Archive for the ‘Human rights,’ Category


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

 

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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)


UPDATE: PLEASE NOTE THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED.  We have been informed today that Paul will be indisposed on this day and regretfully and unavoidably, he has had to cancel

Leading author and journalist coming to Salisburyclear bright future

We are delighted to announce that the famous journalist and author Paul Mason (pictured) will be speaking in Salisbury on 24 June at 7:30.  This is a free event but we do ask people to contribute to a parting collection to help with our costs.

Paul will be speaking about his new book Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being.  The book is about the triple threat we face: the rise of authoritarian politicians and the destruction of verifiable truth; the rise of intelligent machines which will threaten the human claim to agency, and a rising sense of fatalism and irrationality which has led many to become susceptible to the mythologies of the new right.

The book is an argument for a defence of the human being against the creation of the ‘neoliberal self’ in the past three decades or so.  To resist this Mason argues, means fighting for universal rights and for human centric institutions.

Paul Mason

Picture: C Juergen-Bauer

Paul will be speaking at the Salisbury Methodist Church starting at 7:30 pm and the event is free.  We are asking for a parting contribution please.


The evening will be a good opportunity for you to join us if you wish.  The issue of the power of the tech giants and the effect this has on our freedoms is an issue we are likely as a group to pay more attention to in the future.  This may be a topic of interest to you in which case we would like to hear from you.  It is free to join us locally.


RightsInfo has published some research on the attitudes towards human rights of the known contenders for the post of Prime minister following the resignation of Theresa May

The general tone of the various contenders is to say they are in favour of human rights but their actions often belie these statements.  Of the eight known contenders so far (28 May), all at various times have generally voted against human rights issues and most have voted to abolish or scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.  Some have wanted to replace the HRA with a British Bill of Rights but after around 10 years a bill has shown no sign of appearing.  None of the contenders could in any way be described as a ‘champion’.

In a recent newspaper article, it was revealed that the UK government has relaxed its guidance on obtaining and using information gained from foreign intelligence agencies using torture.  Although this cannot easily be placed at any particular minister’s door, it is likely that Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt knew or should have known during their times as Foreign Secretary.   The consolidated guidance was revised in secret and has alarmed human rights groups.  It is extremely equivocal and provides copious loopholes for information obtained under torture, or by using inhuman methods, to be allowed.

The contenders are :

Boris Johnson

Professes to be in favour but the web site They Work for You shows that he has generally voted against human rights issues.  Human Rights Watch described his position ‘weak, inconsistent and often incoherent.’  Their review of his actions on arming the Saudis in their bombing campaign in Yemen, failure to press taking Myanmar to the International Court and his weakness in Egypt, make for grim reading.

Andrea Leadsom

Almost always votes against human rights issues according to They Work for You.  She also voted against retaining the European Charter.

Dominic Raab

Raab has been an outspoken critic of the HRA and has claimed that human rights have run riot and are flawed.  He has masterminded plans to replace the HRA.  In a debate with Shami Chakrabarti, some of Dominic Raab’s doubtful logic and thinking is revealed.

Rory Stewart

Has spoken in favour of Human Rights and RightsInfo say that he was ‘reportedly’ a professor of human rights at Harvard University.  He has criticised the ECHR saying it has ‘using the wrong principles to come to the wrong judgements.’ Has voted to scrap the HRA and the EU Charter in 2018.

Esther McVey

Has been an active campaigner to repeal the HRA and replace it with a British bill of rights.  Voted to scrap the European Charter.

Jeremy Hunt

Has supported the scrapping the HRA.  Created the post of roving ambassador and appointed Rita French into the post.  However if this is not supported by appropriate actions to support human rights in the UK it is unlikely to achieve much.  Reprieve has reported in a lengthy report that the UK is heavily involved in the training of torturers in Bahrain during Hunt’s time as Foreign Secretary.

Matt Hancock; Michael Gove and Sajid Javid have all sought to scrap the HRA and voted against human rights issues in parliament.

What comes across from looking at their records, speeches and comments is that they want to be seen to support human rights but that as soon as a particular issue arises, such as for example, deporting people back to a country which uses torture, their resolve weakens.  It is also not hard to see the influence of tabloid stories and obsessions in their comments, indeed, searching their names often brings up stories in the Daily Express or the Daily Mail.

Another common theme is that commercial interests are key.  This is particularly so with arms sales to the Saudis with a blind eye turned to the bombing and destruction in Yemen.  Whoever is appointed prime minister from the above list, we are unlikely to see a robust or principled defence of human rights.  Rather, a continuation of attacks on the European Charter and a policy of business first and human rights second.

The MP for Salisbury, Mr John Glen (not known to be a contender) is also generally voted against human rights.     He also voted against the retention of the European Charter.

 

 


Following some negative press articles, the Chair and Director of Amnesty UK have responded in detail and this is their statement below.

We both wanted to write to you directly in the light of the recent negative media coverage about Amnesty International. This is a difficult time for our movement and we hope that it is helpful for us to explain what has happened, how Amnesty International UK is affected and how the issues raised are being handled.

There have been two areas of recent media attention:

– the first has been culture and management practice at the International Secretariat
– the second has been allegations of caste-based discrimination at Amnesty India.

Taking each of these in turn:

1.Culture and management practice at Amnesty International, International Secretariat (IS)

In Summer 2018 Amnesty’s International Secretariat (IS) commissioned independent reviews following the tragic suicides of two International Secretariat staff members.
The reports produced describe a very difficult working culture at the International Secretariat and unacceptable management practices, attitudes and behaviours. There has been coverage of all or some of these reports in The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Mail.

We have both been shocked by what we have read in the reports about some of the management practices, and the culture at the IS, and it is absolutely right that the new Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, deals with this as a matter of priority. He has our utmost support in doing that.

Kumi has said:

“The tragic deaths of our beloved colleagues Gaëtan Mootoo and Rosalind McGregor have triggered important questions here at Amnesty International about staff-wellbeing.

We accept and welcome the findings and criticisms of all three independent reviews that have been commissioned into these tragic events.

While the review into Rosalind McGregor’s death concludes that her working situation at Amnesty International did not play a significant, if any, role in her tragic decision, what all three reviews make clear is that we have a difficult but necessary journey ahead of us in improving wellbeing.

As I have reiterated to staff, I have made it one of my priorities to address instances where individuals have been found wanting, in our senior leadership team or elsewhere. Unacceptable management practices, attitudes and behaviours cannot and will not be tolerated at any level in the organization.

However, the issues highlighted go beyond the question of individual accountability. It is clear we need radically to rethink our approach to staff wellbeing and culture and we are in the process of establishing and rolling out credible and effective wellbeing measures. The recommendations of this review complement current approaches and identify concrete steps towards delivering a comprehensive commitment to staff wellbeing and health. I will be making this one of my core priorities from here on in.”

It is important to make it clear that the reports are not referring to Amnesty International UK. They refer only to our International Secretariat, which is in a different part of London. AIUK has our own building, board of trustees, charity number, senior management and staff team.

However, we are all one Amnesty family, and there must be lessons that we can learn at AIUK from the report, and we too will prioritise work on staff wellbeing and welfare. We completely share Kumi’s commitment to put wellbeing at the heart of our work across the Amnesty movement and his view that we need to look after each other and develop compassion and mutual care to help Amnesty International become the uplifting community it needs to be.

We hope this can give you reassurance that Amnesty, across the movement, is taking these issues very seriously and is committed to improving the way we work together in order to create an environment which allows us to flourish and effectively deliver the important work we do.

We have had some feedback from supporters in response to the media reports. To date we have had 10 membership cancellations. We do hope that your campaigning is not directly affected by this, and please do get in touch if we can help you respond to feedback that you receive.

2. Allegations of caste-based discrimination at Amnesty India

An article relating to allegations of discrimination at Amnesty India was published online in the Guardian on February 15th. The article alleges that staff were discriminated against because of their caste.

Amnesty India has a long-standing policy of promoting diversity through affirmative action in recruitment and tries to ensure the workplace reflects the diversity of India across gender, caste, religion and disability. Over 40% of the current workplace identifies as – using Indian government definitions – Dalit, Adivasi or ‘other backward class’, according to a staff survey in 2018. Across their six offices, there were two formal complaints about discrimination and harassment in 2018. Both were dismissed after thorough investigations.

Amnesty India has commissioned a review by an independent committee whose report has just been published. The committee was headed by Dr. Syeda Hameed, an eminent activist and writer.

The report has now been shared with staff at Amnesty India and is available with responses from the board and management on the Amnesty India website.

Aakar Patel, Head of Amnesty India, has said in response:

“We are grateful to the Syeda Hameed Committee for their report, whose release was delayed because of disruptions caused by the Enforcement Directorate raid on our offices. It reassures us that we’ve made our workplace diverse in many ways and followed due process in dealing with complaints, but also reminds us that we have a long way to go to address discrimination in all its forms.

We accept all the findings of the committee, and we will ensure that we implement the recommendations made by it and the board to protect employee well-being. We will reinvigorate our efforts to show our staff, members and partners, that respect and dignity are not just things we campaign for externally but are values at the heart of our organization.”

It is critically important that discrimination of any sort is not tolerated within Amnesty International. Amnesty UK will support our new Secretary General’s commitment to tackling this.

In conclusion, we are very sorry to see Amnesty in the media in this way and we hope that it doesn’t negatively impact on the important campaigning and fundraising work that you are doing, and on overall our effectiveness as a section.

Most importantly, it is vital that the IS and the Amnesty movement as a whole learns from the findings of these reports, and our experience over the past year. We need to take the steps required to make Amnesty a better place to work and so become a more effective force for human rights change. We are both committed to that and we have both been impressed by Kumi’s commitment to make the changes needed. We are very pleased that he will be at our AGM and National Conference this year to speak and take questions. We hope you will be able to join us there.

Ruth Breddal and Kate Allen

End


If you are reading this in the Salisbury, Amesbury, Wilton or Downton areas, we would be pleased to welcome you to our local group.  The best way is to keep an eye on this site or on Facebook or Twitter and come along to one of our events.  We are hosting a film this Friday, 8 March at the Arts Centre and we shall be in evidence then.


Government minister gives equivocal answer

The threat by the current Conservative government to do away with the Human Rights Act (HRA) has lain dormant for some time due to the considerable time being devoted to the Brexit negotiations.  However, it reared its head again this week when a House of Lords EU Justice subcommittee asked a government minister for reassurance that it (the government) will not repeal or replace the act.

The Parliament Website has the following piece:

The House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee wrote to Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke in December regarding the rights of citizens post-Brexit.  The Committee sought an explanation for the dilution of the Government’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Last week the Committee received a troubling response.  While again pledging an unchanging commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, the letter from Edward Argar MP, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, ended with reference to the Government’s intention to revisit the Human Rights Act once the process of leaving the EU is concluded18 January 2019 [accessed 22 January 2019 our italics]

This is very troubling.  The hostility of many ministers and politicians to the HRA is well known and echoes the frequent stories and campaigns in the tabloid press.  It is seen by some as a threat to our way or life and to giving terrorists and criminals a ‘get out of jail card’.

On the contrary, it is in our view, one of the most important pieces of legislation in the last 20 years.  It has shifted power away from the state and given ordinary people a means to challenge faulty decisions.  The Hillsborough enquiry is a recent example and would not have happened without it.  As an Amnesty spokesperson put it:

The Human Rights Act has been central to the vital pursuit of justice in this country for the last 20 years.  It is the unsung hero of UK life, holding powerful people and institutions to account when ordinary people are let down.  It is deeply concerning that the Government refuses to acknowledge that reality.

The Human Rights Act is a critical safety net for everyone in our society.  Any attempt to dilute or remove the essential protections the Human Rights Act provides should be categorically ruled out.

They are mounting a petition which you can take part in if you wish.

If the act is abolished, all that will happen is that we go back to the bad old days of people having to beat a path to Strasbourg to get justice.

Sources:  Amnesty, Rights Info, Parliament Website


If you live in the Salisbury or South Wilts area and would like to join us, you would be very welcome.  Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook @salisburyai for one of our events and come along and make yourself known.

 


A talk by Daniel Trilling on the subject of refugees is tonight (10th) at 7:30 in the Methodist Church in Salisbury.  It is free with a parting collection to help with our costs. 


How will our rights be affected post Brexit?*

UPDATE: 26 April

An article in the current edition of Prospect by Vernon Bogdanor entitled ‘Brexit will erase your rights’ (May 2018) discusses

in detail the effects of leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court, the avowed government policy.  One of the important effects is that the ability of judges to disallow legislation which conflicts with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will no longer be possible.  Bogdanor makes the point that we shall be moving away from a codified and protected system to an unprotected one.  This is probably the first time this has happened.

For people keen on the sovereignty issue and see all things European to be harmful,  then this is what they seek.  For them the supremacy of parliament is a key principle.  But what has been happening over many decades – and preceding our entry into what was then called the Common Market – was that judges were becoming more willing to interfere in some aspects of legislation.  Because we have signed up to the European Charter, where our legislation conflicts with that, then judges are willing to rule against it.  The fundamental problem the UK has is a lack of a constitution.  The charter was a kind of stand-in constitution against which the legislative process could be tested.

