Archive for the ‘Human rights,’ Category


Plans by a consortium funded by Saudi Arabia to purchase Newcastle United come under attack

Anyone who has followed the Yemen conflict or is the least bit aware of human rights around the world, will know of Saudi Arabia’s dismal record on this front.  For five years they have waged a brutal war in Yemen leaving the country a wreck and many thousands dead.  We have frequently described their activities in previous blogs on this site. Their bombing of civilian targets is a disgrace as is the process of what is called ‘double tapping’ that is, circulating round after an attack on a hospital, school or wedding, and returning for a second round of bombing to kill the rescue workers.  That the RAF is involved in this activity – supposedly ‘advising’ the Saudis – is a stain on the UK’s international reputation.

Their human rights record is appalling.  Torture is common and confessions extracted using the process used to justify executions.  Death by beheading in public displays are the norm.  Women’s rights are severely restricted despite the promised reforms.  Human rights activists are regularly targeted and of course there is the murder of Adnam Kashoggi who was almost certainly dismembered after his death by Saudi personnel.

Now they want to purchase Newcastle United football club via the Public Investment Fund chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the sum of £500m is mentioned in a deal.

Kate Allen, Amnesty’s Director said:

Amnesty UK director Kate Allen said in a separate letter to Masters [chief executive of the Premier League]: “So long as these questions [about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record] remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community”.

She suggests that Newcastle fans to familiarise themselves with the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia before the deal goes ahead.  For many fans, their chief desire is to see a new owner to replace Mike Ashley, the current one.

Saudi Arabia has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to improve its image and using ‘sports wash’ is part of that plan.  The sums of money are huge and it appears that sports people are unconcerned at the source of the money or how tainted it is before accepting and cashing in the cheques.

The country is the major overseas purchaser of our arms exports.  Royalty have been frequently pressed into service as part of the charm offensive.  Unsurprisingly, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden MP said it was a ‘matter for the Premier League’ and the government is unlikely to intervene.

Football is big business and the sums paid to players and their transfer fees can be stratospheric.  Players are hugely influential and many young people see them as heroes.  Although players are not involved in this transaction directly, they will ultimately benefit from it financially.

To quote Jonathan Lieu writing in the Guardian:

And so, welcome to the new orthodoxies of English football.  Saudi Arabia is good.  Amnesty International is bad.  New signings are more important than murder, broadcast rights more important than women’s rights, and a basic sense of humanity is ultimately expendable if you can scrape into next season’s Europa League.  It’s a manifesto, to be sure.  Just don’t expect anyone with a scintilla of decency to feel warmly about it.  (23 April 2020)

Sources: Guardian, BBC, CNN

 


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.

 


This is an extract of the HRW 2020 report for Europe focusing on the UK.  Seeing all the issues grouped together in this way makes for shameful reading.

The UK’s planned exit from the EU (Brexit) strained democratic institutions and put human rights and the rule of law at risk.  In September, the government was forced by parliament to publish a key planning document outlining potential impacts of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement (known as “no-deal” Brexit).  Its publication raised serious rights concerns including those related to access to adequate food and medicine, fuel shortages, interruptions to social care for older people and people with disabilities, possible public disorder, and the risk of increased dissident activity in Northern Ireland. The government accepted that a “no deal Brexit” would have the greatest impact on economically vulnerable and marginalized groups.

In September, the Supreme Court ruled unlawful the government’s five-week suspension of parliament earlier the same month, leading to parliament’s recall.  The government was forced by law adopted by parliament in September to seek an extension to the UK’s membership of the EU aimed at avoiding a no-deal Brexit.  Government sources criticized the Supreme Court ruling and threatened to ignore the binding law requiring an extension request.

The extension was granted by the EU27, and the Brexit date at time of writing was the end of January 2020 (now taken place).  Parliament was dissolved in November after opposition parties agreed to a December 2019 general election (which had yet to take place at time of writing).

In May, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty published a report on the disproportionate negative impact of austerity-motivated spending cuts, combined with social security restructuring, on the rights of women, children, older people, and people with disabilities living on low incomes.

Reliance on emergency food assistance grew.  The country’s largest food bank charity network, the (Salisbury based)Trussell Trust, reported distributing 1.6 million parcels containing a three-day emergency supply of food across the country.  The Independent Food Aid Network reported that, at time of writing, at least 819 independent centres were also distributing food aid.

The UK continued to detain asylum seeking and migrant children.

In October legislation passed by the UK Parliament to decriminalize abortion and provide for marriage equality in Northern Ireland in 2020 came into force when the region’s devolved government failed to reconvene having been suspended since January 2017.

More than two years after the deadly Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 71, there has been little accountability for the deaths or the fire.   In October, the findings of the first phase of the public inquiry into the fire were published, focusing on the day of the fire.  A criminal investigation was ongoing at time of writing.

