Tag Archives: Amnesty International

Tell Cameron and Obama to let Shaker Aamer home to his family

Shaker AI
If you, the wonderful reader of Hynd’s Blog, have a spare 30 seconds I would urge you to support an issue close to my heart. Click here to sign the Amnesty International petition calling for the release or trial of Shaker Aamer, the one remaining British resident in Guantanamo Bay.

The petition simply calls for Obama and Cameron to:

  • Secure the release of Shaker Aamer and return him to the UK without delay, if he is not to be charged and brought to fair trial
  • Give Shaker Aamer immediate and regular access to independent medical assessments and care
  • Immediately investigate all allegations that Shaker Aamer has been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and ensure that anyone found responsible is brought to justice

I, alongside 12,860 people have already signed this petition. Please join us. Then please do also encourage friends and family to do the same.

Together we can raise a voice loud enough that will force the authorities to listen.

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Why Amnesty International is right: Both the village of Kafr Qaddum and Murad Shtewi must be freed

kafr-qaddum-6-4-12
The village of Kafr Qaddum in the West Bank was the scene of some of the worst violence I saw during my half year working as a human rights monitor there.

The village holds weekly demonstrations to demand that their main road be reopened. It was closed by the Israeli military authorities in 2002 to prevent Palestinians from travelling on roads designated for use only by Israeli settlers and adds on nearly 20km to their travel to the main town.

These demonstrations are violent affairs. This is my account of a ‘not so peaceful protest’ which includes footage of a Palestinian being mulled by an Israeli military dog (see below) as well as multiple protesters being shot directly by heavy metal tear gas canisters. This is my account is of a 17 year old boy who was relearning to talk after being shot in the head by a tear gas canister.

As I said – the demonstrations are violent affairs littered with human rights abuses. It is not surprising then that on a number of occasions the Israeli military tried to stop human rights monitors and members of the press from entering the village. On one occasion before a particularly brutal response to the protest I had to travel through the olive groves to avoid the Israeli military checkpoint to gain access to the village.

In midst of this madness trying to marshal events was the figure Murad Shtewi. Murad is (was) a leading activist in the weekly demonstrations held in his village. I met him on a number of occasions normally over strong Arabic coffee and cigarettes to discuss what had occurred in his village during the previous week. Invariably the conversation focused on army raids and arbitrary arrests (painfully common events across the West Bank) but this was juxtaposed to Murad’s middle-eastern understanding of lavish hospitality and his talk of non-violence resistance.

I liked Murad for having optimism in the face of such continued violence (violence that Murad experienced first hand, in the video of the dog attack you can see Murad being pepper sprayed in the face for trying to intervene in the dog attack on his nephew).

Despite witnessing so much violence Murad was also committed to non-violence. This commitment to non-violence is one of the key criteria for Amnesty International who now consider Murad a ‘prisoner of conscience’ after his arrest at around 3am on 29th April of this year (arrests in the middle of the night are common place in the West Bank – even when detaining minors).

Murad is charged with organizing a demonstration without a permit, causing a public disturbance, and throwing rocks during a demonstration. Amnesty International has responded to these charges saying:

“In Amnesty International’s assessment, the charges of rock-throwing and of causing a public disturbance are unfounded. Murad Shtewi has been persecuted for expressing his non-violent opinions and for his role in the peaceful protests in Kufr Qadum against Israel’s illegal settlements. His arrest and detention are a measure to punish him and stop him and other village activists from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly.”

As such Amnesty International is calling for Murad Shtewi to be released immediately and unconditionally, as ‘he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression’.

This is a call that I am happy to publicly back. On every occasion that I went to Kafr Qaddum I never once saw Murad throw a stone. On a number of occasions I did see him telling others not to throw stones. I also talked to him at length about the importance of non-violent resistance.

This is also the third time Murad has been arrested (each time released without charge) in the last few years, the first was after the dog attack on his nephew.

Simply put, I can’t see how this latest arrest of Murad has any purpose other than to try and deter him from organizing legitimate protests against the Israeli policy of segregation in the West Bank.

It is in light of all this that I ask you to take a few seconds to send this sample letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that significantly not only calls for Murad’s release but also to:

‘take effective measures to prevent the use of unnecessary and excessive force by Israeli forces against peaceful demonstrators’

Please help me help Murad by taking this small action.

For more information:

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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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Hip Hop star Mos Def force fed under Guantanamo Bay conditions

Hip Hop legend Mos Def has  been force fed under the ‘standard Guantánamo Bay procedure’. The following video was put together with human rights organisation, Reprieve.

WARNING: This video might cause offence – but hopefully not as much offence as the Obama administration doing the exact same thing on non-consenting detainees at Guantanamo Bay.


Disturbing,  isn’t it?

I struggled to watch it all, the inhumanity of it got to me.

The only difference with the 40 inmates currently being force fed is that we aren’t watching. There is no accountability for how they are being treated. There is no one to call cut and bring it all to an end.

The US administration has said that it does not use torture in Guantanamo Bay but does use ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ such as ‘waterboarding’. Amnesty International this time illustrates what this means:


These techniques, the bastard child of Bush’s war on terror are still used under Obama’s rule.

Never before has the phrase, ‘the land of the free’ left such a bitter taste in the mouth.

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How will the UK ensure only the good guys shoot the bad guys with the guns they are thinking of giving to the people they think are good guys?

If the UK government proceed and arm Syrian rebels, the very minimum they have to do is provide detailed answers to Amnesty International activist Kristyan Benedict’s 10 questions. 

“While we have no immediate plans to send arms to Syria, [the ending of the arms embargo] gives us the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate and worsen,” 

This was William Hague’s response to the EU’s failure to reach agreement around renewing the arms embargo on Syria.

The New York Times summarized the in rifts within the EU over arming rebels saying:

efforts to ease the arms embargo, led by Britain, exposed deep rifts on Monday over the issue of arming the rebels… Austria, the Czech Republic and Sweden came to the meeting strongly opposing arms shipments. They distrust large parts of the Syrian opposition and said they feared that the weapons would end up in the hands of jihadist groups.”

Many met this news with dismay:

Frans Timmermans, the Dutch Foreign Minister was unequivocal in his government’s analysis of the situation saying:

“The only effect you could have — let’s be realistic about this — is that it will stimulate the Russians to provide even more arms,”

Timmermans hits on the same point that Kristyan Benedict asks in his article “10 questions“. The last of these 10 questions to the UK government about arming the Syrian opposition reads:

“What is the likelihood of an arms race occurring from increased arms supplies to the armed opposition?”

It is an important question.

It is widely understood that the UK and France are eager to provide armed support to the rebels.  As such, the crux of Benedict’s questions, “what adequate safeguards would the UK Government put in place to ensure any arms transferred would not be used to commit human rights abuses.” is more relevant than ever.

If the UK government does go ahead and arm the rebels, despite the very vocal criticism, the very minimum it has to do is to be able show it can effectively answer each of Benedict’s questions. How will they ensure rebels use the weapons in line with IHL? How will they ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands? etc etc…

Without these basic safeguards they leave themselves open to accusations of negligence and (according to the Austrian government) violations of International Law.

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Both Israel and Hamas have shown a disregard for civilian life and International Humanitarian Law

It is very very scary…you never know where they will send the rockets, where they will attack. Each day I feel as though they will attack my house”. Asmaa Alghoul – Gaza.

Emblem-255x300International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is the very basic standard used to govern armed conflicts. They are a set of rules which seek to protect those not participating in the conflict. Both Hamas and Israel have violated these basic standards in the recent up-surge in fighting. Everyone concerned needs to be condemning this – not taking sides.

The recent civilian death toll in Gaza has, once again, spiralled. At the time of writing at least 158 have died. The UN estimates, at least 103 were civilians.

Right from the start of the latest bout of violence, human rights groups have started to collect the evidence they need to illustrate that both Hamas and Israel have undertaken ‘indiscriminate’ attacks.

While IHL allows for civilian casualties, it leaves a duty on warring parties to show they have made a distinction between combatants and civilians. Israel has been accused of failing to do this on a number occasions.

