Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’


Observer publishes article about use of spyware

Today’s (17 March 2019) UK Observer newspaper published a story about the use of spyware around the world and in particular by countries known for their poor human rights record.  These include Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Readers of this blog will know that this has been going on for some time and a report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen’s Lab has been compiling evidence of this activity and publishes reports of the use of spyware around the world.  Other organisations like Privacy International are also concerned.

What the Observer article reveals is the scale of the UK’s exports which have amounted to £75m since 2015.  Human Rights groups are concerned at this trade since it enables authoritarian governments to penetrate the devices of anyone it doesn’t like and gather information at will from their equipment.   The equipment is capable of intercepting email, instant messaging and VoIP communications, as well as spying on users through webcams and microphones and transmitting the data to a command-and-control server.

In addition to the scale of trade, is the issue of secrecy and attempts to get details of what and who is being supplied from Department of International Trade using FOI are largely fruitless.  The concern is that what matters is trade and not the purposes to which the equipment is put.

Part of the units occupied by Gamma in Porton

Porton Business Centre

This is of interest in the Salisbury area because one of the firms which manufactures this equipment called Finspy is a firm called GammaTSE based in the village of Porton not far from the city (and not far from Porton Down, the chemical weapons centre – the same Porton).  A report by the University of Toronto in 2013 found Finspy installed in 36 countries.  The firm’s website coyly describes its service thus;

GammaTSE has been supplying government agencies worldwide with turnkey surveillance projects since the 1990s.  GammaTSE manufactures highly specialized surveillance vehicles and integrated surveillance systems, helping government agencies collect data and communicate it to key decision-makers for timely decisions to be made.

An earlier post described the firm’s activities in more detail.  The UK is therefore heavily involved in a trade which allows governments to intercept messages of human rights activists, opposition members, journalists and more or less anyone it does not like.

 

 

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The groups latest death penalty report is available here thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  As always, we have to note that China is the worlds largest executioner but the statistics are a state secret.

Report (Word)


UK continues to supply arms to Saudi Arabia

The war in Yemen continues and the death toll continues to rise.  The UN estimates around half a million people have cholera.  They also estimate around two thirds of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance.  Yet the UK continues to supply arms to Saudi Arabia and half our arms exports go to the country.

The supply of arms is monitored by the Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) yet bizarrely, at its most recent meeting, it did not have the supply of weapons to Saudi on the agenda presumably because it has become too sensitive a subject.

There are many worries about arms sales and in particular the use of what are called ‘open licences’.  There are also concerns about brass plate companies which are often fronts for brokers.  Control Arms UK has submitted evidence to CAEC suggesting that the number of licences has increased by 17% in one year.  It is not possible to determine what items are sold under this secretive open licence system since it can be a small item of equipment or a jet fighter.  The Government must demonstrate that companies using open licences are subjected to proportionately rigorous and frequent compliance audits.  We are ‘most dissatisfied at the Government’s admission that no such audits are ever carried out in respect of UK companies’ operations overseas’ (our italics).

Detailed work by researchers suggests that civilian casualties are running at a far higher level than those documented by the UN. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), at least 56,000 civilians were killed between January 2016 and October 2018.  They estimate that from March 2015 to the end of 2018, the number of civilian deaths related to combat could be as high as 80,000.  This does not include deaths resulting from disease or malnutrition.

Not only did the select committee not discuss Yemen, but the chair of the committee, Graham Jones MP (Lab) launched an extraordinary attack on the various organisations reporting on what is happening in that country.  He accused them of being ‘dishonest’ in their reporting.  They were guilty of ‘gross exaggeration’ of what has happened.  Much of their evidence was false he said.  It was ‘disgraceful how NGOs and loony left organisations have refused to back the UN’s unanimous position’.  He denied that the problems there were an airstrike problem but were as a result of economic mismanagement.

His view is that the fault lies with the Houthis and he is in support of the Saudi’s actions there.  He was to be seen with Price Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to the UK.

The misery in Yemen continues and the government continues to allow the supply of weapons causing huge damage to the country.  While the number of air attacks has diminished in 2018, the proportion of those attacks striking clearly civilian targets rose, while attacks on clear military targets fell according to Control Arms.  They report that of the 3,362 air raids in Yemen in 2018:

 420 air raids hit residential areas
 231 hit farms
 133 hit transport infrastructure
 95 hit civilian vehicles and buses[5]
 31 hit educational facilities (schools, institutes, universities, etc.)

Other targets included market places, mosques and medical facilities.

