Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


The latest death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  It contains information on death penalty matters in Bangladesh, Turkey, USA and other countries.  The report, as ever, is unable to include any information about China where details of executions are a state secret.  It is believed to be the world’s largest executioner.

August – September Report 2019

No to the death penalty

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Coffee morning

Posted: September 7, 2019 in Group news, Uncategorized
Tags: ,

UPDATE:  very successful morning and we were kept busy from before 10 till noon.  Sold lots of cakes.  Thanks to all those who came or helped or provided cakes.

There is a coffee morning today – Saturday – in St Thomas’s church in Salisbury.  There will be lots of home made cakes (and some bought ones) and if you were thinking of joining the local group or wanted to know more, this would be a golden opportunity.

Coffee morning


UN Human Rights Council publishes a report yesterday (3 September 2019) on human rights infringements by Britain France and USA

The UN’s panel of eminent experts on Yemen has today published a damning report on the activities of the UK government and others into the atrocities being committed in Yemen.  They conclude that international human rights law has been infringed.  The most damning conclusion is:

The Experts found reasonable grounds to believe that the conduct of hostilities by the parties to the conflict, including by airstrikes and shelling, continued to have an extreme impact on civilians and many of these attacks may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.  The Experts further found reasonable grounds to believe that, in addition to violations related to the conduct of hostilities, the parties to the armed conflict in Yemen are responsible for arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, torture, ill-treatment, child recruitment, violations of fundamental freedoms, and violations of economic, social and cultural rights.  These amount to violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable. Subject to determination by an independent and competent court, many of these violations may result in individuals being held responsible for war crimes.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has waged a long legal battle with the UK government which was successful in June  persuading the Court of Appeal that the Secretary of State’s actions were ‘irrational and therefore unlawful.’

Further background on the UN report can be found in a Guardian article 3 September.

Another extract from the report details activities we have previously highlighted:

The report notes that coalition air strikes have caused most direct civilian casualties.  The airstrikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities.  Based on the incidents they examined, the Group of Experts have reasonable grounds to believe that individuals in the Government of Yemen and the coalition may have conducted attacks in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution that may amount to war crimes.
“There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties. I call on them to prioritise human dignity in this forgotten conflict,” said Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen.

The UN report can be accessed here.


If you live in the Salisbury, South Wilts/North Dorset area we would and would like to join us, you would be very welcome.  The best thing is to keep an eye on this site or our Facebook and Twitter pages and come to an event.


Are human rights more under threat now than ever?

In this blog we look at the current state of human rights.  We discuss some of the grim examples around the world and the influence of the arms trade and the continuing strength of slavery.  We also look at climate change and how that is impacting on human rights together with new technologies and the activities of corporations.  


The future of human rights around the world looks increasingly bleak.  The gradual shift in power eastwards is just one of the slow drip of factors changing the landscape.  We have also seen the rise in nationalism and far right organisations in Europe with their anti-immigrant mindset.  There are a large and growing number of authoritarian governments including China, Turkey, Russia, Oman, Bahrain and many others.

In the Middle East, nation after nation is ignoring the rights of its citizens.  Executions after cursory trials, the use of torture, disappearances and the denial of free speech and freedom of the press are common throughout the area.  The promise of the Arab Spring has come to naught.  The monarchies and dictators quickly regained power largely because the grass roots uprisings could not organise or find a voice.  In Egypt for example, the protests were violently put down and all that has happened is one dictator has been replaced by another.

Major affronts to the cause of human rights have occurred in Burma with the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people.  This with a country led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and in whom so much hope was placed.  The hatred of Rohingya minority is so deep that it has led to these terrible events.  See also a talk on this subject given in Southampton.

China’s treatment of the Uighurs has also caused considerable alarm.  Around one million are detained in various camps for ‘re-education’.  This allegation came to light in 2018 and is denied by the Chinese authorities.  In August of that year, a UN committee heard that up to one million Uighur Muslims and other Muslim groups could be detained in the western Xinjiang region.  At the same time, there’s growing evidence of oppressive surveillance against people living in Xinjiang.

It seems a long time since the optimism of the UN Declaration of Human Rights agreed in 1948.  It was declared at the time as a ‘milestone document’ and in many respects it was.  It set down in 30 articles how human beings were to be treated.  The motivation was the horrific events of the second world war and in particular, the systematic murder of Jewish people in Europe.  There was a clear sense of never again should these things be allowed to happen.  Significantly, it was agreed by a wide range of countries and it led ultimately to the European Convention and the Human Rights Act in the UK.   The word ‘genocide’ was created at this time.

Human Rights tableau, France.  Photo: Salisbury Amnesty

Unfortunately, declarations and other fine words matter little if they are ignored in practice.  To take one article, article 5 on the prohibition of torture.  According to an Amnesty report in 2015, 122 countries in the world still use this practice, often routinely.

Another example is slavery, prohibited under article 4 of the UHDHR.  According to Antislavery the practice is live and well and takes many forms including selling women and girls into prostitution, forced marriage and bonded labour.  Many people in the UK believe that slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century with the banning of the triangular trade and do not realise that it is greater today than it was then.

So although the articles of the Declaration set out how states should behave and it is indeed true that many countries adhere to these principles, it is also true that a significant number of countries do not and it could argued that the situation is getting worse and not better.

It is also depressing to note that a number of UK MPs are lukewarm over the issue of human rights in this country.  The website They Work for You reveals that the new prime minister Boris Johnson, the new home secretary Priti Patel and our own MP John Glen are all listed as ‘generally voting against equality and human rights.’

Causes

One significant factor in the decline in human rights is the arms trade.  A key factor here is that the top sellers of arms to the world are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council namely, Russia, China, USA, France and the UK.  Two other prominent arms exporting countries are Israel and Germany.  One would expect that holding such an exalted position in the UN – as a result of being on the winning side of WW2 – would result in responsible behaviour and the setting of an example to the rest of the world.  The opposite is the case and as we look at conflicts and wars around the world, weapons made by or brokered by these nations are usually to be found.  In all the wars, it is ordinary people, women and children who suffer either from wounds, lost limbs or sight, lost education or displacement to join the 25.4 million or so who live in camps outside their own country (UNHCR figures).

Human rights possess inherent preventive power. The international human rights system was created in response to conflict to help prevent future conflict.  It has a special role in averting the escalation of violence.  Just as war, conflicts and insecurity increase the incidence of human rights violations, societies that respect human rights experience less violence and insecurity: they are more resilient, and they are more inclusive.  The Secretary-General has acknowledged this, identifying human rights as the “critical foundation for sustaining peace”

UN Annual Appeal 2019

A vivid current example is Yemen.  Not only do we supply weapons to the Saudis who use them to bomb a wide range of civilian targets, but we also supply RAF personnel to advise them.  This was a secret spilled by a Saudi prince at a London conference about 2 years ago much to the embarrassment of HMG.  What is astonishing is that the former Foreign Secretary travelled around the middle east seeking to promote peace.  Yemen is all but wrecked and our arms companies have played a significant part in the destruction.

The Court of Appeal has recently ruled against the government in the case of Yemen in a case brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.  The government is to appeal this judgement.  Recently, missile parts made in Brighton have been discovered in Yemen in contravention of international human rights law.

Climate and human rights

Increasingly, climate and the future of life on the planet is a concern.  As temperatures rise, it has an effect on hydrologic conditions, ecosystem functioning and agricultural productivity.  These effects are discussed in some detail in a United Nations report and in many other publications including the IPCC report.

A feature of these reports is the issue of human rights most particularly among those most affected by climate issues.  These are often women, children and indigenous populations who get in the way of forest clearances, dam projects or other major activities which threaten their environment and livelihoods.

A major fear – arguably a selfish one – concerning the effect of climate change is immigration.  The war in Syria and to a lesser extent conflicts in Mali and Somalia, resulted in huge movements of peoples, mostly into Europe, which gave us a taste of what major migrations of peoples will look like.  This had signifcant political implications in most EU countries, indeed the immigration issue was an influential feature of the Brexit debate in the UK.  It is curious to note in passing that worries about immigration at the political level do not seem to flow through into a desire to take resolute action on climate change which will be a key driver of people emigrating.  Climate will have a destabilising effect on many regimes as their agriculture is affected.  The previous prime minister Theresa May’s hostile immigration policy was (is?) almost ironic since the ‘hostility’ referred only to people.

Corporate changes

A significant difference since the war concerning human rights is corporate power and influence.  Although corporations have wielded great power in the past, controlling them was handled by states, for example anti-trust actions in the USA against the oil companies and other monopolies.  Modern internet companies pose an altogether different threat.  Firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter operate across the world and seem to answer to no one.  They extract enormous quantities of data about individuals and Facebook was alleged to be influential in elections.  The thrust of the UN Declaration was the individual and his or her relationship with the state.  Today, people are almost threatened as much by the activities of international corporations who are seemingly uncontrolled and uncontrollable.  They have also shown themselves all to ready to adjust their policies to suit despotic regimes such as China and seek to do business there.

Another looming technological threat is face recognition which is just beginning to become noticed as such in the UK.  Although it has benefits – finding missing persons or lost children, as well as an anti crime tool – it has enormous implications for civil liberties and individual rights.  The right to privacy will be substantially lost as the technology develops.  The influence of technology and the increasing influence of AI has been termed ‘digital feudalism.’  The crucial issue with these technological issues is control.  We have recently introduced GDPR legislation into the UK to protect citizens from unwarranted intrusion.  Yet the tech giants are outside this regime: it is not possible to find out from Facebook what information they have on you.

And we do not have to go far to see a more sinister aspect of the technology problem.  A firm based just outside Salisbury in the village of Porton, makes and supplies equipment which enables regimes to intercept and monitor phone calls and internet traffic.  They supply some well known countries with grim human rights records enabling them to find and arrest lawyers, opposition politicians and human rights activists.

Both these factors shows the individual to be threatened by corporate and state actors which both operate outside proper – or indeed any – democratic controls.  Mr Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebook, declined to attend the house of commons select committee on his company’s alleged role in the Referendum.

So the nature of human rights has changed since the post war days and the foundation of the current human rights climate.  The hope after the war that a new rules based international order with the UN as some kind of controlling force has all but ended.  Despots around the world are increasingly ignoring treaties and international obligations and acting with impunity.  The Palestinians live in an open prison in the Gaza strip while Israel relentlessly take more and more of their land ignoring numerous UN resolutions.  New threats have appeared with the giant internet companies and with climate change.

There are however, some major changes in the current concerns and the beliefs behind those who promoted a better world after the second world war. Gone is the sense of optimism and a desire that by acting together in a rules based world order, we could see a brighter future for ordinary people in the world. ‘Never again’ was the clear desire amongst many people who had experienced two terrible wars and the holocaust.

That optimism for the future has all but disappeared and we have become used to horrific events in places like Syria, Chechnya, Burma, Libya and many other places around the world. Yemen has already been mentioned but there are countless other wars around the world which only scarcely get a mention. Wikipedia provides a list and there are 4 current conflicts with a death toll of 10,000 or more and 6 where the death toll is between 1,000 to 10,000. There is a very long list of smaller conflicts. In all these, it is the vulnerable who suffer and the children who are either sucked into the conflict or whose education is halted.

The UK was one of the early signatories to the UN Declaration although it has to be admitted that, along with France, there were worries at the about our activities in the colonies.  We as a nation have been active in promoting human rights – we once had an ethical foreign policy – although less so in recent years.  Yet we are host to the City of London which is the worlds leading centre for money laundering and tax evasion.  It handles vast quantities of ‘dark money’ and some its banks have been fined billions of pounds for illicit money transfers on behalf of arms dealers, drug smugglers and other criminal elements.  This weakens our moral position, a fact which is not lost on some foreign autocrats.  It is difficult for us to adopt a high moral position when our financial institutions are helping Putin loot the Russian state, a fact revealed in the Panama papers.

Are there any positive signs?  There has been a significant rise in activity and interest in climate issues with the Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg.  However, this has not spilled over into concerns about human rights.  There has been a dramatic attitudinal shift concerning the internet companies which have gone from hero to zero in the matter of a few years.  More people are concerned about their activities for example with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.  Nevertheless, many people remain unconcerned about privacy or civil liberties issues.

Overall one must remain gloomy.  The spirit of optimism has gone and it is difficult to find any commentators expressing a positive view of the future.  Concerns about climate are essentially parochial and climate stress in other parts of the world achieve little more than passing interest.  Commercial interests remain entrenched and powerful and are still able to sow confusion and doubt about the real impact of climate change.  They are still able to claim that human actions are not necessarily to blame and that there has always been climate change.  Politicians show little urgency or real interest in these matters.  Revelation after revelation emerges about Yemen and the destruction there, partly supported by our arms sales, yet nothing changes.

The problem in the modern era is that human rights issues are more diffuse and threats come from several different directions.  After the war it seemed simple enough to set up a system to prevent a repeat of the horrors of the Second World War.  Now, it is authoritarian regimes, corporate power, the rise of AI and its effects, climate destabilisation, the arms trade and political indifference.  The media’s role is also a factor with some outlets either not covering some of these issues or diminishing their significance.  All play a part in threatening the wellbeing of millions of people.

There still remains a need for human rights organisations to promote the cause.  Perhaps one optimistic sign is the number of organisations engaged in this work some of which are listed at the bottom of our site.  There are many others.

 

 

Yemen Court of Appeal verdict

Posted: August 7, 2019 in Uncategorized

On 20 June 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are unlawful

The Court of Appeal concluded that it was ‘irrational and therefore unlawful’ for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have granted licenses without making any assessment as to whether violations of international humanitarian law had taken place.  The UK is one of the leading sellers of arms to Saudi Arabia and RAF personnel are present as well.

As a result of this landmark decision, the government must retake all decisions to export arms to Saudi in accordance with the law.  It has stopped issuing new arms exports licenses to Saudi and its coalition partners, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt.

This is a great verdict achieved by concerted action by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. These weapons sales should never have been licensed in the first place.  The government repeatedly claims to exercise strict controls but the reality seems to be anything goes.

