Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Aid to China?

June 15, 2010

From da House yesterday:

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): My hon. Friend mentions China and the huge steps forward that it has taken in its growing economy. Its gross domestic product now stands at about 9.5% or 9.6%-growth that compares quite favourably with ours. Is it therefore right that we continue to provide that country with Department for International Development funds to the tune of-I may stand corrected-about £30 million a year?

Jeremy Browne (Lib Dem and Foreign Office Minister): An interesting evolution in the power balance in the world is taking place, with these huge emerging countries. Although China’s GDP is slightly greater than ours, it is worth reminding ourselves that their population is 25 times higher, so their GDP per capita is very much smaller than ours. Hundreds of millions of people in China have yet to benefit from the huge advances that that country has made over the past decade or two. At the moment, we have this slightly strange situation whereby many of the emerging economies are the new powerhouses and yet still have millions of people living in absolute poverty. I think that there will be an evolutionary period in which they are apparently two slightly contradictory things simultaneously: they will require aid and assistance while becoming increasingly significant economic and political players. Over time, that balance needs to be reflected in the contributions that we make in aid.

My two cents:

1) I don’t feel comfortable with the UK giving £30 million of development funds to help alleviate absolute poverty in China when the number of super rich Chinese is ballooning. In a meagre way, aren’t we simply subsidising gross inequality in China?

2) Without wanting to get like too much of an IR realist, why the blooming heck do we want to provide assistance to a nation which is becoming a “significant economic and political” competitor? On top of its lack of democracy, its appalling human rights record and its unhelpful support for regimes such in North Korea and Burma, China recently executed a mentally ill British citizen, thus showing clear disrespect for relations with the UK.

Methinks that £30 million could be better spent elsewhere.

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Clampdown on photographers.

January 25, 2010

Here in the UK there have been numerous incidents involving coppers harassing photographers. People have got in trouble for taking photographs in the City of London, for example. Police officers have asked the photographers to delete the images they’ve taken and have tried to justify this by citing anti-terrorism legislation.

Some people see these incidents as evidence that laws ostensibly designed to protect the public from terrorists are in-fact being used to curtail civil liberties in Britain. The conclusions drawn are Big Brother-tastic. Whilst I obviously disapprove of the police harassing photographers, I suspect this takes place as a result of individual officers being overzealous and misinterpreting the powers given to them rather than because the government and police chiefs want to pursue an anti-photography agenda and have set out strict targets for police bullying of photographers.

An example of a genuine clampdown on photographic freedom can be found in Uzbekistan. The woman who took these pictures is currently on trial and faces six months in prison or three years of labour. The Uzbek authorities claim she is deliberately spreading negative images of Uzbekistain and she is being charged with defamation.

Big trouble with big China.

January 13, 2010

Yesterday I received an email that went something like this:

Dear Jako, 

Thank you for your email about Mr Akmal Shaikh, who was executed in China on 29 December, 2009.

The UK condemns in the strongest terms the execution of Akmal Shaikh and Ministers and officials worked tirelessly to try and prevent it. We made 27 separate high level representations to the Chinese authorities, including by the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary who were both personally involved in this case.

We deeply regret that our concerns , and in particular those surrounding mental health issues, were not taken into consideration despite repeated calls by the Prime Minister, Government Ministers, Members of the Opposition and the European Union.

The UK respects China’s right to bring those responsible for drug smuggling to justice. But the UK is completely opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and will continue to work on its abolition worldwide.

At this time our thoughts are with Mr Shaikh’s family and friends. We continue to offer them all the support we can. 

Yours sincerely, 
 

Lynsey Hughes  

Country Casework Team

Counsular Directorate

And then one of today’s top stories has been ‘Google to end censorship in China over cyber attacks’:

Google, the world’s leading search engine, has thrown down the gauntlet to China by saying it is no longer willing to censor search results on its Chinese service.

The internet giant said the decision followed a cyber attack it believes was aimed at gathering information on Chinese human rights activists.

The move follows a clampdown on the internet in China over the last year, which has seen sites and social networking services hosted overseas blocked – including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – and the closure of many sites at home. Chinese authorities ­criticised Google for supplying “vulgar” content in results.

Google acknowledged that the decision “may well mean” the closure of Google.cn and its offices in China.

That is an understatement, given that it had to agree to censor sensitive material – such as details of human rights groups and references to the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 – to launch Google.cn.

Whether you are a government hoping to prevent the execution of one of your citizens or a business trying to protect your intellectual property and the privacy of your clients, China is clearly problematic.

The country is too big a power now to be ignored or chastised into improving its behaviour. Britain launching unilateral sanctions against China in protest at the killing of Akmal Shaikh would probably hurt us more than it would hurt them. There is an air of impotence about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s insistence that “Ministers and officials worked tirelessly to try and prevent it” (as well as linguistically unpleasing).  

As the world’s most populus country, China is an irresistible market opportunity. Companies will be drawn to it. Operating inside an authoritarian one-party state may raise some ‘moral issues’ but as long as the money’s flowing in then these can mostly be put to one side. Whilst I am surprised and pleased that Google is now reassessing its operations in China, it is disappointing that they had agreed to aid state censorship in the first place and only seem to be pulling out because their business integrity is threatened by (state-sanctioned?) hackers.

Stories such as these give China the image of the powerful, up-and-coming state on the international scene. It is an image the government eagerly wants to share with the people of China. Challenging Western countries and companies and refusing to conform to their sensibilities can play well with the strong nationalist sentiments held by large numbers of Chinese. 

The image, however, is a false one. The government’s continued reliance on censorship and other illiberal measures suggests that the Communist Party lacks faith in the security of its own position. The frequency of riots in China’s provinces suggests that the central government lacks the absolute control it would like to have. Playing tough with external enemies and competitors is an attempt to compensate for the internal weaknesses that make the government feel insecure.     

It is tricky to know how the outside world should deal with problematic China. A balance is needed. Countries such as Britain and companies such as Google will need to engage with this large, increasingly powerful country, but fundamental values and concerns should not be compromised for the sake of pleasing the Chinese Communist Party.

Human rights activists inside China are trying to change their country for the better. Even if the Western states cannot be crusading liberal imperialists who come to their aid, they must avoid making life harder for them. The question of how Western democracies and businesses work constructively with China is amongst the most pressing of our time.

Keeping the Cuban monarchy “sustainable”?

January 4, 2010

Journalist Tom Fawthrop reports that change is coming to Cuba. The Cuban people are “growing increasingly impatient with hard times, suffocating bureaucracy and the badly run state economy”. This is hardly surprising news, considering how many Cubans try to escape the country to get to the US. Therefore, President Raul Castro (elected in a free and fair election – NOT!!) wants to reform the economy without “abandoning some of the socialist ideals and principles that inspired the revolution”. He wants a new “sustainable socialism”. 

This sounds to me like a simple case of Castro Jr wanting to have his cake and eat it. A failing economic system obviously embarrasses the regime, but the government clearly does not want to liberalise the country’s politics. Whilst the Castros are in charge Cuba will remain a one-party state where human rights abuses are routine, where censorship and control of the populace are seen as vital to the success of the revolution, and where the ultimate power of the country’s leadership remains unchallenged.

Fawthrop quotes Mariela Castro, the president’s daughter who works for the government, as saying: “Cuban people are asking for a much more sustainable socialism, not a return to capitalism. They want a permanent system of consultation, better mechanisms of participation to work for a democratic socialism.”

That sounds lovely. However, without a firm committment to multi-party elections, an end to press censorship, the freeing of political prisoners, etc, it’s hard to take anything a Castro says about ‘democratic socialism’ too seriously. Mariela is apparently “well-known as an independent voice within Havana’s ruling elite”. Presumably it is much easier to be an independent voice in Cuba when your daddy is el presidente and you probably don’t have to worry too much about being locked up for criticising the government. 

Yes, we all know that the Cuban Revolution gave the country a decent health system and that the crippling US embargo is unfair and should be abandoned. But these arguments do not disguise the massive, glaring truth that Cuba is a Communist Party dictatorship where one family rules supreme. The Cuban model is a stain upon the word ‘socialism’. A move towards democracy would of course be welcome, but I won’t hold my breath.

Daily Mail celebrates the execution of Akmal Shaikh.

December 29, 2009

Remember how the Daily Mail provoked a storm of fury when they published an article by weirdo bigot Jan Moir speculating about Stephen Gately’s death only a few days after the singer kicked the bucket?

Well, they’ve stooped to a similar level, if not even lower. Akmal Shaikh was executed less than 12 hours ago but today’s Daily Mail contains an article by Leo McKinstry entitled ‘Sorry not to join the liberal wailing: heroin traffickers deserve to die’.

It is full of the usual Daily Mail gibberish about “the human rights brigade” being responsible for crime and describes Akmal Shaikh as “amoral, selfish, and irresponsible”. Because laying the boot into someone killed earlier today is the moral, selfless, and responsible thing to do, eh Leo?

This being the Daily Mail, it’s impossible for the article to gain the editor’s approval without any references to celebrities. It is therefore accompanied by a big picture of Kate Moss and McKinstry predictably rants about drug-abusing celebs not being given meaningful punishments. Will McKinstry next be calling for Moss, Doherty, Winehouse and Michael to face a firing squad as punishment for their indiscretions? Surely that would act as a deterrent, following his logic!

On a more serious note: McKinstry’s argument (if it can be called that) would work better if there was evidence that China’s killing of drug traffickers was actually helping to stop people using heroin there. He can’t provide any – I certainly can’t find any. Even if I could, I don’t think we should trust any data coming out of a country run by a single party dictatorship. It is bizzare that McKinstry pours so much bile on our liberal, human rights-respecting legal system and is instead so enthusiastic about an authoritarian Communist state’s approach to dispensing justice. 

As for McKinstry’s boring claim that the death penalty lowers crime rates, well, zzzzz. Correlation does not equal causation. McKinstry writes that there were fewer murders and crimes in the 1950s when Britain still had the death penalty. Aside from improvements over time in police data-keeping and recording crime (which means of course the numbers will go up), McKinstry can’t back-up his argument that abolishing the death penalty led to more crimes being committed. You could just as well posit that mass ownership of televisions in the 1960s messed with people’s minds and increased criminality.

It would also help McKinstry’s rant if countries with the death penalty (such as China and the USA) had lower crime rates than Britain and if the safest, most crime-free countries weren’t ones where the death penalty has been abolished (places like New Zealand, Finland, Denmark).

McKinstry’s article is so outrageous and stupid I find it hard to believe he genuinely believes in what he’s writing. Perhaps he instead felt he needed to raise his profile a bit. I hadn’t heard of him previously. Similarly, I wasn’t aware of Jan Moir existence before her controversial piece – maybe McKinstry’s trying to repeat the trick? Daily Mail columnists often like to lecture everyone about morality but their primary motive is almost certainly a greedy craving for attention and the extra cash that can bring their way.

As FCO Minister Ivan Lewis said today: “Anybody with a modicum of compassion will be horrified” by Akmal Shaikh’s execution.

Clearly that does not apply to Leo McKinistry and the rest of the scum at the Daily Mail.

The internet can bring humanity together. Or it shows that there are morons all over the world.

December 24, 2009

There is a Facebook group called ‘STOP THE EXECUTION OF AKMAL SHAIKH’. It is raising awareness of Akmal Shaikh’s plight and encouraging people to send emails to the UK government and to the Chinese embassy. All very good.

Some Chinese Facebook users, however, have joined the group and are acting like total shits. Apparently any criticism of China’s sick enthusiasm for executing people is “Western arrogance” and all of those trying to save Akmal Shaikh’s life are “white racists”.

I remember similar attitudes being displayed by Chinese Facebookers during the 2008 riots in Tibet. Facebook groups calling for a peaceful resolution to the situation and condemning China’s occupation of the country would soon be filled up with Chinese people calling all the other members racists, imperialists, etc.

The blind loyalty of these young, well-educated, English-speaking Chinese to their authoritarian government is very depressing. Any criticism of China’s human rights record is interpreted as a hostile Western conspiracy aimed at stopping their country’s rising power – even though the primary victims of the Chinese regime are the Chinese people themselves.

The nationalistic instinct to think ‘my country, right or wrong’ clearly pollutes minds everywhere. What a pity.

Save Akmal Shaikh

December 23, 2009

As inconvenient as it must be for Downing Street officials and Foreign Office types to be working hard over the Christmas period, I hope everything possible is being done to prevent the execution of Akmal Shaikh.

Akmal Shaikh is a Briton apparently caught trafficking heroin in China. The Chinese authorities have neglected to take into account his history of mental illness and plan to execute him on 29th December.

Even if he was indeed smuggling a shedload of smack and is actually as sane as a plank of wood it is appalling that he faces state-sanctioned murder in the name of ‘justice’. The British government is firmly opposed to the death penalty and must make clear to the Chinese authorities that killing this British citizen would be totally unacceptable.

Nearly a million Britons got involved in the Facebook campaign to get Rage Against the Machine to the Christmas No 1 spot. Wouldn’t it be great if even half that number of people did something to try to help save Akmal Shaikh’s life?

Human rights campaigners at Reprieve have got a suggested message you can send to Gordon Brown and the Chinese ambassador via email. It will only take a couple of minutes of your time.

I am sad to hear about Peter Tatchell’s problems. Will the Lib Dems in Oxford East be celebrating?

December 16, 2009

Veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has announced that he will not be standing for Parliament at the next election. Tatchell has revealed that he suffers from brain damage sustained in the course of duty – i.e. after being beaten up by Mugabe’s bodyguards and by neo-Nazis in Moscow. He believes he no longer has the energy to run for Parliament and so is cancelling his candidacy for the Green Party in the constituency of Oxford East.

As an admirer of Tatchell for his years of dedicated campaigning efforts, it is sad to hear that he is afflicted by such health concerns. The world needs more people like Peter – he’s someone who is utterly consistent in his principles and undoubtedly very brave.

Obviously I don’t agree with him 100% on every issue, him being a Green Party activist and all, but the man deserves the biggest respect from anyone who takes an interest in the cause of promoting human rights . Also: once upon a time Tatchell also emailed over to me an article he’d written about religion that I wanted to print in a student secular society newsletter. He has won my loyalty.

On a party political level, the news is also disappointing. Oxford East is currently held by Labour MP Andrew ‘Smithy’ Smith. I like Andrew Smith and thinks he deserves to remain in Parliament representing the good people of Oxford East. He is in a vulnerable position – he won by only 963 votes in the 2005 general election with the Lib Dems coming second.

Peter Tatchell’s candidacy as a Green would probably have split the middle-class, left-leaning but anti-Labour vote. A lot of people who previously have supported the Lib Dems may have been attracted to Tatchell as a high profile political activist and so would have opted to vote Green instead. End result = Smithy secure. Tatchell’s withdrawal from the race obviously changes the dynamics somewhat to the Liberals’ advantage.

In conclusion: I’m sad about Tatchell’s problems and hope he will be able to carry on campaigning in different arenas, plus I’m worried that this news will boost the electoral hopes of Labour’s main opponents in Oxford East.

Gaddafi madness.

November 18, 2009

Guido Fawkes and those who like to leave comments at his blog often refer to Gordon Brown as the “Prime Mentalist” because they think that he is a bit mad.

But imagine if your country’s leader was not only very genuinely eccentric, but he doesn’t tolerate any criticism. In fact, despite his behaviour being so odd, there’s no way of actually removing him from power without resorting to revolution. People who oppose him can get locked up for years without trial. Guido and his fans would find themselves behind bars if they made similar kinds of jokes about this guy.

Another problem is that despite this leader being quite unhinged and unpleasant, his country happens to contain a lot of natural resources. Powerful people around the world are therefore happy to do business with him rather than criticise his regime too forcefully.   

Imagine if your country was ruled by Muammar “It wasn’t Jesus on the cross it was his stunt double” Gaddafi!

Racist party forced not to be racist?

October 15, 2009

The BNP have agreed to amend their constitution so that they do not discriminate on the grounds of race and religion. Here’s a BBC News report on the story (complete with a video featuring that moron Richard Barnbrook talking into two phones at the same time in the background). The BNP were forced to do this because the Equalities and Human Rights Commission had brought a legal case against their constitutional ban on non-whites becoming party members.

Here is the EHRC press release:

BNP: Commission wins legal case over constitution and membership criteria 
  
The Equality and Human Rights Commission announced today that it has won its legal case against the British National Party. The Commission has agreed to adjourn the case following the BNP’s confirmation that it will accept the Commission’s requirement that it change its constitution and membership criteria.  The BNP has also agreed to not accept any new members until its new constitution comes into force.
 
In an order issued at the Central London County Court this morning, the BNP has agreed to use all reasonable endeavours to revise its constitution so that it does not discriminate, either directly or indirectly on any “protected characteristic” – for example on the grounds of race, ethnic or religious status – as defined in clause 4 of the Equality Bill. These changes must be carried out as soon as reasonably practicable, and no later than three months from today.
 
The order also states that from 15th October 2009, until the new constitution comes into effect, BNP Chairman Nick Griffin will close the membership of the Party to all new membership applications and prevent the Party from accepting into membership any new member.
 
The case has been adjourned until 16th January 2010.
 
John Wadham, Group Director Legal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “We are pleased that the Party has conceded this case and agreed to all of the Commission’s requirements. Political parties, like any other organisation are obliged to respect the law and not discriminate against people. 
 
“It is unfortunate that the BNP spent several months before conceding and dealing properly with our legal requirements. We will be monitoring the BNP’s compliance with this court order on membership, and its other legal obligations, including to its constituents.”
 
Background to the case:
The Commission has a statutory duty, under the Equality Act 2006, to enforce the provisions of the Act and to work towards the elimination of unlawful discrimination. This duty includes preventing discrimination by political parties.
 
The Commission sent a letter before action on 22nd June 2009 to the BNP setting out its concerns about the party’s constitution and membership criteria which appear to restrict membership to those within what the BNP regards as particular “ethnic groups” and those whose skin colour is white. This exclusion is contrary to the Race Relations Act which the party is legally obliged to comply with.
 
The Commission asked the BNP to provide written undertakings that it would amend its constitution and membership criteria to ensure and to make transparent that it does not discriminate against potential or actual members on racial grounds. 
 
Following the BNP’s failure to comply with these requirements, on 24 August 2009, the Commission issued county court proceedings (under sections 24 and 25(5) of the Equality Act) against the Nick Griffin and two other party officials, Simon Darby and Tanya Jane Lumby.

Whilst I would be pleased to see the BNP lose a lot of money if it has to pay for the costs of the case, I’m not entirely comfortable with this situation.

As a fellow Paintbrusher has argued previously, the best way for anti-fascists to defeat the BNP is politically –  through political activism amongst the communities where people are voting for them.  Taking them on legally may have a place in these efforts (the Public Order Act 1936 is generally thought to have helped damage Mosley and the BUF) but should not be relied upon.

The headline at Yahoo UK is ‘BNP to accept non-whites’. People glancing at Yahoo’s summary of today’s news events could interpret that as the BNP voluntarily doing away with their racist rules. Even the BBC story’s headline – ‘BNP to consider non-white members’ – sounds like the BNP leadership choosing to moderate itself rather than being forced to comply with the law. Will people understand that a legal case had been brought against the BNP and that Nick Griffin is accepting defeat?

There is a danger that the outcome of the case will change the BNP cosmetically, allowing them to declare that they are no longer racist in the eyes of the law, but of course will not alter the racist political ideology at the heart of the party and will not undermine their popular appeal. Could this case in fact make the BNP seem more mainstream and respectable and make it harder to expose them as extremists? 

On top of this, the BNP will claim to their supporters that the party’s internal affairs are being interfered with by the ‘Politically Correct elite’ etc who are sneakily using their legal power to damage the BNP because they cannot defeat them fairly in democratic debate. The BNP will bang on about the supposed legal double standard which allows the formation of organisations such as the National Black Police Association but does not allow a ‘rights for whites’ political party. Perhaps this will reinforce the sense of alienation and victimhood felt by many BNP voters.

In our democracy we cannot use the law to force racists to stop holding racist views. Political solutions are required for dealing with the growth of the BNP. Although this case has been a legal defeat for the BNP, we cannot be sure that it is politically an anti-fascist victory.