Archive for the ‘“Human rights”’ Category


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.


One of the fundamental components of the Human Rights Act is the freedom from torture. It was abandoned in the seventeenth century in the UK. It is rarely effective since the information derived is likely to be what the questioners want to hear rather than the truth. The UK government has long maintained that it does not use these practices overseas nor uses other countries as proxy torturers on our behalf. This has been shown to be untrue: Guantanamo prisoners have testified to UK personnel being present during torture sessions carried out by the Americans, and after the fall of Ghedaffi in Libya, documents revealing MI6’s involvement in torture were discovered. We were also complicit in the use of UK airfields used by the Americans to fly prisoners to ‘black sites’ in eastern Europe.

The Overseas Operations Bill is important therefore in this context. Yesterday, the House of Lords voted in favour of the amendment supported by several agencies.  When it was first introduced last year, the Bill risked effectively decriminalising torture committed by UK personnel. The amendment means prosecution for torture – as well as genocide and other serious international crimes – could go ahead without facing roadblocks originally included in the Bill.  It also seeks to apply a 5 year limitation on actions which is contrary to international law. There should be no time limit on actions regarding the use of torture.

The background to the Bill has been a campaign against so-called ‘vexatious’ legal claims against British soldiers overseas. Politicians and some sections of the media have painted a picture of innocent soldiers being pursued through the courts whilst doing their duty for their country and serving in conditions of great danger. If innocent soldiers are being pursued in this way it is very much to be regretted. But there is plentiful evidence of bad behaviour which should be investigated. Eight years ago Lt Col Mercer, who left the Army because of what he witnessed, spoke at an Amnesty service in the Cathedral. His was first hand testimony of the mistreatment and sometimes death suffered by some prisoners at the hands of Army interrogators.

Yesterday, 333 Lords voted in favour of the amendment to the Bill – a majority of 105. The amendment we fought for was tabled by former Defence Secretary and Secretary General to NATO Lord Robertson.  This is an important win: the UK helped build the ban on torture in the Geneva Conventions. This amendment ensures it doesn’t roll-back now. 

The battle is not over however and we still need to make sure the changes are kept in the final version of the Bill when it goes to the House of Commons and is voted into law. 

It is depressing to read of these and other retrograde plans by the government.

Sources: Reprieve; Amnesty International; Independent


Dangerous new bill proposed by the government

The right to protest is fundamental to a free and fair society.  It’s a right we have fought long and hard for.  Without the right to protest, accountability and freedom suffers.

A New Policing Bill

The Government’s new policing Bill gets the balance dangerously wrong.  Such an enormous and unprecedented extension of policing powers will put too much power in the hands of the state, to effectively ban protests – including peaceful ones – should they see fit.

Vigil for Sarah Everard

Worse still, this Bill alongside other efforts by the UK Government to threaten and dilute other fundamental rights and freedoms.  The claims of excessive force used by Metropolitan police against women attending a vigil for Sarah Everard on 13 March, beggars belief, and is a stark and timely warning about precisely why Parliament must not grant police further powers to stop peaceful protest.

Racism and discrimination

As well as preventing peaceful protest, sections of this Bill will most likely disproportionately impact  people who are in the minority and increase the racism and discrimination that is experienced by many of them.  For example, measures to enhance stop & search and restrict the right to roam, precisely at a time when the UK Government should be working to address these issues.

This is not the path to a free and just society.  This is the path to a clampdown on our centuries old rights of freedom of movement, expression and assembly.  This is entirely incompatible with the UK’s self-image as a place of liberty.

We cannot allow this clampdown to happen.  Take action and call on our Prime Minister to put the brakes on the Bill and stop the assault on our freedoms.

Text taken from Amnesty International


Shamima Begum, who left east London to join IS when she was 15, will be not allowed to return home to challenge the Home Office’s decision to revoke her citizenship, after a decision by the UK’s highest court

[We have used much of the text from Each Other in the preparation of this post.]

There can be few people reading about the Shamima Begum case, who will not recall something they did or said when they were 15 and quietly shudder.  That period between childhood and adulthood is filled with embarrassments, misjudgements and actions best forgotten.  For most, these events were inconsequential and caused no harm.  For Shamima Begum they resulted in the Supreme Court and a life in limbo.  Her three children have all died.  She and two others, left the UK to join ISIS, a barbaric regime which committed multiple acts of terror and carried out multiple executions by beheading.

