Posts Tagged ‘“Human rights”’


Nae Pasaran this week

The film Nae Pasaran is on this Wednesday 13th at the Arts Centre in Salisbury starting at 7:30 and tickets are available at £8.00 each.  The film is set in Scotland.  Details about the film can be seen here.


The minutes of the September meeting are now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.  A full meeting with a number of future events in hand.

September minutes (Word)


Amnesty issues warning on the threat to human rights with Brexit

Amnesty has issued a press release setting out serious concerns with respect to Brexit.  Amnesty has no position on Brexit itself but it is pointing out some of the implications if we leave.  The issue of the border in Ireland is receiving a great deal of attention at present and the threat to the Good Friday Agreement is a concern.

An additional worry is that the attitudes of most of the cabinet and our prime minister concerning human rights is to say the least, ambivalent.

For example, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Chancellor Sajid Javid and the Salisbury MP John Glen have all, according to the ‘They Work for You‘ web site, generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights.  They have voted against largely retaining the EU ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights’ and the Chancellor and Mr Glen have voted for the abolition of the Human Rights Act.  Being part of the EU combined with all the attention being devoted to the arguments about leaving, has limited the government’s ability to repeal the Act.  If and when we leave, one of these constraints will largely disappear.

Coffee morning

Posted: September 7, 2019 in Group news, Uncategorized
Tags: ,

UPDATE:  very successful morning and we were kept busy from before 10 till noon.  Sold lots of cakes.  Thanks to all those who came or helped or provided cakes.

There is a coffee morning today – Saturday – in St Thomas’s church in Salisbury.  There will be lots of home made cakes (and some bought ones) and if you were thinking of joining the local group or wanted to know more, this would be a golden opportunity.

Coffee morning


Are human rights more under threat now than ever?

In this blog we look at the current state of human rights.  We discuss some of the grim examples around the world and the influence of the arms trade and the continuing strength of slavery.  We also look at climate change and how that is impacting on human rights together with new technologies and the activities of corporations.  


The future of human rights around the world looks increasingly bleak.  The gradual shift in power eastwards is just one of the slow drip of factors changing the landscape.  We have also seen the rise in nationalism and far right organisations in Europe with their anti-immigrant mindset.  There are a large and growing number of authoritarian governments including China, Turkey, Russia, Oman, Bahrain and many others.

In the Middle East, nation after nation is ignoring the rights of its citizens.  Executions after cursory trials, the use of torture, disappearances and the denial of free speech and freedom of the press are common throughout the area.  The promise of the Arab Spring has come to naught.  The monarchies and dictators quickly regained power largely because the grass roots uprisings could not organise or find a voice.  In Egypt for example, the protests were violently put down and all that has happened is one dictator has been replaced by another.

Major affronts to the cause of human rights have occurred in Burma with the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people.  This with a country led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and in whom so much hope was placed.  The hatred of Rohingya minority is so deep that it has led to these terrible events.  See also a talk on this subject given in Southampton.

China’s treatment of the Uighurs has also caused considerable alarm.  Around one million are detained in various camps for ‘re-education’.  This allegation came to light in 2018 and is denied by the Chinese authorities.  In August of that year, a UN committee heard that up to one million Uighur Muslims and other Muslim groups could be detained in the western Xinjiang region.  At the same time, there’s growing evidence of oppressive surveillance against people living in Xinjiang.

It seems a long time since the optimism of the UN Declaration of Human Rights agreed in 1948.  It was declared at the time as a ‘milestone document’ and in many respects it was.  It set down in 30 articles how human beings were to be treated.  The motivation was the horrific events of the second world war and in particular, the systematic murder of Jewish people in Europe.  There was a clear sense of never again should these things be allowed to happen.  Significantly, it was agreed by a wide range of countries and it led ultimately to the European Convention and the Human Rights Act in the UK.   The word ‘genocide’ was created at this time.

Human Rights tableau, France.  Photo: Salisbury Amnesty

Unfortunately, declarations and other fine words matter little if they are ignored in practice.  To take one article, article 5 on the prohibition of torture.  According to an Amnesty report in 2015, 122 countries in the world still use this practice, often routinely.

Another example is slavery, prohibited under article 4 of the UHDHR.  According to Antislavery the practice is live and well and takes many forms including selling women and girls into prostitution, forced marriage and bonded labour.  Many people in the UK believe that slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century with the banning of the triangular trade and do not realise that it is greater today than it was then.

So although the articles of the Declaration set out how states should behave and it is indeed true that many countries adhere to these principles, it is also true that a significant number of countries do not and it could argued that the situation is getting worse and not better.

It is also depressing to note that a number of UK MPs are lukewarm over the issue of human rights in this country.  The website They Work for You reveals that the new prime minister Boris Johnson, the new home secretary Priti Patel and our own MP John Glen are all listed as ‘generally voting against equality and human rights.’

Causes

One significant factor in the decline in human rights is the arms trade.  A key factor here is that the top sellers of arms to the world are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council namely, Russia, China, USA, France and the UK.  Two other prominent arms exporting countries are Israel and Germany.  One would expect that holding such an exalted position in the UN – as a result of being on the winning side of WW2 – would result in responsible behaviour and the setting of an example to the rest of the world.  The opposite is the case and as we look at conflicts and wars around the world, weapons made by or brokered by these nations are usually to be found.  In all the wars, it is ordinary people, women and children who suffer either from wounds, lost limbs or sight, lost education or displacement to join the 25.4 million or so who live in camps outside their own country (UNHCR figures).

Human rights possess inherent preventive power. The international human rights system was created in response to conflict to help prevent future conflict.  It has a special role in averting the escalation of violence.  Just as war, conflicts and insecurity increase the incidence of human rights violations, societies that respect human rights experience less violence and insecurity: they are more resilient, and they are more inclusive.  The Secretary-General has acknowledged this, identifying human rights as the “critical foundation for sustaining peace”

UN Annual Appeal 2019

A vivid current example is Yemen.  Not only do we supply weapons to the Saudis who use them to bomb a wide range of civilian targets, but we also supply RAF personnel to advise them.  This was a secret spilled by a Saudi prince at a London conference about 2 years ago much to the embarrassment of HMG.  What is astonishing is that the former Foreign Secretary travelled around the middle east seeking to promote peace.  Yemen is all but wrecked and our arms companies have played a significant part in the destruction.

The Court of Appeal has recently ruled against the government in the case of Yemen in a case brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.  The government is to appeal this judgement.  Recently, missile parts made in Brighton have been discovered in Yemen in contravention of international human rights law.

Climate and human rights

Increasingly, climate and the future of life on the planet is a concern.  As temperatures rise, it has an effect on hydrologic conditions, ecosystem functioning and agricultural productivity.  These effects are discussed in some detail in a United Nations report and in many other publications including the IPCC report.

A feature of these reports is the issue of human rights most particularly among those most affected by climate issues.  These are often women, children and indigenous populations who get in the way of forest clearances, dam projects or other major activities which threaten their environment and livelihoods.

A major fear – arguably a selfish one – concerning the effect of climate change is immigration.  The war in Syria and to a lesser extent conflicts in Mali and Somalia, resulted in huge movements of peoples, mostly into Europe, which gave us a taste of what major migrations of peoples will look like.  This had signifcant political implications in most EU countries, indeed the immigration issue was an influential feature of the Brexit debate in the UK.  It is curious to note in passing that worries about immigration at the political level do not seem to flow through into a desire to take resolute action on climate change which will be a key driver of people emigrating.  Climate will have a destabilising effect on many regimes as their agriculture is affected.  The previous prime minister Theresa May’s hostile immigration policy was (is?) almost ironic since the ‘hostility’ referred only to people.

Corporate changes

A significant difference since the war concerning human rights is corporate power and influence.  Although corporations have wielded great power in the past, controlling them was handled by states, for example anti-trust actions in the USA against the oil companies and other monopolies.  Modern internet companies pose an altogether different threat.  Firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter operate across the world and seem to answer to no one.  They extract enormous quantities of data about individuals and Facebook was alleged to be influential in elections.  The thrust of the UN Declaration was the individual and his or her relationship with the state.  Today, people are almost threatened as much by the activities of international corporations who are seemingly uncontrolled and uncontrollable.  They have also shown themselves all to ready to adjust their policies to suit despotic regimes such as China and seek to do business there.

Another looming technological threat is face recognition which is just beginning to become noticed as such in the UK.  Although it has benefits – finding missing persons or lost children, as well as an anti crime tool – it has enormous implications for civil liberties and individual rights.  The right to privacy will be substantially lost as the technology develops.  The influence of technology and the increasing influence of AI has been termed ‘digital feudalism.’  The crucial issue with these technological issues is control.  We have recently introduced GDPR legislation into the UK to protect citizens from unwarranted intrusion.  Yet the tech giants are outside this regime: it is not possible to find out from Facebook what information they have on you.

And we do not have to go far to see a more sinister aspect of the technology problem.  A firm based just outside Salisbury in the village of Porton, makes and supplies equipment which enables regimes to intercept and monitor phone calls and internet traffic.  They supply some well known countries with grim human rights records enabling them to find and arrest lawyers, opposition politicians and human rights activists.

Both these factors shows the individual to be threatened by corporate and state actors which both operate outside proper – or indeed any – democratic controls.  Mr Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebook, declined to attend the house of commons select committee on his company’s alleged role in the Referendum.

So the nature of human rights has changed since the post war days and the foundation of the current human rights climate.  The hope after the war that a new rules based international order with the UN as some kind of controlling force has all but ended.  Despots around the world are increasingly ignoring treaties and international obligations and acting with impunity.  The Palestinians live in an open prison in the Gaza strip while Israel relentlessly take more and more of their land ignoring numerous UN resolutions.  New threats have appeared with the giant internet companies and with climate change.

There are however, some major changes in the current concerns and the beliefs behind those who promoted a better world after the second world war. Gone is the sense of optimism and a desire that by acting together in a rules based world order, we could see a brighter future for ordinary people in the world. ‘Never again’ was the clear desire amongst many people who had experienced two terrible wars and the holocaust.

That optimism for the future has all but disappeared and we have become used to horrific events in places like Syria, Chechnya, Burma, Libya and many other places around the world. Yemen has already been mentioned but there are countless other wars around the world which only scarcely get a mention. Wikipedia provides a list and there are 4 current conflicts with a death toll of 10,000 or more and 6 where the death toll is between 1,000 to 10,000. There is a very long list of smaller conflicts. In all these, it is the vulnerable who suffer and the children who are either sucked into the conflict or whose education is halted.

The UK was one of the early signatories to the UN Declaration although it has to be admitted that, along with France, there were worries at the about our activities in the colonies.  We as a nation have been active in promoting human rights – we once had an ethical foreign policy – although less so in recent years.  Yet we are host to the City of London which is the worlds leading centre for money laundering and tax evasion.  It handles vast quantities of ‘dark money’ and some its banks have been fined billions of pounds for illicit money transfers on behalf of arms dealers, drug smugglers and other criminal elements.  This weakens our moral position, a fact which is not lost on some foreign autocrats.  It is difficult for us to adopt a high moral position when our financial institutions are helping Putin loot the Russian state, a fact revealed in the Panama papers.

Are there any positive signs?  There has been a significant rise in activity and interest in climate issues with the Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg.  However, this has not spilled over into concerns about human rights.  There has been a dramatic attitudinal shift concerning the internet companies which have gone from hero to zero in the matter of a few years.  More people are concerned about their activities for example with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.  Nevertheless, many people remain unconcerned about privacy or civil liberties issues.

Overall one must remain gloomy.  The spirit of optimism has gone and it is difficult to find any commentators expressing a positive view of the future.  Concerns about climate are essentially parochial and climate stress in other parts of the world achieve little more than passing interest.  Commercial interests remain entrenched and powerful and are still able to sow confusion and doubt about the real impact of climate change.  They are still able to claim that human actions are not necessarily to blame and that there has always been climate change.  Politicians show little urgency or real interest in these matters.  Revelation after revelation emerges about Yemen and the destruction there, partly supported by our arms sales, yet nothing changes.

The problem in the modern era is that human rights issues are more diffuse and threats come from several different directions.  After the war it seemed simple enough to set up a system to prevent a repeat of the horrors of the Second World War.  Now, it is authoritarian regimes, corporate power, the rise of AI and its effects, climate destabilisation, the arms trade and political indifference.  The media’s role is also a factor with some outlets either not covering some of these issues or diminishing their significance.  All play a part in threatening the wellbeing of millions of people.

There still remains a need for human rights organisations to promote the cause.  Perhaps one optimistic sign is the number of organisations engaged in this work some of which are listed at the bottom of our site.  There are many others.

 

 


GM MinutesThe minutes of the group’s meeting on June 13th 2019 are attached thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.

June minutes (Word)


President Trump is due to leave the UK after a controversial visit in which all the normal diplomatic niceties seem to have been ignored.  Our concern naturally is with human rights and his tenure as president has shown a wilful disregard for the rights of women, minorities and immigrants.  Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty, has written to the government arguing for a more vigorous line from them.  She said;

Trump has presided over two-and-a-half years of utterly shameful policies.  Locking up child migrants, imposing a discriminatory travel ban, decimating global funding for women’s rights and withdrawing from global human rights bodies – it’s been a roll call of shame under Donald Trump’s presidency.

We need to resist Trump’s trashing of human rights.  Within the Anglo-American relationship, we’d like to see the UK Government being far more vocal about human rights.  Our fear is that the Government’s desperate hunger for post-Brexit trade deals with the USA could mean we end up giving a free pass to the White House as this onslaught against human rights continues.

The full press release can be accessed from this link.


If you have come to this page seeking information about Paul Mason’s talk on 24th, details can be found here.


RightsInfo has published some research on the attitudes towards human rights of the known contenders for the post of Prime minister following the resignation of Theresa May

The general tone of the various contenders is to say they are in favour of human rights but their actions often belie these statements.  Of the eight known contenders so far (28 May), all at various times have generally voted against human rights issues and most have voted to abolish or scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.  Some have wanted to replace the HRA with a British Bill of Rights but after around 10 years a bill has shown no sign of appearing.  None of the contenders could in any way be described as a ‘champion’.

In a recent newspaper article, it was revealed that the UK government has relaxed its guidance on obtaining and using information gained from foreign intelligence agencies using torture.  Although this cannot easily be placed at any particular minister’s door, it is likely that Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt knew or should have known during their times as Foreign Secretary.   The consolidated guidance was revised in secret and has alarmed human rights groups.  It is extremely equivocal and provides copious loopholes for information obtained under torture, or by using inhuman methods, to be allowed.

The contenders are :

Boris Johnson

Professes to be in favour but the web site They Work for You shows that he has generally voted against human rights issues.  Human Rights Watch described his position ‘weak, inconsistent and often incoherent.’  Their review of his actions on arming the Saudis in their bombing campaign in Yemen, failure to press taking Myanmar to the International Court and his weakness in Egypt, make for grim reading.

Andrea Leadsom

Almost always votes against human rights issues according to They Work for You.  She also voted against retaining the European Charter.

Dominic Raab

Raab has been an outspoken critic of the HRA and has claimed that human rights have run riot and are flawed.  He has masterminded plans to replace the HRA.  In a debate with Shami Chakrabarti, some of Dominic Raab’s doubtful logic and thinking is revealed.

Rory Stewart

Has spoken in favour of Human Rights and RightsInfo say that he was ‘reportedly’ a professor of human rights at Harvard University.  He has criticised the ECHR saying it has ‘using the wrong principles to come to the wrong judgements.’ Has voted to scrap the HRA and the EU Charter in 2018.

Esther McVey

Has been an active campaigner to repeal the HRA and replace it with a British bill of rights.  Voted to scrap the European Charter.

Jeremy Hunt

Has supported the scrapping the HRA.  Created the post of roving ambassador and appointed Rita French into the post.  However if this is not supported by appropriate actions to support human rights in the UK it is unlikely to achieve much.  Reprieve has reported in a lengthy report that the UK is heavily involved in the training of torturers in Bahrain during Hunt’s time as Foreign Secretary.

Matt Hancock; Michael Gove and Sajid Javid have all sought to scrap the HRA and voted against human rights issues in parliament.

What comes across from looking at their records, speeches and comments is that they want to be seen to support human rights but that as soon as a particular issue arises, such as for example, deporting people back to a country which uses torture, their resolve weakens.  It is also not hard to see the influence of tabloid stories and obsessions in their comments, indeed, searching their names often brings up stories in the Daily Express or the Daily Mail.

Another common theme is that commercial interests are key.  This is particularly so with arms sales to the Saudis with a blind eye turned to the bombing and destruction in Yemen.  Whoever is appointed prime minister from the above list, we are unlikely to see a robust or principled defence of human rights.  Rather, a continuation of attacks on the European Charter and a policy of business first and human rights second.

The MP for Salisbury, Mr John Glen (not known to be a contender) is also generally voted against human rights.     He also voted against the retention of the European Charter.

 

 


F1 race to go ahead despite widespread human rights infringements in Bahrain

All you need to know about Halo ahead of the 2018 F1 seasonSport is being used more and more to present a sanitised view of a country and to hide or obscure human rights abuses.  Russia with the Olympics and Qatar with the World Cup are both examples of dubious regimes using sport to enhance their image.  In the case of FIFA there is the issue of massive corruption within the organisation itself.

The latest example is Formula 1 and the race to take place in Bahrain.  The country has scant regard for human rights.  Arrests, unfair trials, the use of torture are all commonplace.  In 2017 the last newspaper was closed down.  In a previous blog, we highlighted a local firm in Porton (a village near Salisbury, UK) which supplies spyware to this regime.

As the US State Dept. said in a report on the country in 2017:

The most significant human rights issues [in Bahrain] included reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by security forces; allegations of torture of detainees and prisoners; harsh and potentially life-threatening conditions of detention; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, including by the press and via the internet; restriction of academic and cultural events; restrictions on the rights of association and assembly; allegations of restrictions on freedom of movement, including arbitrary citizenship revocation; and limits on Shia political participation.

Further examples of abuse of human rights can be found in a Human Rights Watch report.  Amnesty international has also produced a report saying similar things.

The F1 site itself claims to respect human rights issues in its policy;

  1.  The Formula 1 companies are committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally.

The problem is they do not.  Before races there is a severe clampdown in the area and protestors can be shot.  The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy is one of 15 human rights organisations to have written to F1 president Jean Todt calling on them to act in the case of Najah Yusuf who was imprisoned last year for criticising the regime on Facebook.  The response yesterday is not encouraging:

It’s quite easy,” he said. “We are here for a sport event, not for a political event. That means – first of all, I was surprised that there are still some political turmoil which I don’t think is the reality.

I think that the reality is just that a few people want to create troubles and Formula One is here to make sport, to entertain the people.  We should not be involved in any political questions.  This, people should do, who are here, who are living here. The government, whoever, that’s their job, not our job.  [Statement 30 March 2019, Our italics]

Which rather conflicts with its policy statement above.  It seems as though nothing a country does can stop the likes of F1 or other sporting regimes from carrying on their activities in a country with dubious or dire human rights.  As long as the money’s right …


The Oscar nominated film The Breadwinner is showing this Friday, 8 March at the Arts Centre in Salisbury at 7:30 pm.  It concerns a young girl who pretends to be a boy in Taliban controlled Afghanistan to enable her to look after her family.  Cert 12A.  Tickets available from the Arts Centre, 01722 320 333, at the door or on line https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/salisbury-arts-centre/the-breadwinner/#book-tickets

There will be a short introduction by a member of our group.  If you are interested in joining the group we shall be around before and after the showing so it would be a good time to make yourself known.