Posts Tagged ‘Syria’


Shamima Begum, who left east London to join IS when she was 15, will be not allowed to return home to challenge the Home Office’s decision to revoke her citizenship, after a decision by the UK’s highest court

[We have used much of the text from Each Other in the preparation of this post.]

There can be few people reading about the Shamima Begum case, who will not recall something they did or said when they were 15 and quietly shudder.  That period between childhood and adulthood is filled with embarrassments, misjudgements and actions best forgotten.  For most, these events were inconsequential and caused no harm.  For Shamima Begum they resulted in the Supreme Court and a life in limbo.  Her three children have all died.  She and two others, left the UK to join ISIS, a barbaric regime which committed multiple acts of terror and carried out multiple executions by beheading.

The Supreme Court has now ruled she cannot return to the UK.  The decision by the Supreme Court follows an earlier ruling where the Court of Appeal said she should be allowed to return.  Currently Ms Begum, now 21, is in a camp controlled by armed guards in Syria, where she is currently unable to speak to her British lawyers.

Announcing the judgement, Lord Reed said the Court of Appeal was ‘mistaken’ in believing that ‘her right to a fair hearing must prevail’ when it came into conflict with the requirements of national security.  “The right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public,” he added.

However, the move has been heavily criticised by human rights groups, who say it creates a ‘dangerous precedent’ and is a ‘misuse of extreme power’.

In a statement, Liberty lawyer Rosie Brighthouse said:

The right to a fair trial is not something democratic Governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone’s British citizenship.  If a Government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguards of a fair trial it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.  If a Government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguard of a fair trial it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.  Rosie Brighthouse, Liberty

Similarly, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve calling the move a ‘cynical ploy to make her some one else’s responsibility’. She added:

The Government should bring the British families back to the UK so that children can be provided with support they need, and adults can be prosecuted where there are charges to answer.  Abandoning them in a legal black hole – in Guantanamo-like conditions – is out of step with British values and the interests of justice and security.

What’s The Background To This Case?

In 2015, Begum left her family in Bethnal Green behind to travel to the city of Raqqa, with two school friends, and marry a Dutch fighter.  She was just 15 at the time, and still legally a child.  She was found, heavily pregnant, by a Times journalist in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.  Former home secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her British citizenship later that month.

Begum and her lawyers appealed the move, arguing it was illegal under international law and exposed her to a real risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment.

The now 21 year old has given birth to three children in Syria – all of whom have died from illnesses.

Begum and her legal team lost the first stage of their appeal at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) – the specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to revoke people’s citizenship on national security grounds – in February 2020

The tribunal decided that Begum was lawfully made stateless because she could turn to Bangladesh, her parents’ country of origin, for citizenship – despite this being refuted by authorities in Bangladesh.  She has never held a Bangladeshi passport.  That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that it is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.

Lord Reed

However, the decision was then overturned by the Court of Appeal, who said ‘the only way in which she could have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come to the United Kingdom’.  The Government, however, appealed.  This is the judgement that has just taken place at the Supreme Court.

In today’s ruling, Lord Reed said the ‘appropriate answer’ was not to force the Government to bring her back to the UK – but instead to pause her legal fight over citizenship until she was in a safer position to take part in the appeal.  He added: ‘That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.’

What Is Statelessness?

Under international law, a stateless person is someone who is “not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.”  This definition derives from Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

The UK uses this definition to provide rules about who can stay in Britain as a stateless person.  Under the Immigration Rules Part 14, a person may not be given permission to stay if they can live permanently in another country or if they have a criminal record.

The United Nations High Commissioner Report (UNHCR) estimates that there are around 10 million stateless people living globally, although the exact figure is not known.

Is Nationality A Human right?

Yes, and it is internationally recognised as such.  The legal instruments that describe nationality as a human right include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and many more.

‘Arbitrary deprivation of nationality’, which means deliberately moving to make a citizen stateless, is prohibited under these instruments.   Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is particularly explicit on this point.

Making someone stateless doesn’t just impact a person’s right to a nationality, it affects their access to other human rights too.  Without a nationality, a person will not be able to travel, to have access to healthcare, employment, and not have any way of supporting themselves.  There is no recourse of any state to help them survive.  They will never be able to involve themselves in education, social security, political discourse or protect themselves legally.

