While in India for his wedding in November 2017, Jagtar Singh Johal, a British Sikh (pictured), was arrested and accused of involvement in terrorism and in the assassination of a number of Hindu leaders in the Punjab. He is alleged to have faced torture and been forced to sign blank statements and record a video. This ‘confession’ was broadcast on national television, where the political nature of his ‘crimes’ was stressed. He has had no actual trial but faces the death penalty.
Mr Johal’s brother, Gurpreet, who lives in Scotland, says his brother was a peaceful activist and believes he was arrested because he had written about historical human rights violations against Sikhs in India. He has appealed to the British Government to seek his brother’s release and to bring him home.
In February of this year, almost 140 MPs wrote to the then Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, asking him to
seek Mr Johal’s release, and a debate was held in Parliament with calls for him to be declared a ‘victim of arbitrary detention. In June, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, wrote to Mr Raab, urging him to seek Mr Johal’s release. Gurpreet Singh Johal is grateful for her support, but believes direct intervention from the British Government is essential.
Mr Johal is supported by the organisations Reprieve and Redress. He has made numerous court appearances, but his trial has been repeatedly delayed at the request of the prosecution and basic information denied to his defence counsel.
Mr Raab said he was doing all he could and had been in touch with the Indian authorities, but his response was criticised as ‘weak’. With the appointment of the new Foreign Secretary – Liz Truss – there is an opportunity to bring Mr Johal’s situation to her attention, and to call for a more positive and pro-active response.
Please write to:
Ms Elizabeth Truss
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the
UK has funnelled £2.4m to the Saudis to help them comply with humanitarian law
Last year, there was a political fuss when the Department for International Development was merged with the Foreign Office and subsequently, its budget cut from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%. David Cameron, when prime minister, had kept to the higher level despite a fierce campaign and a string of exaggerated stories by the tabloid press, principally the Daily Mail. DFID had a good reputation and with broadly favourable audit reports on how and where the money was spent and its effectiveness.
A number of prominent Conservatives, including Andrew Mitchell, Tobias Ellwood and others, opposed the move. The pledge to keep the 0.7% was in the last party manifesto. There were many Conservatives however who were in favour of the cuts saying that the aid was best spent at home especially with the money needed for Covid. The arguments against the aid were that it was wasted and one example quoted was India which can afford nuclear weapons and has a space programme.
It is more than a little surprising therefore to discover that HMG has been quietly funding the Saudi government to the tune of £2.4m over a 4 year period to help them with meeting international humanitarian law requirements. In view of the Saudi regime’s continuing activities, it doesn’t seem like it is money well spent. Opposition to the regime is ruthlessly crushed. The women who argued for the right to drive languish in prison. Executions continue apace with a record 184 in 2019. Torture is routine. And then there is the bombing of Yemen where there have been 8,758 civilian deaths and 9,810 injured. During the period of this funding, the regime murdered and then dismembered the body of Adman Khashoggi.
So while aid will be cut – not just the reduction in the percentage itself but the reduction in our GDP because of the pandemic – money continues to flow to one of the richest countries in the world.
Sources: Human Rights Watch; Guardian; al Jazeera; Yemen Data Project
The following letter from our chair was published in the Salisbury Journal
MOTHER’S Day is around the corner and many people are buying cards and flowers, planning visits and days out with their mothers, and generally making this a special day.
This Mother’s Day we’re [Amnesty International] asking readers to spare a thought for one particular mother – Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian charity worker who’s already spent three years in an Iranian jail after a deeply unfair trial.
For three long years Nazanin has been separated from her young daughter Gabriella, who only gets to see her mother on short prison visits in Tehran.
Recently, the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced the Government was giving Nazanin “diplomatic protection” status, meaning her case is now officially considered to be the cause of a formal dispute between our country and Iran.
This is welcome. It means the UK is taking her plight seriously and is committing itself to using all its international influence to gain her freedom. Readers can show their support for Nazanin by adding their name to our petition – amnesty.org.uk/nazanin – to the Iranian authorities calling for her release.
Chair, Amnesty International, Salisbury branch
On Thursday, the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer. He had been in prison since 2008 mainly because he argued for greater democracy in China and was convicted of ‘inciting subversion’. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 which infuriated the Chinese government and he was not permitted to go to Norway to receive it. He was only the second laureate to have been in prison at the time of the award. Once the cancer was diagnosed he was released to a hospital where he was still under heavy guard. According to Human Rights Watch, even as his illness worsened the Chinese government continued to isolate him and denied him freely choosing his medical treatment.
On Saturday he was hastily cremated and his ashes scattered at sea almost certainly to prevent a grave on land becoming a centre for protest. Activists were reported by the South China Morning Postto be ‘outraged at the humiliating arrangements’. His second wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest.
Liu was a supporter of Charter 08 which argued for a fundamental change in the one party state, a whole series of reforms that would result in a separation of powers, a new constitution and legislative democracy. It was suppressed by the Chinese government.
This is a sad day for human rights, but Liu Xiaobo leaves behind a powerful legacy to inspire others to continue the struggle for human rights in China and around the world
Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, made the following lukewarm statement:
I am deeply saddened to hear that Liu Xiaobo has passed away. He was a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a lifelong campaigner for democracy, human rights and peace. His death is a huge loss and our hearts go out to his wife Liu Xia, his family, and his many friends and supporters.
Liu Xiaobo should have been allowed to choose his own medical treatment overseas, which the Chinese authorities repeatedly denied him. This was wrong and I now urge them to lift all restrictions on his widow, Liu Xia. 13 July 2017
This from a man not afraid to be outspoken at any given moment. Focusing on the restricted nature of his medical treatment is the least of the crimes the Chinese government has committed. ‘Has passed away’ gives the impression of a natural death not one hastened by harsh prison conditions, poor medical treatment and confining him right to the last. This is but the latest example of our government failing to stand up to breaches of human rights internationally. This is only set to get worse as the need to augment reduced European markets in the post Brexit world.
Under China’s president, Xi Jinping, there has been a major crackdown on any form of dissent. Restrictions on press freedom are well known and access to the internet is tightly restricted. Booksellers in Hong Kong stocking books detailing the corruption of the Politburo elite have been abducted. Details of this corruption among what are called the ‘Princelings’ has been revealed in the Panama Papers*. President Xi’s brother in law is implicated, along with other senior party people, in squirreling away billions in tax havens using the services of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
Any discussion of democracy is taboo in China as it is contrary to one of the Four Cardinal Principles one of which is to ‘uphold the people’s democratic dictatorship.’ One can see straight away that ideas of freedom of the press and ideas of running the country on more democratic lines are not going to get far with the government.
China has pursued a policy of economic growth which so far has been successful and has led to the country being second only to the USA. It is expanding militarily most notably in creating false islands in the South China Sea. It is present all around the world where natural resources are to be found. The trick has been to maintain economic growth in return for maintaining its hold on political power. How long this growth can be maintained is open to question.
On the other hand, China wants to be more of key player in the world and is to be seen at G7 and G20 meetings as well as having a seat on the UN Security Council. As it grows in economic and military power, it seeks political recognition as well. This is difficult to achieve if at home it denies basic freedoms and human rights to its citizens; executes more than all the other countries in the world put together; locks up its dissidents; denies access to the internet and treats the people of Tibet appallingly. Using its power it is able to suppress criticism – cancelling contracts with Norway for example after Liu was awarded the Nobel prize – and tells other countries not to interfere in its internal affairs.
Fundamentally Chinese social policy is not progressing indeed, under Xi Jinping, it has regressed. So long as they can maintain their tight grip on power and the levers of power, the CPC will continue. But the lesson of history is that when a crack appears, as with a sheet of ice, it spreads rapidly and unpredictably.
*The Panama Papers, 2017, Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, Oneworld, London (3rd edition). Details tax evasion by criminals, dictators and politicians – not just the Chinese – as revealed by a release of papers from Mossack Fonseca
Sources: Human Rights Watch; New York times; The Guardian; Amnesty International; South China Morning Post
Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has liver cancer
Liu Xiaobo who has liver cancer and was serving 11 years for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ which means any activity which seeks to undermine communist power. Liu was seeking reforms in China and improved democracy. He is now out of prison but essentially under arrest. Since his diagnosis, the Chinese did not want a Nobel Lauriat dying in prison, so released him to a hospital where he is expected to die. It is alleged the poor state of medical attention in prisons in China meant he did not get treatment earlier enough and this may have hastened his end.
