Qatar, world cup and human rights


Things have not gone all Qatar’s way in the World Cup

November 2022

Qatar has spent huge sums of money on building stadia and in attempts to promote its image around the world. It was perhaps the most expensive example of sports washing there has been. How successful is it?

Not going to plan

What is obvious is that it has not gone according to plan. Previous nation’s attempts to sanitise their image using sport have, from their point of view, been reasonably successful, one thinks of China. This has been because the sporting community: the sports people themselves, the managers and promoters, the media and many of the supporters – have cared little for the human rights of the countries where competition has taken place. So tennis, golf, boxing, cycling, horse racing, motor sport and other competitions have happily taken place in countries where torture is still practised, opposition is repressed, women have few rights and the death penalty is still a fact of life. Why let a stoning or public amputation spoil a game of tennis? No matter, the money is good and the sports pages of our media do not sully their pages with the sordid goings on outside the field of play. Sport has existed in a kind of bubble making it supremely suitable to be used by autocratic regimes to launder their image.

Qatar has been different. People have noticed and suddenly, some of the sports pages have moved away from sports reporting and are talking about arm bands, protests and footballers not singing the national anthem. The wearing of arm bands has become politically charged. There are pictures of people holding up posters particularly about women’s rights (or should we say, the absence of them). Yesterday, it was the German team covering their mouths. David Beckham who, up till now, has been able to promote himself as the honest Essex boy done good, is now seen in as a somewhat dubious light having accepted a reported £120m fee to be an ambassador for the Qataris. It is said he will not now get his knighthood. When reporters approach him for interview, he is silent. Not yet hero to zero but certainly a damaged brand.

FIFA want us to focus just on the football. Never mind the 6,500 worker deaths, the near absence of women’s rights, the silencing of opposition people and the anti LGBQI+ actions and laws. Where once football was to be the means by which nations came together and mutual understanding increased, now we are enjoined not to look outside the stadium itself. FIFA’s Infantino tells us that he understands prejudice because he has freckles and red hair which was a problem for him at school.

Sports washing may not be the same again

One positive thing may emerge from this World Cup and that is the days of sports washing may not be numbered but it will make countries and despots think twice in future. Instead of hundreds of thousands of supporters and spectators arriving to marvel at the spectacle no questions asked, some of them are asking questions. Some might even be a little uncomfortable at being there at all. The sports pages now mention the uncomfortable truths about the regime where the event is held and do not simply report on the sport as though wearing blinkers. Sport has been a willing captive, happy to take the millions and all too ready to claim ignorance of what happens outside the stadium or arena. The media has also followed the money. Perhaps those days are over and future events will bring a greater readiness to question and take account of the human rights situation in the host country.

Good news!


Good news from Amnesty

30 September 2022

“With so much injustice spanning the globe, sometimes it’s hard to remain hopeful that things will change for the better. Trust me, I know – I am often the bearer of bad news, writing to you with urgency of crises, crackdowns, and individuals at risk who have had their human rights violated. But today, we wanted to let you know that the actions of Amnesty supporters around the world really do count. They’ve not only made a meaningful impact for human rights both at home and abroad – but thy’ve also helped change lives.

“Small actions from compassionate people like you, really do have big impacts. Here are just a handful from the past few months:

The first families from Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan arrived in Australia under a new Community Sponsorship pilot

“After years of relentless advocacy, at the end of 2021 the Australian Federal Government not only announced the rollout of a new Community Sponsorship pilot – they also finally agreed to reduce dramatically the cost of Australia’s existing Community Sponsorship Program, making it more accessible for everyday Australians to participate and welcome refugees into their communities. In August of this year (2022), the first families from Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan arrived in Australia to begin their new lives in safety.

Charges were dropped against a New South Wales legal observer

“Under NSW’s new and dangerous anti-protest laws, back in June a volunteer Legal Observer faced a maximum sentence of 2 years in jail and a $22,000 fine, after being arrested alongside 34 protesters.

“Amnesty made representations to the NSW police, calling on them to respect the right to protest, as well as the human rights of the Legal Observer. In August, her charges were dropped. Over 30,000 supporters continue to call on the NSW police to protect our right to protest.