In February, a new counterterrorism law entered into force, including measures that criminalize viewing online content, overseas travel and support to terrorism and could result in human rights violations.  UK authorities continued to exercise powers to strip citizenship from UK nationals suspected of terrorism-related activity.

In July, the government refused to establish a judicial inquiry into UK complicity in the CIA-led torture and secret detention.  At time of writing, no one in the UK had been charged with a crime in connection with the abuses.  In November, a media investigation found evidence of a cover up by UK authorities of alleged war crimes by UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Human Rights Watch)


The minutes of the February group meeting are available thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.  They contain details of our activities and forthcoming events.  These are listed towards the end and are a good opportunity for someone thinking of joining to come along and make yourself known.

February minutes (Word)


Conor Gearty discusses this question in the European Human Rights Law Review

Readers of this site will be familiar with Mr Gearty as we reviewed his book On Fantasy Island a few years ago.  In this article*, Mr Gearty discusses the current state of human rights.

Anyone looking at the current state may conclude that little has improved since the end of the war.  The atrocities committed during the war, most notably the holocaust, although millions also died in Soviet Russia during the Stalin era, led to the formation of the UN and ultimately the signing of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  There was a strong hope at the time of ‘never again’.

Currently, we have terrible events in Myanmar with the killing and driving out of Rohingyas.  Syria has seen massive destruction and civil war and the use of chemical weapons.  The Uighur people in China are being persecuted for their faith and about one million are being forcibly ‘re-educated’.  We have seen genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda.  The treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis is disgraceful.  All these and many more are carried on with little sign of realistic intervention by the UN.  It is as though the Declaration was never agreed all those years ago.

Reasons

Conor Gearty discusses some of the reasons for this decline in human rights around the world.  His first argument is that the responsibility was placed on governments.  It was no doubt assumed at the time that governments could be relied on to be the police so to speak.  Experience has shown that it is governments which are the problem and who are all too keen to deny the human rights of their citizens.  Several of the Gulf states are prime examples of denial of basic liberties and the rule of law.  Abuses and the use of torture are routine.

The problem with the reliance on states is the UN principle of non-interference in the affairs of states.  So acting through them, but being inhibited from interfering with them, means the UN is largely neutered when it wants to take action.  He also makes the point that non-state actors are not controlled by human rights considerations.  He instances the World Bank and IMF which both impose conditions on state’s finances which in turn can leave them to handle the human rights consequences.

We can add to this the rise in corporate power.  There are many corporate actors now which are bigger than many of the states they operate in.  The large resource companies and banks are able to act with impunity in many countries.  They can extract wealth corruptly with ease and deny the host country the proceeds.  The UK is a major centre for this corruption and Transparency International has published a number of reports giving the details.  Recently, there has been a series of revelations concerning Isabel dos Santos alleged looting of Angola.  She was helped in this activity – which involved complex entities and transactions in several countries – by one of the UK’s big four accountancy firms PwC.  It is difficult for countries stricken by this plunder of wealth to improve the well being and human rights of its citizens while vast sums are stolen from them.  But human rights only appear in the background and the corporate and City firms are not a direct part of the UN Declaration.

Austerity is something which has hit the poorest the hardest.  Gearty argues that this has led some to argue that human rights are no longer ‘fit for purpose’.  Many of these factors are economic in nature and seem outside the remit of human rights laws – at least directly.

9/11

Another factor which has acted against the interests of human rights he argues and left many organisations ‘stuck of the wrong’ side were the attacks on the Twin Towers and elsewhere in America by al Qaeda.  America launched its ‘war on terror’ and a whole series of human rights infringements followed.  The development of black sites and Guantanamo Bay enabled the US to hold large numbers of people incommunicado and without due process and to institute regimes of torture [warning: the pictures are distressing].  This left many human rights organisations seemingly defending the rights of terrorists.  Terrorism has never been defined he argues.  Guantanamo Bay is still a blight on the politics of the USA: out of the 780 held there and subjected to harsh treatment over several years, 731 were released without trial (source: Human Rights Watch).

Additionally, in the UK, we have seen a concerted press campaign to argue that human rights are being used to defend criminals, terrorists and ‘citizens of nowhere’ as he terms them.  They are not for ordinary people but for the ‘unworthy’ is the message increasingly portrayed.

This has enabled the current Conservative government to argue for the Human Rights Act to be abolished although a number of years have passed since David Cameron first promised to do so.  It has never been clear what it is that the Conservatives want repealed or removed from the HRA, a question we asked the Salisbury MP Mr John Glen but without a clear answer.  This year (2020) we may get to find out.

