Kingston Peace News - May 2019

The newsletter of Kingston Peace Council / Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Nuclear worries

The system of international arms control is dangerously close to breakdown, raising the risk of nuclear war to a greater degree than was the case during the Cold War. This is the finding of the House of Lords International Relations Committee.

Russia was blamed for breaching its INF Treaty obligations while efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons was undermined by the US.

Anti arms sales appeal heard

Judges’ ruling awaited in CAAT legal action

a group of protestors outside the Royal Courts of Justice with a banner reading 'Stop Arming Saudi Arabia'
Protesters outside the Court of Appeal on April 9 2019

In early April members of KPC/CND joined fellow protestors from a wide range of organisations outside the Appeal Court in London. They were there to support Campaign Against Arms Trade that is seeking to overturn a 2017 High Court ruling into the legality of selling arms to Saudi Arabia. CAAT argued that the UK Government was breaching its own export licensing rules that are supposed to prevent sales of arms where there is a “clear risk that the arms might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

The High Court had denied a judicial review despite CAAT’s arguments that weapons from the UK were being used in Yemen in ways that clearly breached the UK’s guidelines.

The judges ruled in 2017 that the issue of arms sales for use in Yemen was “the subject of intense, genuine concern and debate” by the Government officials who, it was claimed, had better access to the consequences than an NGO such as CAAT.

Secret evidence played a significant part in the 2017 case and the court delivered a closed judgement as well as a public ruling.

This was despite the fact that in the public ruling the judges acknowledged that a senior civil servant, Edward Bell, had briefed the then trade minister Sajid Javid saying “My gut tells me we should suspend [the arms sales]. This would be prudent and cautious given the acknowledged gaps in knowledge about Saudi operations.”

The judges also quoted from a February 2016 memo by the head of policy at the export control organisation at Mr Javid’s department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who wrote: “We are concerned that FCO/MoD appear only to have insight into Saudi processes in respect of pre-planned strikes and have very little insight into so-called ‘dynamic’ strikes – where the pilot in the cockpit decides when to despatch munitions – which account for a [significant proportion of all strikes]”.

A bystander

And the judges in the 2017 case went further, saying, “The UK is a bystander in this volatile conflict, is not a member of the Coalition, and the MoD is not involved in identifying targets and does not have access to the operational intelligence.”

Despite all this they issued the perverse decision that the Government’s “knowledge and experience of Saudi Arabia borne of its close contacts, place it well to make the necessary assessment” of whether human rights violations had occurred through the use of British weapons.”

They also concluded that the Saudi-led coalition was not deliberately targeting civilians and that Saudi Arabia remained genuinely committed to compliance with international humanitarian law.

In appealing this judgement CAAT has now argued that two investigative reports by the UN's panel of experts on Yemen have concluded that the Saudi-led coalition has in fact violated international humanitarian law.

Speaking on the first day of the Appeal Court hearing CAAT’s Andrew Smith said “UK-made weapons have played a central role in the four-year Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen.

“The results have been catastrophic, with tens of thousands of people killed and vital infrastructure destroyed.

“We believe that these arms sales are immoral, and are confident that the Court of Appeal will agree that they are unlawful.”

CAAT”s challenge asks that the UK Government just acts in accordance with its own rules for the sale of arms.

Despite overwhelming evidence of widespread violations in Yemen, the Government has licensed the sale of more than £4.7 billion of weapons to Saudi Arabia since the conflict began.

Additional weapons are licensed under the secretive 'Open Licence' system, meaning the real figure may be much higher.

If arms export rules do not prevent the use of UK weapons in bombing that has destroyed schools, hospitals, funerals, weddings and food supplies, then, asks CAAT, what would they prevent?

The hearing continued for two days and the results are still awaited. CAAT has indicated that it may still be some weeks before the Appeal Court verdict is made known.

See more articles on Saudi arms sales below.

