Posts Tagged ‘arms sales’


The UK has resumed arms sales to the Saudi regime

In 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that the UK government had acted unlawfully by licensing weapons to the Saudi armed forces for use in the Yemen conflict without assessing whether incidents had occurred in breach of International Human Rights law.  Our weapons – along with those supplied by other countries principally the USA – have cause immense damage and suffering to the people of Yemen.  The UN has estimated around 7,700 dead since beginning of the conflict in 2015.  To that must be added the thousands of injured and the destruction of major parts of the country.  The effects on the civilian population have been devastating. 

Hospitals, schools, market places, residential areas, agricultural areas and production facilities have all been bombed using our planes and weapons.  Although mistakes do happen in war and the wrong thing is bombed, the extent of these ‘mistakes’ leads one to assume that there is a deliberate attempt to bomb civilian targets.  We must also note that UK personnel – including people from the RAF – are involved in advising the Saudis so something is going seriously wrong.

The British government maintains – against all the evidence – that there is no risk of IHL violations.  In a Commons statement on 7 July justifying setting aside the Court’s judgement, the minister, Liz Truss MP said:

[…] I have assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL.  (House of Commons written statement 7 July 2020)

It is worth reading the key passage in this statement which purports to give a justification for this decision:

This analysis has not revealed any such patterns, trends or systemic weaknesses.  It is noted, in particular, that the incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of IHL occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents.

This reasoning is tenuous in the extreme.  Because violations ‘occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons’ the minister concluded that they are ‘isolated incidents’.  Surely a key factor is the frequency of these incidents especially if your argument is based on the numbers?  The sheer number of civilian targets is way beyond what anyone could describe as ‘isolated’.   The Oxford dictionary describes isolated to mean ‘untypical, unique’: these bombings are neither untypical nor unique.  Another curious aspect of this statement is the phrase ‘for different reasons’ implying knowledge of what the purpose of the raid was yet the statement is full of uncertainties and the difficulty of assessing the incidents.  

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty international said:

How the Government can seriously describe a five-year Saudi-led aerial assault on Yemen which has seen numerous examples of civilians killed in schools, hospitals, funeral halls and market places as a set of ‘isolated incidents’ is almost beyond comprehension.

This seems like an attempt to rewrite history and disregard international law. The UK is bypassing its obligations under the international arms control framework. Its approach to this decision has effectively rendered our own protections meaningless.  (New York Times, 7 July 2020)

It is small wonder that human rights organisations have reacted with horror at the decision and the speed with which the minister set about reinstating arms shipments to Saudi.  The Campaign Against the Arms Trade described the decision as ‘rank hypocrisy’.

The government is determined to sell arms to the Saudi and seems genuinely unconcerned at the fate of those on the receiving end.  Liz Truss’s argument about isolated incidents is almost insulting.  So great is the scale of the business that stopping it or seriously scaling it back is economically impossible.  Truly it is the tail which wags the dog.

Sources: BBC, CAAT; New York Times; Human Rights Watch; Independent; The Guardian

 


Minister announces resumption of arms sales to Saudi Arabia used to cause so much misery in Yemen

It is sometimes difficult to keep up with government announcements.  On Monday 6 July, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that a number of individuals would be subject to sanctions and banned entry to the UK.  Their assets would be frozen as well.  The UK is one of the major centres for money laundering and the City is the centre of a web of tax havens around the world.  City institutions are specialists in moving huge sums into secrecy jurisdictions thus enabling a range of criminal activities to go undetected.  Dominic Raab’s announcement was a welcome first step in clamping down on some of this activity therefore and has cross-party support.  In his statement he said:

He outlined human rights violations as those that contradict the right to life, the right not to be subject from torture and the right to be free from slavery, but said they were exploring adding other human rights and looking into including those guilty of corruption.

The Foreign Secretary outlined the individuals who will be sanctioned first.  These include those involved in the torture and murder of Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky (who the Minister concluded his statement by paying tribute to), and Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, as well as those responsible for the genocide of the Rohingya population in Myanmar and for North Korea’s gulags.  Statement in the House of Commons Website (extract)

All those countries named have been subject of Amnesty and other human rights organisation’s campaigns.

