Archive for the ‘“Human rights”’ Category


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.  

 


While the somewhat absurd leaks from the Home Office about wave machines in the Channel, using redundant ferries as holding centres, or sending refugees to Moldova, Morocco – or at enormous cost even to Ascension Island, 4000 miles away – may not be true, these stories do at least give an indication of the mindset of the authorities charged with dealing with a continuing flow of migrants across the Channel to this country.  It seems likely that these proposals were put out to cause alarm, so that when real ones come out, they will be regarded as relatively mild.

Use of the Navy has also been touted: Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Director, said:

Deploying the Navy to prevent people exercising their right to seek asylum in the UK would be unlawful, reckless and dangerous.  It is wholly legitimate for people to seek asylum in this country – even though relatively few people do – and sadly, for some, these dangerous journeys are the only means available.

Meanwhile, the senior civil servant at the Home Office has stated that “all options are on the table.”  This suggests that either (a) they don’t have a clue what to do or (b) all options are equally valid, so they don’t care.  Ms Patel’s speech to the Conservative Party conference today [4 October 2020] will give a sense of her ideas, but she starts from the assumption that the system is “broken”; it may be that her proposals will take some time to emerge.

The government are believed to be keen to follow the methods employed by recent Australian governments in keeping prospective immigrants in offshore holding camps.  But, as Andonea Jon Dickson explains, “a main function of [the Australian] Operation Sovereign Borders is the interception of boats at sea and their forced return to offshore immigration or their origin.  This conflicts with the Refugee Convention (1951) and Protocol (1967) in a number of ways, not least by denying a right to asylum.

The UK has been removing asylum seekers to France this year as part of a European Union policy that allows one member state to return asylum seekers to another.  When the UK leaves the EU on December 31, however, this policy will no longer apply.  There is nothing yet to suggest France would be willing to continue to accept these asylum seekers.  Lawyers have also recently exposed how the UK has been removing asylum seekers to France illegally without providing an asylum procedure.”

While there are distinctions to be made between refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants (in terms of the threats they face at home), to the general public they will be seen as one group, dangerous or benign according to taste (and, according to a recent YouGov poll 49% of people here have admitted they have little or no sympathy for those crossing the Channel on dangerous boats).

Once again, an inconvenience has been turned into an existential threat.  In 2019, the average rate of asylum applications in the EU was 14 per 100,000 residents.  In the UK it was 5 per 100,000.  So, although, for example, the universality of the English language is a ‘pull factor’ for migrants, it isn’t that significant, and most migrants have a clear view of where it is best for them to aim for.

Dan O’Mahoney, the preposterously titled ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’ – whose job is to work on “legislative, legal and operational barriers” to migrants – said Border Force is continuing to “crack down on the criminal gangs responsible”.  The total number of migrants crossing the Channel this year is around 7,000 so far (it is reckoned that 84,000 attempts to enter were made in 2015), so the crisis may not be quite as great as suggested.  In any case, putting the blame on the traffickers as procurers is pointless – they may be heartless, but they are not the cause.

Ms Patel may be playing to her gallery, or she may genuinely dislike enterprising Third World migrants, but inhumane policies cannot just be defended on political grounds, as they have a moral context.

Ian Dunt, of politics.co.uk makes the point: 

These proposals are unkind.  They are morally wrong, regardless of their efficacy or legality.  They lack compassion, a basic ethical temperament which it is not fashionable to talk about but forms a fundamental requirement of government decision-making.  2 October 2020

Amnesty International has been working for many years with other organisations, nationally and internationally, in the fields of refugees and asylum seekers.  We campaign for a world where human rights can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter what situation they are in. Amnesty has championed the human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants for decades.  We campaign to make sure governments honour their shared responsibility to protect the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.  We condemn any policies and practices that undermine the rights of people on the move.


The Overseas Operations Bill risks Britain’s reputation

UPDATED: 29 September

THE OOP was introduced to parliament last week and the controversial element is the introduction of a time limit to prosecutions of British troops who commit crimes while on active service overseas.  A limit of 5 years will be introduced but also, and less reported, a six year limit on soldiers themselves being able to claim against the MoD for things like PTSD or hearing loss [Forces.net 22 September 2020].  The bill seeks to derogate the UK from the European Convention of Human Rights, see the bill itself (pdf).

It must be said straight away that the vast majority of service personnel behave honourably in the service of their country and literally risk their lives in so doing.  Some receive serious injuries from things like IEDs which can result in the loss of limbs or blindness.  The MoD has been culpable of sending troops into theatre with inadequate equipment which has resulted in needless additional injury.

The last few years have seen a series of allegations of ‘vexatious claims’ by legal firms allegedly putting together spurious or exaggerated ones.  One such firm was run by Phil Shiner who’s licence to practice was taken away by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal [Law Society Gazette, 2 February 2017].

Despite this, we should be concerned as a nation if our soldiers are involved in torture or mistreatment of prisoners.  These should always be investigated if only for the reason of why we go to war in the first place which is to promote our notions of justice, the rule of law and treating people decently regardless of race, religion or gender.  We can hardly complain about countries such as Egypt, Iran, most of the Gulf states and China who do practise torture more or less routinely, if we ourselves do not root out such practices ourselves.

An inconvenient fact not it seems noted in our media yet, is that the UK is a signatory of the UN Convention Against Torture which provides an obligation on the UK not to apply statutes of limitation to allegations of torture and has a continuing obligation to investigate them which cannot be time-limited [Redress 18 March 2020].  

THE British government has repeatedly stressed it does not engage in torture but was found to have allowed rendition flights to come through the UK.  Documents were also found after the collapse of Libya which showed the government’s complicity in this practice.  This has led to a case against the former Home Secretary Jack Straw.

Kate Allen has said in response to the bill:

What does it say about the UK’s armed forces to suggest that they need immunity from prosecution for acts of torture and other serious crimes? [Daily Mirror 22 September 2020]

That some – a minority – of our service people have behaved badly is not in dispute.  That some legal cases may have been vexatious is also probably true.  But the overriding considerations are the integrity of the nation and to be seen in the world as an exemplar of human rights and good behaviour.  Apologists say it will still be possible to bring such a case after the period of 5 years has elapsed.  Indeed, the wording of the bill does allow that.  One wonders why in that case is there a need for the bill?  To limit claims against the MoD has been described as ‘devastating’ by a partner in the law firm Hugh James [22 September 2020].  

In a previous post, we drew attention to the Attorney General Suella Braverman’s seemingly relaxed view of the use of torture, an astonishing attitude for the nation’s most senior law officer to have.  Our attitude to this abhorrent practice should be unequivocal.  We do not do it, we do not condone it and if any of our people engage in it, we will investigate and prosecute regardless if five or more years have gone by.

UPDATE: 29 September 2020.  In the above link to our post about the Attorney General, we took at face value the background claimed by Suella Braverman.  These claims have been investigated by the Observer journalist Nick Cohen who has cast doubt on many of them.  He and other journalists have tried to authenticate these various claims of relevant experience and have so far, been unable to do so.  

Just Mercy film

Posted: June 9, 2020 in "Human rights", Film
Tags: , ,

We hope to show this film at the Arts Centre in November but it will depend of course on lockdown restrictions being lifted.  It has been discussed in a recent Independent article.   It is particularly apposite at the present time as it highlights the unequal status of black people in the US both with the police and the justice system as a whole.  It also relates to our last post concerning the release of Walter Ogrod after many years on death row for a crime he did not commit.