Archive for May, 2019


RightsInfo has published some research on the attitudes towards human rights of the known contenders for the post of Prime minister following the resignation of Theresa May

The general tone of the various contenders is to say they are in favour of human rights but their actions often belie these statements.  Of the eight known contenders so far (28 May), all at various times have generally voted against human rights issues and most have voted to abolish or scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.  Some have wanted to replace the HRA with a British Bill of Rights but after around 10 years a bill has shown no sign of appearing.  None of the contenders could in any way be described as a ‘champion’.

In a recent newspaper article, it was revealed that the UK government has relaxed its guidance on obtaining and using information gained from foreign intelligence agencies using torture.  Although this cannot easily be placed at any particular minister’s door, it is likely that Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt knew or should have known during their times as Foreign Secretary.   The consolidated guidance was revised in secret and has alarmed human rights groups.  It is extremely equivocal and provides copious loopholes for information obtained under torture, or by using inhuman methods, to be allowed.

The contenders are :

Boris Johnson

Professes to be in favour but the web site They Work for You shows that he has generally voted against human rights issues.  Human Rights Watch described his position ‘weak, inconsistent and often incoherent.’  Their review of his actions on arming the Saudis in their bombing campaign in Yemen, failure to press taking Myanmar to the International Court and his weakness in Egypt, make for grim reading.

Andrea Leadsom

Almost always votes against human rights issues according to They Work for You.  She also voted against retaining the European Charter.

Dominic Raab

Raab has been an outspoken critic of the HRA and has claimed that human rights have run riot and are flawed.  He has masterminded plans to replace the HRA.  In a debate with Shami Chakrabarti, some of Dominic Raab’s doubtful logic and thinking is revealed.

Rory Stewart

Has spoken in favour of Human Rights and RightsInfo say that he was ‘reportedly’ a professor of human rights at Harvard University.  He has criticised the ECHR saying it has ‘using the wrong principles to come to the wrong judgements.’ Has voted to scrap the HRA and the EU Charter in 2018.

Esther McVey

Has been an active campaigner to repeal the HRA and replace it with a British bill of rights.  Voted to scrap the European Charter.

Jeremy Hunt

Has supported the scrapping the HRA.  Created the post of roving ambassador and appointed Rita French into the post.  However if this is not supported by appropriate actions to support human rights in the UK it is unlikely to achieve much.  Reprieve has reported in a lengthy report that the UK is heavily involved in the training of torturers in Bahrain during Hunt’s time as Foreign Secretary.

Matt Hancock; Michael Gove and Sajid Javid have all sought to scrap the HRA and voted against human rights issues in parliament.

What comes across from looking at their records, speeches and comments is that they want to be seen to support human rights but that as soon as a particular issue arises, such as for example, deporting people back to a country which uses torture, their resolve weakens.  It is also not hard to see the influence of tabloid stories and obsessions in their comments, indeed, searching their names often brings up stories in the Daily Express or the Daily Mail.

Another common theme is that commercial interests are key.  This is particularly so with arms sales to the Saudis with a blind eye turned to the bombing and destruction in Yemen.  Whoever is appointed prime minister from the above list, we are unlikely to see a robust or principled defence of human rights.  Rather, a continuation of attacks on the European Charter and a policy of business first and human rights second.

The MP for Salisbury, Mr John Glen (not known to be a contender) is also generally voted against human rights.     He also voted against the retention of the European Charter.

 

 


The minutes of the group’s May meeting are attached and thanks to group member Fiona for preparing them.  There is a full programme of activities.

May minutes (Word)


Amnesty International South-West Regional Conference in Exeter 11 May 2019

These are some notes of the recent regional conference made by Salisbury group member Fiona. They are not an official record.

The keynote speaker was Emel Kurma, a Human Rights defender from Turkey, currently hosted by the University of York’s Protective Fellowship Scheme. She outlined for us how a Citizens’ Assembly works. Inspired by the Helsinki Final Act, these are low-profile bodies (no smart headquarters or logos) that aim to stimulate social and political discussion towards a peaceful and inclusive society, valuing democratic and environmental principles. The best response to a state’s limitation of individual freedom is to strengthen civil society at all levels, allowing ethical thinking to penetrate even closed structures. For example a liberal academic offered an opportunity to go to a conference abroad might instead hand it to a member of a state institution in order to broaden that individual’s understanding of human rights as practised beyond their country’s borders.

Emel Kurma is a brave individual and her stoical acceptance of probable interrogation and possible imprisonment on her return to Turkey is both shocking and inspiring.

Israel Palestine 

Two other reports (also by women) focused on Palestine and Eastern Europe respectively.
Penny Wilcox has for several years worked with the intriguingly-titled Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and the Occupied Territories.  Again in an unobtrusive fashion, they accompany vulnerable Palestinians at checkpoints (adults going to work, children to school, traders etc.) and, simply by acting as protective witnesses, aim to reduce the levels of conflict or anxiety so often experienced by this oppressed population.  This approach is also practised by various Israeli humanitarian groups who wish to offer support to trapped and threatened Palestinian communities.  Even simply to witness and record the bulldozing of ‘illegal” Palestinian structures (cow byres, olive trees) is an act of silent protest and solidarity.  One of the many ironies of this absurd and tragic occupation is that when sometimes belligerent Israeli settlers have gone into Palestinian villages to cause trouble, the Israeli army itself has been called in to defend the Palestinians residents.

The third report came from Central Europe co-ordinator Ulricke Schmidt, who traced worrying trends in the rise of racism and anti-Semitism in Hungary and, to a lesser degree, in Poland.

Hungary

In Hungary the usual targets are the Roma, but the influx of refugees has now made them the focus of anger.  This in spite of the warm reception originally given to those fleeing war, who were perceived as ‘passing through’ Hungary and in manageable numbers.  However attitudes have hardened and Ulriche quoted an acquaintance who got 6 months imprisonment for giving a lift to a refugee while NGOs risk being criminalised for helping them.  Additionally, resentment against global capitalism has contributed to a revival of anti-Semitism.  Huge posters crudely stereo-type George Soros as ‘an enemy of the people’ with his ‘army of leftist terrorists’.

Ulricke defines some of the underlying causes of xenophobia as relating to globalisation – seen as benefiting the few – and to a drift to the cities which has left a frustrated and impoverished rural population to grasp at the promises of the Right to restore Hungary’s romanticised past (sounds familiar, does it not?).

Poland 

Poland reflects some of these trends, but fortunately to a lesser degree. Some liberal teachers have been disciplined and protesters have had their personal data published.  But Poland has had a more recent history of resistance to authoritarian rule.  When an outright ban was placed on abortion thousands of women marched in protest to overturn it.  When a recent Independence Day march was joined by racist demonstrators, fourteen brave women entered the throng and unfurled a Stop Fascism banner.  They were beaten by some marchers, and subsequently charged and fined by the courts for ‘disrupting a lawful demonstration.’  But a recently published video has now prompted an Appeal Court investigation into the attack..

The European Union has triggered Article 7 against Hungary for imperilling European values and has also expressed concern that the judiciary in Poland is being politicised.  On a more positive note, 26 EU countries have recently seen powerful demonstrations against fascism, racism and anti-Semitism.

Death penalty

The Death Penalty workshop confirmed that our group is very well informed on relevant data thanks to the regular updates from group member Lesley. The new network now has two and a half thousand members.  An interesting recent survey estimated that it was actually more expensive to execute a prisoner than to simply keep them in prison.  The campaign is currently now focusing on Singapore and Iran, the latter for its practice of deferring punishment until a sentenced juvenile is old enough to receive the death penalty.  On a positive note – more and more countries are abolishing the death penalty – 106 in total by the end of 2018.

Many thanks to the regional representative Chris Ramsay for organising this meeting.


The most recent death penalty report on the use of the death penalty around the world is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.

Report (Word)


The next monthly meeting is on May 9th at Victoria Road as usual starting at 7:30.  Supporters are very welcome to attend.