By these same standards, Hamas’ rocket attacks are, almost by definition, violations of IHL. If the targets fired at by Hamas are civilian then they are clearly violating the principle of ‘civilian immunity’ – a basic tenant of IHL. Regardless though of the chosen target, the indiscriminate nature of Hamas’ arsenal means that they consistently fail the distinction test inherent within IHL.

This is not to say it is balanced war between two equal parties – it is clearly not in terms of military capability or geo-politics. Gaza’s borders are closed and so Hamas use any arsenal they can get their hands on while Israel has one of the best funded and high tech militaries in the world.

It is however to say that parties from both sides have violated the most basic standards set out to govern armed conflict and that this should be condemned.

Sadly though, this lack of regard for IHL and civilian life is nothing new – for either side. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has a history of failing to meet the very basic standards laid down in IHL. In 2006, the IDF’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon or their 2009 use of white phosphorus during operation Cast Lead, failed to meet the basic standard of distinction required by IHL.

In the latest up-surge of violence, Israel has insisted that it is only using ‘targeted’ strikes. Sadly we know now this is not to be the case. These ‘targeted’ strikes include the homes of Hamas officials, which are also the homes of civilians – thus they have failed to distinguish between combatant and civilian. A combatant’s home which is inhabited by civilians is not a ‘military target’ – it’s a civilian’s home!

There have also been examples of Israel targeting civilian targets. On the 19th and 20th November Israel bombed a media centre that killed two journalists (who are considered under IHL to be civilian). Thus, targeting of this media centre was a violation of the civilian immunity principle within IHL. Intentionally targeting journalists can be a war crime.

In addition to all of this there are examples of what Israel refers to as ‘mistakes’. For example the deaths of 10 members of the al-Dalou family when they struck the wrong house due to ‘bad intelligence’.

Of course, Hamas also has a dark history when held up to the scrutinizing light of IHL. The use of suicide bombers for example is a clear violation of IHL not to mention morally repugnant.

In the latest up-surge of violence, the on-going use of rocket attacks, as stated before, is a clear violation of IHL. Hamas shows no willing to acknowledge this. Already we have seen the impact that this can have; three Israelis were killed by a rocket attack on the 15th November.

IHL is not a nice set of laws – by its definition it allows for fighting and killing. It allows for example for Palestinians to resist the military occupation that they under (although this is one of the protocols that Israel has refused to sign).

Instead however of condemning those parties who fail to meet these crass basic standards. Too often people feel they need to take sides as the injustice of these attacks shines through. On one side you have Israel’s supporters who paint the government’s actions as ‘self-defence’ against an on-going terrorist attacks. On the other you have Palestinian supporters who paint Palestinians an oppressed people being forced into a basic form of self-defence.

Any objective mind can see that there is element of truth in both of these statements.

As I said before though, this is not say it is a balanced conflict against two equal sides. Indeed, these violations of IHL can only be analytically understood in the context of 45 years of military occupation and the regional hostilities.

The answer? I have no idea – if I did I wouldn’t be writing this, I would be picking up my Nobel Peace Prize. All that I am arguing here is that IHL provides a much better starting point to approach the conflict than partisan side taking.

For more on how IHL affects the Gaza/Israel conflict see http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/11/20/q-hostilities-between-israel-and-hamas

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Obama’s first 100 days: We don’t expect the impossible

Please watch and take action. There is nothing radical about asking the President to ban torture.

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Rockets and war crimes cannot break the Israeli peace movement

At the time of writing, 80 rockets have been launched from Gaza since last night – all aimed at the south of Israel.

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) spokesman on twitter pointed out earlier that these rockets are not always intercepted.

The latest series of attacks have caused at least 5 injuries. Towns across the south of Israel are, once again, living in fear that a rocket could hit at any moment.

These attacks, due to their indiscriminate nature are a violation of International Humanitarian Law as they fail to distinguish between civilian and combatant. Amnesty International has accused Hamas, who regularly claim responsibility for these rocket attacks, of War Crimes.

These most recent attacks reminded me of my visit to Sderot earlier this year. Sderot is an Israeli town less than a kilometer from the Gaza border with a population of just 24,000 people. Life in Sderot is dictated by the near constant danger of rocket attacks.

Every house in Sderot has a built in ‘safe room’. I was told residents have just 14 seconds to get to it should they hear the warning siren. A physical impossibility for many such as Sderot’s elderly residents.

Town planners have ensured that there are always bomb shelters close by out in the streets. Every bus stop is built to double up as a bomb shelter. As a result, residents of Sderot are never far from shelter nor the reminder that they live in a constant danger.

Nearly all of Sderot’s residents have been affected by rocket attacks. 13 people have been killed in the small town in the last decade alone. The most recent was 35 year old Shir-El Friedman who was killed on the 9th May 2008.

Despite this terrifying reality, I met some within this small community that are actively looking to reach out to those living in Gaza.

I met a representative from ‘Other Voice‘ – a group of Israelis, mainly based in Sderot, who are working to end the circle of violence both in Gaza and Sderot. Their website states:

The Palestinians are also suffering. They, like us, strive for a quiet and peaceful life and for a better future. We believe that only by working together can we reach a long lasting solution. Therefore, our group is in ongoing contact with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who believe, as we do, in non-violence and mutual respect that will bring about the much anticipated change”.

To meet Israelis living with this constant threat of attack but who were looking to create dialogue rather than conflict was truly inspiring. Too often, across both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, I witnessed the exact opposite happening.

The most difficult question I am left with, is that I don’t know how I would respond if I lived under such constant fear! This however only exaggerates my admiration for those like the members of Other Voice.

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Samer al-Barq – risking death in search of life

“We are not in search of death; we are looking for real life”

These are the words of the hunger strikers’ declaration broadcast over loudspeakers at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Today these words strike a sad pertinence.

As I write this article Samer al-Barq remains on hunger strike. He has not eaten now since 22nd May. 87 days have now passed. To put this into context, Mahatma Gandhi’s longest hunger strike lasted 21 days.  By 21 days most people on hunger strike will have loss the sensation of thirst, find standing difficult or impossible and have a sensation of being always cold.

Samer has been on hunger strikes four times longer than that.

From 45 days onwards death becomes a very real possibility from cardiovascular collapse.  Samer has been living with the possibility of death now for over a month.

According his lawyer, not only has Samer not received the medical care he requires he has also faced beatings. Amnesty International reported that his lawyer said that “guards have beaten and verbally abused [Samer]”.

Amnesty International has called on the Israeli authorities to “investigate allegations that Samer al-Barq has been ill-treated while in detention and ensure he is treated humanely, and not punished in any way for his hunger strike”.

Samer remains imprisoned under ‘administrative detention’ which is the “detention without charge or trial that is authorized by administrative order rather than by judicial decree”. In other words, it is being held with charge or trial. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem considers Israel’s on-going use of administrative detention a violation of International Humanitarian Law as it is only justified in use in the “most exceptional circumstances”.

Israel is currently holding 250 Palestinians under administrative detention.

Samer’s hunger strike was avoidable. In May, Samer stopped his 50 day hunger strike along with 2,000 other hunger strikers after an Egyptian brokered agreement. He resumed his hunger strike a week later however when his detention without trial was extended for a further three months.

Samer is not looking to die, but he is willing to risk death in search of real life with real freedoms. As an occupying power in Palestine, Israel dictates whether or not he and his countrymen can have these freedoms.

Israel must end its use of administrative detention.

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UPDATE: Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak ‘losing consciousness’ 73 days into hunger strike

Twenty five year old Palestinian footballer, Mahmoud Sarsak is reported to be ‘losing consciousness’ seventy three days into a hunger strike as his health continues to decline.

Sarsak is protesting against his three year detention without trial. He is currently being held under Israel’s ‘Unlawful Combatant Law’.  This law allows the Israeli state to hold him for an indefinite period of time without trial. Sarsak reportedly has not been told why he is imprisoned.

On 16th April 2012 Sarsak was transferred to Ramleh prison hospital as a result of his deteriorating health. Today, seventy three days into his hunger strike his lawyer has described him ‘losing consciousness’ regularly.

Please take urgent action on this case.

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Mahmoud al-Sarsak – Palestinian footballer’s health is ‘deteriorating’

This article was written for the Tattooed Football blog.

As the football season draws to a close most of us are sitting back waiting for a summer of football to begin. With less than a month now until Euro 2012 kicks off, football fans across the globe are gearing up for the tournament, stocking up the fridge and pinning up the fixture list. Here in Israel and Palestine it is no exception. I have already sorted out front row seats for the England/France opener down the local (coffee shop)! There is however one exception, one guy who isn’t joining in this build up. His name is Mahmoud al-Sarsak who is, or at least I should say was, a member of the Palestinian football team.

Mahmoud is currently being held under Israel’s ‘Unlawful Combatant Law’ (a form of administrative detention – held without trial) and has been on hunger strike since the 22nd March 2012 in protest. Mohmoud’s detention is not up for renewal until 22nd August 2012. The insightful amongst you might well notice that this is well after the championships. The even more insightful amongst you might have counted up the days in your head and worked out that this guy might not even be alive come the championships. Amnesty International report that his health is “deteriorating”. The longest ever Palestinian hunger strike is 77 days – this is one record no one wants to see him break but he is coming pretty close. How much longer he can hold on for is debatable but I would count it in days not weeks.

You might well be thinking at this point “Bit of shitter, but there is f*** all I can do about it” (note the compulsory swear words proceeding any badly thought out point on the terraces). Well, I have good news for you. There are a few people over here that have the power to stop all this. One of them is a chap called Ehud Barak – he’s the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel and also the Defence Minister (in other words he holds a bit of sway).  What we are asking is pretty simple. We would like him to firstly ensure Mahmoud is given full and specialised medical care in a hospital suitable to provide such care. And secondly to ensure that Mahmoud is either released or charged with internationally recognizable criminal offences and brought to trial in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards (jargon I know but it’s important – trust me). Not big asks. If you have a chance, get the quill out and put these point onto paper and send them to:

Ehud Barak
Ministry of Defence
37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya
Tel Aviv 61909, Israel

I am sure he would love to hear from you.

Mahmoud is not only a footballer, but a relative and a bloody human being. I find it disgusting that someone could be held for three years without charge or trial. All it will cost you is a few minutes (keep it short) and few pence down the post office.

If you are really keen you can find loads more information here. If you are really really keen send this blog onto your mates. It is mad to think, but you have the power to make a difference and maybe save a guys life.

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Filed under Football, Health, Human rights, Middle East, Politics, Sport

How to win an election – Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov style

Picking up an cool 97.14% of vote in the recent Presidential elections, newly re-elected President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov must be pretty pleased with his election campaign. I can only begin to imagine the hours spent knocking on doors, folding leaflets and touring the country to get such a remarkable return.

Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan was quick to congratulate Mr Berdimuhamedov on his re-election wishing him “good health, happiness and continued success in his state activities as well as welfare and prosperity to the friendly people of Turkmenistan”. Aliyev’s view of “continued welfare and prosperity” of the Turkmen people seems to slightly vary however from that of independent human rights organisations.

Amnesty International commented on the elections by saying, “Serious human rights violations such as torture and ill-treatment continue to be committed in detention facilities and severe restrictions remain on freedom of movement and expression, political activism, faith and many other fundamental rights”

You can get the picture of the situation from this briefing paper Amnesty International compiled.

Either way, the unaccountable leader was re-elected with an incredible 97.14%. I wonder whether it niggles at him that the his predecessor, President for life Saparmurad Niyazov (aka Turkmenbashi) was elected with 99.5% of the vote in 1992?

I suspect that Berdimuhamedov will hold up the fact that 7 people stood against him in an election as a sign of reform. The fact that all 7 men were close allies of the President and did not once speak out against his oppressive and dictatorial regime is a mere detail.

So if you are hitting the campaign trail anytime soon, follow these simple rules:

  • Ban international monitoring missions
  • Only allow your most loyal friends and colleagues to stand against you
  • Implement a brutal and repressive regime that will use force and fear to ensure absolute control.

An easy 1,2,3 to election success – Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov style.

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10 years of foreign policy that has included secret detention, torture and rendition – the legacy of the Tony Blair/George Bush tag team

On the 11th of January 2002, the first detainees were transferred to the US Naval base Guantanamo Bay. The orange jumpsuit has become a symbol of the USA’s and its allies failed ‘war on terror’. The atrocities that we know have occurred behind the security fences at Guantanamo are an ugly blight on both the UK’s and the US’s foreign policy. This is the 3rd year in a row I have blogged about Guantanamo Bay, still being open, still being a blight on the US and its allies and still ruining lives.  This blog is a plea to President Obama urging him to live up to his word to close the camp and restore the credibility of the US on the world stage. Until this happens, he can never separate himself or his country off from Bush’s disastrous legacy.

The legacy of Guantanamo Bay is one that we should all be ashamed of. For as long as it stays open, we know that to a limited extent, arbitrary detention, secret detention, torture and other ill-treatment, renditions, and unfair trials still plays a part in our foreign policy. When our representatives go abroad and talk of democracy and human rights, Guantanamo is mentioned as a symbol of our hypocrisy.

There are still 150 detainees in Guantanamo. All 150 people are still being denied their basic freedoms. The majority of them are being held indefinitely without charge or trial. Remember a few years ago, we were all up in arms (quite rightly) that New Labour tried to introduce a 90 day period where you could be held with charge or trial? Well imagine what it must be like to be held indefinitely, never knowing if you will be a free man, or even what crime you are supposed to have committed. There is still a Brit in Guantanamo Bay, alongside others, who have no idea why they are being held there.

The few ‘lucky’ ones who are being put on trial are facing the notoriously unfair military commissions and potentially face the death penalty if found guilty. Why, they cannot be tried in conventional courts has yet to be explained to me. Maybe it is because any self-respecting legal system would not go near information obtained through torture! The US government has already stated that those who are found to be NOT guilty may still face being returned to indefinite detention.

In short, the US is making up the rules as it goes along. To make it worse, these ‘new rules’ that are being introduced fly in the face of all pre-existing human rights standards which the White House still has the audacity to claim to support.

Guantanamo detainees should either be charged and prosecuted in fair trials or released to countries that will respect their human rights. If there ‘home’ countries cannot take them, or if there is any belief that they will be in danger should they returned then they should be offered refugee status in the US. It is about time the US started living up to its responsibilities. The US military commissions, which do not meet international fair trial standards, should be abandoned without delay. The right to a fair trial is so central to a democracy that it undermines the very bedrock of US society if it is removed.

President Obama, for as long as you fail to live up to these very basic demands, you will be seen as being no better that George Bush. Sort it out!

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Saudi Arabia: Where roberry can cost you an arm and a leg

In Saudi Arabia six men are facing amputation of their right hands and left feet for “highway robbery”. The only way they will avoid this fate is if king Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud commutes their sentence. These sentences could be handed out by Friday if no action is taken.

The men have already faced torture through interrogation. Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the international Convention of Torture but is once again illustrating its disregard for international conventions.

In case this story was not bad enough, it appears that at least one of the men was reportedly beaten for eight days and told that if he did not confess to the crime, his three brothers would also be arrested. He then signed a confession without knowing its full contents.

For any punishment to go ahead is an outrage, for this level of brutality to be handed out is simply beyond words.

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Today we mourn – tomorrow we continue the fight for justice

I am Troy - You are Troy - We are Troy

Today we mourn for the sad loss of Troy Davis who was put to death in the early hours of this morning. His life was taken away by the hypocritical hands of the state of Georgia. His death marks the ends of over 20 years of campaigning for the truth that would surely have seen him found to be innocent. The state of Georgia has taken a calculated decision to execute a man despite not holding a shred of physical evidence to implicate him in the crime they accuse him of. This is wrong on so many levels.

As the reality of his death sinks in we are left to look to the future to ensure that such a miscarriage of justice is never again allowed to occur. In Troy’s death we can draw out the very visual growing support for the abolition of the death penalty. Over a million people signed a petition calling for a stay of execution. The Council of Europe, MP’s and celebrities all got behind his case. There was a clear and loud message that reverberated around a globalised world about the abhorrent nature of both Troy’s death but also the use of the death penalty.

When I was stood outside the US embassy last Friday alongside hundreds of others who had turned out at short notice we were read a message from Troy. This message contained a request, no stronger, a demand to not give up the fight. Yesterday, a day before his execution Troy reiterated his call saying:

“The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me.

I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath.”

I finish therefore with a promise, a promise to Troy and to all others who have been needlessly put to death at the hands of the state – I will not give up, I will continue this fight until we see the complete world-wide abolition of capital punishment. Troy has had the ability to speak taken from him for the last 20 years, and now we will never hear him speak again. With Troy in mind I urge you to join me in this fight. It is not going to be easy, we will see more innocent men and women put to death – but it is a fight I feel compelled to take on. Please join me.

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Join me outside the US embassy to stop an injustice occurring

The execution date is set. Unless something changes, Troy Davis will be put to death on the 21st September 2011. This is despite a list of doubts surrounding his case.

Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of the murder of Officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1991. Since 2007, Amnesty international has campaigned alongside Troy’s family and other supporters for a new trial or hearing and clemency.

He was given an opportunity to prove his innocence in 2009 and despite:

  • Four witnesses admitting in court that they lied at trial when they implicated Troy Davis
  • Four witnesses implicating another man as the one who killed Officer MacPhail
  • Three original state witnesses describing police coercion during questioning, including one man who was 16 years old at the time of the murder

Despite this all this, in August 2010 the federal district court judge ruled that although executing an innocent person would be unconstitutional,Troy had not met the extraordinarily high bar for proving his innocence.

You can read more about the doubts surrounding Troy’s case in this Amnesty International briefing.

We have a chance to stop this injustice happening. There is going to be a walk in solidarity for Troy in Georgia (where he is on death row). Our aim in the UK is to illustrate the strength of feeling and international support Troy holds.

This is why I hope you will join me on Friday 16th September 2011 outside the US embassy in London between 5 and 7pm. Troy deserves a fair trial. He does not deserve any punishment, let alone the death penalty while there are such doubts surrounding his case. This is literally a matter of life and death.

Can’t make it but online? Take action here

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Amnesty International is 50 years old and is still as relevant as ever

This last weekend, people up and down the country having been raising a glass to the world’s oldest human rights organisations, Amnesty International.

Amnesty is a very important organisation to me. I have been heavily involved ever since I got involved with my local University group in Bath. At the time, we were campaigning for a global arms trade treaty. I remember all too clearly students (and lecturers) saying to me that this was a pointless aspiration, and it would never happen. Well, looks what a little optimism can do!

Throughout its entire history, Amnesty International has strived, and succeeded, in gaining victories people wrote off as impossible.

In 1965 Amnesty sponsored a resolution at the UN to suspend and abolish capital punishment for peacetime political offences.  A request which seemed outlandish at the time; last year, Gabon became the 139th country to either abolish the penalty outright or to cease to use it in practice.

For years, Amnesty campaigned against the use of torture. In 1975 UN unanimously adopted a declaration against torture following the Amnesty campaign.

In 1983, Amnesty was mocked for saying that it was not only Governments, but also individuals who can commit human rights violations. Today, this is a central pillar of human rights law. One that was central to seeing the recent arrest of Ratko Mladic.

In 1989, Amnesty International members sent 25,000 letters to Chinese authorities condemning the events that took place in Tiananmen Square. Today Amnesty International continues to take on this issue, defending those who wish to speak out against the atrocities that took place that day.

In 1996 Amnesty launched a campaign for a permanent International Criminal Court. In 1998 this was adopted by the UN.

There is so so much more I could talk about. Amnesty’s history tells us that when you shout alone, often nothing happens. But when over 3 million people stand together, their voice holds significant weight.

Today, Amnesty is working on tackling the death penalty, highlighting the abuses in the war on terror, calling governments to account and much more. They can only do this vital work if they have your support.

If you do not believe me, believe Bu Dongwei.

Please join today. Give either money or your time – both are precious to Amnesty.

Remember, All it takes for Evil to prevail in this world is for enough good men to do nothing. 

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The EU still has blood on its hands as it continues to trade in tools of torture

Companies from within the EU are still supplying sodium thiopental

The European Union and its member states are responsible for countless deaths and acts of brutality. It will continue to be morally, and legally responsible for as long as companies within the EU are allowed to trade in equipment that is used for torture and murder.

Amnesty International has recently reported that a UK company is trading in a drug called sodium thiopental which is used in US for judicial executions. As recently as October 2010 this drug was used in the execution of Jeffrey Landrigan in Arizona. This sequence of events is not only morally deplorable but also illegal.

Council Regulation (EC) No 1236/2005 effectively banned the trade in tools of torture. This included equipment that could be used for capital punishment. I have blogged before how this legislation has not been effectively implemented, and it saddens me to highlight that little has improved.

The reason the European Commission has not enforced these rules is based predominantly to do with lack of resources. Simply, it is not seen as a priority. This is why Amnesty International has called on the President of European Commission to:

  • Ensure that sufficient Commission resources are given to following up on implementation and revision of the Regulation
  • Update the Regulation’s annexes, to include controls on those drugs currently being sourced in the EU for executions in the USA, in addition to those items listed in the Amnesty International/ Omega Research Foundation report of March 2010 
  • Organise a meeting of trade experts from across the EU (the Committee on Common Rules for Exports) to take place as soon as possible, to discuss the use of drugs in executions in the USA and to agree on a change to the Regulation to include a new end-use ‘catch-all’ clause.

You can help fight this barbaric trade by signing the petition here.

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Another strange twist in the story of Turkmenistan

Berdymukhamedov does not always have such a good relationship with the international community

Just before Christmas, 2.5 million (80% of all users) mobile phones stopped working in Turkmenistan.  Why? The government decided to “switch off” the operation of Mobile Telesystems (MTS) – a privately owned Moscow based phone operator.  This left millions of citizens unable to communicate internally or internationally.  This is just the latest in a line of obscure human rights violations to have occurred in Turkmenistan.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to power in Turkmenistan in 2007, with a promise to up-hold human rights.  On paper it looks as if some progress has been made, but, in reality the legacy from dictator for life Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenbashi) lives on.  Niyazov was the guy who:

  • Niyazov banned lip-synching, car radios, beards, and the playing of recorded music at weddings
  • Citizens with gold teeth were told to have them extracted
  • He shut rural libraries, saying that people in villages did not read
  • Opera was banned in 2001 as Niyazov declared: “Who needs Tosca or La Traviata any more?”
  • All hospitals outside the capital Ashgabat were closed and about 15,000 doctors were dismissed in 2005
  • Compulsory education was cut by a year so that students could not qualify to study abroad

To name but a few of his eccentricities.

It was hoped when Berdymukhamedov came to power he would move away from Niyazov’s cult of personality.  We can see however that not only is his human rights record appalling (see here for Human Rights Watch letter to him on this issue from last year), but it appears it is erratic as his predecessors.

In a recent wikileak Berdymukhamedov was described as “vain, fastidious, vindictive, a micro-manager, and a bit of an Ahal Teke “nationalist.” from the US embassy.  Later in the same leak it states “Berdimuhamedov does not like people who are smarter than he is. Since he’s not a very bright guy, our source offered, he is suspicious of a lot of people.”

It looks as though Turkmenistan, with Berdymukhamedov at the helm is moving further and further away from the “west” and closer to isolation.  There is no real sense of accountability.  No one questions why the former Dentist operated on a patient to open a new hospital (no joke – see here). No one questions his legitimacy to do any of the things he has done. This is not good for Turkmen citizens, and it is not good for the international community.

Although I have highlighted some of the more bizarre aspect of modern Turkmenistan, it is important to remember it remains one of the oppressive countries in the world.

The question then remains, how do the international community try and engage with rogue leaders who shun all traditional forms of diplomacy? For this, there is no easy answer.

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Guantanamo Bay – still there 9 years later

Re-read the title.

A Brit is still there (Shaker Aamer)

So are 146 other humans – suffering

We cannot let this continue for another year – take action

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