Wednesday, December 20, 2006

With Rosaline Costa, Hotline Bangladesh

Contemporary forms of slavery

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/
pa/ld/ldtoday/19.htm#hddr_2

Lord Avebury: My Lords, as always, it is a great privilege to follow in the footsteps of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on a human rights question, particularly one of such tremendous importance as she has raised this evening, on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. While Britain’s role in that horrific operation, as the Prime Minister said the other day, was profoundly shameful, we also had our heroes, who have been mentioned in this debate, such as the Clarksons, whose exploits were so well described in Simon Schama’s book, Rough Crossings.

For all their magnificent deeds, neither the abolitionists of two centuries ago nor their successors at the time of Abraham Lincoln were able to eradicate slavery itself, and it still exists, as the noble Baroness has said. The baton has been taken up by the noble Baroness and by Anti-Slavery International, which, by the way, has been going since 1839 in its present form, though its roots go right back to the 1780s and the days of the Clarksons and Wilberforce.

Today, and also in her book, This Immoral Trade, the noble Baroness concentrates on three areas of the world where slavery is alive and well: Sudan, Uganda and Burma, where children are forced to become soldiers or treated as the sex chattels of those who are doing the fighting. The situation the noble Baroness describes in Bahr al Ghazal, which she has visited several times, has something in common with the genocide in Darfur. In both provinces, which are neighbours, the attitude of the Arab masters towards the indigenous blacks is racist and colonialist, and the practice of slavery is part of a systematic attempt to extend the boundaries of Arab Islamic cultural domination. I was pleased to note that the African Union has demanded that the Sudanese Government immediately disarm the Janjaweed under threat of penalties by both the African Union and the UN. I hope this means that the Security Council will now use military force to prevent further acts of violence against civilians, whether Khartoum agrees or not. But we should also warn the Sudanese against continuing to commit crimes against humanity such as the noble Baroness describes in Bahr al Ghazal.

With regard to Myanmar, the ILO mission to Yangon in October to agree on a supplementary understanding on how its liaison officer should deal with complaints about forced labour, which in any case he was already receiving, was a dismal failure. The Minister of Labour raised legal objections to the draft text and referred the ILO special adviser to a working group with a view to ironing out the differences. In these discussions it appeared that agreement had been reached on the ILO’s right to examine complaints with a view to determining whether they concerned forced labour, and that during this process the working group would not seek to identify or approach the complainant. Unfortunately, the Myanmar side then went back on the agreed draft, saying that its own inquiry should take place in parallel with the ILO’s determination of admissibility.

From then on, matters went from bad to worse. The Myanmar side wanted to shorten the trial period for the new procedure, which had been set at 18 months in the draft, to six months, and it refused point blank to accept that the ILO liaison officer might be accompanied by another person, even if, unlike the present incumbent, he spoke no Burmese and therefore needed an interpreter. A new text reflecting the few points that had been agreed was transmitted to the Minister, but the mission had to leave without securing any agreement from him. It was due to report its failure to make progress to the ILO governing council at the end of November. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us what the next moves are as a result of that meeting and how the United Kingdom can participate in them.

Coming nearer to home, there were several references in the debate to human trafficking into Britain. That has been the subject of a number of debates both in your Lordships’ House and in another place. Only last week reference was made in another place to Paladin Child. That study found that over a three-month period, 1,738 unaccompanied minors from non-EU countries sought to enter the UK through Heathrow alone. Thirty-nine of these children had to be referred to the local authority, compared with 25 the previous year—it is a growing problem—and three were found to be at risk of significant harm. But this may have been the tip of the iceberg; Operation Pentameter, which has also been referred to, identified 12 children who were trafficked over a four-month period this year, while ECPAT UK documented 35 children trafficked into London in 2004 alone. There is still a distinct lack of routine statistical information about trafficking in general, though Anti-Slavery International estimates that as many as 5,000 victims, adults and children, may be present in the UK. Other noble Lords have given different estimates that serve only to emphasise the lack of reliable figures.

The Minister, Vernon Coaker, said in the Westminster Hall debate last week that visa regulations in respect of children had been tightened up and that there had to be an identified adult travelling with them. He said that if the child was in distress, immigration officers would interview that child separately from an adult to try to determine whether there was a particular problem. Can the Minister say what criteria are now applied to visas for unaccompanied children, and how the credentials of accompanying adults are checked, bearing in mind that little Victoria Climbié was travelling with her aunt, who had not ill-treated her until after they arrived in the UK?

Paladin Child did not uncover, I understand, any direct evidence of children trafficking, so the extension of the process to all ports of entry, as recommended by the JCHR, may not be the most effective answer. Can the Minister say how many children are being admitted in the care of a person other than a parent and whether there has been any change in the numbers since the amendment of the visa regulations?

Finally on this subject, my noble friend referred to the opening of the UK Human Trafficking Centre in October, to move the UK, we are told, to a leading position in relation to the prevention and investigation of trafficking. That is good news and we are pleased to note that it will adopt a victim-centred approach, mentioned by a number of noble Lords, in accordance with the conclusions of the JCHR in its excellent report on trafficking. How will this be reflected in the Immigration Rules, which must allow both children and women the space to recover from the ordeal of being trafficked, particularly if they are to give evidence against the traffickers? How are the Government planning,

“to extend and develop the support that we give to victims of this vile trade”,

as the Minister said last week?

The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, mentioned paragraph 198 of the JCHR report, which outlines in detail a victim-centred policy. What is the Government’s reaction, as I have not had the benefit of seeing their reply to the report? One would also like to know what they have said about the Council of Europe convention, mentioned by practically every noble Lord who has spoken. If they still hesitate to sign that convention, will they at least ensure that the national action plan to combat trafficking, of which we have also heard this evening, provides for specialist counselling and care of trafficked children, and automatic rights of residence, whether or not the is child prepared to give evidence in criminal proceedings?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Seminar on Bahrain today

The theme of today’s seminar is Bahrain: Elections without democracy or human rights, and we have to say first that democracy isn’t simply a matter of graciously allowing people to cast votes for a national parliament every few years. Hitler came to power through a vote in the Reichstag in 1933; Mugabe is the elected head of state in Zimbabwe and is backed by a Zanu-PF majority in his Parliament, and even the North Koreans have a Supreme People's Assembly elected by popular vote. I was interested to see that the President of that Assembly sent a message to King Hamad on Bahrain’s National Day expressing his belief that the relations between North Korea and Bahrain would grow stronger in their mutual interests.

No doubt people would say it is unfair to compare North Korea with Bahrain, but they share more than one feature of their political systems. Both have hereditary executive heads of state, who are above criticism and are generally surrounded by sycophants, and in both, the people have no say in choosing their governments. For Bahrain, this was underlined again when King Hamad appointed his cabinet just after the elections, perhaps to insinuate that there was some connection between the two events. The new Prime Minister – if one can use the adjective to describe a man who has held the post for the last 36 years – is Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa. The first deputy Prime Minister is Shaikh Ali bin Khalifa al-Khalifa. The Court Minister is Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla al-Khalifa. The Defence Minister is Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Khalifa. The Minister of State for Defence is Dr Shaikh Mohammed bin Abdulla and so on. Altogether 11 of the 23 cabinet ministers are members of the royal family, and they hold most of the important jobs. So the election has made no difference whatsoever to the government, and the US State Department list this as one of 13 major human rights problems in Bahrain in their latest report of March 2006.

In spite of the marginal role played by the parliament, however, the al-Khalifa realise that it is important for several reasons. First, it enables them to masquerade as a constitutional democracy on the world stage. Second, it is hoped to deflect popular opinion away from genuinely democratic reforms, which would mean that the king would be reduced to a figurehead role, as in democratic monarchies such as Thailand, the Netherlands and Nepal, at least until the new constitution comes into force, under which the king becomes a non-person, constitutionally speaking. Third, it could act as a channel through which some lesser grievances might be aired harmlessly and thereby dispersed. The trouble with that is that in the absence of internal self-determination, all other human rights and freedoms are conditional on the will of the ruler.

But if the elections were genuinely free and fair, it is possible that the elected chamber might have been ready to flex its muscles on some of the major issues of the day: the impunity enjoyed by the torturers of the previous régime including the notorious Scot Ian Henderson, who dares not return to Britain to enjoy his ill-gotten estate in Devon in case the British police arrest him; the rampant corruption which means that while some people get very rich in Bahrain, the poor remain poor; the discrimination against the Shi’a in employment rights, and particularly in the public service; the demographic engineering of the population by the illegal award of citizenship to large numbers of foreigners including Saudi Arabians and Syrians; the restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, documented by international human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as, of course, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, whose website is blocked in Bahrain.

The opposition Islamic National Accord Association might raise some of these issues, though they have already said they won’t talk about consitutional matters such as the powers of the nominated upper house, the Shura Council, which has an effective veto against anything the elected members decide, or about the discrimination against the Shi’a, which could be dealt with effectively by equality legislation if there was the political will. But the opposition would at least have been able to pass resolutions, for instance on the appointment of a parliamentary human rights committee, if the elections hadn’t been gerrymandered to ensure that Sunni loyalists won. Meanwhile the Shura decided to get their oar in first and establish their own human rights committee. According to Mahmood’s Den, described by the FCO as ‘a respected blogger’ they were told to do this to counter the prospect of a Human Rights committee in the elected Council of Representatives.

Unfortunately, no foreign observers were allowed to monitor the elections, but the constituencies were so blatantly distorted that it was impossible for there to be free and fair elections, however good the polling day arrangements may have been. The Hawar Islands, awarded to Bahrain by the International Court of Justice in its judgement on the territorial dispute between Qatar and Bahrain, were uninhabited, but the authorities created a rotten borough by posting a few naturalised Sunni foreigners there to ensure that a government sympathiser was elected. At the other end of the scale, Sitra, with a population of 30,000 Shi’as, elected one member. The southern province, a Sunni area with a population of 15,000, elected 6 members. These and other gross anomalies meant that although according to the ‘respected blogger’, the Shi’a made up 62% of the electorate, they only gained 17 seats to the Sunnis’ 23. But to be absolutely sure of getting this result, the authorities also allegedly bussed the naturalised foreigners and military personnel into constituencies where their votes could have the greatest effect. We shall conduct an analysis of the gerrymandering and election malpractices and publish the results.

We also need to look at the connections between the Bandargate operations and the manipulation of the election results. Money flowed from the taxpayers via the secret organisation run by Shaikh Ahmed bin Atiyattallah al-Khalifa – another royal, head of the Civil Informatics Organisation, a government intelligence outfit, and brother of a notorious torturer - into the pockets of Sunni election candidates, a variety of front organisations, a pro-government newspaper, and websites that foment sectarian hatred. Obviously, Shaikh Ahmed couldn’t have conducted such an extensive operation without authority at the highest level, and the al-Khalifas have closed ranks.
The Bahrain government’s response to these allegations was to expel Dr al-Bander, to refuse popular demands for a thorough independent investigation, and now to reappoint Shaikh Ahmed as a Cabinet Minister.

Meanwhile, there are signs of a return to the bad old days of the nineties, and as we commemorate the martyrs of December 17, 1994, the start of a dreadful era for Bahrain when thousands were imprisoned without trial, and many were tortured, some to death, history seems to be repeating itself. Two activists, Dr Mohammad Saeed Matar and Hussain Abdul Aziz Al Habshi were snatched off the street just over a month ago without a judicial warrant and were denied access to lawyers during interrogation. Apparently their ‘crime’ was to print and distribute leaflets calling for a boycott of the fraudulent elections, and when a demonstration against this violation of the right to freedom of expression was planned last week, heavily armed forces were rushed to the spot to threaten the protesters and stop their meeting,

When I met the king nearly two years ago I said to him that the essence of democracy was that it never reached finality, but continued to broaden out to meet the needs of all the people, and he appeared to agree with me. The process got stuck, however, and only the king has the power to ensure that it moves on. Unless there is the political will at the top to ensure that elections are fair, that demographic engineering of citizenship is halted; that genuine freedom of expression is advanced, and that there are mechanisms not only for hearing grievances but actively remedying them, Bahrain’s fledging democracy will perish in its infancy.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Discussion with Hasan Mushaima and other Bahraini friends

Asylum and Immigration

2.45 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has a distinguished record as a staunch advocate of the rights of refugees and his timely advice is more relevant than ever as the Government tighten the screws, making it ever harder for genuine refugees to get through the system, and try to starve those who are unsuccessful into going back where they came from, however atrocious the conditions there may be.

The Home Secretary said that the immigration and asylum system was unfit for purpose when it emerged that 1,000 foreign national prisoners had been released without consideration of whether they should be deported, yet the Chief Inspector of Prisons had expressed concerns to Ministers in a number of reports going back several years about the absence of a strategy for managing foreign prisoners. Dr Reid's reaction to the tabloid hysteria was to divert resources into detaining all the foreigners who had been released at the end of a

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sentence, including EU citizens who were not deportable, such as an Irish citizen with health problems and a history of self-harm who had lived here for many years with a British partner and child.

The combustible mix of foreign prisoners, fast-track detainees and young single men in the last few days prior to removal was the probable cause of the disturbance at Harmondsworth which led to the loss of 500 places in the detention system and knock-on effects in all the establishments to which the detainees were transferred. Many, perhaps hundreds, had to be accommodated in prisons, so that the numbers there reached an all-time record of nearly 80,000. When half of Yarl's Wood was destroyed in a previous riot, there was an inquiry by Stephen Shaw, some of the lessons of which obviously have not been learnt. Should there not be a full public inquiry into what happened at Harmondsworth and its causes, considering the damning verdict that it was not performing satisfactorily against any of the tests of a healthy custodial establishment?

The chief inspector reported in July that the average length of detention at Harmondsworth had increased from two to six weeks. At her previous inspection, the longest period anybody had been detained was five weeks, but this time it was two years, with 22 people held for more than six months. No doubt the Minister will explain the reason for the discrepancies between the facts and the story shetold the House a week ago. One reason for the deterioration is that experienced immigration officers had been replaced by basic administrative grade personnel with no direct involvement in casework, their only function being to relay messages between detainees and externally based case-holding officers. One detainee, who had been in Harmondsworth for more than 19 months following a short custodial sentence, could not be removed because his consulate refused to issue a travel document. Your Lordships’ Select Committee on the European Union reported eight months ago that there were only four EU readmission agreements with countries of origin, and those were not with countries that generated many asylum seekers. The committee said that more effort should be made to negotiate those agreements, and to promote acceptance of EU travel letters as a substitute for official passports. What progress has been made on these issues?

Last week, the Minister said that she was not aware of problems arising from the merits test and the reduction of legal aid funding in 2005. BID, in its evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, says that the test, which requires a supplier to assess the chances of success to be greater than 50 per cent in any one case, and to achieve a 40 per cent success rate overall, is a major deterrent. Practitioners are bound to err on the side of caution, because if they take on cases that fail, they risk having their contracts withdrawn. What happens when a practitioner goes out of business? Where a firm was shut down because the LSC thought that it had committed some irregularities, hundreds of clients were left in the lurch. No attempt was made to ensure that their cases were dealt with properly by someone else. I was

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approached one Saturday in February on behalf of one client, a 22 year-old Eritrean who had been detained in Yarl's Wood since 15 September—a period of five months. Removal directions had been given for the following Monday. After numerous telephone calls, e-mails and faxes to MODCU, and to the Minister, her removal was deferred, and competent solicitors came to her rescue. They submitted a fresh application on the basis of new evidence, which was successful. The person concerned is now doing an access course with a view to entering nurse training. Like most Eritreans, she will be an asset to our country and its economy. How many others had just as good a case as this particular individual and failed, because they were not able to get competent advice?

With detainees, the LSC proposes the extension of the exclusive contract model which has been tried out on fast-track detainees, citing it as a successful model of service provision. This is in the absence of any evaluation and despite growing concern about the quality of the fast-track suppliers. Some 55 per cent of the fast-track appellants at Harmondsworth had no representation, because of the merits test, and this together with the speed of the process leads to a very small proportion of successes. At the time of the incident last month, there were 15 Darfurians there, all fast-tracked, who had been abandoned by their representatives from several firms and lost appeals that they had to conduct themselves. Another solicitor picked them up in the nick of time, and one has been granted permission to lodge a fresh application. Two are before the High Court, 11 are awaiting IND approval of their fresh applications, and one, who said that he was a member of the Janjaweed, has I hope by now been deported. Will the Minister issue instructions that people escaping from genocide should not be fast-tracked and should have representation on their appeals?

Sixteen countries are now on the NSA list under Section 94 of the NIA Act, which means that people from those countries have no in-country rights of appeal at all; but while a country may be safe for the population in general, it may still be dangerous for particular groups.

On 24 November last year, an order was passed designating Nigeria and Ghana, but for men only. I asked whether the Government would consider a similar partial designation for countries where rabid prejudice exists against LGBT people, the outstanding example being Jamaica. The Minister, whom I am glad to see in his place, said that he would look into the matter. It was not until a year later and after two reminders, in August and October, that Joan Ryan MP wrote to me saying that she would suggest that the country information on Jamaica be reviewed at the next meeting of the advisory panel in March 2007. That is an inadequate response to the evidence that gays are at risk of persecution and physical harm in Jamaica, and the Home Office should act to remove them from the NSA list.

On Report of the IAN Bill in February, we moved an amendment with government support arising out of a discussion that we had with the Minister at the end of Grand Committee allowing for repeal by order

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of Section 9 and connected bits of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, which provided for the withdrawal of support from the class of failed asylum seeker with family. If those persons did not take reasonable steps to leave the UK, the Secretary of State could certify them, which would mean that support was withdrawn from adult members of the family, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has described. We said that it was an inhumane way in which to coerce vulnerable families but welcomed the increased grants for those prepared to return voluntarily in appropriate cases. The pilots of Section 9, which were then being evaluated, had caused enormous distress and terrible destitution, according to the Refugee Council and others, and had drawn attention to the human rights violations caused by depriving families of support. The JCHR will almost certainly recommend that the Government exercise the power to repeal Section 9. Have the Government published a report on the pilots and will they not act on this before being pushed into it?

When the Home Office launched its new asylum model in January it claimed that by December genuine refugees would be granted asylum quickly and those who failed would be quickly removed. Instead, in the latest Home Office statistics, the number of cases awaiting initial decision is up and 1,200 have been in the queue for longer thansix months. The proportion dealt with in less than two months was down and lower than in either of the two previous years. The number removed was down by26 per cent and lower than any of the previous five quarters. The Home Secretary has been in his job for eight months and it is time for him to take the rap instead of blaming his officials.

www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds06/text/61214-0008.htm

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

Medhin Teklezghi

We had a very happy celebration of Medhin's successful asylum claim, after many vicissitudes. Her brother from Leeds, and her sister from Australia were there, as well as Puck de Raadt. We heard about Medhin's case at the 11th hour, from Emma Ginn of NCADC, when she was about to be taken from Yarl's Wood to be deported to Ethiopia (she's eritrea, and its a long and complicated story). Her previous solicitors had been 'intervened' but we managed to brief the wonderful Lisa Gibbs of Glazer Delmar in the nick of time, Medhin was due to be removed on February 13 and at first the Minister, Tony McNulty, rejected my requests for it to be deferred so that the new solicitors could pick up the reins. After a blizzard of faxes, emails and letters to the Minister and the Management of Detained Cases Unit the removal was deferred, and the Home Office relented, allowing time for a new case to be presented. Medhi was released from Yarl's Wood Detention Centre in March, and won the new appeal on the basis of fresh evidence. This shows that it is all too likely that where an asylum-seeker isn't properly represented, and there is nobody to take up her case with the Minister, she will be wrongfully deported.

Tea with Medhin Teklezghi

In the House this week

Monday

Meeting to discuss draft outline report of SubCommittee F of the EU Select Committee, on SIS II, a proposed European database on immigration and crime

Supplementary question on speech and language therapy in schools:

www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/
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Tuesday

Meeting to hear Francesc Vendrell, EU Representative in Kabul, on the current situation in Afghanistan

Meeting to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of Armenian Independence, at which I spoke about our attempts to engage Members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly in a dialogue about the authenticity of the testimonies published in the Blue Book of 1916, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire

Wednesday

Supplementary question on the report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons on Harmondsworth Detention Centre

www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldhansrd/
pdvn/lds06/text/61206-0002.htm#06120666000007

Thursday

Supplementary question on the treatment of ethnic minorities in Burma

www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldhansrd/
pdvn/lds06/text/61207-0001.htm#06120758000006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

SCMP - British citizenship

We are writing to tell your readers about two little-known entitlements to British citizenship held by members of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities. Many of these people do not know they are actually British nationals already.

There have been no recent changes to British law but, following clarifications received this year from the Indian and Nepalese authorities, it has become clear that some people born in Hong Kong - who must to date have never held a British National (Overseas) passport - can register as British citizens.

Solely Nepalese passport holders born in Hong Kong before June 30, 1976, who have never held a BN(O) passport may qualify for a British Overseas citizenship passport if they did not formally renounce their British nationality upon turning 21. Solely Indian passport holders born in Hong Kong before the same date [note: SCMP editorial error, the date should be 30 June 1979 for those of Indian origin] who have never held a BN(O) passport may qualify if they did not formally renounce British nationality upon turning 18.

In most cases, applicants will be able to obtain a British Overseas citizen passport on application at the British consulate. To acquire the right of abode in Britain, they will need to make a separate application to the consulate for British citizenship, to be forwarded to the Home Office.

LORD AVEBURY, House of Lords, and TAMEEM A. EBRAHIM, London

Correction published in SCMP - Wednesday, 29 November, 2006

The letter "British citizenship", published on Monday advised that solely Indian passport holders born in Hong Kong before June 30, 1976, who have never held British National (Overseas) passports may qualify for British Overseas citizen passports and can register as British citizens if they did not formally renounce British nationality upon turning 18. In fact, the cut-off date was June 30, 1979.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Opening remarks at Peru Support Group Conference today

Its a great pleasure to welcome you all to this 2006 Annual Conference of the Peru Support Group, the theme of which as you know is Peru under Garcia, Democracy and Civil Rights.

May I particularly welcome our distinguished speakers Susana Villarán, Romy Garcia of DEMUS and Karim Flores of Asociacion Aurora Vivar who have come here all the way from Peru.

There are some themes which emerge naturally from the events of the past year, and first and foremost is the implications for democracy and civil rights of the elections in which President Garcia came to power following a run-off in June. We are extremely fortunate in having Susana Villarán, who was a candidate in the Presidential elections, to speak in our first session, about the likely scenarios for Garcia’s term of office over the next 4 ½ years.

The record of his first Presidency is always described as ‘controversial’, a rather mild description for the mismanagement of the economy which led to Peru’s default on its international debt, and hyperinflation which reached 8,000%, to say nothing of ushering in the decomposition of the political parties and facilitating the Fujimori coup of 1992. They say he is a reformed character, and The Economist refers to him as ‘New-model Alan’, saying that he is bending over backwards to appear moderate. Unlike other recently elected heads of state in Latin America, he is doing his best to please the Americans, in the hope that the US Congress will sign a free trade agreement with Peru. But his narrow victory, particularly in the July run-off, may have been more to do with negative voting against other parties, rather than the popularity of what APRA had to offer.

That conclusion seems to have been reinforced by the local elections a fortnight ago, and I particularly look forward to hearing Jon Crabtree’s take on this in the first workshop session after lunch, in which he is dealing with The balance of power since the 2006 general election. My only regret is that it coincides with the presentation by Paul Trawick on The moral economy of water in Peru, a subject which is likely to rise up the agenda in Peru as elsewhere, as the terrifying consequences of global warming start to bite. Peru is particularly vulnerable to climate change because some 70% of its electricity comes from hydroelectric plants, supplied mainly by meltwater from Andean glaciers which are likely to disappear altogether over the next 50 years. The meltwater is also used for agriculture and industry and to supply Peru's desert coast, home to more than half the country's population.

We also have a difficult choice to make in the second session this morning. when the workshop on The non-negotiable rights of Peruvian women run by Romy Garcia Karim Flores clashes with Tom Pegram’s parallel workshop on The politics of human rights in Peru. Peru has a good record of gender parity in both primary and secondary education, the keys to women’s empowerment in the medium term future, but for the time being there are still some major problems including endemic domestic violence and a general failure to acknowledge the right of women to control their own fertility. Unfortunately the UK hasn’t much to contribute on this front in spite of the efforts we have made to mainstream gender equality in our aid programme, because we no longer have a presence in Lima. DfID’s regional policy, run from La Paz since 2004, doesn’t appear to contain any specifically Peruvian projects of any kind, let alone any that are addressed to the needs of women.

On the question of human rights following the general election, there are some worrying developments. As you know if you’ve had time to look at the latest issue of the PSG Update, I wrote to the Foreign Office Minister David Triesman who deals with Latin America on behalf of the Group, expressing our concern over legislation passed by the Congress in Peru which appears to us to threaten the freedom of NGOs working in Peru. All NGOs, fomestic and foreign, now have to register with a Peruvian government agency, and if they are deemed not to be working towards the goals of the national development plan they can be terminated. As some NGOs have been critical of the government’s policies in the past, and as there is a history of attacks and intimidation by government on human rights NGO critics in Peru, there is every reason to be apprehensive about the intentions behind this law, which experts think is contrary to both the Peruvian Constitution and the ICCPR. I am pleased to say that the Minister shares some of our concerns, and notes that the Peruvian Congress has postponed the final vote on the law to allow time to consider its compatibility with the constitution, and to enter into a dialogue with the NGOs on possible further amendments. Although we are not directly involved in that process, Tom Pegram’s workshop may allow us to make suggestions that could be of use to the many NGO friends of the PSG.

Another matter of concern to be discussed no doubt in that session is the fourth draft law to extend the use of the death penalty since President Garcia came into office, tabled on November 11. Amnesty International warn that two of these ills would entail withdrwal from the American Convention on human rights, thus denying citizens the right of petition to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

Last but by no means least, we shall be discussing the question Mining: who loses, who benefits? Corporate resonsibility and citizen security under the guidance of Martin Scurrah. This is a subject we have dealt with before, and we return to it in the context of growing disquiet in Peru about the lack of consultation by the government with local communities resident on, or owning, land affected by the projects concerned, and without a framework of revenue sharing which is fair to local and national governments, a problem which arises almost everywhere there are large scale mining or oil and gas developments. It was very good news that Peru signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in June, giving citizens access to fully published and verified details of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas and mining. At least, people in the area of extractive developments will be able to monitor the revenue they generate, and thus to make an informed assessment of whether they are getting their fair share. As I may have said before, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises also calls for collection of information on the environmental, health and safety impacts of their activities, the establishment of measurable objectives for their environmental performance, and the regular monitoring and verification of their progress towards environmental, health and safety targets. They should provide the public and employees with adequate and timely information on all these matters, and should engage in consultation with the communities directly affected by their environmental, health and safety policies. Where there is evidence that a company is not adhering to these guidelines, and domestic remedies in the host state have been exhausted, those affected or their representatives, including NGOs, can formally apply to a person designated as the National Contact Point in the state where the company involved is headquartered. This person first decides whether a complaint is does refer to a breach of the guidelines, and then makes his good offices available to the parties in an attempt to reach agreement on the matter in dispute> If this fails, he has power to issue a statement ad make formal recommendations on the implementation of the guidelines.

As you know, the PSG published a report on Mining and poverty in 2005, in which some of the issues covered by the OECD guidelines were canvassed. It was reported that under Fujimori an unprecedented number of mining permits were granted, and the economy is heavily slanted towards the extractive industries including the Camisea natural gas megaproject, which may generate large revenues for the state but carry penalties. The Energy and Mines Minister Juan Valdivia told Congress that the cost of dealing with environmental problems caused by mining and oil operations would be $800 million, and the culprit was the lack of a proper regulatory framework

I think we have enough on our plates in this agenda to keep us going for several days, and I will save a minute or two of my allotted time by handing over now to the chair of the Conference, Linda Fabiani MSP. I had the pleasure of Linda’s company when we visited Peru together with Des Browne MP in 2000 immediately after the fraudulent elections of that year, and just before the Marcha de los Quatros Suyos which led to the democratic opening and the Toledo Presidency. Linda has maintained her limnks with the PSG and her enthusiasm for democracy and the elimination of poverty and gross inequality in Peru since then, and I look forward to an enjoyable and productive day under her guidance today.

The week

Peccavi - a whole week since my last entry. Monday and Tuesday I was in Brussels with Subcommittee F of the Lords EU Select Committee taking evidence in connection with our inquiry into SIS II, a mega-database which will contain criminal information which law enforcement officers in the UK will be able to access, and immigration information from which we will be excluded because we're not part of Schengen. Wednesday moring the Committee met in our usual Committee Room 3, to take evidence from Joan Ryan MP, a Home Office Minister, the last witness before we decide on our Report.

Then I had lunch with a delegation of MPs from Cameroon, led by their Deputy Speaker Rose Abunaw Makia, who I had met when she was a member of a previous delegation two years ago.

Thursday was my question on Somalia www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/
ldhansrd/pdvn/lds06/text/61130-0001.htm#06113069000008 followed by my debate on the forthcoming elections in Bangladesh www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/
ldhansrd/pdvn/lds06/text/61130-0009.htm#06113069000004, and in the evening, dinner with the Supreme Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, at The London Mosque.The Ahmadis believe in the benevolent message of Islam - peace, universal brotherhood, and submission to the Will of God. Unfortunately they are attacked in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and now Sri Lanka by extremists who deny their right to call themselves Muslim, and in Pakistan itself, where they originted, they suffer discrimination under the law.

Friday I did al interview on al-Jezira TV, about the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office of alleged corrupt payments by BAe to secure the multi-billion Al Yamamah arms contract, and Saudi threats that if the investigation isn't called off they will cancel arms deals with the UK. Needless to say, I told them it was unthinkable that our Attorney-General or any other Minister would interfere with criminal or legal processes, whatever the consequences. There is an often quoted Latin tag, Fiat justicia, ruat coelum, which means Let justice be done though the heavens fall.

Today I was at the University of Kingston for the Annual Conference of the Peru Support Group, of which I'm President. It was a useful and informative meeting, with excellent speakers, organised by the invaluable Sophie Paton, the Secretary of the PSG.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Times November 25

Prison figures show a link between sex crime and religion
Dominic Kennedy
# Some use faith to justify wrongs
# They try to avoid therapy schemes


Churches are being advised to protect congregations against paedophiles and rapists in their midst as The Times uncovers figures showing a clear link between religion and sex crime.