There is clear evidence that commercial and trading considerations outweigh human rights.  This is another example of states – who should be the guardians – are in fact cheerleaders for arms firms.  We have highlighted on this site the UK’s role in selling arms to the Saudi government to carry out its hideous destruction of Yemen.  The government also supports the annual DSEI arms fair and goes to great pains to exclude human rights representatives from attending.  There is little doubt that to ensure the success of post Brexit Britain, little regard will be given to human rights in the rush to secure trade agreements around the world.  In our last post, we highlighted a Salisbury firm which is alleged to sell spyware equipment to enable regimes with poor human rights records to penetrate the phones, emails and computers of those it does not like.

Conclusions

The basic issue is that with governments the custodian of human rights, the protection of basic rights would always be on shaky ground if governments are themselves not committed to upholding them.  Nowhere is this more relevant than with the plight of refugees: it being governments which place them in a perilous position in the first place and then other governments which close their borders and fail to help them.

Politicians are more concerned with securing and holding on to power that on maintaining the rights of its citizens.  The right wing press and some politicians have portrayed these rights as somehow the preserve of criminals, terrorists and the like who use them to escape justice.  So abolishing the act cannot come soon enough for them.

Another crucial factor is the increasing pressure of external factors which impinge on people’s rights.  These are the drivers and it is rights which suffer at the end.  Responses to these pressures have led several leaders to act in denial of human rights.

New threats, such as inequality, climate change, and the replacement of manual work by AI and machines, mean those who fear that the old social contract is no longer in their interests are making their voices heard.  They say, “these are our jobs”, “this is our land”, “our community has certain shared values”, and “people like us are the only real citizens”.  These sentiments, echoing around the presidency of Donald Trump or during Brexit, are in direct opposition to human rights.

States don’t much like rights – they’re an annoyance or an embarrassment.  The survival, and flourishing, of human rights requires people, the citizenry, the populace, to say that these rights are important and to demand that their governments observe them.  And by that same logic, the people can sink them, too. In the end it is us, we – however we define that problematic term – who will make the difference between the failure or success of human rights, whatever the external and internal threats we face.  The Conversation, October 23 2018

If we accept that a reliance on governments to be the custodian of our rights, then their future is unlikely to be positive.  As pressures build, whether from economic, climate or AI, then the rights of its citizens will be the first to go.  These arguments point to viewing human rights in a more nuanced way.  Rights are now influenced by a range of factors beyond straightforward considerations of what the state and judiciary do.  The City of London for example, plays a key role internationally in helping move vast quantities of wealth out of the reach of governments thus making improving the living standards of its citizens harder if not impossible for them to achieve.

The central problem seems that by placing the protection of human rights entirely in a legal setting, it risks becoming bound up in a too narrow frame of reference.  There needs to be a shift in thinking away from the state and the law and towards more ethical considerations.  We need to move towards a society structured around the well-being of individuals not one where people have to fit in with the demands of the state.  Since the state only has partial power in any particular country, citizens are at the mercy of non-state organisations, international companies, the climate, and ever changing technology.  Recent events in China, show that even with the enormous power of the communist party, it became the victim of a virus.  The sum of these forces frequently (nearly always in fact) act against the rights and well-being and rights of its citizens.

 

*Is the Human Rights Era Drawing to a Close?  European Human Rights Law Review, Issue 5, 2017

 

 

 

 


Worry about dilution of human rights in the UK.

Increasing concern is being expressed about the future of human rights in the UK and it is one of the issues the Salisbury group are keeping a watching brief over. This is an extract from ‘Each Other’ – the new name for Rights Info:

The government has pledged to “update” the Human Rights Act as well as judicial review – the means by which courts can assess the lawfulness of decisions made by public authorities. 

The proposed changes to the Act and judicial review will be recommended by a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission” (CDRC) which the government said it will set up this year. 

While the CDRC’s changes will not be looked at until “after Brexit” – it will be important to pay close attention to, among other things, who is appointed to the commission, what their records on human rights issues are and how they arrive at their recommendations.  Aaron, New Editor 

There are many in government who dislike the act and there have been several statements and manifesto promises to abolish it and replace it with something else, what is not known.  Brexit consumed so much time that there was none left to do things like this.  The right wing press has kept up a fairly relentless campaign which influences government thinking. 

Our own MP, Mr John Glen is recorded as ‘generally voted against human rights’ by the Hansard ‘They Work for You web site so is likely to support any damaging changes. 

Read the full piece in Each Other

 

 


Card signing in the Cathedral cloister today (Sunday)

TODAY

On Sunday 8th from noon till 2pm we shall be in the Cathedral cloister for our annual card signing.  For many years, we did this in the centre of Salisbury usually by the Library but the recent 2 years have been disappointing so we have decided to try the Cathedral.

Look forward to seeing you there if you are in the vicinity.


The disgraceful treatment of this man in Florida continues.  The American justice system shamed

WE attach the latest message from Reprieve about this man’s continuing incarceration in Florida despite his innocence being demonstrated beyond doubt.  We have written about this case before.