“Legal Observers play a vital role in monitoring police & providing legal support to protesters. Thanks to the relentless advocacy from Amnesty International, Legal Observers NSW and Sydney City Crime, my charges have been recently dropped.” – Chloe Sinclair, Legal Observer

Texas: Ramiro Gonzalez’ execution was stayed

“Back in July, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) stayed the execution for Ramiro Gonzales – just 48 hours before it was due to be carried out in Texas. Experts concluded that Ramiro does not pose a threat of future danger to society, due to the passage of time and his significant maturity. As of April 2021, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 144 countries have abolished it in law or practice – all thanks to the power of ordinary people, continuing to stand up for what’s right! Our fight for global abolition continues.

People power freed Ahmed Samir Santawy from prison in Egypt

“Back in July, Ahmed Samir Santawy, a women’s rights and reproductive rights researcher, was convicted of spreading “false news” and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He was subjected to enforced disappearance for five days. Ahmed’s conviction was based solely on social media posts criticising human rights violations in Egypt.

“Over 10,000 people in Australia signed the petition demanding Ahmed’s release, and almost 5,000 people called the Egyptian embassy, putting further pressure on authorities – and it worked. In August, Ahmed was finally released from prison after being given a presidential pardon. Thank you for helping free Ahmed!

Ahmed reunites with his loved ones on the day of his release. ©Wies De Graeve

New York: We sued the NYPD for surveillance of protesters – and we won!

“In New York, facial recognition technology has been used to target people of colour in protests. Back in 2020, we asked the the New York Police Department (NYPD) to publish their data on facial recognition – and they refused. So we mapped their surveillance cameras with the help of 7,000 supporters, filed a lawsuit against them, and won.

“In August, they were ordered to disclose thousands of records of how they procured and used facial recognition technology against Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. This ruling recognizes that the NYPD broke the law in withholding this information and is a significant step in holding the NYPD accountable for its use of discriminatory surveillance.

LGBTQIA+ liberation soared across the globe 

“Thanks to LGBTQIA+ people and their allies at the forefront, back in July Switzerland’s same-sex marriage laws finally came into effect after overwhelming support of its legalisation in a national referendum last year. In August, the government of Singapore passed historic legislation to end LGBTQIA+ criminalisation. Shortly after, Vietnamese authorities said that being LGBTQIA+ should not be treated as an illness. The Vietnamese Ministry of Health called on medical professionals to ensure LGBTQIA+ people are not discriminated against, calling for an end to dangerous conversion practices – something over 40,000 supporters in Australia continue to campaign against, too. Solidarity!”

It is good to report successes from time to time.

(From and Amnesty message – lightly edited. The original contained photographs)

Human Rights records of PM candidates


Link to post by Each Other of the human rights records of the prime ministerial candidates

July 2022

It will be down to two candidates by tonight (20 July 2022) but the review by EachOther of the human rights records of the four candidates is instructive. We already posted the worrying record of Rishi Sunak, currently in the lead. This link adds more detail.

Threats to our rights


July 2022

List of acts and bills which, individually and collectively, impinge on our rights

There is mounting concern that the tide of legislation currently in the process of enactment, will shift power away from the people and give greater powers to the police and the government itself.

Enacted legislation:

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Act 2022

Elections Act 2022

Nationality and Borders Act 2022

Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022

Serious Threats from current bills

Bill of Rights

National Security Bill

Online Safety Bill

Public Order Bill

Lesser Threatscollectively Important

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Brexit Freedoms Bill

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Modern Slavery Bill

Draft Victims Bill

Data Reform Bill

Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill

Conversion Therapy Bill

Draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill

Energy Bill

Private Renters Bill

Social Housing Regulation Bill

Schools Bill

Possible Threat – under consideration

Locking On

The above is just a list. Below we provide a little more explanation and a brief summary of what they are about.

Some do not attack Human Rights directly. Rather they undermine our access to our human rights or circumvent them altogether so although we may have in law a ‘right’ we cannot, or will not be able, in some circumstances enforce them or rely on them for protection.

What is important is their collective impact. They each chip away here and there at our rights, and some expressly bypass Human Rights legislation (whether the HRA of Bill of Rights). Secondly, they demonstrate the little importance the current governments attach to our liberties, freedoms and our right to express our opinions. Thirdly, the very clear trend they represent to ever greater centralised government control. If they are all enacted and become law then the government will have increased their control significantly. The National Security Bill and the Public Order Bill combined could result in a Police State.