Given the evidence we have heard and the volume of UK-manufactured arms exported to Saudi Arabia, it seems inevitable that any violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the coalition have involved arms supplied from the UK.  This constitutes a breach of our own export licensing criteria.  Parliament’s International Development and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees, October 2016

Despite this decision and the considerable public outcry, the government is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.  They are probably encouraged by the appointment of Boris Johnson as prime minister.  A recent FoI request showed that in August 2016, Johnson signed off on the transfer of bombs only two days after Saudi forces had destroyed a food factory killing 14 people.  The following day, the Saudi Air Force bombed a school killing 10 children.  Two months later, Saudi forces bombed a funeral killing 140 people.  In the weeks that followed, Johnson signed another arms transfer for bombs.  Despite this, the government insists it has one of the most robust arms controls regimes in the world. These rules say that sales should not be allowed when there is a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression or in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law, or where they would provoke or prolong armed conflicts.

People and children

Underneath the bombs are people and children. The effects on them and the country generally have been catastrophic. Warning: the following quote is upsetting –

I saw tragedy. The men who were filling the place with happiness and dance were in scattered pieces of charred flesh. The blood was everywhere. Fingers and intestines were in all directions… Body parts were on trees and rocks and people tried to collect as many of them as possible and the remaining body parts were eaten by dogs.

Amina Al-Shahb Survivor of attack on son’s wedding in Hajjah Governorate April 2018

The countries supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others involved in the conflict have plenty of arms trade regulations in place.  In fact, they claim to apply the highest standards.  It is, however, a well-determined policy of these countries to continue supplying and supporting a few ultra-rich oil states that help maintain the profitable and dominant position of western arms manufacturers. Western states have made a clear choice to support undemocratic regimes in a war that has denied the people of Yemen the most basic human rights. (Mwatana is an independent Yemeni organization involved in defending human rights)

The data on the death toll in Yemen is collected by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project, Acled.  The following graph shows the rising toll of killing;

graph

Fatalities 2015 – 2019. Source, ACLED

 

If you go to their site you can find a range of statistics to describe the effects of the conflict.

Over 90,000 people have now been killed.  Many more thousands have been injured.  The country is in pieces and there is cholera.  Yet we continue as a nation to continue supplying weapons and personnel to perpetuate the conflict.  We have strict rules it is claimed but despite the appalling results, the rules don’t seem to be applied.

Sources: CAAT; ACLED; Guardian; Washington Post; Mwatana

Summer BBQ

Posted: August 1, 2019 in Event, Group news, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

We regret to say that the BBQ has been called off.  Several people could not make it, two more have sent apologies and one is uncertain so it seemed rather pointless to continue.  But: we shall be meeting for a pub lunch at the New Inn in New Street from 12:30 on Sunday.

If you were thinking of joining the group we would like to see you.


We are fortunate in Salisbury to have the support of the Cathedral which has a prisoner  of conscience window and the Amnesty candle.  They also allow us to put prisoner of conscience details for people to pick up and act on if they wish.  This is changed once a month by group member Tony.

Cathedral site

Candle

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Salisbury Amnesty

 


No to the death penaltyAttached is the monthly death penalty report for mid June/July 2019 compiled by group member Lesley.  It covers a number of countries and in addition to the usual suspects, includes Sri Lanka which is planning to start executing it citizens again.

Note that China is not included which is believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together but the details are a state secret.

Monthly report (Word)


Asia Bibi leaves Pakistan for Canada a free woman

Many people were outraged at the treatment Asia Bibi received in Pakistan and have written letters in support of her.  We have today (12 June 2019) heard that she has been acquitted.

Asia Bibi is a Christian farm worker, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. After an eight-year ordeal, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her of all charges and released her in October 2018.  Following the decision by the Supreme Court to uphold her acquittal on 29 January 2019, it was confirmed by the Pakistani Foreign Office on 9 May that she had left Pakistan and safely arrived in Canada to be reunited with her family.

We are extremely grateful to supporters who wrote appeals to not only acquit Asia Bibi but to also ensure her safe passage out of Pakistan.  Her wrongful death sentence has also helped bring more nuance into the discourse around the blasphemy laws and their rampant misuse.  Offered asylum in Canada, Asia Bibi can begin to live her life as a free woman.

We thank you, for standing with Asia Bibi during her ordeal. It’s a great relief that Asia Bibi and her family are safe. She should never have been imprisoned in the first place, let alone faced the death penalty.   Omar Waraich, Deputy South Asia Director at Amnesty International.

Source: Amnesty press release

 

Paul Mason talk

Posted: June 10, 2019 in Group news, Uncategorized
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CANCELLATION

We very much regret to announce that the talk planned by Paul mason on 24th June has had to be cancelled.  We have heard from Paul’s agent that he will be indisposed on that date.