Archive for the ‘Human rights,’ Category


Report of a Zoom meeting

This is a report of a Zoom meeting on 28 April 2021, organised by Young Legal Aid Lawyers on the subject of protecting our human rights. Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) is a group of lawyers who are committed to practising in those areas of law, both criminal and civil, that have traditionally been publicly funded. YLAL members include students, paralegals, trainee solicitors, pupil barristers and qualified junior lawyers based throughout England and Wales. We believe that the provision of good quality publicly funded legal help is essential to protecting the interests of the vulnerable in society and upholding the rule of law.

We are grateful to group member Mike for preparing this post.

The panel of speakers were:  

Ciara Bartlem, Barrister (Chair); Michael Mansfield QC (HR Specialist); Audrey Mogan, Barrister; Katy Watts, Solicitor, Liberty; Chai Patel, Policy Director, JCWI; Shami Chakrabarti, Barrister, House of Lords.  

Two questions posed were: a) is government becoming increasingly authoritarian, and b) what can be done to curb the progression towards authoritarianism? 

The panel all agreed that government is becoming more authoritarian. Michael Mansfield QC said that activist lawyers are now Home Office targets with the Home Secretary tending toward aggressive oppression. He referred to May’s total dislike of the ECHR as well as other examples.  

The main concerns are the three Acts that we have already identified: CHIS, Police Crime Bill and Overseas Trade. The UK HR Act is not under immediate threat though it is under review but the panel agreed that the three acts do undermine our HR and the trajectory is increasing.  

While the Police Crime Bill does not directly make protesting illegal, it provides the police with huge powers to determine when a protest is causing a ‘disturbance of the peace of others’; it gives ‘guilty’ protestors a criminal record and excessive sentencing powers to the courts. ‘Disturbing the peace of others’ is not specified and could be about noise, inconveniencing shoppers to holding up traffic.  

Shami Chakrabarti was particularly scathing about CHIS and how it can be used in conjunction with the Police Bill. She warned of agent provocateurs being used to create/encourage violent protests thereby giving the police powers to act, and the courts powers to sentence ‘undesirable’ protestors.  

They all agreed that these, and the general trend, is a back door threat to our freedoms and towards an increasingly authoritarian government.  

There was also a lengthy discussion about the ending, or curtailing, of Judicial Reviews. Judicial Review is the ability for courts (lawyers) to challenge the legality of a government action (or a government agency such as the police). Either in the three Acts or elsewhere the government wants to end (restrict) the process of Judicial Review, thereby rendering government unaccountable to the law. There has been an continuing debate as to whether judges, enabled in part by the Human Rights Act, have expanded their reach into what some consider to be inherently political areas of decision making.  Judicial Review is subject to a review at present.

Sadly, what can be done was far more directed towards lawyers and actions in the court than activists. They talked about the increasing importance of using Legal Observers at protests.  

Though an interesting and simple suggestion was: get ready to use your mobile phone, learn how to video quickly. The George Floyd case in America was blown open by video. We are unlikely to see a lot of such incidents in Salisbury, but the inference is to stop abuse in the streets before it gets to the courts.  

The panel also recommended two videos:  

The Brink: [trailer] Steven Bannon in the US and his involvement in UK, particularly, Brexit politics. 

The 13th: [trailer] after the emancipation of slaves the 13th amendment was used to criminalise black people.  

The Salisbury group is concerned – along with many others – about the government’s stated desire to abolish the Human Rights Act. Curtailment of liberties, including the right to protest and Judicial Review, is part a drip, drip of actions the government is engaged in.


Airbnb continues to list properties illegal settlements

Last year Airbnb shamefully reversed its decision to remove listings in Israeli settlements from their online platform, exposing the hollowness of their claims to be a company that values human rights.  They continue to promote these listings, despite knowing that these settlements are illegal under international law, and a war crime.

Settlements are at the root of a wide range of human rights violations against Palestinian communities. Airbnb are acting in direct contradiction with international law and their own corporate standards.

Earlier this year, the United Nations released a report on companies with specific links to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank which included Airbnb.  Naming the businesses which profit in the context of this illegal situation sends a clear message that Israel’s settlement enterprise must never be normalized.

Now Airbnb has started the process of becoming a publicly listed company on the US stock exchange and hopes to raise billions of dollars to grow and expand its tourism operations around the world.

Amnesty International has extensively documented the ways in which digital tourism companies like Airbnb contribute to human rights violations against Palestinians and we continue to call for Airbnb and others to stop all activity in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.


Fascinating Webinar held on Write for Rights

Amnesty members around the world write millions of letters each year and it can sometimes feel a little dispiriting.  They seldom get replies and the results (if any) are often difficult to discover.  It can seem a fruitless exercise.  True, every now and then, there is a success (which we have highlighted on this site where group members have been involved) but they are infrequent.

Some Amnesty members in front of Exeter Cathedral (pic: Salisbury Amnesty)

So the webinar held yesterday (2 December 2020) was particularly uplifting.  It featured three speakers: Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty, Geraldine Chacón from Venezuela and the Sena Atici, the Individuals at Risk Coordinator at AIUK.  Members of the South West group (pictured outside the cathedral in Exeter) will be familiar with Geraldine who came to speak to us in that city in March, just before lockdown.

Geraldine, a lawyer and human rights defender, was arrested in 2018 by the Venezuelan authorities as part of an exercise against all critics of the government.  She was held in appalling conditions for 4 months and although eventually released, she was not permitted to leave the country.  In common with a host of regimes nowadays, she was accused of being a ‘terrorist,’ a kind of go-to accusation for anyone a government doesn’t like.

She described how being arrested changed everything and how she felt isolated and forgotten.  ‘Nothing was in your control’ she said.  Thousands wrote letters which in fact, she never received.  In prison, she was completely isolated.  Her mother did however, and the government also received many thousands.  ‘When you’re an activist, you’re not that sure that you are making a difference.  Being on the other side, I saw how it had an impact and made a difference’ she added.

‘I know [the letters] make a difference – I am the living proof of that’

In her talk in Exeter, she said ‘[the police] want you to stop – without the support, I might have done.’

There were several questions from the public at the webinar presentation around effectiveness and risk.  Can these

Geraldine Chacón (left).  Picture: Salisbury Amnesty

letters increase the risk to the prisoner?  The answer was that the International Secretariat look carefully at this before someone is included in a Write for Rights campaign.  If it is felt that there is risk, they are not included.

This was a most successful webinar.  For all those who occasionally ask themselves ‘is it worth it?’ – is it worth the price of a stamp to a regime where it is unlikely to be read or to make a difference? the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’.  As Geraldine’s case demonstrates, not only for her, but for family members as well, these letters show support and that the world is watching.  For people who are arrested for no real reason and languish in prison, knowing that they are not forgotten is a powerful message.

The next webinar is in January 2021.


Further details of Venezuelan government’s treatment of human rights activists and others is detailed in a UN report on the country.  The Amnesty International report can be accessed here.

The Salisbury group is not meeting at present but we hope to be back to some kind of normal in 2021.


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
Tags: , , ,

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.


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.


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


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

Bench in Salisbury where the Skripals were found. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

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.

 

 


Neglect of the elderly in our care homes: Amnesty Report

Amnesty International has published a report  As if Expendable, of the scandalous treatment of the elderly in our care homes.

The UK government was clearly aware that the 400,000 residents of care homes in the UK – many of whom live with multiple health conditions physical dependency, dementia and frailty – were at exceptional risk to coronavirus.  Yet at the height of the pandemic, despite this knowledge, it failed to take measures promptly and adequately to protect care homes.

Contrary to the claim by the secretary of state for Health and Social Care that a “protective ring” was put around care homes “right from the start,” a number of decisions and policies adopted by authorities at the national and local level in England increased care home residents’ risk of exposure to the virus – violating their rights to life, to health, and to non-discrimination.

Some of the UK government’s decisions with regard to care homes seem heedless at best.  Up until 13 March 2020, two days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, and despite having received information warning of asymptomatic coronavirus cases from its own advisers, the government advised care homes against the use of PPE. Its official guidance for care homes stated:

If neither the care worker nor the individual receiving care and support is symptomatic then no personal protective equipment is required above and beyond normal good hygiene practices.

In contrast to measures taken to boost NHS capacity, care home managers and staff told Amnesty International of a “complete breakdown” of systems in care homes in the first six weeks of the pandemic. They spoke of waiting to receive guidance, of struggling to access adequate amounts of PPE, and of having no access to testing, despite having to manage patients urgently discharged from hospitals, including those infected with COVID-19. These deficits put many of those most vulnerable to the virus at great risk—as well as endangering care home staff—and, in doing so, violated care home residents’ right to life, right to health, and right to non-discrimination.

The full report can be accessed from the link above.