The Home Office has disclosed statistics for the first time, showing the prison population according to their faith and type of offence committed.

Two trends emerge: a strong tendency for prisoners who declare a religious faith to be serving time for sexual offences; and a large proportion of fraudsters from oriental faiths.

Richard Foot, of the charity Sanctuary UK, said that some Christians used a warped theology to justify sex crimes and tried to get out of therapy programmes.

“We do know of men that go from church to church seeking children,” he said. “It’s an issue the Home Office is becoming particularly aware of.”

The likelihood of sex offenders to adhere to a religion can be seen from the figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The proportion of all prisoners declaring any faith compared with those with none is about 2:1 but among those convicted of sex crime it rises to 3:1. The trend is marked across many faiths, including Buddhism, Anglicanism, Free Church Christianity and Judaism.

One prison worker told The Times about a man who claimed to believe that God had put a girl victim in his path, so He must be responsible for what happened to her.

Sex offenders often convert to religion while serving their sentences. Mr Foot, a social worker and member of the Free Church, said: “Some of those will be genuine. Others develop a religiosity which doesn’t signify a real heart change. You still get churches making crazy decisions about people who come into their congregations – ‘we have forgiven them so that’s all that matters’.”

The Home Office has held two preliminary meetings with church leaders to discuss protecting worshippers when freed sex offenders join congregations. A government spokesman said national protocols are due to be introduced next year after consultation.

Probation officers would be invited to help draw up “contracts” requiring offenders to agree to be chaperoned, or, if necessary, to stay away from children. Breaking a contract would result in expulsion from church and warnings being sent to neighbouring parishes.

Jonathan King, the pop impresario who served three years for under-age sex, said: “The chaplains in prisons are normally a pretty fine bunch of men and the only people guaranteed to lend a sympathetic ear. With sex offenders being vilified by the rest of society, it is quite a relief to find a shoulder to cry on. So even the most distant tend to become more religious inside. It is rumoured to help you get parole if you have a positive chaplain report.”

Ray Wyre, the sex crime consultant from raywyre.uk.com, said there was a risk when offenders came to believe their wrongdoing was caused simply by having too little faith. He had known ministers who tried to cast out “rape demons”.

One prisoner demanded to be given a Christian probation officer who, he wrongly believed, would accept that he no longer needed treatment since he had accepted Christ.

Lord Avebury, patron of Angulimala the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organisation, was surprised to be told that nearly a fifth of all jailed Buddhists are held for sex crimes. He suggested many would be jail converts. “If you are on your own a lot and you have time to think about your life then meditation and Buddhist practice is a useful way not only of passing the time but coming to grips with things that are wrong in your life,” he said

Friday, November 24, 2006

Debate on the Address

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldhansrd/
pdvn/lds06/text/61123-0002.htm#06112370000007

Lord Avebury: My Lords, one of the consequences of a debate such as this, covering the whole of DCA and Home Affairs, is that it is somewhat disjointed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will forgive me if I do not follow him in discussing House of Lords reform, except to say that if you reserve a certain number of places for faith communities, as he appeared to suggest, why should not the same be done for, say, the professions, the trade unions or any other group of people who play a significant role in our society? I hope that when we discuss the reform of the House of Lords, we will take that into consideration.

I would like to speak about what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred to as the torrent of Home Office legislation coming down the track towards us, particularly the Home Office Bills dealing with crime and immigration at a time when the ink is not dry on the Acts that were passed earlier this year, to say nothing of the 50 Home Office Bills we have dealt with since 1997. When Mr Blair finally steps off on 26 July next year, he will have comfortably broken the record for the number of Bills passed, and if the criterion was the number of pages in the Bills, he would be miles ahead of all his predecessors put together.

What is the purpose of this immense ziggurat of paper? The number of people in prison, which was 60,000 when new Labour came into office, has zoomed up to 80,000 and counting today, with record rates of reconviction and a Probation Service which is staggering under the load of the numbers it is supervising. Prison and probation officers are never given a chance to catch their breath before another wave of customers hits them. There will be a loss of democratic accountability through the centralising

23 Nov 2006 : Column 470

tendency of NOMS—an acronym which means “nightmare on Marsham Street” to everybody in the penal system—while the dogmatic commitment to “contestability”, a piece of new Labour jargon I abhor, undermines morale and diverts attention from the real need to make existing services better. I was very impressed by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who indicated that a great deal can be achieved without legislation, although probably not while the prisons are, as at present, crammed to bursting point.

We need to address the paradox that while in general crime is being reduced, more people are being sent to prison and are being given longer sentences in spite of the Carter report’s finding that:

“The increased use of prison and probation has only had a limited impact on crime ... there is no convincing evidence that further increases in the use of custody would significantly reduce crime”.

Recently the Lord Chief Justice himself expressed concern about the increased length of sentences for serious offences—and then there was a predictable outcry from certain sections of the media. The pressure on the courts and the parole system created by the lurid accounts in these newspapers of a few crimes of violence committed by ex-offenders has such a harmful effect on sentencing practice. The only way of ensuring that no ex-prisoners go on to commit further serious crime after being released would be to lock them all up for the rest of their lives.

Twenty-five years ago, the Home Office found that a small proportion of violent offences were committed by persons who were classified as “dangerous” by reference to their previous history. Of those people, two-thirds had symptoms of mental disorder. Yet today we still find that the mentally ill or abnormal are clogging up the prisons when they should be in psychiatric institutions. I do not know whether the new definition in the Mental Health Bill that is coming before us will have any impact on that, but I hope that one feature of it—though others have been criticised—will be that that definition enables more prisoners who are suffering from mental illness or disorder to be treated in appropriate institutions and not kept in prisons where nothing can be done for them.

Substance abusers and people with speech, language and communications difficulties to whom the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred six years ago should also be elsewhere. It is no wonder that reoffending is such an intractable problem, because prisons and YOIs are the wrong institutions for the special needs of a large proportion of their inmates. The local education authorities and NHS trusts simply do not have the resources even to assess those needs, let alone to provide remedial treatment. If the Government had genuinely set out to be tough on the causes of crime, as in the mantra that goes back to Mr Blair’s Labour Party speech at the conference of 1992, the attributes that predisposed people to commit crimes would have been tackled vigorously by preventive action in the community.

The Home Office reported more than six years ago that alcohol misuse was involved in 76 per cent of assaults and 88 per cent of criminal damage, but it is

23 Nov 2006 : Column 471

astonishingly complacent about the harm being done by alcohol, which was already costing England £20 billion a year in 2000-01, of which £7.3 billion was accounted for by crime and public disorder. That was according to a Cabinet Office paper of 2003. The Home Office Minister in charge of alcohol crime and disorder, Mr Tony McNulty, said that it would not be practicable to update those figures annually. I should like to ask—as I did today at Question Time, though without getting an answer from the noble Lord, Lord Warner—how otherwise the Government suggest that the public can assess the effectiveness of their alcohol harm reduction strategy. I should like an answer to that question today.

I should also like an answer on the calculations that I submitted to the Home Office which showed that, since the date of the Cabinet Office survey on alcohol harm, the figure has increased by somewhere between £1.9 billion and £8.4 billion, depending on what index is used to measure it and why the Government still refuse to consider using price and availability, which are the only weapons that would effectively dam the torrents of alcohol that are poisoning millions of people.

On immigration and asylum, I very much regret, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, did, that there has been no consolidation four years after we first raised the matter and despite the assurance that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, gave us in January that she would see whether it could be taken forward with the Law Commission. She undertook to discuss the matter with me or put a note in the Library after that discussion with the Law Commission. However, as I reminded her office on Monday, there has been no word about it since then. I hope that the Minister says something about that.

