Archive for November, 2020


President-elect Joe Biden has declared that human rights will be an important part of his agenda when he becomes president in January.  Following a period when President Trump rowed back on a lot of US commitments in this area, this is clearly welcome.  So how is this likely to look?

Trump pulled the US out of the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 and this year designated the International Criminal Court a “security threat.”  It is expected that a Biden administration will reverse these decisions as well as re-staffing the depleted Human Rights Department of the US Department of Justice and returning to various arms control agreements.  It is also clear that Biden will take a multilateral approach to international issues, unlike his predecessor.

The US-based organisation Human Rights Watch have urged the new administration to reverse course:

On November 9, countries at the UN Human Rights Council reviewed the human rights record of the United States and offered recommendations on guaranteeing the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, non-discrimination, voting rights, policing, and gender equality, among others.  The Biden administration should re-engage with the Human Rights Council, including by accepting Universal Periodic Review recommendations aligned with international human rights law, and realizing the human rights obligations identified by the council

They also urge the incoming regime also to repudiate the Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, which Trump set up to make a hierarchy of countries and abandon the universality of international human rights law.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK, has also urged the Biden administration to take a new approach to international law and has indicated 3 areas where the new administration needs to change its human rights policy internally – gun control, asylum seekers and police reform (AIUK, 9 November 2020).

In the run up to the election, Biden made a number of statements in defence of human rights, notably in the Middle East, which he may well struggle to carry out.  In the last week or two, Egypt and Turkey have both made a large number of arrests of dissidents (maybe hoping to do so before Trump leaves), and Saudi Arabia is sending feminist activists to a terrorism court.

As Kareem Fahim writes in the Washington Post (27 November 2020):

The moves in recent days, by a trio of authoritarian governments that are close allies or partners of the United States, have put human rights issues front and center weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, in a pre-emptive challenge to his pledge to vigorously defend such rights.

 

Web sites

Posted: November 29, 2020 in Human rights,, Israel
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At the bottom of this site, you will find links to many websites involved in human rights activities, either in specific countries or globally. Just added are three sites involved in Palestine and Israel: Yesh Din; Breaking the Silence and Physicians for Human Rights Israel.


Iranian-Swedish academic at risk of imminent execution for the crime of ‘corruption on earth’

We have received the urgent action concerning Ahmadreza Djalili who is at risk of execution in Tehran.  He suffered a grossly unfair trial based on confessions obtained using torture and other ill-treatment.  If you have time, please write – the details can be found on the attached link. Thank you.

Urgent action details


Chancellor proposes a cut to the level of foreign aid

On 25 November 2020, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced in the spending review, that the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid will be reduced to 0.5%.  As it is a legal commitment, it has to be voted on by parliament.  He is likely to have thought that the proposal would be popular with many of his backbenchers and with the public at large.  Apparently, focus groups show that this funding is unpopular and a recent YouGov survey – taken after rumours of the likelihood of the cut began to circulate and be commented on in the media – showed that 66% were in favour of the cut and this rose to 92% of Conservative supporters.

It wasn’t all plain sailing however and a number of Conservative MPs rose to criticise the proposal.  Andrew Mitchell MP was interviewed on Channel 4 and on LBC, expressing his concern.  He also pointed out that the aid had already been reduced this year [because of the drop in our GDP].  Baroness Sugg, a junior minister in the Foreign Office, resigned from her post.