Summaries of what some of the bills and acts contain:

Serious Threats
Bill of RightsA government power grab.  It is a much weakened version of the 1998 Human Rights Act.
National Security BillMinisters and UK officials cannot be charged for crimes they order or encourage overseas – ordering assassinations or the commission of war crimes. It puts the government above challenge, undermines our right to hold government accountable, giving us less say, and government becomes more authoritarian and closer to becoming a dictatorship.
Online Safety BillIntended to protect the right of free speech and expression, prevent the circulation of misinformation, threats and unsavoury content, particularly in social media, but it will not apply to the government and those in public office. Gives more control to the government.
Could be used to stop criticism of the government.
Public Order BillAn extension of the Police and Crime Bill. It has been described as authoritarian and repressive. It gives the police wide discretion and greater powers, introduces control orders and enables stop and search without reason.
Lesser Threats
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) BillNot compatible with Human Rights. Bypasses police, courts, protections and enables substantial government interference in the process of law and the right of defence/protection.
Brexit Freedoms BillGetting rid of and remaining EU protections.
Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) BillPrevents Universities and Student Unions blocking [no-platforming] speakers thus enabling ‘objectionable opinions’ to be validated. Especially Far-Right, anti LGBT and racism views.
Modern Slavery Bill
Draft Victims BillIt doesn’t protect personal data, from excess police intrusion or provide sufficient support for marginalised groups.
Data Reform BillScraps GDPR ‘red tape’ and lowers barriers to restrict access to personal data.
Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions BillComplex. BDS is an Israeli/Palestine issue. The wider context is about using BDS to control ‘overseas’ issues. The bill gives greater central control to government.
Conversion Therapy Bill
Draft Mental Health Act Reform BillWe have a right to good mental health, and to be treated with dignity and respect. Questionable protections under the Bill of Rights.
Energy BillUndermines the right to affordable energy, safe energy good for the environment, climate, not to be cut-off, not to be forced to have repayment meters.
Private Renters BillConflicts with HRs and gives government Renters Ombudsman opportunity to ignore HRs (peaceful possession/occupation). Complex overlapping with property law. Could be good for renters but shifts final say away from HRs to the government decisions. Renters will not be able to use HRs to challenge Ombudsman decisions.
Social Housing Regulation BillGives central government greater control, the discretion to side step HRs
Schools BillGives Government great control over education to FE level. Has the potential to remove teachers/schools not following an agreed narrative. To close schools without notice or appeal.
Possible Threat
Locking OnMaking Locking-on a specific criminal offence.

Mike Hodgson

Police and Crime bill


This bill is being debated in the House of Lords on Monday 17 January 2022. Several members of the local Amnesty group are writing to members in the Lords with a Wiltshire connection to ask them to vote against this pernicious bill. The Lords in question – as far as we can discover – are Lord Eatwell, Baroness Bonham-Carter, Lord Marland and Baroness Bybrook (the former leader of Wiltshire Council, Jane Scott).

Details can be found at http://www.writetothem.com/about-lords. Previously, members have written to our local MPs which has little or no effect since they usually follow the party whip.

The Police, Crime and Sentencing bill represents a concerted attack on our ability to protest. It gives the police more powers – and vague powers – to inhibit protests and demonstrations. The last few weeks has seen the government itself in the dock for a whole series of illegal parties held at 10, Downing Street. Yesterday, the prime minister had to apologise to the Queen for a party held on the eve of Prince Philips’ funeral. Yet these same ministers want to inhibit the right to protest.

Russia closes human rights group


The Supreme Court in Moscow today (Tuesday, 28 December 2021) ordered the closure of the human rights group Memorial is a move which is seen as another step in the route to greater authoritarianism by President Putin in Russia. The group fell foul of the ‘foreign agent’ law, a law passed in 2016 to make life difficult for human rights groups to operate in the country. The prosecution accused the group of ‘creating a false image of USSR as a terrorist state’. Memorial sought to shed light on the horrors of the Stalin era when millions died in a vast network of gulags.

Amnesty International described the decision as ‘a grave insult to the victims of the Russian gulag’. With suppression of opposition parties – Navalny is imprisoned for example – and the intimidation or murder of journalists, Russia is living up to its sobriquet of a ‘gangster state’.

Threat to our rights


Government bills represent a threat to our rights to protest and to hold the government to account

We are becoming accustomed to authoritarian regimes restricting the rights of their citizens by a variety of means. These include restrictions on the right of assembly, weakening judicial control and either ignoring or neutering human rights laws. The UK government has introduced three bills which seek to do similar things and this post is to highlight the dangers for everyone in the country.

