Archive for the ‘Human rights,’ Category


Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has liver cancer

Liu Xiaobo who has liver cancer and was serving 11 years for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ which means any activity which seeks to undermine communist power.  Liu was seeking reforms in China and improved democracy.  He is now out of prison but essentially under arrest.  Since his diagnosis, the Chinese did not want a Nobel Lauriat dying in prison, so released him to a hospital where he is expected to die.  It is alleged the poor state of medical attention in prisons in China meant he did not get treatment earlier enough and this may have hastened his end.

China is accused of many failings to do with human rights.  Activists and lawyers are targeted and frequently arrested.  There has been a crackdown on lawyers.  People with religious convictions are persecuted.  The internet is heavily restricted and press freedom is also extremely limited.  The country is a heavy user of the death penalty and executes more of its citizens than all the rest of the world put together.  The precise number not known since it is a state secret.

The country is extremely sensitive to outside criticism and were furious when Liu was awarded the Peace Prize.  Trade with Norway was curtailed which probably did not concern them too much since they are a wealthy country.  The Beijing government summoned the Norwegian ambassador in protest.  It called Mr Liu a “criminal”, saying the award violated Nobel principles and could damage relations with Norway.  The Norwegian Nobel committee said Mr Liu was “the foremost symbol” of the struggle for human rights in China.  It took six years before relations were normalised between the two countries according to the New York Times.

In some respects China is a powder keg.  As long as prosperity increases then many people are happy to go about their lives and not bother too much about issues of freedom and human rights.  They will not have access to sites or information which discuss or promote such issues (such as Amnesty International) and so the ruling communists need not worry too much about a restive population.  Step by step they are securing hegemony over Hong Kong.  Some below the line comments in the press stories suggest that the Confucian tradition also plays a part and that, unlike Western nations, the Confucian tradition of loyalty to the state is more a feature of political life.

Another factor is that it is said by some observers that the Chinese rather resent being subjected to Western moral codes, in which they had no part in formulating, being applied to them.  This does have some force except that they were a member of the Security Council when the Universal Declaration was signed in 1948.  It does overlook the fact that the Declaration caused the Western nations some discomfort as well: the British and French with their treatment of the colonial peoples and the USA with its treatment of black people.

If China wishes to become a leading world nation then it is going to have to accept the norms the rest of the world tries to live by.  The treatment of Liu Xiaobo (and many, many others) has been disgraceful.

And what of our Foreign and Colonial Office?  It says:

Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said:

I am pleased that the 24th Round of the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue has taken place. Senior officials discussed the full range of our human rights concerns, including freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, access to justice and ethnic minorities’ rights. They also discussed areas where the UK and China could collaborate more closely, including modern slavery and women’s rights.

The UK strongly believes that respect for human rights is vital for growth and stability, and that these regular talks are an important part of our relationship with China. The dialogue has, once again, been held in a constructive and open manner. I am grateful for the valuable contribution made by civil society organisations before and during this exchange. [accessed 29 June]

Post Brexit the emphasis is going to be on trade and the UK government is unlikely to raise difficult issues with the Chines government or risk being treated like Norway.

Sources: Amnesty International, New York Times, BBC, Guardian.


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Two films to be shown at the Arts Centre
FRIDAY 9TH

As part of the Salisbury Arts Festival, the Arts Centre is showing two films with a human rights aspect to them: War Witch and Incendies Both films will be introduced by Prof Lucy Mazdon from Southampton University.

War Witch starts at 7pm and Incendies at 9pm.  You can of course go to either one or both.  Details of how to book are to be found by clicking on the Arts Festival link above or their phone number is 0845 241 961.

Trailer:


 

Monthly meeting took place last night Thursday 9th March at Victoria Road.  It was a full agenda including North Korean talk at Five Rivers; NWR meeting; Films at the Arts Centre; Social media and Death Penalty reports and the market stall.  Minutes will be posted soon.


A Salisbury based firm, Gamma TSE, has been accused of supplying spyware to enable Bahraini activists to be arrested

UPDATE 15 March 17

Extract from a recent University of Toronto report:

[…] Far from using this spyware solely to track what might be considered legitimate targets, these countries and their shadowy agencies have repeatedly used them to get inside the computers of human rights activists, journalists, opposition politicians, and even health advocates supporting a soda tax in Mexico. Some of the victims of these campaigns have found themselves arrested and tortured. Leaked emails from certain companies reveal that, despite public assurances by executives, the vendors seem cavalier about these type of abuses, have few internal checks in place to prevent them, and, indeed, knowingly court the clandestine agencies responsible for such abuses. Despite these alarming incidents, however, the dynamics of and participants in the market at large remain opaque. 

While arguments rage in the USA concerning the alleged interference by Russia of the

Porton Business Centre

Porton Business Centre

presidential elections, a secretive Salisbury based firm, Gamma TSE, has been accused by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development of supplying software called FinFisher or FinSpy to the authorities in Bahrain and elsewhere.  This software enables intelligence agencies to insert Trojan software into computers and mobile phones.  This in turn enables people critical of the regime to be tracked and if necessary arrested by the security services.  The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab is documenting the widespread use of this spying software.

Privacy International, Bahrain Watch, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders lodged a complaint with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.  They allege that the equipment is used by repressive regimes to harass and target dissidents, politicians and human rights activists.

Our involvement with repressive states – especially those in the Gulf – is well-known and Theresa May recently visited Bahrain to promote business interests in the kingdom.  As we have noted many times before, there seems little interest in the consequences of our arms and security companies activities on the ordinary people who live in those countries, the death and destruction in Yemen being particularly awful.

Part of the units occupied by Gamma in Porton

Part of the units occupied by Gamma in Porton

Gamma is again in the news today (9 January 2017, p13) in a Times article entitled ‘No 10 linked to spyware in human rights row’ which reveals that despite the criticism by the OECD, they have been invited to the Home Office sponsored International Security and Policing exhibition in London.  Amnesty reports show that the human rights situation in Bahrain is very poor with reports of torture and other forms of abuse:

[it] details dozens of cases of detainees being beaten, deprived of sleep and adequate food, burned with cigarettes, sexually assaulted, subjected to electric shocks and burned with an iron.  One was raped by having a plastic pipe inserted into his anus.

It said the report showed torture, arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force against peaceful activists and government critics remained widespread in Bahrain.

The OECD report was not conclusive about Gamma as it was a ‘reluctant participant in the proceedings refusing to productively engage in a September 2013 mediation and employed stalling efforts.’

Privacy International say:

Gamma has proven itself to be and irresponsible corporate actor that is indifferent to the human rights impacts of its activities.

The Amnesty report also says:

The government [of Bahrain] continued to curtail freedoms of expression, association and assembly and cracked down further on online and other dissent. Opposition leaders remained imprisoned; some were prisoners of conscience. Torture and other ill-treatment remained common. Scores were sentenced to long prison terms after unfair trials. Authorities stripped at least 208 people of their Bahraini nationality. Eight people were sentenced to death; there were no executions.

A firm helping regimes with a record of mistreating its citizens and regularly using torture, is based in the village of Porton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire.

 

 

 


The following piece was published in the Salisbury Journal (8 December 2016)

Each year thousands of people in the UK write letters or send cards in solidarity with those suffering humans rights abuses around the world pas part off Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaign.

As a result, people have been freed after having been unfairly imprisoned, human rights defender who have been threatened and harassed by authorities have been able to live freely without intimidation and forced evictions have been halted.

Sending a message of support to those whose rights are being abused and also to the authorities on that person’s behalf is powerful.  Imagine drowning in thousands of letters of encouragement and solidarity – in fact, imaging the officials who will see and deliver thousands of cards to the victims and their families.  The effect on both is priceless.  It shows the authorities that that individual is not alone and that all over the world thousands of people are standing up for them.

People featured this year include:

  • Fomoseh Ivo Feh a young man in Cameroon who faces 20 years in prison for forwarding a sarcastic text message
  • a photojournalist from Egypt, named Shawkan who was beaten, arrested and then held without trial following a demonstration in Cairo
  • a British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was arrested in April at Tehran

    Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Picture: Iran Human Rights

    airport as she was about to board a return flight to London with her 22 month old daughter.

Salisbury Methodist Church is hosting a Write for Rights event from January 4th to 15th and people are invited to see the exhibition and send a message of support.  The church will be open from 10 am to noon.

We hope local readers will be able to support this initiative and come along at some time on those 2 days and sign something.


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Prime minister’s trip to Bahrain gives a hint to what will happen to human rights after Brexit

Picture: Express

The prime minister, Theresa May, is on an official to Bahrain amid controversy about the poor state of human rights in the kingdom.  It is really quite difficult to grasp quite what the Prime Minister means when she says the ‘UK must not turn our back on the human rights abuses of foreign countries’ as she prepares to sign various trade deals which does precisely that.  There is a growing hint of riddle like statements from her including the meaningless ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

There now seems to be a desperate urge to secure trade deals ahead of our departure from the EU and the Gulf states are fertile ground.  She is quoted in the Guardian (5 December 2016)

There will be some people in the UK who say we shouldn’t seek stronger trade and security ties with these countries because of their record on human rights.  But we don’t uphold our values and human rights by turning our back on this issue.  We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them.

So the argument is that Bahrain has a questionable human rights record and that by working with them, and doing business, we can exert some kind of influence to encourage them to stop torturing or otherwise mistreating their people.  Since we have been trading their for some time, we would expect that the country would be slowly improving as a result of our influence.  The problem is that it isn’t.  As Human Rights Watch and Amnesty have said:

Bahrain’s 2016 “reform” agenda has consisted of an assault on core elements of civil society and jailing or deporting government critics.  Last month, Amnesty International accused UK Ministers of acting like “overexcited cheerleaders for Bahrain’s woefully inadequate reforms.”

On December 4, Human Rights Watch and others wrote to Prime Minister May to complain about the British government’s ‘abject failure to exert any positive influence’ in Bahrain.  We didn’t call on the UK to end trade or security ties, but rather to use the UK’s influence to help put a stop to an orchestrated attack on rights that has badly undermined any prospect of the reform that the UK claims to support.

What exactly “working with” Bahrain to “encourage and support” reform amounts to, remains to be seen.  But one thing is clear – human rights will not be at the center of the UK’s relationship with Bahrain.

This is especially worrying in the context of the post Brexit world.  The UK will be in a tough position trying to develop trade outside the EU.  We will not be in a position to exert any kind of influence on countries like Bahrain if we want to continue to sell them weapons.  There will be lip service of course and meaningless phrases from the prime minister and other ministers to assure us that persuasion has been applied to improve human rights.  The reality is we will have to accept what’s on offer and be thankful for it.  In the context of the Gulf states for example, we export more to them than to China, a situation unlikely to change anytime soon.

Ministers cannot quite bring themselves to say that in reality, there is little they can do and often little they want to do.  We must remember also the ‘revolving door’ through which ministers, senior civil servants and top military brass, pass to secure lucrative directorships with the very companies doing the deals in countries like Bahrain.  There is little incentive to upset the apple cart.

See also College of Policing.


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College of Policing in fresh controversy

Updated : 23 November

The College of Policing is involved in fresh controversy today concerning their training of police in countries that regularly use torture.  In the summer it was revealed that they had training large numbers of Saudi and Bahraini police and that this training has aided them to arrest protestors who were then tortured.

On the BBC’s World at One radio programme there was an interview with a woman who’s husband had been arrested and disappeared for a month.  She alleges he was “subjected to the worst kind of physical and psychological abuse”, they beat him brutally and concentrated these beatings on his genitals.

Reprieve has published a report detailing the allegations against Mohammed Ramadan.  It now appears that the release of the information and documents about the College of Police’s activities was not meant to have happened and was as a result of ‘human error.’  From now on, details of the College’s activities will not be disclosed.

The Foreign Office maintains that the best way to improve human rights in these countries is by engagement and that we should not criticize from the sidelines.  Crispin Blunt MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said:

Human rights assessments are quite bleak [in these countries] and it is going to reinforce the arguments of those who are against engagement

Quit so.  So the worse it is, the better the justification for our engagement.  This might be fine of course if by ‘engagement’, there was some kind of visible or tangible improvement.  But it seems our involvement makes matters worse not better.  As Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve comments on their website:

It is scandalous that British police are training Saudi Arabian and Bahraini officers in techniques which they privately admit could lead to people being arrested, tortured and sentenced to death

Earlier in the year, the Home Affairs select committee strongly criticised the College of Policing and the secretive way they had gone about this work.  The Chief executive had apparently been told by the Foreign and Colonial Office not to answer questions for reasons of commercial confidentiality and security.

The argument that closer integration with unpleasant regimes yields positive benefits could have some merit.  If by trading, cultural contacts, training schemes, and other contacts – social or economic – good behaviour (however defined)  rubs off onto the regime then that can be claimed as a benefit.

But the suspicion with the College of Policing and other commercial activities in the region, is that it is profit and money driven with little more than lip-service given to ethics and human rights.  It is all of a piece with our arms sales to the Saudis which are causing such devastation in Yemen.

One would have expected that the College of Policing of all organisations, to have ethics and human rights at the top of their agenda.  The police have some ground to make up following a number of scandals like Hillsborough.  Helping repressive regimes to be more efficiently repressive hardly fits the bill.  Making it secret is a tacit admission that they have something to hide.

Sources: Sputnik; The Guardian; Reprieve; World at One (BBC)


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On Monday 22 November we had the annual evensong for Amnesty International.  We are delighted to Preparing for the service work with Salisbury Cathedral on this event, which has been running for a number of years now, especially as it ends in the Trinity Chapel where the Amnesty candle is situated and under the Prisoner of Conscience window.

All the celebrants are given a candle and carry these through at the end of the service to the chapel.  Canon Robert Titley spoke during the service and he said:

This evening we hear one of the uglier Christmas stories.  When the wise men visit local ruler Derod, they say the are looking for ‘the King of the Jews’, and he realises that they don’t mean him.  Herod judges – rightly – that Jesus, the child they seek, is a threat to his kingdom and to his way of doing power.  And so, says Mathew the gospel writer, Herod begins some targeted slaughter to neutralise this potential source of rebellion, and Jesus and his family must escape as refugees.

Herod’s way of doing power is of course still alive and kicking.  Mathew would find present day Syria – where innocents are killed as a means of neutralising so-called ‘rebels’ – very familiar.  He does not describe the experience of being a refugee, though it is unlikely that things were so different then:

  • the indifference of some of the native population in the land you come to
  • their understandable caution
  • their fear of the threat you might pose, especially if there are a lot of you – a ‘swarm’ perhaps
  • a tendency to talk about you as part of a lump, a collectivity, an issue, a problem, not a person with a story.

He then went on to talk about Amnesty today;

Throughout its 55 years, Amnesty – to the vexation of the Herods of this world – has tirelessly brought into the light the stories of people whose rights are abused, people like a teacher in Indonesia who we are supporting with our prayers during this month.

Groups like Amnesty International patiently and persistently bring to the minds of rulers and their representatives the stories of people they would rather forget.  And now, as our continent faces the severest displacement of people since Second World War, refuges are at the top of Amnesty’s concerns.

Image result for arthur aron

Arthur Aron. Pic: Time.com

On Amnesty’s website you will find a short film called A Powerful Experiment.  According to the psychologist Arthur Aron, four minutes of eye contact is enough to bring people close together, even to fall in love.  And so, in a bare factory space, a group of native Europeans – women, men, and one girl – each sit with a refugee for four minutes.

