In this Newsletter, we ask whether Shamima Begum is a victim or terrorist, conclude our series on modern slavery, outline Amnesty’s submission to the review of the Human Rights Act, and raise concerns about the number of Roma children who still have to apply for settled status. But we start with the news about the appointment of Amnesty’s new secretary general.
Amnesty’s New Secretary General
mard is the new secretary general of Amnesty International. Since 2016, she has served as special rapporteur at the United Nations for extrajudicial killings and has investigated a number of state-sanctioned killings, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. She described the state of human rights across the world as ‘troubling’ and ‘under assault’. She has also been highly critical of the lack of response by various countries, including the UK, to violations of human rights by the Saudi state and China. For an interview with her, see https://www.theguardian.com/law/2021/mar/23/agnes-callamard-human-rights-un-europe-amnesty-international
Shamima Begum – Victim or Terrorist?
It is estimated that between 2014 and 2018, more than 170 people have been stripped of their UK citizenship or right to residency under rules allowing such moves for the ‘public good’ where the individual is eligible for a passport from another country, even if s/he has no links with that country. In 2019, Sajid Javid, then Home Secretary, removed UK citizenship on security grounds from Shamima Begum, who joined the Islamic State in Syria at the age of 15 and was then 9 months pregnant in a Syrian refugee camp. As a result, she is effectively stateless. Though her parents are of Bangladeshi origin, she has never visited the country. Begum has since challenged the Home Secretary’s decision and wished to return to the UK to do so.
Last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that she should be allowed to do this as she could not effectively appeal against the decision from the camp where she lives. The Home Office appealed this decision to the Supreme Court on the grounds that to allow her to return to the UK would create significant security risks. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court stated that her rights were not breached when she was refused permission to return to the UK. Lord Reed, announcing the ruling, said that the right to a fair hearing ‘did not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public’. This means that Begum has to conduct her appeal from the camp where she lives. However, the camp will not allow her lawyer to visit her. Her case, therefore, seems likely to remain in limbo until she can move to a safer place in which to conduct her appeal.
Amnesty International UK’s Legal Programme Director described Sajid Javid’s decision at the time as ‘legally and morally questionable’. Amnesty’s view is that, if the government has reasonable grounds to believe that any person returning to the UK has committed crimes under international law or which constitute serious human rights abuses, it should ensure that the individual is investigated and charged appropriately. Sir Anish Kapoor recently issued a statement describing the Supreme Court’s ruling as a ‘disgraceful indictment of our national conscience’. Dr Gina Vale, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalism at King’s College, argues that ‘ultimately the only solution is for each individual to be repatriated, face the UK justice system and go through a process of thorough and tailored deradicalization and rehabilitation’. What are your views? Let us know at email@example.com
- The European Parliament adopted a resolution declaring the entire 27-member European Union a ‘freedom zone’ for LGBTI people. This was in response to the rising homophobia in Poland and elsewhere. At least 100 towns in Poland have declared they are free of ‘LGBT ideology’.
- Jihyun Park, who took part in an Amnesty Talk in Ely about her experiences in and defection from North Korea, is standing as a candidate in local council elections in May.
- Police forces are to be obliged to record, on an experimental basis and awaiting the Law Commission’s review, violent offences motivated by misogyny as hate crimes, a practice already done in Nottinghamshire.
A Day in the Lives of Global Modern Slaves
- In its annual report on human rights around the world, Amnesty International says the UK’s increasingly hostile attitude towards upholding and preserving human rights legislation raises ‘serious concerns.’
- Switzerland voted in favour of banning face coverings in public, including the burka or niqab worn by Muslim women. In response, the Head of Women’s Rights at Amnesty International Switzerland said ‘the ban…cannot be viewed as a measure that liberates women. On the contrary, it is a dangerous and symbolic policy that violates the rights to freedom of expression and religion.’
- With a Presidential decree issued on 20 March, Turkey has withdrawn from the 2012 Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, which is the first convention aimed particularly at combating and preventing violence against women and domestic violence.
The sun rises in New Zealand. Loto and his fellow workers spread out across the fields to pick plants for the nursery owned by a Samoan chief or matai
. Early morning in the Russian port of Anadyr. Ghulam and other workmen shipped in from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have been clearing a drainage ditch for three hours. Only now are they allowed rest, food, and water. Mid-morning. Surya, an Indonesian, works six days a week on a Brisbane construction site, earning AUS$150. His employer takes the rest of his wages for ‘expenses’. Late morning and Hae-Won sits at a sewing machine in a huge warehouse in Pyongyang with hundreds of other girls and women. They sew for ten hours a day and all talking is banned. The clothes they make are sold in high-end shops all over the West.
Noon in Chittagong. Today, 13-year-old Devangi is to be illegally married against her will. Her husband-to-be is 31. She was top of her class and wanted to be a doctor. Kamran is eight. With his father and seven brothers and sisters he works in a brick kiln on the outskirts of Lahore. He and his siblings were all born here and can never leave as his father’s debt to the kiln owner just keeps on increasing. In Azerbaijan a Nigerian girl called Isioma prepares lunch for a wealthy family. Live-in cook, housekeeper, and nanny, she is unpaid and is regularly beaten by her employer. The Athens afternoon is sweltering, but hundreds of tourists mill around the ruins and monuments. Inconspicuous amongst them are a group of women and children, trafficked from Bulgaria, to pick pockets or to beg.
Cambridge, and the air is cooling. Kiara, Kym and Kylie have just arrived in the three-bedroom flat from London. Their pimp doles out cocaine and heroin. A few days here and they will be moved again, to a different pop-up brothel. Early evening. The gang of 50 indigenous men clear Amazonian jungle with machetes, chain saws and tractors for loggers, cattle and soybean farmers. They do this seven days a week, every day of the year. The sun has set, but in New York a million lights turn the streets back to day. In one restaurant Jegan, originally from Sri Lanka, begins his 12-hour shift preparing vegetables and cleaning everything from cutlery to toilets.
All of these examples of modern slavery are based on real or representative cases. Overnight in every country in the world, as the moon rises and sets and dawn breaks once more, people like these labour and suffer, mostly out of sight, exploited by others to meet an insatiable demand for every imaginable service and type of work. They are modern slaves with no control over their lives, and over 40 million are believed to exist in the world today. If you want to know more about global modern slavery, and how to help, the best resource is the international human rights group Walk Free https://www.walkfree.org/who-we-are/
and there are several campaigns you can support with a click right now: https://www.walkfree.org/you/
Review of the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998: Amnesty’s Submission
As we reported in our last Newsletter, the government launched a review of the HRA in December 2020. Amnesty published its 15-page submission to this review in March 2021. In brief, it sees no case for reforming the Act. Since coming into force, Amnesty believes that the HRA has been highly successful in its purpose in promoting and protecting the human rights of people affected by the decisions, actions and inactions of the state. While Amnesty welcomes the commitment given in the Review to the UK remaining a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and to maintaining the articles of the ECHR that the Human Rights Act relates to, it is concerned by both the announcement of this Review and by its terms of reference. To read the full submission by Amnesty to the review, see https://tinyurl.com/ymecbuz3
Roma Children and Settled Status
Following Brexit, all EU parents and their children have to apply for settled or pre-settled status by 30 June 2021. The vast majority of Roma communities living in the UK – estimated to be around 200,000 –
are EU citizens, but many Roma parents are not aware that such applications need to be made even if their children were born here. After June, those without this status will lose access to health and other public services and may also face deportation. It is estimated that up to a quarter of Roma children have not yet applied. To apply, you need good English language skills and the ability to deal with complicated forms. The National Teaching Union and Amnesty International’s Roma Support Group are campaigning to help Roma families complete their application forms. To access the toolkit https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/RSG-Toolkit-Roma-EUSS-outreach-for-LAs.pdf
More Good News
More Bad News
- The European Parliament voted in favour of introducing legislation in June that ensures European countries are held accountable when they harm, or contribute to harming, human rights.
- The United States, the European Union, Canada and Britain have taken joint action to impose sanctions on senior Chinese officials over human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region.
- The lives of essential workers from refugee backgrounds are being celebrated in a new on-line photography exhibition. It tells their stories, including their journey to the UK, and their current roles. The exhibition continues until 31 May. See www.leavehomesavelives.co.uk.
- Individuals’ human rights were potentially breached in more than 500 cases where ‘do not resuscitate’ decisions were made during the coronavirus pandemic according to the Care Quality Commission.
- 18 March was the 5th Anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal, designed to stop refugees asking for asylum in Europe. It left thousands, including vulnerable women and unaccompanied children, in inhumane, overcrowded, unhealthy and dangerous conditions.
- For nearly eight years, the Australian government has locked up men, women and children in its brutal offshore detention regime in Papua New Guinea and 134 refugees and people seeking asylum are still being detained there.
The inaugural Alfred Dubs Lecture on Migration and Refugees was held at the University of Cambridge on 18 March 2021. Speakers were Lord Dubs himself and Professor Jacqueline Bhabha from the Harva
rd School of Public Health. You can hear the lectures on https://youtu.be/hy5ng9EwZVY
The Festival of Social Justice takes place between April 16 and May 31. Forty local Amnesty International groups have created an exciting online programme of speakers, music, poetry evenings, photography exhibitions, theatre and panel discussions. For the full programme, see https://www.amnesty.org.uk/groups/central-england/festival-social-justice-event-programme
In the BBC Radio 4 series The Battles that Won our Freedoms,
Phil Tinline asks historians to trace the story of struggles for liberty in Britain and invites those still involved to give their take. Among the topics are Gay Rights, The Abolition of Chattel Slavery and Freedom from Unlawful Detention in which lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith explains how he used habeas corpus
on behalf of a British detainee in Guantanamo Bay. First aired in 2019 the ten episodes, or two Omnibus episodes, are available on BBC iPlayer or at BBC Radio 4 - The Battles That Won Our Freedoms
There were two sections in the last Newsletter that will become regular features each month: Good News/Bad News and Look Hear. We would love to receive your suggestions for next month’s issue. And we would also like to hear your thoughts on anything in this or previous Newsletters. Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org
With best wishes,
Amnesty International Ely City group
Twelve-year-old child bride/Dhaka Tribune
Agnes Collamard/ Foreign and Commonwealth Office, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Good news/ lgbt elyssa-fahndrich-2y1W1l4a2VI-unsplash
Modern slavery/ Leena Ksaifi - The George Kossaifi Organization creative commons
Romani children/ Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons