Archive for the ‘torture’ Category


Select committee issues two damning reports on UK’s role in torture

The Intelligence and Security Committee released its report in the UK’s role in torture on 28 June 2018 and this revealed the shocking extent of MI6’s involvement.  It is government policy, and the legal position, that the UK does not use torture nor does it outsource the practice to other agencies or governments.  It is counterproductive since under torture, victims are likely to say anything to get it to stop.  The evidence thus gleaned is of doubtful value as was dramatically shown in Iraq and our decision to invade.  It is also a key part of the Human Rights Act.  Article 3 protects you from:

– torture (mental or physical)
– inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and
– deportation or extradition (being sent to another country to face criminal charges) if there is a real risk you will face torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the country concerned.
As you would expect, public authorities must not inflict this sort of treatment on you. They must also protect you if someone else is treating you in this way. If they know this right is being breached, they must intervene to stop it. The state must also investigate credible allegations of such treatment.  Equality and Human Rights Commission

That we were involved in this activity has been known for some time although often the details were not available.  So were the denials and here is Jack Straw – the Home Secretary for much of the time when this was happening – claiming in an interview:

Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.  Quoted by Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2012 [accessed 3 July 2018]

Peter Oborne continued: After Mr Straw spoke out, further denials followed. Tony Blair insisted that Britain had never engaged in the practice.  Mr Straw’s successor, David Miliband, was equally adamant.  Sir John Scarlett, until recently head of the Secret Intelligence Service (and the official responsible for the notorious dossier of September 2002 which asserted that Saddam Hussein was capable of deploying weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes) was forthright. “Our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else,” he said, adding that there was “no complicity in torture.  (ibid)

The scale of the activity revealed by this report was a surprise.  Up until the report was published it was known that the activity had taken place on a modest scale but the facts show otherwise:

• On 232 occasions UK intelligence officers were found to have continued supplying questions to foreign agencies between 2001 and 2010, despite knowing or suspecting a prisoner was being tortured or mistreated.
• There were 198 occasions when UK intelligence officers received information from a prisoner whom they knew was being mistreated.
• In a further 128 cases, foreign intelligence bodies told UK intelligence agencies prisoners were being mistreated.
• MI5 or MI6 offered to help fund at least three rendition operations.
• The agencies planned or agreed to a further 28 rendition operations.
• They provided intelligence to assist with a further 22 rendition operations.
• Two MI6 officers consented to mistreatment meted out by others.  Only one of these incidents has been investigated by police.
• In a further 13 cases, UK intelligence officers witnessed an individual being tortured or mistreated.
• MI5, MI6 and the military conducted up to 3,000 interviews of prisoners held at Guantanamo.
• No attempt is being made to find out whether guidelines introduced by the coalition government in 2010 are helping to prevent the UK’s intelligence agencies from continuing to be involved in human rights abuses.
• The UK breached its commitment to the international prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
• On at least two occasions ministers took “inappropriate” decisions.
• Jack Straw authorised payment of “a large share of the costs” of the rendition of two people in October 2004. The Guardian 2 July 2018

Not that this is the full story.  The government prevented individual officers from giving evidence so there may well be more to come out in future.  On this matter, Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty said:

It is obvious that the ISC was prevented by the Government from producing a thorough report about what really happened – it says so itself.  The ISC had no powers to summon witnesses or demand full evidence, and its findings were always subject to redaction and veto from the Prime Minister herself.  Instead of the independent, judge-led torture inquiry promised by David Cameron, we’ve had an under-powered, over-controlled review by a committee that was never empowered to get the job done.  While the Committee’s report represents a helpful step forwards, it is not the definitive account of what really happened. It was always the wrong tool for the job.
With the President of the United States personally praising waterboarding and the CIA led by someone closely linked to torture, now is not the time to brush this issue under the carpet. We need a full judge-led inquiry now.  Amnesty statement 

The Response

In the face of damning evidence and a considerable amount of research carried out by the committee over many years, one might have thought that a contrite response from the head of MI6 at the time, Sir Richard Dearlove, would be appropriate, if not a full apology.  Not a bit of it.  Here he is quoted in the Sun* newspaper:

As far as my former service is concerned, the mistreatment issue has been blown out of proportion by pressure from certain interest groups [one assumes Amnesty is among them].  There never was a systemic problem, and there are no skeletons in the cupboard from my time.  The staff served the nation magnificently and with due care for our respect for the law.  In extreme circumstances, there will always be incidents that one regrets.  But nothing illegal was perpetrated – which is as achievement given the extent of the provocation.  Warning of the chilling effect that the MPs’ withering criticism could have, the ex-spymaster added: It’s time to move on and not allow our willingness to take risks to be diminished.  The Sun 29 June 2018

No mea culpa there.  Quite what the ‘provocation’ is not explained.  Torture seems to be part of a need to ‘take risks’.  This quotation – if it is an accurate statement of his position – is disgraceful.  That the former head of the service brushes aside a comprehensive and detailed description of our – and his service’s role – in water boarding, stress positions and other forms of degrading treatment is utterly reprehensible.  His defence seems to rest on the fact that MI6 officers did not actually do the torturing themselves.

But he is not alone.  This is the Sun’s editorial position:

WHAT did we gain by MPs blowing five years probing what MI5 and MI6 knew of the US torture of terror suspects back in 2001?  Their report admits our spooks were directly involved only twice.  And if it extracted vital intelligence preventing further atrocities after 9/11, so what if we turned a blind eye?  Yes, torture is barbaric.  But the CIA firmly believes it saved lives.  Would those people wringing their hands over it prefer to have risked thousands more being massacred by al-Qaeda?

Still perpetuating the myth that torture is necessary and saves lives.

As a nation we pride ourselves on civilised behaviour.  We promote such behaviour around the world and in the UN.  We are signatories to key treaties and it is government policy that we do not torture people.  We have the Human Rights Act which prohibits it.  Government ministers constantly claim that such practices are alien to our culture and way of doing things.  We have a fundamental sense of decency it is claimed.  However, Peter Beaumont, a journalist with the Observer, says over the years he has ‘been lied to a lot’.

British intelligence officers, despite all the denials, were aware of the mistreatment, they benefited from it and even supplied their own questions for the victims of mistreatment despite knowing those being interrogated were being brutalized.  1 July 2018 

Even now, people like Sir Richard Dearlove are in denial.  The government has done all it can to frustrate the enquiry and to prevent it getting to the truth.  Jack Straw and others have many questions to answer.


Joint statement by human rights organisations

*a tabloid newspaper part of the Murdoch group in the UK.

 

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Independent judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in torture needed
No one should be subject to torture

Article 5: No one should be subject to torture. Image from the tapestry

Amnesty International believes that there is credible evidence that the UK has been involved in grave human rights violations perpetrated against people held overseas by other authorities since the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001.

The UN Convention Against Torture states that ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture’.  It also states there should be a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there is reasonable ground to believe an act of torture has been committed.

The Human Rights Act 1998 also prohibits torture under any circumstances, and that obligation implicitly requires a prompt independent investigation of credible allegations – the more so when there appears to be a ‘systemic’ problem.   The existence of evidence requires the establishment of an independent, impartial and thorough judge-led inquiry, now.  Credible allegations implicate the UK in torture or other ill-treatment, unlawful detentions and renditions.  Over the years, Amnesty International and others have documented cases of the UK’s involvement in these abuses, including:

  • UK personnel were present at interrogations of detainees held unlawfully overseas in circumstances in which the UK knew, or ought to have known, that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of being tortured and/or whose detention was unlawful and even that they participated in such interrogations  
  • UK personnel provided information (e.g. telegrams sent by UK intelligence personnel to intelligence services of other countries) that led the USA and other countries to apprehend and detain individuals when the UK knew or ought to have known that these people would then be at risk of torture and/or unlawful detention    
  • The UK was involved in the US-led programme of renditions and secret detentions through, for example, the use of UK territory (e.g. Diego Garcia) and/or airspace    
  • UK personnel forwarded questions to be put to individuals detained by other countries in circumstances in which the UK knew or ought to have known that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of being tortured and/or whose detention was unlawful 
  • The UK systematically received information extracted from people detained overseas in circumstances in which it knew or ought to have known that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of torture and/or whose detention was unlawful.

Testimony
A number of individuals – including former Guantánamo Bay detainees – have spoken publicly about UK involvement in their mistreatment.  Shaker Aamer, who was released from Guantánamo in October 2015, after nearly 14 years without charge or trial, has said for example that a UK official was in the room when his head was beaten against a wall.

Binyam Mohamed

Binyam Mohamed

In 2008 the High Court confirmed that the UK, through its security service MI5, had facilitated the interrogation of Binyam Mohamed in the knowledge that his initial detention in Pakistan was unlawful. Then, during a two-year period, the UK continued to facilitate interviews conducted on behalf of the US authorities when it must have realised that Binyam Mohamed was being held unlawfully by a third country and knew or ought to have known that there was a real risk that he was being tortured.

Proper investigation needed

stop torture

Image: Amnesty Paris

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has now been given the task of investigating allegations of UK complicity in torture, but Amnesty International, along with many other anti-torture organisations including the UN, believes that the ISC is wholly unsuited to the task in hand.  The structural limitations of the ISC, particularly its lack of power and independence from government, means that any investigation the ISC conducts is unlikely to get to the truth, and cannot satisfy the UK’s human rights obligations. The ISC is not a traditional Parliamentary committee, even though it is made up of parliamentarians.  Ministers ultimately decide what evidence the Committee can see, with the Prime Minister controlling what it can publish and even who can be a member. Crucially, the government retains the right to withhold information considered to be “sensitive” or on grounds of national security from the ISC.  The definition of what constitutes sensitive information is extremely broad and notably includes information provided by a foreign intelligence agency which can object to further disclosure of that information.  Any Secretary of State can determine material is sensitive and in the interests of national security should not be disclosed to the ISC.

Poor record
The ISC has a poor record in holding the intelligence services to account. In 2007, three years after the rendition of the Libyan families, the ISC produced a report which said that there was “no evidence that the UK Agencies were complicit in any “Extraordinary Rendition” operations.”

Historical context
In July 2010, the Prime Minister promised to establish an independent inquiry into allegations of UK involvement in torture and other human rights violations with respect to individuals detained abroad in the context of counter-terrorism operations.  At the time, David Cameron specifically ruled out the possibility of the ISC carrying out the investigation, recognising that an inquiry led by a judge who is “fully independent of Parliament, party and Government” was required “to get to the bottom of the case”.

In 2011 the Detainee Inquiry was established, led by the retired judge Sir Peter Gibson.  Amnesty International and a number of other organisations felt that the Detainee Inquiry fell short of the UK’s international human rights obligations and domestic obligations under the Human Rights Act to fully and independently investigate allegations of UK involvement in torture and other ill-treatment.  Of most concern was that the government retained final say on what material could be disclosed to the public and that the protocol did not provide for an independent mechanism to decide on disclosure of national security material.

In January 2012 the Detainee Inquiry was suspended, after Scotland Yard announced a criminal investigation into joint UK/Libyan operations which had resulted in the rendition of Libyan opposition figures. Those investigations are ongoing.

In December 2013 the Detainee Inquiry interim report was published.  It highlighted that the evidence it had received indicated that UK agents were aware of abuse of some detainees by other governments and that the UK government may have been involved in rendition.  It outlined 27 separate issues that should be subjected to further investigation. Amnesty and others expected this to be followed by a proper full judge led inquiry.

Dominic Grieve QC MP

Dominic Grieve QC MP

Instead, on 19 December 2013, it was announced that the ISC had been tasked with examining allegations of UK complicity in torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held overseas, which had previously been the subject of the Detainee Inquiry.  In September 2015 Dominic Grieve was appointed as the new Chair of the ISC.  There is as yet no news on its work in this area.


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UN Security Council: North Korea

Posted: December 15, 2015 in North Korea, torture, UN

North Korea is not forgotten

The UN Security Council has a chance to show that the world has not forgotten about the victims of crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in North Korea, and that those responsible will face justice

said Nicole Bjerler, Deputy Representative at Amnesty International’s UN office in New York.

This meeting should serve as a wake-up call to the North Korean authorities to put an immediate end to the systematic, widespread and grave human rights violations that persist in the country. A starting point would be for them to cooperate with the UN and let independent human rights monitors into the country.

The meeting on Thursday is a significant step forward in the UN Security Council’s commitment to address the horrific human rights situation in North Korea alongside peace and security.

“Peace and security cannot be separated from respect for human rights, accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims and their families. These issues urgently demands the Security Council’s continued attention,” said Nicole Bjerler.

International pressure on North Korea has been building since the publication of the UN Commission of Inquiry report in February 2014.  The damning report documented widespread human rights violations including forced labour, deliberate starvation, executions, torture, rape, infanticide, and up to 120,000 men, women, and children detained incommunicado in North Korea’s political prison camp system – a situation described as “without parallel in the contemporary world”.

Last December, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution which, among other measures, called on the UN Security Council to take appropriate action to ensure accountability, including through consideration of referral of the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court.  The General Assembly is reiterating its call in this year’s resolution, which was adopted by the Third Committee on 19 November and is to be formally adopted in the Plenary next week.

“The UN Security Council must seize the opportunity today to tell perpetrators of crimes against humanity in North Korea that ultimately they will be held accountable,” said Nicole Bjerler.

 


Will torture equipment be on display this week in London?

The London Arms fair, DSEI, opens on 15th September at the ExCel centre at which – in addition to the range of arms large and small – torture equipment has been displayed in past years.  No doubt drones will be on display which enable executions to be carried out from thousands of miles away.  The exhibition runs under conditions of great security and in the past, the comedian Mark Thomas was able to set up a fake stall and interest various passing visitors with his torture equipment.

Arms-Fair---share-assets-email-Sep-2015

The four day exhibition is supported by the government and is an exclusive expo of deadly weapons and arms with a history of companies advertising illegal torture equipment.  Britain has sold arms to 19 of the 23 countries listed by the UN for grave violations against children.

There is a kind of irony that two weeks ago the country was shaken by the death of Aylan Kurdi which prompted a volte face by our government and has seen Mr Cameron in the Lebanon visiting the camps.  The Chancellor, George Osborne spoke of the need to tackle the refugee crisis at source yet we host an event which supplies deadly equipment to countries like Saudi Arabia; Turkmenistan; Pakistan; Libya and Colombia where respect for human rights is almost non-existent.

We want to see the government to stop illegal torture equipment being advertised in the UK.

Poster by Amnesty International


UPDATE: 3 August

At the end of this blog we wrote ‘it seems therefore that nothing will change’.  How wrong can you be as it has just been announced that the FCO will no longer be specifically campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty.  The FCO to us was dated 6 July and Mr Glen’s covering letter dated 14 July.  So in the space of a few weeks abolishing the death penalty world wide has gone from ‘a human rights priority for the UK’ to being no longer a policy.  The group plans to write to Mr Glen again to seek clarification.


The Salisbury Group wrote to the local MP, Mr John Glen to ask for a more robust response by our government to the No to the death penaltybarbaric activities of the Saudi government in particular the increasing number of executions which are taking place.  In our letter we said:

[we are writing] to you in connection with the increasing level of executions currently taking place in Saudi Arabia.  (Over the course of the first five months of this year, the number of executions has equalled that of the whole of 2014).

You will no doubt be aware that on his recent visit to the country, President Francois Hollande made a public statement to the effect that all executions, not just those of his own nationals, should be banned, and called for the abolition of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

M. Hollande was prepared to do this, despite the fact that France – as does the United Kingdom – has significant financial interests in the its dealings with Saudi Arabia. The British government, however, has never seen fit to raise the issue in public, preferring to pursue a policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’.  This policy has manifestly had no effect.  Numbers continue to rise, and the Saudi Government have now advertised for eight additional executioners – ‘no particular skills required.’

As a group, we are asking that your government should take a much more robust line over the issue with the Saudi government.

Whereas the government – including the Prime Minister – has been vocal in its criticisms of the Islamic State for its appalling behaviour and of Russia for its activities in Ukraine, they seem strangely silent when it comes to Saudi Arabia.  This contrasts with France which has openly criticised them and Sweden which has decided no longer to sell them arms.

Mr Glen replied, enclosing a letter from the FCO minister, and said:

I enclose correspondence from the FCO minister Tobius Ellwood in reply to your recent letter about the UK’s apparent reticence when it comes to condemning the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

As you can see, the approach taken by the government is not in any way indicative of an equivocal view on this practice, which is as barbaric as it is ineffective.

However, the government recognises that its abolition is not a matter of mere legal reform but would require a seismic societal shift.  It has therefore taken an approach which it feels is most constructive – engaging behind the scenes rather than inflaming the situation and triggering a backlash through outspoken public critique.

The letter from the Foreign and Colonial Office is as follows:

[…] The abolition of the death penalty is a human rights priority for the UK.  The UK opposes the death penalty around the world because we believe it undermines human dignity and there is no evidence that it works as a deterrent.

Saudi Arabia remains a country of concern on human rights, because of its use of the death penalty as well as the restricted access to justice, women’s rights, and the restrictions of the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion or belief.

Ministers, our Ambassador, and the Embassy team in Riyadh frequently raise the issue of the death penalty with the Saudi authorities, bilaterally and through the European Union.  As it is part of Sharia Law, we must recognise that total abolition of the death penalty is unlikely in Saudi Arabia in the near future.  For now, our focus is on the introduction of EU minimum standards for the death penalty as a first step, and supporting access to justice and the rule of law.

The British Government’s position on human rights is a matter of public record.  We regularly make our views well known including the UN Universal Periodic Review process and the Foreign and Colonial Office’s  annual Human Rights and Democracy Report.  We also raise our human rights concerns with Saudi Arabian authorities at the highest level.  But we have to recognise that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia reflects widely held conservative social values and that our human rights concerns are best raised in private rather than in public.

It seems therefore that nothing will change.  It is important to recognise that behind the scenes lobbying can be constructive.  However, the policy of raising matters ‘in private rather than in public’ does not appear to be working.  Successive governments have courted the regime and Saudis are free to invest in London and elsewhere in the UK.

Eurofighter of the type sold to Saudi ArabiaIt would be naïve not to recognise the reality behind this reluctance to criticise the Saudis and the importance to the government of the sale of arms and the supply of oil.  Saudi Arabia is a key market for the UK and much effort is put into promoting sales including by members of the royal family – see the Guardian article:  Human rights are of secondary concern.

As long as these interests are paramount, it is difficult to see how the toll of executions can be checked in the near future.

 


Great was the joy among those who want to see an end to the ‘hated’ Human Rights Act when it was announced that Michael Gove is the new Justice Secretary and Theresa May – no longer hampered by Lib Dems – will be able to introduce a new Communication Bill commonly called the ‘snoopers’ charter’.

Details will be in the Queen’s Speech at the end of the month and the act might be gone by Christmas.  We look forward to seeing the British Bill of Rights when it is finally published and there is press comment that it has gone through eight drafts in an attempt to sort out the complexities.

There will be many who will be delighted by these moves such has been the press campaign waged against it.  We have noted in a previous blog that a web site called Rights Info has been launched to try and counter the avalanche of negative reporting.  As the debate goes by it would be worthwhile catching up with this site which seeks to set out the true story in each case.  Few will read it unfortunately.  The case of Abu Qatada has become to epitomise the (alleged) failings of the act and the fact that Jordan used torture was conveniently overlooked.

In common with almost any act of parliament you care to mention, the Human Rights Act is capable of improvement or reform and few would argue with that.  For years the problem was individuals who had a problem had to make their way to Strasbourg to seek justice.  The HRA was passed with a lot of cross party support to enable these sorts of cases to be heard in the UK.  Such has been the hysteria and miss-reporting that a calm look at the act does not seem to be possible and in any event the die has now been cast.  The benefits that many ordinary people derive from the act rarely get a mention.

We shall follow events with interest.

UPDATE: 16 May Message from Kate Allen

Over the last few months we have been calling on all our political leaders to keep the Human Rights Act. Tens of thousands of you have taken action, held hustings, and discussed human right issues directly with your prospective parliamentary candidates. 
With the election results now in it is likely that the Human Rights Act is will be under threat like never before.

Over the next few days and weeks we will be carefully analysing the results and planning our next steps. Together we face a huge challenge and you have a vital role to play in the next phase of our campaign if we are to be successful. We will be in touch with more information about the campaign and how you can get involved soon.

Thank you,

Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty International UK 


We today erected the display in the cloister at Salisbury Cathedral to celebrate the signing of Magna Carta and to illustrate the #StopTorture campaign.

Display in the cloister

It will remain in place for many weeks.  There is also a panel on the Human Rights Act.

#NorthKorea

Posted: February 15, 2015 in North Korea, torture
Tags: , ,

north-korea-flagWe attach here a speech by Fiona Bruce MP given just before Christmas last year on life in North Korea.  The group has campaigned on several occasions concerning life in this country and this has included a video on YouTube as well as petitions.  We feel Fiona’s speech is worthy of a wider audience and we include most of it here:

Life in North Korea is not a joke. It is not a joke that desperate women wade across the frozen Tumen river to escape to China, only to be caught by Chinese men, sold into sexual slavery and then, when used up, sent back by the authorities to face torture in North Korea and the forced abortion of their unborn children.

north koreaIt is not a joke for those hundreds of thousands who live in concentration camps reminiscent of the Nazi era, many for uttering a few words against the North Korean regime — or, worse, under the regime’s atrocious “guilt by association” rule, not for something they have done, but for something their relatives have done to offend the regime. Prisoners are told they are not humans but animals and indescribably tortured: steam-rolled to death; killed by having hot molten metal poured over them; frozen to death; starved to death; worked to death in factories; hung upside down to have water poured into their nostrils, like so much beef hanging from hooks in a slaughter house; deprived of clothing and sleep, then mercilessly pummelled with wooden bats; kept in cells with two holes in the door for them to stick their feet out to be horrendously tortured; and frequently forced to watch executions, including of their blood relatives. As my co-chair of the all-party group on North Korea, an increasingly active group, Lord Alton, said:

Christmas spent in a North Korean gulag will be just another day of grotesque suffering.”

Life in North Korea is not a joke outside the concentration camps either. It is not a joke for the thousands of stunted, parentless children—the so-called wandering swallows—who eke out a living on the streets. The problem of malnutrition in North Korea is so bad that the minimum height for a member of their armed forces is just 4 feet 2 inches. It is not a joke for the disabled in North Korea either. Just when we thought that reports from North Korea could not get any worse, this week we heard at first hand from an escapee at a meeting of the all-party group in the UK Parliament about how disabled people, including children, were sent:

for medical tests such as dissection of body parts, as well as tests of biological and chemical weapons. Dwarves are castrated. Babies with mental and physical handicaps are routinely snatched from hospitals and left to suffer indescribable things until they die. The disabled in North Korea are simply disappeared.”

We were told that by a disabled escapee, Ji Seong-Ho, who, at 14, lost his left hand and leg after passing out from hunger while scavenging for coal on railway tracks and was run over by a train. He was told by North Korean Government officials:

disabled people like you hurt the dignity of North Korea and you should just die.” He told us, “That really hurt.”

At Christmas time, let us remember that living in North Korea is not a joke for the many brave Christians who every day fear incarceration simply for owning a Bible. One lady has told the all-party group that if soldiers suspect that someone is a believer, they will ransack their home until they find what they are looking for. In her home, they did: they noticed a brick slightly out of position, and behind it they found her Bible, so she was taken to prison.

I have mentioned just two of many escapees who have spoken to our group this year and who are now finding sanctuary in the UK and increasingly giving testimonies of their suffering to Members of Parliament.

For the rest of my speech, however, I want to speak not to fellow Members, or even to our constituents, but to the people of North Korea. When I first spoke about North Korea in the House, I was amazed to receive a letter from supporters in South Korea saying, “You are being heard” so I know that when we speak here, many of you in North Korea hear what we say—and that is increasingly the case with modern means of communication, such as smuggled-in USB sticks.

I want you, the people of North Korea, to know that your suffering is being heard. Do not think that no one cares. Do not think that no one is speaking out for you. In the UK Parliament, more and more people are speaking out and showing that they care. We have compassion for you in your suffering, and this Christmas remember that our compassion is as nothing compared with that of Christ. One day, this too will end. Kingdoms rise and fall. We are praying for you and for your freedom.

In addition to praying and speaking out, more and more people are acting. This year, a 400-page UN report by Mr Justice Kirby catalogued the brutal atrocities you experience. The world now knows of them and cannot stay silent. Increasingly, people in the free world are calling for action on your behalf. Only last week in this Parliament, the all-party group on international freedom of religion or belief issued a report that can be found at http://www.freedomdeclared.org which added to demands made last month at the UN by no fewer than 111 countries that those responsible for human rights violations in North Korea be brought to justice by the International Criminal Court.

We also called for all appropriate justice mechanisms to be considered to bring the North Korean Government to account for their terrible atrocities against their own people. Here in the UK Parliament, as MPs we continue to press for the BBC World Service to broadcast to you, the people of North Korea, in the Korean and English languages, and we MPs continue to press for an increased dialogue with China to stop its policy of forced repatriation and for humanitarian aid to the people of North Korea.

So, at Christmas time our hearts go out to you, the North Korean people, from the UK. Know that we are with you; know that we are supporting and working with your relatives and friends who have escaped to this country and know that they have a voice; and know that we shall continue to speak out for you and to press for action on your behalf until the day comes, which it surely will, when your country is free again and your suffering is at an end.

The Shadow Leader of the House, Thomas Docherty responded saying:

“As ever, the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) made an impassioned and knowledgeable speech about the situation in North Korea. She has a tremendous track record in relation to the persecution of Christians, and—again, as ever—she made a hugely important contribution. I know that her work has the support of all Members.”

Fiona Bruce MP


#northkorea

Kim Yong-Un

Kim Yong-Un

Sony Picture’s film The Interview, which was not screened due to the alleged hacking attack by North Korea, attracted considerable publicity at the end of last year.  It represented a flagrant attempt by North Korea – if indeed they are the culprits – to silence the screening of a film about the fictional attempt to assassinate the leader of that country, Kim Jong-un.

Amnesty International has released The Other Interview which features the story of Park Ji-hyu who fled starvation in North Korea and was then trafficked into China and sold as a slave to a farmer.  She was reported to the Chinese authorities as a defector and was forcibly returned to North Korea.  She was sent to one of their hellish prison camps where she faced starvation and torture.  She eventually managed to escape.

Amnesty International’s UK Director Kate Allen said ‘Sony has every right to make a comedy about North Korea.  We should all be worried when blackmail, threats to cinemas, and the hacking of private data are being used to censor and silence.

‘In reality, many people in North Korea are subjected to an existence beyond nightmares.  The population is ruled by fear with a network of prison camps a constant spectre for those who dare step out of line.

‘Thousands of people in the camps are worked to death, starved to death [or] beaten to death.  Some are sent there just for knowing someone who has fallen out of favour.

‘Amnesty is releasing The Other Interview so that people all over the world can hear first-hand how people in North Korea are suffering appallingly at the hands of Kim Jong-un and his officials.

‘They don’t want you to see it which is precisely why you should.’

preview can be seen on YouTube.  We do not know if this film will be shown in Salisbury but we will see if we can arrange a viewing somewhere.

This is being written while the dreadful events are playing out in France following the assassination of journalists and cartoonists in the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.  This is another attempt – this time by violent means – to silence criticism and the particular kind of satire that this magazine goes in for.

The Salisbury group’s North Korean YouTube video clip can be see here.

