Let us not forget the Uyghurs


The focus on Ukraine risks us forgetting other abuses around the world

One of the problems with crises such as that in Ukraine following the Russian invasion, is that other terrible events can risk being forgotten. It is as though we can only cope with one crisis at a time which may well be true enough. As we watch the horrific events unfold in Ukraine, we must not forget that millions suffer in Syria, Myanmar, Yemen and in China.

In a recent edition of the New Statesman magazine (18 – 24 February 2022), there were several articles under the general heading of The Silencing focusing on the plight of the Uyghurs in China. There were pieces by Katie Stallard, John Simpson, Elif Shafak, Rian Thum and Musapir. Some of the points made are repeated below.

The opening ceremony of the recent Winter Olympics which was described as ‘jarring and banal’. A Uyghur skier stood on a podium with a member of the Han community (the dominant one in China) in an attempt to show harmony and to send the message ‘genocide, what genocide?’ Unfortunately she could not be interviewed as she failed to appear in the media zone. It was denounced by the Uyghur Human Rights Project as a ‘political stunt meant to deflect international criticism as though parading a Uyghur athlete around somehow disproves the party state’s well document atrocity crimes’.

The state has implemented a ‘devastating system of collective punishment that targets the Muslim population of Xinjiang’. Attending a mosque or growing a beard is considered suspect. Hundreds of internment camps and a suffocating network of surveillance technology have been built and between 10% and 20% of the adult population has been detained.

John Simpson notes that ‘the 12 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China are suffering one of the most intense policies of collective punishment since the end of the Second World War: a campaign designed to change them as a people, remould their beliefs and limit their numbers.’

Satellite images examined by the Australian Strategic Policy Unit (ASPI) have identified at least 380 detention centres ranging from low-security installations to fortified prisons complete with watch towers, high walls and barbed wire. Some of these were seen in a recent Channel 4 documentary.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation is that they estimate 83 Chinese and foreign brands have allegedly benefitted from the forced labour of Uyghur prisoners and they name Apple, Amazon, Marks and Spencer, Nike and Adidas among others. There have been repeated claims that much of China’s cotton, which is grown in Xinjiang, is produced by slave labour.

Elif Shafak bemoans the shear number of crises around the world and the difficulty we have in coping with it all. She quotes the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, attacks on abortion rights in USA and the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans in Ethiopia as well as Myanmar. She says one thing that dictators and demagogues know is that numbness is transmissible – that is our indifference and detachment as global citizens.

Every time we fail to investigate a gross human right violation, every time we turn a blind eye to atrocities because we have trade deals or financial engagements, we are closely observed not only by that particular country’s government but also be the authoritarian regimes across the world. for they know that when one of them is met with numbness it will benefit them all. This is how democracy loses. Not only “there” but here and everywhere.

New Statesman 18 – 24 February 2022

As we are learning with Russia and Ukraine, financial interests have dominated our policy and there is now, belatedly, an attempt to control the flow of Oligarch money following the invasion.

UPDATE 8 March 2022: The full ASPI report on Uyghur oppression. Other reports can be found on the ASPI site. More companies listed in the appendix include: Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Electrolux, Gap, Diesel, Zara, Rover, Mercedes-Benz, VW, Nintendo, Nokia, Levi’s, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Calvin Klein, Adidas and many more [accessed 10 March 2022]. NB: the appendix has been updated to include denials by some of the companies named (not included in this list) and other less well-known companies in the UK have not been included.

Genocide in China


Report finds that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs is genocide

The word ‘genocide’ has entered the language and we use it today to describe attacks by governments on entire communities usually for reasons of race or religion. It is sometimes surprising to some to discover that it is in fact quite a new word invented in 1944 by Rafael Lemkin. He used it to describe the Nazi’s programme of seeking to exterminate the Jews. Further background to the tussles to get the word accepted is described in Phillippe Sands’ book East West Street (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2016). The victors after the war were keen to set up a system to try and prevent those terrible events from happening again including the Genocide Convention of 1948 agreed only four years after Lemkin first coined the word.

Genocide has not disappeared in the world today and the worst example currently is the programme being carried out by the Chinese against the Uyghur people. A report has recently been published which – although having no official standing – has looked thoroughly into the treatment of the Uyghurs and concludes that ‘efforts to prevent births amounted to genocidal intent.’ Uyghur women are having their wombs removed and babies are often killed after being born.

