Posts Tagged ‘John Glen MP’


No to the death penaltyWe attach the latest monthly death penalty report with thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  A fairly full report with a big section on Turkey which is contemplating reintroducing the death penalty following the recent failed coup.

August report (pdf)


 

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War in Yemen

For most of this year we have been commenting on the war in Yemen and the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.  We wrote to the Salisbury MP John Glen, who replied enclosing a bland statement from the Foreign Office Minister, Tobias Ellwood.  We have noted the government’s activities in getting the Saudi’s onto the UN’s Human Rights Council and the continued supply of arms to the Saudis despite their use in Yemen on civilian targets, schools and medical facilities.  We have also noted the steady softening of policies to make it easier – it is believed – for arms companies to ply their trade.  The Telegraph reported in an article in February, the difference between Syria and Yemen.  In the former country, bombing of a MSF hospital led to outrage by press and politicians in the UK:  by contrast, bombing of MSF hospitals in Yemen is greeted by a deafening silence :

Alas, this is not merely about Western indifference but about complicity and collusion. Last October, Britain and the US successfully blocked plans for a UN independent investigation into potential war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. This was a unique opportunity to hold all sides of the conflict accountable for their actions. Instead, Saudi Arabia has been allowed to investigate itself through its own internal commission.  (24 Feb 2016)

Then, on Thursday 21st July when parliament rose, there was a curious statement issued by the FCO.  It has been forced to retract numerous written and oral statements to parliament which said ministers had assessed that Saudi Arabia was not in breach of international humanitarian law in Yemen.

The admission led to calls by the Liberal Democrats for an investigation into Saudi behaviour in Yemen and a suspension of UK arms sales.  The Liberal Democrats have repeatedly claimed that the Saudi military campaign has targeted civilians.  We also drew attention in a previous blog to the presence of British service personnel in Saudi control rooms.  The Foreign Office said the incorrect statements – made by three different ministers, some as far back as six months ago – were errors and did not represent an attempt to mislead MPs over its assessment of the Saudi campaign.

It stressed that other written answers had made clear that the UK government had made no assessment of whether the Saudis were in breach of humanitarian law.

The last day of parliament is a favourite time to slip out inconvenient statements since there is no time for questions or debate to take place.  The FCO simply said it had been reviewing the correspondence.

The government is facing a court case arguing that it should ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  The Guardian newspaper said:

In its written answer published on Thursday, the Foreign Office said written answers in February 2016 had stated: “We have assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL (international humanitarian law) by the coalition.” The correction said these should have stated: “We have not assessed that there has been a breach of IHL by the coalition.”

The Foreign Office also corrected a written answer by the then foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, who stated on 4 January 2016: “I regularly review the situation with my own advisers and have discussed it on numerous occasions with my Saudi counterpart. Our judgment is that there is no evidence that IHL has been breached, but we shall continue to review the situation regularly.”

This is something of a volt face and to issue such a statement on the last day of parliament is shameful.  It achieved its object however with next to no media coverage.  Why does it matter?  We are currently suffering a severe threat from ISIS with a recent outrage in Nice said to be inspired by the group.  Saudi Arabia’s activities in Yemen, supported by US and UK weapons, personnel and political cover, provide an ideal recruiting ground for this terrorist group.  At present all eyes are on Syria but how long will it be before our activities in Yemen come under the spotlight?


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The minutes of the July meeting are available here thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them.  A full meeting in which we discussed the death penalty report; the results of the stall; the film at the Arts Centre; social media statistics; the meeting at the Cathedral and the BBQ in August.  We also discussed the letter sent to John Glen about the Maldives (reply awaited).

July minutes (pdf)


The group’s death penalty report for June – July 2016 is now available thanks to group member Lesley forNo to the death penalty compiling it.  USA features strongly where there are a number of struggles going on.  The Maldives appear and we have written to our local MP Mr John Glen, who has a special interest in the country, to intercede.

China remains the country which executes the most followed by Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Details of executions in China are a state secret.

Report June – July (pdf)

 


UPDATE 23 JULY

The following letter has been sent to John Glen MP concerning the imminent use of the death penalty in the Maldives.  Mr Glen has spoken and written often about the human rights situation there.

[…] You may remember that, when you came to speak to our Group about Human
Rights, you told us of your particular interest and involvement in the issues
around Human Rights in the Maldives.
I am sure, therefore, you will have been concerned, as was our Group, to read
of the Maldives Government’s confirmation of the sentencing to death of a
young man found guilty of the killing in 2012 of a lawmaker. I understand that,
days before this ruling, the Government had amended the rules to allow
execution by lethal injection or hanging. This would bring the Country’s
decades-long moratorium on capital punishment to an end.
I would be grateful if you could let me know whether our Government will be
making any intervention in this man’s case, and expressing their concerns at
this change of policy. You will also, I am sure, be aware that the decision is
controversial, and has resulted in the resignation of the Country’s Foreign
Minister, Dunya Maumoon. We would like to ask whether you would be able
to use your influence with any of the Government contacts you will have made
in the course of your work in relation to the Maldives to support the
commuting of this man’s death sentence to a term of imprisonment, and a
reversal of the new policy.
[…]
[UPDATE]
Mr Glen has replied:
[..] I do remain closed involved with monitoring the situation in Maldives and I believer that there are number of issues there give give cause for grave concern.
You may have seen reports about the recent return to Salisbury of Anni Nasheed, the democratically elected president of the Maldives, who has recently been imprisoned in his home country on entirely spurious grounds.  I am pleased that I was able to see him while he was here and bring myself up to date with the latest developments.
As you will know, the UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle and the government continues to call on all countries around the world that use the death penalty to cease its use.
As you say, this apparent selective reintroduction of the death penalty is deeply worrying.  A group of colleagues and I are committed to keeping the Maldives in forefront of the minds of Foreign Office ministers and I will certainly ensure that specific pressure has been brought to bear around this case.
[…]
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Running with the hare, hunting with the hounds

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, has recently shared with the Observer some research it has done into the record level of arms sales to countries with dubious human rights records (Britain sells record £3bn of weapons in a year to regimes that violate human rights, 29 May 2016).  We have over recent months posted several blogs concerning these arms sales to countries such as Saudi Arabia and also the involvement of British Service personnel in the bombing of civilians in Yemen.

We have also highlighted the government’s steady watering down of its human rights policies to enable more arms sales to take place.  The CAAT’s statistics show that more than £3bn of British-made weaponry was licensed for export to 21 of the Foreign Office’s 30 ‘human rights priority countries’ that is countries where the worst of the human rights violations take place.

Countries such as Saudi and Bahrain are familiar to us but less attention has been paid to the Maldives which does have a Salisbury connection.  The first elected leader of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheen (pictured) – who went to school in the city – has been sentenced to 13 years in prison allegedly for terrorist offences.  Amnesty has said the sentence was ‘politically motivated’.  It released a report in February which said that the government had been:

effectively undermining human rights protection by failing to strengthen the independent institutions of the state.

A local NGO, Transparency Maldives, issued a statement expressing concern about ‘irregularities’ in the legal process.

The MP for Salisbury Mr John Glen has also been busy making speeches, writing in the Salisbury Journal and on his blog about the situation there.  He says that Nasheed’s sentence was ‘illegal’ (Time to promote freedom in the Maldives, 17 May 2016).  He goes on to say:

Last year, Nasheed was put on trial on politically-motivated and completely false charges of “terrorism”, found guilty and sentenced for 13 years.  In the course of his trial Nasheed was prohibited from presenting any evidence or calling witnesses, with the court pre-emptively concluding that no testimony could refute the evidence submitted by the prosecution.

Another 1,700 people face criminal charges for peaceful political protest or speech, and journalists have been assaulted, arrested or disappeared.  Attacks on the Maldives’ independent press have intensified in recent weeks to the extent that the Maldives’ oldest newspaper, Haveeru, has been prohibited by court order from publishing its daily print edition.

He concludes his blog by arguing that pressure should be applied to the Maldivian government:

Pressure must be increasingly and continually applied to compel the Maldives Government to release its political prisoners and allow freedom of the press. I hope that CMAG [Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group] will be able to greatly improve the situation but if not we should not be afraid to countenance targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, on the leadership of the Maldivian Government.

All this is commendable and it is good to see an MP arguing forcefully for human rights in a place such as the Maldives.  The problem however is the arms sales.  As the Observer article makes clear, quoting Andrew Smith of CAAT ‘These arms sales are going to countries that even the Foreign Office accepts are run by some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world.’

So while we may praise Mr Glen for raising this matter in Parliament and in the Journal and on his blog, the fact remains that the department granting these licenses is the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in which Mr Glen is the PPS to the Minister.  The Ministry simply says that the department

The Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export controls regimes in the world.

Some may argue that Mr Glen’s position is inconsistent:  making speeches about human rights violations in the Maldives while working for a department which is busy allowing the sale of arms to them.  Others may choose to use a harsher word.

 

 


Text of letter sent to Salisbury Journal

The following letter was sent to the Journal in Salisbury but regrettably for space or other reasons it was not published (14th April).  We do not know at present what the current situation is with the promised bill to abolish the Human rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights (or whatever it is to be called).  It is a manifesto promise and a draft was to be published in the Autumn but has not yet appeared.  It is possible that the arrival of Michael Gove into the Justice Dept. had something to do with it.

Now that we are in full swing with the debate about leaving the European Union, it is possible that this has been shelved for the moment.  Mr Gove is a leading proponent for the Brexit camp who – if current polls are to be believed – are doing well at the moment.  The calculation may therefore be that if they win then the scene is set to dump the HRA as well.

On the other hand, there will be a heavy workload in managing our exit and carrying out the negotiations to secure access to the European market once we leave, so there will be limited civil service and parliamentary time to spend on a new Bill of Rights.

But back to the letter and our local MP John Glen is keen to abolish the HRA and it would be a pity if he is given space in the Journal again to put forward his views and the opportunity is not given to those who disagree with him.  The unpublished letter:

Britain has had a proud history of leading the charge on human rights progress from the aftermath of the Second World War when we were key drafters of the European Convention of Human Rights, to the suffragette movement, to gay rights and other equality legislation. We have often been champions of progress.
What a shame, then, that this year the UK was singled out for criticism in Amnesty International’s annual report on the state of the world’s human rights.  Amnesty is warning that the government’s plan to tear up the Human Rights Act is a gift to dictators all over the world.  Russia recently drafted legislation which allows it to ignore human rights rulings it doesn’t agree with. Far from being able to condemn that action and call on Putin to uphold basic human rights, the UK is actually talking about following suit.  Music to the Kremlin’s ears, no doubt.
Here in Salisbury, the local Amnesty group is campaigning to save the Human Rights Act.  Britain should be a world leader on human rights.  The Human Rights Act protects ordinary people – from the elderly to hospital patients, to domestic violence victims – and we want to see those protections spoken about with pride by our politicians.  We should be redoubling our commitment to enduring human rights principles in these troubling times, not undermining them.
Let’s hope next year’s annual report on the UK reads: “much improved”.

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Amnesty sets out facts of government’s reluctance to press for an end to the death penalty in some countries

The Government has been accused of “soft-pedalling” over the death penalty and seeming to make trade more important than human rights.  The charge by Amnesty International UK’s director Kate Allen (pictured in Salisbury Cathedral last year) comes as the human rights organisation released figures showing that at least 1,634 people were executed in 2015, a rise of 54% on the year before.  Despite being the highest number Amnesty has recorded since 1989, this total does not include China, where thousands were likely to have been executed but where the death penalty is a state secret.

The figures – contained in the report Death Sentences and Executions in 2015 – show that the top five executioners in the world in 2015 were China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the USA.

This “profoundly disturbing” surge in executions was largely fuelled by big increases in Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International reported.  Amnesty International’s fears have been raised just hours after MPs on the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee said there is “plainly a perception” the Government is prioritising trade and security with China, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain above human rights.

Ms Allen said:

Like the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, we’re worried that the Government has started soft-pedalling over foreign countries’ use of the death penalty, preferring to prioritise trade with countries like China, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

Until recently the UK’s policy of seeking global abolition of capital punishment had a clear focus and strategy.  Now the death penalty’s been thrown into the pot with other concerns and it’s much harder to tell whether the Government is prioritising this life-and-death matter.

If governments in Beijing, Tehran, Islamabad and Riyadh aren’t hearing about our outrage at executions after torture and unfair trials, then the executioners are going to think they’ve got a green light to carry on killing.

We want to see the Foreign Office publishing a clear strategy for its anti-death penalty work at the earliest opportunity.”

Amnesty International’s secretary general Salil Shetty said: “Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have all put people to death at unprecedented levels, often after grossly unfair trials.”

Last year, the Foreign and Commonweatth Office’s most senior civil servant made a frank admission to MPs that human rights “is not one of our top priorities” and that the “prosperity agenda is further up the list”.

Ministers deny the issue has been downgraded but a string of trade-focused, red carpet visits to the UK by the leaders of countries with some of the worst records of rights abuses has reinforced the perception of a shift of diplomatic emphasis.  Readers of this blog will know we have been following the twists and turns of this story for some months.  We wrote to our local MP Mr John Glen last year on Saudi Arabia and the rising toll of executions by beheading or crucifixion and we received a bland reply from the FCO minister Tobias Ellwood.  Since that time more evidence has emerged of policy changes designed it seems to scale down the human rights aspects.  We noted that when George Osborne visited China to the surprise of his hosts he failed to raise the question of human rights and executions at all.  Tobias Ellwood was reported by local media as congratulating the Saudis on the progress they were making with human rights.

Human rights minister Baroness Anelay said:

I am deeply troubled by the increase in the number of reported executions in 2015, which was driven by concerning increases in Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and we make our opposition well known at the highest levels to countries which continue to apply it. Our message to them is clear, the death penalty is unjust, outdated and ineffective. It also risks fuelling extremism.

Despite these concerning figures there has been progress in many countries.  It is welcome that in 2015 Fiji, the Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Suriname all abolished the death penalty.

The Foreign Office will continue to use its diplomatic network to push for progress towards the global abolition of the death penalty.

Maya Foa, of Reprieve, described the rise in executions as “extremely troubling” adding: “It is all the more disturbing, therefore, to see what the Foreign Affairs Select Committee this week described as an ‘apparent deprioritisation’ of human rights by the UK government.

Now more than ever, Britain needs to be speaking out against the grave abuses – including mass trials, torture and death sentences handed down to juveniles and political protesters – being committed by its allies.

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the primary aim of the government is trade and business with human rights coming a poor second if at all.  This overlooks the nature of ‘soft power’ and the fact that as a nation, we could be influential in humanising world affairs.  Instead, we chose to push out the red carpet for the most frightful regimes and, as the Panama papers are revealing, allow dubious individuals to buy up large parts of London using off shore tax havens.

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Secretive Security and Policing Exhibition this week

This week, in Farnborough, the secretive Security and Policing Exhibition takes place behind closed doors.  On the face of it, the event, organised by the Home Office, is innocent enough.  It brings together firms providing security equipment with police and other security personnel who might have an interest in purchasing it.   The UK has a high-profile in this industry.

The first puzzle however, is why the taxpayer is funding this exhibition?  The current government is extremely keen on the private sector and in promoting free enterprise.  It has a distaste for the public sector and seeks every opportunity to outsource or privatise services previously provided by them.  So why, may one ask, is the Home Office organising and sponsoring this event?  Surely since these are profit-making enterprises – some hugely so – can they not organise their own event without subsidy from the taxpayer?

But the bigger concern is the use some of this equipment is put to and the customers being invited to the exhibition.  The list of countries include many well-known abusers of human rights and include Brunei; Indonesia, Saudi Arabia; Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and UAE.  The equipment being sold is likely to be used to violently and brutally repress individuals or groups of protestors who may be carrying out perfectly lawful demonstrations.  Once arrested, many will be tortured, mistreated and in some cases ‘disappeared.’  The UK will be complicit in this activity.

There is clearly some sensitivity around this exhibition – which as we’ve noted, is not open to the public – and its website says:

Established as one of the most important events in the security calendar, this unique event is aimed at police, law enforcement and offender management professionals who are tasked with security, civil protection and national resilience.
Security & Policing enables those with operational needs to meet companies with the relevant solutions. Exhibitors get the opportunity to display products that would be too sensitive to show in a more open environment. Visitors get to see the very latest products, services and technologies available – all within a secure environment. (emphasis added)

Reading some of the exhibitors’ websites is quite chilling with descriptions of real-time interception, harvesting millions of communications a minute and access to the ‘dark web.’  Clearly, if the public were to see some of the equipment it would be alarming so making the exhibition closed gets over that.

In addition to the Home Office, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be attendance to show the delegates round and make them welcome.  John Glen MP is PPS to the Minister and will no doubt be taking part.  We look forward to his piece in the Salisbury Journal telling us about this.  UPDATE 17 March – no mention in the Salisbury Journal (17th March) so perhaps he didn’t attend.

We have previously commented on Britain’s role is supplying weapons and service personnel in various countries and in particular Yemen, where civilians and hospitals are being bombed using our equipment.  In addition to selling weapons, we sell repressive regimes the means to crack down on their citizens and we seem to be quite proud to do so as well.  Claims by the Prime Minister, other ministers and Mr Glen to be promoting human rights seem quite hollow in the light of these activities.


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Expect an announcement soon

Tapestry illustrating the UN Convention

Things have gone quiet with the plans to abolish the HRA and the promise of something before Christmas has not come to anything.  There is a glimmer of hope in that Michael Gove has taken over as Justice Secretary and seems willing to modify or drop completely some of the worst excesses of his predecessor.  However, the negotiations currently coming to some kind of conclusion concerning our role in Europe are likely to see a fresh assault on the act emerging soon.  The watch word is ‘sovereignty’.  Parliament wants to be sovereign and this is being presented as a good thing and it is implied we will be the better for it.  The right wing press will delight at this and there will be many articles about ‘bringing power back to Westminster’ with the implication that this will result in better laws for us all.  Salisbury MP John Glen is a keen advocate for abolition.

A parallel story over the past couple of weeks has been the tax situation of Google and other American behemoths who so manage their affairs that they pay little or only derisory levels of tax.  Here, our sovereign parliament (since Brussels has little to do with tax collection) has failed.  Indeed, successive chancellors have made numerous announcements about ‘cracking down’ but almost nothing seems to happen.  Hardly surprising since accountants from the big four firms are actually in the Treasury ‘advising’ the chancellor on tax policy.  So the idea that sovereignty is key and is some kind of magic bullet is clearly illusory and does not lead to better outcomes.

A useful guide explaining the HRA and what it does has just been published by the British Institute of Human Rights and is worth a look.  There is a short video as well.  No doubt we will be returning to this topic when the announcements are made.

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