The legal decision was welcomed by the government and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel.  It is likely that the home secretary thought this would be a popular decision with the right wing media but surprisingly, an article in the Daily Mail, pointed out that she was a child when she left and also, that many jihadis have returned to Britain to face trial.  If male members of ISIS can return, why cannot a female member?  The Sun also reported it in less than exultant terms.

We are grateful to Each Other for use of much of their text

Good news

Posted: February 27, 2021 in Syria
Tags: , , ,

Good news concerning Syria

Extract from Amnesty’s Group News

We hope you saw the very good news that a court in Germany sentenced Eyad al-Gharib, a former Syrian intelligence officer, to four-and-a-half years in prison for his role in aiding and abetting the torture of detained protesters in Damascus.  This was an incredibly important moment in the long campaign for justice for Syrians.

It’s a historic verdict – the first of its kind for crimes under international law committed by a Syrian regime official and a big victory for all the Syrian victims, witnesses, investigators, campaigners, and lawyers who worked on this case.  They helped ensure crimes were documented and legal files built for prosecution and without them this trial would not have been possible.

Many of these Syrian HRDs are AIUK’s partners who we’ve been assisting and training for several years in Germany, France, Turkey, Lebanon, the US and UK.  Most are victims of torture themselves.  The Syrian Centre for Media (SCM) is one of AIUK’s key partners and we’ve delivered a range of training for them, including nine holistic security workshops which we finished last week.

Their director is Mazen Darwish – he’s a torture survivor and a human rights lawyer and he was instrumental in securing this verdict.  We made a video of him as the news of the verdict was coming in. The video is here and in this link.

This was the first guilty verdict but there will be more, including hopefully in the case of Anwar Raslan – a more senior figure than al-Gharib. The verdict on that case should be in September or October this year and we will make sure we are amplifying our Syrian partners again when that verdict is heard.


We are posting this message from Amnesty HQ concerning the pandemic crisis and human rights:

[I] hope you’re well and coping with the changes to daily life the Covid-19 crisis has brought.

It’s more important than ever that we look out for our family, friends, neighbours in these difficult times, and that we show appreciation and stand up for the rights of those most at risk during this crisis. In this email there is a solidarity action to support the workers who are keeping the country going at this time of national crisis, which we hope the whole family can get involved in. We’ve called on the government to ensure that health workers have appropriate protective equipment and are looking at how best to support and advocate with and for groups most affected by the crisis over the coming weeks and months.

We are concerned about the likely increase in domestic violence during this period as people are required to stay in their homes. Migrant women are at particular risk, as they are often unable to access the safety and support they need. Together with the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, we have written an open letter to the Home Secretary calling for emergency support for migrant victims of domestic abuse, and there’s a template letter below on this issue that we hope you’ll be able to send to your local paper.

We are monitoring the international situation carefully – Syria recently officially confirmed its first case of the disease. In a country in which only 64% of hospitals and 52% of primary healthcare centres were fully functional at the end of last year, and with thousands in detention in appalling conditions, the impact of an outbreak there would be catastrophic. Meanwhile, in Colombia, we have called on the authorities to implement a strategy for the prevention of COVID-19 infection in its dangerously overcrowded prisons. Have a look at the website for more on how we’re responding to the crisis https://www.amnesty.org.uk/coronavirus

There are many reasons to be anxious right now, but recent weeks have also seen incredible acts of kindness and humanity in communities all over the world. Showing solidarity with those in difficult circumstances is what Amnesty has been doing since the beginning, and it’s needed now more than ever. By looking out for each other, coming together in our communities to support people most at risk, we can help each other to get through these difficult times, and continue to build a stronger movement for the future.

Action to protect and promote human rights is vital right now. Please do stay in touch with each other and continue to hold group meetings, via video call or telephone conference. Please see below for instructions on how to use Zoom for meetings. It’s a video conferencing app but you can also dial in as a phone call. If you would like to use our teleconferencing service, please let us know and we can send you the details.

We plan to send email updates every two weeks during this period – they will contain a variety of campaign or solidarity actions, links to online courses, suggestions of things to do to keep busy at home and more.


With best wishes to our supporters and followers.

