UPDATE:  Reprieve have sent through a request to send a message of support to Kris and this can be accessed here.  (24 September 2019)

We report – via Reprieve – the good news that a Briton held for 33 years in Florida, has gained the chance of release about 4 years after it was proved he was innocent.  We have received an email from them which is reproduced in full below:

I’ve [Clive Stafford Smith] just had some incredibly exciting news on the case of Kris Maharaj, the Brit who has already spent 33 unjust years in Florida’s prison system for a murder he did not commit. Kris will finally have an evidentiary hearing on October 17th.  The meaning of that might not be initially obvious, but I assure you it’s a very significant development. It’s one I have been pushing for, for a long time.  It means that Kris finally has the chance to prove in a US federal court that he should not have been deprived of his liberty for more than three decades, let alone have been sentenced to death.

I’ve been involved in more than 400 capital cases over the years, and Kris’ is the greatest injustice of them all.  Evidence uncovered in 2014 proved beyond doubt that Kris is not guilty of the murders for which he has been imprisoned.  The state trial court nevertheless refused to order a new trial at the time.  That’s why I’ve been pushing for a Federal evidentiary hearing.

When I took on this case back in 1993, I had no grey hairs.  Twenty-six years on, you’d be hard pushed to find a hair on my head that isn’t grey or white – and a fair number of them have been caused by the traumas of Kris’ case. But just imagine the impact of the last 33 years on Kris and his wife Marita.  It is hard to believe that we could get justice after all the crushing disappointments we’ve been through over the years, but perhaps – just perhaps – Kris will finally come home for his first Christmas in more than three decades.
The possibility of justice would never have arisen were it not for the kindness of all his supporters.  Both Kris and Marita have said their hope wouldn’t have lasted this long without the support they get from the Reprieve community.

It’s going to be a busy month ahead as I prepare for this hearing, but the Campaigns team at Reprieve will be in touch to update you in the run-up to the 17th October.  Thank you, as always, for your support of Reprieve so we can help many people like Kris and Marita.

We reviewed on these pages, a book, Injustice, on this case by Stafford Smith making the point how unsound the American system is.   So Kris is likely to walk free but it is important to bear in mind that he might have been executed by now.  The book goes into remorseless detail about the inadequacies of the American trial system.  We are conditioned by Hollywood films and TV about how heroic it is but for the poor, the system is rotten.  The police do not have to release evidence to the defence (defense) which helps the defendant, a situation which happened in the UK before PACE was passed.

This is an uplifting story but tragically, he has had to spend over 3 decades in gaol for a crime he did not commit.

A search of his name comes up with a photograph of him with the caption ‘Kris Maharaj, murderer’.

Piece by the Sun newspaper on this case.

 

 

 

 

 

 


The minutes of the September meeting are now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.  A full meeting with a number of future events in hand.

September minutes (Word)

Group meeting

Posted: September 13, 2019 in Group news
Tags: ,

Septembers group meeting was held last night and the minutes will follow in a little while.  Main points discussed;

  • Death penalty report
  • Treasurer’s report and we have a healthy balance at present
  • Offer of someone to speak on Israel/Palestine and we will discuss with SCIP
  • Signing at the Cathedral and we may opt for a Sunday in December
  • Evensong to be held in the New Year
  • Carol singing: preparations under way
  • Film on 13 November at the Arts Centre
  • Agreed to submit a tree for the annual Christmas tree festival at St Thomas’s
  • Social media report: fairly quiet two months but a huge surge of interest in the Chemring post concerning the supply of CS gas to the Hong Kong police.

More details in the minutes


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


Amnesty issues warning on the threat to human rights with Brexit

Amnesty has issued a press release setting out serious concerns with respect to Brexit.  Amnesty has no position on Brexit itself but it is pointing out some of the implications if we leave.  The issue of the border in Ireland is receiving a great deal of attention at present and the threat to the Good Friday Agreement is a concern.

An additional worry is that the attitudes of most of the cabinet and our prime minister concerning human rights is to say the least, ambivalent.

For example, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Chancellor Sajid Javid and the Salisbury MP John Glen have all, according to the ‘They Work for You‘ web site, generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights.  They have voted against largely retaining the EU ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights’ and the Chancellor and Mr Glen have voted for the abolition of the Human Rights Act.  Being part of the EU combined with all the attention being devoted to the arguments about leaving, has limited the government’s ability to repeal the Act.  If and when we leave, one of these constraints will largely disappear.


Hong Kong withdraws from the DSEI arms exhibition.  Tear gas supplied by Chemring used by the police

The protests in Hong Kong have been going on since 9th June 2019 and we have seen regular incidents of violent police actions to quell the demonstrations.  There have also been what appear to be organised attacks by thugs wielding bars and clubs with no sign of any arrests or indeed of police at all.

A statement by Amnesty following the July events said:

The violent scenes in Yuen Long tonight were in part because Hong Kong police chose to inflame a tense situation rather than deescalate it.  For police to declare today’s protest unlawful was simply wrong under international law.

While police must be able to defend themselves, there were repeated instances today where police officers were the aggressors; beating retreating protesters, attacking civilians in the train station and targeting journalists.  Alarmingly, such a heavy-handed response now appears the modus operandi for Hong Kong police and we urge them to quickly change course.   Man-kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong

The police have been using tear gas supplied by the UK company Chemring.  The firm has a factory outside Salisbury (pictured) although the cannisters are made by their plant in Derby.  It is still under investigation for money laundering, bribery and corruption by the Serious Fraud Office.

IMG_6942

Chemring factory near Salisbury.  The CS gas cannisters are not made here but in their plant in Derby.  Photo: Salisbury Amnesty

Following similar incidents in 2014 – the umbrella movement – it was thought that a licence to sell tear gas was withheld or at least under review but it seems as though the company was free to sell it to the Hong Kong police.  This is part of a wider government policy of allowing UK companies to sell weapons to all kinds of regimes whilst allegedly claiming to enforce a strict control policy.  Chemring were granted an open licence in 2015.  The former foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, recently withdrew the licence following the weeks of violence which makes inviting HKPF to the DSEI arms fair odd.  The firm’s human rights policy (2019) says:

[We will] seek to uphold all internationally recognised human rights wherever our operations are based.  para 3.14, 2019

Hong Kong police withdrew from the DSEI arms fare to be held this week having been invited by the Dept. for International Trade the minister for which is Liz Truss.  A statement by the department said:

an invitation does not imply that any future export licences will be granted to Hong Kong

Campaign Against the Arms Trade, CAAT said:

The UK government approved the export of an unlimited quantity of crowd control equipment to Hong Kong.  Police in Hong Kong have used tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon and batons to violently disperse protests opposing the new Extradition Bill.  At least six people have been taken to hospital after inhaling tear gas.

There have been many protests about this fair which invites a number of countries many of which commit a range of human rights infringements, use torture and in the case of Saudi Arabia are bombing civilian targets in Yemen.

The Omega Research Foundation established in 1990, provides rigorous, objective, evidence-based research on the manufacture, trade, and use of, military, security and police (MSP) equipment.  Such technologies range from small arms and light weapons to large weapon systems; from policing technologies and prison equipment to equipment used for torture, amongst others.  A recent tweet from them shows a photograph of a CS gas cannisters which appears to be made by Chemring.

The substance of the Hong Kong protests is that they do not want individuals to be extradited to China whose legal system is corrupt.  Britain has a delicate role to play in protecting the agreement with China for ‘one country – two systems’.  We wish to see essential freedoms in the ex colony to be upheld.  Our integrity is a key component in that.  As in so many other countries around the world, our willingness to sell arms and MSP equipment risks compromising that integrity.

I


If you would like to join the local group you would be most welcome.  The best thing is to keep an eye on this site or on Facebook and Twitter, and make yourself known at an event.

 

 

 

 

Sources:  Financial Times; CAAT; Morning Star; Guardian; Fieldfisher; Omega Research Foundation; Chemring website

 

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.

 

 


No to the death penaltyThe current issue of the monthly death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  A number of countries are featured including, as ever, the USA, and Japan which has executed several people recently.

Report (Word)


You may want to join a small group by writing one of the urgent actions featured in this report.  We have several members who do this in the privacy of their own hom