Archive for the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ Category


UN speech by the Commissioner for Human Rights well worth a read

It is perhaps a sign of the times that Theresa May, the UK prime minister, should find herself quoted in the opening paragraph of a speech by the UN Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.  Not in a flattering way but quoting her remarks that human rights should be overturned if the ‘got in the way’ of the fight against terrorism.  These remarks were made during the election campaign which did not go the way intended by Mrs May.  They followed a terrorist attack in London.

Whatever the background, Al Hussein thinks the remarks were ‘highly regrettable’ and are a gift to the many authoritarian

Al Hussein, UN. Pic: Times of Israel

governments around the world.  It seems that any idea that the UK is some kind of a beacon for civilised behaviour in an increasingly troubled world has all but gone.  The desire to promote arms now matters more than the victims of their use for example in Yemen.  Despite the appalling behaviour of the Chinese government, most recently with the death of Liu Xiaobo, our response is the minimum necessary: we are more interested in trade than decent behaviour.

It is disappointing to see the prime minister of the UK being mentioned in this way because whatever her faults, there is no comparison between the behaviour of her government and that say, of Russia, where journalists and opposition politicians are gunned down and which has been described as a mafia state.  The activities of governments in the Gulf also leave a great deal to be desired.  There are many other countries in the world where autocratic regimes mistreat their citizens, use torture routinely, violently put down peaceful protests and deny freedom of expression.

The remarks were perhaps made more in sorrow reflecting the fact that it was the UK government after the war which was one of those who were active in promoting the role of international law and human rights.  Today, Al Hussein notes in his speech, for some politicians see human rights as an ‘irritating check on expediency.’  Some are indifferent to the effects of austerity on their own citizens.

A question he asks are ‘what rights does the prime minister mean?’ a question we asked of our Salisbury MP Mr Glen.  It is seldom if ever clear what it is they want to see done away with.  This might arise because they are responding to tabloid media pressure which maintains an unceasing campaign against the European Court, the European Convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.  A recent example is from the Daily Mail claiming that the Act does help terrorists.  Other newspapers run similar stories presenting a drip, drip of negative material against the act.  Throw in a hatred of anything European and it is small wonder politicians follow the line.  As Al Hussein expresses it:

So why did Prime Minister May said this?  At least part of the answer may lie in market conditions. Human Rights law has long been ridiculed by an influential tabloid press here in the UK, feeding with relish on what it paints as the absurd findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This viewpoint has some resonance with a slice of the public unaware of the importance of international human rights law – often seen by far too many people as too removed from everyday life, very continental, too lawyerly, too activist, ultimately too weird. How can the Court consider prisoners’ voting rights, and other supposedly frivolous claims, when set against the suffering of victims? The bastards deserve punishment, full stop! This may be understandable, at some emotional level. However, one should also acknowledge that British ink, reflecting an enormously rich legal tradition, is found throughout the European Convention on Human Rights.

Although some members of the government seek to reduce the influence of human rights in our society, not all do and the organisation Bright Blue, which describes itself as an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism, has recently published a report arguing that the Conservatives should make Britain the ‘home of human rights.’  Clearly some fundamental attitudes will have to change if that ambition is to be realised.  This report is also well worth a read.

Unless countries like Britain and the USA are willing to provide moral leadership then a further deterioration in human rights around the world is to be expected.

 

 


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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The last set of pictures of the panels on the tapestry currently in the entrance to the Chapter House at Salisbury Cathedral.  Each panel represents an article from the Universal Declaration of Human RightsVideo

Art 26

Article 26: Everyone has the right to an education, elementary schools should be free and compulsory.  Contributed from the Southampton City group.

 

 

 

 

Art 27Article 27: Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community.  Team effort this by Fay, Janet, Sharon, Sue and Gretel, members of the Romsey group.

 

 

 

 

Art 28Article 28Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set out here can be fully respected.  The third panel by our Regional Representative, Caroline Butler.

 

 

 

 

Art 29Article 29: Everyone has duties to the community.  This is the second panel in the tapestry contributed by a refugee group, this time GARAS, the Gloucester Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.  GARAS offers support to those seeking asylum in Gloucestershire; welcoming them when they arrive; advocating for them in their daily struggles; supporting them if they face being sent back, as well as helping them adjust to their long term future if they are recognised as refugees.

 

Art 30Article 30: No one has the right to act in such a way as to destroy the rights and freedoms set in in this declaration.  The fourth panel from the Southampton City group.

 

 

 

 

End

 

 


Nearly there: this is the fifth batch of detailed pictures of the tapestry now in the entrance to the Chapter House at Salisbury Cathedral.  Previous blogs have shown the first twenty panels.  Any errors of if you want to add some detail, please get in touch and we shall be happy to oblige.

Art 21Article 21: Everyone has the right to take part in the government off their country.  Voting should be regular and secret, and all votes should have equal value.  Another panel from the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch group.

 

 

 

 

Art 22Article 22: Everyone as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.  This panel made by the West Wilts group.

 

 

 

 

Art 23Article 23: Everyone has the right to work and those doing the same work should get equal pay.  Everyone has the right to form and join a trade union.  A second panel from the West Wilts group.

 

 

 

 

Art 24Article 24: Everyone has the right to rest and leisure including reasonable working hours and paid holiday.  A third panel from the Frome group, this time by Fiona and Jeanne.

 

 

 

 

Art 25Article 25: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing.  People should be helped if they cannot earn a living.  A third panel from the Bristol group.

 

 

 


This is the fourth batch of pictures of the tapestry which is in the entrance lobby to the Chapter House in Salisbury Cathedral.

Art 16Article 16: Men and women have the right to marry and found a family.  No on should be forced to marry.  This panel by Carol Corke on behalf of the Isle of Wight group.

 

 

 

 

Art 17Article 17: Everyone has the right to own property.  This panel is also by the Isle of Wight group, this time made by Sue Logan.

 

 

 

 

Art 18Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  And this panel is from our very own Salisbury group made by Fiona Donovan.

 

 

 

 

Art 19Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.  This includes sharing ideas with people from other countries.  Another panel from the Mid Gloucester group, this time by June Styles.

 

 

 

 

Art 20Article 20: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.  This panel was made not by an Amnesty group but by the Harbour Project in Swindon.

The Harbour Project welcomes and supports refugees and asylum seekers in Swindon.  To those who’ve risked their lives, families and homes fleeing war and persecution, they provide friendship and hope for a future.   They have been working tirelessly since the Kosovo crisis in 2000.  Today, they are aiding people from across the world.


This is the third set of detailed pictures from the tapestry currently on display at Salisbury Cathedral at the entrance to the Chapter House where a copy of Magna Carta is displayed.  It illustrates the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  A picture of the whole thing is on an earlier blog with a short video.

 

Art 11Article 11: Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.  This panel prepared by Rona Keene of the Bristol group.

 

 

 

 

Art 12Article 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor attacks upon their honour and reputation.  Another panel by Cari a member of the Frome group.

 

 

 

 

Art 13Article 13: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement.  Prepared by the Farringdon group.

 

 

 

 

 

Art 14Article 14: Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.  People lose this right if they do not respect what is written here.  Another panel from the Southampton City group.

 

 

 

 

Art 15Article 15: Everyone has the right to a nationality.  Another panel from the Bristol group this time prepared by Sarah Heath.

 

 

 

 

Any errors or if you want to add a name please let us know .

 


This is the second batch of detailed pictures from the tapestry.  See a previous blog showing the full thing in all its glory and also a short video clip.

Art 6Article 6 Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.  This panel contributed by the Southampton group.

 

 

 

 

Art 7Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.  Made by Caroline Butler on behalf of the Cheltenham and Gloucester group.

 

 

 

 

Art 8Article 8Everyone has the right to legal help when rights granted by a country to its citizens are not respected.  Rachel Berry made this on behalf of the mid-Gloucester group.  She also did No: 5.

 

 

 

 

Art 9Article 9No one should be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.  Made by Cari and Judy, members of the Frome group.

 

 

 

 

Art 10Article 10Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.  Made by Caroline Butler, the Regional Representative, for the groups in the south.

 

 

 

 

As before, if there are errors or anyone wants to add something, please get in touch or send a comment through this site.

 


In a previous blog we showed the now complete tapestry which is on display, with kind permission of the Cathedral Authorities, outside the Chapter House where one of the extant copies of Magna Carta is displayed.  The tapestry illustrates the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ratified in December 1948 in Paris.  In this, and subsequent blogs, we will be showing detailed pictures of the panels with appropriate attribution to their creators.  We will be showing them in batches of five.  Overall credit must go to Caroline Butler, the South Region Representative (AI), whose idea this was and who worked hard to bring this tapestry to its successful conclusion.

Most reading this will not be in the Salisbury area and thus may not be able to see it, but it has generated a lot of interest from visitors to the Magna Carta.  We hope in due course that it will go on to be displayed elsewhere in the south region.

Article 1This is Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  Prepared by Liz James-Froud on behalf of the Bath Group.

 

 

 

 

Artilcle 2Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedom regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, belief, race or origin.  Prepared by Liza Lishman a member of the Swindon and Marlborough group.

 

 

 

 

Article 3 3Article 3: Everybody has the right to life, liberty and security of person.  This panel prepared by someone from the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch group.

 

 

 

 

Art 4Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.  Dot Atkins of the Isle of Wight group.

 

 

 

 

 

Art 5Article 5: No one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  This panel prepared by Rachel Berry or the Mid Gloucester group.

 

 

 

 

If there are any corrections or additions, please get in touch.  The next set of panels will be posted up soon.