The Supreme Court has now ruled she cannot return to the UK.  The decision by the Supreme Court follows an earlier ruling where the Court of Appeal said she should be allowed to return.  Currently Ms Begum, now 21, is in a camp controlled by armed guards in Syria, where she is currently unable to speak to her British lawyers.

Announcing the judgement, Lord Reed said the Court of Appeal was ‘mistaken’ in believing that ‘her right to a fair hearing must prevail’ when it came into conflict with the requirements of national security.  “The right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public,” he added.

However, the move has been heavily criticised by human rights groups, who say it creates a ‘dangerous precedent’ and is a ‘misuse of extreme power’.

In a statement, Liberty lawyer Rosie Brighthouse said:

The right to a fair trial is not something democratic Governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone’s British citizenship.  If a Government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguards of a fair trial it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.  If a Government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguard of a fair trial it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.  Rosie Brighthouse, Liberty

Similarly, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve calling the move a ‘cynical ploy to make her some one else’s responsibility’. She added:

The Government should bring the British families back to the UK so that children can be provided with support they need, and adults can be prosecuted where there are charges to answer.  Abandoning them in a legal black hole – in Guantanamo-like conditions – is out of step with British values and the interests of justice and security.

What’s The Background To This Case?

In 2015, Begum left her family in Bethnal Green behind to travel to the city of Raqqa, with two school friends, and marry a Dutch fighter.  She was just 15 at the time, and still legally a child.  She was found, heavily pregnant, by a Times journalist in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.  Former home secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her British citizenship later that month.

Begum and her lawyers appealed the move, arguing it was illegal under international law and exposed her to a real risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment.

The now 21 year old has given birth to three children in Syria – all of whom have died from illnesses.

Begum and her legal team lost the first stage of their appeal at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) – the specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to revoke people’s citizenship on national security grounds – in February 2020

The tribunal decided that Begum was lawfully made stateless because she could turn to Bangladesh, her parents’ country of origin, for citizenship – despite this being refuted by authorities in Bangladesh.  She has never held a Bangladeshi passport.  That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that it is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.

Lord Reed

However, the decision was then overturned by the Court of Appeal, who said ‘the only way in which she could have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come to the United Kingdom’.  The Government, however, appealed.  This is the judgement that has just taken place at the Supreme Court.

In today’s ruling, Lord Reed said the ‘appropriate answer’ was not to force the Government to bring her back to the UK – but instead to pause her legal fight over citizenship until she was in a safer position to take part in the appeal.  He added: ‘That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.’

What Is Statelessness?

Under international law, a stateless person is someone who is “not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.”  This definition derives from Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

The UK uses this definition to provide rules about who can stay in Britain as a stateless person.  Under the Immigration Rules Part 14, a person may not be given permission to stay if they can live permanently in another country or if they have a criminal record.

The United Nations High Commissioner Report (UNHCR) estimates that there are around 10 million stateless people living globally, although the exact figure is not known.

Is Nationality A Human right?

Yes, and it is internationally recognised as such.  The legal instruments that describe nationality as a human right include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and many more.

‘Arbitrary deprivation of nationality’, which means deliberately moving to make a citizen stateless, is prohibited under these instruments.   Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is particularly explicit on this point.

Making someone stateless doesn’t just impact a person’s right to a nationality, it affects their access to other human rights too.  Without a nationality, a person will not be able to travel, to have access to healthcare, employment, and not have any way of supporting themselves.  There is no recourse of any state to help them survive.  They will never be able to involve themselves in education, social security, political discourse or protect themselves legally.

The legal decision was welcomed by the government and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel.  It is likely that the home secretary thought this would be a popular decision with the right wing media but surprisingly, an article in the Daily Mail, pointed out that she was a child when she left and also, that many jihadis have returned to Britain to face trial.  If male members of ISIS can return, why cannot a female member?  The Sun also reported it in less than exultant terms.

We are grateful to Each Other for use of much of their text

Apartheid, Israel style

Posted: January 16, 2021 in "Human rights", Israel
Tags: , ,

Report from the Israel Information Centre accuses Israel of being an Apartheid state

Older readers will remember the news bulletins from South Africa during the Apartheid era.  Pictures of white police officer beating black people, townships being bulldozed and signs on buildings and entrances saying ‘Nie Blankes’ the quaint ‘European Ladies only’ and ‘Caution, beware natives’.  These and other signs divided the country into a variety of areas into which people of colour could not travel unrestricted.  There were many other laws which severely restricted the lives of non-white South Africans.

Years of struggle finally ended the regime in the years 1990 – 1994.  The campaigns involved civil disobedience, boycotts and international pressure.

The system of separation, restrictions of movement and second class status applies in many similar ways in Israel and their treatment of Palestinians.  This is set out in some detail in a report by B’Tselem the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.  Entitled: A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid – published this month (January 2021).  It sets out in considerable detail the methods by which Israel has created a divided state with one law for Jewish people and another law for Palestinians.  These include not allowing Palestinians to move between different parts of Israel if their status would improve as a result; non-Jews have no rights to settle in the country; Palestinians not being allowed to live in certain areas for reasons of ‘cultural incompatibility’; not being allowed to demonstrate, and a whole range of laws which effectively confirms their second class status.  There are many more listed in the report.

Gaza of course is an egregious example which is almost a prison.  Movement in or our is tightly restricted and there is no port or airport.  The wall cuts a swathe through Palestinian territory.

The similarities to Apartheid are many.  Whereas it was based on race and colour in South Africa, in Israel it is based on nationality and ethnicity.  The report concludes:

As painful as it may be to look reality in the eye, it is more painful to live under a boot. The harsh reality described [in this report] may deteriorate further if new practices are introduced – with or without accompanying legislation. Nevertheless, people created this regime and people can make it worse – or work to replace it. That hope is the driving force behind this position paper. How can people fight injustice if it is unnamed? Apartheid is the organizing principle, yet recognizing this does not mean giving up. On the contrary: it is a call for change.

A future of peaceful coexistence seems unachievable while Israel maintains and continues to expand a two state country, with one group of citizens with all the freedoms of a modern state and another group denied most of these rights.


View Amnesty International’s review of 2020 – a tumultuous year by any reckoning.

Video


John Glen, the MP for Salisbury, has been accused by the ex-leader of his party of ‘kowtowing’ to China

This accusation was made in the Mail on Sunday, a Conservative supporting tabloid paper, in an article on 24 October 2020.  Mr Glen, a Treasury Minister, gave a speech at an event organised by the 48 Group Club which was set up to promote Sino-British relations.  Mr Glen is alleged to have said that ‘Britain and China are natural partners and that the two sides have broad prospects for cooperation in financial services and the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.’ [No text of the speech is available on the 48 Group Club’s website or on the Treasury site.]

Pursuing increased commercial contact and encouraging greater trade was a creditable endeavour.  Greater  understanding was always to be supported and many of the 500 or so individuals who are members of the Club are likely to have had that in mind when joining.

But since Xi Jinping came to power, things have changed markedly.  China has become a repressive state with a catalogue of infringements against international norms.  It’s justice system is plagued by unfair trials and the use of torture.  Repression of whole areas of the country including Tibet and Xinjiang is severe.  The Government continues to harass, intimidate and prosecute human right defenders.  All media and the internet are rigorously censored.  There is little religious freedom with churches, mosques and temples destroyed on government orders.  China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined.

Over the past year, attention has focused on the treatment of Uighurs, a million of whom are incarcerated in so-called training establishments which nevertheless are surrounded by high walls and watchtowers and are closed to outside observers.  Recently, concern has been expressed at the use of forced labour to produce cotton and western companies are being urged to ensure cotton produced using such labour is not used in their products.

In July a book was published by Clive Hamilton and Mareika Ohlberg Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World’ (One World Press) which claims that the 48 Group Club is a hub ‘through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites’.  Looking into the group does seem to reveal some curious issues.  It claims many members of the political establishment some of whom say they have no knowledge of joining.  Who funds them is not explained on their website.

48 Group is a hub ‘through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites’ book claims

Mr Glen cannot claim ignorance of the appalling human rights situation in China since many members of the Salisbury Amnesty group have written to him on many occasions.  He will be aware of the concerns about China’s increasing bellicose actions against Taiwan and border conflict with India.  China has reneged on the Hong Kong agreement and is tightening its grip on the state.  However, we know from the They Work for you site that Mr Glen ‘generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights’.  Many countries are beginning to review their relations with the country in view of the policies of the communist regime and the threats they pose.

Mr Duncan Smith claims that the speech was written for him which, as it does not seem to have been published or made available, we cannot know.  It does suggest however, that the government is anxious to press on with closer commercial contacts with China despite the increasing risks and despite the appalling human rights situation there.  It is perhaps an inevitable result of the Brexit decision (supported by Mr Glen) and the shock that will give to the economy: we must seek business where we may and not be too squeamish about with whom.