Foreign aid is a tortured subject in British politics.  There were many arguments last month, following the decision to merge the department dealing with foreign aid, DfID, into the Foreign Office precisely because it was feared that it was a precursor to cutting the aid and the commitment.  The promise was in the Conservative party election manifesto:

We will proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on development, and do more to help countries receiving aid become self-sufficient.  p53

Media hostility

It is easy to see where some of the hostility comes from.  The tabloid press has carried out a sustained campaign against foreign aid, and the department, for a number of years.  Recent examples in the Daily Mail include: ‘Foreign aid Farce (9 June 2020); Good riddance to Foreign Aid’s self-serving Department for International Narcissists’ (17 June 2020) and ‘UK could rip up rules on how foreign aid is spent so handouts serve our interests more’ (17 October 2020) [all accessed 26 November 2020].  There are many more examples and other tabloid titles have similar stories.  Despite this, David Cameron as prime minister, maintained the link.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has always wanted to merge DfID with the FO and has referred to the aid as ‘a giant cash point in the sky’.

There are legitimate criticisms which have been made about the department and the management of the funds.  A National Audit Office report referred to a number of failings and in particular, failure to demonstrate the effectiveness of aid programmes.

However, the ceaseless criticisms of aid are not based primarily on efficiency grounds (and NAO reports on other parts of government spending make similar points but do not invoke concerted tabloid campaigns) but on a fundamental dislike of the principle of foreign aid.  Corruption is seen as a major point of concern and attitudes changed following the scandal in Haiti.  A DfID research study found that 48% of people agreed with the statement ‘corruption in governments in poor countries makes it pointless donating money to help reduce poverty‘.  Conversely, when images of the dead little boy Kurdi appeared in western media, attitudes became more positive.  Another research study showed that concern for international poverty declined from 70% in 2011 to 46% in 2014.

Birmingham University has researched the question of attitudes to foreign aid and perhaps surprisingly, their Aid Attitudes Tracker showed little change in the period 2013 – 18.  This has now changed to the Development Engagement Lab showing similar findings for more recent periods.  Attitudes seem largely stable over time: people are either in favour or they are against.

It seems that there are those who think we, as one of the richest countries in the world, do have a responsibility to help the poorest in the world.  As Andrew Mitchell said, the aid has helped vast numbers of women to achieve family planning and millions to have clean water.  Indeed the point seems to be that the achievements of our aid are simply not recognised or sufficiently reported on.  Good news stories find it hard to gain traction against a tide of disasters, wars, famines and natural disasters.  Add to this, the flow of negative stories in parts of the media which portray overseas aid as wasteful, unnecessary, squandered by corrupt regimes or helping terrorists, then it is perhaps unsurprising that many people feel that we should help our own especially during the current economic crisis, the worst in three centuries.

We should play our part if only for self interest.  Another concern is immigration which has had an enormous effect on the UK political landscape.  By improving life and conditions in the poorest countries of the world, it will help reduce pressure on emigration.  There is also a moral argument which seems to have been lost.

The decision to slash aid at a time of such great need is hugely disappointing and a bad omen of the direction of travel this Government is choosing in Foreign Affairs.  Such a significant cut requires proper consideration of the human rights implications and we are concerned it has been undertaken without due consultation with those who will be affected.  Any reduced aid spending must still focus on the most marginalised and the poorest.  Amnesty international statement 25 November 2020


Issue of Sportswash has emerged again with two Formula 1 races to be held in Bahrain

UPDATE 26 November

Guardian piece 

Sport and politics have never been too far apart.  During the Cold War, countries like East Germany and Russia spent enormous sums on their sports programmes in an attempt to demonstrate to the world how successful they were.  Recently, we have seen countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain use their vast wealth to secure favourable media coverage.  Earlier in the year, we featured the attempt to purchase Newcastle FC using Saudi money.

These countries are also able to pay large sums to public relations firms to massage their reputations.  Before we rush to condemn sporting organisations, sportsmen and women too quickly however, we need to look at the tangled web of influence and connections between a variety of people and the Bahraini regime.  One such is the retired Chief of Defence staff Baron, formerly General, Richards of Herstmonceux.  Despite the unrest,  crackdowns and multiple human rights violations in Bahrain, Baron Richards was able to advise them on a variety of areas using his company Palliser Associates and Equilibrium Global.  There are various connections to the former prime minister David Cameron.  Full details and further links can be found on a Daily Maverick piece.

The human rights situation in Bahrain is extremely poor.  Women do not have equal rights; many people are declared stateless; prison conditions are extremely poor with limited medical treatment for those detained; the death penalty is used and there is no free expression to speak of.  There is no independent media.  Amnesty’s report on the country can be read on this link.  Human Rights Watch’s summary says:

Bahrain’s human rights situation continues to be dire.  Courts convict and imprison prominent human rights defenders and opposition leaders for their peaceful activism.  Security forces ill-treat, threaten, and coerce alleged suspects into signing confessions.  Authorities have resumed executions, many after unfair trials marred by torture allegations, and fail to hold officials accountable for torture.  Courts have stripped the citizenship of hundreds, leaving many stateless, and deported dozens of dissidents, journalists, and lawyers as punishments for offenses that include peaceful criticism of the government.  Authorities in 2017 shut down the only independent newspaper in the country as well as opposition parties.  Members of dissolved opposition parties were banned from running in parliamentary elections in November 20.  Human Rights Watch

A full analysis of the political situation in Bahrain is provided by Freedom House.

Western governments, including the UK, have been extremely keen to establish good relations with the state because of lucrative defence spending.  We have also established a base there. It is seen as a ‘core market‘ for us.  The Daily Mail has published an article, with multiple photos, showing the many meetings between the Queen, and other members of our Royal family, and the King of Bahrain.  Lots of jollity on show. 

Sport and Sports Wash is thus just one part of the picture.  Bahrain is a wealthy and powerful regime well able via offers of money and contracts, to ‘buy’ political influence.  But things may be beginning to stir.  World Champion racing driver, Lewis Hamilton, has made statements highlighting human rights issues in countries seeking to sanitise their reputations.  Recently, he said:

We realise we’ve got to not ignore human rights issues in counties that we go to, not just 20 years, 30 years from now, but now.

In another development is that 30 UK cross party members of parliament have written to the Chief Executive of Formula 1, Chase Carey, to express their disquiet at plans to hold the Grand Prix races in Bahrain.

[They expressed] concern that the Bahrain Grand Prix is exploited be the by the Bahrain government to ‘sports wash’ their human rights record

The role of Marcus Rashford is also noteworthy in this regard.  It was his intervention which was key to changing the government’s position on free school meals.  Maybe we are seeing the stirrings of conscience among some sports people that they do have a role to play in the political arena.  With their vast followings and star status, they are in a prime position to speak to their public and highlight some of the terrible things that go on in countries like Bahrain.

Up till now, money, arms sales, and a cosy relationship with politicians, service people and the Royal family, has enabled these regimes to carry on the mistreatment of their subjects, with human rights organisations merely an irritant, a kind of background noise, who can safely be ignored. But sport has a mass following as the prime minister discovered to his discomfort earlier this month. If more sportsman like Hamilton and Rashford, begin to use their power to focus the minds of their fans onto what is going on in these despotic countries, maybe the political ground will shift.


Lisa Montgomery execution to go ahead in the dying days of the Trump presidency

The execution by lethal injection of Lisa Montgomery is now scheduled to take place at Terre Haute Federal prison Indiana on January 12 just days before president-elect Joe Biden takes office.  She is the first woman to be executed in almost six decades.

Lisa’s crime was truly awful and involved murder of a woman and the removal of her unborn baby.  The argument has been about her mental state and her background.  She was the victim of gang rape, incest and sex trafficking.  Her defence (defense) has argued that the balance of her mind was disturbed at the time of the murder.

It is some kind of fitting end to the President’s term of office to rush through a number of Federal executions including this one.  No other lame duck president has carried out more than one execution since Grover Cleveland’s first presidency in 1888 – 89.

This has been an administration that’s been historically out of step. Not just out of step with the views of America in 2020, but out of step with federal practices by administrations, Democratic or Republican, for the course of [a] century, Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham told The Washington Post.

