The US rushed to execute 13 before Jo Biden became president

Shock was widely expressed following the execution of 13 people in the final days of the Trump presidency and just days before president elect Jo Biden takes office on 20th.  President Trump has been the most prolific executioner in more than a century.  There has been a gradual drift away from this use of the penalty in the USA – the only American nation still to have the penalty – and the executions are out of step with trends and attitudes among the US public.  These executions took place in federal prisons. It has been criticised as vindictive.

The Attorney General, William Barr said:

[…] We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.  US Department of Justice statement when federal executions were resumed after two decades.  July 2019 [accessed 16 January 2021]

 

 

Apartheid, Israel style

Posted: January 16, 2021 in "Human rights", Israel
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Report from the Israel Information Centre accuses Israel of being an Apartheid state

Older readers will remember the news bulletins from South Africa during the Apartheid era.  Pictures of white police officer beating black people, townships being bulldozed and signs on buildings and entrances saying ‘Nie Blankes’ the quaint ‘European Ladies only’ and ‘Caution, beware natives’.  These and other signs divided the country into a variety of areas into which people of colour could not travel unrestricted.  There were many other laws which severely restricted the lives of non-white South Africans.

Years of struggle finally ended the regime in the years 1990 – 1994.  The campaigns involved civil disobedience, boycotts and international pressure.

The system of separation, restrictions of movement and second class status applies in many similar ways in Israel and their treatment of Palestinians.  This is set out in some detail in a report by B’Tselem the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.  Entitled: A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid – published this month (January 2021).  It sets out in considerable detail the methods by which Israel has created a divided state with one law for Jewish people and another law for Palestinians.  These include not allowing Palestinians to move between different parts of Israel if their status would improve as a result; non-Jews have no rights to settle in the country; Palestinians not being allowed to live in certain areas for reasons of ‘cultural incompatibility’; not being allowed to demonstrate, and a whole range of laws which effectively confirms their second class status.  There are many more listed in the report.

Gaza of course is an egregious example which is almost a prison.  Movement in or our is tightly restricted and there is no port or airport.  The wall cuts a swathe through Palestinian territory.

The similarities to Apartheid are many.  Whereas it was based on race and colour in South Africa, in Israel it is based on nationality and ethnicity.  The report concludes:

As painful as it may be to look reality in the eye, it is more painful to live under a boot. The harsh reality described [in this report] may deteriorate further if new practices are introduced – with or without accompanying legislation. Nevertheless, people created this regime and people can make it worse – or work to replace it. That hope is the driving force behind this position paper. How can people fight injustice if it is unnamed? Apartheid is the organizing principle, yet recognizing this does not mean giving up. On the contrary: it is a call for change.

A future of peaceful coexistence seems unachievable while Israel maintains and continues to expand a two state country, with one group of citizens with all the freedoms of a modern state and another group denied most of these rights.

UK aid to Saudi Arabia

Posted: January 15, 2021 in Saudi Arabia
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UK has funnelled £2.4m to the Saudis to help them comply with humanitarian law

Last year, there was a political fuss when the Department for International Development was merged with the Foreign Office and subsequently, its budget cut from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%.  David Cameron, when prime minister, had kept to the higher level despite a fierce campaign and a string of exaggerated stories by the tabloid press, principally the Daily Mail.  DFID had a good reputation and with broadly favourable audit reports on how and where the money was spent and its effectiveness.

A number of prominent Conservatives, including Andrew Mitchell, Tobias Ellwood and others, opposed the move.  The pledge to keep the 0.7% was in the last party manifesto.  There were many Conservatives however who were in favour of the cuts saying that the aid was best spent at home especially with the money needed for Covid.  The arguments against the aid were that it was wasted and one example quoted was India which can afford nuclear weapons and has a space programme.

It is more than a little surprising therefore to discover that HMG has been quietly funding the Saudi government to the tune of £2.4m over a 4 year period to help them with meeting international humanitarian law requirements.  In view of the Saudi regime’s continuing activities, it doesn’t seem like it is money well spent.  Opposition to the regime is ruthlessly crushed.  The women who argued for the right to drive languish in prison.  Executions continue apace with a record 184 in 2019.  Torture is routine.  And then there is the bombing of Yemen where there have been 8,758 civilian deaths and 9,810 injured.  During the period of this funding, the regime murdered and then dismembered the body of Adman Khashoggi.

So while aid will be cut – not just the reduction in the percentage itself but the reduction in our GDP because of the pandemic – money continues to flow to one of the richest countries in the world.

Sources: Human Rights Watch; Guardian; al Jazeera; Yemen Data Project

 

 

 

 


The death penalty report for December to January is now available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.

Report- Word

Lisa Montgomery executed on Wednesday 13th


Lisa Montgomery was executed in the Federal prison of Terre Haute, Indiana today (Wednesday, 13 January 2021) after a long legal struggle to save her from this punishment. The case has caused a major debate in the US partly because Lisa was the first woman to be executed in nearly seven decades. She was executed in a federal prison, not a state one.

There is no doubt that her crime was horrific. But there seems little doubt also that her upbringing, which included being gang raped more than once, contributed to her lack of mental wellbeing and borderline personality disorder. It is unlikely she was aware of what was happening to her. She was the 11th person to be executed at Terre Haute since President Trump resumed federal executions.

The US is the only country in the Americas to retain the death penalty and not all states in the union practise it.

There is no evidence to support the maintenance of this penalty. It does not deter and it brutalises those involved in it. It can make securing convictions harder if juries are unwilling to agree a guilty verdict if there is a risk of execution. It is extremely expensive as we noted in a previous post and it has cost California for example, around $12bn to administer since 1978.  For poor people, unable to employ expensive lawyers, the system is stacked against them.  Mistakes – and there are many – cannot afterwards be rectified.  


View Amnesty International’s review of 2020 – a tumultuous year by any reckoning.

Video


The use of sport to sanitise regimes with atrocious human rights records may be increasing

The use of sport and ‘sports wash’ to give favourable publicity to regimes engaged in a range of human rights abuses is probably on the increase and has been particularly noticeable this year.  Sport is now a major international business and involves huge amounts of money.  Some sport is international in scope and has audiences numbered in the millions.  With such a captive audience, it is small wonder that countries who want to sanitise their reputations and present wholesome images of themselves, turn to sport to deliver those images.

Sport is also closely connected with the media and there are sometimes frenzied negotiations to get rights to publish or transmit sporting events.  With so much invested in securing rights and harvesting the advertising which goes with it, there is little time, space or inclination to question too much what goes on behind the scenes.  Sports pages live at the back of most newspapers and exist in a kind of private world.  Pages of dramatic photos of footballers, cricketers, rugby players and others are displayed seemingly detached from the rest of the world.

Abuses are many and include the terrible conditions workers endure building stadia in the Gulf for the football world cup.  Athletes themselves are subject to abuse by their trainers and coaches and British Cycling has been subject to allegations of this kind by a whistle-blower.  Drugs have been a perennial problem and infect many sports.

In recent years, we have seen more examples of sports wash.  We featured the attempt by Saudi Arabia to fund the Newcastle Football Club as part of its campaign to present a better image of the country.  A feature of that campaign was the encouragement it received from the the club’s supporters.

Holding this rally is ‘grotesque’

 

Today (6 January 2021), attention has focused on the Dakar rally which will pass close to the prison where Loujain al-Hathloul is held for campaigning for the right of women to drive.  The regime has been going through some contortions to get itself out of a PR mess of its own making.  The threat to imprison her for a lengthy jail term were dropped and with suspended sentences she should be released in a few months.  Loujain was kidnapped, held without access to a lawyer and tortured.  The rally is organised by the Amaury Sports Organisation whose website does not appear to make claims about human rights adherence.

A tweet from Grant Liberty says:

It is utterly grotesque that at the same time Saudi authorities will host a motor sport event — including women drivers — the heroes that won their right to drive languish in jail.  5 January 

Loujain’s sister said in a tweet:

No-one should be fooled by the Saudi regime’s attempts at sportswashing … Racers might not know it, but their participation there is to hide and whitewash the host’s crimes.  Lina al-Hathloul, Loujain’s sister 5 January

These trends suggest that sport needs to take greater interest in human rights and what is happening in the countries they compete in.  If they are being used to sanitise the reputation of regimes who torture, arrest opposition leaders, human rights defenders, lawyers and generally ignore the human rights of their citizens, they must ask themselves ‘is this what sport is for?’  Huge interest was generated when the footballer Marcus Rashford was influential in forcing the government to change its mind over school meals.  In some areas therefore, sport is beginning to use its power and its huge following to effect change.

But all too often, the lure of big money and a willingness to look the other way, seems to be the prevailing ethos.

 

 


UK likely to abandon human rights concerns in its rush for trade deals

News today (3 January 2021) that the government has agreed a comprehensive trade deal with Turkey has set alarm bells ringing about the future for human rights in further deals.  Following our departure a few days ago from the EU, the government is trying hard to secure trade deals around the world to replace any problems which might occur limiting trade with them.

The human rights situation in Turkey is dire.  Journalists and human rights defenders have been jailed on vague charges of the terrorism kind.  Newspapers have been closed.  Torture is common in police stations and there is a culture of impunity for the security forces.  Thousands of people are denied work accused of being terrorists or aiding terrorists.  Essentially the rule of law has all but broken down.

