Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


The New Forest Amnesty group is hosting a talk on 28 November and the details can be found below.  It is free.

New Forest Talk (pdf)

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Letter published in the Salisbury Journal

A letter in support of the Human Rights Act was published in the Salisbury Journal today – 8 November 2018.  We have often discussed the threat to the act in this blog as it remains Conservative policy to abolish it.  There is little chance of this happening in view of the enormous amount of time and energy being expended on Brexit negotiations, nevertheless, the intention is there.  We do not know what will happen after March 31st of course. 

We have a meeting tonight, 8 November at 7:30, Attwood Road.


The death penalty report for August – September is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.

We would also like to draw your attention to a relatively new death penalty campaigning organisation called the Death Penalty Project

AUG-SEPT

 

 


We are pleased to attach the latest death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in putting it together.  Note that China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together but details are a state secret.

There is an action taking place in Salisbury on 1 September between 9:00 and noon.  It will be in the Cheese market or in the Library passage.  Details are in the above report.

Potential new members are invited to come along and make themselves known during this event.

July – August report (pdf)

 


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.

 

 


The Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, aims to ease the suffering of women in conflict areas.  Will action follow?

We have often posted items on this site concerning our support for, and arming of, the Saudi regime in its war in Yemen and the awful human toll that this has caused.  Thousands have died, cholera is at epidemic proportions and civil society has been catastrophically damaged.  A blockade is making matters worse.  The has been considerable evidence that UK arms have been used to attack civilian targets including schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals.  Yet we continue to aid the Saudis and the sale of weapons continues.  The Royal family is used to visit the regime and to welcome them here on a recent state visit.  The sale of weapons is so valuable that any concern at the destruction caused is effectively ignored.

In the context of the Yemen, as in many other conflicts, it is women and children who suffer often disproportionately.  The destruction of their community, the bombing of medical facilities and schools, the difficulty in acquiring food and clean water, all make life extremely difficult for them.  So it was interesting to read that the Defence Minister, Gavin Williamson, attended a meeting in London with representatives of countries experiencing conflict.  Countries included:  the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Ukraine, as well as several international action groups, were welcomed to discuss the issues faced in their countries, particularly by women.

It is noticeable that Yemen was not among them.

Mr Williamson said:

Conflict can have devastating effects for anyone caught in its path, but life can be particularly traumatic for women. They are subject to violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and their calls for justice are often falling on deaf ears.

I am determined we do more to listen to those who are often not given a voice. It is only by understanding the situation faced by women and girls that we will be able to protect them. Ministry of Defence news story, 19 July 2018 [accessed 27 July]

It appears that most if not all the countries attending had UK-trained peace keepers deployed there.  The news story went on to claim:

The UK has already increased peacekeeping in Sudan and Somalia, has deployed four Military Gender and Protection Advisers to DRC and has established a UK centre of excellence to integrate guidelines on women, peace and security into its work.  It is also among the first countries to publish a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security

The minister claims that he is determined to ‘do more to listen to those often not given a voice‘.  This raises the question of what happens when he is told it is your weapons which are destroying our lives.  What more does he need to be told?  There have been countless authenticated reports on the destruction our weapons (and those of USA and France) have caused in war zones like Yemen.  A Médecins sans Frontières report is another example among many.  Countless reports, evidence on the ground, news reports and footage, all graphically describe the terrible events in that country.

So the questions for Mr Williamson are – when you have read the reports and done your ‘listening’ what are you going to do?  Will you take steps to cease arming the Saudis with weapons they are using to cause such mayhem?  Will you bring home the RAF personnel who are involved in the conflict?  What in short will you do to ease the plight of women caught ‘in its path’ as you put it?  Or was this just an exercise in public relations which will have no tangible or beneficial effects on the lives of women in war zones?

Will you listen and do nothing?


If you live in the Salisbury area we would be pleased to welcome you to our group.

 


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.