There has been no further news, either, about whether the Government have decided to exercise the power given them by an amendment to the 2006 Act to repeal Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 by which families with children can be deprived of all support at the end of the asylum process. The Minister said that a decision on that matter would be made when the evaluation of Section 9 had been considered, but again we have heard nothing since we discussed that in February or March.

In the new immigration Bill, the Government seek tougher powers to police the border. I wonder how that issue has arisen, given that the previous Bill left us only eight months ago. They say that it will make it easier to deport those who break the law, but the crisis has arisen through administrative flaws and not through a lack of legislation. The foreign prisoners scandal happened last spring because the IND displayed no effective or consistent approach and no coherent or timely planning for what needs to be done at the end of the sentence. Those are not my words; they come from the recent report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. The IND’s criminal casework team needs to be thoroughly overhauled, and that should be done before we have any further knee-jerk legislation of this type.


23 Nov 2006 : Column 472

Like my noble friend Lord Dholakia, I hope that the Government will also have regard to what the JCHR had to say in its 32nd report about the legal rights of EEA nationals and the need for proportionality in deciding whether to deport non-EEA offenders.

Finally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, also said, there is no sign of a coroner’s Bill which, as the Constitutional Affairs Committee said in another place, is long overdue. The committee had valid objections to the draft Bill but nine of its 16 recommendations have been accepted by the Government in whole or in part. The delays in hearing inquests of up to six years in the case of Oxfordshire, because of the additional responsibilities on coroners for examining deaths overseas, is utterly unacceptable. I hope that the Government will immediately provide extra resources for the coroners furthest in arrears and produce a revised draft Bill early enough in this Session for the Select Committee to be able to report on the subject again before next summer so that there can be a strong presumption of the final version appearing in next year’s Queen’s Speech.

Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy

Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy
11.27 am

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they propose to make any changes to the alcohol harm reduction strategy following the publication of a report by National Statistics showing that alcohol-related deaths had more than doubled between 1991 and 2005.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Government have a published commitment to revise their alcohol strategy in 2007. This will take into account the progress that has been made since the publication of the current strategy in 2004 as well as the latest information on alcohol-related harm and changes in public opinion which have occurred since then. Since 2003, the number of alcohol-related deaths has slowed and flattened out. The Government are working with industry to reach a voluntary agreement to agree sensible drinking messages on containers of alcohol. In October, we launched a “Know Your Limits” TV and other media advertising campaign targeted at 16 to 24 year-olds.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, since the Government have refused to update the estimate of £20 billion of alcohol harm, what alternative yardstick do they suggest that Parliament and the public might use in assessing the success or failure of the strategy? If alcohol harm is directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed—as most people believe, and as was confirmed by a recent European Commission study on the subject—does it not show the need for an independent audit of the Government’s strategy? Will they now reconsider their decision not to use price and availability as a means of influencing consumption?

Lord Warner: My Lords, the Government are not complacent. We are not saying that we are resting on our laurels of the 2004 strategy. We have publicly committed ourselves to reviewing that, including taking account of all developments and all the information available and working with all the people who are working in this area. We will publish that revision in the early part of 2007 and I think that the

23 Nov 2006 : Column 429

noble Lord will have to wait for that. But we have continued to act vigorously in this area to make people aware of the dangers of alcohol, and we will continue to do so.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the reputation of my native city of Newcastle upon Tyne as one of the great fun cities of the world has been bought at considerable cost? Is he aware that a former colleague of mine—a distinguished Newcastle gastroenterologist, Dr Christopher Record—has reported an alarming incidence, with a 25 per cent increase in the past few years, of alcohol-related liver disease in young people and particularly in young women? What action will he and the Government take to apply pressure to the drinks industry to reduce the availability of cheap spirit-based alcoholic refreshment in the bars and restaurants of Tyneside and in similar locations across the country?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am not totally familiar with the experiences in Newcastle but, as I said in my earlier Answer, since 2003 the number of alcohol-related deaths has slowed and flattened out. It is true that a minority of young people continue to die at an unnecessarily early age because of the consumption of alcohol. There is no simple answer in this area, which is why we need a range of strategies. We are working with the drinks industry to ensure proper labelling on containers of alcohol warning people of the dangers of excessive consumption.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is an alarming increase in the number of underage children getting drunk? How many of them have died? Is he aware that it is putting great stress on A&E departments? Will he include children in the alcohol strategy?

Lord Warner: My Lords, we are concerned about underage drinking and drinking by people in their early years of adulthood. We also know that there has been an increase in the number of both men and women who are dying between the ages of 35 and 54. Those are serious problems which are sometimes related in part to excessive and binge drinking. We will continue to work on this area, as I said, with a range of strategies.

Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland: My Lords, as a lifelong teetotaller except for five years when I was what was called a “wet” Methodist—I hasten to add that that was not in the political sense in which my noble friends opposite might take it—I have always found myself rather more tolerant about drinking than those who have been lifelong drinkers.

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland: Yes, my Lords, I am coming to the question—thank you very much for your prompting. I rather support the Government’s strategy and think they are going about it the right

23 Nov 2006 : Column 430

way. So I congratulate my noble friend. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s strategy is right, and will he accept my congratulations?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am always pleased to hear from my noble friend, particularly when he is in such a large measure of agreement with what we are doing. It is important to bear in mind that the majority of people are sensible, hard-working adults who should be allowed to choose how and when they enjoy their leisure time. We do not believe that the minority who misuse alcohol should restrict the activities of the responsible majority.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, as a “dry” Methodist perhaps I may come in on this question. First, is the Government’s policy robust enough to tackle the problem that we face today? Alcohol consumption has doubled per head in the UK since 1950. Finally, the alcohol reduction strategy does not apply to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland but only to England. When will the other countries of the UK be included in the strategy to deal with this very serious problem?

Lord Warner: My Lords, like a number of things, drinking and its consequences are devolved matters, and the noble Lord will have to go to the Welsh Assembly if he wishes to know more about what is going on in that area. However, UK-wide, we are negotiating with the industry on the issue of sensible messaging on containers of alcohol. Our strategy is robust. It is having an impact and we are seeing more responsible behaviour by the industry and within the hospitality industry.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, do the Government intend to pursue the idea suggested in June by the Minister's right honourable friend, the Home Secretary, of legislation to compel drinkers who commit crimes of violence to undergo rehabilitation and detoxification schemes?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am always willing to support the wisdom of my colleagues in the Home Office in many areas. What I would say is that the statistics on violent crime do not show a significant change between April and June 2006 compared with the same period in the previous year. That is not to say that there are not problems, but we must keep them in proportion.

British troops in Iraq

Questions last Monday

www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldhansrd/
pdvn/lds06/text/61120-0001.htm#06112013000006

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Victoria in Bangkok

Victoria's visit to the Siriraj Hospital, Bangkok, with Dr Jantima Roongruangchai, Head of the Dept of Anatomy in the Faculty of Medicine. Her visit was kindly facilitated by Mr Witin Rachatatanun who accompanied Victoria and Alan there and then treated them to a most fabulous dinner with his family at their Thawsi School of Wisdom (an independent Buddhist school for kids aged from 4-12 years where his wife is the headmistress).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Armenian Genocide

Lord Avebury, Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, said today:

I very much regret the failure of every one of the 550 MPs of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) to reply to an invitation to discuss the events of 1915-16, in which a million and a half Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire lost their lives.

Following a Letter from the TGNA to the British Parliament challenging the veracity of the evidence published by the British Government in 1916 in the Blue Book ‘The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-16’, a group of MPs and peers wrote proposing a dialogue between British and Turkish MPs, with academic experts on both sides, to examine the authenticity of that evidence.

When no reply was received, I wrote to every Turkish MP individually, asking if they would be willing to participate in such a dialogue. Not a single one replied.