The Chinese treatment of the has been horrific and that it should be taking place in the modern age is deeply depressing. China can use its veto power to prevent action by the International Criminal Court. In addition to the suppression of births the report describes ‘unconscionable crimes’ against the Uyghur people. These include physical violence, sexual abuse including penetration by electric shock rods or iron bars, holding people up to their necks in cold water for prolonged periods of time and the use of heavy shackles sometimes for months at a time. Face recognition technology is used on an extensive scale making communities effectively open prisons.

As many as a million are in held re-education establishments where they are forced to learn Chinese. If caught speaking their own language they are severely beaten. Hundreds of thousands of Uyghur children have been removed from their families and placed in Han speaking homes. Mosques have been destroyed and graves bulldozed. Travel to the region is tightly restricted.

It is a catalogue of depravity of truly shocking extent. The Chinese deny any of this is taking place but the weight of evidence is too great to dismiss. The scale and extent of the persecution must have received authority at the highest level. Although, unlike the Nazis, there is no programme of mass killing, the programme does represent a deliberate programme to eliminate the culture, history and language of these people.

The UK government has so far declined to call the programme genocide.

China: Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Circulate Open Letter to Shanghai Authorities Appealing for Citizen Journalist Zhang Zhan to Receive a Full Physical Examination and Emergency Medical Treatment — IAPL Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers


15/11/21 To the directors of the Shanghai Municipal Justice Bureau and Shanghai Women’s Prison: We, as citizens, as friends of Zhang Zhan (张展), and as people who admire her sense of conscience, have been concerned about the deteriorating state of her health. We are deeply concerned to have learned that Zhang Zhan’s older brother recently […]

China: Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Circulate Open Letter to Shanghai Authorities Appealing for Citizen Journalist Zhang Zhan to Receive a Full Physical Examination and Emergency Medical Treatment — IAPL Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers

Genocide in China


Parliamentary committee produces damning report

Report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee accuses China of genocide towards the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. The report is entitled: Never Again: the UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinxiang and Beyond. It does not pull its punches. It is perhaps one of several events which are leading to a reappraisal of our relations with China. The previous Conservative administration was keen to see an improvement in our relations and with it, increases in trade and development. The treatment of the Uyghurs, the repression in Hong Kong, threats to the integrity of Taiwan and the poor behaviour in the early months of the Covid pandemic, is slowly forcing countries to think again.

The crimes being committed against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are truly horrifying. The Chinese government is responsible for the mass detention of more than a million Uyghurs, for forcing them into industrial-scale forced labour programmes, and for attempting to wipe out Uyghur and Islamic culture in the region through forced sterilisation of women, destruction of cultural sites, and separation of children from families. It is altogether a gruesome picture and shocking behaviour from on the UN’s Security Council members.

The Committee heard that under the guise of counter-terrorism, the Chinese government is committing mass atrocities and human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Reports include the use of forced labour programmes, arbitrary detention in internment camps, cultural erasure, systematic rape, forced sterilisations, separation of children from their families, and a high-technology surveillance system – all endorsed by the Chinese government’s central leadership. Thousands of mosques have been demolished.

One element of the report relates to cotton. It is estimated that some 570,000 people are forced to work picking cotton 84% of which comes from Xinjiang. Satellite imagery shows the use of surveillance equipment, factories surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers. The report notes that ‘virtually the entire’ UK textile and clothing is linked to the abuses.

Virtually the entire UK textile and clothing industry is linked to the abuses in Xinjiang

The UK government has adopted a low profile in this matter although there are signs of a stiffening of attitudes. The Committee argues that guidance is insufficient and that ‘stricter methods’ are needed.

The problem for the public, many of whom are horrified by the stories emerging from Xinjiang, is that action is difficult. How does one know, when buying a cotton T shirt or blouse, whether it has Chinese cotton in it produced by Uyghur slaves? We have to rely on firms applying due diligence in their supply chains. Undoubtedly, some retailers will take this seriously – not just as a matter of morals but because of the risk of reputational damage – whereas others may not do so. A representative of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) thought that voluntary action would not be enough for some retailers. We rely therefore on government to take the lead.

The government is financially supporting the Australian Strategic Policy Institute ASPI, which produces analysis of Chinese actions. A report on the Uyghurs is available here.

To see in more detail what the Ethical Trade Initiative says about the Chinese situation follow this link.