The USA is the only country in the Americas to retain the death penalty.

China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined but details are a state secret.

See our latest monthly death penalty report.

Further details of other executions being rushed through on the Death Penalty Information Center

Sources: USA Today; Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Washington Post; Guardian; US Dept. of Justice


Kris Maharaj remain in prison in Florida despite being found innocent

Today is Marita Maharaj’s birthday.

She is 81 years old – she’s now had 34 birthdays without her beloved husband Kris by her side.

It’s been a difficult year for the elderly couple. A judge found that Kris was innocent by “clear and convincing evidence” but still refused to order his release.

Marita worries about Kris, this year more than ever before – he’s 81 years old, in poor health and at risk of the worst effects of coronavirus in a crowded Florida prison.  And because of the pandemic, instead of a visit each week, she has not been able to see him since March.

Further details can be found on this link about this shocking case and miscarriage of justice in America.

Message from Reprieve


We attach this months DP report thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  It is full report this month with a wide range of countries to report on.

Report (Word)

Welcome!

Posted: November 4, 2020 in Death penalty, Film
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If you come here following the film Just Mercy shown at Playhouse, welcome and the case we referred to can be accessed from this link.   It concerns a singer in Nigeria who is at risk of execution.  As was explained, Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all circumstances.  It is not a deterrent and mistakes which are many, cannot be rectified once someone has been executed.

The group produces a monthly report on cases and issues surrounding the penalty around the world and the most recent can be found here.  We have also published a review of a discussion organised by Amnesty concerning the World Day Against the Death Penalty, (which Amnesty themselves have used), and this can be found here.

There are concerns that there is a desire to resume the death penalty in the UK and some politicians have said so but in the case of the Home Secretary, Priti Patel MP, she has said she no longer supports that position.

You may have heard of Reprieve and the work of Clive Stafford Smith in USA.  Clive represents many people on death row some of whom were convicted on flimsy or circumstantial evidence.  Unlike in the UK, police in many US States are under no obligation to reveal evidence which points to the suspect’s innocence.  Clive’s fascinating book Injustice is reviewed on this page.

The Salisbury group is not just concerned with the death penalty but with human rights issue generally.  We are concerned at the government’s desire to abolish the Human Rights Act especially when we leave the EU and we shall be campaigning on this if it comes to fruition.

We are not doing any face to face activities at present for obvious reasons but new members are welcome and following this site or Facebook or Twitter @salisburyai is something you can do.  When normal times resume, we hope to get back to campaigning work.

Nazanin Ratcliffe

Posted: November 2, 2020 in Iran
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We have received the following post concerning the continuing imprisonment of Nazanin from our local MP:

Thank you for contacting me about Nazanin-Zaghari Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori.

Please be assured that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office continues to work hard to assist British nationals detained in Iran.  This must be an incredibly distressing time for Nazanin and Anoosheh and their families.  Like you, I want to see them both released immediately.

I am told that the UK Embassy in Tehran continues to request consular access to Mr Ashoori and has been supporting his family.  The UK regularly calls on Iran to release all British-Iranian nationals arbitrarily detained, including Mr Ashoori.

I recognise that Nazanin’s ongoing furlough does not represent the real objective of securing Nazanin’s permanent release.  However, I have been assured that the UK’s lobbying efforts remain focused on getting Nazanin home.  It is completely unacceptable that Iran has brought new charges against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and she must not be returned to prison.

Iran must know the strength of the UK’s convictions regarding this, so it is encouraging that on 29 October, the Iranian Ambassador was summoned to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.  It was made clear to the Iranian ambassador that his country’s treatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is unjustified and unacceptable, and is causing an enormous amount of distress.

The UK continues to call on Iran to live up to its responsibilities under international human rights law and the Vienna convention and release dual nationals. Cases continue to be raised at the most senior levels, and discussed at every opportunity with Iranian counterparts.

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