Since neither the TGNA collectively, nor any of its Members, was ready to defend their position in an open and critical forum, it obviously would not stand up to an intellectually rigorous examination. I believe the original Letter was an attempt to stimulate wider Turkish denialism, rather than to establish communication between Turkish and UK Parliamentarians which might have clarified interpretation of the events of 1915-16. But the invitation remains open, and I hope that by publishing this statement, I may yet prompt some Turkish MPs with the courage to engage in dialogue.

Daily Star, Dhaka report on the conference

The Daily Star

Committed to PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO KNOW
Vol. 5 Num 878 Thu. November 16, 2006

Metropolitan


Uphold democratic spirit and human rights
Speakers tell int'l confce in London
Staff Correspondent

Speakers at an international conference in London have expressed concern over recent political developments in Bangladesh and stressed the need to uphold the country's democratic spirit and fundamental human rights.

Policy Exchange, London, in association with the US-based Hudson Institute, The New Statesman and the International Bangladesh Foundation organised the conference on Tuesday, according to a press release received in Dhaka.

Dean Godson of Policy Exchange and Maneeza Hossain of Hudson Institute jointly opened the conference.

Representatives of the three main UK political parties, Awami League leader Saber Hossain Chowdury and former law minister Moudud Ahmed of BNP attended the conference where the speakers urged the UK government to listen to the concerns being expressed by the Bengali population in the UK about the forthcoming elections in Bangladesh.

Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, delivered the keynote address while Lord Avebury, Dean Godson and former British high commissioner to Bangladesh Peter Fowler chaired the sessions.

Nicholas Boles, director of the Policy Exchange, said: "Whether the BNP or the Awami League forms the next government is, in a sense, not the point: Bangladeshi democracy must be the winner."

"Not least because the UK has a large population with Bangladeshi roots, the British government has an interest in promoting fair elections in Bangladesh. If the British government were to privilege hardline Islamist opinion above that of secularists -- as was alleged by several speakers today -- that would be in neither the UK's nor Bangladesh's interests," he added.

Shamsuddin Choudhury Manik, a former justice, and Mohidur Rahman, international coordinator of the UK BNP, Dr Reza Kibria and MA Malik, UK BNP secretary, took part in the discussion.

In the session on UK policy towards Bangladesh, Martin Bright of The New Statesman, Cllr Ayub Korom Ali, Munira Mirza of Policy Exchange and Ansar Ahmed Ullah of International Bangladesh Foundation spoke about Islamists and their network.

Chris Blackburn, an intelligence analyst, and Hussain Haqqani of Hudson Institute gave their presentations at the session on terrorism and security.

In the final session, Abbas Faiz of Amnesty International, Shahriar Kabir, acting president of Forum for Secular Bangladesh, Ahmed Ziauddin of Centre for Genocide Studies, and Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch raised their concerns about human rights violations.

Representatives from the Foreign Office, Home office, ODA and diplomats also attended the conference.

Bangladesh

Lord Avebury, co-chairing a conference on RISE OF POLITICAL ISLAM IN BANGLADESH? WHAT'S AT STAKE IN THE 2007 ELECTIONS, organised by Policy Exchange, 'Think Tank of the year 2006/7', at The Ideas Forum, 10 Storey's Gate, London SW1, at 10.00 on November 14, said

This is a critical moment in the affairs of Bangladesh, which is likely to determine whether the political parties can agree on the steps that are to be taken to ensure free and fair elections, or, in the absence of any agreement, the people are denied the right to choose their next government.

The 14-party opposition alliance opposition has tabled a series of demands which they say are essential to secure a level playing field. They want the Election Commission to be reconstituted; the voter list to be revised, and 300 local election officials who they say were political appointees to be replaced, and have taken to the streets in an effort to force the caretaker administration to act.

Meanwhile Begum Khaleda Zia, BNP Chairperson, says she wants a free, fair and transparent general election in time according to the Constitution. But can this happen without some changes?

What can be done to secure a level playing field within the limited powers available to the caretaker administration, and does this depend on getting the agreement of the main political parties? How can violence be avoided, when already there has been one death and a number of injuries in the blockade, in spite of the restraint shown by the BNP? How can the terrorists whose murders of judges and politicians, and attacks on prominent figures including the leader of the opposition and the British High Commissioner be prevented from taking advantage of the uncertainties of the next two months in the run-up to polling day? What are the prospects for isolating the political extremists from whose ranks the terrorists are recruited? How can the rights of minorities and women to participate in the election be maintained? Is it possible to rectify the voters’ list, with its 11 million phantom voters according to the NDI calculations, in the few weeks that remain? Would there be a chance of at least some improvement with a different Chief Election Commissioner and other members of the Commission, or is it already too late?

These are some of the issues no doubt being explored by the four caretaker advisers under Dr Akbar Ali Khan who are now consulting the political parties and with whom rests the best hope of resolving the present impasse. With the country paralysed, it is absolutely vital to find a way out through dialogue rather than confrontation.

The European Union and the Commonwealth have already sent delegations to Bangladesh to pre-assess the prospects for free and fair elections, and the NDI not only sent a mission but published a report two months ago containing useful recommendations. Richard Boucher, US Under-Secretary of State, has been in Dhaka for the last few days talking to political leaders. The strength of the concern by the international community for the success of the Bangladesh elections is also indicated by the large number of observers who will be there, and by your attendance here today, in the presence of a distinguished galaxy of speakers, you underline the importance we attach to the preservation of Bangladeshi democracy here in the UK.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

End of the week

Other events Thursday to Friday:

Thursday 09.00 telephone conference with Counsel, the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal, to agree Directions in the matter of an appeal to the Information Tribunal under S 57 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Appeal No EA/2006/0054, between myself and the Information Commissioner. We were given leave to amend our Notice of Appeal, and the amended Notice, together with an Amended Peply by the Commissioner, are to be sent to the Tribunal ny November 30. The Cabinet Office is to be joined as a party to the Appeal, and they also have to serve a reply on the Tribunal by the same date. The bundle of documens to be used by the Tribunal is to be prepared by December 21, and the Commissioner and the Cabinet Office then have until January 4 to notify us whether they wish any additional documents to be added to the bundle and if so, to supply copies forthwith. The parties have until January 18 to agree the contents of the bundle, and we have to serve copies on the parties by January 25. Witness statements then have to be exchanged and served on the Tribunal by February 15, and by February 22, the parties have to inform the Tribunal whether they want any of the witnesses to attend the hearing for cross-examination. The Tribunal announces the name of those required to attend by March 1. So it looks as if, assuming that all goes yo plan, the hearing will be in March.

At 12.00 on Thursday, to Abbey Gardens to chair this Press Conference:


Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group
Cordially invites you to a debate on
The security imperatives and national reconciliation in Iraq
Guest Speaker: Mr Hadi Al Aamery
Member of Iraq’s Parliament and senior member of the Supreme Council of Political Security,
whose membership includes Iraq’s President, Prime Minister, Parliament President,
Commander of Allied Forces and leaders of political groups

Time: 12.00 am, Thursday 9th November 2006
Place: 1 Abbey Gardens (Annexe to the House of Lords), London SW1
For further information please contact: Lord Avebury on 020 7274 4617, email: ericavebury@gmail.com
Or Mohammad Hussain on: 07958692005, moesa4@hotmail.com


Mr al Aamery wants the coalition forces to withdraw to barracks, and only to engage in military operations at the request of the Prime Minister of Iraq. This would certainly provide a test of the capacity of the Iraqi army and police. He said that 12 of the 18 regions of Iraq were peaceful, and in the remaining 6, there was sectarian violence in two, while the others, all Sunni, were the scene of conflict between local people and the Saddamists and Taqfiris. The Taqfiris were not only dangerous in Iraq, but a cancer infecting the whole world.

