Category Archives: Human rights

On Ariel Sharon’s death and my own hypocrisy

Yesterday, Ariel Sharon was buried. While the world responded to the death of ‘a courageous war hero/a vile war criminal’ with a war of words, I have been fighting my own battle with my own thoughts. Let me explain…

Ariel Sharon
After Sharon’s death an inevitable war of words broke out.

The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as describing Sharon as a ‘courageous warrior,’ who played a ‘central role in the struggle for the security of Israel’.

The Guardian in contrast ran an article by the Oxford academic Avi Shalim which concluded, “His enduring legacy has been to empower and embolden some of the most racist, xenophobic, expansionist, and intransigent elements in Israel’s dysfunctional political system.”

No mention of war crimes, but equally not exactly the praise lavished on him by some.

Meanwhile activists and human rights organisations have used this moment to highlight his role in massacres such as that in Sabra and Shatila in 1982 which saw hundreds and perhaps thousands slaughtered.

For myself I opted for silence while I struggled with my own thoughts.

In the aftermath of Thatcher’s death I wrote and spoke, to the dismay of most on the left, about the need to show respect and to not celebrate a death.

I still stand by those comments.

But a personal experience keeps reoccurring in my mind which makes it difficult for me to not pick up my metaphorical pen.

When I started to learn Arabic before heading to the West Bank in 2012 I was taught by a Londoner who had fled Sabra and Shatila in the early 80s to make a new life for herself in the UK.

She spoke with a brittle absolutism about the past that reflected a personal experience that outweighed all the history and politics that she had so obviously read. In my own mind I foolishly criticised her for this while pompously praising myself for my ability to stand back and reflect on things objectively.

One time we were sat in a café repeating lists of Arabic words when we, as too often happened, got side-tracked into conversations about politics and religion. I can still remember clearly the London sun coming in through the window catching her downcast eyes as she told me of some of her very earliest memories. She told me about one night when an explosion went off in the middle of the night and in panic she ran outside in her pyjamas and just kept running through fear before finally breaking down and crying.

In that moment my books seemed obsolete and useless. In the pain of that story what seemed like crass historical absolutism seemed, for a short time, completely justified.

I write this now because whenever I read an article about Sharon I think, not of my Arabic teacher, but of a young girl crying in the middle of the night.

Sharon, although never mentioned by name, was a central figure in her story. He was the Israeli Defence Minister of the time.

He was the Defence Minister who an internal Israeli commission into the massacre of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 found ‘personally responsible’. He was the Defence Minister who had decided that Phalangist militias ‘should be sent in’ to the camps despite the risk that they would massacre the civilian population there. And as a result, he is the Defence Minister who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds or maybe thousands, for the children, pregnant women, and the elderly, some of whom were found to have been brutally mutilated.

Sharon has gone to his grave without ever facing justice for his role in this war crime and others he oversaw.

These thoughts have been weighing on me in the last few days. I am fully aware that writing these words won’t help bring justice for any of his victims or their families. Nor will it help people who experienced the harsh repercussions of his policies.  It certainly won’t help those who see Sharon as a hero and who are mourning him as I write.

In fact I am not sure this blog will help anyone – especially not me. I am still not sure why I am writing it. I know the ever quick to judge bloggersphere will jump at the chance to accuse me of hypocrisy, inconsistency and double standards.

All I know is that it felt important to write it. Somehow if I didn’t write it I would feel like I wasn’t being honest with myself.

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Filed under History, Human rights, Middle East, Politics

Protest 12 years of Guantanamo Bay

2pm. This Saturday. 11th January 2014. Meet in Trafalgar Square. Help send a message to the Obama administration that says close Guantanamo Bay.

Gitmo

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“We have been unspeakably cruel to our prisoners in the post war period and that includes Iraq and Afghanistan”

These are the words of Reverend Mercer. They were sent to Shaker Aamer, the last remaining Brit in Guantanamo Bay. As soon as Shaker read them he wrote back to his lawyer saying:

“I want to make sure that my brothers and sisters see that the struggles we face here in Guantánamo are universal and not just about Muslims. Guantánamo is an issue of justice for human beings and nothing shows that more than Rev. Mercer’s sermon.”

So, in respect of Shaker and his on-going struggle in Guantanamo I urge you to spend 5 minutes reading the Reverend Mercer’s words:

Salisbury Cathedral 17th October 2013 – Amnesty International ServiceThe Reverend Lieutenant Colonel N J Mercer

Two weeks ago in our Benefice we had a week of fasting for “Stand Fast For Justice”. Stand Fast for Justice is a campaign which is currently being sponsored by the Charity Reprieve. In this week of Benefice Fasting, parishioners – aged 12 to 90 – fasted in sympathy with the prisoners at Guantanamo who are currently on hunger strike and being force fed. In particular we remembered Shaker Aamer. Shaker Aamer is British and has been cleared twice by the Guantanamo authorities for release. Once by George Bush and once by Barack Obama.

Yet he remains in custody.

It appears that he is nothing more than an innocent bystander, caught up in the fog of war for which he has lost eleven years of his life. Most alarming – is his claim that he was tortured at Bagram Airbase and at Guantanamo – and that MI5 have been complicit in his torture.