THEN on the following day, we have an announcement by the Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss, (pictured) resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  The contrast is astonishing as one of the countries included in the Foreign Secretary’s announcement was – Saudi Arabia for the murder of Khashoggi.  The announcement followed a legal case last year mounted by a number of human rights organisations, who claimed that the weapons – especially jets – were being used by the Saudis to bomb civilian targets in the war in Yemen.  The destruction there has been horrific with thousands of deaths.  Hospitals, schools, clinics and wedding ceremonies have all been attacked.  Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is dire with torture common, religious persecution rife and the dreadful treatment of women.

The Court of Appeal found against the government because it did not show, in the Court’s judgment, the question of whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of International Humanitarian Law was a question which required to be faced.  Even if it could not be answered with reasonable confidence for every incident, at least the attempt had to be made.  It was because the government had not reached findings on whether specific incidents constituted breaches of IHL as part of an assessment of clear risk, under Criterion 2c that the Court of Appeal concluded that their decision-making process was irrational and therefore unlawful.

Liz Truss’s argument is that they have sought to determine whether these “violations” are indicative of:

(i) any patterns of non-compliance;
(ii) a lack of commitment on the part of Saudi Arabia to comply with IHL; and/or
(iii) a lack of capacity or systemic weaknesses which might give rise to a clear risk of IHL breaches.

We have similarly looked for patterns and trends across the incidents which have been assessed as being unlikely to be breaches of IHL and those for which there is insufficient information to make an assessment.

This analysis has not revealed any such patterns, trends or systemic weaknesses. It is noted, in particular, that the incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of IHL occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents

The decision to resume supplies has been roundly criticised.  Kate Allen of Amnesty said:

This is a deeply cynical move to restart business as usual when it comes to Saudi arms sales.  How the Government can seriously describe a five-year Saudi-led aerial assault on Yemen which has seen numerous examples of civilians killed in schools, hospitals, funeral halls and market places as a set of ‘isolated incidents’ is almost beyond comprehension.  This seems like an attempt to rewrite history and disregard international law.  The UK is bypassing its obligations under the international arms control framework. Its approach to this decision has effectively rendered our own protections meaningless.

Deeply cynical move – AIUK

 

Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade in a statement said:

This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing.  We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it.

The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of International humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places.  The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the Government to stop supplying the weaponry?

This exposes the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy.  Only yesterday the government was talking about the need to sanction human rights abusers, but now it has shown that it will do everything it can to continue arming and supporting one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.


Criterion 2c.  Criterion 2c of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria – which requires the Government to assess Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards relevant principles of international law and provides that the Government will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Picture credit: Pink News


We are not meeting at present but hope to resume activities in the Autumn.


UK government continues to sell arms to Saudi in violation of court ruling

This post is almost entirely based on a post by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, concerning the continuing sale of arms to the Saudi regime despite a court decision telling them to stop and the devastating effects these weapons are having on the people of Yemen.

It’s one year since CAAT won a landmark victory at the Court of Appeal challenging the UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  As a result of that ruling, we have stopped the export of new weapons for use in the war in Yemen.  A multi-billion pound deal to sell more fighter jets to Saudi Arabia remains on hold.

This is significant progress, but there is more to do.  The government is fighting every step of the way to continue the arms sales.  It is appealing to the Supreme Court for a final decision, with the hearing scheduled for 23-25 November.  Meanwhile the government has still not complied with the Court of Appeal ruling that it should retake its previous decisions to allow weapons sales, and it is continuing to supply the war in Yemen.  It’s not just CAAT lawyers who are demanding answers; in today’s Observer (21 June 2020) all of the Opposition parties have united to call for urgent action.

We must end UK complicity in the war in Yemen.  Thousands of people have been killed by five years of bombing, many more by hunger and disease, and now Yemen is facing a dual threat of cholera and COVID-19 with a health system shattered by war.  One estimate is around 8,000 have died.  There seems no end in sight to the conflict.

Shamefully, UK-made fighter jets, bombs and missiles have played a central role in this destruction.  CAAT’s case challenges the sale of these weapons.  UK rules state that weapons should not be sold where there is a “clear risk” that they might be used in violations of international humanitarian law.  Yet the UK government has continued to support the supply of weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, even as it has bombed schools, hospitals and food supplies.  If the government won’t follow its own rules, we need to make it do so.

In last year’s ruling, the Court of Appeal found that that the government had failed to properly assess the risk of weapons exported from the UK being used in violations of international humanitarian law.  The government was ordered to retake all its previous decisions to export arms to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, in a lawful way.  New arms sales were put on hold until this review is complete.  The government agreed to undertake the review as a matter of priority.  Yet, one year on, it has still not completed the review ordered by the Court.  All the time that review has not been completed, weapons sales can continue under pre-existing licences – and BAE Systems can still maintain the warplanes bombing Yemen.

