Posts Tagged ‘Human rights’

UK aid to Saudi Arabia

Posted: January 15, 2021 in Saudi Arabia
Tags: , , , ,

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

 

 

 

 


UK likely to abandon human rights concerns in its rush for trade deals

News today (3 January 2021) that the government has agreed a comprehensive trade deal with Turkey has set alarm bells ringing about the future for human rights in further deals.  Following our departure a few days ago from the EU, the government is trying hard to secure trade deals around the world to replace any problems which might occur limiting trade with them.

The human rights situation in Turkey is dire.  Journalists and human rights defenders have been jailed on vague charges of the terrorism kind.  Newspapers have been closed.  Torture is common in police stations and there is a culture of impunity for the security forces.  Thousands of people are denied work accused of being terrorists or aiding terrorists.  Essentially the rule of law has all but broken down.

We do of course have to trade around the world and if we only did so with those with clean hands, business would be rather thin.  We do not have to sell them arms however to make the region less stable and enhance the president Erdogan’s ability to control his people.  Liz Truss’s unquestioning enthusiasm for a trade deal seemingly at any cost is to be deprecated.

Does regaining sovereignty mean selling anything to anyone?

 

Will this be repeated around the world with all sorts of regimes who mistreat their citizens, use torture routinely and are indifferent to human rights?  Time will tell but it is to be hoped that the desire to secure deals at any price, no questions asked, does not become the norm.  Is this what ‘regaining our sovereignty’ means?  Freedom to sell arms and other sensitive materials to some of the world’s worse regimes?

Peter Curbishley

 


Newspaper exposes an extraordinary secret deal made between Switzerland and China

Switzerland is a country which has seldom appeared on this site.  It has an image of being a peaceful, civilised country with a close attachment to laws and rules.  Indeed it is something of an example to the rest of the world having avoided wars for centuries.  It never joined the EU.  Several human rights based organisations are based in Geneva.  The only thing said against it is the secret nature of its banking system which enables billions of dollars to be secreted away out of sight of the host country.

So it has come of something of a shock to discover that it has signed a secret deal with China to facilitate the repatriation of Chinese nationals back to that country.  Readmission agreements as they are called are common and Switzerland itself has around 60 of them including one with the UK.  These are published or otherwise available and the personnel involved have to be validated by both countries.  Not so in the case of China.

The Swiss agreement allows officers from the Ministry of Public Security, which is implicated in widespread, systematic and wide-ranging human rights abuses, free and secret access to the country.  Their agents are accused of crimes against humanity.  Yet they roam free in Switzerland carrying out unsupervised interviews and operations in their attempts to track down Chinese nationals and repatriate them to China.  The Swiss do not check on their activities or know who is being sent back.  Of those who have been sent back, their whereabouts are unknown.

Details of this extraordinary story was revealed by the newspaper NZZ amSonntag in August and a fuller story has appeared in Safeguard Defenders.   It was kept secret it has been claimed, because it was ‘an administrative agreement’.  Now that some Swiss parliamentarians have become aware of it, how long it will last we shall have to see.  But it seems to be another example of some western countries craven attitude towards the Chinese despite increasing knowledge of their multiple human rights abuses.

Sources: Swiss Info.ch; Safeguard Defenders; Guardian; NZZ amSonntag


Today, 10 December 2020 is Human Rights Day

IMMEDIATE  Tonight (10 December) at 7:30 (UK time) there will be a special programme on BBC3 to mark this day.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  The UDHR is a milestone document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.   It is the most translated document in the world being available in more than 500 languages,

2020 Theme: Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights

This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts.  We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.

10 December is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity.

Under UN Human Rights’ generic call to action “Stand Up for Human rights”, we aim to engage the general public, our partners and the UN family to bolster transformative action and showcase practical and inspirational examples that can contribute to recovering better and fostering more resilient and just societies.

Taken from the UN site


Issue of Sportswash has emerged again with two Formula 1 races to be held in Bahrain

UPDATE 26 November

Guardian piece 

Sport and politics have never been too far apart.  During the Cold War, countries like East Germany and Russia spent enormous sums on their sports programmes in an attempt to demonstrate to the world how successful they were.  Recently, we have seen countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain use their vast wealth to secure favourable media coverage.  Earlier in the year, we featured the attempt to purchase Newcastle FC using Saudi money.

These countries are also able to pay large sums to public relations firms to massage their reputations.  Before we rush to condemn sporting organisations, sportsmen and women too quickly however, we need to look at the tangled web of influence and connections between a variety of people and the Bahraini regime.  One such is the retired Chief of Defence staff Baron, formerly General, Richards of Herstmonceux.  Despite the unrest,  crackdowns and multiple human rights violations in Bahrain, Baron Richards was able to advise them on a variety of areas using his company Palliser Associates and Equilibrium Global.  There are various connections to the former prime minister David Cameron.  Full details and further links can be found on a Daily Maverick piece.

The human rights situation in Bahrain is extremely poor.  Women do not have equal rights; many people are declared stateless; prison conditions are extremely poor with limited medical treatment for those detained; the death penalty is used and there is no free expression to speak of.  There is no independent media.  Amnesty’s report on the country can be read on this link.  Human Rights Watch’s summary says:

Bahrain’s human rights situation continues to be dire.  Courts convict and imprison prominent human rights defenders and opposition leaders for their peaceful activism.  Security forces ill-treat, threaten, and coerce alleged suspects into signing confessions.  Authorities have resumed executions, many after unfair trials marred by torture allegations, and fail to hold officials accountable for torture.  Courts have stripped the citizenship of hundreds, leaving many stateless, and deported dozens of dissidents, journalists, and lawyers as punishments for offenses that include peaceful criticism of the government.  Authorities in 2017 shut down the only independent newspaper in the country as well as opposition parties.  Members of dissolved opposition parties were banned from running in parliamentary elections in November 20.  Human Rights Watch

A full analysis of the political situation in Bahrain is provided by Freedom House.

Western governments, including the UK, have been extremely keen to establish good relations with the state because of lucrative defence spending.  We have also established a base there. It is seen as a ‘core market‘ for us.  The Daily Mail has published an article, with multiple photos, showing the many meetings between the Queen, and other members of our Royal family, and the King of Bahrain.  Lots of jollity on show. 

Sport and Sports Wash is thus just one part of the picture.  Bahrain is a wealthy and powerful regime well able via offers of money and contracts, to ‘buy’ political influence.  But things may be beginning to stir.  World Champion racing driver, Lewis Hamilton, has made statements highlighting human rights issues in countries seeking to sanitise their reputations.  Recently, he said:

We realise we’ve got to not ignore human rights issues in counties that we go to, not just 20 years, 30 years from now, but now.

In another development is that 30 UK cross party members of parliament have written to the Chief Executive of Formula 1, Chase Carey, to express their disquiet at plans to hold the Grand Prix races in Bahrain.

[They expressed] concern that the Bahrain Grand Prix is exploited be the by the Bahrain government to ‘sports wash’ their human rights record

The role of Marcus Rashford is also noteworthy in this regard.  It was his intervention which was key to changing the government’s position on free school meals.  Maybe we are seeing the stirrings of conscience among some sports people that they do have a role to play in the political arena.  With their vast followings and star status, they are in a prime position to speak to their public and highlight some of the terrible things that go on in countries like Bahrain.

Up till now, money, arms sales, and a cosy relationship with politicians, service people and the Royal family, has enabled these regimes to carry on the mistreatment of their subjects, with human rights organisations merely an irritant, a kind of background noise, who can safely be ignored. But sport has a mass following as the prime minister discovered to his discomfort earlier this month. If more sportsman like Hamilton and Rashford, begin to use their power to focus the minds of their fans onto what is going on in these despotic countries, maybe the political ground will shift.


China’s persecution of the Uighurs continues unabated

Two or so years ago, we had not heard of the Uighurs but since then, more and more evidence has emerged about what has become arguably the world’s worst example of attempted cultural genocide.  In an editorial in the 17 October 2020 edition of the Economist, they suggest it is ‘the gravest example of a world-wide attack on human rights and a crime against humanity’.

Since 1989, the fate of the Uighurs has deteriorated markedly.  Around a million are incarcerated in what are claimed to be ‘vocational education and training centres.’  It is hard to think of other such centres around the world which feel the need to surround themselves with high concrete walls, coils of razor wire and watch towers.  Inside, they are forced to learn Chinese and Xi Jinping thought.  They are Sunni Muslims but if when asked ‘do you believe in God?’ they answer ‘yes’, they are beaten.  

According to the Economist, new evidence suggests that thousands of their children have been separated from their parents.  If they speak their own language they are punished.  Women are urged to marry Han Chinese men and receive rewards if they do.  Another tactic according to the BBC World Service, is placing a Chinese man inside their homes as ‘house guests’.  

The persecution of the Uighurs is now widely known around the world.  Initially, the Chinese denied the existence of the camps and then changed the story once some details became known.  Outsiders are not allowed in and few images have emerged except posed photographs and films produced by the government.  The lack of images has reduced the impact as people respond to images and footage – written reports and verbal testimony have much less impact. The wider issue of human rights is discussed by Amnesty and includes details of torture, attacks on human rights defenders, a legal system under control of the party and excessive use of surveillance. 

Lack of protest

One of the curious features of this scandal however is the lack of protest from other Muslim nations.  Why aren’t countries such as Indonesia, Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan making more of a fuss?  Turkey is closely related to the Uighurs ethnically and their Turkic languages are linked, but it too is silent.  

Part of the reason is that China has used its enormous wealth to silence criticism.  Countries such as Pakistan are dependent on the Belt and Road initiative and has received tens of billions in loans from China.  It has just finalised a new loan of $11bn.  Turkey is also part of the Belt and Road project and has just signed a $1bn loan.  At one time it was a critic and then it changed its opinion.  Saudi – hardly a country with clean hands itself – has aligned itself more closely with China following the Khashoggi murder.  Mohammed bin Salman is quoted as saying:

China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism measures and act against extremists for its own security BBC World Service 20 July 2020

Other Muslim countries are also reluctant to speak up because of loans and economic dependence on China.  Apparently, about the only exception is Malaysia because it is well developed and less reliant on China.  The Economist article rightly argues that the West must speak up and expose this most egregious example of human rights abuse possibly since the Second World War when nations said ‘never again’ after the holocaust.  It suggests China’s regime is not immune to shame – why else would it go to such lengths to hide its activities?  Western companies should ensure for example that the goods they source from China are not made using forced Uighur labour. 

The situation is bleak however.  Last week, China, along with Russia and Saudi Arabia, was elected to the UN’s Human rights Council.  Truly the fox is in the henhouse. 

The UK government has supported an EU statement on the issue. 

Why is there no concerted international action?

There are several reasons:

  • The region of China, Xinjiang, is remote and largely unknown outside China and is therefore in a real sense, out of sight and out of mind
  • The West’s increasing dependence economically on China is a factor.  We rely on the country for much of our manufactures and for keeping inflation down.  British and other politicians have been all too keen to put business and trade ahead of human rights
  • China is highly resistant to listen to any criticism of what it regards as its internal affairs and western politicians are all to happy to go along with this and are reluctant to confront Chinese sensitivities
  • There is no charismatic individual to champion their cause.  It needs an individual who can speak for the nation and with whom, people in the West can identify
  • The lack of film or video evidence other than snatched pictures of concrete walls
  • Covid-19 is a huge distraction and consumes masses of time leaving little for other causes
  • China has been careful not to commit crimes of actual genocide.  It is not murdering millions by starvation or other means.  The oppression is real but there is no extermination
  • The oppressed are Muslims and anti-Muslim feeling is widespread in the West which results in low sympathy.  As we have noted, other Muslim nations have failed to criticism China’s oppression of fellow Muslims (in fact some support it), so why should we? 

This all adds up to a dangerous situation.  China’s increasingly muscular approach to world affairs should be a lot more worrying than it appears to be.  Their attempts to militarise the South China Sea by building whole islands; their increasing levels of threats and intimidation towards Taiwan; aggression along the border with India and clamping down on Hong Kong are some of the recent actions the Beijing has engaged in.  Sooner or later, Western governments are going to have to face up to the Chinese threat to human rights and call its bluff. 

The Economist does have a note of optimism however saying that ‘its propaganda has grown less effective’ as more evidence comes to light. 

Sources:  BBC World Service; HRW; The Economist; Amnesty International.  Further background from China Human Rights Defenders

See also the Grant Liberty website for an item on the Uighurs

 


The Conservatives have had a long-standing dislike of the HRA and a review of it has appeared in its last two or three manifestos. It has not always been so and indeed it was Conservative politicians who were instrumental in setting up the European Convention which preceded the HRA.

The government is making various claims in a bid to justify its desire to amend the act and by inference, to weaken it. Recently we have had claims about alleged vexatious claims against British soldier’s mistreatment of prisoners in conflict areas such as Iraq. They have also, erroneously claimed that the act prevents them tracking potential terrorists.

The various reasons put forward by the government combined with a steady stream of stories in the right wing press suggest deeper reasons at play. The current home secretary, Priti Patel and Michael Gove MP have both been reported as being keen to reintroduce the death penalty although the home secretary has resiled from that claim. Her proposed draconian measures for handling asylum seekers and immigrants however, reveal an illiberal attitude of mind. We have reported on this site, the shameful views of the Attorney General, Suella Braverman, concerning torture about which practice she seemed quite ‘relaxed’.

The HRA has perhaps shaken the establishment more than has been realised. It has led to a shift in power and enabled ordinary people to pursue injustice through the courts. We have seen in the Covid-19 crisis a government which has been reluctant to involve local government, much preferring to award contracts – without tender – to private firms who have shown a dazzling array of ineptitude. It seems to indicate a firm desire to retain the levers of power in Whitehall.  Challenge by private citizens is not welcome. 

The attempt to prorogue parliament and the proposed Internal Market and the Overseas Operations bills all show a government willing to break international treaties if it deems it necessary. We should be extremely concerned if the act gets abolished or its protections seriously watered down.  

 


Message from Forum 18

Supporters may know that we have a prisoner of conscience window in the Cathedral and one of our members posts up a new POC each week, something we have been doing for decades now.  We were gratified to receive this message from Forum 18 a member of which saw the latest POC and wrote to us concerning the plight of individuals in Kazakhstan and other countries in the region.  Kazakhstan is a country which does not receive that much attention:

Having visited Salisbury since I was a teenager, I’ve long admired the Group’s initiative in every month having information on a prisoner of conscience beneath the Cathedral’s Prisoner of Conscience Window. The combination of the window, the cathedral, and monthly updated credible verified information on a prisoner of conscience is very helpful.

As this month the prisoner of conscience chosen is from Kazakhstan, you might find it help to see information on some of the other prisoners of conscience in that country: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2570 

The information comes from Forum 18, for which I work.  We provide truthful, original, detailed, and accurate monitoring and analysis of violations of freedom of thought, conscience and belief of all people – whatever their belief or non-belief – in Central Asia, Russia, Russian-occupied Crimea and Donbas, the South Caucasus particularly Azerbaijan, and Belarus.  We also publish occasional analyses on Turkey.  The name ‘Forum 18’ comes from Article 18 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

We publish articles by e-mail, on our website ww.forum18.org , and are on Facebook @Forum18NewsService and Twitter @forum_18 . If it would help, I’d be glad to arrange for any of the Group to receive the weekly news summary.  Anyone may free-of-charge use or reproduce material we publish with due credit to Forum 18.

Many thanks once again for the Group’s continuing work, including on the Prisoner of Conscience Window.

Another POC from Kazakhstan is featured on Amnesty International’s site.


Contrasting positions by footballers and supporters

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, there have been several photos in the sports pages of groups of kneeling footballers forming either circles (Liverpool) or an H (Chelsea) in support of black rights in the USA.  They are expressing their outrage at the killing of a black American by allegedly over aggressive policing and restraint, which led to Floyd’s death, the latest in a series of black people who have died at the hands of the police.

At the same time – as we have written before – the Premier League is currently debating the sale of Newcastle United Football Club to a consortium funded by Saudi interests to the tune of £300 million.  The litany of human rights abuses in that country are many: torture is common; women’s rights are highly restricted; the death penalty is frequently used, often in public and by beheading, and amputation is practised as a punishment for certain crimes.  There is no free speech and religious persecution is carried out.  Whatever one may think of heavy-handed policing in the USA and the problems over race in that country, it comes no way near the grim state of affairs in Saudi Arabia.  In addition to the human rights abuses there is the war being waged by Saudi in Yemen which is causing immense misery and suffering.

Despite this, supporters of NUFC are overwhelmingly in favour of the transaction taking place.  A poll showed 97% in favour of the sale.  This partly because the current owner – Mike Ashley – has failed to adequately invest in the club and the supporters want the club to do better.  The Premier League is currently debating the sale of the club and the sole consideration, as far as their statements are concerned, is whether broadcasting rights have been infringed:

Qatar broadcaster beIN Sports has also accused the Saudi Arabian government of facilitating the piracy of Premier League football rights in the Middle East through broadcaster beoutQ, although there is a long-running diplomatic row between the two countries.

Saudi broadcaster Arabsat has always denied that beoutQ uses its frequencies to broadcast illegally and has accused beIN of being behind “defamation attempts and misleading campaigns”.  Source: BBC

Newcastle fans bristle at the suggestion that they should not accept such tainted money.  They argue that the issues has only achieved this degree of salience because football is in the public eye.  They point to the sale of arms by the UK and USA governments with little concern for the use they are put or the misery and destruction caused.  They also point to other investments by the Saudi regime in the UK – Uber taxis, or the Independent newspaper – which haven’t received similar negative publicity.

When the widow of Adnam Kashoggi, who was murdered by the regime in Turkey, asked Newcastle to reflect on the funding and not to take it, she was rewarded with some unpleasant trolling on Twitter.

But the contrast is quite stark.  On the one hand an outpouring of sympathy and support for the death of an innocent man in the USA, and on the other, avid support for a takeover by a terrible regime committing far worse acts on its citizens who seek to purchase a football club as part of its sports wash programme.  Quite why there should be this disparity of interest is hard to say.  Possibly sharing the same language so that information from America flows around the world quickly.  The presence of a free press there will be another factor.

If we in the UK – including football fans – could see what is going on in Saudi, if the women were allowed to speak and mobile phone footage of public executions widely circulated, then it is to be hoped their views might be different.

Jonathan Lieu, writing in the New Statesman (22 – 28 May 2020) argues that fans have craved the departure of Mike Ashley and not prepared to get too squeamish about who might replace him.  He says the dissatisfaction with Ashley is not to do with his zero-hours contracts or compromised labour rights, but more to do with his parsimony and failure to splash out some of his wealth on the club.  He argues that the fan’s behaviour and attitudes to the deal –

… is an admission of where the fans sit in the order of things.  Shorn of any real influence, deprived of any meaningful stake in their club, shut out of their stadiums for the foreseeable future, perhaps it is no wonder that some many have simply plumped for the path of least resistance and maximum gratification.  New Statesman p40

This may be so.  But just as important is the power of money in this sport.  Success – other than a fleeting cup run – is almost entirely dependant on huge investment to enable the purchase of top players.  Since investment in football is a risky venture from a financial point of view, the big money comes from people with big egos to support or who are using the sport to launder a reputation.  The desire for success and the need for big money feed on themselves.  Any moral qualms are trampled under foot.  In that, the supporters share with the UK government – whose desire for money from weapons sales – lack any consideration for human rights or the plight of those in Yemen.

Sources: BBC; Premier League; Guardian; New Statesman; aljazeera


We had a short meeting this month because the meeting date coincided with the Evensong at the Cathedral.  The minutes are attached with thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.

March minutes (Word)

The two speakers from south America at the SW Regional conference (Pic: Salisbury Amnesty)