Archive for the ‘“Human rights”’ Category


The Justice Secretary announces sweeping changes to the act

It has been a long term ambition of some Conservative politicians to either abolish or seriously curtail the HRA.  In 2006 David Cameron said he wanted to scrap the HRA and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.  The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, wrote a book The Assault on Liberty: What Went Wrong with Rights which we earlier reviewed, which set out his arguments.  We suggested there that the reasoning was flawed, feeble and far from historically accurate. Along with three other members of the current cabinet, he contributed to Britannia Unchanged with its much quoted derogatory remarks about British workers who were alleged to be the laziest in the world.  There is footage of him saying ‘I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t believe in economic and social rights’. 

The Conservative position has received much support in the right wing and tabloid press.  Articles regularly appear which assert the act is used to give succour to terrorists, foreign criminals and – most famously – reporting Theresa May’s claim that it was a cat which stood in the way of the deportation of a Chilean national.  It wasn’t.  Some of the stories are gross exaggerations.  Raab even quotes the story of a man in a siege demanding a Kentucky fried chicken because it was his ‘human right’ despite admitting it was not the reason: it was just normal police practice to help defuse a tense situation. 

The many benefits the act has brought to the lives of ordinary people are rarely mentioned.  Even when, in cases like the Hillsborough disaster, or the events at Deepcut, the act was central to securing justice for the families of those who died, that role is omitted from the coverage.  The act has been used in countless cases to secure rights for individuals in their relations with government agencies and local authorities.  Its provisions are built into every day provisions in those organisation’s activities.

 Review

In December last year the government established a review of the HRA and this was published on 14 December 2021.  In short, the Review does not call for substantial changes to the act and argues that it is a good piece of legislation.  The ‘vast majority of submissions [were] in support of HRA’ and they argue that ‘more needs to be done to dispose of the negative perceptions of the HRA (paragraph 14).  They go on to argue for a ‘stronger focus on civic, constitutional education on the HRA and rights more generally’ (15). 

They discuss the ‘margin of appreciation’ that is the degree of subsidiarity and the degree of latitude we have to interpret the law and conclude there is no need to change the current arrangements (26).  They were struck by ‘a high level regard in which the UK Courts and Judiciary are held by the ECtHR and the beneficial influence this has, both domestically and for the European Court’ (35). 

It would seem that the decision to make a sweeping overhaul was not informed by the Review but was a decision already decided on

The Justice Minister announced sweeping changes to the HRA in a statement before the Review was published.  The changes will counter ‘wokery and political correctness’ he claimed.  It is difficult to reconcile the results of the Review with the statement by Mr Raab of the need for radical reform.  It would seem that the decision to make a sweeping overhaul was not informed by the Review but was a decision already decided on.  

If we take into account the other bills before parliament: the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill and the Judicial Review and Courts bill, they represent, together, a serious attack on our liberties.  The ability of ordinary people to assert their rights, to protest or to correct injustice done to them will be seriously curtailed.  There is also a proposal to introduce a ‘permissions stage’ before someone can argue their case in court.  The right to a family life (art 8) may be removed altogether.  As the chief executive of Amnesty International has argued ‘if ministers move ahead with plans to water down the HRA and override judgements with which they disagree they risk aligning themselves with authoritarian regimes around the world’.  

In the last few months, we have seen serious failings by those who are meant to look after us. Serious police shortcomings and allegations of institutional racism have been made. The abysmally low level of rape cases which result in successful prosecutions. Serious failings in childcare with the tragic deaths of some small children. There have been failings within government too numerous to itemise. Far from a reduction in the means of redress, we need an increase. Yet the government seems determined to curtail our rights based on false assumptions and a desire for populist support.

It is likely the Salisbury group will be focusing on these assaults in its future campaigning.


International Memorial is under threat of being dissolved

International Memorial – full name International Historical Educational Charitable and Human Rights Society is under threat of being dissolved by the Russian authorities. Based in Moscow, The Society investigates some of the terrible tragedies under the Soviet era and those being committed by the Russian government today.

We have today added a link to their website in the list of sites at the bottom of this site.


The next meeting will be on Thursday 14 October starting at the earlier time of 6:30 (please note) and will be in Attwood Road (just off Castle Road) in Salisbury. There will be lots to discuss and in particular a report from three group members who had a long meeting with Mr Glen (MP for Salisbury) to express our – and over a hundred other organisations’ concerns – about a raft of legislation currently before parliament. Mr Glen has promised to reply so that will feature in a future post.

We hope to welcome some new members who came to our stand at the People in the park event a few weekends ago.


The news today of the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United is condemned by Amnesty

It was announced today (7 October 2021) that the Saudi Public Investment Fund has agreed a £300m takeover of Newcastle United Football Club. This has resurrected the argument about ‘Sportswash’ and countries with poor human rights records using sport to try and create a better image for themselves. Saudi Arabia has a particularly dire human rights record with the routine use of torture, capital punishment often by primitive means and in public, the poor treatment of women and the silencing of opposition to the regime.

