Archive for the ‘“Human rights”’ Category


Parliament’s concerns are very partial

This week saw parliament reconvene and a major debate take place concerning the attack on chemical weapons facilities in Syria.  These attacks took place in a coordinated way by British, French and American forces and the reason for them was claimed to be the crossing of a ‘red line’ by Assad because of his use of chemical weapons in his latest attack.  This led to calls for parliament to be recalled and considerable debate about whether we should have joined in the bombing.  The Labour leader Jeremy Corbin called for a War Powers Act to be enacted to clarify when a prime minister could and could not engage in military actions.

The death and destruction in Syria is appalling.  The use of barrel bombs dropped on civilian areas has caused terrible damage and thousands of innocent citizens have been killed.  The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates that over 217 thousand civilians have been killed; over 13 thousand have been tortured to death and over 27 thousand children have been killed.  Of those, 80% were killed by Syrian forces and 6% by Russians.  These figures have been broadly supported by the Syrian American Medical Society and White Helmets, an aid agency working in the country.  There has been universal condemnation including by the UN’s Secretary General.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, another conflict is underway also causing considerable death and destruction.  As we noted in an earlier post, thousands have died, cholera is widespread, and the country is being steadily bombed back to the stone age.  Millions have been displaced and medical and other humanitarian supplies are prevented from entering the country because of a blockade.  There has not however been much in the way of outrage from parliamentarians about this and no calls to recall parliament.

Another key difference is while Assad is treated as a pariah, the Saudis who are carrying out the Bin Salman sits flanked by Theresa may and Boris John <figcaption> Boris Johnson and Theresa May rolled out the red carpet for the Saudi Crown Prince. c. Getty Images/Bloomberg </figcaption> </figure> son, with members of his entourage and other Government Ministers seated in rows behind bombing of Yemen – including schools, hospitals, civilian facilities and weddings – are feted in the UK, get to meet the Queen and receive visits by Prince Charles and other members of the royal family.  This is because we are major suppliers of weapons to the regime.  RAF personnel are involved in some way helping the Saudis. (Picture: Campaign Against the Arms Trade)

It was claimed that the justification for the bombing of Syria was the crossing of the red line.  This suggested that Assad had used chemical weapons for the second time and we had to send a message to deter him.

One problem: it is not the first or even the second time he has done this.  The SNHR estimate that he has used them on 207 occasions and on 174 occasions since the Ghouta attack.

207 chemical weapons attacks by Assad

The very notion that a red line has been crossed is therefore not tenable as Assad has regularly used these weapons, on average three times a month.  In addition to chlorine he has on occasion used Sarin.

Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives or have lost loved ones in these terrible conflicts.  The destruction of buildings will take decades to do and billions to repair.  In one case we continue to profit from the supply of arms and roll out the red carpet to those who are responsible: in the other case we say a red line has been crossed – which it has on many, many occasions – and bomb the country.

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Posted: April 16, 2018 in "Human rights"
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It is gratifying to have seen, over the past few months, a steady increase in the number of people following this site.  If you are one of those, welcome.  We hope you find the mix of local group news and some comments on international human rights issues, interesting.

We are always pleased to see new members join the group and as we have said before, the best way is to come along to one of our events and make yourself known.  It is free to join us in Salisbury.  We welcome people from the Salisbury area generally including Amesbury and the Plain, Downton and as far west as Tisbury and Mere.

We also have a Twitter page and we are on Facebook – both can be found with the salisburyai name.


We have reluctantly decided to cancel an event – planned for June this year – which was designed to highlight the positive aspects of the Human Rights Act and the benefits we all receive from human rights legislation generally.  It was to consist of a week of talks and other events in Salisbury with the overall theme of emphasizing how human rights have improved the lot of citizens in the UK.  It was arranged during the anniversary week of Magna Carta.

The idea for the event was spurred by the negative press this legislation receives and the drubbing that European institutions get from our media.  It is connected loosely to the Brexit debate where one of the guiding principles of those who wish to leave the EU is to be free of what they perceive as interference in our justice system by the European Courts.

In planning the event we had assumed that legal firms in Salisbury would be willing to support it and it was something of a surprise that none would.  Indeed, the majority did not reply to our requests.  One firm even hosts a human rights organisation but still did not reply.  We did eventually secure some financial support (from Poole) but it arrived probably too late for us to be able to do the planning.

