New HR site added


The Institute for Human Rights and Business has been added to our list of human rights sites to be found at the bottom of this page. The institute says it is ‘the leading international think tank on business and human rights. IHRB’s mission is to shape policy, advance practice, and strengthen accountability in order to make respect for human rights part of everyday business’.

Report on the murder of front line defenders


A report by Front Line Defenders sets out the toll of murdered activists around the world

The report is a chilling record of the casual way those trying to defend human rights are murdered around the world with countries like Columbia leading the way. Many are trying tackle environmental destruction or to protect indigenous peoples.

The report shows how the use of terrorism claims are used by countries to attack or arrest those who seek to highlight abuses. It is well produced with clear graphics and maps. It also shows how governments use the Pegasus spyware produced by NSO in Israel to penetrate the phones of defenders.

A link to FLD (and other human rights organisations) is available at the bottom of this site.

Human rights Measurement Initiative


New service available

We are pleased to welcome the Human Rights Measurement Initiative and we have provided a link to the site at the bottom of the page under ‘Human Rights’. We shall no doubt be referring to their work in future posts.

There is a group meeting tomorrow via Zoom – supporters welcome. If you would like to join us, leave a message here or on Facebook.

Religious persecution: North Korea


Report released by Korea Future on the persecution of religious believers in North Korea

A Report has been produced by Korea Future containing detailed evidence of the scale and extent of religious persecution taking place in North Korea. Entitled: Persecuting Faith: Documenting religious freedom violations in North Korea (vol 2) It is based on 456 documented cases of human rights violations involving 244 victims and 141 perpetrators.

There are two mains religious beliefs in North Korea: Shamanism and Christianity. Both are severely persecuted and those thought or accused of engaging in either are subject to brutal treatment. This includes physical beatings, ingestion of polluted food, positional torture, sleep deprivation and forced squat jumps.

The Ministry of People’s Security are responsible for 90% of the documented serious human rights violations against Shamanic adherents and the Ministry of State Security is responsible for 90% of violations against Christians. The difference is that Christianity is seen as a political crime and adherents are tried in secret. To possess a bible is to risk death.

Sources: Korea Future; Private Eye

Russia closes human rights group


The Supreme Court in Moscow today (Tuesday, 28 December 2021) ordered the closure of the human rights group Memorial is a move which is seen as another step in the route to greater authoritarianism by President Putin in Russia. The group fell foul of the ‘foreign agent’ law, a law passed in 2016 to make life difficult for human rights groups to operate in the country. The prosecution accused the group of ‘creating a false image of USSR as a terrorist state’. Memorial sought to shed light on the horrors of the Stalin era when millions died in a vast network of gulags.

Amnesty International described the decision as ‘a grave insult to the victims of the Russian gulag’. With suppression of opposition parties – Navalny is imprisoned for example – and the intimidation or murder of journalists, Russia is living up to its sobriquet of a ‘gangster state’.

Human rights group in Russia under threat


International Memorial is under threat of being dissolved

International Memorial – full name International Historical Educational Charitable and Human Rights Society is under threat of being dissolved by the Russian authorities. Based in Moscow, The Society investigates some of the terrible tragedies under the Soviet era and those being committed by the Russian government today.

We have today added a link to their website in the list of sites at the bottom of this site.

China: Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Circulate Open Letter to Shanghai Authorities Appealing for Citizen Journalist Zhang Zhan to Receive a Full Physical Examination and Emergency Medical Treatment — IAPL Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers


15/11/21 To the directors of the Shanghai Municipal Justice Bureau and Shanghai Women’s Prison: We, as citizens, as friends of Zhang Zhan (张展), and as people who admire her sense of conscience, have been concerned about the deteriorating state of her health. We are deeply concerned to have learned that Zhang Zhan’s older brother recently […]

China: Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Circulate Open Letter to Shanghai Authorities Appealing for Citizen Journalist Zhang Zhan to Receive a Full Physical Examination and Emergency Medical Treatment — IAPL Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers

Threat to our rights


Government bills represent a threat to our rights to protest and to hold the government to account

We are becoming accustomed to authoritarian regimes restricting the rights of their citizens by a variety of means. These include restrictions on the right of assembly, weakening judicial control and either ignoring or neutering human rights laws. The UK government has introduced three bills which seek to do similar things and this post is to highlight the dangers for everyone in the country.

Our human rights are our personal freedoms. You can’t see or touch them, but they should always have your back. Think of them as your invisible armour. If you don’t find yourself thinking about your rights much, that’s a good sign that they’re there for you and doing what they should be: making you feel safe, accepted and free to enjoy your life with dignity and without fear. But what if someone quietly took your armour away, bit by bit, and you didn’t realise until it was too late? How would you protect yourself?  

That’s what’s happening right now, right under our noses – and the UK government doesn’t want you to know about it. As we speak, they are trying to introduce new laws and make changes to existing ones that will result in less freedom for ordinary people, more power for people in authority, and even greater inequality in our society. These changes will also make it harder for you to stand up for yourself if your human rights are being abused. And on top of that, in many cases it will be society’s most vulnerable people who are the worst hit by the changes. Our freedoms are under attack from all angles: this is a raid on our rights.  

If you’re still not sure what all this means in practice, you’re not alone. That’s exactly what people in power want, as a lack of public understanding makes it easier for them to sneak through changes that will negatively affect people’s lives without them realising (until it’s too late). We’re here to shout about the changes and make sure as many people as possible are aware of them, as we need your help to fight them.  

 
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill   

The right to protest is fundamental to a free and fair society.  In its current form, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill for England and Wales, would be an enormous and unprecedented extension of policing powers which would put too much power in the hands of the state. It would give both police and Government ministers the powers to ban, limit or impose any condition on peaceful protests – on the grounds that they might be ‘noisy’ or cause ‘annoyance.’  
 
The Bill not only targets the organisers of any protest, but also anyone who takes part in them on the basis that they “ought to have been aware” of any restrictions, conditions or prohibitions placed on any given event, risking criminalising large numbers of people for activities that otherwise would be perfectly lawful.  

Our rights, enshrined in international and domestic law, can only be infringed in very limited circumstances considered to be both proportionate and necessary.  Measures in this Bill are neither. Police already have wide ranging powers to manage public order and prevent public assemblies from causing serious harm. This Bill sets out to crackdown on explicitly nonviolent dissent.  

This will likely disproportionately impact people who are in a minority and increase the racism and discrimination which is experienced by many.  The thresholds in the Bill that will be applied to any policing action are vague, undefined and open to such wide ranging and discretionary interpretation that they will give rise to even more inconsistent approaches to how protests and demonstrations will be managed in future.  

Communities who already face wide ranging racist and discriminatory over policing will likely be at even greater risk. Already, research by the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights shows that 85 % of Black people in the UK are not confident that they would be treated the same as a white person by the police.  

This is worsened by other parts of the Bill, including greater police powers to enhance stop & search and to collect and share information, all of which are likely to entrench institutional racism within the criminal justice system. These structural inequalities need to be dismantled not re-built.  
 
We are concerned by restrictions on the right to roam which would seriously affect Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who could see their entire way of life criminalised. These proposals risk further criminalising homelessness or protesters using nonviolent occupations, peace camps or sit-ins to challenge injustice.  

This Bill covers a huge number of things, many of which have been heavily criticised by different sectors and requires a serious rethink. In many ways, it is so problematic that it would better be that it was dropped. Any welcome provisions in it could be delivered through different legislation. If the Bill proceeds, we are calling, alongside over 250 civil society organisations and 700 legal academics and counting, for the removal of Parts 3 and 4 of the Bill that relate to protest and the right to roam. We are similarly calling for the removal of measures relating to enhanced stop and search powers and data gathering and sharing requirements, which if enacted would likely increase structural racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system. At an absolute minimum, the relevant parts of the Bill (Part 2 Chapter 1, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 10 Chapter 1) must be substantially amended. 
 
Disappointingly the Bill has passed through the Commons, but this is not the end. In autumn the Lords will now have the opportunity to amend the Bill, before it returns to the Commons. 

This Bill affects England and Wales directly, but people from Scotland and Northern Ireland will travel to London to protest.  As Amnesty activists we are concerned about restrictions to freedom of expression and rights to assembly wherever they happen in Bogota, Bangalore, Belfast or Bristol. 

The Salisbury group will be writing to our MP, Mr John Glen, to express our concerns about this and other proposed pieces of legislation.

Genocide in China


Parliamentary committee produces damning report

Report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee accuses China of genocide towards the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. The report is entitled: Never Again: the UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinxiang and Beyond. It does not pull its punches. It is perhaps one of several events which are leading to a reappraisal of our relations with China. The previous Conservative administration was keen to see an improvement in our relations and with it, increases in trade and development. The treatment of the Uyghurs, the repression in Hong Kong, threats to the integrity of Taiwan and the poor behaviour in the early months of the Covid pandemic, is slowly forcing countries to think again.

The crimes being committed against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are truly horrifying. The Chinese government is responsible for the mass detention of more than a million Uyghurs, for forcing them into industrial-scale forced labour programmes, and for attempting to wipe out Uyghur and Islamic culture in the region through forced sterilisation of women, destruction of cultural sites, and separation of children from families. It is altogether a gruesome picture and shocking behaviour from on the UN’s Security Council members.

The Committee heard that under the guise of counter-terrorism, the Chinese government is committing mass atrocities and human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Reports include the use of forced labour programmes, arbitrary detention in internment camps, cultural erasure, systematic rape, forced sterilisations, separation of children from their families, and a high-technology surveillance system – all endorsed by the Chinese government’s central leadership. Thousands of mosques have been demolished.

One element of the report relates to cotton. It is estimated that some 570,000 people are forced to work picking cotton 84% of which comes from Xinjiang. Satellite imagery shows the use of surveillance equipment, factories surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers. The report notes that ‘virtually the entire’ UK textile and clothing is linked to the abuses.

Virtually the entire UK textile and clothing industry is linked to the abuses in Xinjiang

The UK government has adopted a low profile in this matter although there are signs of a stiffening of attitudes. The Committee argues that guidance is insufficient and that ‘stricter methods’ are needed.

The problem for the public, many of whom are horrified by the stories emerging from Xinjiang, is that action is difficult. How does one know, when buying a cotton T shirt or blouse, whether it has Chinese cotton in it produced by Uyghur slaves? We have to rely on firms applying due diligence in their supply chains. Undoubtedly, some retailers will take this seriously – not just as a matter of morals but because of the risk of reputational damage – whereas others may not do so. A representative of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) thought that voluntary action would not be enough for some retailers. We rely therefore on government to take the lead.

The government is financially supporting the Australian Strategic Policy Institute ASPI, which produces analysis of Chinese actions. A report on the Uyghurs is available here.

To see in more detail what the Ethical Trade Initiative says about the Chinese situation follow this link.

Positive news on the human rights front


Investigators using a range of modern technology to keep track of human rights violations

Looking at the scale and extent of human rights abuses around the world, it is hard not to feel in despair. The ‘never again’ optimism after the Second World War seems to have melted away with wholesale abuses taking place in Syria, Egypt, China, Myanmar and many other places. China executes more of its citizens than any other country in the world and is incarcerating a million Uyghurs in a form of ethnic cleansing. The treatment of Rohingyas in Myanmar is another massive tragedy. Egypt is on an execution spree – 16 in one day – and abuses are evident in nearly all the Gulf states.

It seems that nearly all the perpetrators escape justice. Evidence is difficult if not impossible to obtain. Western governments are more than willing to look the other way. The countries concerned are major buyers of weapons – Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest customer for example – which makes them complicit in the crimes.

But it seems as though there may be cause for optimism with an organisation using a range of modern technology to track down the perpetrators and collect evidence with a view to a future trial. Soon to be launched Investigative Commons will be acting as a kind of hub to enable this work to be done. People are familiar with Bellingcat which used similar methods to track down the two Russian GRU agents who came here to Salisbury in an attempt to murder Sergei Skripal.

A significant advance is made possible by Forensic Architecture who are able to match events to individual arms firms. This is truly ground-breaking and in the case of Yemen, they are assembling evidence which may enable individual politicians and others to be put on trial for breaches of International Human Rights.

Up until now, human rights work has depended on people working in the country concerned which of course is extremely risky. Many human rights defenders, lawyers and other activists have been arrested or executed during the course of trying to look into violations.

A potential game changer

This relatively new method enables information to be collected from a wide range of sources and can be put together for a trial. This represents a major leap in the ability of human rights organisations to keep track of what is happening around the world and may in addition, act as some kind of deterrent to abusers.

The organisation is based in the same office block in Germany as the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, ECCHR which has had some success in Syria. The use of open source information and assembling it into a potential case for the International Court does look like a potential game changer.

No doubt we shall be referring to this organisation in the future.

Source: The Observer 27 June 2021

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