So we must keep the pressure on. The government was ordered to retake its decisions, not just carry on with business as usual.

Sources: Amnesty International; Observer; Global Conflict Tracker, CAAT


UPDATE 22 JUNE

WTO ruling puts sale of the club to a Saudi backed investment vehicle in doubt.

Strong local support for the Saudi investment

In a previous post we discussed the possible purchase of Newcastle United Football club by a consortium using Saudi funds.  The consortium wishing to purchase the Newcastle Football club using Saudi money from their sovereign wealth fund is receiving strong local support.  The local newspaper the Newcastle Chronicle has run several pieces discussing the various moves and bidding in the saga.  A poll shows overwhelming support for the purchase:

The Newcastle United Supporters Trust has thrown its weight behind the potential takeover of the club after publishing a survey of members which showed overwhelming support for the buy out.

A Trust survey has found 96.7% of their members are in favour of the proposed takeover by Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners, along with the Reuben Brothers and the Saudi Arabian PiF.   Mark Douglas, Chronicle, 25 April 2020

It is the comments pieces which are most revealing however.  Supporters are passionate about their club and want it to do well, understandably so.  They do not take kindly to doubts expressed by Amnesty or others about the wisdom of the take over.  One writer sums up the situation well;

It would be hugely hypocritical and financially damaging if the government (which deals in billions of pound worth of arms with the Saudi’s) were to step in and put a stop to this deal going through. Why should NUFC be forced to act as a deterrent to the Saudi human rights. Organisations such as amnesty international (sic) and the UN have been unable to enforce any legal obligation on the Saudi’s so why should a football club be expected to do so.  Both Amnesty and the UN should be able to enforce a political solution, and not try to use NUFC as leverage. We won’t be the first Premiership club to be owned by Saudi’s or another middle eastern domain, non of whom have good Human Rights reputations. I cannot believe for one minute that the government would have any legal right to block this deal and the FA have allowed other clubs to be purchased by Saudi’s previously so they have already set a precedence.  NEWCASTLE500

He or she has a point.  Saudi is the largest purchaser of arms from the UK.  Royalty and a succession of ministers and prime ministers have paid court to the Saudis so why should NUFC forego a huge injection of cash when the government is obviously keen to do so?  On 26 April 2020 it was revealed that the UK government has increased arms sales to regimes with a poor human rights record.  Two wrongs do not make a right however. The British government is so ensnared in arms sales to Saudi that to stop would cause enormous damage to our arms industry and to our balance of payments.  Small wonder the minister, Oliver Dowden, wants to keep well away from the problem.  They Work for You reveals he generally votes against human rights and has voted for the abolition of the Human Rights Act.

If the Chronicle’s survey results reflect what people in Newcastle think, it is truly depressing.  Is the only consideration the success or otherwise of their football club?  The coverage also sought the opinions of past players who were also said to be enthusiastic.

Reading the Newcastle Chronicle pieces one would gain only small hints of the human rights situation in Saudi or what they are doing in Yemen.  The pieces discuss the ins and outs of the deal largely to the exclusion of all else.  If supporters read more of the nature of the money they are so keen to get their hands on, would they react differently?

Football has become enmeshed in money.  Without huge budgets, no team can hope to win titles or afford to buy the best players.  Has the desire for success and prestige corrupted the game?  As Kate Allen, director of Amnesty put it:

The Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the Premier League to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the global footballing community.

A classic example of sports wash.

 


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.

UPDATE 5 June 2020  see also the firm’s alleged activity in selling arms to the Egyptian regime which commits many human rights abuses.  


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

 


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.

 

 


Good news today that the Court of Appeal has upheld the appeal by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade who are trying to stop the British government supplying lethal weapons to the Saudis who are using them to cause terrible death and destruction in Yemen.

There will be more about this in future posts.  A previous post on this subject can be read here.

 


Congress votes to end military aid to Saudi

In our last post two days ago, we highlighted the Dispatches programme which described in graphic detail the role our weapons supplies were having in Yemen.  The Saudis, using jets supplied by us, were creating suffering on an almost unimaginable scale with tens of thousands of deaths, a cholera outbreak and starvation of its people.

Today, 4 April 2019, the US Congress has voted 247 to 155 to end military aid to Saudi Arabia.  Further votes are planned to stop weapons supplies as well.  It is expected that President Trump will veto the actions but nevertheless, it sends a strong message of what Americans think of this terrible regime and its countries continuing military support for it.