So it will not now take place which is a pity.  Salisbury has recently become associated with the poisoning issue and allegations that Russia was to blame: highly likely in view of their previous behaviour and the nature of the attack.  At base is the issue of human rights.  Russia – if it is them – is a state in which lawlessness is now the norm.  There is no free press and corruption is the order of the day.  ‘Dirty’ money is looted by the Putin regime and much of it finds its way into the City of London.  Journalists are murdered and anyone looking like they might be a threat is prevented from standing in elections.

In the UK, despite many unsatisfactory aspects in our political process and the revolving door corruption, we are still able to vote them out – a luxury the Russians do not enjoy.  Ordinary people have more rights as a result of the Human Rights Act than previously yet they are constantly told that the act is a menace and needs to be got rid of.   It is sad that we were unable to celebrate this fact.

 

 


Happy Birthday Taner

On 6 June 2017, our friend and colleague Taner Kılıç, a human rights lawyer and the Chair of Amnesty Turkey, was arrested.  He has been in prison ever since.  Taner is currently on trial, charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organization”.  If found guilty he faces up to 15 years in jail.  He has done nothing wrong.  Taner is not a terrorist, Taner is a human rights defender and lawyer.  Taner was one of the first lawyers in Turkey to advocate for the rights of refugees and has spent his working life trying to better the situation of refugees who have fled to Turkey.

Members of the Salisbury group of Amnesty send birthday greetings to Taner.

Salisbury group, Taner

Members of the Salisbury group. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty


If you would like to join the local group you would be very welcome.  Come along to one of our actions and make yourself known.  Details will be posted here and on Twitter and Facebook – salisburyai


Theresa May’s visit to China and human rights

The human rights situation in China is dire.  The list is long and includes excessive use of the death penalty.  The numbers are unknown because they are a state secret but are believed to be in the thousands.  China leads the world and may even execute more than the rest of the world put together.  Torture is common.  There is precious little freedom of speech and journalists reporting in China quickly find police arriving and stopping any interviews.  Under its current premier, repression has increased significantly.

The Great Firewall of China prevents contact with the outside world.  Lawyers and activists are monitored, harassed, arrested and detained.  Religions have a difficult time practising there.  Finally there is Tibet and the poor treatment of Tibetans.  China is a leading exporter of torture equipment including devices that one might have thought to be confined to the middle ages.  Altogether, China infringes nearly all international norms of good behaviour and it matters especially because they are one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

But they are a massive and growing economy and countries want to do business there.  None more so than the UK which hopes to increase trade following our departure from the European Union.  Hence the prime minister’s visit there this week.  As ever with these visits the question of human rights is brought up.  There is a kind of dance performed where the prime minister or her spokespeople claim the matter is brought up and the Chinese say nothing was said.  The Chinese are very sensitive on the subject and historical memories of the Opium wars and the resultant national humiliation are still keenly felt.

But China wants to be considered a modern country yet its dreadful reputation in the way it treats its citizens and minorities holds it back.

It’s not often we get an insight into what was actually said but after this visit, an editorial in the Global Times waxed lyrical over the visit and praised Mrs May for not mentioning human rights.  The prose is odd but the relevant passages are:

[…]

May will definitely not make any comment contrary to the goals of her China trip either.  For the prime minister, the losses outweigh the gains if she appeases the British media at the cost of the visit’s friendly atmosphere.

China’s robust development has instilled impetus for Europe to overcome its prejudices against Beijing.  David Cameron’s government gained Britain strategic initiative by joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Some European media pressed May and Macron on human rights, but the two leaders sidestepped the topic on their China trips.  This shows that the Sino-European relationship has, to a large degree, extricated itself from the impact of radical public opinion.  Leader 2 February 2018

The central problem is that China is a one-party state where dissent is not permitted.  Hence the crackdowns, arrests and suppression of free speech.  As time goes by however, more and more Chinese will travel the world and despite the great wall, gain access to the internet (we note some hits from China on this little site!).  As the country develops, more and more Chinese will look for freedom and to criticize the politicians.  So the Chinese authorities will find it harder and harder – and more expensive – to maintain the status quo.  The denial of human rights therefore is not some kind of esoteric luxury or the west seeking to impose its moral order on them.  It is a crucial part of their development and ramping up repression and arrests is taking the country in quite the wrong direction.

Failure – if failure it was – by Mrs May to bring up the issue of human rights would not have been just another lecture from a western liberal (if that term can be applied to Mrs May) but a crucial issue for the Chinese themselves as they develop into the world’s largest nation.