Our human rights are our personal freedoms. You can’t see or touch them, but they should always have your back. Think of them as your invisible armour. If you don’t find yourself thinking about your rights much, that’s a good sign that they’re there for you and doing what they should be: making you feel safe, accepted and free to enjoy your life with dignity and without fear. But what if someone quietly took your armour away, bit by bit, and you didn’t realise until it was too late? How would you protect yourself?  

That’s what’s happening right now, right under our noses – and the UK government doesn’t want you to know about it. As we speak, they are trying to introduce new laws and make changes to existing ones that will result in less freedom for ordinary people, more power for people in authority, and even greater inequality in our society. These changes will also make it harder for you to stand up for yourself if your human rights are being abused. And on top of that, in many cases it will be society’s most vulnerable people who are the worst hit by the changes. Our freedoms are under attack from all angles: this is a raid on our rights.  

If you’re still not sure what all this means in practice, you’re not alone. That’s exactly what people in power want, as a lack of public understanding makes it easier for them to sneak through changes that will negatively affect people’s lives without them realising (until it’s too late). We’re here to shout about the changes and make sure as many people as possible are aware of them, as we need your help to fight them.  

 
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill   

The right to protest is fundamental to a free and fair society.  In its current form, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill for England and Wales, would be an enormous and unprecedented extension of policing powers which would put too much power in the hands of the state. It would give both police and Government ministers the powers to ban, limit or impose any condition on peaceful protests – on the grounds that they might be ‘noisy’ or cause ‘annoyance.’  
 
The Bill not only targets the organisers of any protest, but also anyone who takes part in them on the basis that they “ought to have been aware” of any restrictions, conditions or prohibitions placed on any given event, risking criminalising large numbers of people for activities that otherwise would be perfectly lawful.  

Our rights, enshrined in international and domestic law, can only be infringed in very limited circumstances considered to be both proportionate and necessary.  Measures in this Bill are neither. Police already have wide ranging powers to manage public order and prevent public assemblies from causing serious harm. This Bill sets out to crackdown on explicitly nonviolent dissent.  

This will likely disproportionately impact people who are in a minority and increase the racism and discrimination which is experienced by many.  The thresholds in the Bill that will be applied to any policing action are vague, undefined and open to such wide ranging and discretionary interpretation that they will give rise to even more inconsistent approaches to how protests and demonstrations will be managed in future.  

Communities who already face wide ranging racist and discriminatory over policing will likely be at even greater risk. Already, research by the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights shows that 85 % of Black people in the UK are not confident that they would be treated the same as a white person by the police.  

This is worsened by other parts of the Bill, including greater police powers to enhance stop & search and to collect and share information, all of which are likely to entrench institutional racism within the criminal justice system. These structural inequalities need to be dismantled not re-built.  
 
We are concerned by restrictions on the right to roam which would seriously affect Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who could see their entire way of life criminalised. These proposals risk further criminalising homelessness or protesters using nonviolent occupations, peace camps or sit-ins to challenge injustice.  

This Bill covers a huge number of things, many of which have been heavily criticised by different sectors and requires a serious rethink. In many ways, it is so problematic that it would better be that it was dropped. Any welcome provisions in it could be delivered through different legislation. If the Bill proceeds, we are calling, alongside over 250 civil society organisations and 700 legal academics and counting, for the removal of Parts 3 and 4 of the Bill that relate to protest and the right to roam. We are similarly calling for the removal of measures relating to enhanced stop and search powers and data gathering and sharing requirements, which if enacted would likely increase structural racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system. At an absolute minimum, the relevant parts of the Bill (Part 2 Chapter 1, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 10 Chapter 1) must be substantially amended. 
 
Disappointingly the Bill has passed through the Commons, but this is not the end. In autumn the Lords will now have the opportunity to amend the Bill, before it returns to the Commons. 

This Bill affects England and Wales directly, but people from Scotland and Northern Ireland will travel to London to protest.  As Amnesty activists we are concerned about restrictions to freedom of expression and rights to assembly wherever they happen in Bogota, Bangalore, Belfast or Bristol. 

The Salisbury group will be writing to our MP, Mr John Glen, to express our concerns about this and other proposed pieces of legislation.

Protecting our human rights


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 and Israeli settlements


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.

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