Trump protest

Posted: July 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

Salisbury group carries out protest concerning President Trump’s policies

Members of the Salisbury group gathered in the vicinity of the Guildhall in Salisbury to conduct a protest against President Trump’s human rights policies.  The president is visiting the UK at present en route to Helsinki to meet president Putin of Russia.  He has been shepherded around carefully by the government to steer him away from the many protestors who are out in force.

Our protest is connected with his activities concerning human rights in particular, his government’s treatment of Mexican children separated from their parents and placed in cages, his statements about refugees and the decision to take the USA out of the Human Rights Council.

Unfortunately, this is not the sort of event the local media want to cover so people were unaware of what we were doing.  However, we were pleased at the number of Americans who stopped and expressed support.  UPDATE: 19 July.  A brief report and photo sent to the Salisbury Journal was not published by the paper.

Group members in costumes. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty


The Court of Appeal has granted permission for Campaign Against the Arms Trade to appeal the legality of arms sales to Saudi Arabia

The destruction of Yemen continues and our role in that destruction becomes ever more clear as time passes.  The case brought by CAAT failed and it is welcome news that the Appeal Court has allowed an appeal.  The decision was profoundly flawed and needs to be challenged.  It raised disturbing questions, not just about our role in the bombing of Yemen, but how our supposedly independent legal system operates in cases like this.

An analysis of the decision by Oxford Human Rights hub and others revealed profound flaws in the Appeal judges ruling and handling of the case.  These are:

  • statements by the government were taken at face value despite claims that the case would be looked at objectively
  • the judges regarded evidence from NGOs as necessarily being of lesser value than the government’s arguments.  They said they were ‘second hand’ despite the fact that the NGOs had representatives on the ground and had collected considerable first hand evidence of what was happening
  • the close relations the government has with the Saudi government (to which we could add many members of the Royal family) puts them in a good position, it was claimed, to take statements by the Saudis at face value namely that they were compliant with International Human Rights standards
  • the court took no account of the stake the government has in the trade namely that 46% of our arms exports are going to this country.  That this might bias their case was not something that the judges seemed to consider.  Indeed, they went further pointing to the ‘highly sophisticated, structured and multi-faceted process’ of government decision taking in comparison with that of the press and NGOs.  Altogether, the judges exhibited an unduly deferential approach to the government
  • But perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of their judgement was the issue of ‘inference’.  This argument centred on the idea that it was not necessary or practical for the government to infer that civilian causalities and breaches of IHL arose from the supply of weaponry to the Saudis.  Because this destruction was taking place in another country, it was not practical for the Secretary of State to have access to all the relevant information.  So on the one hand, the judges say that the government has a superior and sophisticated decision making process compared to that of the NGOs and media, but on the other hand, when civilians are killed, suddenly they are not in a position to know it was our weapons which were involved.

There are other criticisms of the judgment and the dubious logic on which it was based.  Overall, they seemed to adopt a unduly deferential approach to the government’s position.

In another development the Committee on Arms Export Controls criticized many aspects of the government’s dealings with arms supplies to the region.  One key aspect is the question of brokerage.  This is where a company, registered in the UK, uses a broker to circumvent the controls on the sale of arms.  The Committee concluded:

The Committees conclude that it is a significant loophole in UK arms export controls that a UK company can circumvent those controls by exporting military and dual–use goods using an overseas subsidiary. The Committees recommend that the Government states whether it will close this loophole, and, if so, by what means and in what timescale.

The Committees continue to conclude that it is most regrettable that the Government have still to take any action against “Brass Plate” arms exporting companies who have the benefit of UK company registration but carry out arms exporting and arms brokering activities overseas in contravention of UK Government policies. 35 The Committees’ Recommendation: The Committees again recommend that the Government sets out in its Response to this Report what steps it will take to discontinue the UK registration of such companies  [Extracts from the Select Committee Report]

The government does not accept the committee’s conclusions on this matter.