CIA torture #stoptorture

Posted: December 22, 2014 in stop torture, torture, USA
Tags: , ,

The world was shocked – briefly – last week with the publication of Dianna Feinstein’s report into the use of torture by the CIA around the world in its ‘war against terror.’  The report examines in great detail the methods and effectiveness of those methods and also the effects it will have on the United States’ reputation around the world.  In her words:

‘[It has done] immeasurable damage to the United States’ public standing, as well as the United States’ longstanding global leadership on human rights in general and the prevention of torture in particular.’  (p16)

When we have campaigned in the street against the use of torture most people hurry on by, after all we don’t use torture in the UK do we?  Some find the subject distasteful and even those who stop to sign a card will often decline to take a fact sheet with the details of what is happening to someone described on it.  The fact remains that it is still widely used around the world despite the great majority of countries having signed UN pledges otherwise.

It has to be said in the United States’ defence that they are one of the few countries which could enable an investigation take place and then publish the results, despite redactions, for all to see.  The United Kingdom who, along with other countries around the world, aided and abetted the CIA in its activities has gone to great lengths to frustrate, delay and otherwise prevent details of its involvement becoming known.  It is to be hoped that over the coming months and years details will emerge to show our complicity in this sordid activity.

The report goes into great detail of the use and effectiveness of the methods used.  The world was especially shocked to learn of ‘rectal feeding’.  Precious little evidence is provided of any effectiveness.  It notes that a lot of useful information was provided before suspects were then tortured and that many of the claims about counter-terrorism successes were ‘wrong on fundamental aspects’ (p2).

So how has this come about?  Torture is of course as old as the hills.  But there are several aspects which keep it alive in the modern state.  Firstly a belief in its effectiveness despite evidence to the contrary.  Part of the blame is a kind of Hollywood view of terrorism.  The report quotes the TV series ’24’ the first of which showed a man being fearsomely tortured to reveal the vital secret which our hero then spends the next 24 hours dashing about trying to frustrate.  Buried within this is the assumption that an individual has a key piece of information and once sufficient pain has been inflicted, he (or she) gives it up.  But how does anyone know?  The problem being that people will say anything to get it to stop so just because a piece of information is finally revealed, how does anyone know how accurate it is?  This kind of thinking is demonstrated in the familiar question ‘if you knew someone had a key piece of information which could save hundreds of lives but he won’t tell you, wouldn’t you torture him to get hold of it?’  But how do you know it is key?  The report notes that seven of the 39 detainees they looked at produced no information at all despite relentless beatings, waterboarding, starvation and sleep deprivation.

Another familiar Hollywood feature of crime series like CSI and NCIS for example, is the copious amounts of information that the officers seem to have at the press of a button.  A screen suddenly appears on a wall with flashing dots to show where the culprit is and they all dash off to apprehend him.  It is part of the technological view of crime detection.  This engenders a belief that simply getting the information will enable the law enforcement agencies to close in on a terrorist cell.  The problem was that the record keeping by the CIA was so poor combined with their lack of cooperation with other agencies such as the FBI, meant that little of value was derived from the activity.  (p13)  The reality of what actually happens on the ground is miles away from the fantasy world of TV series.

This Hollywood inspired view of the world goes someway to explain the public’s attitude to the revelations.  It is seen as a regrettable necessity when a war is being fought against a terrorist enemy.  If it keeps us safe, then what does it matter if someone is deprived of sleep for a few days to get them to talk?  The end of saving hundreds of lives justifies the means of bad treatment of a handful of detainees.  We cannot afford to be too squeamish when dealing with fanatics after all.

But the activity has corrupted the governing process.  It was ineffective so lies were told about valuable information being gained when next to none was.  People like Secretary of State Colin Powell were kept out of the loop.  The media was deceived into believing that terrorism plots were being interdicted when in reality few if any were.  The White House was lied to and up and down the CIA deception was practised.  When some detainees died as a result of their torture no one was brought to account.  Foreign governments were dragged into the process to provide locations known as ‘black sites’ where individuals were taken to be tortured.  Foreign governments such as the UK government lied about ‘rendition’ flights through the UK, in particular Prestwick.  The use of Diego Garcia which the USA leases from the UK, is a story which may slowly unravel over time.

Torture is widely practised around the world.  It is routinely used to coerce people and to inhibit  opposition parties.  If the world’s leading nation – the United States – does it then the moral force they might apply to the nations who routinely use it is dissipated.  Let us hope the Feinstein Report results in an end to the practice in the States.