The reason for his delay, some allege, is that if he is released he will reveal details of his treatment. The authorities want him sent back to Saudi Arabia even though he is British Resident. His family live in South London and he has a son whom he has never seen.

The service this evening is the Amnesty International Service which remembers, in particular, prisoners of conscience. These are individuals who are held in prison for their conscientiously held beliefs and lose their liberty for no other reason than holding the wrong beliefs or opinions. They are wholly innocent of any crime and this category of wholly innocent prisoner is my own nexus for me being asked to preach this evening, for there is another category of wholly innocent prisoner, and that is the prisoner of war.

As their title suggests, these individuals are imprisoned for no other reason that they were on the opposing side in armed conflict. As the Geneva Conventions state, they become prisoners of war when they fall “into the power of the enemy” and for no other reason (Art 5 1949 GCIII).

Some of you may know my background, but I was the senior legal adviser in Theatre for the Iraq War in 2003. I had legal responsibility for all operations in the field and this included the difficult issue of prisoners of war. I became embroiled with this issue arose quite by chance whilst visiting the Prisoner of War camp in Um Qsar in March 2003. I went down to visit the camp – on a totally unrelated matter – and, as I entered the facility, I glanced down a hessian corridor at the entrance.

Unknowingly I was looking at the Joint Force Interrogation Unit and to my horror, I saw about thirty – forty Iraqi prisoners, hooded and in stress positions, kneeling in the sand in 40 degree heat with a generator running outside the interrogation tent.

As a soldier, I knew exactly what was going on. The interrogators were trying to intimidate the prisoners. I intervened and demanded to know what was going on. The Officer Commanding replied that he didn’t take his orders from me but “direct from London”. I was told that such practises were “in accordance with UK doctrine”.

Needless to say, I was unable to change the situation there and then – but I reported matter to the British Commander that evening. It led to an unseemly row between lawyers/interrogators/higher Headquarters. It was only the intervention of the Red Cross which turned the tide in my favour. There was, as many have remarked, a general indifference to prisoners.

Six months later however, a prisoner called Baha Mousa was beaten to death during tactical questioning. The whole episode was examined first at Court Martial and then in the Public Inquiry that followed. It was revealed that not only were prisoners hooded and in stress positions, but were also being deprived of food and sleep and were probably being subjected to what is termed “white noise”. Indeed, one prisoner had been chained to a generator whilst it was running and belching out carbon monoxide.

These so-called Five Techniques were banned in 1978 after the United Kingdom was taken to the European Court of Human Rights (Ireland v UK) – yet somehow they had remained. This episode was to have a profound effect on my life. Like so many pivotal moments in our lives, it set me on a journey that I neither expected nor desired.

I left the Army in 2011. Not long afterwards however a book called “Cruel Britannia” dropped through my letter box. The publishers (Portobello Books) asked me to review the book and I felt flattered as I had never been asked to review a book before – but the book horrified me.

It revealed a catalogue of torture by the British from the end of the Second World War and throughout the colonial campaigns of Malaya, Kenya, Cyrpus, Aden and then onto Northern Ireland and Iraq and the episodes which I have just described.

There was one particular quote I want to share with you about the treatment of Mau Mau prisoners in Kenya:

“Men were whipped, clubbed, subjected to electric shocks, mauled by dogs and chained to vehicles before being dragged around. Some were castrated. The same instruments used to crush testicles were used to remove fingers. It was far from un-common for men to be beaten to death”.

The assistant chief of police in Kenya at that time (Duncan MacPherson) said that: “The conditions I found existing in some camps were worse, far worse, than anything I experienced in my four and a half years as a prisoner of the Japanese”.

The British narrative is that we are a people who pride themselves on decency and fair play, except it is a myth. We have been unspeakably cruel to our prisoners in the post war period and that includes Iraq and Afghanistan.

I recently spoke at a dinner hosted by the Tablet where I met a young SAS Trooper called Ben Griffin. You may or may not have heard of him, but he was first in the Parachute Regiment and then the SAS and a thoroughly decent soldier. However, he was so appalled by the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan that he refused to soldier on. He said that Coalition Forces were treating prisoners as “sub-humans” and that we were “accepting illegality as the norm”. Rather than Court Martial him – he was discharged – honourably – from the SAS. His Commanding Officer described him as a”balanced and honest soldier who possesses the strength and character to genuinely have the courage of his convictions”.

He now lives under a High Court injunction; Reveal what he knows about prisoners – and he goes to jail. But he is not the only one whose silence has been wrought.

Those former prisoners, like Shaker Aamer, who seek to bring a claim against the British Authorities now have to do so in a secret court where they can neither have their own lawyer, see the evidence against them, or challenge the witness/judgement against them, thanks to the “Justice and Security Act” which was skilfully managed through Parliament this year.

I recently preached on the Roman Persecutions in the Early Church where the historian Tertullian – a lawyer and a priest – wrote in his Apology (197) how the Roman Authorities similarly rigged the trials of the early Christians. Now we rig the trials of prisoners and silence those who seek to speak out on their behalf. As an Army Officer, I expected the State to behave honourably.

What I stumbled upon was what one commentator described as “Britain’s dirty little secret”,what the Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne recently described as a “ghastly cloud” which overshadows this country.

We have as a nation kidnapped innocent men and women. We have been complicit in their torture. We have covered it up. Wholly innocent prisoners – be they prisoners of war or prisoners of conscience -it amounts to the same thing.

In this service,in this beautiful Cathedral,in this rural idyll of Salisbury,most are oblivious to our own sordid history. The psalmist tells us that God “hears the groans of the prisoners” (Psalm 102:20). The United Kingdom still actively supresses those groans on threat of imprisonment or injunction. This, of course, happens all over the world, but if it can happen so easily in one of the world’s oldest democracies on our watch, just think how easily it can flourish elsewhere?

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Integrating palliative care into international human rights mechanisms

To mark World Human Rights Day (10th December) I wrote this article for ehospice about the importance of integrating palliative care into international human rights mechanisms. 

logo_460x88As we celebrate Human Rights Day we should take a moment to reflect on the millions of people around the world who are suffering from excruciating but ultimately preventable and manageable pain because states have not set up systems that meet and respect their basic right to health – their right to palliative care!

Palliative care is defined by the World Health Organisation as: “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”

Human rights and palliative care are in many ways natural partners. Both are based around the dignity of the individual being applied universally and without discrimination. But they also overlap. Not only is palliative care a human right in itself, it also allows for the fulfilment of other rights.

Without good palliative care, people can become imprisoned in their own homes. Trapped by the burden of disease symptoms including pain making them incapable of accessing education, health, transport or other basic elements of life that most of us take for granted. These are elements of life that we all have a right to.

Read the full article here >>>

 

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Brian Oosthuysen, on the birth of the Rainbow Nation and the death of Mandela

This is a guest post from Brian Oosthuysen on the death of Nelson Mandela. Brian is a Labour Party Gloucestershire County Councillor in Stroud and he is also a consistent campaigner for freedom, fairness and human rights both locally and internationally. Brian tweets @BrianatRodboro

Mandela 2
Apartheid was an evil, vicious system which saw the death of many thousands and the incarceration of even more. It dominated all aspects of life and was one of the reasons I left SA as a young man.

Nelson Mandela was one of those sent to prison and he suffered in many different and horrible  ways during his 27 years behind bars.

In the 70s and 80s I often addressed meetings as a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in England and I always ended my talk with a look into the future, which I saw as unbearably bleak.  “It will”, I would say, “end in bloodshed and the deaths of thousands of black and white people”.

And then Nelson Mandela (Madiba) was released and almost immediately transformed the political and social landscape in South Africa, and the Rainbow Nation was born.

His act of forgiveness to his former warders, his call for reconciliation and his setting up of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee showed the people of South Africa and the world that he was a man of towering stature and amazing integrity.  The constitution which his new government brought in is recognised across the world as one of the most progressive, and his stamp is clearly on it.

South Africa has many problems but the South Africa we now have is a country more at peace with itself than it has been since before 1945 when the Nationalist government came to power and Madiba is the reason for this.

Madiba once said, “No one is born hating another because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

He lived out that maxim and his death leaves the world a darker, colder place.

Hamba Kahle, Madiba.

 

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Jayyous – one year on

Kate Cargin, who served as a human rights monitor with EAPPI just after me, writes about going back to Jayyous a year after we served there. 

Abu Azzam, welcomed us back to Jayyous like members of his own family and his wife Sehan laid on a lavish meal. I had met Juliane, my team-mate from EAPPI last year, in Jerusalem and the two of us were invited by the current team to stay in our old placement house.

Supper with Abu Azzam. Photo: Per-Ake Skagersten

Photo: Per-Ake Skagersten

Now, as then, the most serious problem for people living in Jayyous is the ‘separation barrier’ or ‘separation fence’, which divides the village from 75% of its agricultural land. All other problems stem from that: increasing poverty, emigration, demonstrations and arrests.

The impact of the fence and accompanying restrictions on the village is profound and life-changing. Farmers have to pass through ‘agricultural gates’ to access their land and permits to do so are often not forthcoming. It is a precarious way to live. Not only are people cut off from their farming income, but because of demonstrations against building the fence many have also been denied permits to work in Israel. Breadwinners and young people emigrate; students are pulled out of university. Regular army incursions with exchanges of stone-throwing and tear gas result in arrests, many of them of children. The prevailing emotion is loss and grief. Jayyous used to be a prosperous place to live. Now it is estimated that up to half its inhabitants receive food aid.

When the fence in this area was completed in 2003, the case for Jayyous was taken to the Israeli high court to contest its route. In September 2009, the Israeli High Court handed down a judgement to reroute the barrier to return some land to the village. Yet the farmers were not represented subsequently when the new route was determined which would return only a third of the farmland to the village. The villagers did not accept this, pointing out that all of the land belonged to them. They organised demonstrations which resulted in many arrests and increased army presence in the village. As Abu Azzam put it ‘We are expected to welcome the return of 2,488 dunums (1 dunum = 1,000 m2) and one underground well to the village. However, more than 5,000 dunums and four underground wells remain behind the fence.’ When the new fence is complete, most of the farmers will still have to pass through agricultural gates and some will even have to take a longer route.

Fence showing re-routing in progress

Photo: Fence showing re-routing in progress

Water is a huge issue in Palestine. While I was in Jayyous, villagers were suffering from a chronic lack of water because the fence cut them off from their main water supply. We had a very small well in our garden with a back-up supply from the next door village of Azzun and were warned not to drink it. There had been an agreement to pipe water from some of Jayyous’s own wells back through the fence. This was to be implemented and financed by the International Red Cross. Like many agreements it was taking its time and nothing happened during our time there. After a shaky start when the settlers destroyed the initial pipes, a pipeline is now established from three wells behind the fence to the Jayyous reservoir. However, the villagers have not been given planning permission to lay electricity cables to run the pump. They have been told to use diesel which would increase the cost eightfold. Currently there is a stalemate.

Israel says that the separation barrier is necessary for security. They claim that it has prevented suicide bombings in Israel (the last suicide bomb in Israel was in 2006). However, we remained sceptical. We were told last year ‘everyone knows where the holes are’. All of our team had seen people going through a hole in the fence near one of the checkpoints. Sometimes soldiers went down to guard the hole and sometimes they did nothing. We were very surprised, returning a year later, to see that the same hole was still in operation and had not been blocked. We were even more surprised to be told by a local man that there are eight holes in this section of the fence.

men detained at checkpoint for attempting to go through a hole in the fence

Photo: Men detained at a checkpoint for attempting to go through a hole in the fence

Nevertheless Jewish Israelis are clearly afraid of their Palestinian neighbours and believe that the fence makes them safer. I saw several manifestations of this fear. Last year, when my daughter came to visit me, the border guards tried to stop her entering the West Bank for her own safety. ‘You will be kidnapped and robbed’ they said. On another occasion, an Israeli woman warned me against getting on an ‘Arab’ bus in Jerusalem. ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ she exclaimed in surprise when I asked why that would be a problem. The fear is undoubtedly genuine but it is cynically manipulated by politicians to justify theft of Palestinian land and in the process all Palestinians are demonised. The sad truth is that the separation barrier will not make Israel more secure and does not bring about the end to fear.

My British MP, a reasonable man, was unimpressed when I pointed out the deviation of the separation fence from the Green Line and told him how it represented the livelihood of an entire village. He described it as a small bump on the map. When people talk about a two-state solution they blithely talk of ‘land swaps’ allowing some settlements to remain and Palestinians to be given land elsewhere. This is what ‘land-swaps’ can look like on the ground. Where else can Jayyousi farmers farm if not on the land next to where they live which their families have farmed for generations?

The settlement outpost caravans, which we used to monitor, have been moved from the area designated for return to Jayyous and are now on land next to Abu Azzam’s largest farm. This land was confiscated in 1988 from the Khaled family when Abdul Latif Mohammed al Khaled went to work in Jordan and the land was classified as owned by an absentee. Planning permission has been granted for 40 new houses to be built there and as with all settlements, the houses will be for Jewish Israelis only.  According to official Israeli data, Palestinians have been given only 0.7 percent of confiscated land in the West Bank; around 38 percent has been allocated to illegal Israeli settlements.  Abu Azzam told us that someone from the settlement council comes down to look at his land every day. On one occasion, he told Abu Azzam’s workers: ‘Tell Sharif (Abu Azzam’s given name) this is our land and the shed is our shed.’

Abu Azzam is a naturally cheerful man but he was more worried than I had seen him before. The Israeli army had given him a map showing the re-routed fence. There were also strange yellow lines marked on it going across his land. He said, ‘I do not know what the lines on the map mean. Are they going to take my land? Have they already confiscated my land and I do not know about it?’ This is not without precedent. Sometimes land is declared forfeit but nothing happens on the ground until some years later.

Remembering also that two sizeable plots of Abu Azzam’s land are still behind the rerouted fence, I asked him if he was afraid that village access to land behind the fence would be more difficult now that some of the land had been handed back.

His answer was to tell me a story about a melon farm which had belonged to his extended family. It was situated between the nearby town of Qalqilya, on the Green Line, and the railway, in what is now Israel. The area was designated as a buffer zone when the 1949 armistice line was drawn up, to be neither Palestinian nor Israeli. At first they were assured that they would be allowed to continue farming; then the Israelis simply sealed it off.

I looked at Abu Azzam and wondered how he could bear it. It has been his life’s work to defend his village’s land. He just shrugged and replied quietly, ‘For the moment, they say they will allow us to go there’.

Kate no longer work as an Ecumenical Accompanier and the views contained in this blog entirely her own.

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Violence against women – the global crisis

A series of papers published in the Lancet have revealed shocking statistics surrounding rates of rape in the UK. 1 in 10 women in the recent study admitted to being forced into having sex against their will. 1.4% of men also admitted to being forced into having sex against their will.

While these figures are shockingly high, I thought it would be interesting to place them in a global context. The last two countries that I have lived in, the occupied Palestinian territories and Uganda, help to highlight the truly global nature of this crisis.

Just yesterday I was reading in the Ugandan Observer that:

“Six in ten Ugandan women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and 34 per cent of all Ugandan women have experienced physical violence in the past 12 months…

The 2006 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey shows that at least 24 per cent of women report that their first sexual encounter was against their will and at least 15 per cent of the women have experienced violence during pregnancy.”

To reiterate – 1 in 4 women’s first sexual encounter was against their will.

When I read out this quote to a Ugandan (who, by chance was female) she simply responded saying, “I can believe that to be true”.

In the occupied Palestine territories the situation was, if anything, even worse.

Sexual violence is a chronically understudied phenomena in the oPt, so statistics are few and far between. But, a few months ago I read this report on the Al-Monitor that reported:

“The Bureau of Statistics report indicated that Palestinian women face many forms of violence, with 76.4% of Gazan women being subjected to emotional violence, 34.8% to physical violence, 14.9% to sexual violence, 78.9% to social violence and 88.3% to economic violence.”

While I was in the West Bank gender based violence (let alone rape) was near to impossible to talk about. One Palestinian who I got to know quite well responded to me talking about the problem of violence against women in the UK by simply saying, “We don’t have these problems here”. I think he might have believed that as well!

Anyway, I choose these two countries for no reason other than my recent residency in them. Similar shocking statistics can be drawn from all over the world.

It’s a depressing context in which to look at these UK statistics but I feel it to be an important one.

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BBC asks: “Should homosexuals face execution?”…Hynd’s Blog asks: “Is the BBC a sociopath?”

Last week I highlighted BBC Radio Bristol’s inappropriate question, “Is a victim of rape ever to blame for being attacked?

By forming this into a question, there is a tacit suggestion that there is a credible debate to be had; that maybe a man forcing his penis into a women against her will could be her fault.

It can’t.

I thought this was shocking and called for BBC Radio Bristol to remove the question mark and to clarify their position.

All I got was silence.

Apparently though the BBC has a bit of history. In the comments section for this article I was directed to this ‘BBC Debate’ that opens by asking:

“Should homosexuals face execution?”

To try and justify the question they added:

“Yes, we accept it is a stark and disturbing question. But this is the reality behind an Anti-Homosexuality Bill being debated by the Ugandan parliament”

The article then factually covers the bill before asking:

“Has Uganda gone too far?”

Again, by forming questions around these repulsive suggestions the beeb is offering a tacit suggestion that there is a credible argument to be made for the execution of homosexuals and that no, this wouldn’t be seen as ‘going too far’.

What next for beeb and their obsessive compulsion to make everything into an interactive question? ”Is it acceptable to beat a man to death with his own shoes if he looks at you strangely?”…

If a person asked any of these questions they would be treated as a sociopath. Should we judge the BBC with any different standards?

If you want you can make a complaint to the BBC, you can do it here.

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Remove the question mark BBC Radio Bristol, a rape victim is never to blame

A series of posters have been put up all over Bristol highlighting some of the lingering myths around blaming the victims of rape. The campaigns message is simple: There are no excuses for rape and the victim is never to blame: Whatever they were wearing; However much they’ve had to drink; Even if they’ve said yes to other sexual activities.

It remains a depressing reality that such an advertising campaign is needed in the first place. Sadly though, they really are.

The campaign group behind the posters says that 3894 women and girls in Bristol aged 16-59 are victims of sexual assault in a year. This statistic becomes even more shocking in the context of there only being about 140,000 women of that age living in Bristol.

The campaign primarily focuses though on removing any lingering doubts that a victim is, in any way, to blame if he/she is raped. It is not a question – a victim is not to blame for being raped.

This is a point that BBC Radio Bristol failed to pick up on when they tweeted about these new posters asking the question:

Well, Radio Bristol (and local radio’s obsessive compulsion to make everything into an interactive question)…no, a victim of rape is never to blame for being attacked. By even asking the question I think you have missed the key slogan of this campaign: There are no excuses for rape and the victim is never to blame. 

Remove the question mark BBC Radio Bristol. A rape victim is never to blame.

Follow the conversation on twitter #noexcusebristol

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Filed under Gender, Human rights, Media, Social comment

Guantanamo Bay – it’s still a fucking* travesty!

shaker-aamer-nov-2012-1
Over 12 years ago, November 13
th 2001 to be precise, President George W Bush signed an order authorizing the detention of suspected al-Qaida members and supporters, and the creation of military commissions.

A few nights ago I was sat on top of a rock in the middle of national park drinking drams of whisky ranting to my, very lovely but unfortunately close by, American friend about how much of a travesty Guantanamo Bay is. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “it’s a fucking travesty that it still exists”

My mate: “I know man”

Me: “But don’t you get it, it’s outrageous…I mean how can it be justified”

My mate: “I know, I completely agree”

Me: “But I mean, it’s beyond words…even after so much evidence of torture, ritual humiliations…”

At this point I would like to think my mate walked off but in reality I suspect he was too nice and sat and listened to this tipsy Englishman ranting about his country’s foreign policy.

Although I may have been slurring, and the conversation might at times have slipped into more of a monologue, at least we were was talking. One of my biggest fears is that Guantanamo and all the other secret detention sites the US operates might just become a norm if people stop being outraged about them.

166 men that we know of are still held in Guantanamo. 86 have been cleared for release by an interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama, but are still held mainly because of Congressional opposition (see here for more on that).

These are men have all suffered enormously, their loved ones, family and friends have also all suffered enormously. They need us to be outraged…I mean really fucking* outraged!

One of these 86 men who have been cleared for release is British resident Shaker Aamer. I highlight his case over any other just because I know this blog is mainly read by Brits. Shaker was taken to Guantanamo Bay in 2002. He has been cleared for release now for over 3 years and yet he is still languishing inside this illegal detention site.

If you do one thing today make it this. Write to your MP and ask him/her to write to the FCO. By itself it might not result in change but it will help remind those in power that we have not forgotten about Shaker or the travesty which is Guantanamo.

More information and how to take action:

You can read Shaker story here.
Find out who your MP is here.
Read Shaker’s daughter’s letter to Gordon Brown and then Cameron’s response here.


*
Sorry if you take offence at my use of the word fucking…really I am. But, I would like you take a minute to put things in fucking perspective. The use of a swear word might, just might, be the lesser of two evils considering the nature and content of this blog post. Want to get angry about something? Get angry about Guantanamo, about being held without trial, about the war on terror, about systematic torture…you get my point. 

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One year on from Gaza/Israel conflict, no investigations, no justice.

One year after the upsurge in fighting in Gaza neither side has conducted sufficient, impartial and independent investigations into alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law says Amnesty International.

On 21 November 2012, 13-year-old Mahmoud was killed by a missile fired by an Israeli drone fired in the al-Manara area of Gaza City.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, has today accused both the Israeli authorities and Hamas of failing to investigate documented reports of serious human rights violations.

Amnesty highlighted the case of 13 year old Mahmoud who died in an Israeli drone strike. Mahmoud was one of at least 30 children to die during the 8 days of fighting. Mahmoud was of course also one of 70 or so civilians to die in that 8 day period.

Failing to distinguish between civilian and combatant is a violation of International Humanitarian Law. The nature of Mahmoud’s death is one of 65 incidents Amnesty are calling on the Israeli authorities to investigate.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, reported on Operation Pillar of Defence and highlighted that Israeli forces made considerable efforts to avoid civilian casualties but that on a number of occasions “the military may have acted unlawfully”.

Amnesty International however in their annual report go further commenting that:

“The Israeli air force carried out bomb and missile strikes on residential areas, including strikes that were disproportionate and caused heavy civilian casualties. Other strikes damaged or destroyed civilian property, media facilities, government buildings and police stations. In most cases, Israel did not present evidence that these specific sites had been used for military purposes.”

Specifically, Amnesty has called for investigations into 65 cases of “alleged misconduct” by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during Operation “Pillar of Defense”.

In their latest statement, Amnesty has also condemned Hamas for their “indiscriminate” use of rockets. During the conflict it is thought that as many as 1,500 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel in the 8 day period.

The case of David Amsalem who lost his 24 year old son to a rocket strike was highlighted to illustrate the fact that Hamas’ arsenal, by its very nature, cannot distinguish between civilian and combatant – something which in itself is a violation of International Humanitarian Law.

The conflict left more than 165 Palestinians (more than 30 children and some 70 other civilians) and 6 Israelis (including 4 children) dead.

Neither side has launched sufficient, impartial and independent investigations into these alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law leaving thousands morning with no access to justice and reinforcing a sense of impunity on both sides.

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Human Rights Watch intervenes in Russia drug trafficking case


Last June I wrote in Liberal Conspiracy about the shocking case of Dr. Khorinyak who had been convicted of drug trafficking offences after prescribing basic pain medications to a friend who had muscular dystrophy since childhood, was unable to walk, and was diagnosed with cancer in 2007.

I am delighted therefore to read in ehospice that HRW has now written to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Yury Yakovlevich Chayka. In their letter, HRW makes a clear legal and moral case for why the Russian authorities should drop these ludicrous charges against Dr. Khorinyak. The letter states:

“Our research has found that regulations on medical use of controlled substances in Russia are overly bureaucratic and excessively onerous, interfering with proper prescribing and with the ability of patients to access these medications. A report detailing these findings is forthcoming. Russia has among the strictest drug control regulations in the world, going far beyond what is required under international law. Russia not only strictly regulates morphine and other drugs in its class but also tramadol, a significantly weaker opioid that is not a controlled substance internationally.

Under international law, countries have an obligation to regulate the availability and accessibility of strong opioid medications, such as morphine, to prevent its misuse and diversion. However, drug control efforts must be continually balanced against the responsibility to ensure opioid availability for medical purposes, in line with the right to health under international law.”

It continues:

“While Dr. Khorinyak and Mrs. Tabarintseva may have violated the letter of Russia’s drug control regulations, they did so out of humanitarian considerations to help a patient with a legitimate medical need, who was deprived access to medications for arbitrary, bureaucratic reasons. As a medical professional, Dr. Khorinyak felt duty bound to help Mr. Sechin, and her actions essentially did no more than seek to end a situation in which Mr. Sechin’s rights were being violated. The prosecution presented no evidence whatsoever that Dr. Khorinyak and Mrs. Tabarintseva personally benefited from prescribing and buying tramadol for Mr. Sechin, that any of the medication was used for non-medical purposes, or was diverted to the black market. We therefore consider the prosecution and conviction to be disproportionate and in violation of international human rights law.”

Human Rights Watch intervention in this case is welcomed. Hopefully the prosecutor will take their advice and drop these disproportionate charges.

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Sexist searches. A look at the most common search terms on Google

UN Women has created a powerful new advertising campaign that uses data collected from Google on the most popular search terms related to ‘women’. The results are indicative of the entrenched sexist attitudes that still persist in our online communities.

This is just one snap-shot of our global on-line community but is sadly supportive of the documented sexism on other online projects such as #EveryDaySexism.

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Please share these images with friends and family. As my good friend Angelique Mulholland wrote in the F-Word, both men and women need to be addressing this! Start with something simple like posting these images on facebook or twitter.

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On Israeli settlers: “They come down from the hills and get us with dogs and guns”

I have just stumbled across this article that the wonderful Kate Hardie-Buckley wrote after visiting me and my former colleague Emmet Sheerin in Yanoun in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

I don’t think I shared the article on Hynd’s Blog at the time.

The title, “They come down from the hills and get us with dogs and guns“, might read to some as being as slightly over the top. The fact that I can promise it isn’t says a lot about life in Yanoun.

Anyway, have a read of the article and let me know what you think.

PS – you can also watch Emmet’s video about life in Yanoun.

 

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Does Jack Wilshere think Mo Farah should only race for Somalia…and Bradley Wiggins for Belgium?

If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I’m not going to play for Spain. For me an English player should play for England

At first glance, this seems an innocuous comment about players born outside of England from the Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere.  On closer inspection though it leads us down a slippery slope of how we understand our national identity.

Firstly, it is worth pulling out the footballing implications of his comments. It would have resulted in players such as John Barnes (Jamaica born), Matt Le Tissier (Guernsey born), Owen Hargreaves (Canada born) all being excluded from our national team.

But this obviously goes so much further than football. It shows how we understand someone’s chances of being truly accepted in England when they have been born abroad. Jack’s comments essentially say that whatever your circumstances, reasons for coming to England, you can never truly be “English” unless you were lucky enough to be born here.

This attitude, when taken to its logical ends results in the most barbaric of conclusions. Allow me to illustrate.

In 2002 Austin Moses, and his wife Josephine, were killed in northern Nigeria. They were both active parts of the minority Christian community who had been facing increased levels of persecution and violence since the imposition of Sharia Law two years earlier.

Their son, Victor Moses, was orphaned at the age of 11.

One week later Victor, paid for by his family, arrived in the UK and claimed asylum and was granted refugee status.

3 years later Victor scored 50 goals in one season for Crystal Palace’s under 14s team. A year after that he was selected to represent England’s under 16s. He then proceeded to play for England at under 17s, 18s and 21s. He then chose to play for Nigeria.

Now, the question for Jack is this – should Victor have been banned from representing England because he was not born in the UK? If so, would you have expected him to play for Nigeria in the years after fleeing for his life or would you have denied him the chance to play international football as a youngster?

Any person with an ounce of compassion would say that of course he should be able to play for England!

But as I already stated, this isn’t just about football. It is about saying that Englishness is far more complicated than simply where you were born.

But then again we wouldn’t want the likes of Bradley Wiggins (born in Belgium) or Mo Farah (born in Somalia) representing us now would we….

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Talking on Russia Today about Israel/Palestine and International Humanitarian Law

Have a watch of me being interviewed on RT (Russia Today) on Israel/Palestine and International Humanitarian Law.

This video is about a year old but I’ve only just stumbled across it. No laughing at me not being able to hear the presenter nor the hesitant roundabout answers.

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It’s quite possible that both sides have used chemical weapons in Syria

What happened in the suburb of Damascus that resulted in the death of 1,429 Syrians on the 21st August?

This question sits at the heart of the debate about what the International Community should do in response to the attack.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry is pretty clear that he thinks he knows what happens and what needs to happen. In short, he believes Assad’s regime used chemical weapons on its own people – an act constituting a war crime. Commenting on a declassified report Kerry said that the findings are “are as clear as they are compelling.”

His suggested course of action  is immediate air-strikes.

The UK knows that the Assad regime has stockpiles of chemical weapons partly because 10 months after the outbreak of the most recent conflict the UK government sold nerve gas chemicals to the regime.

Despite all this, many are still claiming that there is not sufficient evidence that the Assad regime is definitely responsible for these attacks. Natalie Bennett, leader of The Green Party, writing on Liberal Conspiracy said: “no, we haven’t seen real evidence, independent scrutiny, in what happened in that hell in a Damascus suburb on August 21.”

The UN inspectors are still compiling their evidence and have given no indication of when they will announce their results.

Bennett’s suggested course of action  involves the ICC. She comments, “The route to justice for a horrific gas attack is the International Criminal Court. As Caroline Lucas said this week: “Crimes against humanity and international law have been committed. Once there is evidence of responsibility for these appalling attacks, those responsible must be dealt with by the International Criminal Court.”

Of course, none of this is anything new in Syria.

We know that there have been reports of deaths after chemical attacks for months before this most recent attack. For example, in March this year 26 people died in the Khan al-Assal area (just outside Aleppo) after an attack that is believed to have involved Sarin. On this occasion, the Russian government produced a report suggesting rebel forces were responsible for the attack- a reported that was contradicted by US evidence.

We also know that rebel forces have been in possession of chemicals such as Sarin. In May this year, Turksih forces “found a 2kg cylinder with sarin gas after searching the homes of Syrian militants from the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front” .

It is worth reminding ourselves that Al-Nusra is a listed terrorist organisation that is a splinter of AL-Qaeda and is also widely considered to be the most powerful military force currently fighting Assad’s regime. We also know that Al-Nusra have claimed responsibility for attacks on civilians areas – a failure of the principle of distinction and itself a war crime. This, when combined with a series of brutal killings, starts to paint a bleak picture of what some within the opposition stand for.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons but I am under no pretence that some of those who are opposing Assad are just as capable of such atrocities.

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From knighthoods to bombs. Blair switches sides on Assad.

British PM Tony Blair hosted the dictator at 10 Downing in 2002. So high was his esteem for Assad that...
The hand-wringing has to stop. We must act” wrote Tony Blair.

In a passionate article Blair calls for intervention in Syria. He comments, “It is time we took a side: the side of the people…”

Blair pulls no punches in his opposition to Assad. At one point, Blair even compares the violent Bashar al-Assad regime to the “dark days of Saddam”. An awkward reminder of his illegal war in Iraq.

His opposition to this murderous dictator (connected to the death of over hundred thousand Syrians) has not always been this clear cut.

It has emerged, that the previous New Labour government considered bestowing a knighthood on Assad during his trip to the UK in 2002. This is despite 10 downing street referring to him at the time as, “this nasty dictatorship that locks up its own MPs”.

During his visit he also had an audience with Elizabeth Windsor and a platform in parliament.

Of course, it wasn’t just Blair who was flirting with Assad. Buzzfeeds have done an excellent job in reminding us of the on-going relationship between Assad and the US.

Here is a photo of Kerry sharing a cool drink with Assad in 2009 (after widely documented human rights abuses took place – eg cracking down on human rights activists in 2007):

The US and their old friend Tony seem to be clear enough now on whose side they are on (or at least whose side they are NOT on) – but it hasn’t always been that clear.

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A response to Guido Fawkes question, ‘Why Not Holiday In Gaza?’

The rabidly reactionary and yet remarkably well read blogger Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines) dipped below even his usual standards today when he published a blog entitled, “Why Not Holiday In Gaza This Year.”

The blog opened saying:

‘The IDF are good at lot of things, not least social media. This week they are releasing new images of ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and just how bad the conditions are in the “open prison camp”.’

It then showed this collage of photos:

The blog, whilst rightly criticising some of Hamas’ discriminatory (and frankly horrific) policies makes appalling light of a truly horrific situation.

Take the term ‘open prison camp’ for example. It has been used to describe the on-going crippling blockade of Gaza. These restrictions have contributed towards 80% of those living in Gaza being reliant on humanitarian aid.

Oxfam explains:

“Because of the blockade on Gaza, people are sealed in to a small strip of land and unable to flee. Our partners working in Gaza have stressed that it is not safe to move around in Gaza right now”

This blockade, according to the International Red Cross is punishing the population of Gaza for the actions of the few which constitutes one of many violations of International Humanitarian Law committed by Israel. They state:

“The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”

I tried to pick Paul up on some of this tweeting:

When Paul responded saying:

It was clear that he was either ignorant of the nature and severity of the blockade or, and perhaps more likely, trolling.

As such, my suggestion to Paul would be this: fly to Tel Aviv (for you can’t fly to anywhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territories), tell immigration you are planning a beach holiday in Gaza, then let us know what your experience of the following 12 hours is.

This might serve as the basis for a follow up blog, on your “Why not holiday in Gaza?” article.

If that doesn’t help, you could always read the UN’s July 2013 up-date on the restrictions in Gaza.

 

UPDATE: It looks like some of the photos used are not even of Gaza. Awkward. 

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The Russia Winter Olympics: To boycott or not to boycott

“The victim’s naked body had been dumped in a courtyard in the city of Volgograd. His skull was smashed and he had been raped with beer bottles.”

This is from the latest news report that I have read describing another reportedly homophobic brutal murder in Russia. Sadly, this incident is not an isolated one. It fits into a much wider picture of discrimination and prejudice. A report  from ILGA –Europe measuring everything from hate crime to family recognition found that Russia was the hardest country in Europe in which to be homosexual.

In addition, this summer saw the passing of a law banning, “gay propaganda”. The list of human rights concerns for the LGBT population of Russia could go on and on.

In the past few weeks however, this long-standing blight has been hurtled into the consciousness of the western liberal mind.  The hook of the winter Olympics and the ever contentious issue of boycott has got the chattering classes…well chattering.

For myself, I don’t know what I think about the proposed boycott (although I feel quite comfortable condemning the above mentioned and other human rights abuses).

And so, I thought I would draw your attention to some of the more interesting things I have read and let you make up your own mind. In the meantime, hopefully this process will hopefully help me make up my mind.

No shortage of opinions but still not sure what mine is!

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