Archive for the ‘“Human rights”’ Category


Signing in the Library passage on Saturday 15 December

We will be holding our annual card signing this Christmas in the Library passage in Salisbury starting at 9 am for around 3 hours.  We will have four prisoners of conscience from around the world and we ask that people sign one or more of these.  We will then post them to the prisoners.

Prisoners of conscience are people who are imprisoned for their beliefs or because they displease the powers in their country.  They are not violent.  Thousands are held in this way, often without being charged and without access to lawyers.  Many countries which have signed up to uphold human rights standards do this, the most recent example is Turkey.  But China has ten of thousands in prisons and in vast camps.  

If you are in Salisbury this Saturday, please spend a minute or two to sign a card.  

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Is the situation with human rights around the world in terminal decline?

The title of this piece ‘What’s it got to do with us?’ was said at a signing in Salisbury by someone invited to sign a card for a prisoner of conscience.  She did not sign.  Of course, anyone involved in any kind of street signing will have come across this kind of response from people who are not persuaded there is any point in sending such cards and who do not think someone in prison in a foreign country has anything to do with us anyway.

This year sees the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  This was done following the second world war and with the formation of the United Nations itself was part of a belief that there had to be a better way for countries to organise their affairs.  Although there was a desire for such a better way, it would be a mistake to overlook the difficulties in negotiations to get UNDHR agreed.  The colonial powers – principally UK and France – had worries about what was happening in their colonies.  They were reluctant to see rights being applied there especially in view of the brutal suppression of freedom movements.  Nevertheless, it was signed and it did usher in a new world order.

Looking at the world today however, does not lead us to believe that we are on an improving trend.  It is hard to select from a series of terrible events to illustrate the point.  The suppression of free speech and the arrest of thousands of journalists and academics in Turkey is one example of many elements of the declaration being ignored.  Syria, which has seen thousands die from bombing and the use of gas, is another example, this time by a member of the UN Security Council itself, namely Russia.  In China, vast internment camps established in Xinjiang to detain hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, and the arrest of human rights lawyers has been detailed in a UN report.  As Human Rights Watch expresses it:

The broad and sustained offensive on human rights that started after President Xi Jinping took power five years ago showed no sign of abating in 2017.  The death of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo in a hospital under heavy guard in July highlighted the Chinese government’s deepening contempt for rights.  The near future for human rights appears grim, especially as Xi is expected to remain in power at least until 2022.  Foreign governments did little in 2017 to push back against China’s worsening rights record at home and abroad.  World Report, 2018 [accessed 18 November 2018]

In Yemen, which this site has featured in a number of blogs, has seen a country taken to edge of viable existence by a campaign of bombing by Saudi Arabia and atrocities by the Houthis.  The Saudis have been supported by arms from the UK, France and the USA.  British RAF personnel are supposedly advising the Saudis.  The point here is not just the misery inflicted on the country but that schools, hospitals, weddings and other community events have been targeted in the bombing campaign.

Seventy years after the signing of the Declaration, we should be celebrating steady improvements across the world.  We are not.  Rights and freedoms are routinely violated in many countries around the world.  Torture is still widely practised by the majority of countries: countries that have signed up not to use it.   Even countries like the UK have been found shamefully outsourcing its use of this abhorrent practice to Libya.

We could go on listing wars, the displacing of millions including the Rohingya from Burma, the continuing scourge of slavery which is probably at a higher level today than during the triangular trade, and the murder of journalists in countries like Russia.

Here in Salisbury we have seen the brazen Novichok attack on the Skripals by what seems, beyond doubt, to have been Russian GRU agents.  In Turkey there has been the murder and probable dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.  None of this kind of activity is new – the CIA have been involved in murders and coups especially in South America – but that we have become inured to it.  To turn on the news is to witness war, misery, tides of refugees fleeing persecution or war, stricken cities and starving peoples.   There is a distinct feeling that the international rules based order ushered in after the second world war, now seems to be crumbling.  Famines in the ’80s and ’90s in Ethiopia and Somalia resulted in huge humanitarian efforts and the British public were moved by the scenes and reportage from the area.  Considerable sums were collected to help.  Today, we see the enormous damage and misery in Yemen but there is no sense of national outrage.

Causes 

John Bew, in a New Statesman¹ article, argues that the events of 2007 and 2008 were an important factor.  This is part of the theme of Adam Tooze’s recent book Crashed: how a decade of financial crises changed the world².  Up until the crash, there was a feeling of ever increasing prosperity (for some at least) and that free market ideology had won the day.  The crash destroyed that belief and importantly, ordinary people, not especially steeped in economic thought, began to realise that things were not right.  There was also a shift in power eastwards towards China and away from the west.  With it, the assumptions of democracy, free trade, and a rules based order had been weakened.  With the increasing interconnectedness of the world order and global trade, the ability of societies to deal with the ‘left behinds’ diminished.