The takeover has been welcomed in Newcastle and it was suggested by a reporter in the City that the fans were jubilant as it will mean the end of Mike Ashley’s ownership and the poor record by the club in the league during his time. Newcastle Chronicle has considerable coverage and photos of large numbers of jubilant fans. The newspaper describes the atmosphere as ‘electric’. On Twitter a tweet said it was about ‘returning a sense of pride’.

Newcastle is not the only football club or sport to accept money from dubious regimes so it would be unfair to single them out. Saudi’s human rights record is particularly dubious however. The list is long and includes the likely murder and dismemberment by Saudi agents of Jamal Khashoggi, the repression of dissidents and human rights defenders, several members of the royal family are still held incommunicado and there is no freedom of religion other than Islam.

Yemen is also a stain on the country with nearly 8,000 killed in air raids including 2,000 children. There is a blockade in place adding to the misery in the country.

Newcastle supporters can also claim that our own royal family and senior ministers have frequently visited the country and are on visible and seemingly good terms with Mohammed bin Salman. The UK is also a major supplier of weapons to the regime, despite evidence of the harm done in their use. To condemn the deal is, they might argue, hypocritical. The Saudis also own considerable real estate in London.

While all this is true, there is no escaping the reality of a terrible regime buying a famous football club to enable it to enhance its image in the world. Although the fans seem delighted with the decision, it remains the case that the money is tainted and from a particularly dire regime.


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.


A coalition of over a hundred organisations has been brought together to try and counter the threat to the Human Rights Act and proposed changes to the process of judicial review. The Conservative government has introduced a range of bills to try and curb or limit protest, human rights and judicial review of their actions. The coalition has been put together by the Humanists.

The unprecedented coalition of over 220 organisations has spoken out against the UK Government’s new plans to reduce the scope of judicial review. They have together formed a coalition [the link provides a list of supporters] to defend human rights and judicial review from Government attack. The coalition, established by Humanists UK, is believed to be the largest human rights coalition in UK history. Those joining include charities, trades unions, human rights bodies including Amnesty, and religion or belief groups. On 21 July 2021 the Government published a new Bill that will curtail judicial review, if it becomes law.

The coalition reflects widespread concern that the various moves made by the current government are taken together, a threat to our freedoms. The Conservatives have long disliked the HRA, characterising it as ‘Labour’s HRA’ when in fact it was cross-party. We await the review itself but there is little doubt it will recommend changes that will weaken it.

Sources: Each Other, Humanists, Amnesty, Politics.co.uk


Israeli company involved in supplying spyware to some of the world’s worst regimes

The Israeli company NSO has been involved in selling spyware to a variety of regimes including Hungary, India, Mexico, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE. The Spyware, called Pegasus, enables the governments and their agents to penetrate mobile phones and listen to messages, download call lists and turn the device into a microphone. Amnesty International has been a key player in uncovering the scandal.

The technology is used to intercept all manner of individuals who are critical of the regime or who are engaged in uncovering corruption. Lawyers, human rights defenders, opposition leaders and journalists are all able to be targeted by the technology. The victims will be unaware that their phones and all their personal details and contacts have been penetrated. The Israeli firm claims it ‘does not operates the systems that it sells to vetted government customers’. NSO has said the claims are false.

The evidence of Amnesty’s Security Lab is extensive and on many of the phones it has forensically examined, it found evidence of Pegasus activity. Even the editor of the Financial Times was found on a list of phone numbers leaked to Forbidden Stories who are leading the investigation.

There is extensive coverage in the Guardian in the UK and in other newspapers around the world. Clearly the story has not ended yet and there will be more revelations to come. There will also be reactions when the extent of penetration, the use the information has been put to to stifle debate and silence opposition is uncovered. Whether the Israeli government is more involved than it claims remains to be seen.

Followers of this blog will be familiar with this activity and the technology used to penetrate phones and iPhones. We published a blog concerning a firm near Salisbury which makes and sells equipment similar to NSO, concerning the firm Gamma TSE at Porton. There is no suggestion they are associated with the NSO organisation.


Call for corporations to ensure due diligence carried out in supply chains

The main thrust of human rights activity since the war and the creation of the UN Declaration has been at governments and trying to improve their behaviour. Campaigns have been waged to stop the use of torture, arbitrary detention, unfair trials and ‘disappearing’ people the regime does not like.

There is now however, an increasing awareness that corporations are key players and, via their supply chains, can have enormous effects on the environment and on the human rights of millions of people in their supply chains. A parliamentary briefing by the Corporate Justice Commission says:

This parliamentary briefing argues that we urgently need a new law to hold companies to account when they fail to prevent human rights abuses and environmental harms. This law should mandate companies to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence’ across their supply chains.

A Failure to Prevent law is vital to ensure the pursuit of a global green transition and a just recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. It would help the UK to deliver its “Global Britain” vision, retain its leadership on business and human rights, and ensure a level playing field for UK business.

Our proposed law would bring the UK in line with its international commitments on human rights and the environment and build on a 2017 recommendation for such a law from the UK’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. It mirrors existing provisions in the UK Bribery Act and matches developments across several states and the European Union.

Corporate Justice Coalition, October 2020

Amnesty and other groups including the TUC and Friends of the Earth have joined in this call.

Much of this activity is hidden from us. We simply see the end product in our shops without always realising that it may have been produced by forced labour, or even slave labour. Recently, it was alleged that the Chinese were using Uyghur slaves to produce cotton. There is also environmental destruction to extract minerals or timber.

There should perhaps be a greater shift in attention towards the activities of these corporate giants who operate almost outside any law.


Investigators using a range of modern technology to keep track of human rights violations

Looking at the scale and extent of human rights abuses around the world, it is hard not to feel in despair. The ‘never again’ optimism after the Second World War seems to have melted away with wholesale abuses taking place in Syria, Egypt, China, Myanmar and many other places. China executes more of its citizens than any other country in the world and is incarcerating a million Uyghurs in a form of ethnic cleansing. The treatment of Rohingyas in Myanmar is another massive tragedy. Egypt is on an execution spree – 16 in one day – and abuses are evident in nearly all the Gulf states.

It seems that nearly all the perpetrators escape justice. Evidence is difficult if not impossible to obtain. Western governments are more than willing to look the other way. The countries concerned are major buyers of weapons – Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest customer for example – which makes them complicit in the crimes.

But it seems as though there may be cause for optimism with an organisation using a range of modern technology to track down the perpetrators and collect evidence with a view to a future trial. Soon to be launched Investigative Commons will be acting as a kind of hub to enable this work to be done. People are familiar with Bellingcat which used similar methods to track down the two Russian GRU agents who came here to Salisbury in an attempt to murder Sergei Skripal.

A significant advance is made possible by Forensic Architecture who are able to match events to individual arms firms. This is truly ground-breaking and in the case of Yemen, they are assembling evidence which may enable individual politicians and others to be put on trial for breaches of International Human Rights.

Up until now, human rights work has depended on people working in the country concerned which of course is extremely risky. Many human rights defenders, lawyers and other activists have been arrested or executed during the course of trying to look into violations.

A potential game changer

This relatively new method enables information to be collected from a wide range of sources and can be put together for a trial. This represents a major leap in the ability of human rights organisations to keep track of what is happening around the world and may in addition, act as some kind of deterrent to abusers.

The organisation is based in the same office block in Germany as the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, ECCHR which has had some success in Syria. The use of open source information and assembling it into a potential case for the International Court does look like a potential game changer.

No doubt we shall be referring to this organisation in the future.

Source: The Observer 27 June 2021


The group remains concerned about current government plans and bills with a human rights element to them.  There is a suggestion that the government continues work to undermine our Human Rights, and the right to protest on policy decisions being one aspect of that.

Reviews of the HRA and Judicial Review process are still continuing and nothing definite has been reported. The results are expected in the late summer.

A recent report by the EHRC tracker highlights a lack of UK government progress on human rights: It concludes that no progress has been made in the category of ‘political and civic participation, including political representation’ and its ‘equality and human rights legal framework’.  This is due in part to the New Immigration Act, Police Crime Bill, the reviews of the Human Rights Act and the legal process of Judicial Review.  

Common Sense: Conservative Thinking in a Post-Liberal Age.

Early in May a group of sixty Conservative backbench MP’s published a book outlining Conservative values and long-term policy for the party.  Though not mainstream Conservative policy, the book provides a disturbing insight into core Conservative thinking.  Among the policies proposed are the revoking the HRA, break-up of the BBC, taking on internet giants, scrapping the Supreme Court and defeating ‘woke-ism’.  We have attempted to review one chapter by the Devizes MP Danny Kruger

Webinar – Police Crime Bill

A short webinar organised by AI confirmed the position that: Losing the right to protest and therefore resist government policy will result in further UK Human Rights violations.

Besides the issue of restrictions concerning protesting, the webinar included discussion on crime, Roma communities, minorities, discrimination and police intimidation.  Although participants emphasised the need for resistance to the Police Crime Bill no clear action was proposed.

In the Commons the Labour Party submitted amendments to the Police Crime Bill, particularly the deletions of sections concerning restrictions on protest. However, with a strong Conservative majority these amendments were defeated.  Amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords are also likely to be rejected.

The group is maintaining a watching brief on these proposals and will consider campaigning actions when details are known.

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