In yet another aspect, the government is alleged to use opaque licensing procedures to conceal hundreds of millions of pounds worth of British-made missiles and bombs sold to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen under a licensing system that makes tracking arms sales more difficult.

Currently, the sale of arms is governed by the Arms Trade Treaty and the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.  It is clear from the opinion of the sub committee, CAAT and other NGOs that the government is using every stratagem to sell arms to Saudi and to keep on doing so.  Royalty and ministers are pressed into service to keep the Saudi regime sweet.  The effects of our arms – and those of other arms suppliers such as the USA – on the people of Yemen has been devastating.  With 10,000 deaths and many more thousands injured and displaced, it is a calamity on a massive scale.  We must hope that the higher court will overturn the highly dubious and flawed decision.

In the future, post Brexit,  there will be a reduction in the degree of control over this trade in the opinion of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.  In a commentary they say:

Either way, it is likely that Brexit will lead to a reduction in the EU’s ability to promote its standards in the field of export controls internationally. […]  If Brexit means the UK starts to water down its export controls in order to facilitate transfers to Saudi Arabia, or otherwise boost its arms exports, the implications may be more severe. Such a move could trigger a ‘race to the bottom’ among EU member states, many of which are seeking to boost their own arms exports in order to help domestic producers offset the impact of post-2008 national defence cuts.

Let us hope they are wrong.  It is likely however that post Brexit, there will be a keen desire to secure trade deals – to include arms sales – with any foreign nation including those with poor human rights records.

Sources:

Oxford Human Rights Hub; Ibid (part 2); Opinio Juris; CAAT; The Guardian; Amnesty International; European Journal of International Law


House of Commons Committee taking evidence on human rights issues

A recent post by RightsInfo discussed the evidence given to the House of Common’s Joint Committee on human rights.  The committee’s investigation is to be welcomed.   It consists of 12 members drawn from both houses and its work includes scrutinising government bills for their compatibility with human rights legislation.  It is chaired by Ms Harriet Harman.

On 9 May it took evidence from three witnesses: Prof. David Mead from the school of law at UEA; Ms Martha Spurrier a director at Liberty; Dr Alice Donald a senior lecturer at Middlesex University and Adam Wagner of RightsInfo.  They were asked a range of questions on the issue of human rights, how they are perceived and how they work in the UK today.

Those of us who are concerned about human rights and campaign on the subject are often dispirited by the fairly constant stream of negative press coverage about human rights generally and the Human Rights Act itself.  The most vociferous critic and publisher of tendentious or misleading stories has been the Daily Mail under its editor Paul Dacre and the paper was frequently mentioned by witnesses during this session.  Coincidentally, this week it was announced the Dacre is to retire as editor of the Mail which is welcome news.  As the Guardian put it:

His sheer bully-power often frames the national debate by warping broadcasters’ news agendas, because they know the Mail makes politicians quake. Theresa May – his candidate – caves in to him every time, as paralysed on paying for social care as on Brexit.  Polly Toynbee 7 June 2018

Criticism of the act is of course acceptable, likewise pointing out flawed or questionable decisions.  We have a free press which is important.  But along with the Sun and the Express, the right wing media has carried on a campaign of ‘monstering’ human rights painting them as a threat to the safety and wellbeing of ordinary people.  Why this should be is difficult to understand.  Perhaps it is because the act shifts a degree of power to ordinary people and minorities in society – some of whom are unpopular – and this shift is in some ways distasteful to the elites (or the establishment as they used to be known).  Many readers of these papers will have benefited from the working of the act.  Indeed, Hampshire was mentioned where the authority has incorporated its principles into all its policies.

[Update, 11 June 18] For those interested in this subject, you may like to read an earlier post ‘Why do they hate the Human Rights Act?

The Committee

The committee discussion focused on several main themes:

  • the role of the press and in particular the right wing press
  • education both of the populace as a whole and in schools
  • the role of judges
  • legal aid and
  • politicians

The Press

Prof. David Mead said he had done research specifically on the Daily Mail because

it sticks out like a sore thumb in its reporting across a whole range of topics.  I have done research exclusively on that newspaper and on other across the board.  The findings I have reached are that it misportrays human rights law quite significantly.

