The British high Court today handed down a deeply disappointing and some might argue astonishing decision that arms sales to the Saudi Arabians represents no risk to human rights law.  The case was brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT and concerned the use of weapons sold to the Saudis and being used by them in the ‘forgotten war’ in Yemen.

We have in this blog been drawing attention to the terrible damage being done by the Saudis in Yemen who have used our weapons to bomb civilian targets in that country.  These are not isolated incidents or accidents, but part of what seems to be a plan which has seen the bombing of hospitals, refugee camps, schools, wedding ceremonies and market places – indeed anywhere where civilians are likely to congregate.  10,000 have now died there and the country is in crisis.  CNN has produced a short film (distressing please note) showing some of the dreadful effects of the war being waged.

Despite the considerable evidence that international human rights are being violated, that civilian targets are being targeted and banned UK produced BL-755 cluster munitions are being used, astonishingly the High Court ruled that:

The Secretary of State was ‘rationally entitled to conclude’ the coalition was not targeting civilians.

It further concluded:

Saudi Arabia was respecting humanitarian law and is in constructive dialogue with the UK about its processes and incidents of concern.  There was no real risk that there might be serious violations of International Humanitarian Law.

A CAAT said it was a ‘very disappointing verdict’ and that they were going to appeal.

If the ruling is not overturned then it will be regarded by Whitehall and Westminster as giving a green light to continue arming and supplying brutal dictators and human rights abusers.

An Amnesty International spokesman said:

The shameless arms supplies to Saudi Arabia … may amount to lucrative trade deals but the UK risks aiding abetting these terrible crimes.  This is a deeply disappointing outcome which gives a green light to the UK authorities – and potentially other arms suppliers – to continue authorising arms transfers to the Kingdom despite the clear risk they will be used to commit violations.  James Lynch, head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International (source: Washington Post)

It is difficult to ascribe a rational reason to the High Court’s decision.  True they had access to secret information which the rest of us cannot know.  But the evidence on the ground is compelling and has come from several different sources and experts.  And there is the human rights record of the Saudis themselves in their own country.  A record of executions, torture and amputations which puts them in a league of their own.

Behind it all is that they are major purchases of weapons and our biggest market for such materiel by far.  They are the tail that wags the dog.

Few can be happy that for the sake of jobs, weapons supplied by us are being used to cause such mayhem, death and misery in an already poor country.  We must sincerely hope that the Court of Appeal overturns this disgraceful decision.


Sources: the Independent; Washington Post; New York Times; the Guardian; CNN

 

 

 

 


Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has liver cancer

Liu Xiaobo who has liver cancer and was serving 11 years for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ which means any activity which seeks to undermine communist power.  Liu was seeking reforms in China and improved democracy.  He is now out of prison but essentially under arrest.  Since his diagnosis, the Chinese did not want a Nobel Lauriat dying in prison, so released him to a hospital where he is expected to die.  It is alleged the poor state of medical attention in prisons in China meant he did not get treatment earlier enough and this may have hastened his end.

China is accused of many failings to do with human rights.  Activists and lawyers are targeted and frequently arrested.  There has been a crackdown on lawyers.  People with religious convictions are persecuted.  The internet is heavily restricted and press freedom is also extremely limited.  The country is a heavy user of the death penalty and executes more of its citizens than all the rest of the world put together.  The precise number not known since it is a state secret.

The country is extremely sensitive to outside criticism and were furious when Liu was awarded the Peace Prize.  Trade with Norway was curtailed which probably did not concern them too much since they are a wealthy country.  The Beijing government summoned the Norwegian ambassador in protest.  It called Mr Liu a “criminal”, saying the award violated Nobel principles and could damage relations with Norway.  The Norwegian Nobel committee said Mr Liu was “the foremost symbol” of the struggle for human rights in China.  It took six years before relations were normalised between the two countries according to the New York Times.

In some respects China is a powder keg.  As long as prosperity increases then many people are happy to go about their lives and not bother too much about issues of freedom and human rights.  They will not have access to sites or information which discuss or promote such issues (such as Amnesty International) and so the ruling communists need not worry too much about a restive population.  Step by step they are securing hegemony over Hong Kong.  Some ‘below the line’ comments in the press stories suggest that the Confucian tradition also plays a part and that, unlike Western nations, this tradition of loyalty to the state is more a feature of political life.

Another factor is that it is said by some observers that the Chinese rather resent being subjected to Western moral codes, in which they had no part in formulating, being applied to them.  This does have some force except that they were a member of the Security Council when the Universal Declaration was signed in 1948.  It does overlook the fact that the Declaration caused the Western nations some discomfort as well: the British and French with their treatment of the colonial peoples and the USA with its treatment of black people.

If China wishes to become a leading world nation then it is going to have to accept the norms the rest of the world tries to live by.  The treatment of Liu Xiaobo (and many, many others) has been disgraceful.

And what of our Foreign and Colonial Office?  It says:

Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said:

I am pleased that the 24th Round of the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue has taken place. Senior officials discussed the full range of our human rights concerns, including freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, access to justice and ethnic minorities’ rights. They also discussed areas where the UK and China could collaborate more closely, including modern slavery and women’s rights.

The UK strongly believes that respect for human rights is vital for growth and stability, and that these regular talks are an important part of our relationship with China. The dialogue has, once again, been held in a constructive and open manner. I am grateful for the valuable contribution made by civil society organisations before and during this exchange. [accessed 29 June]

Post Brexit the emphasis is going to be on trade and the UK government is unlikely to raise difficult issues with the Chines government or risk being treated like Norway.

Sources: Amnesty International, New York Times, BBC, Guardian.


Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, salisburyai.  If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in promoting human rights please get in touch.  The best thing is to come along to one of our events and make yourself known.


The chair of Amnesty in Turkey has been arrested

Taner Kuliç who is the chair of Amnesty International in Turkey, has been detained by the Turkish authorities having been wrongly accused of being a member of a terrorist group.  This is further evidence of just how shockingly widespread the arbitrary nature of post crackdown Turkey has become.

The crackdown since the failed government coup on 15 July 2016 has been astonishingly widespread. The numbers reported by CNN as of April 2017 are as follows:

  • Detentions: 113,260

  • Arrests: 47,115

  • Journalists dismissed: 2,708

  • Media outlets shut down: 179

We expect these numbers to have risen even higher since.

Please follow the link and send a message to the Turkish government.  Thank you.


If you live in the Salisbury area we would welcome new members to our group.  The simplest thing is to come to one of our events and details of what we are doing can be found at the end of our minutes or by keeping an eye on Twitter.  You can also enter ‘Salisbury amnesty’ into a search engine.


Films at the Arts Centre
lucy maz crop

Prof Lucy Mazdon.  Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

We were delighted to be part of a showing of films at the Arts Centre as part of the Salisbury Festival.  Two films were shown: War Witch and Incendie.  Both were rather sombre films yet managed to have a degree of hope.  War Witch was set in Africa and showed the plight of a young girl caught up in the war where she is abducted and becomes a child soldier.  Incendie is the story of twins who travel to the middle east in search of their mother and what happened to her.  Both films were introduced by Prof. Lucy Mazdon who is head of the Dept in film at Southampton University and we were grateful to her for taking the time to come over to do this.

 


Minutes of the last two meetings – May and June – are below and thanks to group members Andrew and Lesley for preparing them.  The next meeting is on 13 July at 7:30 pm in Victoria Road.

May minutes (Word)

June minutes (Word)


If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in getting involved we would love to see you.  The local group is free to join although some join Amnesty International UK and there is a joining fee for that.  The best thing is to come along to one of our events and make yourself known.  You can see what’s on at the end of the minutes or by following us on twitter http://www.twitter.com/salisburyai.


The latest monthly death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  There is news of Reggie Clemons who has been on death row for 26 years now and we have heard from a family member.

Death penalty report (Word)

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)


Two films to be shown at the Arts Centre
FRIDAY 9TH

As part of the Salisbury Arts Festival, the Arts Centre is showing two films with a human rights aspect to them: War Witch and Incendies Both films will be introduced by Prof Lucy Mazdon from Southampton University.

War Witch starts at 7pm and Incendies at 9pm.  You can of course go to either one or both.  Details of how to book are to be found by clicking on the Arts Festival link above or their phone number is 0845 241 961.

Trailer:


Attached is the Death Penalty report for April – May prepared by group member Lesley.  It contains an update on the rush to execute people in Arkansas USA because of the imminent expiry of the drugs used.  There is also an update on the situation with Reggie Clemons.

Report (pdf)

 


Boys at risk of execution in Somalia

This is an all too familiar story of poor justice which has led to the execution already of five boys with two more at risk.

The story is that seven boys were arrested in December 2016 for allegedly killing three high ranking officials.  The boys were held in shipping containers for around 2 weeks before being transferred to a police station.  Two of the boys said they were subjected to various forms of torture including electrocution; burning with cigarettes on their genitals; beatings; drownings and rape.  Confessions were secured.

They were then tried before a military court with no other evidence other than the confessions.  They were denied access to a lawyer.  At the Appeal they were denied access to lawyers as well.

The two remaining boys – Muhamed Yasin Abdi who is 17 and Saud Saied Sahal, 15, are still in detention and are at risk of execution.

If you can spare some time to write or email that would be appreciated.  Full details on the link below.

Urgent Action: Somalia


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Five reasons to end the death penalty

We are attaching the recent post issued by RightsInfo which gives 5 reasons to end the death penalty.  There is a rising tide of executions around the world as the recent Amnesty report makes clear with China the country which leads the world (if ‘lead’ be the appropriate word) in executing the greatest number which it keeps a secret.  Saudi Arabia and Iran are also major executioners often in barbaric circumstances.

Our local group produces a monthly report and these can be found on this site.

Briefly, the Rights Info report, entitled: 5 Reasons the UK is Trying to Stamp Out the Death Penalty Worldwide, says that the death penalty:

  1. will often execute the innocent.  We have documented many instances on this site where for various reasons, the wrong person has been executed.  Once done, it cannot be undone
  2. is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and often involves people incarcerated for decades under threat of execution
  3. it has no effect on crime rates, indeed there are more murders in those states in the United States where capital punishment is used
  4. it damages international crime fighting because we cannot extradite individualswhere there is the risk of someone being executed

[we were unable to find a fifth in the report]

5 Reasons the UK is Trying to Stamp Out the Death Penalty Worldwide – RightsInfo copy (pdf)