Posts Tagged ‘Exeter’


The SW Regional conference was held in Exeter on Saturday 7 March 2020

Four members of the Salisbury group attended the regional conference in Exeter yesterday, a truly

Some members in front of Exeter Cathedral

uplifting event.  We had four excellent speakers and we had a photo opportunity in front of the cathedral.

With all the talk from the current government, echoed in large parts of the press, of getting rid of the Human Rights Act and their desire to pull away from the ECHR, it was good to be among people who believe in the importance of these rights.  They are not there to help terrorists go free and to help hardened criminals escape justice which is the common refrain now, but to protect all of us in our everyday lives.  This is especially so as we do not have a constitution.

But one of the high spots was a young woman, Geraldine Chacón (below right) from Venezuela who is a human rights defender who was arrested by around 10 armed men and spent 4 months in prison before being released.  She has not been tried however so can be arrested again if and when she goes back.  The rights we take for granted were denied her.  No warrant for her arrest; no access to a lawyer; constant interrogations; never brought before a judge; no access to her family, particularly her mother who came every day but was not allowed to see her; and no charges brought. She was labelled a terrorist and her release was used to present the government in a positive light ‘look, we’re releasing terrorists’.  Calling anyone a ‘terrorist’ is the standard claim by nearly all authoritarian regimes for people who campaign for democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The two speakers from south America

She became an Amnesty ‘prisoner of conscience’ POC case and thousands of letters were written.  She said they made a difference.  She was feeling vulnerable and abandoned she said and the letters made her realise ‘you are not alone’.  The letters ‘made me brave because I knew I had you with me’.  She only knew there were letters as news of them had to be smuggled in: she was allowed no correspondence directly.  It was a very uplifting talk.  In all this denigration of human rights by sections of our media and some of our politicians, it was good to know the basic business of Amnesty’s work, did and does make a difference.

One of the other speakers was Laíze Benevides Pinheiro from Brazil (left).  She spoke of her work in Brazil and the threat and risk from the most dangerous police in the world.  In 2019, they killed 1810 young men most of whom were black.  The murder of Mariella Franco has polarised opinion but she said a network had been created to help people who were the victims of violence.

There was another talk on climate and its link to human rights which may be the subject of a future post.  Kate Allen (Director of Amnesty) also spoke about the future direction of Amnesty and the worries about the attitudes towards human rights by some in the current government.  This is a worry expressed on this site in previous posts.

A really worthwhile day and congratulations to the Exeter Amnesty group for organising it so well.


There will be an Evensong this Thursday 12 March starting at 5:30 in the Cathedral.

 

 


Amnesty International South-West Regional Conference in Exeter 11 May 2019

These are some notes of the recent regional conference made by Salisbury group member Fiona. They are not an official record.

The keynote speaker was Emel Kurma, a Human Rights defender from Turkey, currently hosted by the University of York’s Protective Fellowship Scheme. She outlined for us how a Citizens’ Assembly works. Inspired by the Helsinki Final Act, these are low-profile bodies (no smart headquarters or logos) that aim to stimulate social and political discussion towards a peaceful and inclusive society, valuing democratic and environmental principles. The best response to a state’s limitation of individual freedom is to strengthen civil society at all levels, allowing ethical thinking to penetrate even closed structures. For example a liberal academic offered an opportunity to go to a conference abroad might instead hand it to a member of a state institution in order to broaden that individual’s understanding of human rights as practised beyond their country’s borders.

Emel Kurma is a brave individual and her stoical acceptance of probable interrogation and possible imprisonment on her return to Turkey is both shocking and inspiring.

Israel Palestine 

Two other reports (also by women) focused on Palestine and Eastern Europe respectively.
Penny Wilcox has for several years worked with the intriguingly-titled Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and the Occupied Territories.  Again in an unobtrusive fashion, they accompany vulnerable Palestinians at checkpoints (adults going to work, children to school, traders etc.) and, simply by acting as protective witnesses, aim to reduce the levels of conflict or anxiety so often experienced by this oppressed population.  This approach is also practised by various Israeli humanitarian groups who wish to offer support to trapped and threatened Palestinian communities.  Even simply to witness and record the bulldozing of ‘illegal” Palestinian structures (cow byres, olive trees) is an act of silent protest and solidarity.  One of the many ironies of this absurd and tragic occupation is that when sometimes belligerent Israeli settlers have gone into Palestinian villages to cause trouble, the Israeli army itself has been called in to defend the Palestinians residents.

The third report came from Central Europe co-ordinator Ulricke Schmidt, who traced worrying trends in the rise of racism and anti-Semitism in Hungary and, to a lesser degree, in Poland.

Hungary

In Hungary the usual targets are the Roma, but the influx of refugees has now made them the focus of anger.  This in spite of the warm reception originally given to those fleeing war, who were perceived as ‘passing through’ Hungary and in manageable numbers.  However attitudes have hardened and Ulriche quoted an acquaintance who got 6 months imprisonment for giving a lift to a refugee while NGOs risk being criminalised for helping them.  Additionally, resentment against global capitalism has contributed to a revival of anti-Semitism.  Huge posters crudely stereo-type George Soros as ‘an enemy of the people’ with his ‘army of leftist terrorists’.

Ulricke defines some of the underlying causes of xenophobia as relating to globalisation – seen as benefiting the few – and to a drift to the cities which has left a frustrated and impoverished rural population to grasp at the promises of the Right to restore Hungary’s romanticised past (sounds familiar, does it not?).

Poland 

Poland reflects some of these trends, but fortunately to a lesser degree. Some liberal teachers have been disciplined and protesters have had their personal data published.  But Poland has had a more recent history of resistance to authoritarian rule.  When an outright ban was placed on abortion thousands of women marched in protest to overturn it.  When a recent Independence Day march was joined by racist demonstrators, fourteen brave women entered the throng and unfurled a Stop Fascism banner.  They were beaten by some marchers, and subsequently charged and fined by the courts for ‘disrupting a lawful demonstration.’  But a recently published video has now prompted an Appeal Court investigation into the attack..

The European Union has triggered Article 7 against Hungary for imperilling European values and has also expressed concern that the judiciary in Poland is being politicised.  On a more positive note, 26 EU countries have recently seen powerful demonstrations against fascism, racism and anti-Semitism.

Death penalty

The Death Penalty workshop confirmed that our group is very well informed on relevant data thanks to the regular updates from group member Lesley. The new network now has two and a half thousand members.  An interesting recent survey estimated that it was actually more expensive to execute a prisoner than to simply keep them in prison.  The campaign is currently now focusing on Singapore and Iran, the latter for its practice of deferring punishment until a sentenced juvenile is old enough to receive the death penalty.  On a positive note – more and more countries are abolishing the death penalty – 106 in total by the end of 2018.

Many thanks to the regional representative Chris Ramsay for organising this meeting.