Human Rights and the new PM


The likely human rights policies of the new prime minister are becoming clearer. Both are decidedly negative

In a previous post we commented on Rishi Sunak’s attitude to human rights if he becomes prime minister. At the time he looked to be the favourite as he had the most votes from his fellow Conservative MPs. His prospects look to be less clear now and there is a distinct prospect that Liz Truss will succeed when the Conservative party supporters vote. The reason is that they are largely from an older generation, mostly white and and live in the south of England. They are fearful of immigration and this may have led both contestants to ‘up the ante’ with regard to immigration and human rights.

Rishi Sunak has consistently voted against socio-economic policies which may benefit the poorest in our society. He has voted against policies which would tackle tax avoidance which in turn means the Treasury is denied billions of pounds of revenue which could be used for investing in our infrastructure.

Both Truss and Sunak are not exactly enthusiastic for environmental matters. Sunak has voted against on-shore wind turbines and Truss wants to abolish the Green Levy.

Both are against retaining the European Charter on Fundamental Human Rights and the abolition of the Human Rights Act to be replaced by a new Bill of Rights the details of which are awaited.

Both are keen on the Rwanda deportation policy and Truss is keen to extend it to other countries as well. Sunak has promised to increase the size of the Border Force and also introduce storage of immigrants in cruise ships moored around the UK.

There seems to be something of an arms race between them with daily statements by their supporters and in speeches promising to make immigration harder than ever to achieve. It seems to be to appeal to this narrow group of people who will vote for the new PM, who are thought to be anti-immigrants and want to see ever tougher action against them, particularly those arriving by boat. Some of these hostile attitudes are promoted by sections of our media, a pattern we have seen for some years. It is difficult to say whether it is the tail wagging the dog however. Whatever the outcome, it is depressing to note the desire by both candidates to express their hostility to human rights and the plight of immigrants.

In all these claims for ever tougher policies, the issue of legality has been raised. It is not just European laws but treaties we have signed over the years which make carrying out aggressive policies in this area difficult.

Rishi Sunak is supported in his bid to be PM by our local MP for Salisbury, Mr John Glen. His wish to see the Human Rights Act repealed is well known and his They Work For You profile shows his general antipathy to human rights. The question is to what extent does he support these ever more aggressive attitudes to immigrants and asylum seekers? Perhaps he should be asked …

Brexit: threat to human rights


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.

The Maldives


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.

 

 

#Deathpenalty report for June


No to the death penaltyAttached is the #Deathpenalty report for June prepared for the group by Lesley.  It reports on the increasing tide of executions in #Pakistan.  We note again that China doesn’t feature because, although they lead the world in the number of executions, it is a state secret.

Death penalty report

NB: the date given in the report for the World Day Against the Death Penalty should be 10th not 11th October.

Conservatives plan to scrap the Human Rights Act


UPDATE: 5 May  … still no sign of a draft of what the British Bill of Rights will contain.  People go to the polls in a couple of days time without knowing what is planned.  Since the election campaign has been based largely on the deficit and who is going to spend the most on the NHS, oh and being run by Scotland: what is, or is not, in the BBoR may seem trivial.  But it touches on all our rights and on our relationship with Europe so it is important. 

The #Conservative party #manifesto was published today 14 April and as promised, there is a plan to scrap the Human rights Act #HRA.  The manifesto says on p73:

We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK.  The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights.  It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society.  But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of a wider society.  Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.

This will have profound implications in our relations with Europe and we still do not know what the new bill will look like even after many years of discussion about the abolition of the HRA.  Incidentally, although the Act was introduced under the Labour administration, it was voted for by many Conservatives as well.

A draft of the BBoR has been a long time a coming and the latest we heard was that it was to be published before Christmas.  One assumes a draft will now appear before polling so that voters can see in more detail how it differs from the existing HRA.

The Conservatives seem to have got themselves into something of a bind with this Act.  They were happy to go along with the anti-European sentiment expressed by most of our newspapers and were obviously spooked by the Ukip surge over the last few years.  There has been a torrent of misinformation and disinformation about the workings of the HRA which, apart from the honourable exception of Dominic Grieve MP, they have made little or no attempt to counter with facts.

What got them steamed up most of all – and got our tabloids into a fearsome lather – was the case of Abu Qatada or the ‘preacher of hate’ as he was called.  Many attempts were made to deport him but the problem was not just the HRA but the fact that he might be tortured when he was returned to Jordan, or the Jordanians would convict him using evidence obtained from torturing others.  Is this an example of ‘spurious human rights arguments’?  Since, quite apart from the ECHR, we are signatories to treaties banning the use of torture, there was a problem in getting him out of the country in any event.  We might note in passing that the Jordanians had to clean up their judicial act as part of the agreement to send him back.

A puzzle though is that the other area which gets politicians steamed up is the issue of a right to life yet this is quoted as being ‘an essential part of a modern democratic society.’  Something about a cat.

The fact remains that many ordinary people are beneficiaries of the Act.  Lawyers can use it in their day to day work with individuals and their dealings with authorities of one kind or another.  Little of this gets published in the media and most are unaware of it unless by chance they know of someone who has benefited.

As far as the Strasbourg court is concerned, the UK are the ‘good guys’ since we still have a largely uncorrupted police and judiciary and people can appeal decisions in cases of injustice.  Our police operate under PACE and suspects have a right to a lawyer.  Very few of the cases which go to Strasbourg get overturned – we believe there were only eight last year.

As one of the original countries, along with France, who prepared the ECHR after the war at the behest of Winston Churchill – a Conservative – if we leave the Convention it will have significant repercussions in places like Belarus, Turkey and Russia.  Belarus is the last country in Europe with the death penalty and human rights are largely ignored.

It will be interesting to see how our local Conservative candidate John Glen reacts to this.  When he came to see the local group to discuss this topic he did agree to be more balanced in his comments which we welcomed.  This followed an article in the Salisbury Journal saying he wanted it abolished.  But now it is part of the manifesto for his party we shall have to see…

Meeting with John Glen MP: update


The Salisbury group invited John Glen MP to speak to the group following his comments in the Salisbury Journal that – in common with other MPs, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary Teresa May – he would like to scrap the Human Rights Act [HRA] #HRA.  The Conservatives in their election manifesto had said they wanted to enact a Bill of Rights [BoR] and appointed a Commission to review the matter.  It failed to reach an agreement and there the matter has rested with no current work being done to draft a BoR.  Nevertheless, there is still political agitation to abolish the #HRA.  A key theme of the evening was trying to determine what would the difference be between a new Bill of Rights and the existing HRA.  In other words what would be included and what left out.

Andrew – chair of the local group – welcomed Mr Glen who began by saying he was a keen supporter of human rights.  He was a member of The Westminster Foundation for Democracy and had recently visited Iran, Egypt and the Maldives.  In the first two countries he discussed the plight of Christians with the authorities.  He had recently asked a question* in the House of Commons concerning the Israel/Palestine conflict.

As far as the HRA was concerned the main issue was the question of the interaction with the European Court: Strasbourg [rulings] should be taken into account, not be binding.  A proposal for a British BoR will possibly be in the party manifesto.  He was concerned about some of the claims made using the act and he mentioned the issue of equipment in Afghanistan.  Various points were put to Mr Glen by members:

  • The HRA was passed into UK law to enable claims to be made in this country and to reduce the need to go to Strasbourg. JG said this may have been the intention but was not always the case in practice
  • If a Bill of Rights is to be introduced, how would it in fact be different from the HRA as it is?
  • The HRA was of enormous benefit to ordinary people – some of whom are [your] constituents. For example, art. 8 protects the elderly and vulnerable. The problem is made worse for many by the reductions in legal aid.  JG said he saw people every day with these problems and he was not happy with the Justice reforms.  But he was concerned at perverse outcomes and it needs the will of Parliament.  It was pointed out that the HRA was by will of Parliament.
  • He was asked if the point of a BoR was to fetter the judiciary and again, how will it be different from the HRA?

 

  • It was reported that Strasbourg was concerned at the risk of the UK abandoning the HRA.  As we (the UK with France) were the countries behind the original convention, it would concern them if we turned our back on it. The convention had had enormous beneficial effects in Russia and Belarus who might be less keen to change if we were not there. It was also pointed out that the FCO web site was a keen supporter.  JG said that without knowing what would replace the act this was a hypothetical question.
  • The point was made several times that the positive effects of the act and the cases which fail in the courts, rarely receive publicity. JG agreed with this point. For the most part, there was an anti-attitude fostered by the tabloid press. JG said he was not following a tabloid agenda. He had to read them to know what would be in his post from constituents. He felt had demonstrated his commitment to human rights through his overseas work.
  • Prisoner voting rights were a topic that caused a lot of anxiety. Would it not be appropriate to allow prisoners the vote towards the end of their sentences to help prepare them for re-entry into society?  JG talked about the importance of education in prisons.  He was reminded that funding had been cut for this.

In conclusion, he said he would reflect on the problem of a lack of balance in the public dialogue.  He will also consider how refinements to the HRA might obviate the need for a Bill of Rights.

Group members were no clearer on what would be the difference between a Bill of Rights and the HRA but welcomed Mr Glen’s statement that his comments on the latter would be more balanced in future.

UPDATE

Reported on 17 July that the Conservatives are planning to introduce a British Bill of Rights in their manifesto.

View the South region site of Amnesty International

*John Glen’s question in the House:

Hansard question 1 July

 

 

 

 

Meeting: update


We held our monthly meeting this evening Thursday, 10th July.  Among the matters discussed were the following:

  • Market stall.  This took just over a £100 and is well below the results of previous years.  The usual crowd of people waiting for us to open and almost climbing into our cars, was absent this year.  The main reason was lack of stock.
  • Death penalty #deathpenalty.  Lesley reported it was relatively quiet this month.  The ‘World Day Against the Death Penalty‘ is coming soon and a meeting will be held in the Black Horse at Great Durnford to plan actions.  [The DP report will be a separate post here in a few days]
  • North Korea.  Karen said there were plans to invite a speaker and October 9th or November 13th were likely dates.
  • John Glen.  #HRA The meeting with him [was] on Friday 11th July (details in the previous blog) and he had noted this in his ‘View from the Commons’ piece in the Journal.  Open to Amnesty members and supporters – at the Methodist Church, 7:30.  Lesley circulated a leader in the Guardian commenting on the relevance of the Human Rights Act
  • Conference.  The planned conference in September was not gaining a head of steam Peter reported.  The City Council had given their funds to the Cathedral and were unable to help in other ways such as free use of the Guildhall.
  • Magna Carta #magnacarta.  Peter had held a meeting with Seif el Rashidi and this had been very positive.  They were keen for our involvement and various ideas were discussed.  A group was set up to take these forward.  Once we have a draft plan then we can approach AIUK for help and assistance.  The Cathedral is willing to help with graphics and has offered us a stall.  The involvement of Kate Allen and the discussion between her and Rob Key who is the chair of the Cathedral group was discussed.  Caroline, the regional rep. said that it had been a brief conversation only and that Kate Allen was delighted that the Salisbury group were involved and that they were best placed to take things forward.
  • Strategic issues.  There was a long discussion on strategic issues with Caroline and group members voiced various concerns about lack of response from AI.  Lack of materials was an issue; finding out what was available was difficult; and lack of response another problem.  Caroline responded by saying that the restructuring had had major effects with many staff leaving or being made redundant.  It had also consumed a lot of senior management time.  She will raise these issues nationally and she said they were similar to concerns raised by other groups.  Southern region news can be found here.
  • Web site.  217 views of the site since launch.  Most from the UK as expected with 12 from USA and 11, Brazil.  People from 19 countries were now shown as viewing it.  There 18 blog followers; 8 twitter followers and 3 from Facebook.
  • Stop Torture.  A possible date for a stall on 15 November was discussed.
  • Citizenship.  This to be taken forward with Bishop Wordsworth.  The competition will be repeated this year with more schools involved.

Minutes will be posted soon.

View the South region site of Amnesty

Human Rights Act


Next week we hope to hear John Glen MP (member of Parliament for Salisbury) explain his wish to see the Human Rights Act #HRA repealed.  The original idea was the act to be repealed in favour of a bill of rights which the UK has never had.  This died the death in 2012 yet many on the government’s front bench and many back benchers – including Mr Glen – want to see the HRA got rid of without being that clear on what would replace it.

In a leader in the Guardian on July 4, the European convention on human rights is described thus:

‘… it distilled the protections that the English common law had evolved over the centuries, as a gift to a broken continent.  […] after two-thirds of a century, by now it might have been edging towards sacred status.  Instead it is widely derided.  The Conservative party is gripped by a decidedly unconservative urge to chuck this product of experience out of the British courts by repealing the Human rights Act, which incorporates it into British law.  The Home Secretary floats the idea of walking away from the convention entirely, a suggestion that the Tory right is bent on getting into the next manifesto.’ 

Like all laws, it has its absurdities and some questionable decisions are arrived at using it.  Nevertheless, it embodies fundamental rights of the citizen and enables them to challenge decisions made by the state or its agencies.  It is probably this ability which so narks those in positions of power.  We learned this week how a collection of mega-wealthy individuals paid £12,000 (about $18,000) each to have a meal with David Cameron and some of his ministers.  Huge efforts were made to keep this secret but the Bureau of Investigative Journalists secured the guest list.  Such people are unlikely to be that sympathetic to those at the bottom of the heap or who struggle to have their voices heard.  Nor can we rely on the Labour party who are organising their own dinner and are busy courting the corporate community.

As the political class drifts away from the concerns and problems of ordinary people it is acts like the HRA which gives them – occasionally – some kind of chance to even the balance.

 

Monthly meeting – update


The monthly meeting took place on Thursday, 12 June.

The following were discussed:

  • there was an update on the death penalty from Lesley and her report will be a separate post in a few days.  It was noted that the Devizes group were active with Hakamada Iwao who was probably the longest serving prisoner on death row but is now on release.  We are waiting advice from AIUK on the campaign in Belarus
  • an email has been received from Kenny Latunda Dada concerning North Korea and he has a speaker on that country.  This will be investigated
  • John Glen MP.  11 July has been confirmed for him to speak to the group which will be in the Methodist Church at 7:30.  It is restricted to members and supporters.  We are to let AIUK know of this event
  • Unfortunately the regional rep could not come to this meeting but is coming to the next
  • Peter said he had received no copy from anyone and was reluctant to write an entire newsletter.  It was agreed that it would wait until after 11 July
  • Magna Carta.  The group were very disappointed not to have heard from AI HQ following the contact Kate Allen had made with Robert Key.  Fiona is to write to the regional rep to complain.  Peter is to contact the manager of the MC event being organised by the cathedral.  It was unlikely that there would be any money coming from the City Council as they had awarded money to the Cathedral project
  • Cathedral service in November: Tony is to follow up
  • Film.  Omar has been agreed on as this years film.  More details in future.  To be shown on 4 December
  • The stall is on Saturday 21st!

Meeting with John Glen MP: update


The MP for Salisbury, #JohnGlen, has agreed to come and speak to the Salisbury group on Friday 11 July starting at 7:30 pm.  It will be in the Methodist Church in St Edmund’s Church Street, Salisbury.  Parking is in Salt Lane car park.

We invited Mr Glen to speak to the group following his various statements saying he wished to see the Human Rights Act abolished #HRA.  It is about this subject that we want to hear his views and for members to ask questions if they wish.

Open to members and supporters.

UPDATE

Mr Glen came on 11th and members had the opportunity to put points in favour of the HRA to him.  A fuller report will be placed here soon.

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