That may be so, but for Mr Glen allegedly to praise President Xi, as the Mail on Sunday claims, to a suspect lobbying organisation, raises many uncomfortable questions.

Sources: Mail on Line [accessed 15 December 2020]; Endole; Daily Express; upnewsinfo.com; Amnesty International.  Sites searched but with no reference to the speech: Salisbury Journal; Treasury; John Glen MP’s website [all accessed 18 December 2020]


Newspaper exposes an extraordinary secret deal made between Switzerland and China

Switzerland is a country which has seldom appeared on this site.  It has an image of being a peaceful, civilised country with a close attachment to laws and rules.  Indeed it is something of an example to the rest of the world having avoided wars for centuries.  It never joined the EU.  Several human rights based organisations are based in Geneva.  The only thing said against it is the secret nature of its banking system which enables billions of dollars to be secreted away out of sight of the host country.

So it has come of something of a shock to discover that it has signed a secret deal with China to facilitate the repatriation of Chinese nationals back to that country.  Readmission agreements as they are called are common and Switzerland itself has around 60 of them including one with the UK.  These are published or otherwise available and the personnel involved have to be validated by both countries.  Not so in the case of China.

The Swiss agreement allows officers from the Ministry of Public Security, which is implicated in widespread, systematic and wide-ranging human rights abuses, free and secret access to the country.  Their agents are accused of crimes against humanity.  Yet they roam free in Switzerland carrying out unsupervised interviews and operations in their attempts to track down Chinese nationals and repatriate them to China.  The Swiss do not check on their activities or know who is being sent back.  Of those who have been sent back, their whereabouts are unknown.

Details of this extraordinary story was revealed by the newspaper NZZ amSonntag in August and a fuller story has appeared in Safeguard Defenders.   It was kept secret it has been claimed, because it was ‘an administrative agreement’.  Now that some Swiss parliamentarians have become aware of it, how long it will last we shall have to see.  But it seems to be another example of some western countries craven attitude towards the Chinese despite increasing knowledge of their multiple human rights abuses.

Sources: Swiss Info.ch; Safeguard Defenders; Guardian; NZZ amSonntag


Today, 10 December 2020 is Human Rights Day

IMMEDIATE  Tonight (10 December) at 7:30 (UK time) there will be a special programme on BBC3 to mark this day.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  The UDHR is a milestone document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.   It is the most translated document in the world being available in more than 500 languages,

2020 Theme: Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights

This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts.  We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.

10 December is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity.

Under UN Human Rights’ generic call to action “Stand Up for Human rights”, we aim to engage the general public, our partners and the UN family to bolster transformative action and showcase practical and inspirational examples that can contribute to recovering better and fostering more resilient and just societies.

Taken from the UN site


The Conservatives have had a long-standing dislike of the HRA and a review of it has appeared in its last two or three manifestos. It has not always been so and indeed it was Conservative politicians who were instrumental in setting up the European Convention which preceded the HRA.

The government is making various claims in a bid to justify its desire to amend the act and by inference, to weaken it. Recently we have had claims about alleged vexatious claims against British soldier’s mistreatment of prisoners in conflict areas such as Iraq. They have also, erroneously claimed that the act prevents them tracking potential terrorists.

The various reasons put forward by the government combined with a steady stream of stories in the right wing press suggest deeper reasons at play. The current home secretary, Priti Patel and Michael Gove MP have both been reported as being keen to reintroduce the death penalty although the home secretary has resiled from that claim. Her proposed draconian measures for handling asylum seekers and immigrants however, reveal an illiberal attitude of mind. We have reported on this site, the shameful views of the Attorney General, Suella Braverman, concerning torture about which practice she seemed quite ‘relaxed’.

The HRA has perhaps shaken the establishment more than has been realised. It has led to a shift in power and enabled ordinary people to pursue injustice through the courts. We have seen in the Covid-19 crisis a government which has been reluctant to involve local government, much preferring to award contracts – without tender – to private firms who have shown a dazzling array of ineptitude. It seems to indicate a firm desire to retain the levers of power in Whitehall.  Challenge by private citizens is not welcome. 

The attempt to prorogue parliament and the proposed Internal Market and the Overseas Operations bills all show a government willing to break international treaties if it deems it necessary. We should be extremely concerned if the act gets abolished or its protections seriously watered down.