In that space and time the ‘issue’ acquires a human face: Samira from Syria and Danuta from Poland and Fatima from Somalia: they open their eyes and at first just look at each other.  Soon the are smiles – warm or perhaps shy – some tears, then words ‘nice moustache.  I’m sixty-five.  Are you new in Berlin?  Eight months.  And are you alone here or with your family?  Alone.  And finally, touch – a handshake, a hug, a game of It, and that word ‘refugee’ is made flesh.

In just four weeks’ time, we shall proclaim again the good news of the word of God made flesh and the birth of Jesus.  The Christmas stories will remind us how glorious is the full ness of God: how infinitely treasured is each human life, made in the image of God.

And tonight we give thanks to God for Amnesty, for the patient, persistent work of its staff and volunteers in reminding the powerful of this treasure and how blasphemous it is to deny it; and reminding us all that the refugee glimpsed on a screen or news page is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, that each one, like each of us, has their story to tell.

Around 80 people attended which is fewer than usual but the bad weather would have deterred many.  Our thanks to Cathedral staff for their help with this event.

2016-end

In the Trinity Chapel. Photo: Salisbury group

 


Claire Perry writes in the Salisbury Journal

Claire Perry MP. Picture: thedrum

Claire Perry, the Conservative MP for Devizes in Wiltshire, said in her piece in the Salisbury Journal that:

[at the recent Tory party conference] … there were other important announcements to celebrate including the news that the government will put an end to the vexatious and damaging legal claims against members of the Armed Forces that arise from applying European Court of Human Rights judgements in the battlefield.

It is scandalous that highly trained and professional soldiers have been subjected to vexatious legal claims second-guessing their decision-making and that since 2004, the MoD has spent over £100 million on Iraq-related investigations, inquiries and compensation – money that should be spent on our troops not lawyers.   Salisbury Journal 27 October 2016

The problem with Claire Perry’s piece – largely copied from the statement by the Defence Minister at the conference – is that it is highly selective and largely untrue.  The picture painted is of our soldiers, operating in difficult and extremely dangerous environments, being pursued by lawyers, sorry ‘vexatious lawyers’, on the make.  The reality is quite different.

Firstly, it is part of a consistent and long running campaign by the right-wing media and tabloids against the Human rights Act and the European Court.  They do not like it because it provides protections for ordinary citizens and in particular, against the invasion of privacy by those self-same papers.  So at a party conference, appealing to that part of the media is only to be expected.

But more specifically, to take one element the statement: ‘claims against members of the armed forces …’ gives the impression that the claims are only about the soldiers themselves.  Many of the claims are against the MoD for not taking sufficient or reasonable care of their men.  So one claim for example was on behalf of a soldier who died of heatstroke serving in 50 degrees of heat in Iraq.  There is also the whole business of Deepcut and the soldiers who died there.  Others involve the Army sending men off in insufficiently protected land rovers.

The phrase ‘applying European Court of Human Rights judgements in the battlefield’ is doubly disingenuous.  Firstly, it is the application of the Human Rights Act which is causing the problem.  Adding the ECHR is just to appeal to those who do not like Europe and trying to shift the blame to Strasbourg who often have little if anything to do with it.  ‘Battlefield’ is also slipped in to create the impression of brave soldiers being pursued by lawyers (keep forgetting – vexatious lawyers) with outrageous claims.

What many of the claims are about is how prisoners are treated once they are taken captive, not on the battlefield.  One such claim was a man thrown into a canal in Baghdad and left to drown.  Many others relate to beatings and other mistreatment of prisoners.  If the courts have investigated claims and the MoD has been forced to pay compensation it argues that something is adrift.

Perhaps Claire Perry should ask herself why do we go to war in the first place?  Part of the answer is to promote our values.  We want to promote democracy and the rule of law.  We become involved in part to try and instill those values.  If our soldiers – not on the battlefield but back at base – are mistreating prisoners then those are not our values.  Although there was a lot of nonsense about weapons of mass destruction, one reason we went into Iraq was because Sadam Hussein treated his people abominably.  The results of bad treatment in places like Syria are visible to us every day with the refugee crisis.

It is a great pity that nonsense like this is both written and then published without challenge.