Death penalty report: July


We are pleased to attach our latest monthly death penalty report with thanks to group member Lesley for preparing it. Note that it does not contain any details from China which is the world’s largest executioner of its citizens because details are a state secret. However, a report of the Chinese execution practices was printed in the Sun newspaper in the UK (warning – contains disturbing images).

China’s oppression of Uighurs spreads overseas


China reported to be using its financial muscle to secure the arrest of ex-patriot Uighurs in foreign countries

This is an extract from the Uyghur* Human Rights Project. China is much in the news recently and the arrest of journalists and the closure of a popular newspaper in Hong Kong has featured strongly in the west. The systematic repression of Uighurs continues unabated however, both within the country and as this report discusses, overseas.

The report is the product of an effort to understand the means by which China targets Uighurs beyond its borders to silence dissent. In partnership with the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs gathered cases of China’s transnational repression of Uyghurs from public sources, including government documents, human rights reports, and reporting by credible news agencies to establish a detailed analysis of how the scale and scope of China’s global repression are expanding.

Since 1997, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has engaged in an unprecedented scale of transnational repression that has reached 28 countries worldwide. The China’s Transnational Repression of Uyghurs Dataset examines 1,546 cases of detention and deportation from 1997 until March 2021 and offers critical insight into the scope and evolution of the Chinese government’s efforts to control and repress Uyghurs across sovereign boundaries. Our data finds instances of at least 28 countries across the world complicit in China’s harassment and intimidation of Uyghurs, most notably in much of the Middle East and North Africa with 647 cases, and in South Asia with 665 cases. The dataset contains 1,151 cases of Uyghurs being detained in their host country and 395 cases of Uyghurs being deported, extradited, or rendered back to China.

China’s transnational repression of Uyghurs has been consistently on the rise and has accelerated dramatically with the onset of its system of mass surveillance in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) from 2017, showing a correlation between repression at home and abroad. In the first stage of China’s evolving system of transnational repression, from 1997 to 2007, a total of 89 Uyghurs from 9 countries, mostly in South and Central Asia, were detained or sent to China. In the second phase (2008–2013), 130 individuals from 15 countries were repressed. In the ongoing third phase (2014 to the end of our data collection in March 2021), a total of 1,327 individuals were detained or rendered from 20 countries. Unreported cases would likely raise these figures substantially, with our database presenting just the tip of the iceberg due to our reliance on publicly reported instances of repression.

International organizations and host governments, particularly those with close political and economic ties to the PRC, can often be complicit in China’s use of transnational repression against Uyghurs, many of whom have sought refuge abroad. China’s transnational repression exists as part of a wider trend of global authoritarianism that threatens to erode democratic norms worldwide. Stopping China’s transnational repression is a moral imperative and crucial to maintaining state sovereignty and the integrity of international organizations like Interpol and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

States that host Uyghur diaspora communities can take concrete steps to combat China’s transnational repression and protect Uyghurs and other vulnerable populations. Governments can refuse to extradite Uyghurs, increase refugee and emigration quotas, and restrict networks of enablers, including tech companies, as well as diaspora groups and organizations acting as fronts for the Chinese government.

This report describes transnational repression and the key actors and methods used by the Chinese government. It then traces the evolution of China’s campaign of repression, showing how that campaign has shifted in emphasis from Central and South Asia, to Southeast Asia, to the Middle East, following the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative. The full report can be read by following the link above.

*There are different spellings

Salisbury MP accused of ‘kowtowing’ to China


John Glen, the MP for Salisbury, has been accused by the ex-leader of his party of ‘kowtowing’ to China

This accusation was made in the Mail on Sunday, a Conservative supporting tabloid paper, in an article on 24 October 2020.  Mr Glen, a Treasury Minister, gave a speech at an event organised by the 48 Group Club which was set up to promote Sino-British relations.  Mr Glen is alleged to have said that ‘Britain and China are natural partners and that the two sides have broad prospects for cooperation in financial services and the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.’ [No text of the speech is available on the 48 Group Club’s website or on the Treasury site.]

Pursuing increased commercial contact and encouraging greater trade was a creditable endeavour.  Greater  understanding was always to be supported and many of the 500 or so individuals who are members of the Club are likely to have had that in mind when joining.

But since Xi Jinping came to power, things have changed markedly.  China has become a repressive state with a catalogue of infringements against international norms.  It’s justice system is plagued by unfair trials and the use of torture.  Repression of whole areas of the country including Tibet and Xinjiang is severe.  The Government continues to harass, intimidate and prosecute human right defenders.  All media and the internet are rigorously censored.  There is little religious freedom with churches, mosques and temples destroyed on government orders.  China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined.