In Baghdad particularly, organised crime was flourishing, partly due to the release of 40,000 criminal prisoners by Saddam.

Thursday evening Lindsay and I went to Heathrow to pick up Tordie, who arrived from Toronto at about 22.00.

Friday I chaired the Traveller Law Reform Unit Advisory Committee. The members expressed concern over the variable quality of the Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Neds Assessments, which I now have to convey to the Minister, Meg Munn. They also discussed the question of whether more planning appeals were successful as a result of Circular 1/06, and we are going to see what statistical information the Planning Inspectorate can provide on this.

In the evening we went, with Tordie and Kina, to the 1st London Bach Society's Bach Prize final and presentation. The wonner, Elodie Kimmel, who graduated with distinction at the Royal College of Music in June, sang an aria from the Coffee Cantata, a recitative and aria from BWV209, and the very splendid aria from BWV51 Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen.

With Elodie Kimmel, winner of the 1st LBS Bach Prize

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Letter to David Triesman about the Peruvian NGO law

I write to you as the President of the Peru Support Group and supported by a number of organisations who work and have partner NGOs in Peru.

We are very concerned about the amendments by the Peruvian Congress of the law which created the Peruvian Agency for International Cooperation (Law nr. 27692) (APCI). The changes proposed include increased control by APCI over the internal workings of NGOs, including intrusive financial oversight, and will make it compulsory for NGOs to subscribe to the APCI register. Under the amended law, if the APCI considers that the activities of a particular NGO do not adhere to the Government’s National Development Plan, the NGO’s APCI registration may be cancelled without any preliminary warning, and without any right of appeal.

This change in the law will contravene a number of fundamental rights protected by the Peruvian constitution and by international human rights agreements to which Peru is party, including freedom of association and freedom of employment.

Transparency is vital to democracy, but the obligatory registration and governmental control over the activities and finances of NGOs are inimical to the development of a strong and dynamic civil society.

This threat to the autonomy of NGOs follows recent criticisms by government spokespersons of the activities of a number of highly regarded human rights organisations, in particular the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL). In fact here is a history of attacks by government on their human rights critics in Peru, and the new legislation will undermine the freedom of NGOs to criticise governments and their policies.

The amendments in question were approved last week by the Peruvian Congress, but are yet to be ratified by President Alan García.

Please will you ask our Ambassador in Lima to relay our concern for the protection of the freedom of civil society in Peru, and particularly for the organisations with which we work.



Eric Avebury
President Peru Support Group

Exports of military equipment

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Probation Boards

Lord Avebury: My Lords, this is the second time within a week that proposals have been put before us that have been introduced with minimal consultation that is far short of what is required by the Cabinet Office code of practice on consultation.
The National Probation Directorate said in its response to the Merits Committee’s questions on the subject that it did not think that a formal public consultation was required, but it consulted informally a number of boards and board members. It does not appear to have consulted the Probation Boards’ Association, the Magistrates’ Association, the Local Government Association, NACRO and any other major organisation that is concerned with probation and its future. The Probation Boards’ Association has said that the regulations,
“will weaken local involvement in criminal justice, begin the process of centralising probation governance on Whitehall and remove the critical local partners on whom effective work with offenders depends”.
When the Government know that proposals they are going to introduce are controversial, it is only too easy for them to avoid criticism by picking a few consultees who can be cajoled into giving the right answers, while ignoring the leading players. I therefore suggest that there should be Cabinet Office guidance on these pseudo-consultations to ensure that the department at least asks for the official views of the organisations representing the persons or bodies principally concerned. I would be grateful if that suggestion could be referred to the Cabinet Office for its consideration and advice.
As a result of the useful work done by the Merits Committee, we now see more clearly what the real purpose of this exercise is. The Government pretend that they are offering greater flexibility, but this isin fact a preparatory step towards forthcoming

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legislation—the “nightmare on Marshall Street” legislation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned—under which boards are to be compelled to contract out 10 per cent of their services in 2007-08 and an increasing proportion in later years. Ultimately, programmes for the rehabilitation of offenders, including drug rehabilitation but not, apparently, alcohol rehabilitation, amounting to£250 million a year—about a third of their total expenditure—will all be farmed out, leaving the boards with direct responsibility for managing high-risk offenders in the community.
Mr Harry Fletcher pointed out to me this morning that the distinction between high, medium and low-risk offenders is artificial because, although 35,000 out of the 50,000 offenders under supervision at any time are classified as low-risk, this low-risk group accounts for about 80 per cent of repeat offenders. I was reminded of the work of Professor Jean Floud many years ago on dangerousness, in which she found that there was no reliable scientific method of predicting the propensity to commit serious offences. Giving the easy cases to the private contractors and leaving a core probation service to deal with the hard ones simply will not work, because so many of the offenders will need constantly to be transferred between one category and another.
The argument behind the order is that the boards will need expertise primarily in commissioning and contracting out the services, and that they will not need to have much of a clue about how to deal with low-risk offenders. However, they will still need to cope with the 1,500 high-risk offenders, and—perhaps the Minister can confirm this—with the 13,000 offenders who are classified as medium-risk. Presumably, whenever a low-risk client commits a serious offence, his case will be taken from the private contractor and given back to the probation service. However these matters are to be dealt with, it is hard to see how the boards will discharge their functions if they are composed entirely of businessmen—I take it that they will be mostly men—without experience of the criminal justice system or, indeed, of the mental health or local authority services. Nor is it clear from the response to the Merits Committee who, under the new system, will have responsibility for rehabilitation of offenders with alcohol problems, and it would be helpful if the Minister could say something about that when he replies.
We are not against the proposition that requiring four members of the board to be magistrates may be too prescriptive, but we note the Government’s apology for saying in the explanatory memorandum that there was substantial evidence that many magistrates and local authority members did not possess business skills. That is entirely in order because there was no evidence for this lack of skills among magistrates. I certainly hope that, as a result of this order, boards will not lose all knowledge of the criminal justice system now available to them from their magistrate members. That point has been made forcefully by NACRO, which is also among the bodies with which the Government did not bother to consult.


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Eliminating the requirement that two members should be local councillors is opposed by practically everyone I can think of, including the Probation Boards’ Association and the LGA. They point out that partnerships with the local authority and the police are at the heart of modern probation practice and are necessary for close liaison, joint funding and joint planning through local area agreements. NACRO says that the probation service needs to be closely linked with housing and education, since they are both crucial to the resettlement of offenders and the reduction of reoffending. The direct input from local authority representatives on the boards is a valuable way to ensure that these connections are strong and productive, and that probation services complement and reinforce the activities of local authorities in reducing crime. Napo has been told that it will no longer be necessary even for a member to live within the probation area, let alone be a member of the local authority.
We view with apprehension the upheaval which will ultimately sweep away the National Probation Service with the introduction of commissioning and contestability at regional level, of which this order is a precursor. We agree with the noble Baroness,Lady Anelay, that separating consideration of the composition of the probation boards from the foreshadowed primary legislation is wrong in principle. It deprives Parliament of its right to amend the proposals to reverse the damaging loss of the ties between the boards on the one hand, and the magistracy and local authorities on the other, while approving the greater flexibility of appointment periods and a reduction perhaps of the quorum, although I noted that the noble Baroness was not in favour of that either.
We agree also with Napo that moving towards a regional or national model will undermine the public protection work undertaken with partners in the courts, the police, health services, particularly mental health, sentencers and the voluntary sectors. We have not been able to identify a single organisation which is in favour of the upheaval that the Government are planning to inflict on the probation service, apart from the incumbent of No. 10, who will be leaving shortly—we hope. Is it too much to hope that with a regime change in the offing, there could be a moratorium on the harmful changes coming down the track for the probation service and that, as a sign of hope for the future, this order will now be withdrawn?

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