Archive for March, 2020


We are posting this message from Amnesty HQ concerning the pandemic crisis and human rights:

[I] hope you’re well and coping with the changes to daily life the Covid-19 crisis has brought.

It’s more important than ever that we look out for our family, friends, neighbours in these difficult times, and that we show appreciation and stand up for the rights of those most at risk during this crisis. In this email there is a solidarity action to support the workers who are keeping the country going at this time of national crisis, which we hope the whole family can get involved in. We’ve called on the government to ensure that health workers have appropriate protective equipment and are looking at how best to support and advocate with and for groups most affected by the crisis over the coming weeks and months.

We are concerned about the likely increase in domestic violence during this period as people are required to stay in their homes. Migrant women are at particular risk, as they are often unable to access the safety and support they need. Together with the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, we have written an open letter to the Home Secretary calling for emergency support for migrant victims of domestic abuse, and there’s a template letter below on this issue that we hope you’ll be able to send to your local paper.

We are monitoring the international situation carefully – Syria recently officially confirmed its first case of the disease. In a country in which only 64% of hospitals and 52% of primary healthcare centres were fully functional at the end of last year, and with thousands in detention in appalling conditions, the impact of an outbreak there would be catastrophic. Meanwhile, in Colombia, we have called on the authorities to implement a strategy for the prevention of COVID-19 infection in its dangerously overcrowded prisons. Have a look at the website for more on how we’re responding to the crisis https://www.amnesty.org.uk/coronavirus

There are many reasons to be anxious right now, but recent weeks have also seen incredible acts of kindness and humanity in communities all over the world. Showing solidarity with those in difficult circumstances is what Amnesty has been doing since the beginning, and it’s needed now more than ever. By looking out for each other, coming together in our communities to support people most at risk, we can help each other to get through these difficult times, and continue to build a stronger movement for the future.

Action to protect and promote human rights is vital right now. Please do stay in touch with each other and continue to hold group meetings, via video call or telephone conference. Please see below for instructions on how to use Zoom for meetings. It’s a video conferencing app but you can also dial in as a phone call. If you would like to use our teleconferencing service, please let us know and we can send you the details.

We plan to send email updates every two weeks during this period – they will contain a variety of campaign or solidarity actions, links to online courses, suggestions of things to do to keep busy at home and more.


With best wishes to our supporters and followers.

 


The Supreme Court in the UK has found against the government’s decision to provide information to the USA to facilitate prosecution for crimes carrying the death penalty

In a unanimous decision delivered yesterday, 25 March 2020, agreed that the British government acted unlawfully in providing, or agreeing to provide, information to the United States without seeking assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed.  The USA is the only country in the Americas which retains the penalty and we have highlighted in many of our posts, the poor legal process, countless mistakes and lack of proper protection for suspects during interrogations.

This appeal concerned two individuals, Shafee El Sheik and Alexandra Kotey (nicknamed the ‘Beatles by parts of the UK press at the time) who were alleged to be a part of terrorists operating in Syria and who were involved in the murder of British and US citizens.

In a press release by the Death Penalty Project they say:

It has never been in dispute that Mr El Sheik and Mr Kotey should face trial for the serious crimes alleged against them, but any trial, if it is to take place, should be held in the UK.  We intervened in this case because we believed the earlier actions of the UK government were contrary to its long-standing approach on the death penalty and could lead to a death sentence being imposed or carried out.  The importance of this decision is wider than just this case.  It has implication for any individual who may be facing the death penalty and concerns what assurance the UK government must seek before deciding what help or assistance it may give.  there are fundamental issues concerning the right to life.  Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director 

It is interesting that one of the motives for leaving the EU was to ‘take back control’ and to be free of he judgements of the European Court.  Yet the government has shown itself all too craven when it comes to ceding power to the US justice system.

Arguments went on about where to prosecute them and the CPS had amassed a considerable body of evidence, sufficient for a trial to take place in the UK.  Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.  The use of the penalty was abolished in the UK over 50 years ago.

 


We had a short meeting this month because the meeting date coincided with the Evensong at the Cathedral.  The minutes are attached with thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.

March minutes (Word)

The two speakers from south America at the SW Regional conference (Pic: Salisbury Amnesty)

 


Annual Evensong held in the Cathedral

Update: 14 March.  Ben Rogers has kindly sent us the text of his talk which is attached at the bottom of this post.

The Salisbury group is grateful to the Cathedral for holding an Evensong once a year marking the work of Amnesty International and enabling us to nominate a speaker during the course of the service.  About 60 attended last nights service.  For many years the Cathedral has provided space for the group to display each month an appeal for a Prisoner of Conscience.  This month it is Ahmed Mansoor a human rights defender and POC who is in prison in Abu Dhabi.  The Cathedral has a window dedicated to the work of Amnesty.

We were delighted to invite Benedict Rogers (pictured) to speak who, among other things, has a particular interest

Ben Rogers at Salisbury Cathedral (picture, Salisbury Amnesty)

in North  Korea.  Ben is East Asia Team Leader of CSW, a Christian charity which promotes religious freedom around the world.

He said that the UN regards North Korea to be in a category all of its own as far as human rights are concerned.  It violates every single human right.  As a member of CSW, they were the first to call for a commission of enquiry and two years later in 2014, the UN did so.

The gravity, scale and nature of abuses has no parallel in the modern world he said.  The report found that:

North Korea had committed crimes against humanity and manifestly failed to uphold its responsibility to protect. These crimes entail “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.  Source, Wikipedia

In 2007, CSW produced a report A Case to Answer.  A Call to Act which concluded that the human rights situation in North Korea was a crime against humanity.   Although things seem bleak, he said there were some glimmers of light.  In a recent report, Movies, Markets and Mass Surveillance, it was noted that North Koreans were getting more information about the outside world.  They were beginning to realise that life south of the border was better.  There was anecdotal evidence that prison guards did realise the world was watching.

The regime saw Christianity as a particular threat.  Anyone caught practising it faced severe punishment or could be executed.  If a carol was allowed it would only be ‘We three Kims of Orient are!’

Those who did manage to escape to China were sent back to face severe punishment in the prison camps.  There were around 200,000 thousand people in the prison camps he said.  He ended with the famous quotation mistakenly attributed to Edmund Burke:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing

Ben Rogers talk (Word)

 

 

 


We are pleased to attach our monthly death penalty report compiled by group member Lesley.

Report: February – March (Word)

 


Cathedral Evensong takes place this evening (Thursday 12th) at 5:30.  We are delighted to welcome Ben Rogers to give the address.  There will be an opportunity for participants to sign a petition on leaving if they wish.

Joining

If you were thinking of joining the group, this would be an opportunity to make yourself known even if you do not wish to take part in the service itself (Amnesty is not a religious group).  Several members will be around to great you.


The SW Regional conference was held in Exeter on Saturday 7 March 2020

Four members of the Salisbury group attended the regional conference in Exeter yesterday, a truly

Some members in front of Exeter Cathedral

uplifting event.  We had four excellent speakers and we had a photo opportunity in front of the cathedral.

With all the talk from the current government, echoed in large parts of the press, of getting rid of the Human Rights Act and their desire to pull away from the ECHR, it was good to be among people who believe in the importance of these rights.  They are not there to help terrorists go free and to help hardened criminals escape justice which is the common refrain now, but to protect all of us in our everyday lives.  This is especially so as we do not have a constitution.

But one of the high spots was a young woman, Geraldine Chacón (below right) from Venezuela who is a human rights defender who was arrested by around 10 armed men and spent 4 months in prison before being released.  She has not been tried however so can be arrested again if and when she goes back.  The rights we take for granted were denied her.  No warrant for her arrest; no access to a lawyer; constant interrogations; never brought before a judge; no access to her family, particularly her mother who came every day but was not allowed to see her; and no charges brought. She was labelled a terrorist and her release was used to present the government in a positive light ‘look, we’re releasing terrorists’.  Calling anyone a ‘terrorist’ is the standard claim by nearly all authoritarian regimes for people who campaign for democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The two speakers from south America

She became an Amnesty ‘prisoner of conscience’ POC case and thousands of letters were written.  She said they made a difference.  She was feeling vulnerable and abandoned she said and the letters made her realise ‘you are not alone’.  The letters ‘made me brave because I knew I had you with me’.  She only knew there were letters as news of them had to be smuggled in: she was allowed no correspondence directly.  It was a very uplifting talk.  In all this denigration of human rights by sections of our media and some of our politicians, it was good to know the basic business of Amnesty’s work, did and does make a difference.

One of the other speakers was Laíze Benevides Pinheiro from Brazil (left).  She spoke of her work in Brazil and the threat and risk from the most dangerous police in the world.  In 2019, they killed 1810 young men most of whom were black.  The murder of Mariella Franco has polarised opinion but she said a network had been created to help people who were the victims of violence.

There was another talk on climate and its link to human rights which may be the subject of a future post.  Kate Allen (Director of Amnesty) also spoke about the future direction of Amnesty and the worries about the attitudes towards human rights by some in the current government.  This is a worry expressed on this site in previous posts.

A really worthwhile day and congratulations to the Exeter Amnesty group for organising it so well.


There will be an Evensong this Thursday 12 March starting at 5:30 in the Cathedral.