This year we can help to make history. Things are happening internationally because of a new global awareness. In 2013 at meetings in Oslo and Geneva high-level rep-resentatives of most of the countries in the world came together to learn about and debate the nuclear threat to our planet. Following this, in November in a special session of the UN, 125 nations signed a resolution calling for the nuclear nations to put aside these genocidal weapons for the sake of humanity.
ICAN UK is collaborating with Christian CND in their annual Embassies Walk. Participants meet at St Martin in the Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, for a briefing and a short service in the chapel downstairs and then go out in small groups for meetings at various embassies. The focus is usually on those countries that are most critically involved or where we think we can make a difference. Behind this is a great deal of work: arranging appointments
where possible, preparing letters to be delivered to the ambassadors, preparing briefing papers, arranging routes and so on; but it also depends on people to come on the day to make up the teams.
It has probably never been more important to do this kind of supportive work. The nuclear-armed nations claim the right to maintain this world-threatening and intrin-sically immoral status for their own ‘security’. When it comes to the next big meetings, in Mexico in February (Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons) and in New York in April (NPT Prepcom), the delegates of non-nuclear nations should be able to stand up with more confidence to demand a nuclear-free world, knowing the depth of public support in this country.
Therefore we are planning an expanded programme of embassy visits this year. Can you help? Particularly, are you able to join us on the day: Thursday 13th February? We start at 10am. Please get this in your diary and contact Angela Rayner of Christian CND for further information.
On Saturday 11th January Trafalgar Square was a scene of stalls, placards and orange suits as around 250 people gathered to protest about 12 years of Guantanamo, its ‘satellite’ secret prisons, kidnap, rendition, torture, indefinite imprisonment without evidence, charges or trials, and a complete upending of everything ever learned about refining justice, human rights and legal processes to achieve fairness both for the innocent and the guilty. In short, we marked 12 years of injustice and deliberate lawlessness and savagery.
Only those with a perverted outlook could ever think flying planes into the World Trade Centre was going to have a good outcome but the consequences were not inevitable. A very weak US Presidency was humiliated and over reacted by blaming large swathes of the Muslim world and Islam. To salvage credibility with US electors a White House cabal (with great assistance from the UK) planned invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan a random trawl of ‘foreign’ Muslims netted hundreds without any evidence whatever and authority granted itself the right to torture and abuse them as if each had gruesomely murdered someone’s dearest defenceless granny. Hundreds were simply let go but about 150 still remain at Guantanamo branded ‘the worst of the worst’. Lawlessness was a calculated part of the package as was the deliberately misleading publicity, branding the totally innocent criminals.
Shaker may not be typical of the prisoners but he usefully illustrates the absurdity. Some were Wolverhampton warehousemen hoping to learn more about themselves and Islam. Like Shaker most abhor violence. But Shaker is of exceptional quality. Being dissatisfied with putting money in the collection he decided to uproot his family to do charitable work in Afghanistan. Charity and consideration for others runs in his veins yet the US has visited the full weight of its lawless vendetta on him for 12 years; longer than Nazi war criminals who at least had evidence and trials to justify punishment.
People ask why he isn’t home. I don’t know. I ask why he was ever there in the first place. Cameron says he should return to Battersea. Obama says Guantanamo should close. Nothing happens. The US is risk averse and Congress argues for indefinite detention. It is so incredible that anyone should be imprisoned for being charitable that it’s a hard story to sell and the total absence of legal process and evidence opens the floodgates to speculation and innuendo. How to decide if someone is innocent if no one knows and authority spends its waking hours covering its backside; and no one admits to getting everything wrong? It’s unlikely anyone at any level of the administration, the secret services or the military will admit wrongdoing. MI6 are up to their necks in it too, having been closely involved from day one.
Perhaps closure is delayed to try to keep secret the truth? Perhaps closure is delayed to allow protest to atrophy?
No doubt Guantanamo will reverberate through the centuries as a milestone of barbarism that set back the course of everything we hold dear. Since the ‘civilised’ states who wrote the Human Rights Act and international law have so openly regressed to the condition of savages no one can ever see them in the same light and they will not be able credibly to spread the word about the advantages of humane and just process. The vilification of Islam has consequences for the fabric of our communities with young men being in fear of bigoted authority watching them. And Edward Snowden has helped us all understand the reality of this anxiety.
There is a fear that even when Guantanamo closes the story will not end. Until it is widely understood that reverting to barbarism and savagery is unacceptable, the example of Guantanamo will remain in the ‘back of the drawer’ ready to be rolled out again in a crisis. Once again the public could be expected to go along with it and feel grateful that authority acts to protect our future, when the opposite is true. There can be no peace without justice. Apparently totalitarian practices are possible by supposed democracies. Why not again?
A fuller article Why we should all care about Guantanamo is now on the website; apologies for the delay.
On 30th November 2013 I went to the Stop The War International Anti-War Conference. This was held at a large and pleasant venue previously unknown to me, the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, so I was delighted to find it packed with delegates - apparently 400 had registered.
The first session I attended was on Merchants of Death, Drones and the Arms Trade. I missed the first speaker, Chris Cole on drones, and heard a Bahraini woman, Ala'a Shehabi, who told a shocking story of a corrupt regime, with widespread torture, while people struggle for basic democracy. There are reported to be 2,500 political prisoners. Meanwhile the British Government cosies up to this regime, the Bahraini Royal Family were honoured guests at the recent Jubilee celebrations, they were of course invited to the Defence and Security Equipment International Exhibition (DSEi), and we license arms sales to them of items that can be used against the population.
A question was asked about the Grand Prix Motor Racing event held in Bahrain. This is a nightmare for ordinary people. Those living near the track are removed and sometimes tortured, security is massive, no protests are allowed. There is more information on www.stoptheshipment.org.
Jean Lambert, Green MEP, then spoke on drones. She emphasised that we now have only the first generation of these unmanned systems, which are getting smaller, and could be used for carrying poisons in the future, as well as bombs. The technology is fairly simple, so most countries are probably developing them. They are recruiting sergeants for terrorism, and a proper legal framework is urgently needed. Caroline Lucas has an Early Day Motion on them and there is an all-party working group in Parliament led by Tom Watson MP. For more information look at www.stopwar.org.uk.
I then heard a very interesting speaker from Ireland, Edward Horgan, on Nato Expansion and War. He belongs to an organisation ‘Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance’. After briefly speaking on the history of Nato and the reasons for its establishment (now defunct) he spoke of his present activities in Ireland, protesting at Shannon Airport because of its use by the USA for rendition flights and transporting of troops and equipment. This is not allowed under International Law as Ireland is a neutral country, but on the other hand Article 43 of the United
Nations Charter speaks of ‘all for one and one for all’ co-operation - this is being cynically misused. Nato now has 28 states as full members, 23 of whom are EU members, many nowhere near the North Atlantic! It seeks Partnership States worldwide and usurps the role of the UN. It undertakes resource wars disguised as humanitarian intervention. He mentioned the engineering of the Kosovo war - which is still a great source of disagreement!
Another speaker was Steve Bell, head of policy at the Communication Workers Union. He gave a very interesting run-down of the history of Nato, no room for that here! But he also mentioned that the Pacific area/India and China hold half of the world's population so Nato will want to be involved there - he predicts continuous protest. He also mentioned that Nato members are obliged to host weapons on their soil if required to - even if this is completely unacceptable to their citizens. Belgium for example is having to buy expensive Euro fighter-jets from Lockheed Martin under this requirement. However, he praised a big Anti-Nato women’s group in Halifax Canada which managed to stop Canada buying stealth bombers.
Finally I heard Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele and others speak on Syria - I will write about that for the March issue of KPC News.
A local Tamil resident came to our December meeting and spoke about the human rights issues following the civil war in Sri Lanka. Having read some correspondence in the Richmond & Twickenham Times, he was alarmed to discover the UK is supplying the Rajapaksa regime with weapons. We were able to give him contact details for Amnesty and Campaign Against the Arms Trade, as well as the local TRAKNAT (Twickenham, Richmond And Kingston Network against the Arms Trade) group.
Since this government came to power Vince Cable, as Business Secretary, has licensed the sale of £9.5m weapons to Sri Lanka and 327 Open Licences to arms brokers and dealers for the supply of unlimited quantities of arms which have included assault rifles, rifles, small arms, ammunition and combat shotguns.
Amnesty’s latest report on Sri Lanka says: “The government continued to arbitrarily detain, torture or ill-treat people and subject people to enforced disappearance. It failed to address most instances of impunity for violations of human rights and humanitarian law. The government rejected repeated allegations of war crimes committed by both sides of the conflict that ended in 2009, prompting Amnesty International to reiterate calls for an independent international investigation.”
During Sri Lanka’s armed conflict (which ended in May 2009), and in particular during its final bloody months, according to UN estimates 40,000 civilians or more may have been killed. While many died at the hands of the Tamil Tigers, witnesses have alleged that government forces were responsible for the vast majority of casualties.
Sri Lanka has among the highest number of reported enforced disappearances in the world. While many of these happened during the armed conflict, it is still an ongoing problem, with government opponents, journalists and other activists among the victims. This now even has a term – “white van kidnappings”, where people who challenge the government’s narrative are last seen being taken away in trademark white vans. Some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the UN since the 1980s. But the actual number of disappeared is probably much higher, with at least 30,000 cases alleged up to 1994 and many thousands reported after that.
Torture in police custody is rampant. Sri Lanka’s national human rights commission recorded 86 complaints of torture in the first three months of 2013 alone. In 2012, Amnesty International documented at least five cases of deaths in custody after beatings or other ill-treatment by the police.
Journalists continue to suffer intimidation, threats and attacks for reports that are critical of the government. At least 15 have been killed since 2006, and according to Sri Lanka’s Free Media Movement more than 80 journalists have fled Sri Lanka since 2005. Media in the war-torn and Tamil-majority north are particularly at risk. In July 2013, Kunalan Dileep, a journalist with the Jaffna-based Uthayan newspaper was assaulted. This was the third attack against staff of the paper in six months, none of which have been effectively investigated. In late October, police broke up a Free Media Movement workshop in Colombo and interrogated two representatives of the International Federation of Journalists who the police claimed violated their visas by attending the event.
Residents of northern Sri Lanka have reported regular harassment and threats by Sri Lankan military personnel, including attempts to restrict freedom of expression and association. There were widespread reports of army intimidation around the recent local elections in the Northern Province. In the south, four people were killed on 1st August when the army was brought in to quell a demonstration of villagers demanding clean drinking water. In August, President Rajapaksa announced that he was setting up a new ministry to oversee the police, but the new ministry will be headed by a former Army Chief of Staff, and Rajapaksa still retains direct control over both ministries.
Members of minority religious groups like Christian and Muslims have been targeted in a number of attacks by supporters of Sinhala Buddhist organizations in the post-war years, with concerns raised about inadequate police protection and response. In October, the Bodu Bala Sena, a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist organization, announced that it would resume agitation against the sale of halal foods in Sri Lanka. Supporters of the group have been involved in violent attacks on Muslims and Muslim places of worship - in some cases complicity by the police and the ruling party has also been alleged. More than 35 threats and attacks on Christian places of worship have also been reported since January 2013.
Amnesty’s statements (PDF, www.amnesty.org).
Crimestoppers! You have a right to report a crime. It is a crime to threaten or to prepare for mass murder. Trident is the crime.
We will gather outside Reading Police Station, Castle Street, Reading, RG1 7TH, on Saturday 8th February 2014, at noon. Forming an orderly queue, with placards and banners, one or two at a time we will enter the police station (leaving placards outside) to report the crime, ask for a crime number and to press for an immediate criminal investigation.
This is not a stunt – it is a genuine attempt to make sure that the various crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, that are being planned and prepared for at AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield are properly and impartially investigated by the police. It is their job to enforce the law and international humanitarian law is part of UK law. Please note that the Nuremberg Trials verified that international humanitarian law is superior to state law.
At the moment, the government is pumping millions of pounds into upgrading Aldermaston and Burghfield in preparation for the renewal of Trident, an act which is in direct contravention of its obligations under Article VI of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The replacement of the UK nuclear weapons system is an attempt to force the UK into many more decades of nuclear dependency.
A downloadable briefing* includes ideas for slogans and banners, information on the legal and humanitarian issues, and details of a workshop/briefing to be held in Reading on the evening before the event (accommodation available). Although this might be helpful, you do not have to attend it.
Some members of Kingston Peace Council/CND will be travelling by train to Reading from Richmond or Twickenham on the Saturday morning. If you wish to meet up with us, please contact Rosemary on 020 8399 2547 for details.
* A full briefing for the event is available to download at http://actionawe.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Reporting_a_Crime.pdf (PDF).
A day of creative and direct action with 7 miles of knitted wool power!
Since October 2012 a huge number of knitters and crocheters have been creating a massive Peace Scarf which is intended to stretch between the Aldermaston and Burghfield nuclear weapons sites – a total of 7 miles. It will be a big woolly protest, in a pink, powerful and pro-active way, against the UK’s ongoing involvement with nuclear weapons, and the money our Government is intending to spend in 2016.
Your help is needed, so dust down your needles and hooks and get cracking. You are asked to knit 1 metre (39.5ins) of the scarf, 60cm (23.5ins) wide. Use any stitch and any wool, in any shade of pink ... suggestion: approx. 80 - 90 stitches wide - dk size 7 needles/4.5mm, or crochet dk chain approx 75 st - use a tape measure, it really varies!
Then on Saturday 9th August 2014 join Jaine Rose and other knitters to unroll this beautiful woolly scarf, and have a day of fun and funky guerrilla wool-fare as they yarn-bomb the route between the two sites.
After the event, the scarf will be taken down and re-purposed in to blankets for local hospices, emergency areas and war zones. Nothing wasted.
This Christmas, people passing St James's Church in Picadilly saw the church almost hidden behind a life size copy of the Israeli Wall.
The wall, an interactive art installation, was a dramatic part of a cultural festival, Bethlehem Unwrapped, hosted by St James's Piccadilly lasting from the 23rd December to 5th January. The aim was to get behind the romanticised Christmas card images and show what life is really like for the people of Bethlehem. Visitors were encouraged to add messages to the wall and it was also used as a screen for the projection of videos about the Israeli Wall.
From the 29th December onwards, the cultural events in the church were almost nightly, and the church was full for the four I went to: a comedy night, the film Jeremy Hardy versus the Israeli Army, a debate, and a rousing final night concert. There were Zionist protesters outside the church on the comedy night and also on the night of the debate. The Israeli Embassy was due to take part in the debate but changed its mind and their case was put by Alan Johnson (from BICOM a pro Israeli pressure group). Johnson's claim that the wall was an effective response to suicide bombing was answered by Jeff Halper from ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition). The final night concert was a fitting culmination. Artists included the Tallis Scholars, Nigel Kennedy, readings and poetry, and finally we were lead out of the church by a team of Dabke dancers. One panel of the wall was released and the dancing continued, in the rain, on and around the panel.
The proceeds of the festival will go to the Amos Trust and the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem. You can find out much more about the festival and see a video of the wall from the website: http://bethlehem-unwrapped.org/. There is also a good article about the project by Lucy Winkett the vicar at St James's at theguardian.com/commentisfree.
Lucy Winkett and her Bishop, Richard Chartres, have received a good deal of adverse comment and she would welcome letters of support sent to the Bishop's PA.
We wish to express our gratitude to an anonymous donor who has again very kindly paid for the hire of KPC’s meeting room at Surbiton Hill Methodist Church for six months.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Gill Hurle
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND