The risk to human rights legislation and specifically the Human Rights Act seem to have risen in past week.  This concern has come about because of some equivocal statements by ministers in a recent House Of Commons debate.  Dislike of the HRA by some members of the government is well known and there have been plans to abolish it for some time.  They seem to have been kicked into the long grass because of the all consuming nature of the Brexit process and also because it has proved difficult to introduce a fresh piece of legislation – HRA2 we might say – that would get through parliament.

The recent row has emerged because a junior minister, Edward Agar, said the HRA ‘would be reviewed post Brexit’. SNP politician Tommy Sheppard was quoted as saying at the end of a 90 minute debate:

[he] felt he was “left without the unequivocal and categorical assurances I was seeking, in terms of the commitment to the existing Human Rights Act and the protection that it affords” Source; RightsInfo 13 February 2019

So it seems that once we leave, a review of the Act and its possible replacement is a possibility.  This story has a long genesis going back to when David Cameron was prime minister.  Theresa May was a keen abolitionist as home secretary.

The problem that some politicians have with it are several.  Firstly, a failure to appreciate the positive effects it has had on various issues large and small.  In countless cases, involving individuals and their dealings with government or local authorities, the act has been a key element in the defence of their rights.  Only rarely do these get reported and frequently, the role of the act in the proceedings is omitted.

Secondly, there is a belief that British rights are somehow superior to anything Europe could do and go all the way back to Magna Carta.  The imperfections of the British system are brushed aside.  Before the HRA was in place there was a steady procession of litigants going to Strasbourg to get justice denied them in the UK.  These judgements were often embarrassing to the British legal system.

Thirdly, the issue of human rights has got caught up in the Brexit debate and a belief among those wishing to leave that anything with a European tag to it is to avoided.  As Anthony Lester QC puts it:

Because the Human Rights Act use the [European] Convention rights as a substitute for homegrown constitutional rights, it arouses the hostility of euro sceptics, our system has come under increasing onslaught, not from activist judges but from political opportunists supported by right-wing newspapers that have made ‘human rights’ a dirty word.  Five Ideas to Fight For, One World, 2016 p39

Finally, and perhaps crucially, the HRA alters, in a quite fundamental way, the balance of power in our society.  For the first time in our history, the people have a set of rights.  Since we do not have a written constitution, this is a significant development.  It is perhaps not surprising that those – especially from the privileged classes – who enjoyed the power and influence it gave, feel a little resentful at its loss.

What happens after Brexit we will have to see.  Perhaps there are people who think coming out of Europe will mean coming out of the Convention.  They are in fact two different bodies and the Convention stems from the Council of Europe which we entered long before we entered the EEC.  It will still be in place.  It is possible that some will be disappointed to discover that we are still in the Council post March 29.

The local Amnesty group will, along with Amnesty International itself, be keeping an eye of events and will be campaigning if the plans to repeal the act become real.

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The groups latest death penalty report is available here thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  As always, we have to note that China is the worlds largest executioner but the statistics are a state secret.

Report (Word)


UK continues to supply arms to Saudi Arabia

The war in Yemen continues and the death toll continues to rise.  The UN estimates around half a million people have cholera.  They also estimate around two thirds of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance.  Yet the UK continues to supply arms to Saudi Arabia and half our arms exports go to the country.

The supply of arms is monitored by the Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) yet bizarrely, at its most recent meeting, it did not have the supply of weapons to Saudi on the agenda presumably because it has become too sensitive a subject.

There are many worries about arms sales and in particular the use of what are called ‘open licences’.  There are also concerns about brass plate companies which are often fronts for brokers.  Control Arms UK has submitted evidence to CAEC suggesting that the number of licences has increased by 17% in one year.  It is not possible to determine what items are sold under this secretive open licence system since it can be a small item of equipment or a jet fighter.  The Government must demonstrate that companies using open licences are subjected to proportionately rigorous and frequent compliance audits.  We are ‘most dissatisfied at the Government’s admission that no such audits are ever carried out in respect of UK companies’ operations overseas’ (our italics).

Detailed work by researchers suggests that civilian casualties are running at a far higher level than those documented by the UN. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), at least 56,000 civilians were killed between January 2016 and October 2018.  They estimate that from March 2015 to the end of 2018, the number of civilian deaths related to combat could be as high as 80,000.  This does not include deaths resulting from disease or malnutrition.

Not only did the select committee not discuss Yemen, but the chair of the committee, Graham Jones MP (Lab) launched an extraordinary attack on the various organisations reporting on what is happening in that country.  He accused them of being ‘dishonest’ in their reporting.  They were guilty of ‘gross exaggeration’ of what has happened.  Much of their evidence was false he said.  It was ‘disgraceful how NGOs and loony left organisations have refused to back the UN’s unanimous position’.  He denied that the problems there were an airstrike problem but were as a result of economic mismanagement.

His view is that the fault lies with the Houthis and he is in support of the Saudi’s actions there.  He was to be seen with Price Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to the UK.

The misery in Yemen continues and the government continues to allow the supply of weapons causing huge damage to the country.  While the number of air attacks has diminished in 2018, the proportion of those attacks striking clearly civilian targets rose, while attacks on clear military targets fell according to Control Arms.  They report that of the 3,362 air raids in Yemen in 2018:

 420 air raids hit residential areas
 231 hit farms
 133 hit transport infrastructure
 95 hit civilian vehicles and buses[5]
 31 hit educational facilities (schools, institutes, universities, etc.)

Other targets included market places, mosques and medical facilities.

It seems unlikely that the situation will improve although peace talks are continuing. It is disappointing that the chair of the relevant Commons committee should voice opinions which suggest he is less than impartial.  Undoubtedly, NGOs and other organisations make errors in reporting on the situation in Yemen but to suggest that it is all a gross exaggeration is not justified.  Our involvement in the bombing campaign and the extent of our arms supplies is unconscionable and is fueling the conflict.

 

 

 


TV producer held for 50 years

Hwang Won, a former TV producer from South Korea, was not allowed to return to his home country after arriving involuntarily to North Korea on a hijacked plane on 11 December 1969.  Despite repeated requests from his family, the North Korean authorities have refused to disclose information regarding Hwang Won’s vital status or whereabouts for the last 50 years.  South Korean authorities must call on the North Korean authorities to provide accurate information on Hwang Won, who will turn 82 this year.

It is almost unimaginable that someone should be in prison for half a century and there would be concerns about their ability to cope with life outside.  The Salisbury group has campaigned for human rights in North Korea and we are hopeful that, with a seeming desire for the regime to engage with the world outside, things might change.

Details are as attached

North Korea Urgent Action (Word)

 


Asmaa al Omeissy is facing execution by a Houthi court in Yemen

Asmaa is 23 year old mother of two who was sentenced to death by the Houthi aligned Specialised Criminal court in Sana’a, Yemen.  She is expecting the final verdict in a few days on 4 February.  There is good evidence that she was tortured in prison and that conditions in prison are dire.  She was denied access to a lawyer.  She is separately sentenced to 100 lashes for an ‘indecent act’ because she travelled in a car with co-defendants to whom she was not related.

Amnesty is organising a campaign on Twitter and if you are able to take part that would be helpful for her cause.

A suggested tweet :

  • Asmaa al-Omeissy is the first known #Yemenis #woman on death row on ‘state security’ charges.  Her conviction came after a grossly unfair trial and the court rejected her appeal on 3 December.  #saveAsmaa

We suggest the following targets to add to your tweet:

  • Houthi representatives at the peace talks: @aleji77 @abdusalamsalah
  • special envoy: @ose-Yemen
  • Omani Ambassador to the UN :@oman_un

If you want to join the local group you would be very welcome.  Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook for one of our events and come along and make yourself known.


Government minister gives equivocal answer

The threat by the current Conservative government to do away with the Human Rights Act (HRA) has lain dormant for some time due to the considerable time being devoted to the Brexit negotiations.  However, it reared its head again this week when a House of Lords EU Justice subcommittee asked a government minister for reassurance that it (the government) will not repeal or replace the act.

The Parliament Website has the following piece:

The House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee wrote to Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke in December regarding the rights of citizens post-Brexit.  The Committee sought an explanation for the dilution of the Government’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Last week the Committee received a troubling response.  While again pledging an unchanging commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, the letter from Edward Argar MP, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, ended with reference to the Government’s intention to revisit the Human Rights Act once the process of leaving the EU is concluded18 January 2019 [accessed 22 January 2019 our italics]

This is very troubling.  The hostility of many ministers and politicians to the HRA is well known and echoes the frequent stories and campaigns in the tabloid press.  It is seen by some as a threat to our way or life and to giving terrorists and criminals a ‘get out of jail card’.

On the contrary, it is in our view, one of the most important pieces of legislation in the last 20 years.  It has shifted power away from the state and given ordinary people a means to challenge faulty decisions.  The Hillsborough enquiry is a recent example and would not have happened without it.  As an Amnesty spokesperson put it:

The Human Rights Act has been central to the vital pursuit of justice in this country for the last 20 years.  It is the unsung hero of UK life, holding powerful people and institutions to account when ordinary people are let down.  It is deeply concerning that the Government refuses to acknowledge that reality.

The Human Rights Act is a critical safety net for everyone in our society.  Any attempt to dilute or remove the essential protections the Human Rights Act provides should be categorically ruled out.

