The United Kingdom came in for robust questioning on its human rights record from other UN member states last week at the Human Rights Council, during the historic first session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Over the course of three hours, 38 countries took the floor to ask UK Justice Minister Michael Wills about a wide range of issues, including racial discrimination, corporal punishment against children, abuses committed by UK armed forces abroad, and failure to ratify particular UN conventions and their protocols.
Coming at a time when the UK government is trying to pass yet another piece of counterterrorism legislation, which includes extending pre-charge detention to 42 days, it’s no wonder a significant number of countries asked about UK counterterrorism policies. Neighbors such as The Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland expressed concern about 42 day detention, but so did countries like Syria and Algeria. Algeria’s representative pointed out that the Human Rights Committee – the UN body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – had recently “upbraided” Algeria for allowing up to twelve days of pre-charge detention.
Archive for the 'Human Rights' Category
More than 1,000 Indonesian Muslims gathered in front of the presidential palace on Sunday to press the government to ban a Muslim sect that has been branded heretical by most Muslims.
An Indonesian government team is drafting a decree that will ban the Ahmadiyya sect, which views itself as Muslim but has been branded a heretical group by the Indonesian Ulema Council, the secular country’s highest Muslim authority.
Chanting “Allahu Akbar (God is Great)” and “Disband Ahmadiyya”, the members of the Indonesian Muslim Forum (FUI), a group of about 50 Muslim organisations, urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to issue the decree.
“We are pushing the president to immediately issue a presidential decree disbanding Ahmadiyya,” FUI Secretary General Muhammad Al Khaththath told Reuters.
The FUI also asked the government to capture Ahmadiyya’s leaders and seize all its assets.
The British public gives more to a Devon-based donkey sanctuary than the most prominent charities trying to combat violence and abuse against women, a report released today by a leading philanthropy watchdog reveals.
New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) has calculated that more than 7 million women have been affected by domestic violence but found that Refuge, the Women’s Aid Federation and Eaves Housing for Women have a combined annual income of just £17m. By contrast the Donkey Sanctuary, which has looked after 12,000 donkeys, received £20m in 2006.
NPC estimates the cost to society of domestic abuse, sexual violence, forced marriage, trafficking and honour crimes has reached £40bn a year – greater than the country’s defence budget.
“As a society we are not spending enough on this issue whether through charities or the government,” said Justine Järvinen, the author of the report. “Violence against women appears regularly as the subject of media reports and in the storylines of soap operas but rarely does it come up in normal conversation, which suggests there is a stigma around it. The truth is it is very common.”
Every year 1.5 million women experience domestic abuse at least once, 800,000 are sexually assaulted and 100,000 raped, the report states. More than one in four women has experienced at least one incident of domestic violence by a current or former partner, which means 7.4 million women in the UK have suffered domestic abuse, according to government figures.
The BBC profiles Mohamed Bougrine, the Morrocan dissident and human rights activist.
A council has admitted spying on a family using laws to track criminals and terrorists to find out if they were really living in a school catchment.
A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council for more than two weeks.
The council admitted using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) on six occasions in total.
Three of those were for suspected fraudulent school place applications.
It said two offers of school places were withdrawn as a consequence.
Human rights pressure group Liberty called the spying “ridiculously disproportionate” and “intrusive”.
Via Pickled Politics, comes news that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has reprimanded officers for failing to investigate claims of abuse made by Banaz Mahmod on numerous occasions. Banaz Mahmod, you may remember, was murdered by her father and uncle for ‘dishonouring’ her family. Two other offices are facing further disciplinary action.
Also via PP, I came across a Radio 4 discussion on forced marriages:
For the past twelve years, a former police inspector, Philip Balmforth, has worked with West Yorkshire Police on the question of forced marriage. He’s said to have protected thousands of vulnerable girls in the area. He is now undergoing disciplinary procedures, accused of giving out false information about forced marriage. But critics say he’s being disciplined because of concerns expressed by Bradford Council that his work is bad publicity for the city. More than 50 MPs have signed a petition asking for his reinstatement. It’s been organised by the MP for Keighley, Ann Cryer, who joins Jenni Murray to discuss the situation.
Knowing what little I know, I am compelled to agree with a commentator on PP: don’t underestimate the role of local politics in these allegations against Balmforth.
Update: There is definitely more to the Balmforth story than meets the eye. But perhaps not what prejudice might expect:
The uncorrected transcript (you have to scroll down) makes for fascinating reading. The committee heard that of the 33 pupils mentioned, there were no secondary school Asian girls and one secondary school Asian boy on the missing register. There is now an investigation underway into how information that supports prejudice against a community has made its way into the media.
[W]e should urgently try to understand how significant change came about for [the Irish during the Troubles]. Much current reminiscence ignores vital factors, such as the inescapable responsibility of the Irish Republic and, above all, the political weight of the Irish diaspora and the far-sightedness of those who began and maintained contact, long before Blair was elected and claimed the ultimate prize. Throughout the thirty years of conflict, forty million Americans of Irish descent formed an electoral statistic that no US administration could afford to ignore. It is said that on the night before he decided to grant a visa to Gerry Adams, Bill Clinton watched a film about the catastrophic injustice inflicted on one Irish family by the British state. Here, Lord Scarman and Lord Devlin, retired law lords, joined Cardinal Hume, the head of the Catholic Church in England, in educating themselves in the finest detail of three sets of wrongful convictions involving 14 defendants. At one critical moment Cardinal Hume confronted the home secretary, Douglas Hurd, challenging the adequacy of his briefing.
No similar allies for the Muslim community are evident today, capable of pushing and pulling the British government publicly or privately into seeing sense. Spiritually, the Muslim Ummah is seen as being infinite, but the powerful regimes of the Muslim world almost without exception not only themselves perpetrate oppression, but choose to work hand in hand with the US and the UK in their ‘war on terror’. It is for us, as a nation, to take stock of ourselves. We are very far along a destructive path, and if our government continues on that path, we will ultimately have destroyed much of the moral and legal fabric of the society that we claim to be protecting. The choice and the responsibility are entirely ours.
John Rentoul criticises those who would use the number of Iraqi dead for their own opposition to the war — a war the likes of Rentoul, an ultra-Blairite mouthpiece, sold to the public.
Admittedly, Rentoul has a point when criticising some of those on the left who spout some headline figure like 655,000 or 1million. Andrew Cockburn’s unwarranted attack on the World Health Organization (WHO) study is one such example. But, much like Con Coughlin’s propaganda, Rentoul shows fails to convey the full story to his readers.
Much the same criticisms I pointed out in my post on Coughlin can apply to Rentoul. He uses a National Journal article to cast doubt on the Lancet studies, without actually explaining to the reader what precisely the National Journal “challenged”; he also fails to provide his readers with rebuttals on the National Journal piece. He tries to smear the people behind the Lancet studies by pointing out their political views on the war. Yet, at the same time he fails to point out that the author of the National Journal article was itching for the “desctruction of Iraq” back in 2002. Nor does he provide the reader with his own views on the first Lancet study back in 2004. (The good people at Media Lens have once again contacted Rentoul.) Nor does Rentoul let his readers know that what upset him most about the Iraq fiasco was not the loss of British servicemen or the death squads and destruction of Iraq, but that the cause of liberal interventionism had been damaged.
Rentoul chides “those who are interested in the truth of this troubling matter” for not investigating the evidence yet simply asserts, without any evidence or citing any numbers, that the NEJM study by the WHO and Iraqi Health Ministry is more ‘authoritative’ than the Lancet, as if the former is without its problems. If anything the NEJM study can be used to support the Lancet 2006 study by noting the pre- and post-invasion death rates. As John Tirman, who commissioned Lancet 2006 study, points out in the comments to Rentoul’s piece:
[T]he five surveys of mortality in Iraq show significant congruence. The Iraq Ministry of Health survey he cites (as a WHO survey) did estimate 151,000 violent deaths, but their data also shows more than 400,000 “excess” deaths overall. Many experts see in the data tables evidence of ambiguous categories where those fearful of the Sadrist MoH interviewers would attribute deaths to “non-violent” causes. In any case, the 400,000+ as of June 2006 would translate into 600-700,000 today. The MoH also could not survey 11% of its sample, because those places were too dangerous. It demonstrates not inconsistencies between the surveys, but, more important, just how difficult it is to do such surveys in Iraq, precisely because it is so violent. As for plausibility of the high mortality figures, consider this: five murders per day in the 80 “urban centers” of Iraq (pop.>20k) would equal 730,000. The high deaths also track with what we know from many other conflicts regarding the ratio of displaced to death—that ratio is rarely more than 6-1, and there are 4.5 million Iraqis displaced from their homes.
What concerns Rentoul most is the Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey which claimed over 1million people had been killed. Why? I don’t doubt the ORB poll is problematic (they had re-release their original findings after criticisms), but it is not without merit. It appears Rentoul’s only objection is that it shows so many people have been killed. I can only quote Sarah Sewell, director of the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy to counter this point:
The first signs of a high-level Cabinet split over proposals to extend suspects’ detention to 42 days emerged yesterday as the government faced criticism from Labour backbenchers. Gordon Brown has been counselled by senior colleagues that there is no real need to push ahead with the extension, adding to the pressure from leading figures in the judiciary, including the director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald.
It is understood that senior figures in the Ministry of Justice, and law officers have privately expressed concern about pushing ahead with 42 days, saying that recent changes in the law make it unnecessary. The controversial counter terror bill received its second reading yesterday, but it is not likely to go to the crucial key votes on this aspect for two months.
It is understood that law officers, in common with the DPP, have been arguing that it is now possible to charge terrorists under the Crown Prosecution Service code, which uses a lower threshold that requires a reasonable suspicion that the suspect has committed an offence .
This threshold, lower than the normal test for charging of “realistic prospect of conviction”, can be applied where it would not be appropriate to release a suspect on bail after charges. Senior former members of the Blair cabinet point out that this lower threshold was only just coming into use at the time the former prime minister failed to persuade the Commons to allow 90-day pre-charge detention in 2005. They claim there has been vigorous argument in Cabinet to that the lower threshold test has severely weakened the case for 42 days detention. They also claim there is no realistic chance of getting 42 days through the Lords on the current basis.
The government’s own human rights watchdog threatened last night to launch a legal challenge to Labour’s plan to introduce a law that would let police detain terror suspects without charge for 42 days.The Equality and Human Rights Commission says the key part of the counter-terrorism bill goes against human rights law and may breach the Race Relations Act.
As the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, renewed her appeal to Labour backbenchers to support the measure – amid growing international criticism – the EHRC prepared to brief MPs before the bill’s second reading in the Commons tomorrow. The commission makes clear it will mount a legal challenge if the 42-day limit wins parliamentary backing.
“If adopted, we may seek to use our legal powers to challenge the lawfulness of the provisions and to establish clear legal principles on the use of pre-trial detention,” it says in a briefing note to MPs.
The threat of a legal challenge from the EHRC, which has powers to take judicial review on legislation it considers may be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, is another setback to a government determined to increase the time terrorism suspects can be held without charge from 28 to 42 days.