 

 

 

 

 


Many human rights organisations worried by the Brexit* Bill’s threat to human rights

Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and Liberty are among those who are expressing concerns that the EU (Withdrawal) bill will weaken our human rights protections because it seeks to remove the Charter of Fundamental Rights from our law.  The Charter is important because it protects fundamental issues important to us such as dignity, data, worker’s rights, children and more.  By excluding this, our rights will be weakened.  In their annual report, Human Rights Watch say:

More than six months after the government formally triggered the start of Brexit, significant concerns remained about the status of rights and protection for all UK residents derived from EU law after the UK leaves the EU. A draft law to move EU law into domestic law after Brexit raised serious concerns about granting broad powers to the executive to amend laws undermining rights without parliamentary scrutiny, and excluding rights currently protected under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (HRW, 2018)

Amnesty has raised similar concerns:

While the Bill claims to be copying and pasting EU derived law into domestic law, it leaves one, crucial element behind on the cutting room floor – the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.  The Charter plays an important role in our domestic rights protection architecture.  Unlike the European Convention on Human Rights (which has nothing to do with the EU), the Charter only applies when EU law is in issue – like questions about data retention, or pension rights – but it provides stronger protection than the ECHR in those areas (judges can use it to ‘strike down’ primary legislation, like they did when the Brexit Minister David Davis MP used it himself in a privacy case recently!) It is a clear statement of fundamental rights which we all enjoy.  If this is simply a cut and paste job as the government says, then why is the only thing they are leaving behind our rights protection?

The current government has had a long and at times tortuous relationship with human rights.  It is surprising to compare a Conservative government after the war, led by Winston Churchill, who was instrumental in pushing for improved rights and which led to the current architecture of law on the subject, with the current government who wants to abolish the Human Rights Act and remove the Charter as well.

The reasons are complex and sometimes hard to fathom.  It is connected in part with a dislike of all things European.  Europe is the cause of so many of our problems it is claimed and once Brexit is accomplished, we shall be free.  According to Mrs. May, it prevents us deporting dangerous criminals which it doesn’t.  We are unable to deport some people because of various treaties which prevent us sending people to a country where they are likely to be tortured.  It overrides parliament they claim and so we need to do this to regain our sovereignty.  It does not.  But the myths, endlessly repeated by politicians and some parts of the media are widely believed.

We should be extremely concerned.  The bill also contains what are known as ‘Henry VIII powers’ which enable ministers to by-pass parliament.  Without the Charter in place, which underpins human rights law, the government risks getting clogged up in a series of legal cases.  Fundamental protections can easily be removed almost on a whim.

* Amnesty has no position on Brexit itself


If you live in the Salisbury area and want to become involved in human rights activities, you would be most welcome.  Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook or Twitter – salisburyai – and come along to an event and make yourself known.  Or contact us via Facebook.  It is free to join the local group.


Removal of the Charter of Fundamental rights delayed – for now

News this week that the government has delayed removing the European Charter of Fundamental Rights from the Brexit bill is to be welcomed.  Theresa May as Home Secretary and Chris Grayling when he was Justice Secretary both pledged to do this and a commitment has been a feature of the Conservative manifesto for some time.  There is a strong desire to curb the role of European law in this country and ‘bringing back our sovereignty’ was a familiar claim in the Referendum debate.

The Charter has played an important role in improving equality, privacy and children’s rights.  Opposition to it is based on an exaggerated view of the degree of interference by the European court into the law of this country when in fact it has been slight.

We have argued for some time now that the government is going to have its hands full dealing with Brexit and will not want to be involved in protracted commons time trying to wrestle through this aspect of the bill.  The Lords are likely to reject it anyway.


Paradise Papers the latest to shine a light on the multi-billion pound avoidance industry

The publication of the Paradise Papers which have revealed yet more insights and names of those engaged in the murky world of massive tax avoidance, has so far stayed clear of discussing the human rights angle to this activity.  A letter in today’s Guardian newspaper, written jointly by Helena Kennedy and Hans Corel, draws attention to this particular aspect.  The huge outflow of resources from the developing world means governments are starved of the resources to tackle poverty, improve their health and education systems and to upgrade infrastructure generally.  A staggering $859bn was lost in 2010 and the cumulative loss between 2001 and 2010 amounted to $5.86trn *.  It often comes a surprise to people when it is pointed out for example that Africa, taken as a whole, is a net creditor to the rest of the world.  This is a combination of corruption, resource extraction and tax avoidance.  So while aid is paid into the country, more money flows out because of tax avoidance and criminal activity.

The Paradise Papers follows on from other leaks including the Panama Papers, Lux leaks and others which exposes the scale of the perfectly legal tax avoidance industry and names some of those involved.  These have included the Queen’s Duchy of Lancaster estate, Prince Charles and a slew of celebrities, media and sports people.  Several said they did not know this was being done in their name.

The letter draws attention to a report prepared by the International Bar Association in 2013.  This 262 page report examines exhaustively the nature of this activity and came before some of the recent revelations.  The key question for us is the link between this activity and human rights and the report discusses this in detail since it is not entirely direct.  In the report is says:

Most stakeholders tended to agree that there is an important distinction between labelling tax abuses as ‘legal violations of human rights’ versus stating that tax abuses have ‘negative impacts on human rights’.  Depending on the scope and scale of the tax abuses, they might have a significant impact on human rights.  As one tax authority expressed it: ‘What do we need to fulfill economic, social and cultural rights?  Resources including taxes.  Therefore, tax abuses are clearly a human rights issue when massive amounts are lost from State revenues.’ p96

To the extent that tax abuses have an impact on poverty and that poverty has an impact on human rights, as outlined above, it is possible to make a connection between tax abuses and human rights.  Most simply put, tax abuses deprive governments of the resources required to respect, promote and fulfil human rights. More dramatic examples of human rights impacts can be imagined when you juxtapose the billions of dollars that are said to be flowing out of developing countries with the comparatively small amounts that are required to lift individuals, families and communities out of the most extreme forms of poverty. p103

In a summary on p148  they say:

Human rights have not often been part of the global debate about tax matters. However, a human rights analysis can strengthen our understanding of poverty and development, as well as reinforce our determination to confront tax abuses.  In the recently adopted UN Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights describes how extreme poverty is connected as a cause or consequence of violations of numerous human rights, including all the key human rights principles − ranging from the right to life, the right to food, the right to health, the right to education, the right to social security and principles of non-discrimination, participation, transparency and accountability.

Simply put, tax abuses deprive governments of the resources required to provide the programmes that give effect to economic, social and cultural rights, and to create and strengthen the institutions that uphold civil and political rights.  Actions of states that encourage or facilitate tax abuses, or that deliberately frustrate the efforts of other states to counter tax abuses, could constitute a violation of their international human rights obligations, particularly with respect to economic, social and cultural rights.  p148  Our italics

It is important to recognise therefore that this is not a victimless activity.

The City of London is a key player in the avoidance industry and is surrounded by a worldwide network of islands which have secrecy in one form or another as part of their appeal to international corporations, rich individuals, criminals and despotic governments.  These include the Isle of Man, Jersey, British Virgin Islands, and several more.

The report also devotes space to non-state actors and in particular the international corporations such as Apple, Amazon, Starbucks and several others.  These are able to move funds between one jurisdiction and another employing various legal techniques such as ‘The Swiss Role’ ‘Going Dutch’ and Thinning on Top’.  Apple featured most strongly in the latest revelations.


For those who would like to read the report in full it can be accessed from this link.  Full report

*586 000 000 000 000 US dollars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ice and Fire perform the Asylum Monologues in Salisbury

Asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees get a poor press in the United Kingdom especially at the tabloid end of the market.  They are

Daily Express front page: 2014

described in biblical terms as ‘flooding’ into the country, of consuming a large part of the benefits budget, taking jobs and houses from British people and driving down wages.  Immigrants and asylum seekers are labelled ‘illegal’ and a picture is constantly painted of crisis levels of immigration doing harm to the country.  A Daily Express front page is illustrated but many such pages and headlines could be here instead.  It cannot be denied that there are problems arising from immigration but the lack of balance in the reporting is to be regretted.

The benefits brought to the nation rarely get a mention.  Indeed, it was revealed by Sir Vince Cable recently that Theresa May, as Home Secretary, suppressed nine reports showing such benefits.  On balance the economy of the country is in credit as far as the effect of immigrants are concerned.

Ice and Fire

Asylum seekers (who are never illegal asylum seekers) are part of those seeking to settle here.  On Monday 18 September 2017, Ice and Fire performed Asylum Monologues at Sarum College in the Close.  Ice and Fire are a group of actors who tour the country and read testimonies from people who have experienced traumatic events in their home countries who have made it to this country and are seeking asylum.  The testimonies change over time as new events unfold.

Ice and Fire. L to r: Liz; Chris & Emily. Pic: Salisbury Anesty

The first testimony was of a woman who left Uganda.  She had campaigned for women’s rights.  To do so risked being called a ‘rebel’.  Then 20 soldiers arrived in the village one day and took her to an army prison.  There she was severely mistreated, tortured and raped in front of her husband.  After 4 months she – along with four others – managed to escape three of whom were shot.  Recaptured, she was taken to a ‘safe’ house which was quite the opposite for its inmates.  Finally, she managed to escape to England possibly with the aid of her husband (she did not know).  She never saw him again.

She was in such a dreadful physical state on arrival she was taken to hospital and put on a drip.  She was pregnant but it was too late to have a termination.  Then began the process of seeking leave to remain with the Home Office.  This was an extremely lengthy process, and akin to a kind of ‘mental torture’ she said because it went on so long and you never knew how it would end.  At one point she was at risk of being deported back to Uganda and being tortured again.  After a long process of appeals she eventually won her indefinite leave to appeal.  Using DNA analysis she was reunited with her daughter she had not seen for eight years.

The second testimony was of a successful businessman from Syria who had seen his businesses looted and finally left the country and via Turkey and Greece made it to the UK.

Border Agency

But arguably the most chilling testimony was of someone called Louise who used to work for the UK Border Agency in Cardiff.  It was hard to believe that the things she described took place in this country and not somewhere in some despotic state.  On her first day her line manager said about children seeking asylum ‘if it was up to me I would take them out and shoot them.’  Conceivably, this could be an example of black humour albeit in poor taste, but it was said in all seriousness.

She was given combat training because some of the claimants are potentially dangerous.  She asked the trainer how many cases in three years have you granted asylum to and the reply was 3.  Just three.

The prevailing ethos of the Agency was not to let anyone in if at all possible.  The most chilling aspect to her story was the ‘Grant Monkey’.  This was not some kind of reward for good work but was placed on someone’s desk if they allowed a claim to succeed.  It was designed as a ‘mark of shame’.  Perhaps the one achievement resulting from her whistle-blowing was that this loathsome practice no longer exists.  One of the problems she said was people were recruited from university with no other experience of life and were put on the front line.  She said there was need for a Macpherson style Report into the Agency.  This was the 1999 report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence which shone light on race relations in the UK and coined the phrase ‘institutional racism’.

Juxtaposing testimonies of people who have experienced terrible and traumatic events in their lives including rape and torture and who may have lost all their worldly goods in the process of escaping, with the attitude of our Border Agency was decidedly shaming.  There is no denying that some people claiming asylum are far from deserving cases and may even people who have perpetrated terrible actions on others.  So there is need for rigorous scrutiny of claims.  This is different from treating all such people in the way they do.  Basic rights are not allowed during interviews of immigrants who may be vulnerable and traumatized.

This was an excellent performance and we hope to invite the group back again in the future.


If you live in the Salisbury area and you would like to join us you would be very welcome.  It is free to join.  The best thing is to come along to an event such as this and make yourself known.  Keep an eye on this site or on Twitter or Facebook if you prefer (salisburyai)

 

 


NCA admits not seeking Ministerial consent before supplying information to the Thai police

In 2014 there two British backpackers, Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, were murdered on a beach in Thailand and for days the press was full of the story.  It was reported at the time that the Thai police were extremely slow to react and allowed crucial evidence to be lost and for likely suspects to escape.  It was further alleged that the Thai authorities were reluctant to take the matter sufficiently seriously because of the possible damage to their tourist trade.

Three years later the case has again hit the headlines as it now appears that the National Crime Agency has been accused of supplying information to the Thai Police.  The significance is that two Burmese individuals, Zaw Lin and Wai Pho have been convicted of the murders and are likely to face execution by lethal injection.  The High Court in the UK found against the NCA for providing information which contributed to the likelihood of execution.  The UK government opposes capital punishment and there are strict rules governing the provision of information in these cases.  Ministerial authority is needed and in this case the NCA did not get this.

Doubts have been raised about the convictions as there is evidence of corruption, incompetence and the use of fabricated evidence used to secure a conviction.  The use of torture is also alleged.

A spokesman for Reprieve said:

It is bad enough that the National Crime Agency secretly handed over evidence to help secure death sentences in a country known for unfair trials and torture.  But they now admit they did this illegally, without any proper thought that their actions could contribute to a grave miscarriage of justice with two men now facing execution.  UK cooperation with foreign police and security forces should be open and transparent.  Government agencies shouldn’t have to be dragged through the courts for the public to know what is being done with their money.


Sources: The News; Reprieve; The Guardian; Press Association

If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in campaigning on human rights issues we would be glad to welcome.  It is free to join the local group.  Keep and eye on this site, on Twitter  or Facebook for events and come along and make yourself known.