They are mounting a petition which you can take part in if you wish.

If the act is abolished, all that will happen is that we go back to the bad old days of people having to beat a path to Strasbourg to get justice.

Sources:  Amnesty, Rights Info, Parliament Website


If you live in the Salisbury or South Wilts area and would like to join us, you would be very welcome.  Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook @salisburyai for one of our events and come along and make yourself known.

 


We have a number of events being planned and this is a brief summary for members and supporters.

I Welcome 

At the Methodist Church in Salisbury we have part of the series of photographs taken by Magnum photographers on display.  These show the life of refugees in camps around the world.  On until early February.  Please check opening times on their website

Refugees

still on the subject of refugees, there will be a coffee/mint tea morning at the Methodist Church on Saturday 2 February 10:30 till noon in support of Salisbury Syrian refugee families.  You will be able to do both these events at the same time

Refugee vigil

being organised for March/April.  Keep an eye on this site or Facebook for details

Cathedral Evensong – date TBC

Arts Centre Film

This will be a screening of The Breadwinner on 8th March 2019.  This film is set in Taliban controlled Afghanistan and concerns a girl dressing as a boy so she can feed her family.  Further details nearer the time or from the Arts Centre

Market Stall – 8th June 2019

Refugee Week – 17th-23rd June 2019


Joining.  If you live in the Salisbury/Amesbury/Wilton area you would be welcome to join us.  Human rights are under threat as never before and the situation in the UK is not fully assured.  Some want to abolish the Human Rights Act.  The best thing is to make yourself known at one of our events.  It is free to join us locally but if you want to join AIUK there is a membership fee.


Minutes of the January meeting are now available thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them. The group discussed recent actions and future activities. These include the film The Breadwinner on 8 March; the market stall on 8 June; Refugee week from 17 – 23 June and the photo exhibition currently on at the Methodist Church (Free).

If you would like to join the group you would be very welcome.  Best thing is to come to an event we are running and make yourself known.  

January minutes (Word)


The latest report for the December – January period is now available thanks to group member Lesley for doing the research. The usual suspects feature: Saudi Arabia; USA; Pakistan and Belarus with the addition of Gaza this time. Remember that China is the world’s largest execution but the data is a state secret.


‘I Welcome’ photos on display at the Methodist Church

The plight of refugees entered the news again this year with the attempts by them to cross the Channel in small boats. This prompted the home secretary Sajid Javid to declare that a ‘major incident’ had occurred and he received considerable favourable coverage from the tabloid press. About 221 attempted the crossing between the beginning of November 2018 and the end of December. This compares with the hundreds of thousands who have entered Italy and Greece. To compare the 221 attempts to cross since the beginning of November with the hundreds of thousands who have entered other European states and calling it a ‘crisis’ is absurd.

The Daily Express for example, under a headline ‘Migrant Crisis’ quotes a former home office chief as saying that ‘Britain faces a humanitarian crisis unless it sends back migrants’.

As Roy Greenslade discusses in the Guardian:

For the past couple of weeks, in a period we like to call the season of goodwill, Britain’s newspapers and broadcasters have been reporting on the arrival of desperate men and women on our shores as if they are criminals unworthy of charity or understanding

Guardian 7 January 2018

The Refugee Council regrets the action Sajid Javid took and his reported doubts that these were genuine asylum seekers and that they should be deterred from crossing to make it harder to claim asylum. In response to these comments, Dr Lisa Doyle, Director of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said:

The comments made by the Home Secretary today are deeply concerning. The outcome of an asylum application cannot be pre-judged before it has been made and must be processed on its individual merit, irrespective of how that person reached the country. Let us not forget that we are talking about people who are in desperate need of protection, having fled countries with prolific human rights abuses. What is more, we are hearing time and again that the conditions in France do not make people feel safe, with migrant camps being razed from the ground and people experiencing violence from the authorities. It’s a shame that the Home Secretary seems to need reminding that seeking asylum is a right and the UK has an obligation to assess claims fairly and grant protection to those who need it.

Refugee Council 2 January 2018 [accessed 7 January]

Immigration, asylum seekers and refugees raise considerable passions in the country and it was a key issue behind the 2016 Referendum. It is likely that many people voted in favour of leaving the EU because they believed it would end immigration of all kinds into the country.

The Salisbury group has mounted a photographic exhibition in the Salisbury Methodist Church during January featuring award winning pictures of refugees in various locations around the world. There are around 40 million internally displaced people and 25.4 million refugees according to UNHCR. The images show some of the desperate situation many of these men, women and children live in.

Part of the exhibition at the Methodist Church

We are grateful to the church for letting us use their space for these photographs.