Archive for the ‘“Human rights”’ Category


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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Devizes MP Danny Kruger has written a chapter in a book by the Common Sense group

In recent years some members of the Conservative party seem to have a problem with the Human Rights Act and some would like to see it abolished.  Far right newspapers typify the act as being a means by which terrorists, murderers and others escape justice because the act provides lawyers with a range of loopholes to get their clients off. They call it a ‘criminal’s charter’.  Many of the stories, on closer examination, turn out not to be true or wanton exaggerations. 

The current corpus of human rights law started life after the Second World War and there were a number of Conservative politicians who were active proponents, including Sir Winston Churchill and David Maxwell-Fyfe. 

Since 2015, the tone has changed and in the manifesto of that year, David Cameron promised to scrap the act.  Little happened and by the time of the 2019 manifesto, ‘scrap’ had gone and a review was promised.  What is to be reviewed and how a new act would look and what it would contain has never been clear.  At the time, the Salisbury group raised the matter with our MP Mr John Glen, but we were not much clearer what they wanted it replaced by. The review of the act is currently underway.

A new book has just been produced by a group of backbench Conservatives called Common Sense: Conservative Thinking For a Post-Liberal Age. In it, is a chapter written by the Devizes* MP Danny Kruger entitled Restoring rights: Reclaiming Liberty

His chapter contains odd reasoning and some curious logic.  His first claim is that the European Convention on Human Rights, drafted by British Lawyers after World War II [lawyers from other countries were involved so it is incorrect to say ‘British lawyers’] ‘sits uncomfortably with the English tradition of preventing tyranny’.  This will come as something of a surprise to the millions of people who were enslaved and were worked to death in the sugar plantations or those who worked in fearful conditions in nineteenth century factories.  The acquisition of Empire also has many horror stories. Quite where this ‘prevention of tyranny’ was taking place is not made clear.

Human rights are misnamed he claims. ‘The rights we really need, and the only ones we really have, derive from something higher and something lower than mankind.  They derive from the idea of God, and from the fact of nations: from a Christian conception of law …’  It would be difficult to locate in the Bible many of the principles enshrined in the ECHR or HRA if only because these ideas and principles were a long way from a society colonised by the Romans and where practices like slavery were common.  There are many favourable references to slavery in the Bible for example.  The ‘lower than mankind’ element is not explained.

He quotes approvingly of the American author Patrick Deneen who wrote Why Liberalism Failed (2018).  Many do not agree with Kruger’s admiration of Deneen’s book regarding his blame of a huge range of society’s ills on excessive liberalism to be odd not to say ridiculous.

His analysis seems to go seriously awry however with the following passage:

“And so, from an early stage we came to think of rights as the means by which we are set free from external pressure, set free from obligations to others; and from there it is a small step to the hypocritical assumption that rights confer obligations on others to satisfy us.” P49

It is incorrect to say that requiring the state to act in a lawful and reasonable way towards its subjects is in anyway hypocritical.  What is hypocritical about requiring the State not to torture us? What is hypocritical about having a fair trial?  Nor is it true to argue that rights set us free from external pressure.  This seems to go to the heart of the objections raised by some Conservatives about the HRA, and the attempts to weave in duties.  The argument seems to be you only deserve these rights in limited circumstances and in a conditional way. 

This argument is further developed in this passage:

“This conception of rights must be rooted in the existence of a community – a real community, not the abstraction of ‘humankind’.  A real community entails reciprocal duties, situated in institutions that can enforce them and mediated by the conventions of people who know each other and share a common culture.  This is the nation.  We derive our rights from our citizenship (or more properly, our subjectship)”. p52 (our italics)

The problem all along with the objections to the HRA is trying to tie them down to specifics.  In an earlier Conservative document Protecting Human Rights in the UK, the examples seem to be stuck on deporting foreign criminals as an example of obligations. 

The Human Rights Act, brought in following cross party consensus – and falsely characterised as ‘Labour’s Human Rights Act’ – represented a significant shift in power.  Ever since the Norman conquest, power rested with the elites: the king, the barons and gradually the landowners and aristocracy.  Concessions were drawn from them as a result of unrest, riots or events such as the Peterloo massacre.  Magna Carta sought to restore some of the rights enjoyed during Saxon times.  The ‘Glorious Revolution’ brought further changes.  The Great Reform Act some more.

We were subjects not citizens.  The HRA changed that and gave citizens a range of fundamental rights (some of which are conditional).  It would appear that for a small number of Conservative backbenchers in the Common Sense group this is troubling.  Yet Mr Kruger’s chapter never gives solid reasons for change, only rather nebulous arguments which crumble away on close reading. 

*Devizes is a small town 25 miles north of Salisbury.


A recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission 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 and the reviews of the Human Rights Act and the legal process of Judicial Review.  

The report also covers the topics of ‘educational attainment’, ‘hate crime and hate speech’, ‘human trafficking and modern slavery’ and ‘mental health’. It concludes that: “Women, ethnic minorities and disabled people remain under-represented in politics and diversity data is inadequate. Candidates sharing certain protected characteristics are disproportionately subject to abuse and intimidation, and long-term funding is needed to ensure disabled people’s equal participation.” 

The EHRC considers that there has been a severe regression of human rights with The Coronavirus Act and the removal of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights from domestic law after Brexit. 

The United Kingdom is signed up to seven UN human rights treaties. The EHRC’s report clearly demonstrates the UK government’s lack commitment to ensure its citizens’ rights are properly protected.  The EHRC’s full report: Check on UK Government progress | Human Rights Tracker


Amnesty International celebrates its 60th anniversary this year and the local group braved the inclement weather to take a group shot to mark the occasion. The Salisbury group was established a few years after AI was formed and is still going strong. The need for human rights organisations is even stronger than ever with many examples around the world of people’s rights being infringed.

In Yemen there is the continuing war and bombing of civilians continues unabated; the genocide of Rohingya in Burma (Myanmar); Syria; wars in the Horn of Africa are just some examples.

In the UK we remain concerned at government attempts to stifle freedoms of assembly, the Judiciary and their long term desire to curtail or abolish the Human Rights Act.

If you live in the south Wiltshire area and would like to join us, you would be very welcome.


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