It seems unlikely that the situation will improve although peace talks are continuing. It is disappointing that the chair of the relevant Commons committee should voice opinions which suggest he is less than impartial.  Undoubtedly, NGOs and other organisations make errors in reporting on the situation in Yemen but to suggest that it is all a gross exaggeration is not justified.  Our involvement in the bombing campaign and the extent of our arms supplies is unconscionable and is fueling the conflict.

 

 

 


The latest report for the December – January period is now available thanks to group member Lesley for doing the research. The usual suspects feature: Saudi Arabia; USA; Pakistan and Belarus with the addition of Gaza this time. Remember that China is the world’s largest execution but the data is a state secret.


Peace talks in Sweden offer slender hope for peace in Yemen

We have be writing blogs about the war in Yemen for over three years now going back to the time when it was referred to as the ‘forgotten war’.  The group wrote to our local MP to raise concerns about war crimes and we received the usual bland reply from a FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood and a covering note from Mr Glen saying:

However, the government recognises that its abolition is not a matter of mere legal reform but would require a seismic societal shift.  It has therefore taken an approach which it feels is most constructive – engaging behind the scenes rather than inflaming the situation and triggering a backlash through outspoken public critique.

Mr John Glen MP, July 2015

This ‘behind the scenes engagement’ has not yielded anything of any value and indeed, while the slaughter has increased, British arms sales have also increased adding to the misery of this country.  It is now estimated over 10,000 have been killed, over 3 million have had to flee their homes and nearly 14 million Yemenis are in fear of starvation.  

Over the past 3 years or so, we have reported on critical select committee reports, newspaper revelations about our involvement and trips by our royals, the Foreign Secretary and the prime minister to Saudi Arabia to help promote arms sales.  It was originally argued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that we had a tough regime to control arms sales to regimes where human rights were ignored.  The shear weight of evidence of violations by Saudi Arabia, both with its own citizens and in Yemen, makes this statement hollow. 

The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has written about the conflict in an article in the Guardian saying that the British government is complicit in the death of thousands in the war through its continued sale of arms.  He refers to a recently published Christian Aid report pointing to the absurd position our government is in, namely giving half our aid to states and regions affected by chronic violent conflict and at the same time, half our arms sales go to states where military force is used against its citizens.  As Dr Williams puts it:

It’s as if we are creating, or at least helping to maintain, the very conflicts whose terrible effects we then spend money of mitigating

Britain’s direct complicity in the war in Yemen must end.  Rowan Williams 14 December 2018 The Guardia

The CA report comments on the ambivalence – some might say hypocrisy – of the British government’s position:

The double standards are most stark in relation to the UK’s complicity in the conflict in Yemen.  On one hand, the UK is leading calls in the UN for a peace agreement, and is the leading financial supporter of humanitarian aid to Yemenis and the UN Special Envoy’s peace-making endeavours.  On the other, it is promoting significant new arms sales to the government of Saudi Arabia and actively supporting military operations of the Saudi led coalition in Yemen.  This has included attacks that may amount to war crimes.

Christian Aid: For Yemen’s sake: stop selling arms, 13 December, 2018

As events in Yemen got worse and the death toll rose, Britain actually increased its sale of arms to Saudi according to a Sky News report.  Despite credible reports of bombing of civilian facilities including schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, we went on with our arms sales and provided RAF personnel to advise the Saudis.  

The UK government is in something of a bind however.  The extent of our arms sales to the Saudis is such that scaling them back would be extremely difficult in terms of the economic impact on parts of the country which depend on them.  With Brexit looming – whatever the outcome – we will need all the business we can get.  Dr Williams’ plea to stop sales to certain countries is unlikely to receive more than a polite hearing therefore.  

This is a crucial moment for the UK as it looks to redefine its relationship with the EU and the wider world.  The UK Government, as one of the world’s largest aid donors, largest arms exporters and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), is a global leader on war and peace.  There is much to celebrate about the UK’s role in aid and development, in responding to climate change, upholding principles of multilateralism, supporting the UN Peacebuilding Fund, and committing to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for aid.  Yet undermining these peacebuilding efforts are some stark double standards fuelling war instead.  Such as the fact the UK is currently on track to become one of the world’s biggest arms dealers, exporting the majority of its arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  If the UK Government is really committed to peace, Christian Aid calls on them to address these stark double standards and champion international law and peace in its foreign and aid policies. 

Christian Aid, ibid

We hope the peace deal agreed in Sweden will hold and yield results.  

Sources: 
The Guardian, CAAT, Sky News, Christian Aid, Amnesty International 

If you live in the Salisbury area, you would be welcome to join us. It is free to join the local group and the best thing is to keep an eye on this page, or Twitter or Facebook as you prefer, and come along to the next event and make yourself known.  



This is the latest death penalty report from around the world compiled by group member Lesley.  


Here is the latest death penalty report compiled by group member Lesley – thanks for your efforts on this.  There is no data on China – believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world together – as it is a state secret.

October/November report (Word)

Tree of Life. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty


Recent events reveal western government’s attitudes to human rights

The events of the last few weeks in Istanbul, with the possible murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy, has put a spotlight on the western government’s attitude to human rights and the rule of law.

For several years now we have been happy to sell arms to Saudi and we have been largely quiescent during the bombing of Yemen.  Yemen has been in the news recently with filmed reports of the increasingly desperate state the country and its people are in.  Reports of bombing of civilian targets and medical facilities receive brief coverage but do not however, generate much outrage.

The scale of misery there is now huge and represents a major tragedy.  The Saudi forces, aided by UK arms and military personnel, have wreaked terrible harm on the country.  A whole list of non-military targets has been bombed including ports, food production facilities and refugee camps.  As many as 13 million people are now suffering there.  Yet our politicians are largely silent and the ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, is feted here by the Royal family and others.

By contrast,  the possible killing of this journalist has plunged the Saudi kingdom into crisis and led to many politicians withdrawing from the forthcoming Davos in the Desert.  

Much of our media seemed happy to accept the idea that MbS, as he is known, was a moderniser and were excited when he allowed women to drive for the first time.  They overlooked the locking up of journalists, lawyers and human rights workers and did not notice that the woman who campaigned for the right for women to drive was in prison.  It was as though a hint of reform was enough to switch off any critical assessment of his actual performance as a despot.  Executions continue at an alarming rate and Human Rights Watch noted a spate of 48 in a four month period earlier in the year, mostly for non-violent offences.  Torture is still routine.

All this shows that the real concern is the sale of weapons and the supply of oil.  It is fair to argue that MbS knew our politicians were more concerned about trade than they were about human rights or international justice.  This is likely to have led him to believe he could remove the irritant of someone like Khashoggi and after a brief fuss, life would carry on.  He may well be right.

At present, we cannot know how this crisis will pan out for the Saudi government.  Western governments are going through contortions trying to balance the need to keep in with the regime to protect commercial interests, with some kind of need to show a moral standing in the face of credible reports that Khashoggi may have been murdered and dismembered in the embassy.  Liam Fox waited two weeks until today (18 October) to cancel his visit to the Future Investment Initiative.  Amnesty is calling for an investigation.

Today’s Daily Mail newspaper revealed the large number of MPs and ministers – mostly Conservative with a few Labour – who have accepted hospitality and gifts from the regime not all of them declared.  They include the Chancellor who was given an expensive watch.  The total, the paper reveals, is more than £200,000 since 2015 and £106,000 this year.  Allan Hogarth of Amnesty International  said in the article:

Any MP tempted by a lavish trip to Saudi Arabia ought to bear in mind that jailed Saudi human rights defenders are currently languishing in jail, while the Saudi coalition’s lethal bombing of Yemen is making lives miserable for thousands of poor and malnourished Yemenis.
Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record is well-documented, and no parliamentarian should go to the country without being prepared to publicly raise human rights.

George Graham, of Save the Children, said:

For three years Saudi Arabia has been killing children in Yemen, quite possibly with British-made weapons. The fighting has driven millions of families to the brink of famine and created the worst cholera epidemic in living memory. Our leaders must do what’s right and stop fuelling this conflict with military and political support for one side in this brutal war.  Daily Mail online [accessed 19 October 2018]

The naiveté of the MPs is astonishing and some of their comments are quite disgraceful in view of the appalling human rights record of the country.  It is unlikely that they will be pushing the government to adopt a more vigorous line in future.

However, it has put our relationship with an unsavoury regime in the spotlight and with papers like the Mail giving space to the story, there are slender grounds for optimism.


In our next blog, we shall be listing forthcoming events.  If you live in the Salisbury, Amesbury or Downton area and are interested in joining, please have a look and come along and make yourself known.  It is free to join our group.


The death penalty report for August – September is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.

We would also like to draw your attention to a relatively new death penalty campaigning organisation called the Death Penalty Project

AUG-SEPT

 

 


We are pleased to attach the latest death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in putting it together.  Note that China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together but details are a state secret.

There is an action taking place in Salisbury on 1 September between 9:00 and noon.  It will be in the Cheese market or in the Library passage.  Details are in the above report.

Potential new members are invited to come along and make themselves known during this event.

July – August report (pdf)