He then went on to admit that he did not know of any causative effects of these stories on people’s attitudes to human rights.  As with Brexit, was it a case of the media picking up on reader’s misgivings and supplying the stories to suit or was it the media setting the tone and persuading people to their point of view?  Martha Spurrier said that sections of the press like the Daily Mail, ‘will fan the flames of attitudes and values which are pretty contrary to human rights project’.  She noted that the paper will cover stories about soldiers’ rights ‘sympathetically and accurately whereas with migrants there was a different approach’.  Part of the reason she thought was because these kinds of stories had traction not only in society but in ‘upper echelons of power.’

So if senior leaders are saying they want to create ‘a hostile environment for migrants’ is it any wonder that newspapers will then peddle stories about migrants being a pernicious group of people to sell those papers.  We cannot divorce rhetoric in one part of the system from rhetoric in another.  Martha Spurrier

This argument seems a little weak since there are newspapers and weeklies which do divorce the two.

Adam Wagner from Rights Info was a little more robust and said:

… however, I do think that certain right wing newspapers have ‘monstered’ human rights.  They have created a monster out of human rights in a deliberate and specific campaign.  […] when you talk to people, you find that they are generally influenced by the way that human rights are framed in the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Express.  They talk about human rights being for other people not for us.  They refer to them fundamentally as being about stopping people being deported or crazy European Judges.

Education

There was discussion about the role of education – or rather the lack of it – in generating better understanding of human rights and their importance to us.  Wagner thought that human rights was removed by the Coalition government.  There was a lot of talk about the rule of law but he thought that they have been removed because they were seen as ‘a kind of leftie political thing.’

Going out to schools they thought was important which in fact is something the Salisbury Amnesty group does every year.

Significant budget cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) made the issue of educating the public at large more difficult.  They now had around a quarter of the funds they had when they were formed.

Judges

The role of judges is important and Adam Wagner noted that a new generation of High Court judges have grown up in their careers with the Human Rights Act.  He said you cannot underestimate how important this is and how it has marked a fundamental change in our entire legal system.

He went on to describe how politicians and ministers in particular, use or rather misuse the judicial system.  They frequently, he claimed, passed difficult or contentious cases to the courts to decide so that the ‘judges can take the blame for this.’  When there was a furore following the decision, the Home Office would say that they are considering appealing the case which in fact they never did because the judge got it right.

Legal Aid

Another topic discussed was legal aid the severe cuts to its funding.  There were now ‘advice deserts’ all over the country where you will not be able to seek advice.

We have seen legal aid being decimated across areas of fundament importance to ordinary people’s lives: debt, welfare and benefits, housing, employment, clinical negligence, and immigration.   Martha Spurrier

Conclusion

This is just part of this committee’s deliberations on this important topic.  A consistent theme of the evidence given was the malign role played by the right wing media.  Although no one wanted to limit press freedom, the ‘monstering,’ as Adam Wagner put it, of all things to do with human rights was clearly regretted by the witnesses.  It was not clear however what the ‘direction of travel’ was.  The tabloids have been successful by giving the readers what they want.  If the public do not like migrants for example, then providing stories of their misdoings are going to sell papers.  Are the papers stirring things up or are they reflecting what their readers already think?  After all, the right wing papers sell in great numbers and the online version of the Daily Mail was the most read paper in the world.

The role of politicians and in particular ministers, was another theme running through the evidence.  A failure to give a lead and using judges to get out of receiving bad press for themselves showed them up in a poor light.

No doubt we will be hearing more as time goes by.


If you want to join the local group – which is free – you are very welcome to do so.  We suggest coming along to one of our events and making yourself known.  We have a stall in the market place on  the morning of Saturday 23rd of June and we are hosting a film on Thursday 14 June at the Arts Centre starting at 7;30 pm.