 


The Supreme Court in the UK has found against the government’s decision to provide information to the USA to facilitate prosecution for crimes carrying the death penalty

In a unanimous decision delivered yesterday, 25 March 2020, agreed that the British government acted unlawfully in providing, or agreeing to provide, information to the United States without seeking assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed.  The USA is the only country in the Americas which retains the penalty and we have highlighted in many of our posts, the poor legal process, countless mistakes and lack of proper protection for suspects during interrogations.

This appeal concerned two individuals, Shafee El Sheik and Alexandra Kotey (nicknamed the ‘Beatles by parts of the UK press at the time) who were alleged to be a part of terrorists operating in Syria and who were involved in the murder of British and US citizens.

In a press release by the Death Penalty Project they say:

It has never been in dispute that Mr El Sheik and Mr Kotey should face trial for the serious crimes alleged against them, but any trial, if it is to take place, should be held in the UK.  We intervened in this case because we believed the earlier actions of the UK government were contrary to its long-standing approach on the death penalty and could lead to a death sentence being imposed or carried out.  The importance of this decision is wider than just this case.  It has implication for any individual who may be facing the death penalty and concerns what assurance the UK government must seek before deciding what help or assistance it may give.  there are fundamental issues concerning the right to life.  Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director 

It is interesting that one of the motives for leaving the EU was to ‘take back control’ and to be free of he judgements of the European Court.  Yet the government has shown itself all too craven when it comes to ceding power to the US justice system.

Arguments went on about where to prosecute them and the CPS had amassed a considerable body of evidence, sufficient for a trial to take place in the UK.  Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.  The use of the penalty was abolished in the UK over 50 years ago.

 


Sajid Javid proposes allowing ISIL individuals to be sent to the USA with the risk of torture and execution

UPDATE: 1 August.  Article by Bharat Malkani in British Politics and Policy published by LSE which goes into the wider aspects of British policy in connection with executions on foreign soil. 

UPDATE: 26 July.  Following considerable protest over this decision, the government today announced a temporary suspension of the cooperation with the US over the case.

It has been widely reported today that the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, is withdrawing the long-standing objections the UK has had to sending people to the USA where they risk being executed. The USA is the only country in the Americas which still has the death penalty. We continue to document cases in our monthly reports.

The two individuals who are involved are Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, both from West London.  They were part of a group of individuals from the UK who joined ISIS and allegedly perpetrated some dreadful crimes including beheadings.  They allegedly murdered two US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and aid worker and Iraq war veteran Peter Kassig.  Investigations have been continuing for 4 years and the question has arisen of where they should be tried.

The UK government has a long-standing policy of opposing the death penalty abroad in all circumstances.  It has also been active in trying to persuade those countries which continue to use it, to stop.  Amnesty is opposed to the practice as it has a number of serious flaws.  It is ineffective in preventing crime and it is not a deterrent.  Mistakes cannot be put right.  In the case of terrorists, it risks creating martyrs and spawning others who want to avenge the executions.

It is therefore particularly depressing to see our home secretary acceding to the request.  The full text shows that it is because he believes a successful federal prosecution in the US is more likely to be possible because of differences in their statute book and the restrictions on challenges to the route by which defendants appear in US courts.  In his leaked letter to Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, he says on the matter of sending them to the States:

[…] All assistance and material will be provided on the condition that it may only be used for the purpose sought in that request, namely a federal criminal investigation or prosecution.

Furthermore, I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.  From the letter published in the Mail Online [accessed 23 July 2018]

The decision has received widespread criticism.  Alan Howarth, the head of advocacy and programmes, at Amnesty International said:

This is a deeply worrying development.  The home secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain’s longstanding position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast-iron assurances from the US that it will not be used.

A failure to seek assurances on this case seriously jeopardises the UK’s position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and its work encouraging others to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice.

Other criticisms have come from Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow Attorney General and Lord Carlile who said on the BBC the decision was extraordinary and:

It is a dramatic change of policy by a minister, secretly, without any discussion in parliament.  It flies in the face of what has been said repeatedly and recently by the Home Office – including when Theresa May was home secretary – and very recently by the highly respected security minister, Ben Wallace.

Britain has always said that it will pass information and intelligence, in appropriate cases, provided there is no death penalty.  That is a decades-old policy and it is not for the home secretary to change that policy.  BBC Today programme 23 July 2018

There is also the question of the use of torture.  Will either or both of them be sent to Guantanamo Bay to receive abusive treatment including water boarding?  Coming so soon after a select committee roundly criticized the government for its role in torture and rendition, this is a surprising and disappointing development.

The full text of the letter can be seen here.

Sources: Amnesty; BBC; the Guardian; Mail on line


If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in human rights issues please feel free to join us.  Keep and eye on this site and Facebook for events and come along and make yourself known.  It is free to join the local group but there is a joining fee to join AIUK.

 

 


Parliament’s concerns are very partial

This week saw parliament reconvene and a major debate take place concerning the attack on chemical weapons facilities in Syria.  These attacks took place in a coordinated way by British, French and American forces and the reason for them was claimed to be the crossing of a ‘red line’ by Assad because of his use of chemical weapons in his latest attack.  This led to calls for parliament to be recalled and considerable debate about whether we should have joined in the bombing.  The Labour leader Jeremy Corbin called for a War Powers Act to be enacted to clarify when a prime minister could and could not engage in military actions.

The death and destruction in Syria is appalling.  The use of barrel bombs dropped on civilian areas has caused terrible damage and thousands of innocent citizens have been killed.  The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates that over 217 thousand civilians have been killed; over 13 thousand have been tortured to death and over 27 thousand children have been killed.  Of those, 80% were killed by Syrian forces and 6% by Russians.  These figures have been broadly supported by the Syrian American Medical Society and White Helmets, an aid agency working in the country.  There has been universal condemnation including by the UN’s Secretary General.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, another conflict is underway also causing considerable death and destruction.  As we noted in an earlier post, thousands have died, cholera is widespread, and the country is being steadily bombed back to the stone age.  Millions have been displaced and medical and other humanitarian supplies are prevented from entering the country because of a blockade.  There has not however been much in the way of outrage from parliamentarians about this and no calls to recall parliament.

Another key difference is while Assad is treated as a pariah, the Saudis who are carrying out the Bin Salman sits flanked by Theresa may and Boris John <figcaption> Boris Johnson and Theresa May rolled out the red carpet for the Saudi Crown Prince. c. Getty Images/Bloomberg </figcaption> </figure> son, with members of his entourage and other Government Ministers seated in rows behind bombing of Yemen – including schools, hospitals, civilian facilities and weddings – are feted in the UK, get to meet the Queen and receive visits by Prince Charles and other members of the royal family.  This is because we are major suppliers of weapons to the regime.  RAF personnel are involved in some way helping the Saudis. (Picture: Campaign Against the Arms Trade)

It was claimed that the justification for the bombing of Syria was the crossing of the red line.  This suggested that Assad had used chemical weapons for the second time and we had to send a message to deter him.

One problem: it is not the first or even the second time he has done this.  The SNHR estimate that he has used them on 207 occasions and on 174 occasions since the Ghouta attack.

207 chemical weapons attacks by Assad

The very notion that a red line has been crossed is therefore not tenable as Assad has regularly used these weapons, on average three times a month.  In addition to chlorine he has on occasion used Sarin.

Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives or have lost loved ones in these terrible conflicts.  The destruction of buildings will take decades to do and billions to repair.  In one case we continue to profit from the supply of arms and roll out the red carpet to those who are responsible: in the other case we say a red line has been crossed – which it has on many, many occasions – and bomb the country.


Amnesty publishes a report today on the programme of mass executions in Syria

A terrifying and sickening report on the execution of possibly 13, 000 Syrians is published in a major report by Amnesty.  The report makes chilling reading as testimony from survivors and guards describe the horrific process of killing and disposal of bodies by the regime.  A summary of the report is published in the Guardian today.  There is also a piece by Kate Allen, director of Amnesty describing the prison as a slaughterhouse.

Saydnaya report

Graphic: The Guardian


On Monday 22 November we had the annual evensong for Amnesty International.  We are delighted to Preparing for the service work with Salisbury Cathedral on this event, which has been running for a number of years now, especially as it ends in the Trinity Chapel where the Amnesty candle is situated and under the Prisoner of Conscience window.

All the celebrants are given a candle and carry these through at the end of the service to the chapel.  Canon Robert Titley spoke during the service and he said:

This evening we hear one of the uglier Christmas stories.  When the wise men visit local ruler Derod, they say the are looking for ‘the King of the Jews’, and he realises that they don’t mean him.  Herod judges – rightly – that Jesus, the child they seek, is a threat to his kingdom and to his way of doing power.  And so, says Mathew the gospel writer, Herod begins some targeted slaughter to neutralise this potential source of rebellion, and Jesus and his family must escape as refugees.

Herod’s way of doing power is of course still alive and kicking.  Mathew would find present day Syria – where innocents are killed as a means of neutralising so-called ‘rebels’ – very familiar.  He does not describe the experience of being a refugee, though it is unlikely that things were so different then:

  • the indifference of some of the native population in the land you come to
  • their understandable caution
  • their fear of the threat you might pose, especially if there are a lot of you – a ‘swarm’ perhaps
  • a tendency to talk about you as part of a lump, a collectivity, an issue, a problem, not a person with a story.

He then went on to talk about Amnesty today;

Throughout its 55 years, Amnesty – to the vexation of the Herods of this world – has tirelessly brought into the light the stories of people whose rights are abused, people like a teacher in Indonesia who we are supporting with our prayers during this month.

Groups like Amnesty International patiently and persistently bring to the minds of rulers and their representatives the stories of people they would rather forget.  And now, as our continent faces the severest displacement of people since Second World War, refuges are at the top of Amnesty’s concerns.

Image result for arthur aron

Arthur Aron. Pic: Time.com

On Amnesty’s website you will find a short film called A Powerful Experiment.  According to the psychologist Arthur Aron, four minutes of eye contact is enough to bring people close together, even to fall in love.  And so, in a bare factory space, a group of native Europeans – women, men, and one girl – each sit with a refugee for four minutes.

In that space and time the ‘issue’ acquires a human face: Samira from Syria and Danuta from Poland and Fatima from Somalia: they open their eyes and at first just look at each other.  Soon the are smiles – warm or perhaps shy – some tears, then words ‘nice moustache.  I’m sixty-five.  Are you new in Berlin?  Eight months.  And are you alone here or with your family?  Alone.  And finally, touch – a handshake, a hug, a game of It, and that word ‘refugee’ is made flesh.

In just four weeks’ time, we shall proclaim again the good news of the word of God made flesh and the birth of Jesus.  The Christmas stories will remind us how glorious is the full ness of God: how infinitely treasured is each human life, made in the image of God.

And tonight we give thanks to God for Amnesty, for the patient, persistent work of its staff and volunteers in reminding the powerful of this treasure and how blasphemous it is to deny it; and reminding us all that the refugee glimpsed on a screen or news page is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, that each one, like each of us, has their story to tell.

Around 80 people attended which is fewer than usual but the bad weather would have deterred many.  Our thanks to Cathedral staff for their help with this event.

2016-end

In the Trinity Chapel. Photo: Salisbury group

 


Tonight!

The problems of Syria and people fleeing that country are seldom out of the news these days and indeed, the issue of immigration – and immigrants from Syria are part of the problem – is high up on the agenda with the debate about Brexit or Remain in the European Union.  Many people are responding in interviews that the reason they want us to leave is to stop the flow of refugees and immigrants coming to the UK.

All the talk about ‘immigrants’ can sometimes cloud the fact that these are people we are talking about and people means children as well.  Children who may have witnessed terrible events and even have lost parents in the conflict.

So a talk being organised by the Romsey group of AI is timely.  They have invited someone from Firefly International to give a talk on Monday 20 June starting at 19:45.  It will be about the conditions in Southern Turkey and their projects for children in that area.  It will be in Abbey Hall, Romsey, SO15 8EL.

All welcome.


It is reported today that the government’s use of drones to kill people overseas is to be reviewed by the Human Rights Committee.  This is welcome news.  Clearly, ISIS is an unpleasant organisation and is acting in a brutal and uncivilised way.

When it was revealed that a drone was used to kill two people in Raqqa in August, David Cameron said it was done as an act of ‘self defence’.  Quite how someone in Syria was a threat to the UK was not explained and seemed very unlikely.

Earlier this week is was reported that the government was removing adherence to international treaties from the ministerial code.  It is these treaties which prevent use of force without UN sanction or because there is a genuine need for purposes of self defence.

The Raqqa attack was the first case in the modern era that such an attack took place in a country with whom we were not at war.  Caroline Lucas – the Green party MP – was reported as saying the use of a drone in this case was done ‘with a complete absence of parliamentary scrutiny or approval.’

We look forward to some serious questions being asked of ministers.