We do of course have to trade around the world and if we only did so with those with clean hands, business would be rather thin.  We do not have to sell them arms however to make the region less stable and enhance the president Erdogan’s ability to control his people.  Liz Truss’s unquestioning enthusiasm for a trade deal seemingly at any cost is to be deprecated.

Does regaining sovereignty mean selling anything to anyone?

 

Will this be repeated around the world with all sorts of regimes who mistreat their citizens, use torture routinely and are indifferent to human rights?  Time will tell but it is to be hoped that the desire to secure deals at any price, no questions asked, does not become the norm.  Is this what ‘regaining our sovereignty’ means?  Freedom to sell arms and other sensitive materials to some of the world’s worse regimes?

Peter Curbishley

 


Farrants singing in an earlier year

Last evening we went carol signing in Albany and Belle View Roads in Salisbury with a group of singers from the Farrants.  It was a bit touch and go whether we would do it this year and we certainly had to scale things down.  The singers had to observe distance rules and of course we could not go close to doorways.  We were delighted with the response though and several family groups stood in their doorways to enjoy carols sung by a choir of dedicated singers.  With thanks to the Farrants, group members Jonathan, Joanna and Lesley for helping.  This is around the 15th year we have sung carols in this area of Salisbury.  

We would like to wish all our supporters and followers, a Happy Christmas and a safe New Year.

19 December 2021

 

 

 


John Glen, the MP for Salisbury, has been accused by the ex-leader of his party of ‘kowtowing’ to China

This accusation was made in the Mail on Sunday, a Conservative supporting tabloid paper, in an article on 24 October 2020.  Mr Glen, a Treasury Minister, gave a speech at an event organised by the 48 Group Club which was set up to promote Sino-British relations.  Mr Glen is alleged to have said that ‘Britain and China are natural partners and that the two sides have broad prospects for cooperation in financial services and the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.’ [No text of the speech is available on the 48 Group Club’s website or on the Treasury site.]

Pursuing increased commercial contact and encouraging greater trade was a creditable endeavour.  Greater  understanding was always to be supported and many of the 500 or so individuals who are members of the Club are likely to have had that in mind when joining.

But since Xi Jinping came to power, things have changed markedly.  China has become a repressive state with a catalogue of infringements against international norms.  It’s justice system is plagued by unfair trials and the use of torture.  Repression of whole areas of the country including Tibet and Xinjiang is severe.  The Government continues to harass, intimidate and prosecute human right defenders.  All media and the internet are rigorously censored.  There is little religious freedom with churches, mosques and temples destroyed on government orders.  China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined.

Over the past year, attention has focused on the treatment of Uighurs, a million of whom are incarcerated in so-called training establishments which nevertheless are surrounded by high walls and watchtowers and are closed to outside observers.  Recently, concern has been expressed at the use of forced labour to produce cotton and western companies are being urged to ensure cotton produced using such labour is not used in their products.

In July a book was published by Clive Hamilton and Mareika Ohlberg Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World’ (One World Press) which claims that the 48 Group Club is a hub ‘through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites’.  Looking into the group does seem to reveal some curious issues.  It claims many members of the political establishment some of whom say they have no knowledge of joining.  Who funds them is not explained on their website.

48 Group is a hub ‘through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites’ book claims

Mr Glen cannot claim ignorance of the appalling human rights situation in China since many members of the Salisbury Amnesty group have written to him on many occasions.  He will be aware of the concerns about China’s increasing bellicose actions against Taiwan and border conflict with India.  China has reneged on the Hong Kong agreement and is tightening its grip on the state.  However, we know from the They Work for you site that Mr Glen ‘generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights’.  Many countries are beginning to review their relations with the country in view of the policies of the communist regime and the threats they pose.

Mr Duncan Smith claims that the speech was written for him which, as it does not seem to have been published or made available, we cannot know.  It does suggest however, that the government is anxious to press on with closer commercial contacts with China despite the increasing risks and despite the appalling human rights situation there.  It is perhaps an inevitable result of the Brexit decision (supported by Mr Glen) and the shock that will give to the economy: we must seek business where we may and not be too squeamish about with whom.

That may be so, but for Mr Glen allegedly to praise President Xi, as the Mail on Sunday claims, to a suspect lobbying organisation, raises many uncomfortable questions.

Sources: Mail on Line [accessed 15 December 2020]; Endole; Daily Express; upnewsinfo.com; Amnesty International.  Sites searched but with no reference to the speech: Salisbury Journal; Treasury; John Glen MP’s website [all accessed 18 December 2020]