China is accused of many failings to do with human rights. Activists and lawyers are targeted and frequently arrested. There has been a crackdown on lawyers. People with religious convictions are persecuted. The internet is heavily restricted and press freedom is also extremely limited. The country is a heavy user of the death penalty and executes more of its citizens than all the rest of the world put together. The precise number not known since it is a state secret.
The country is extremely sensitive to outside criticism and were furious when Liu was awarded the Peace Prize. Trade with Norway was curtailed which probably did not concern them too much since they are a wealthy country. The Beijing government summoned the Norwegian ambassador in protest. It called Mr Liu a “criminal”, saying the award violated Nobel principles and could damage relations with Norway. The Norwegian Nobel committee said Mr Liu was “the foremost symbol” of the struggle for human rights in China. It took six years before relations were normalised between the two countries according to the New York Times.
In some respects China is a powder keg. As long as prosperity increases then many people are happy to go about their lives and not bother too much about issues of freedom and human rights. They will not have access to sites or information which discuss or promote such issues (such as Amnesty International) and so the ruling communists need not worry too much about a restive population. Step by step they are securing hegemony over Hong Kong. Some ‘below the line’ comments in the press stories suggest that the Confucian tradition also plays a part and that, unlike Western nations, this tradition of loyalty to the state is more a feature of political life.
Another factor is that it is said by some observers that the Chinese rather resent being subjected to Western moral codes, in which they had no part in formulating, being applied to them. This does have some force except that they were a member of the Security Council when the Universal Declaration was signed in 1948. It does overlook the fact that the Declaration caused the Western nations some discomfort as well: the British and French with their treatment of the colonial peoples and the USA with its treatment of black people.
If China wishes to become a leading world nation then it is going to have to accept the norms the rest of the world tries to live by. The treatment of Liu Xiaobo (and many, many others) has been disgraceful.
And what of our Foreign and Colonial Office? It says:
Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said:
I am pleased that the 24th Round of the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue has taken place. Senior officials discussed the full range of our human rights concerns, including freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, access to justice and ethnic minorities’ rights. They also discussed areas where the UK and China could collaborate more closely, including modern slavery and women’s rights.
The UK strongly believes that respect for human rights is vital for growth and stability, and that these regular talks are an important part of our relationship with China. The dialogue has, once again, been held in a constructive and open manner. I am grateful for the valuable contribution made by civil society organisations before and during this exchange. [accessed 29 June]
Post Brexit the emphasis is going to be on trade and the UK government is unlikely to raise difficult issues with the Chines government or risk being treated like Norway.
Sources: Amnesty International, New York Times, BBC, Guardian.
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, salisburyai. If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in promoting human rights please get in touch. The best thing is to come along to one of our events and make yourself known.
On 12 January 2017 the House of Commons debated the war in Yemen for the second time in less than a month having already had a debate on it on 19 December. This has been called the ‘forgotten war’ for some time since all the media and political attention has been focused on Syria. So it is to be welcomed that this war is now getting its share of attention. This was an opposition debate led by Stephen Twigg MP.
This is a complex war difficult to summarise but essentially the two main actors are the Saudis and the Houthi rebels. Both have committed atrocities: the Houthis with massacres, the use of child soldiers and shelling across the border into Saudi territory. The Saudis by bombing civilian targets and using cluster weapons. The December debate focused on the use of these weapons, supplied by the UK before their use was banned. One thing we learned from that debate was that the UK government has offered to exchange cluster weapons for more modern Paveway bombs but it appears the Saudis have not taken up this offer.
To an extent it is a proxy war: part of the long-running Sunni/Shia feud being fought between Iran and Saudi. There are also tribal politics mixed in. Although the role of the Houthi rebels was criticised, the point was made that it was we who were arming the Saudis and RAF personnel involved at the command and control centre.