This puts the UK in a tricky position.  A chief ally stepping back leaves this country somewhat exposed.  We shall have to see over the coming days what feeble excuses are trotted out to justify our support and role in the killing.

Sources: The Nation, Washington Post, the Guardian

 


Peace talks in Sweden offer slender hope for peace in Yemen

We have be writing blogs about the war in Yemen for over three years now going back to the time when it was referred to as the ‘forgotten war’.  The group wrote to our local MP to raise concerns about war crimes and we received the usual bland reply from a FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood and a covering note from Mr Glen saying:

However, the government recognises that its abolition is not a matter of mere legal reform but would require a seismic societal shift.  It has therefore taken an approach which it feels is most constructive – engaging behind the scenes rather than inflaming the situation and triggering a backlash through outspoken public critique.

Mr John Glen MP, July 2015

This ‘behind the scenes engagement’ has not yielded anything of any value and indeed, while the slaughter has increased, British arms sales have also increased adding to the misery of this country.  It is now estimated over 10,000 have been killed, over 3 million have had to flee their homes and nearly 14 million Yemenis are in fear of starvation.  

Over the past 3 years or so, we have reported on critical select committee reports, newspaper revelations about our involvement and trips by our royals, the Foreign Secretary and the prime minister to Saudi Arabia to help promote arms sales.  It was originally argued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that we had a tough regime to control arms sales to regimes where human rights were ignored.  The shear weight of evidence of violations by Saudi Arabia, both with its own citizens and in Yemen, makes this statement hollow. 

The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has written about the conflict in an article in the Guardian saying that the British government is complicit in the death of thousands in the war through its continued sale of arms.  He refers to a recently published Christian Aid report pointing to the absurd position our government is in, namely giving half our aid to states and regions affected by chronic violent conflict and at the same time, half our arms sales go to states where military force is used against its citizens.  As Dr Williams puts it:

It’s as if we are creating, or at least helping to maintain, the very conflicts whose terrible effects we then spend money of mitigating

Britain’s direct complicity in the war in Yemen must end.  Rowan Williams 14 December 2018 The Guardia

The CA report comments on the ambivalence – some might say hypocrisy – of the British government’s position:

The double standards are most stark in relation to the UK’s complicity in the conflict in Yemen.  On one hand, the UK is leading calls in the UN for a peace agreement, and is the leading financial supporter of humanitarian aid to Yemenis and the UN Special Envoy’s peace-making endeavours.  On the other, it is promoting significant new arms sales to the government of Saudi Arabia and actively supporting military operations of the Saudi led coalition in Yemen.  This has included attacks that may amount to war crimes.

Christian Aid: For Yemen’s sake: stop selling arms, 13 December, 2018

As events in Yemen got worse and the death toll rose, Britain actually increased its sale of arms to Saudi according to a Sky News report.  Despite credible reports of bombing of civilian facilities including schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, we went on with our arms sales and provided RAF personnel to advise the Saudis.  

The UK government is in something of a bind however.  The extent of our arms sales to the Saudis is such that scaling them back would be extremely difficult in terms of the economic impact on parts of the country which depend on them.  With Brexit looming – whatever the outcome – we will need all the business we can get.  Dr Williams’ plea to stop sales to certain countries is unlikely to receive more than a polite hearing therefore.  

This is a crucial moment for the UK as it looks to redefine its relationship with the EU and the wider world.  The UK Government, as one of the world’s largest aid donors, largest arms exporters and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), is a global leader on war and peace.  There is much to celebrate about the UK’s role in aid and development, in responding to climate change, upholding principles of multilateralism, supporting the UN Peacebuilding Fund, and committing to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for aid.  Yet undermining these peacebuilding efforts are some stark double standards fuelling war instead.  Such as the fact the UK is currently on track to become one of the world’s biggest arms dealers, exporting the majority of its arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  If the UK Government is really committed to peace, Christian Aid calls on them to address these stark double standards and champion international law and peace in its foreign and aid policies. 

Christian Aid, ibid

We hope the peace deal agreed in Sweden will hold and yield results.  

Sources: 
The Guardian, CAAT, Sky News, Christian Aid, Amnesty International 

If you live in the Salisbury area, you would be welcome to join us. It is free to join the local group and the best thing is to keep an eye on this page, or Twitter or Facebook as you prefer, and come along to the next event and make yourself known.