Every time I [Clive Stafford Smith] think that Kris Maharaj cannot be subjected to any more injustice, agents of the State of Florida comes up trumps.  I last visited Kris in the euphemistically named South Florida Reception in September.  I went to share the good news that the Magistrate Judge had set a hearing for October 17th.  This meant we would finally be allowed to prove that his trial was manifestly unfair – and the last 33 years he’s spent in Florida’s prison system are unjust.

I should have known the devastating impact of a broken justice system could not be remedied so quickly – 33 years and counting.  The Magistrate had already agreed that we had submitted proof such that no reasonable juror could now convict Kris of the murders of Derrick and Duane Moo Young in Room 1215 of Miami’s Dupont Plaza Hotel all those years ago on October 16th, 1986.  We dismantled every element of the prosecution case against Kris, and obtained sworn testimony from six unimpeached alibi witnesses who placed him far away. Kris even passed his lie detector test: the prosecution’s star witness did not.

Lastly, we lined up half a dozen Colombian cartel witnesses who expressed shock that Kris was locked up for killing the Moo Youngs.  The murders were a hit ordered by Pablo Escobar, they said – the Moo Youngs had been stealing from the Narcos and “had to die.”  One might imagine that this would be sufficient for Kris to be restored to the arms of his long-suffering wife Marita, but under current U.S. precedent it is – we are told – possible that a fair trial should come to the wrong result.  Hence, logic mandates, the mere fact that you are innocent is not enough: you must prove the trial was itself marred.

I stayed with Marita the night before my prison visit. She lives a lonely life in Florida, only permitted to visit her husband every week or two.  Those visits are sacred to both of them.  The only disciplinary sanction Kris has got in the last three decades he has spent in prison involved a violation of the visitation policy – he stole a second kiss with his wife, when the rules only allow one.  Marita’s cottage is a shrine to the life they once had, with pictures of the couple in their London heyday, when Kris was a self-made millionaire.

She served me breakfast at the table where, every Christmas for the past 33 years, she has set a place for her husband, maintaining the fantasy that he might walk in any moment.  In the prison visitation area, Kris and I planned for his hearing. Though the Magistrate had only given us three weeks to prepare, we would meet the deadline. After all, it meant that Kris and Marita might – at long last – actually share their Christmas dinner this year.

AFTER 26 years working on the case, we were ready to prove multiple constitutional violations – from the suppression of exculpatory evidence (a government informant told them in 1986 that the cartel committed the murders), to the fact that the judge had himself been arrested on the third day of the trial for taking a bribe from a law enforcement agent posing as a drug dealer.

The first slap came with the State’s request for three months extra to prepare. That may not seem much, but it takes us into 2020, by which time Kris will be 81-years-old and Marita 80.  The potential knock-out blow came the next day when the State filed an appeal, to try to prevent the hearing altogether.  For 20 pages they argued that Kris should be barred from presenting evidence at all.  It is all nonsense, of course.

They even had the gall to argue that we have not been diligent in pursuing proof of innocence, when I have been to Colombia and back to get it.  We will do what we have always done: trudge on towards justice, hoping to persuade the appellate judge to respond with expedition.  Meanwhile the State’s lawyers callously run down the clock on Kris’s life.  I do sometimes wonder how people sleep at night.  I know I have often not been able to in the 26 years when Kris and Marita have been my responsibility, but that is because I fear I have not done enough, rather than too much.

I am working with Kris and the team at Reprieve to prepare for Kris’ trial in January. Hopefully, no other blows hit us between now and then.  Kris and Marita should not have to spend any more time apart because of an unfair trial 33 years ago.

Thank you for reading,

Read our latest death penalty report.


If you live in the Salisbury/Amesbury/Downton area and would like to join our group you would be most welcome.  You can come to one of our monthly meetings which take place on the second Thursday at 7:30 in Victoria Road Salisbury or come along to one of our events and make yourself known.  Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook or Twitter to see what we have planned.


We are fortunate in Salisbury to have the support of the Cathedral which has a prisoner  of conscience window and the Amnesty candle.  They also allow us to put prisoner of conscience details for people to pick up and act on if they wish.  This is changed once a month by group member Tony.

Cathedral site

Candle

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Salisbury Amnesty

 


13 prisoners at risk of execution

Amnesty International has received reports indicating that the President was due to consider signing execution warrants as early as the week of 24 June.  Should this be confirmed, up to 13 prisoners would be put at imminent risk of execution.

There is completely secrecy around the dates of any scheduled executions, as well as identities of the death row prisoners most at risk.  Amnesty International has not been able to confirm whether the individuals had fair trials, access to lawyers or whether they were able to engage in a meaningful clemency process.  Sri Lanka has not implemented this ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment for more than four decades.  It should continue to honour a tradition that chooses life instead of vengeance.

Source: Amnesty

Urgent action details (pdf)