It was lengthy running to just under 3 hours. A number of points were made. A major concern was the allegations of abuses against International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the slow pace of investigations (‘glacial’ was the word used by Stephen Twigg) by the Saudis into them. Various figures were bandied about but over a hundred seems to be the consensus but only 9 investigations have been carried out in 14 months.
There were many tributes to DFID and its contribution to Yemen but as Stephen Twigg noted:
There is a paradox at the heart of the UK’s approach to Yemen: generous on aid but we contribute to the conflict with our arms sales.
It is interesting that during the writing of this blog, the headline of the Mail on Sunday was the result of a survey which apparently revealed that 78% of people want to end overseas aid and put the funds into the health service which is experiencing a crisis at present. The Coalition government and now the Conservatives must be praised for maintaining the levels of overseas aid despite considerable pressure from some of their backbenchers and some of the media.
Chris White MP – who is chair of the Arms Export Control Committee – said that the UK should be an example to the rest of the world in terms of our licensing regime. He reminded the House of rule 2(c) which ‘forbids the authorisation of arms sales if there is a clear risk of a violation of international humanitarian law’.
It is of course welcome that the House of Commons should have given such time to this debate on Yemen – indeed as we’ve noted the second in less than a month. The government has had something of a free ride, able to do little to end the conflict and carry on allowing our arms to be sold to Saudi – some £3.3bn worth so far. It seemed to be SNP (Scottish National Party) members who were the most forthright in condemning the arms sales. Tasmina Ahmend-Sheikh saying:
If Saudi Arabia and Iran are the puppeteers, we are the quartermasters
There were several calls for a peace process but one seems unlikely at present. It was alleged that the Saudis are resisting the process, a claim denied by Tobias Ellwood the minister in FCO.
The link between our sale of arms and the devastating effects of those weapons on the people of Yemen although made, was not strongly emphasised. Part of the problem of course is that although the Conservatives are in power now, many arms sales were made as well during the Labour administrations. So both parties are tainted.
The government is in something of a bind. The value of our exports to the region and to Saudi is considerable. One is reminded of the old adage – variously attributed to John Maynard-Keynes or John Paul Getty – that if you owe the bank a million pounds you have a problem, if you owe the bank a hundred million pounds, the bank has a problem. Because billions of pounds of weapons are sold, we are not in a position to exert much control: we are too dependent on the business. One can imagine polite words being spoken but it was clear from the debate that the Saudis think they can win this so are in no haste to agree peace terms and little more than token efforts are made to limit sales of arms. Such is the murky world of arms sales anyway, that brokers can quite easily circumvent controls certainly for the more every day weapons.
In the December debate, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon insisted the Saudis were:
on the cusp of a major reform programme of its economy and society
The debate shone a light on the problems of the country and also on the pusillanimous nature of our foreign policy. Speaker after speaker referred to the terrible state the country was in and the enormous distress of its residents as a result of the war. It was interesting to note that at least two of the MPs said they were born there presumably from when it was known as Aden. Worries were expressed about ISIS moving in.
But the fundamental moral issue of our sale of arms to a country which uses them to wreak such havoc on another nation was not rigorously pursued. The FCO and the MoD would not be seriously disturbed by this debate.
It also provides a clue to life once we leave the EU. There will be a major push to achieve business with whichever countries we can and the morality of our dealings will not get a look in. It’s good for business they will say but not good for human rights.
The debate ended with calls for an urgent independent (ie not by the Saudis who are dragging their feet) investigation into reports of breaches of IHL on both sides of the conflict.
The College of Policing is involved in fresh controversy today concerning their training of police in countries that regularly use torture. In the summer it was revealed that they had training large numbers of Saudi and Bahraini police and that this training has aided them to arrest protestors who were then tortured.
On the BBC’s World at One radio programme there was an interview with a woman who’s husband had been arrested and disappeared for a month. She alleges he was “subjected to the worst kind of physical and psychological abuse”, they beat him brutally and concentrated these beatings on his genitals.
Reprieve has published a report detailing the allegations against Mohammed Ramadan. It now appears that the release of the information and documents about the College of Police’s activities was not meant to have happened and was as a result of ‘human error.’ From now on, details of the College’s activities will not be disclosed.
The Foreign Office maintains that the best way to improve human rights in these countries is by engagement and that we should not criticize from the sidelines. Crispin Blunt MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said:
Human rights assessments are quite bleak [in these countries] and it is going to reinforce the arguments of those who are against engagement
Quit so. So the worse it is, the better the justification for our engagement. This might be fine of course if by ‘engagement’, there was some kind of visible or tangible improvement. But it seems our involvement makes matters worse not better. As Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve comments on their website:
It is scandalous that British police are training Saudi Arabian and Bahraini officers in techniques which they privately admit could lead to people being arrested, tortured and sentenced to death
Earlier in the year, the Home Affairs select committee strongly criticised the College of Policing and the secretive way they had gone about this work. The Chief executive had apparently been told by the Foreign and Colonial Office not to answer questions for reasons of commercial confidentiality and security.
The argument that closer integration with unpleasant regimes yields positive benefits could have some merit. If by trading, cultural contacts, training schemes, and other contacts – social or economic – good behaviour (however defined) rubs off onto the regime then that can be claimed as a benefit.
But the suspicion with the College of Policing and other commercial activities in the region, is that it is profit and money driven with little more than lip-service given to ethics and human rights. It is all of a piece with our arms sales to the Saudis which are causing such devastation in Yemen.
One would have expected that the College of Policing of all organisations, to have ethics and human rights at the top of their agenda. The police have some ground to make up following a number of scandals like Hillsborough. Helping repressive regimes to be more efficiently repressive hardly fits the bill. Making it secret is a tacit admission that they have something to hide.
Sources: Sputnik; The Guardian; Reprieve; World at One (BBC)
Damning criticism of government’s blind eye to arms sales to the Saudi Arabians
Recommends suspension of arms sales to the Saudis
Followers of this blog will be aware of the attention we have been drawing to the war in Yemen and our government’s role in it. It started by accident with a letter to our MP Mr John Glen who forwarded a bland reply from a Foreign Office Minister, Tobias Ellwood. The answers began to unravel quite quickly when it was revealed that, for example, far from reigning in the Saudi’s, we were promoting their membership of the UN’s Human Rights Council.
Now the International Development and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committees have produced a lengthy report which is extremely critical on several different levels. The chair’s summary remarks were:
The UK led the way in establishing international humanitarian law to govern the sale of arms. The conflict in Yemen has raised serious concerns that we are not showing equal determination in ensuring that these are respected.
During this inquiry we have heard evidence from respected sources that weapons made in the UK have been used in contravention of International Humanitarian Law. The Government can no longer wait and see and must now take urgent action, halting the sale of arms to the Saudi-led coalition until we can be sure that there is no risk of violation.
We call on the Government to continue the UK’s long-standing commitment to IHL and lead the international community in establishing a strong, independent inquiry. The circumstances surrounding incidents in Yemen, such as allegations of the use of cluster bombs, must be firmly established and send a clear message to all combatants in Yemen that human rights must be respected.
The current system for overseeing the sale of arms must be improved. At present we do not have sufficient transparency to hold licensing decisions to account or the confidence that the benchmarks ensuring human rights law is respected are high enough. This must be addressed immediately.
Backbench committees do valuable and largely unsung work in the House of Commons and provide an opportunity for members to question government activities more closely than they are able to do in the House itself.
The background situation in the Yemen is dire. The UN categorises it as a level 3 crisis which is the most severe. UNICEF say that 1,211 children have been killed and 1,650 injured, both are likely to be under-estimates in view of the difficulty in reporting. The economy and health care systems are on the verge of collapse. Over a million people are internally displaced.
Britain however continues to profit from the war by supplying huge amounts of weaponry to the Saudis. Between April and December 2015 we supplied £1.7bn worth of aircraft and a further £1bn of air-delivered bombs. More shockingly is that, although we are no longer supplying cluster munitions, previously supplied ones have turned up on the ground. These weapons kick out tens or hundreds of sub-munitions which saturate an area the size of several football fields. Duds can be dangerous to children especially who can lose limbs or be blinded if they pick them up.
Both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have provided evidence to the FCO about the use of these weapons.
The report makes interesting reading most particularly concerning the UK government attitudes to the conflict. It contrasts the FCO’s attitude to the documented evidence it is presented with on the Yemen by NGOs including Amnesty and HRW, which it ignores, with that from Syria where evidence is accepted. David Mepham, the UK director of HRW said in evidence:
I was at a meeting with [the Foreign Secretary] several months ago when I gave him copies of our report and said, “These are the GPS coordinates; these are the strikes; these are the markets and schools that were hit.” Therefore, he has that evidence. The Foreign Office has had that evidence for months. It is extraordinary that the line comes back that they do not have evidence, when that evidence has been shared with them for a considerable period of time.
The line from the government is that the UK has ‘the most robust arms control export regimes in the world’. The committee heard evidence of how long this robust arms control regime took to make its decisions: a matter of days. The hundreds of licences take around 20 or 25 days to approve. In comparison with other government decision making, this is merely the blink of an eye. It seems fairly obvious that little control is exercised. No licence has been refused.
In the face of the hundreds of incidents of schools, marriage ceremonies, factories and hospitals being hit by bombing, the UK government accepts the answers given it by the Saudi government. The committee was sceptical at FCO reliance on Saudi assurances and said:
We are not convinced that Saudi Arabia is best placed to investigate reports of IHL breaches and their lack of progress with reporting findings only confirms our concerns that they are obstructing progress. Of 185 incidents reported by UN, HRW and AI, only 9 investigations have taken place
Our involvement is not just limited to supplying weapons but military and civilian personnel are also involved in the control centre and elsewhere. The claim is that they are not directing the actual bombing. The committee were not convinced by this argument.
It is impossible, on the basis of the evidence that is before us to claim plausibly that the United Kingdom is not involved. We provide the aircraft and the bombs. This level of involvement without being party to a conflict is unprecedented. This is an area where there is much confusion and greater clarity is needed. (para 75)
The committee considered our political role in this conflict and our supposed commitment to an international rules based order. We were now in a tricky position. UK’s support for the Saudi led coalition primarily through the sale of arms and in the face of violations of International Humanitarian Law is inconsistent with our global leadership role in the world. The very rules the UK championed – represented by the Arms Trade Treaty – are at risk of unravelling.
The committee heard evidence that the arms companies were a huge source of employment and that if we did not supply the weapons, others would. An argument which could easily be applied to slavery.
For the sake of weapons sales, the government has become ensnared with a war which is fast becoming a humanitarian disaster. Our involvement is much to close for comfort and attempts to dissemble and hide the truth are at risk of unravelling. We also risk losing the moral argument as well. It is difficult for us to criticise the Russians and Syrians for their barbaric activities in Aleppo and elsewhere, when we are only slightly removed from doing the same things in Yemen. So far the government has been lucky: all eyes are on Syria and there are few reports emerging from Yemen. But this report is a welcome spotlight on the unsavoury and ultimately foolish activities by our government in that country. They recommend ending arms sales to the Saudis.
On 26 October the House of Commons debated the question of withdrawing support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The intention was to send a message to the government that MP’s do not want to support a war without a UN investigation into breaches of international humanitarian law. Labour MPs did not attend and the vote was lost. Mr Glen voted against the motion. So the carnage continues.
At long last, the war in Yemen is beginning to attract the attention it deserves. Most news bulletins still lead on the atrocities in Syria but the horrific events in Yemen where the Saudis bombed a funeral killing 140 and wounding around 500 has at last brought the conflict onto the TV screens. The bombing, combined with the blockade, is causing untold misery to ordinary Yemenis. The wounded will struggle to get proper medical treatment because the hospitals are also being bombed and the blockade means medical supplies cannot get through.
We first started drawing attention to the war there over a year ago and raised the matter with our local MP. A bland letter was received from the Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood. Subsequent revelations have shown that the actions the FCO were claiming to have done were somewhat wide of the truth.
The core issue is the use of our arms (and those of the US, the principal weapons suppliers to the Saudis) are being used in the conflict. It was also revealed (inadvertently, and no doubt embarrassingly by the Saudis) that British service people were advising the Saudis. Quite what their role is there is disputed.
This particular attack has been condemned by the UN, the EU and the US. The Foreign Office still claims there is no need to revoke licences as there is no serious breach of humanitarian law. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said:
The air strikes on a funeral ceremony was a “heartless attack on civilians and an outrageous violation of international humanitarian law.” He said an independent body to probe rights violations in Yemen must be set up. There must be accountability for the appalling conduct of this entire war. Mail on line [accessed 11 October 2016]
The Saudis are not alone in committing these atrocities and the Houthi rebels are likewise accused.
The Saudis can carry on with their attacks because we supply them with the weapons and we also give the regime a degree of diplomatic cover. The huge sale of weapons – over £3bn a year – is clearly a factor influencing government policy. This latest episode is making it harder for the government to ignore what is going on there and our role in helping them. The mantra about the control of arms sales is still alive and well however:
On the point of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a Government spokesperson told The Independent the UK “takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously”
The key test … for our continued licensing of arms exports to Saudi Arabia is whether there is a clear risk that those exports might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” she said. “The situation is kept under careful and continual review.” Independent [accessed 11 October 2016]
But recent TV filmed reports showing the carnage going on there, hospitals full of emaciated children and widespread starvation caused by the conflict and the blockade will begin to make it harder for the government to keep up the pretence of ‘taking its arms export responsibilities seriously’.
The Salisbury group campaigns on a range of issues and we welcome new members. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to find out when we have an action in the City and come along.
It is alleged that this is a commercial arrangement between the two organisations which somehow omits any mention of human rights. The College of Policing’s site is full of stuff about ethics and integrity and says:
We are committed to ensuring that the Code of Ethics is not simply another piece of paper, poster or laminate, but is at the heart of every policy, procedure, decision and action in policing.
The code itself is 23 pages long. The College has earned £8.5m from its international word since its formation in 2012. The Home Affairs Select Committee has criticised the College for its ‘opaque’ affairs and it has taken a leak to enable us to see some of the details of what was agreed.
At one level there is an argument that encouraging police officers to work in the country to raise standards is perfectly acceptable. If by a combination of training and encouragement they are able over time to reduce the incidence of poor treatment, people denied lawyers and all the other things the Bahrain government is accused of, so much the better. This is indeed the Foreign Office’s line. However, there is much to improve – in the words of Human Rights Watch:
Bahrain’s human rights climate remains highly problematic. The country’s courts convict and imprison peaceful dissenters and have failed to hold officials accountable for torture and other serious rights violations. There is evidence that the security forces continue to use disproportionate force to quell unrest. Human rights activists and members of the political opposition face arrest and prosecution and dozens have been stripped of their citizenship. Bahrain restricts freedom of speech, and has jailed and fined Bahraini photographers. Migrant workers in Bahrain endure serious abuses such as unpaid wages, passport confiscation, unsafe housing, excessive work hours, physical abuse and forced labor.
If on the other hand, the College is helping the security services in their various activities (with surveiilance and intercept techniques for example) then this is not an appropriate thing for them to do. Their legitimacy has also been queried as they are set up as a company limited by guarantee. DPG Law has queried whether the Home Office can outsource this kind of activity anyway. Certainly, the trend recently by the UK government is to encourage business activities and to play down human rights concerns as it may offend countries which regularly violate them. The absence of a human rights clause or statement in the contract is in line with this commercial approach.
NGO’s today sent an open letter to Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, raising urgent concerns over the poor human rights record of Bahrain’s ambassador to the UK, and asking him to raise their concerns.
[They point out that] The ambassador, Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammad Al Khalifa, is a member of the Bahraini royal family and formerly the president of the Information Affairs Authority (IAA), the state’s media regulator and home of state media channels and websites, including Bahrain TV and the Bahrain News Agency.
This is a country where violence against peaceful protest, torture and other forms of mistreatment is the norm. It appears a British agency is assisting the Bahrainis in their activities rather than seeking to help them reform since the human rights situation there is getting worse rather than better. Even though the activity was commenced when our current Prime Minister Theresa May was the Home Secretary, let us hope that with the new broom in place, this dubious contract is ended.