Over the past year, attention has focused on the treatment of Uighurs, a million of whom are incarcerated in so-called training establishments which nevertheless are surrounded by high walls and watchtowers and are closed to outside observers.  Recently, concern has been expressed at the use of forced labour to produce cotton and western companies are being urged to ensure cotton produced using such labour is not used in their products.

In July a book was published by Clive Hamilton and Mareika Ohlberg Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World’ (One World Press) which claims that the 48 Group Club is a hub ‘through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites’.  Looking into the group does seem to reveal some curious issues.  It claims many members of the political establishment some of whom say they have no knowledge of joining.  Who funds them is not explained on their website.

48 Group is a hub ‘through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites’ book claims

Mr Glen cannot claim ignorance of the appalling human rights situation in China since many members of the Salisbury Amnesty group have written to him on many occasions.  He will be aware of the concerns about China’s increasing bellicose actions against Taiwan and border conflict with India.  China has reneged on the Hong Kong agreement and is tightening its grip on the state.  However, we know from the They Work for you site that Mr Glen ‘generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights’.  Many countries are beginning to review their relations with the country in view of the policies of the communist regime and the threats they pose.

Mr Duncan Smith claims that the speech was written for him which, as it does not seem to have been published or made available, we cannot know.  It does suggest however, that the government is anxious to press on with closer commercial contacts with China despite the increasing risks and despite the appalling human rights situation there.  It is perhaps an inevitable result of the Brexit decision (supported by Mr Glen) and the shock that will give to the economy: we must seek business where we may and not be too squeamish about with whom.

That may be so, but for Mr Glen allegedly to praise President Xi, as the Mail on Sunday claims, to a suspect lobbying organisation, raises many uncomfortable questions.

Sources: Mail on Line [accessed 15 December 2020]; Endole; Daily Express; upnewsinfo.com; Amnesty International.  Sites searched but with no reference to the speech: Salisbury Journal; Treasury; John Glen MP’s website [all accessed 18 December 2020]

Extraordinary secret Swiss deal with China


Newspaper exposes an extraordinary secret deal made between Switzerland and China

Switzerland is a country which has seldom appeared on this site.  It has an image of being a peaceful, civilised country with a close attachment to laws and rules.  Indeed it is something of an example to the rest of the world having avoided wars for centuries.  It never joined the EU.  Several human rights based organisations are based in Geneva.  The only thing said against it is the secret nature of its banking system which enables billions of dollars to be secreted away out of sight of the host country.

So it has come of something of a shock to discover that it has signed a secret deal with China to facilitate the repatriation of Chinese nationals back to that country.  Readmission agreements as they are called are common and Switzerland itself has around 60 of them including one with the UK.  These are published or otherwise available and the personnel involved have to be validated by both countries.  Not so in the case of China.

The Swiss agreement allows officers from the Ministry of Public Security, which is implicated in widespread, systematic and wide-ranging human rights abuses, free and secret access to the country.  Their agents are accused of crimes against humanity.  Yet they roam free in Switzerland carrying out unsupervised interviews and operations in their attempts to track down Chinese nationals and repatriate them to China.  The Swiss do not check on their activities or know who is being sent back.  Of those who have been sent back, their whereabouts are unknown.

Details of this extraordinary story was revealed by the newspaper NZZ amSonntag in August and a fuller story has appeared in Safeguard Defenders.   It was kept secret it has been claimed, because it was ‘an administrative agreement’.  Now that some Swiss parliamentarians have become aware of it, how long it will last we shall have to see.  But it seems to be another example of some western countries craven attitude towards the Chinese despite increasing knowledge of their multiple human rights abuses.

Sources: Swiss Info.ch; Safeguard Defenders; Guardian; NZZ amSonntag

Uighurs – the crimes continue


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 situation is bleak however.  Last week, China, along with Russia and Saudi Arabia, was elected to the UN’s Human rights Council.  Truly the fox is in the henhouse. 

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. 

Sources:  BBC World Service; HRW; The Economist; Amnesty International.  Further background from China Human Rights Defenders

See also the Grant Liberty website for an item on the Uighurs

 

World Day Against the Death Penalty


Report on Amnesty Death penalty discussion

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.

USA

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.)

Release

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.

Troy Davis

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

Screenshot: Dr Bharat Malkani

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.

Forensic evidence

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.

Campaigning

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.

Comment

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. 

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