his visit. The aim was to boost trade and to secure deals such as the nuclear power plant investment.
Human rights infringements are a major issue for China and there is always the hope that there will be a steady improvement over time. Indeed, it is a favourite argument by politicians that engagement – whether through trade, culture, sport or otherwise – is the best way to effect improvements in countries still practising torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments.
Only it doesn’t seem to be working in places…
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Talk by Daniel Trilling organised by the Salisbury group
The 10th December was the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Salisbury group decided to mark the occasion with a talk on the subject of refugees. This is a hot topic since one of the contributory factors which led some people to vote to leave the EU in 2016 was the worry about immigration in all its forms. At the time of the Referendum, there were nightly images of people fleeing Syria and others fleeing wars in Eritrea, Somalia and Mali trying to cross from Libya to Italy in highly unseaworthy boats.
We were delighted to welcome author and journalist Daniel Trilling who began by talking about his own family’s journeys to these shores from Russia and Kiev. His grandmother had managed to leave the Ukraine and get into Poland at the time of the civil war in Russia which started just after the revolution. She made it to Berlin but had to leave again in ’39 because of the Nazis. She came Britain 3 days before war was declared. Britain was hostile to letting in adult Jews, as was the USA and Canada, and the ship MS St Louis found it difficult to find anywhere for them to disembark. There was a book and a film Voyage of the Damned of harrowing attempts by the fugitives seeking somewhere to land . Much was made recently of the Kinder transport coming to Britain but these were of course children, not adults.
After the First World War, there was considerable turmoil in Europe with local wars and revolutions. The Russian revolution left many millions stateless and there were great movement of peoples as the nation states became dominant. The two main groups of stateless peoples were Armenians and Russians. The League of Nations created passports for the stateless but only between members of the League. In 1951 the Convention on Refugees was the foundation for the protection of refugees in Europe.
His family history therefore was one reason why he became interested in the refugee question and in researching his book, travelled to Sicily, Greece, Calais, Germany and Bulgaria. Wars in various parts of the world, Afghanistan, Iraq and the collapse of Libya for example, have created huge numbers of people fleeing to seek refuge in another country. He noted of course that the countries most affected are often those with the least resources to handle the vast numbers involved, Jordan is a case in point.
Europe has ‘militarised’ its border in an attempt to keep people out. The problem was the Dublin Treaty which makes the state where refugees first set foot responsible for them. This again puts great strain on Greece – which experienced severe financial crisis following the 2008 banking collapse – and Italy which is also under considerable financial strain. Other European nations – with the exception of Germany – are reluctant to play much of a part. In Greece, the rise of the neo fascist Golden Dawn party made life very difficult for refugees with frequent attacks. This led to people living in limbo for many years.
Effects on people
The media he said tended to focus on the most dramatic cases, for example the boatloads fleeing across the Mediterranean from Libya. They tended to give an impression of experiences which were over quite quickly when the reality is that people live in limbo sometimes for many years. In one of the examples he writes about in his book, an 18 year old Sudanese boy lived on the streets of Athens for 3 years living on his wits.
He spent some time describing the desperate attempts to hide under or in lorries. One woman lived for 5 months in Calais.
Perhaps the most significant question to ask is why do people suffer such privation and take such risks to leave their homes and undertake perilous journeys to an unknown country? It is no accident that most, indeed nearly all, come from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Mali and the horn of Africa. In nearly all cases, western powers have played a part in the problems being experienced. Whether it be as a result of colonialization, war or exploitation of the countries’ mineral wealth, we – the rich countries – have had a deleterious effects yet do not want to take responsibility for the results.
Britain has had a history in the past decade or so of treating people harshly as a matter of deliberate policy. Largely, this was as a result of tabloid newspaper stories, using biblical language to describe hoards of refugees pouring into the country and living in luxury at others’ expense. This Daily Express story (one of many) is fairly typical of the genre. Trilling also pointed out that the government had privatised asylum housing which meant refugees ended up in remoter and poorer areas. This only increased tensions. The system was adversarial and complex. There was no legal aid which has been withdrawn.
Northern local authorities have the most problems but had born the brunt of the cuts. By contrast, Theresa May’s constituency, affluent Maidenhead, had no asylum seekers.
On the other hand the Scottish system was more positive and humane which was encouraging he said. In answer to a question about how prejudice and hostility could be tackled, he said MPs had to face the hostility head on and not just accept the misinformed prejudice. He recommended looking at Refugee Council’s web site and Buzzfeed for better information on the subject.
This was a very interesting and enlightening talk on this most difficult of subjects. Daniel’s book is called Lights in the Distance published by Picador (2018).
The next meeting of the group is on Thursday 13th at 4 Victoria Road at 7:30.
A talk by Daniel Trilling on the subject of refugees is tonight (10th) at 7:30 in the Methodist Church in Salisbury. It is free with a parting collection to help with our costs.
Station displays, France
This is a photo taken in Montpellier station in the south of France, which shows a display of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Apparently, these are on many stations around France. Hard to imagine such a display in the UK.
Christmas tree display in St Thomas’s church
We have entered a tree in the annual Christmas tree display in St Thomas’s church in Salisbury. Our tree focuses on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the war. This was a time when nations had just endured the carnage of the war and millions had died, not just in the fighting itself. It is sad to report that the outlook for human rights around the world is grim.
We hope you can find time to visit the displays if and when you come to Salisbury.