Archive for the ‘Human rights,’ Category


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.

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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.


A further 15 men face imminent execution in Saudi Arabia

Only a few days ago, we highlighted the case of fourteen men who face imminent execution.  Today we publish a further urgent action as Saudi is about to execute another 15 individuals.  The families of the accused have just discovered that the higher court has upheld the lower court’s ruling without the prisoners themselves or their lawyers knowing about it.

They were accused of high treason together with other unrecognisable offences including ‘supporting protests’ and ‘spreading the Shi’a faith.’  They were held incommunicado for nearly three months and denied access to lawyers.  Their families were threatened with arrest if they did not sign confessions.

The system in Saudi is contrary to all international norms and shows no sign of improvement.  Yet despite this we continue to supply the country with arms on a huge scale.

The Foreign and Colonial Office has just published its 2o16 report on human rights and on Saudi it says the following (extract)

… We also remain deeply concerned about the application of the death penalty.  Amnesty International reported that 153 people had been executed in 2016, compared to 158 people in 2015.  This included the simultaneous execution of 47 people on 2 January 2016.  On 5 January, the then FCO Minister for the Middle East and Africa, Tobias Ellwood, made a statement to Parliament reiterating our clear position on the death penalty.  As the principle of the death penalty is enshrined in Saudi Arabia’s Sharia law, total abolition in the near future is unlikely.  We continued to ensure that the Saudi authorities are aware of our strong opposition to the death penalty at the most senior levels.

… In 2017, we will continue to work to limit the application of the death penalty; and to ensure that, if it is applied, it is carried out in line with international minimum standards.  We will continue to monitor closely cases which relate to freedom of expression and of religion or belief.  We will also look for opportunities to promote greater participation by civil society and by women in Saudi public life.  (p 49)

Fine words but somewhat undermined by continuing high level contact, visits by members of the Royal Family and government ministers keen to promote the continued sale of weapons.

If you do get time to write that would be appreciated.  Alternatively, if you go to our Twitter page on this and click ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ that would help.

Urgent Action (pdf)


If you live in the Salisbury area and would like to join then the simplest thing is to come to one of our events and make yourself known.  These can be found here, on our Twitter or Facebook pages – salisburyai.

 


Nobel Peace Prize laureate hastily buried at sea

Liu Xiaobo. Picture: thefamouspeople.com

On Thursday, the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer.  He had been in prison since 2008 mainly because he argued for greater democracy in China and was convicted of ‘inciting subversion’.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 which infuriated the Chinese government and he was not permitted to go to Norway to receive it.  He was only the second laureate to have been in prison at the time of the award.  Once the cancer was diagnosed he was released to a hospital where he was still under heavy guard.  According to Human Rights Watch, even as his illness worsened the Chinese government continued to isolate him and denied him freely choosing his medical treatment.

On Saturday he was hastily cremated and his ashes scattered at sea almost certainly to prevent a grave on land becoming a centre for protest.  Activists were reported by the South China Morning Post to be ‘outraged at the humiliating arrangements’.  His second wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest.

Liu was a supporter of Charter 08 which argued for a fundamental change in the one party state, a whole series of reforms that would result in a separation of powers, a new constitution and legislative democracy.  It was suppressed by the Chinese government.

A spokesman for Amnesty International said:

This is a sad day for human rights, but Liu Xiaobo leaves behind a powerful legacy to inspire others to continue the struggle for human rights in China and around the world

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, made the following lukewarm statement:

I am deeply saddened to hear that Liu Xiaobo has passed away. He was a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a lifelong campaigner for democracy, human rights and peace. His death is a huge loss and our hearts go out to his wife Liu Xia, his family, and his many friends and supporters.
Liu Xiaobo should have been allowed to choose his own medical treatment overseas, which the Chinese authorities repeatedly denied him. This was wrong and I now urge them to lift all restrictions on his widow, Liu Xia.  13 July 2017

This from a man not afraid to be outspoken at any given moment.  Focusing on the restricted nature of his medical treatment is the least of the crimes the Chinese government has committed.  ‘Has passed away’ gives the impression of a natural death not one hastened by harsh prison conditions, poor medical treatment and confining him right to the last.  This is but the latest example of our government failing to stand up to breaches of human rights internationally.  This is only set to get worse as the need to augment reduced European markets in the post Brexit world.

Under China’s president, Xi Jinping, there has been a major crackdown on any form of dissent.  Restrictions on press freedom are well known and access to the internet is tightly restricted.  Booksellers in Hong Kong stocking books detailing the corruption of the Politburo elite have been abducted.  Details of this corruption among what are called the ‘Princelings’ has been revealed in the Panama Papers*.  President Xi’s brother in law is implicated, along with other senior party people, in squirreling away billions in tax havens using the services of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Any discussion of democracy is taboo in China as it is contrary to one of the Four Cardinal Principles one of which is to ‘uphold the people’s democratic dictatorship.’  One can see straight away that ideas of freedom of the press and ideas of running the country on more democratic lines are not going to get far with the government.

The future

China has pursued a policy of economic growth which so far has been successful and has led to the country being second only to the USA.  It is expanding militarily most notably in creating false islands in the South China Sea.  It is present all around the world where natural resources are to be found.  The trick has been to maintain economic growth in return for maintaining its hold on political power.  How long this growth can be maintained is open to question.

On the other hand, China wants to be more of key player in the world and is to be seen at G7 and G20 meetings as well as having a seat on the UN Security Council.  As it grows in economic and military power, it seeks political recognition as well.  This is difficult to achieve if at home it denies basic freedoms and human rights to its citizens; executes more than all the other countries in the world put together; locks up its dissidents; denies access to the internet and treats the people of Tibet appallingly.  Using its power it is able to suppress criticism – cancelling contracts with Norway for example after Liu was awarded the Nobel prize – and tells other countries not to interfere in its internal affairs.

Fundamentally Chinese social policy is not progressing indeed, under Xi Jinping, it has regressed.  So long as they can maintain their tight grip on power and the levers of power, the CPC will continue.  But the lesson of history is that when a crack appears, as with a sheet of ice, it spreads rapidly and unpredictably.


*The Panama Papers, 2017, Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, Oneworld, London (3rd edition).  Details tax evasion by criminals, dictators and politicians – not just the Chinese – as revealed by a release of papers from Mossack Fonseca

Sources: Human Rights Watch; New York times; The Guardian; Amnesty International; South China Morning Post

 

 

 

 


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, this 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.


Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, salisburyai.  If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in promoting human rights please get in touch.  The best thing is to come along to one of our events and make yourself known.


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: