Posts Tagged ‘Liz Truss’


Action to take on 10 October

While in India for his wedding in November 2017, Jagtar Singh Johal, a British Sikh (pictured), was arrested and accused of involvement in terrorism and in the assassination of a number of Hindu leaders in the Punjab.  He is alleged to have faced torture and been forced to sign blank statements and record a video.  This ‘confession’ was broadcast on national television, where the political nature of his ‘crimes’ was stressed.  He has had no actual trial but faces the death penalty. 

Mr Johal’s brother, Gurpreet, who lives in Scotland, says his brother was a peaceful activist and believes he was arrested because he had written about historical human rights violations against Sikhs in India.  He has appealed to the British Government to seek his brother’s release and to bring him home.

Picture: BBC

In February of this year, almost 140 MPs wrote to the then Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, asking him to

seek Mr Johal’s release, and a debate was held in Parliament with calls for him to be declared a ‘victim of arbitrary detention.  In June, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, wrote to Mr Raab, urging him to seek Mr Johal’s release.  Gurpreet Singh Johal is grateful for her support, but believes direct intervention from the British Government is essential.

Mr Johal is supported by the organisations Reprieve and Redress.  He has made numerous court appearances, but his trial has been repeatedly delayed at the request of the prosecution and basic information denied to his defence counsel.

Mr Raab said he was  doing all he could and had been in touch with the Indian authorities, but his response was criticised as ‘weak’.  With the appointment of the new Foreign Secretary – Liz Truss – there is an opportunity to bring Mr Johal’s situation to her attention, and to call for a more positive and pro-active response.

Action

Please write to:

Ms Elizabeth Truss

Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the

                                                                                                                        United Kingdom

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

King Charles Street

London SW1A 0AA                           Email: fcdo.correspondence@fcdo.gov.uk

and ask her to intervene in Mr Johal’s case, and to secure his release and return home.

Please date your letter 10th October 2021, calling attention to the fact that it is the 19th World Day against the Death Penalty.


CAAT Webinar focusing on the role of UK arms firms in causing misery and death in Yemen

The purpose of the webinar was to focus on the role of UK arms suppliers in the continuing war in Yemen.  It featured a speaker from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT; one from Forensic Architecture and thirdly, Emily Thornberry MP.

The UK is not the only, or even the largest, supplier of weapons to the theatre, that role was taken by USA.  We must also not forget the role of the Iranian government who are supporting the Houthi rebels in the conflict.  Half of the Saudi air force is supplied by the UK and that includes spares and maintenance as well to keep them airworthy. US sales have been temporarily suspended by President Biden.

The Saudi government could not continue without UK support they suggested, not just in supplying weapons but diplomatic support as well in the UN.  We reported in 2015 the amazing news that Saudi had a seat on the UN’s Human Right’s Council.  It seems beyond belief that a country which executes people by decapitation with a sword, often in public, denies basic rights to women and uses torture as a matter of course, should have such a seat let alone be supported by the UK government.

The webinar put the role of arms suppliers in the spotlight who refuse to take responsibility for the mayhem their weapons cause.  Thousands have died and schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals have all been the subject of Saudi air raids.  RAF personnel are in Saudi to advise the Saudis yet many of these raids are in breach of International human rights.  There have been 55 airstrikes on health facilities alone. 

Hope for the future

The constant tide of grim stories which emerge from Yemen and the failure of our courts to hold the government to account, might make one despair at change ever being achieved.  The UK depends on the arms industry – and the network of City banks and agents who facilitate the movement of money – for a significant chunk of its exports.  They have been able to continue with this gruesome business because getting news and footage from the country is extremely difficult.  If the carnage was a regular feature of the news on TV things might have changed.  As it is, it can carry on largely unseen.

This might change with the arrival of an organisation called Forensic Architecture.  They are able to use forensic techniques to form linkages between airstrikes and the companies supplying the weapons.  They can show the impact of arms exports and the continuing targeting of civilians.  They can link therefore the sale of a jet to the bombing of a hospital.  Up to now, the companies, supported by the UK government, have been able to claim these violations are isolated incidents following the Court of Appeal decision to ban such sales.  Liz Truss claimed a review had been undertaken enabling sales to continue. Evidence gained by these methods will show complicity and make it harder to argue against complicity in what are war crimes.  This might be a game changer.

Forensic evidence might be a game changer

Emily Thornberry MP

Emily Thornberry is the shadow Secretary of International Trade opposite the minister, Liz Truss MP.  She said there have been 5 years of deceit practised on the British people.  The so called ‘isolated incidents’ based on the curious logic that as they were at different times and in different places therefore they are isolated.  British staff in Saudi ‘were in a different room’ therefore not complicit the minister claimed.  She pointed to the changing statements about the use of cluster munitions.  Her main point was that the UK has come to rely on these sales and it has distorted our policy in the region.  The government is caught in a web of complicity from which it cannot easily escape.  They will never change their position unless forced to do so by the Courts (which on previous experience is unlikely) or public opinion. 

Companies, civil servants and ministers are subject to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.  Will a case against those who were complicit in these crimes or who turned a blind eye, find themselves in front of the ICC?

A CAAT report on the arms trade was published today (14th July)


See also Mwatana and the Yemen Data Project and Human Rights Watch


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

 


The UK has resumed arms sales to the Saudi regime

In 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that the UK government had acted unlawfully by licensing weapons to the Saudi armed forces for use in the Yemen conflict without assessing whether incidents had occurred in breach of International Human Rights law.  Our weapons – along with those supplied by other countries principally the USA – have cause immense damage and suffering to the people of Yemen.  The UN has estimated around 7,700 dead since beginning of the conflict in 2015.  To that must be added the thousands of injured and the destruction of major parts of the country.  The effects on the civilian population have been devastating. 

Hospitals, schools, market places, residential areas, agricultural areas and production facilities have all been bombed using our planes and weapons.  Although mistakes do happen in war and the wrong thing is bombed, the extent of these ‘mistakes’ leads one to assume that there is a deliberate attempt to bomb civilian targets.  We must also note that UK personnel – including people from the RAF – are involved in advising the Saudis so something is going seriously wrong.

The British government maintains – against all the evidence – that there is no risk of IHL violations.  In a Commons statement on 7 July justifying setting aside the Court’s judgement, the minister, Liz Truss MP said:

[…] I have assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL.  (House of Commons written statement 7 July 2020)

It is worth reading the key passage in this statement which purports to give a justification for this decision:

This analysis has not revealed any such patterns, trends or systemic weaknesses.  It is noted, in particular, that the incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of IHL occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents.

This reasoning is tenuous in the extreme.  Because violations ‘occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons’ the minister concluded that they are ‘isolated incidents’.  Surely a key factor is the frequency of these incidents especially if your argument is based on the numbers?  The sheer number of civilian targets is way beyond what anyone could describe as ‘isolated’.   The Oxford dictionary describes isolated to mean ‘untypical, unique’: these bombings are neither untypical nor unique.  Another curious aspect of this statement is the phrase ‘for different reasons’ implying knowledge of what the purpose of the raid was yet the statement is full of uncertainties and the difficulty of assessing the incidents.  

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty international said:

How the Government can seriously describe a five-year Saudi-led aerial assault on Yemen which has seen numerous examples of civilians killed in schools, hospitals, funeral halls and market places as a set of ‘isolated incidents’ is almost beyond comprehension.

This seems like an attempt to rewrite history and disregard international law. The UK is bypassing its obligations under the international arms control framework. Its approach to this decision has effectively rendered our own protections meaningless.  (New York Times, 7 July 2020)

It is small wonder that human rights organisations have reacted with horror at the decision and the speed with which the minister set about reinstating arms shipments to Saudi.  The Campaign Against the Arms Trade described the decision as ‘rank hypocrisy’.

The government is determined to sell arms to the Saudi and seems genuinely unconcerned at the fate of those on the receiving end.  Liz Truss’s argument about isolated incidents is almost insulting.  So great is the scale of the business that stopping it or seriously scaling it back is economically impossible.  Truly it is the tail which wags the dog.

Sources: BBC, CAAT; New York Times; Human Rights Watch; Independent; The Guardian

 


Minister announces resumption of arms sales to Saudi Arabia used to cause so much misery in Yemen

It is sometimes difficult to keep up with government announcements.  On Monday 6 July, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that a number of individuals would be subject to sanctions and banned entry to the UK.  Their assets would be frozen as well.  The UK is one of the major centres for money laundering and the City is the centre of a web of tax havens around the world.  City institutions are specialists in moving huge sums into secrecy jurisdictions thus enabling a range of criminal activities to go undetected.  Dominic Raab’s announcement was a welcome first step in clamping down on some of this activity therefore and has cross-party support.  In his statement he said:

He outlined human rights violations as those that contradict the right to life, the right not to be subject from torture and the right to be free from slavery, but said they were exploring adding other human rights and looking into including those guilty of corruption.

The Foreign Secretary outlined the individuals who will be sanctioned first.  These include those involved in the torture and murder of Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky (who the Minister concluded his statement by paying tribute to), and Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, as well as those responsible for the genocide of the Rohingya population in Myanmar and for North Korea’s gulags.  Statement in the House of Commons Website (extract)

All those countries named have been subject of Amnesty and other human rights organisation’s campaigns.

THEN on the following day, we have an announcement by the Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss, (pictured) resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  The contrast is astonishing as one of the countries included in the Foreign Secretary’s announcement was – Saudi Arabia for the murder of Khashoggi.  The announcement followed a legal case last year mounted by a number of human rights organisations, who claimed that the weapons – especially jets – were being used by the Saudis to bomb civilian targets in the war in Yemen.  The destruction there has been horrific with thousands of deaths.  Hospitals, schools, clinics and wedding ceremonies have all been attacked.  Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is dire with torture common, religious persecution rife and the dreadful treatment of women.

The Court of Appeal found against the government because it did not show, in the Court’s judgment, the question of whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of International Humanitarian Law was a question which required to be faced.  Even if it could not be answered with reasonable confidence for every incident, at least the attempt had to be made.  It was because the government had not reached findings on whether specific incidents constituted breaches of IHL as part of an assessment of clear risk, under Criterion 2c that the Court of Appeal concluded that their decision-making process was irrational and therefore unlawful.

Liz Truss’s argument is that they have sought to determine whether these “violations” are indicative of:

(i) any patterns of non-compliance;
(ii) a lack of commitment on the part of Saudi Arabia to comply with IHL; and/or
(iii) a lack of capacity or systemic weaknesses which might give rise to a clear risk of IHL breaches.

We have similarly looked for patterns and trends across the incidents which have been assessed as being unlikely to be breaches of IHL and those for which there is insufficient information to make an assessment.

This analysis has not revealed any such patterns, trends or systemic weaknesses. It is noted, in particular, that the incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of IHL occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents

The decision to resume supplies has been roundly criticised.  Kate Allen of Amnesty said:

This is a deeply cynical move to restart business as usual when it comes to Saudi arms sales.  How the Government can seriously describe a five-year Saudi-led aerial assault on Yemen which has seen numerous examples of civilians killed in schools, hospitals, funeral halls and market places as a set of ‘isolated incidents’ is almost beyond comprehension.  This seems like an attempt to rewrite history and disregard international law.  The UK is bypassing its obligations under the international arms control framework. Its approach to this decision has effectively rendered our own protections meaningless.

Deeply cynical move – AIUK

 

Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade in a statement said:

This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing.  We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it.

The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of International humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places.  The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the Government to stop supplying the weaponry?

This exposes the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy.  Only yesterday the government was talking about the need to sanction human rights abusers, but now it has shown that it will do everything it can to continue arming and supporting one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.


Criterion 2c.  Criterion 2c of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria – which requires the Government to assess Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards relevant principles of international law and provides that the Government will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Picture credit: Pink News


We are not meeting at present but hope to resume activities in the Autumn.


Liz Truss announces that the British Bill of Rights is back on the agenda

The new Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, said in an interview that the abolition of the Human rights Act and its replacement with the British Bill of Rights is back on the agenda.  On the 10 August, The Times had suggested that it was not going forward.  As we speculated on this blog a while ago, the sheer amount of work needed to negotiate new trade agreements with the world and our exit from the EU, is going to consume parliamentary effort and ministerial time on an enormous scale.  Will they have time and energy to spend time haggling with the Lords over a new bill with all the rest that is going on?  Then there are the complex relations with Scotland and Northern Ireland to consider.  This pledge has been around for 10 years now yet Liz Truss gives no timetable.

We are committed to [abolishing the Human Rights Act]. It is a manifesto pledge. We are looking very closely at the details but we have a manifesto pledge to deliver that   Liz Truss

Liz Truss – picture gov.uk

The result will at best be a modest change in the law unless we are going to withdraw from the European Court itself.  This will have widespread effects especially in eastern Europe where the Court’s activities has had a positive effect on human rights.

The shame of it is that the public anger about the ‘terrorist’s charter’ and other nonsenses are fostered by the media and few of our MPs and Ministers seem to have the courage to stand up to them.  The Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Express are often loud in their criticisms but connection to actual facts is often weak.  But even periodicals like the Spectator – a venerable political weekly – is not above publishing tendentious material.  The hostility to the act is in part we argue, due to the privacy clauses which give some protection to those who have suffered press intrusion for no good reason other than boosting newspaper sales.

Abu Qatada is frequently produced as evidence that the act doesn’t work and meant, allegedly, that we were not able to deport him.  Firstly, if he was such a terrible man, why was he not arrested and prosecuted here?  Secondly, the failure of the Home Office and the then Home Secretary Theresa May to deport him was not the HRA but treaties we have which prevent us returning people to countries where torture is routine (as well as the HRA).  Qatada would not have had a fair trial in Jordan because, at the time torture, was common there.

We often read that duties and responsibilities are to be added as there are many – not just on the Conservative back benches – who are unhappy with ‘rights’ and feel that such rights should only be available to those who act responsibility.  How this would work is not explained.  Who’s to judge what ‘responsible’ means?  A police officer at the time of arrest feels that the person behaved irresponsibly and therefore decides not to allow the person access to a lawyer – a provision in the HRA?  Some rights are absolute and do not depend on good behaviour.  Other rights are qualified anyway.

It is hard not to see a parallel with the Brexit debate.  Years were spend denigrating the EU and then when it mattered, those like the previous prime minister, David Cameron, wanted to persuade country to Remain, he lacked conviction.  He was hoist by his own petard, or more colloquially, ‘stuffed’.

A concerted campaign has been waged by the media against the act and stories produced which only occasionally have any relation to the truth.  We have suggested before to refer to Rights Info to get the background and a sober assessment of some of the fictions.

Whether the BBoR ever sees the light of day remains to be seen.  It is likely that this is a rash statement by the new Lord Chancellor which may quietly drift into the background when the difficulties and disadvantages are explained.  But it will continue to lurk until a sufficient number of MPs – like those in the Runnymede group – stand up and speak positively about the act and the benefits it has brought to thousands of ordinary citizens who have used it to secure basic rights, stories that rarely find their way into print.

Salisbury MP, John Glen is among those who have publicly called for the act to be abolished.


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Sources: The National; The Times; http://www.parliament.co.uk; Spectator; Daily Express