The Human Rights changed that.   In regards to the HRA, Professor Gearty stated that:

In the breadth of its ambition and in the potential reach of its terms, British Law has never seen anything like this piece of legislation’.  The way in which the Human Rights Act 1998 changed the legal landscape was by inserting a new method of interpretation into British Law which required the courts to read and give effect to legislation in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights ‘so far as it is possible to do so’(s3); requiring that the courts take into account decisions of the Strasbourg Court when determining a question concerning a Convention right (s2); allowing the Court to make a declarations of incompatibility (s4); making it unlawful for public authorities to act incompatibly with the Convention (s6); and by creating a cause of action for breaches by a public authorities and providing for remedial damages for breaches. (s7 and s8).  (Church Court Chambers)

For critics of the involvement of the European Court, there is a kind of misty eyed reverence to the British system which does of course have many strengths and has evolved over many centuries.  This was particularly noticeable during the Magna Carta celebrations two years ago.  But historians will know that it has been a struggle for some simple rights and laws of benefit to ordinary people, to be enacted.  Legislation such as the factory acts and public health for example, took decades to enact against fierce resistance by vested interests in parliament.  Full enfranchisement itself did not happen until 90 years ago in 1928.

Recent events surrounding the Windrush scandal have shown a legislature and an executive all too willing to inflict misery on thousands of people.  The idea that parliament is there to protect the welfare of ordinary people such as those who came here in the ’50s, does not stand up to examination.  There is thus a real concern that once we exit the ECJ and the Withdrawal Bill becomes law then some of our rights will be taken away.    This will not happen straight off but over time using the infamous Henry VIII powers.  The role of the courts will be weakened.  The Charter of Fundamental Rights will no longer apply and we will be at the whim of parliament.  The key issue behind the scandalous treatment of the Windrush generation was that although there were two immigration acts, a lot of the day to day nastiness was done administravely.  So the idea that parliament is sovereign is flawed.

One of the curious anomalies of our political discourse is that people do not usually trust politicians.  If someone at a public meeting said ‘I think we should trust politicians’ it would likely engender laughter and ridicule.  But by removing our country from the aegis of the charter we will be giving power to politicians and the executive which amounts to trusting them with our rights.  Since parliament is rife with self-interest, secretive lobbying by special interest groups, the revolving door enabling ministers and others to take up lucrative positions with organisations which they were supposedly in control of, and behind closed door influence from powerful media barons: to expect it to take interest in the rights of ordinary individuals is a big ask.  There are honest politicians and many with consciences but they are few against the party machines.

Bognador ends his piece by saying that ‘the tide of history is towards greater protections, but the coming change threatens to make us more lawless.  And it may well be that a country, which wasn’t primed for this sort of change, will not be content with that.’

The arguments over the role of European law and the remit of the ECJ might seem esoteric, the sort of thing lawyers get enthused about and no one else is the least bit interested in.  But the effects of a loss of control over the executive and a dysfunctional parliament will eventually be experienced by all and there won’t be anyone to protect us.


Update: See the Amnesty blog post on the reaction of young people to the threat to human rights post Brexit.

*Amnesty has no position on whether to remain or leave the EU: this blog is just about human rights if we leave


Title of a display of photos in the Methodist Church, Salisbury

This is a moving display of photos in the Salisbury Methodist Church taken by Bedouin women in the ‘unrecognized villages’ of the Negev-Naqab region of Israel which lies to the east of Gaza.  The project documents the brutal way the villagers are treated by the Israeli authorities.  Their villages are demolished and crops destroyed to make way for new settlements and they suffer discrimination and police brutality.

The tactics are familiar and included cutting water supplies sometimes for days at a time.  They are denied basic services such as paved roads, electricity and medical help.

The exhibition runs until February 3rd and is between 10:00 and noon daily.  Coffee is available.  For more details see The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality

If you live in Salisbury, please make time to visit this exhibition.

 


Arbitrary arrest of 13 people

This urgent action concerns the arbitrary arrest of 13 health and human rights people in Tanzania.  It is part of a campaign to intimidate gayImage result for tanzania and lesbian people being conducted by the government.  Please write if you can.  Full details on the attached link.

Tanzania (pdf)

 


If you live in the Salisbury area and would like to join the local group you would be very welcome.  Just keep and eye on this site or on Twitter or Facebook (salisburyai) if you prefer for details of our next event and make yourself known.  Our events are listed on the last page of our minutes.