Israel’s annexation of Judea and Samaria raising concerns

Israel’s annexation of Judea and Samaria on the West Bank is “reaching the point of no return.”

Financial Times journalist David Gardner reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told one of the country’s news channels that he will not uproot anyone among the Jewish settlers and will not transfer any sovereignty to the Palestinians.

Supported unquestioningly by the Trump administration and buoyed up by his recent re-election victory Netanyahu continues to encourage the building of settlements deemed illegal under international law.

His own biographer, Anshel Pfeffer, writing in Haaretz before the election outcome was known said Netanyahu “will do anything to stay in office. Stoke Israelis’ darkest fears, appeal to racist demons and undermine the pillars of Israel’s incomplete and limited democracy to fend off the charges of his rank corruption”.

Supporting the Right to Return – London demo

By Mary Holmes

protestors with a banners reading 'Free Palestine' and others
Demonstrators in Kensington

On 30 March there was a protest in High Street Kensington – the nearest protesters were allowed to the Israeli embassy. The London protest was to mark the first anniversary of the start of a year long protest by the people of Gaza. The year had seen nearly 200 protesters, including paramedics, journalists and over 40 children, shot dead by Israeli soldiers. Also, over 28,000 people had been shot and severely wounded meaning they – mostly young men – will be permanently disabled and have difficulty supporting themselves and their families.

If KPC members protest we don’t expect to get shot. What happened to the Gazans’ right to ‘life, liberty and security of person’ mentioned at the start of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

We should perhaps first ask ‘Why were the people of Gaza protesting?’ In 1948 Israel took over huge areas of land designated for Palestinians killing some and expelling the rest. Many of those made refugees were settled in the Gaza strip where their descendants still live. They and their families have never been allowed to return home - as refugees are entitled to do in international law.

two protestors with a banners reading 'Gaza End the siege' and 'I'm a protestor please don't shoot me'
Mary Holmes (left) with fellow protestor Diana Mills

Shoot unarmed civilians

Under the banner of ‘The Great March of Return’ the people of Gaza are demanding that they are allowed to go back to their homes. This has been a, very largely, peaceful protest. Protesters though, are confronted by well-protected soldiers who have shown themselves ready to shoot unarmed civilians who are standing some distance away. The soldiers claim they are acting in self-defence.

The people of Gaza also want to see an end to the siege conditions under which they struggle to exist. They live in what is in effect an open-air prison with only very few people allowed to enter or leave. The 25 mile long Gaza strip is about 7 miles wide at its maximum and is one of the most densely populated areas on earth with some 1.8 million citizens. Goods coming into the area are controlled by the Israelis so, for example, lack of building materials has meant houses, bombed by the Israelis, don’t get rebuilt. A totally inadequate electricity supply has resulted in water not being properly treated so that 95% of the water available is unfit for human consumption.

The next demo, for the Nakba protest, will be in Kensington on May 11 2019.

Saudi arms sales – so just who is morally bankrupt? Part I

In a statement that was worthy of comparison with the party slogans of Orwell’s totalitarian state in his novel 1984 Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt last month surpassed even his predecessor Boris Johnson’s arcane witterings.

Hunt opined that ending the sale of UK arms to Saudi Arabia because of their use in Yemen would be “morally bankrupt.” And he went on: “the people of Yemen would be the biggest losers.”

Within the fevered logic that clearly exists in the minds of so many politicians who are apologists for the Saudi regime it is obviously counted as a “loss” if, as a Yemeni civilian, you can no longer count on being obliterated along with your family by a British built and supplied bomb or missile launched from a British built and supplied warplane.

Hunt’s article appeared on the Politico website on the same day that Saudi forces bombed a petrol station next to the entrance to a hospital, killing at least seven people, four of them children.

The attack coincided with the fourth anniversary of the Saudi coalition’s intervention in Yemen’s civil war, which has killed at least 60,000 people, left half the country’s 22 million population food insecure and sparked the worst cholera outbreak in modern history.

Unbelievably crass

It was the fourth anniversary of the conflict that Hunt was seeking to mark in his unbelievably crass article. He wrote: “This is the fourth anniversary of the latest stage of a terrible conflict. Britain will do everything possible to ensure that Yemen’s people do not have to suffer a fifth.”

The logic, if one can dignify it as such, of Hunt’s argument is as follows:

“Britain’s history and our values require us to play our part in making a constructive difference in the Middle East — and our unique links in the region mean that we have the ability to do so.

“Our strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates allows us the opportunity to influence their leaders. Since becoming foreign secretary last July, I have paid two visits to both countries.

“We could, of course, decide to condemn them instead. We could halt our military exports and sever the ties that British governments of all parties have carefully preserved for decades, as critics are urging.

Our influence

“But in doing so we would also surrender our influence and make ourselves irrelevant to the course of events in Yemen. Our policy would be simply to leave the parties to fight it out, while denouncing them impotently from the sidelines.

“That would be morally bankrupt and the people of Yemen would be the biggest losers.”

Let’s set these ‘noble’ sentiments against the words of Radhya Al-Mutawakel, chair of Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemeni-based organisation that has produced a carefully researched and detailed account of the humanitarian cost of the war. Al-Mutawakel states: “It is clear that Saudi and Emirati promises to minimize harm to civilians were empty.”

A former CIA analyst Brucie Riedel has said that “the Royal Saudi Airforce cannot operate without American and British support.”

One could also consider how Hunt has been working to “influence” the course of events in Yemen when he wrote to the German Government pressing it to reconsider its embargo on arms sales to the Saudis.

What a recruit he would be for Orwell’s Ministry of Truth among whose ruling slogans were:

“War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.”

By Phillip Cooper

Saudi arms sales – so just who is morally bankrupt? Part II

man and woman in outdoor coats with trees in the background
Theresa May and husband Philip going to church in her constituency

Theresa May and her predecessor David Cameron have been good for business as far as British arms manufacturers – principally BAE Systems - are concerned. Since 2015 over £4.7 billion of weapons have been sold to Saudi Arabia with a fair proportion of that being used in Yemen.

Since 2014 £344 million worth of weapons have been sold to Israel. Another favoured customer has been Turkey. In recent years the UK has sold an estimated £800 million worth of arms there. In 2017, May became the first Western leader to visit President Recep Erdogan since his military launched a violent crackdown against civilians protesting his increasingly authoritarian rule.

May’s visit secured a £100 million arms deal for BAE Systems to provide equipment for fighter jets, including laser targeting equipment built in Edinburgh. Turkey launched a military operation, “Olive Branch” in the Afrin region in northern Syria in January 2018. Up to 500 civilians were killed in the operation, and 150-300,000 mostly Kurdish civilians were displaced. According to Campaign Against Arms Trade the F-16 fighter planes used by Turkey to bomb Afrin include the BAE laser targeting systems sold by Mrs May.

Closest adviser

The Prime Minister credits her husband, Philip, with being her “closest political adviser”. He is occasionally pictured with her on walking holidays or going to church with his vicar’s daughter wife.

In his working life Mr May is a banker and pension fund expert. He is a senior executive at Capital Group, a US investment company that controls $1.4 trillion in assets. The Group’s business portfolio includes JP Morgan Chase, Philip Morris International, McDonald’s, Amazon and Starbucks. Capital Group also just happen to be significant shareholders in US weapons manufacturer Lockhead Martin and the largest (yes, the largest) shareholder in BAE Systems having amassed some 360,000 shares in the company, up more than 11 percent over the previous quarter. A number of financial commentators believe that this share acquisition may well have contributed to a significant hike in BAE’s share price. Journalists taking a closer interest in Mr May than those in the mainstream press have also noted that Capital Group was linked to the Paradise Papers offshore investment scandal. Satirical magazine Private Eye noted that Philip May's company used offshore law firm Appleby to devise investments in tax havens.

When asked at the time of the scandal about her husband's role, a spokesperson for the UK Prime Minister told reporters: "Mr May is involved in the development of Capital Group’s retirement solutions. He is not an investor but consults with other Capital associates on retirement products and solutions for clients.”

And finally, before we depart from the subject of interesting connections with arms manufacturers let’s consider George Osborne, former Conservative Chancellor and advocate of austerity and now editor-in-chief of the London Evening Standard. When not busy editorializing against both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, Osborne acts as an adviser (remuneration £650,000 per annum) to the research and analysis arm of global investment company BlackRock which also happens to be the fifth largest shareholder in BAE Systems.

As David Cameron once said, in another context, “We’re all in this together”.

By Phillip Cooper

Radioactive issues from Hiroshima to Hinkley Point, from the Bomb to Brexit

The Low Level Radiation Campaign (LLRC) struggles on thanks to the generosity of scientists’ time and donations. The newsletter Radioactive Times is necessarily infrequent. There are a number of items of particular interest for those concerned that radiation is a health risk.

After the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki US scientists carried out testing of dubious quality, treating victims as guinea pigs. Based on crude assessments, rudimentary standards for ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ levels of radiation exposure were adopted. Those results are utterly discredited but argument about ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ levels of radiation exposure rage on, though very much lower doses are the focus of current dispute. Governments and vested interests are dismissive of the idea that low levels are hazardous, probably because of the sensitivity of public confidence in nuclear power generation.

Japanese survivors

Recent measurements of deceased Japanese survivors revealed levels of jaw bone contamination to be potentially lethal. Chernobyl evacuees have reduced life expectancy and suffer increased illnesses and genetic damage far exceeding official predictions. British servicemen working with nuclear submarines have died of diseases like lymphatic cancer and an improbably high proportion of British Christmas Island test veterans contracted pancreatic cancer. Claims are ongoing for ‘war widows’ pensions, hotly disputed by the MoD which has ‘locked up’ the atomic test records.

By agreement most atmospheric bomb testing was suspended in 1963. France continued till 1974 and China till 1980. Atmospheric tests continued by states not party to agreement. What cumulative effect the discharge of radiation has had on the atmosphere we breathe is not understood but it is thought stratospheric flight exposes aircraft to hazardous levels of radioactive dust. Studies show increased mortality, illness and birth defects from Chernobyl, from Depleted Uranium use in Iraq and elsewhere, in the health of children of nuclear testing veterans, and now in preliminary considerations of the effects of Fukushima. It all suggests accepted ‘safe’ levels of exposure need revision, particularly for internal contamination via breathable particles. Minute particle air contamination around Hinckley Point and Sellafield are dismissed as inconsequential by officialdom yet clusters of infant mortality and disease remain unexplained. Uranium contaminated dredged mud from Hinckley Point is licensed to be dumped at sea despite LLRC advice against this.

It is certain that nuclear industry apologists, governments, the MoD and vested interests will continue to dismiss concerns of scientists challenging the establishment line. True, as evidence has emerged and challenged the scientific-commercial-government-establishment’s arcane insistences about nuclear safety, the official line itself has been tardily updated. Meanwhile outdated, unscientific standards have persisted and people have died. LLRC estimates that failure to update risk models in line with scientific discovery may have cost 60 million lives.

The consequences of Brexit have implications for nuclear safety. The UK is a member of Euratom, which we would leave if Brexit takes place. Euratom is a treaty that sponsors ‘safe’ nuclear power and has safeguards built in, in law, including Basic Safety Standards (BSS) for workers and the public. There are strict rules about reviews of BSS to keep abreast of new developments. The UK has transposed Euratom principles in a Statutory Instrument (SI) but retains a right to change an SI without Parliamentary scrutiny. There is presently provision for “Justification” under the Euratom Treaty that allows for citizens to apply for a review of regulations, particularly in light of new evidence or technologies. There is already disagreement about standards for ‘safe’ levels of exposure adopted by the International Committee on Radiation Risk (ICRR) which informs Euratom, and a committee has been established to consider this in light of Chernobyl victims’ health results. There is an ongoing review process but outside Euratom the UK may lose out and electors are urged to contact MPs to alert them.

Challenge officials

LLRC confronts the establishment as the only NGO working on the science of radioactivity and human safety. It plans to challenge officials over veterans’ radiation exposure, to publish a radiation risk model report for Euratom, publish a scientific review of new studies of uranium poisoning of children and genetics, and fund laboratory measurement of Hinkley Point mud. It is continually short of funds. £24,000 is needed – see Website:

By Noel Hamel

Greenham Women Everywhere – history project

banner with outlines of women, a carvan, wildlife etc and the words 'Greenham Common Womens Peace Camp'
A banner from the Women’s Peace Camp

A project dedicated to recording and preserving the history of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp has successfully captured the first hand experiences of dozens of those who took part.

A meeting at the LSE Library last month provided an update for what has been achieved so far and the plans for the future.

Greenham Women Everywhere is a project run jointly by Cornish feminist theatre hub Scary Little Girls in partnership with The Heroine Collective. It has been part financed by a £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The 18-month project set out to interview women who had been at Greenham Common between 1981 and 2000. It was set up, explained feminist author, playwright and founding editor of the Heroine Collective Kate Kerrow, to save the heritage of the Peace Camp for future generations.

Fragmented and fragile

Many of the women who had taken part were now of advanced age and where archives existed they were fragmented and fragile and in real danger of being lost. Universities, meanwhile, had downgraded women’s studies and where material did exist it was often not publicly available.

The oral history from 80 Greenham Women has been collected and collated by a dozen volunteers and will be presented in a specially designed website, a nationwide exhibition, and have a permanent home at The Women’s Library which now resides at the London School of Economics.

It will constitute a permanent record of the thousands of women from all over the world who braved every weather and indignity to live together in order to protest peacefully and creatively about the threat to humankind from the nuclear arms race. In a time before the internet and mobile phones, the women and their supporters managed to organise thousands for actions like “Embrace the Base” in 1982, in which 30,000 women held hands around the edges of Greenham Common.

Although it was the largest demonstration of its kind in modern history, there exists relatively little information about life on camp from the women themselves. For the first time, the research project has looked at the truths behind the tabloid stories, the anecdotal details and the political strategies, and is placing the results into the hands of the public.

Ms Kerrow explained that she and Rebecca Mordan, artistic director of Scary Little Girls, had been prompted to mount the project by the death in late 2017 of peace activist and Greenham Woman Helen John.

Other women at the LSE Library event spoke of their memories of living at the peace camp, or coming as weekend visitors to bring supplies to those camped permanently, of going out on Cruise Watch patrols tracking and, where possible, disrupting the convoys carrying cruise missiles around the neighbouring countryside, and of cutting through the perimeter wire in order to ‘reclaim’ the base.

Wire cutters

One audience member confessed that whenever she has had occasion to buy Wellington boots in recent years she had instinctively looked to see if they were large enough to conceal a pair of wire cutters inside them! Another was so incensed by the legal system she encountered when arrested for the first time that she subsequently became a barrister!

Some of the material collected during the project will form a pop-up exhibition touring the UK during August. Its first appearance will be in Manchester.

Advance Notice

Wednesday June 12 2019, 7.45pm

Sophie Scholl – The Final Days

German historical drama about the last days in the life of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old member of the anti-Nazi non-violent student resistance group the White Rose, part of the German Resistance movement. She was found guilty of high treason by the People’s Court and executed the same day, February 22 1943.

At Kingston Quaker Centre (large committee room) 16 Fairfield East, Kingston KT1 2PT

Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND