Saturday, December 20, 2014

Alex gets his doctorate

Grandson Alex gets his doctorate at Edinburgh University

My introductory remarks as vice-chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group at a press conference on Bahrain, Committee Room G, 11.45 December 17, 2014

As we meet today to commemorate the martyrs who have lost their lives in the long struggle for human rights and democracy in Bahrain, and particularly those killed in custody and on the streets since the uprising began in February 2011, we now see the disgraceful reason why the UK has soft-pedalled criticism of the al-Khalifa despotism.
Bahrain has agreed to construct a £15 million naval base for our aircraft carriers and destroyers, helping to silence us on extrajudicial killings; widespread detentions; denial of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly; the subservience of judges to political authority, and the deprivation of citizenship of those who dare to oppose the regime.
We ‘express concern’ over these matters but at the same time we show that we don’t really mean it. For instance, the Government rejected the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that Bahrain should be designated a ‘country of concern’.
On the contrary, as the Economist pointed out last week, the Government wanted to ‘demonstrate Britain’s revived commitment to the Gulf monarchies, with whom it maintains substantial trading and investment relationships’.
On Human Rights Day last week the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond  called on governments around the world “to do more to foster the role of civil society in promoting and defending Human Rights”. Yet the founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is serving a life sentence for promoting and defending human rights.
Nabeel Rajab, the current President of the BCHR, was imprisoned for three months for attacking the Formula 1 race in Bahrain; then spent two years in prison for peaceful protests, and is now awaiting a further trial on January 15 for a criticism of the government on Twitter.
On December 1 Maryam al-Khawaja, daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and a prominent human rights activist herself, was arrested at Manama airport when she arrived to visit her father, who is seriously ill from a hunger strike. She spent 19 days in custody before being released on bail, and was given a year’s imprisonment in absentia when she jumped bail, pointing out that Bahrain’s judiciary is not independent.
Maryam’s elder sister Zainab, who had just given birth to her second child,  was sentenced first to three years imprisonment on December 4 for insulting the king by tearing up his photograph, and then to another 16 months on December 9 – a year for insulting a public employee and an extra four months for damaging public property.
If this was North Korea you might believe it, but this is a country where the Foreign Office says  
“there is evidence of real efforts being made in areas where human rights concerns remain”.
Our Chief Inspector of Prisons is engaged in a project to help establish and promote independent human rights based inspection of Bahraini custodial facilities, presumably because this is still an area of concern; but apparently he knows nothing about custodial deaths, such as that of Hassan Majeed al-Sheikh, who was beaten to death in Jaw prison on November 6.
Nor do we acknowledge that people are still being tortured, and that the visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez originally set for May 13, has been  ‘effectively cancelled’, to use the Special Rapporteur’s own words. The regime has set up an Ombudsman, who has indeed asked for urgent action to address the problem of overcrowding in cells, with Jaw prison holding 1,608 prisoners at the time of inspection compared with its maximum intended capacity of 1201 only; but the cases of torture raised by victims, such as those in which Prince Nasser was allegedly involved, are said to be committed in locations other than prisons. Nor does the Ombudsman inquire into the many cases of citizens killed or seriously injured by security forces, such as Youssif Baddah who is in hospital after he was shot point blank by a tear gas canister at a demonstration against the murder of his son at an earlier demonstration.
The chairman of the legal opposition Party al-Wefaq, Khalil al Marzooq and others, met Ann Clwyd MP, chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group and other MPs on November 20, and he told them that UK Ministers had not met Al-Wefaq officials for more than two years.  We understand that the Ambassador had met them, but not recently. The FCO was trying to persuade them to engage in the so-called ‘political dialogue’ and to participate in the elections. There was a severance of contacts in the run-up to the election, so al-Wefaq had no   opportunity of explaining that as they saw it, participation would have been seen as legitimising the political and constitutional status quo.
After many months of stalemate in the negotiations, Human Rights Watch said that Bahrain wasn’t ready for dialogue when top US State Department official Tom Malinowski was expelled from the country. He sought to engage with members of the unofficial opposition, whose objective is to replace the absolutist monarchy by a government freely elected by the people, in accordance with Article 1 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain acceded in 2006. When this idea is not only taboo but to refer to it indirectly means a three year prison sentence, how can we pretend that dialogue is anything but a means of postponing the inevitable?

With Professor Amy Austin Holmes from the American University, Cairo, December 19

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Pickles and Traveller planning appeals

Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP has been recovering planning appeals in the Green Belt by Travellers wholesale and sitting on them. In the two years to July 2013 89 Gypsy appeals were lodged for caravans in the Green Belt and 76 were recovered by Mr Pickles. Over the same period 6 ordinary house appeals were recovered out of 1,162.

Meanwhile, South Oxfordshire District Council leader said this week that 'there will have to be a review of the Green Belt in certain areas'. 15,000 new homes are planned at Ebbsfleet; another 15,000 at Northstowe in Cambridgeshire, and a further 13,000 at Bicester. Inevitably the Green Belt is being 'reviewed' because otherwise there's no hope of meeting the southeast's desperate housing shortage.  

This discrimination was challenged in the High Court on Friday in R (Moore & Coates) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on Friday. The judgement will be interesting

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bangladesh conference November 28

Bangladesh conference last Thursday.

Friday, November 28, 2014

One killer arrested

Photo from Nov 7, 2014 shows the parents of Saher Batool mourning while holding their late daughter's dress in Quetta.—AFP
Photo from Nov 7, 2014 shows the parents of Saher Batool mourning while holding their late daughter's dress in Quetta.—AFP
QUETTA: Police in Quetta claim to have arrested the killer of six-year-old Hazara girl Saher Batool, whose body was dumped after apparently being subjected to rape attempts.
“After one month, we have successfully apprehended the killer of Saher Batool,” Senior Superintendent of Police (Investigation), Asad Raza told a crowded press conference on Friday.
Police had found the child’s body on October 29 this year from Zarghoon Road area of Quetta, the capital of the restive southwestern province of Balochistan.
The victim, who was the daughter of a gardener working at an army facility, was found near a garbage dump close to her home.
The accused had strangulated the girl after a failed attempt at subjecting her to sexual assault, SSP Raza told reporters today.
There were marks of torture on Saher’s face and neck, he added.
During the press conference, police also produced the killer before the media while covering his face.
The girl’s murder had prompted the minority ethnic Hazara community, human rights organisations and political parties to hold protest demonstrations in order to mount pressure on the top officials to catch the killer.
There was no immediate reaction from Saher's family following the arrest.
“We will bring more facts before the public once the investigation is completed,” SSP Asad Raza said.

Tuesday's conference on the murders of Hazaras and other Shias in Pakistan

"Justice for Sahar" - attempted rape and murder of 6-year old Hazara girl Sahar Batool in Quetta, Balochistan, and hundreds of other Shia victims of extremist terrorists across Pakistan

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Nov 26,2014 Previous Normal
Hb 109 100 130 - 180
WBC 3.02 3.1 4.5 - 10.0
Neutrophils 1.16 1.43 2.0 - 7.5
Plt 391 427 150 - 450