Solemn promises by Saudi authorities about ending the death penalty for minors may not be true
Reprieve reports that a promise by the Saudi authorities to end the death penalty for minors does not look it is going to happen. A juvenile sentenced to death for trivial offences could still take place. See the full story published by Reprieve.
The human rights situation in North Korea is grim and the regime is one of the most repressive in the world. A report has just been published by Human Rights Watch called Worth less than an Animal which provides vivid descriptions of how prisoners awaiting trial are treated. All political, social, legal, economic and civil rights are severely restricted and the use of torture, forced labour and other abuses represent a crime against humanity.
There seems little likelihood of change in the near future. China holds the key since the state relies on them to survive. China has other problems of its own and is unlikely to want further instability and chaos which would ensue if Kim Jong Un was deposed. The HRW report is similar in many respects to the earlier UN report on DPNK published in 2018.
China’s persecution of the Uighurs continues unabated
Two or so years ago, we had not heard of the Uighurs but since then, more and more evidence has emerged about what has become arguably the world’s worst example of attempted cultural genocide. In an editorial in the 17 October 2020 edition of the Economist, they suggest it is ‘the gravest example of a world-wide attack on human rights and a crime against humanity’.
Since 1989, the fate of the Uighurs has deteriorated markedly. Around a million are incarcerated in what are claimed to be ‘vocational education and training centres.’ It is hard to think of other such centres around the world which feel the need to surround themselves with high concrete walls, coils of razor wire and watch towers. Inside, they are forced to learn Chinese and Xi Jinping thought. They are Sunni Muslims but if when asked ‘do you believe in God?’ they answer ‘yes’, they are beaten.
According to the Economist, new evidence suggests that thousands of their children have been separated from their parents. If they speak their own language they are punished. Women are urged to marry Han Chinese men and receive rewards if they do. Another tactic according to the BBC World Service, is placing a Chinese man inside their homes as ‘house guests’.
The persecution of the Uighurs is now widely known around the world. Initially, the Chinese denied the existence of the camps and then changed the story once some details became known. Outsiders are not allowed in and few images have emerged except posed photographs and films produced by the government. The lack of images has reduced the impact as people respond to images and footage – written reports and verbal testimony have much less impact. The wider issue of human rights is discussed by Amnesty and includes details of torture, attacks on human rights defenders, a legal system under control of the party and excessive use of surveillance.
Lack of protest
One of the curious features of this scandal however is the lack of protest from other Muslim nations. Why aren’t countries such as Indonesia, Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan making more of a fuss? Turkey is closely related to the Uighurs ethnically and their Turkic languages are linked, but it too is silent.
Part of the reason is that China has used its enormous wealth to silence criticism. Countries such as Pakistan are dependent on the Belt and Road initiative and has received tens of billions in loans from China. It has just finalised a new loan of $11bn. Turkey is also part of the Belt and Road project and has just signed a $1bn loan. At one time it was a critic and then it changed its opinion. Saudi – hardly a country with clean hands itself – has aligned itself more closely with China following the Khashoggi murder. Mohammed bin Salman is quoted as saying:
China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism measures and act against extremists for its own security BBC World Service 20 July 2020
Other Muslim countries are also reluctant to speak up because of loans and economic dependence on China. Apparently, about the only exception is Malaysia because it is well developed and less reliant on China. The Economist article rightly argues that the West must speak up and expose this most egregious example of human rights abuse possibly since the Second World War when nations said ‘never again’ after the holocaust. It suggests China’s regime is not immune to shame – why else would it go to such lengths to hide its activities? Western companies should ensure for example that the goods they source from China are not made using forced Uighur labour.
The UK government has supported an EU statement on the issue.
Why is there no concerted international action?
There are several reasons:
The region of China, Xinjiang, is remote and largely unknown outside China and is therefore in a real sense, out of sight and out of mind
The West’s increasing dependence economically on China is a factor. We rely on the country for much of our manufactures and for keeping inflation down. British and other politicians have been all too keen to put business and trade ahead of human rights
China is highly resistant to listen to any criticism of what it regards as its internal affairs and western politicians are all to happy to go along with this and are reluctant to confront Chinese sensitivities
There is no charismatic individual to champion their cause. It needs an individual who can speak for the nation and with whom, people in the West can identify
The lack of film or video evidence other than snatched pictures of concrete walls
Covid-19 is a huge distraction and consumes masses of time leaving little for other causes
China has been careful not to commit crimes of actual genocide. It is not murdering millions by starvation or other means. The oppression is real but there is no extermination
The oppressed are Muslims and anti-Muslim feeling is widespread in the West which results in low sympathy. As we have noted, other Muslim nations have failed to criticism China’s oppression of fellow Muslims (in fact some support it), so why should we?
This all adds up to a dangerous situation. China’s increasingly muscular approach to world affairs should be a lot more worrying than it appears to be. Their attempts to militarise the South China Sea by building whole islands; their increasing levels of threats and intimidation towards Taiwan; aggression along the border with India and clamping down on Hong Kong are some of the recent actions the Beijing has engaged in. Sooner or later, Western governments are going to have to face up to the Chinese threat to human rights and call its bluff.
The Economist does have a note of optimism however saying that ‘its propaganda has grown less effective’ as more evidence comes to light.
TheConservatives have had a long-standing dislike of the HRA and a review of it has appeared in its last two or three manifestos. It has not always been so and indeed it was Conservative politicians who were instrumental in setting up the European Convention which preceded the HRA.
The government is making various claims in a bid to justify its desire to amend the act and by inference, to weaken it. Recently we have had claims about alleged vexatious claims against British soldier’s mistreatment of prisoners in conflict areas such as Iraq. They have also, erroneously claimed that the act prevents them tracking potential terrorists.
The various reasons put forward by the government combined with a steady stream of stories in the right wing press suggest deeper reasons at play. The current home secretary, Priti Patel and Michael Gove MP have both been reported as being keen to reintroduce the death penalty although the home secretary has resiled from that claim. Her proposed draconian measures for handling asylum seekers and immigrants however, reveal an illiberal attitude of mind. We have reported on this site, the shameful views of the Attorney General, Suella Braverman, concerning torture about which practice she seemed quite ‘relaxed’.
The HRA has perhaps shaken the establishment more than has been realised. It has led to a shift in power and enabled ordinary people to pursue injustice through the courts. We have seen in the Covid-19 crisis a government which has been reluctant to involve local government, much preferring to award contracts – without tender – to private firms who have shown a dazzling array of ineptitude. It seems to indicate a firm desire to retain the levers of power in Whitehall. Challenge by private citizens is not welcome.
The attempt to prorogue parliament and the proposed Internal Market and the Overseas Operations bills all show a government willing to break international treaties if it deems it necessary. We should be extremely concerned if the act gets abolished or its protections seriously watered down.
The worst human rights abusing nations set for seats on the UN’s Human Rights Council
The news that Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan, Cuba and China are set to take seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council today has sent shock waves around the world. How can it be that the world’s worst abusers of human rights get to be in a perfect position to frustrate the work of the UN?
China is the world’s largest executioner of its citizens the precise numbers being a state secret. It is committing what amounts to cultural genocide with the Uighurs in Xinjiang. Around a million are incarcerated for what is claimed are programmes of re-education. Women are being forcibly sterilised. It is hard at work trying to stifle freedoms in Hong Kong. It’s activities in Tibet have drawn years of censure. Torture is common and many are held incommunicado.
Russia is another state with a dismal human rights record. Here in Salisbury we have experienced months of
disruption following the attempted murder of the Skripals. There are no free elections in the country and it looks as though there was an attempt on the life of opposition leader Navalny with Novichok. Many journalists have been murdered, simply gunned down in the street.
Freedom of association is severely restricted. Torture and mistreatment are common. Human rights defenders and NGOs are targeted. Corruption is on a massive scale aided and abetted by the City of London.
Saudi Arabia is almost in a league of its own. We have featured on these pages for many years the continuing bombing of civilians and civilian targets in Yemen and recently we have noted the disgraceful decision by the UK government to resume arms sales to the country. Torture is common, and they are one of the world’s worst executioners often in public displays of barbarity. Women’s rights are highly restricted.
These countries, under their despotic and dictatorial leaders, are simply not fit to be on a council for human rights. They have no intention of changing their laws and systems to improve matters, indeed it can be argued that all three are getting steadily worse.
The Council is supposed to ensure that all people know their rights and are treated fairly. It is supposed to ‘check what governments do to protect the rights of its people in their countries’. How it can do this with countries like this sat on the governing body is a mystery.
On 10 October 2020, the 18th World Day Against the Death Penalty, Amnesty hosted a discussion with three people who are closely connected with the campaign to end the practice. They were Kim Manning Cooper; Dr Bharat Malkani and Chiara Sangiorgio. It was chaired by Paul Bridges. It was a fascinating talk in which they discussed different aspects of how the death penalty works in the USA. Amnesty has maintained a consistent policy of condemning the use of the death penalty in all circumstances. It is fundamentally about human dignity.
Amnesty is also opposed to life sentences without the chance of parole.
Much of the discussion focused on the miscarriages of justice in the USA. The death penalty does not do what its proponents claim it does. It does not deter violent crime. States who do not use the penalty have some of the lowest murder rates in the Union. It is expensive, with 724 people on death row in California alone, which has cost the state $4bn since 1978. Mistakes are common and of course cannot be put right. Since 1973, 170 prisoners on death row have been exonerated, a quite staggering level of error. The One for Ten movement was referred to, which notes that for every ten people executed in the US, one has been exonerated and released, having spent, on average, ten years on death row.
Dr Malkani’s talk explored the effects on innocent people. Following arrest for a crime they did not commit, there is a feeling of a sheer sense of disbelief. Their first concern is for their loved ones. How would they cope without them and if they have children, how will they handle school when everyone will know that their parent has been arrested for murder? He mentioned the ‘ripple effect’ which results in trauma being felt among a wide community of individuals, not just the immediate family.
There follows a sense of hopelessness, realising that the might of the State is trying to kill you. Next comes anger when you know you are innocent. (No reference was made to the fact that that the US does not have the equivalent of PACE, which requires evidence indicating innocence to be disclosed to the defence. This evidence is often not disclosed with the aim of a securing a conviction.)
Dr Malkani went on to discuss the effects on people released after a long period of captivity. Understandably, they want to return to their previous life, but they find this impossible as so much has changed both in society and in their families. Their children have grown up without knowing them. It is also difficult to achieve a personal identity having spent the many years in captivity as just a number. Now free, they are always described as someone who was on death row.
Because they were on death row, they received no training or attempts at rehabilitation since they were destined for execution. The pace of modern technology meant the world was a completely different place. There were no support systems in place. There was also relationship breakdown after such long periods of separation. Sadly, many die quite soon after their release.
Kim Manning-Cooper spoke of the infamous Troy Davis case. An off-duty policeman was murdered and a witness came forward claiming that Troy was the killer. It now appears possible that the witness himself may have been the culprit. There are too many irregularities to list but include witnesses who were threatened with being charged themselves, police statements signed by people who could not read or write, some witnesses were threatened by the police, no forensic or DNA evidence was submitted, and no gun was ever found. An evidentiary hearing was held by the Supreme Court but, despite the multiple failings in the prosecution case and some misgivings, the appeal failed and Davis was executed in September 2011. His sister had campaigned tirelessly in his support. Amnesty International campaigned for justice in the Davis case, a cause the Salisbury group took part in.
Kim said people often say ‘the system is failing black men but in reality, the failure is in the way the system was designed’.
‘the system is failing black men but in reality, the failure is in the way the system was designed’
This theme was developed by Dr Malkani. The issue of race was built into the legal system in the USA he said. It
dates back to the 13th amendment of the US Constitution which abolished slavery ‘except as a punishment for a crime’. When lynching ended in the 1920’s, executions skyrocketed, as evidenced by the Death Penalty Information Center. The bias extended to the prosecution process, with district attorneys unwilling to prosecute a black person murdered by a white but all too willing to prosecute the other way around. Some members of juries in the state of Georgia are quoted as saying ‘black people have no souls’. Many murders of black people remain unsolved. Only 21 white people have been executed for killing a black person but 296 black people for killing a white person.
Finally, he said the effects on wardens and prison guards can also be profound as was shown in the award winning film Clemency.
The question was posed ‘could the justice system ever be error proof?’ This was related to things like the use of DNA. The answer was that no system could be error proof, DNA was not infallible and was not a silver bullet, although sometimes evidence is found years later. The justice system could not be used to solve issues of bad housing, drug addiction and social problems generally. We needed to advocate for prison reform as well as ending the death penalty and life sentences without the prospect of parole.
In addition to Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Urgent Actions, the work of Reprieve was highlighted, and writing to people on death row organised by Lifelines.
This was a most interesting discussion. There is a slow decline in the number of executions and Americans themselves are increasingly wanting the practice ended. The role of Black Lives Matter is likely to have an effect. There are other countries in the world with far worse records – Saudi Arabia, and Iran – but especially China. The numbers executed in China run into thousands but details are a state secret.
For American readers: PACE – the Police and Criminal Evidence Act provides a range of protections to people arrested in the UK one of which is the defense must see all the evidence collected by the police, not just that which indicates possible guilt.
A 20 year old man scheduled to be executed in Malaysia
We are asking you to spend a few moments to put your name to a petition being run by Amnesty Australia on behalf of a 20 year old man, Hew Yew Wah, in Malaysia who is condemned to death. We are against the death penalty in all cases and this sentence is disproportionate for the crime he admits he committed.
Today (10 October 2020) is the 18th World and European Day Against the Death Penalty
Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and we have campaigned for many years against the practice. There has been a gradual decline but still there are too many countries which continue the barbaric practice. It is neither humane nor effective. It does not deter violent crime or murder and studies in America have shown that there is no difference in murder rates between those states which retain the penalty and those that don’t.
While working towards the total and complete abolition of the death penalty worldwide for all crimes, it is crucial to alert civil society and the international community to the necessity that, at all stages of the legal proceedings, those facing the cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment of execution should at least have access to effective legal representation. Such legal aid can provide the basic protection of either avoiding the sentence or appealing the verdict.