With this decline, countries like the UK needed to work harder to sell goods to pay their way in the world.  That often meant looking the other way when we sold arms to unsavoury regimes.  ‘If we do not sell them, the Chinese will’ was a common belief.  Although the UK government often proclaims that we have a tough regime for arms control, the fact remains that brokers and dealers frequently and all too easily circumvent them.

The architects of the new world order after WW2 were the victorious powers: USA, China, Russia, UK and France.  These are the biggest seller of arms today joined perhaps by Israel and Germany.  The very countries wanting to achieve peace in the world are those busy selling the means to destroy it.

As the Amnesty annual report puts it:

In 2017, the world witnessed a rollback of human rights.  Signs of a regression were everywhere.  Across the world governments continued to clampdown on the rights to protest, and women’s rights took a nosedive in the USA, Russia and Poland.
From Venezuela to Tunisia, we witnessed the growth of a formidable social discontent, as people were denied access to their fundamental human rights to food, clean water, healthcare and shelter.
And from the US to the European Union and Australia, leaders of wealthy countries continued to approach the global refugee crisis with outright callousness, regarding refugees not as human beings with rights but as problems to be deflected.
In this climate, state-sponsored hate threatens to normalise discrimination against minority groups.  Xenophobic slogans at a nationalist march in Warsaw, Poland and sweeping crackdowns on LGBTI communities from Chechnya to Egypt showed how the open advocacy of intolerance is increasing.  Annual Report 2017/18 [extract]

Prospects

The prospects for human rights around the world look grim.  The idea of a steady improvement around the world does not look promising.  The belief in a new world order following the war also looks rather thin and forlorn.  With the major countries, who should be setting an example but are not doing so, the chance of improvement in the future does not look great.

In the UK, the are some in government who would like to remove the Human Rights Act from the statute book to be replaced by a weakened bill yet to be published.  If that ever sees the light of day we shall be campaigning against it.

There is also the problem of compassion fatigue.  No sooner does one calamity – whether man made or natural – disappear from our screens, than another one appears.  There seems no time to recover between them.  It is perhaps not surprising that people feel a sense of hopelessness.  The scale of some events is so huge, the quarter of a million Rohingya forcibly displaced  for example, that any response seems puny by comparison.

But people who believe in human rights and their importance in the world continue the fight.  We continue to highlight as many examples of wrong doing as we can.  In the words of our founder ‘better to light a candle than curse the darkness’.

If you live in the Salisbury area we would welcoming you joining us.  Events are posted here and on our Facebook and Twitter pages – salisburyai


  1. Revenge of the Nation State, 9-15 November 2018
  2. Adam Tooze, published by Alan Lane 2018

The fate of Palestinians and Gaza is in the news a lot recently and there is shortly to be a film shown called From Balfour to Banksy: Division and Vision in Palestine.

This will be shown at Sarum College on 27 September at 7:0 for 7:30.  It is free but there is a retiring collection.  The speaker will be Miranda Pinch.  Further information can be obtained from sarumconcern.org


NEWSFLASH
Taner Kılıç has been freed from jail in Turkey

The Salisbury group, along with hundreds of other Amnesty groups around the world, has been campaigning for Taner Kiliç, the Honorary Chair of Amnesty International Turkey.  He has walked out of prison in Istanbul we have just heard after 432 days of torment, unable to hug his wife and daughters, he’s now free.

It’s been over a year of campaigning and struggle.  More than a million of us joined our voices to Free Taner.  Finally, Taner is FREE and with his family.

Six months ago Taner was released on bail, but in a hard-to-imagine stroke of cruelty, he was rearrested the moment he got out – before his family could even hug him and find out if he was OK.

This is why we do what we do.  This is why we advocate, why we make our voices heard, why we stand up for those who have been wrongfully imprisoned when they defend human rights.  Because it works.

Our thanks to all those in Salisbury and surrounding areas, who signed our petition and signed cards for his release.


It is free to join the local group and the best thing to do is keep an eye on this site and come to one of our events and make yourself known.  You can also send a message here or on our Facebook page


UK big four accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers in bid to help Saudi Defence

We still tend to think of professional accountants as respectable members of society.  Accountants are often the butt of jokes about being dull, boring and pedantic their very dullness being some kind of recognition of respectability.  This (respectability that is) is still likely to apply to the small and middle sized firms that inhabit the high streets around the country.  It does not apply to the big four firms of which PwC is one.  There has been a string of financial failures involved these accountancy firms and in the case of PwC, they have recently been fined a staggering $625m for audit failure of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp in the USA on top of other audit failures including Merrill Lynch, RSM Tenon and famously BHS.  They are also involved in the Carilion collapse.  It is a wonder therefore that they continue to enjoy the influence they do but they are closely involved with both main political parties in the UK and in advising the Treasury.

In addition to audit incompetence is their role in tax avoidance.  This is on an ‘industrial scale’ according to a parliamentary committee and involves the design of complex schemes to shuffle money to various tax havens.

We believe that PricewaterhouseCoopers’s activities represent nothing short of the promotion of tax avoidance on an industrial scale,” said Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). 2015

Billions of tax is thus avoided and the moral element of their actions is being questioned more and more.  As the Journal of World Business puts it:

These included apparent PwC entities based in jurisdictions known as tax havens, including for example the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Luxembourg and Mauritius.  In regards to the Big 4′s role in the overall tax strategy of Multinational Enterprise’s (MNEs), it is the earlier ‘LuxLeaks’ of November 2014 which has provided a number of clear insights. These documents showed that PwC assisted MNEs to obtain at least 548 legal but secret tax rulings in Luxembourg from 2002 to 2010.  53(2018) [accessed 1 August 2018]

Further damage

So in addition to audit blunders, and tax avoidance activities on an industrial scale, what more can PwC do to damage its reputation still further?  Never underestimate the skill of a big four accountancy firm to carry on digging once it’s in a hole. It was revealed in Guardian newspaper on 1 August that the firm is negotiating to land a major contract to help streamline and modernise Saudi Arabia’s military.  Readers of this blog will be aware of the role Saudi Arabia is playing in the humanitarian crisis engulfing Yemen, aided by weapons and personnel supplied by the UK.  That a major UK accountancy firm should risk its reputation still further by getting involved in the conflict is hard to understand.

It is also hard to understand in the context of its stated policies of which its website is replete.  This is their human rights statement :

We believe it’s our responsibility to respect and uphold the human rights of our people and any other individuals we are in contact with, either directly or indirectly.  Our unwavering commitment to human rights is demonstrated through our actions, our involvement in voluntary initiatives like the UN Global Compact1, PwC’s Global Human Rights Statement and related guidance for our people.

We work to guard against complicity in human rights abuses, comply with applicable labour and employment laws, and draw on internationally recognised labour principles in how we do business. Our approach to human rights is already well integrated into our existing business practices, for example as part of our Human Capital, Procurement, Ethics & Compliance and Corporate Responsibility activities.

In connection with human rights issues with clients :

If we have concerns that our work will be directly linked to human rights violations by a client, discuss our concerns with relevant parties, seek to mitigate the impacts and only proceed if we are comfortable that our work will not contribute to human rights violations.

Be prepared to walk away from clients and engagements where our integrity could be called into question if we continued

Pious words indeed and giving the impression of a firm committed – sorry, ‘unwaveringly committed’ – to protecting and upholding human rights standards internally and with those it does business.  Yet it is bidding for work in Saudi where beheadings are routine, torture is endemic, women’s rights are tightly restricted and which is engaged in a brutal war in Yemen with thousands dead and many more suffering from disease and malnutrition.

Amnesty

In a statement, Amnesty International said :

Like any company, international accountancy firms should ensure that they avoid contributing to human rights violations in their operations, or being directly linked to them by their business relationships.

We’d like to know what due diligence the company has done.  The United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights make it clear that a company may be viewed as complicit if they are seen to benefit from abuses committed by another party

In the Guardian piece, they say they asked PwC what due diligence it had done but the firm did not respond.

Assisting this regime – and in particular its defence activities – is to be deprecated.  One wonders whether the firm will rethink its tender?  Will it walk away?’  Unlikely.  The big four accountants are now so large (PwC had revenues of $37.7bn in 2016) so infused with hubris and so imbedded with the political process and government that a rethink is unlikely.

Sources: Guardian; Tax Justice Network; Independent; Accountancy Age; Economia; Internal Audit 360°; PwC’s website


If you feel outraged by activities such as these why not join us.  It is free to join locally.  Keep and eye on this site and on Facebook for our next activity and come along and make yourself known.

 

 


Torture report released

Amnesty has just published a report on the use of torture in Yemen.  This adds to the severe stress the country is in.  UK involvement and the critical comments by a select committee can be read here.


We have pleasure in attaching the minutes of the July meeting in which we discussed the Death Penalty, the barbeque, the Trump protest and urgent actions.  Thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.

July minutes (Word)


Local protest planned

The local group is planning a short demonstration against the visit by Donald Trump to the UK.  It will take place in the market square on 13 July starting at 11am for an hour.  The purpose is to highlight his attitude towards immigrants and the decision to withdraw the USA from the Human Rights Council.

Readers are welcome to join us.


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.

New followers

Posted: April 16, 2018 in "Human rights"
Tags: , ,

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.