Friday, August 31, 2007

More disasters

At midnight three weeks ago we had just gone to bed when we herd a splashing noise, and it turned out to be water coming through the ceiling of the dressing room/bathroom. We called an emergency plumber, who arrived within half an hour and discovered that the ballcock on the water tank had seized up with calcium encrustations, the tank had overflowed, and the outflow pipe had come loose from its moorings. He fixed the problem rapidly, but not before the flood had loosened the plaster from the ceiling and side walls, filled the light globe with water so that it crashed to the floor, and leaked through the floor to the ceiling of the entrance lobby. The insurance assessors approved the necessary redecorations, and the work has just about been completed. Meanwhile, all the stuff in the dressing room cupboards had to be moved out and we had to move out of our bedroom.

The day after the flood, SOMEONE left the back door open and went out. While I was working upstairs a burglar came in, nicked my HoL laptop from the downstairs room, took the car keys from the table, walked out the front door and drove away in our car. The laptop was nearly 3 years old and due for replacement, so I now have a new one (a Dell PP18L), on which I'm working downstairs now. There was a problem getting it connecting to the network initially, but Netgear's tech support line was brilliant. They actually have live technicians, rather than the web-only based support offered by most hardware manufacturers, and I would recommend their routers anyway as excellent products.

The car insurers decided that our 8 year old Rover was a write-off, partly because the thief took the keys and it would have been necessary to replace 5 sets of locks. So we're looking to get another car, this time one that is low on CO2 emissions and in a lower band for vehicle excise duty. There's a Volkswagen Polo which comes in at nil VED, but its brand new and won't be available until October, which means we would have to hire something for Maurice's visit. We'll have to see what the boss says, when she can be distraced from Neighbours

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ping-pong disaster

Two further days of ping-pong in which the fortunes were reversed, JW winning 3-0 and 2-2, so its now 68-66 to me

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bidoons of Kuwait

In Kuwait there are about 100,000 people with no citizenship, no right to eduction, no healthcare, no right to own property. These are the bidoon, descendants of nomadic clans who wandered across the Arabian peninsula before the era of national borders and are now treated as aliens. The word bidoon itself means 'outside' How does Kuwait, an enormously rich country, discriminate so shamelessly against a deprived minority? Can they be persuaded to give these people their full rights as citizens? We ought at least to try.


I won 3-0 yesterday. Last game recorded was August 16 when I led 64-61, so its now 67-61

Monday, August 27, 2007

August 25 statement as Chair, International Bangladesh Foundation

We repeat the call made five months ago by the Commonwealth Secretary General to the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to lift the state of emergency and restore basic human and political rights to all citizens.
Since then, there has been significant erosion of popular support. The recent outbreak of protests and violence indicates the volatility and uncertainty of a situation in which the government and their military backers are pitted against large sections of civil society and the political parties. The indefinite curfew may have produced a temporary lull, but over the medium term may serve to fuel the resentment of the students and their supporters.
Similarly, the selective use of the ban on political activities against critics of the government is now a main cause of discontent, and makes it impossible for the political leaders who wish to see the holding of free and fair local government and national elections in accordance with the Electoral Commission roadmap, to play a constructive role in the restoration of democracy and the rule of law.
The recent arrest without a warrant of Sheikh Hasina, former Prime Minister and the President of the Awami League, is the most blatant example of how the use of the Emergency Power Rules to illegally detain and harass its opponents of the government.
When the High Court ruled that Sheikh Hasina’s arrest and detention on charges of extortion were illegal; that her charges could not be tried under the Emergency Powers, and granted her bail, the government pre-empted the court’s decision by arresting her on a further charge of extortion so that she continued to be detained.
The High Court ruled that the use of the Emergency Power Rules in the second case, and the continued detention, were both illegal as well. Meanwhile, the government had appealed against the High Court’s decision in the first case to the Supreme Court. The second hearing on this appeal was held on August 16 and a third hearing has been set for tomorrow, August 26, while Sheikh Hasina continues to be in detention.
Pressurising the judiciary and misuse of the appeals process the government ensures that for the time being, Sheikh Hasina is silenced, and the same tactics have been used against other critics.
A person convicted in the lower courts is barred from standing as a candidate for political office under the Emergency Power Rules, contrary to the constitution which provides that such a bar does not come into effect until the rights of appeal have been exhausted and the conviction upheld This means that cases can be rushed through the lower courts to ensure that an opponent of the government will be unable to compete in the either the local elections scheduled for January 2008, or the general election to be held by the end of next year.
It is alleged that the evidence against Sheikh Hasina consists only of testimonies extracted through the use of torture. Human Rights Watch report cited the claim by Tasneem Khalil, a journalist and human rights activist who was often critical of the present government, to have been tortured, and they assert that arbitrary arrest and detention and torture are a significant problem in Bangladesh today.
We accept that previous governments of Bangladesh have been riddled with corruption and we applaud the caretaker government’s determination not only to bring the criminals who became millionaires at the expense of the people to justice, but to reform the political system so as to make it as hard as possible for crooks to exploit the offices of the state in future. We believe it is not too late for this to be achieved by the government in cooperation with straight politicians and civil society, but as a prerequisite we suggest that the government review the evidence in the cases against Sheikh Hasina and others, and enter into a dialogue with the parties, student leaders and lawyers, on restoring civil rights and the independence of the courts.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Remarks from the chair at Bahrain seminar, Millbank, August 23

As we have noted before, the al-Khalifa family remain firmly in control of the land and wealth of the state; the people have no power to change the government, and the constitution handed down from on high by the ruler, which was substituted for a scheme approved in a referendum, has proved to be a dead end. The ruler, though acknowledging that democracy means continuous change in consultation with the people, has no programme of reform, and no intention of engaging in dialogue with all sections of society including the poor, the victims of torture, and human rights activists.

Just a few weeks ago, the British citizen who was in charge of the security apparatus during the previous ruler’s time, came here for medical treatment, after obtaining as assurance that he wouldn’t be arrested or questioned while here for the many acts of torture said to have been committed. We do understand the difficulty of collecting evidence that will allow Mr Henderson to be prosecuted with a reasonable likelihood of obtaining a conviction, but there are 14 victims ready to testify to their own sufferings, to say nothing of the bereaved families of those who died under torture: I wrote to the Foreign Office about many of these victims at the time: in 1995, for instance, Husein Qambar died under torture on January 4, Hamid Qasim, age 17 on or before March 26 when the police delivered his mutilated body to the family. The person who took the photographs of Hamid’s body in the morgue had to remain anonymous for his own safety. Our Embassy in Manama, to whom I sent a copy of a photograph taken by the family, said they believed his injuries may have been caused by rubber bullets, but I have never heard of rubber bullets severing a person’s fingers. Another boy who died under torture that year was Saeed Abdul Rasool al-Eskafy age 16, whose mutilated body was handed back to his family on July 8. These and many other cases were reported to Ministers at the time, together with the allegation that Mr Henderson, knew about the atrocities happening under his command as everyone else did in Bahrain.

The present regime may not be responsible for the heinous tortures committed towards the end of the last century, but Henderson is an honoured resident of Manama and until recently appeared on great occasions there. Not only has there been no attempt to bring him and his lieutenant Adel Flaifel to justice in Bahrain, but all those who were involved in the torture apparatus have been given an indemnity from prosecution. Bahrain signed up to the Convention against Torture but made sure that its own torturers would escape justice, violating the Convention before the ink was dry on their signature.

Granted, these days the persecution of dissidents, trade unionists and human rights activists is not so extreme, but those who speak out about the grievances of the people are still targeted for violent acts and threats. Nabil Rajab, head of the Centre for Human Rights, was deliberately attacked by the police along with a few others last month when he was about to participate in a march for the unemployed. The police knew who he was, and picked on him, kicking and beating him so that he had to be taken to hospital with back injuries. In June, Human Rights Watch protested to the ruler about the injuries inflicted by the police on two men arrested at a peaceful demonstration. One suffered trauma to his face and head, the other a broken jaw among other injuries after being severely beaten up. At the end of July the BBC’s Crossing Continents programme reported from Bahrain on further demonstrations being attacked by riot police with tear gas, truncheons and rubber bullets.
Some of the causes of the frustration and discontent were identified by the BBC. In spite of the enormous wealth generated by Bahrain’s oil, the villages inhabited by the Shi’a majority are painfully down at heel and a high proportion of their inhabitants are unemployed, contrasting sharply with the luxury palaces of the Sunni elite. And some of the poor villagers who lived along the coast have been dispossessed of even what they had, as the ruling family seize land on the coast for new development or private marinas. In a rare concession, the ruler, now in London cabled an order yesterday to his cousin Sheik Hamad bin Mohammed Salman al-Khalifa to dismantle a concrete wall he had built two years ago blocking access to the coastline and installed a series of nets to prevent fishing in nearby waters, provoking demonstrations by the villagers of al-Malkiyah, some 12 kilometers (7 miles) west of the capital Manama. But in law, the whole of the coast belongs to the ruler, and the al-Khalifas are generating huge profits for themselves by reclaiming shallow waters for development. This money doesn’t appear in the state accounts, and questions are never asked about it in the tame parliament. Nor do they inquire about the huge sums appropriated from oil and gas revenues. The Economist Intelligence Unit says that Bahrain’s output of refined products is 270,000 barrels a day. At an average price of $60 a barrel, not counting the added value of refining, this comes to nearly $6 billion. Add to that the profits from the aluminium smelter, Bahrain Telecoms, central bank profits and revenues of other public assets, and the income dwarfs the average budgeted expenditure of the state of $4.9 billion. A few billions have to be siphoned off to fund the royal courts and other unreported extra-budgetary expenses, such as the coastal developments which could be seen on Google Earth until the local ISP blocked the images of palaces, and the island of Jiddah, formerly a prison but now developed as a private holiday estate of the Prime Minister.
Last year also Bahrain expelled a British citizen, Dr Salah al-Bandar, who blew the whistle on a huge machine of corruption and illegality run by Sheikh Attiyatallah al-Khalifa, the head of the Central Intelligence Organisation. Dr al-Bandar presented his report to the ruler and other members of the government, but their response was to vilify him and falsely charge him with serious offences, without responding to any of the detailed evidence he presented.
Bahrain seldom makes the headlines in Britain, and when it does get into the news, it is as a valued ally and a pillar of stability in the Gulf region. If the UK really wants to foster a long term relationship with Bahrain, we must be more active in defending the rights of democrats and victims of al-Khalifa repression. The future lies with the people, and not with the kleptocrats who rule Bahrain today.

Friday, August 24, 2007

With Ko, I-Chun; Liaw, Shu-Huey and Mo, Zhengfang

Related to me by Liaw, Shu-huey

I am a Taiwan correspondent with Sound of Hope International Radio. I went to Hong Kong twice to cover the tenth anniversary of its hand-over, but I was denied entry and deported both times. The first time I arrived at the Hong Kong airport from Taiwan at about 7:30pm June 27. I was taken away at the customs once I showed my passport. As there were other Falun Gong practitioners from Taiwan on the same plane, I took some pictures of them when they were blocked entry at the Hong Kong customs and told people I was a reporter. However I was also taken away.

At first, we were confined to a public area between the customs and the luggage claim area for about 5 hours. I did quite a few interviews, phoned in a report for the radio, and took some pictures. We were encircled by police and were denied the use of toilet till 02.00 when lots of police arrived. They tried to take away other Falun Gong practitioners by force, and blocked me from taking pictures. I made a sound recording and got on the phone to send in an urgent report. But 5 or 6 police officers lifted me off my feet and carried me away to a detention room, trying to confiscate my cell phone and recorder.
For the next four hours we were held in an unheated room, with no chairs to sit on, and were allowed only limited and monitored use of the bathroom. Two immigration officers at one point questioned four of us.
About 06.00, security and customs staff came and searched us and our carry-on bags. About 08.00, some 100 police and officials arrived forcefully separated the Falun Gong practitioners from the rest of the detainees. They treated us roughly, and took my cellphone and camera. I was pressed onto the floor and wrapped in an anti-riot blanket then tied onto a stretcher. The more I struggled, the tighter I was tied up. Two policewomen grasped my arms so tightly that my arms were bruised. Then I was thrown on the plane back to Taiwan.
I took another plane to Hong Kong on June 29, arriving at 22.30, and was detained again, this time for about 18 hours before I was deported. An airline official told me they had an “un-welcome guest list” of passengers who were not to be admitted to Hong Kong. Any of the named persons were to be denied entry, to have their visas cancelled, and to be deported immediately to Taipei.

Sierra Leone elections

The final count in the Sierra Leone elections, see below, was issued last night by the National Electoral Commission, and was a triumph for Dr Christiana Thorpe and her staff at the NEC, though a clear winner didn't emerge from the poll itself. The count was conducted well, both at the polling stations and at headquarters, and everybody is to be congratulated, both on on the peaceful campaign, and on their patience in awaiting the result.

As predicted, Ernest Koroma won the largest share of the votes, but nowhere near the 55% needed to avoid a run-off, Although Charles Margai has recommended his supporters to vote for Koroma in the second round on September 6, probably most of them will vote for Solomon Berewa the SLPP candidate, for reasons of Mende ethnic loyalty. It could be a photo finish between the two leading candidates, and the final outcome will depend on which of them is better at getting his supporters to the polls.

The SLPP expected to win easily, and were disconcerted by Koroma's high vote, and his majority in the Parliament, with 59 of the 112 seats. But some of the traditional SLPP supporters have been turned off by the government's failure to capitalise on the opportunities they had following the end of the civil war, the perceived mismanagement and corruption, and the lack of development.

If the SLPP's Berewa does scrape home with the aid of Margai's voters, there could be choppy waters ahead, with the President and the Parliament pursuing different agendas.

Final count Sunday August 19, 2007


Koinadugu 42,027
Port Loko
WA Rural
WA Urban 222,260


Letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan

From Lord Avebury
Parliamentary Human Rights Group

August 18, 2007

Dear Chief Justice,

You have taken note of a number of issues connected with the forthcoming elections suo moto, including registration by ID cards and the registration of women in tribal areas, and I therefore respectfully suggest that you should examine the failure to implement the official claim to the existence of a Joint Electorate.

As you are aware the Chief Executive’s Order No. 15 of 2002, published in The Gazette of Pakistan (Extraordinary), Islamabad, Monday, June 17, 2002, provides that members of the Ahmadiyya Community are “deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters in the same electoral area as non-Muslims”.

For this election, and notwithstanding that this Order remained in force, the Election Commission had declared their intention to have a common voters’ list, as a corollary of the decision to restore the joint electorate. That decision has now been reversed; Ahmadi voters have been removed from the common list, and transferred to a list designated for non-Muslims. People belonging to other faiths such as the Christians remain on the common list.

The Ahmadiyya Community says that because of this discrimination, it will not take part in the elections, and as I am sure you are aware, the complaint also figured in a recent 'national consultation' organized by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Lahore. The participants regretted the fact that the Ahmadiyya community had to opt out of the electoral process because of their being put on a separate list when there was a single electoral list for Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Parsis, etc. This was seen as a negation of the joint electorate system.

The Ahmadis had also abstained from participation in previous elections held on a separate electorate basis because that would have meant that they were a non-Muslim minority. That is the position under the domestic law, but it is a contravention of their right under Articles 18 and 19 ICCPR, and under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The difference in the treatment of particular faiths in the electoral law is almost certain to be criticised by the UN Rapporteur on Religious Freedom, who has commented adversely on separate electoral lists in the past. I would be most grateful, therefore, if you would review the legality of a separate electoral list aimed at one particular faith community, and if you so decide, declare the separate list unlawful.

Yours sincerely,

Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry
Chief Justice of Pakistan
The Supreme Court
Constitution Avenue, Islamabad

Monday, August 20, 2007

Treatment of Sayed Mubarak El-Mahdi

Constance Salgado & her son Alvaro

Constance is a British citizen who married a Colombian and lives in Bogota. Her son Alvaro isn't entitled to British citizenship, because he was born before February 7, 1961. Her other son, who ws born after the cut-ooff date, has British citizenship. Mrs Salgado was prevented from applying to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Wiomen, because the UK entered a reservation to the CEDAW, that it shouldn't apply to our immigratiion and nationality law. See the following web address for the most recent discussion of the problem in Parliament:

Sierra Leone elections

As you can see, I'm having some problems getting the Google spreadsheet onto the blog, but the outlook is becoming clear. Koroma will certainly get the largest share of the votes, but nowhere near the 55% necesary to avoid a run-off. Margai has now said he prefers Koroma to Berewa, but that doesn't mean that all PMDC voters will follow his line in the next round. Mende voters may prefer Berewa for reasons of ethnic loyalty, whatever they may think of the relative objective merits of the two remaining candidates. The final poll will be on September 6, and will be close.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

With MFI this afternoon

This was a meeting to discuss the plight of 62 members of the Mehdi Foundation International, held in Tihar Jail, New Delhi, on charges of destroying their travel documents. They had travelled from Pakistan to seek asylum, because they are liable to prosecution for their religious beliefs under Pakistan's notorious blasphemy law. The Indians had undertaken to return them on their Independence Day, August 13, but they hadn't yet been tried. India isn't a signatory of the Refugee Convention, but under customary international law it is wrong to send a person back to a country where he is likely to face persecution.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sierra Leone elections

As predicted, the count was nowhere near complete as scheduled on Friday. Fewer than two thirds of the polling stations had reported to the National Electoral Commissionby close of play on Friday.

Ernest Koroma's lead had narrowed in the last 24 hours, and though he is still likely to be ahead on the final count, Charles Margai's votes are more crucial than ever, and there is speculation as to whether, in a run-off, most would turn to the governing SLPP for reasons of Mende ethnic affinity. Margai's PMDC has done better than many people thought possible, as a party only two years old, and if it can preserve its separate identity, Sierra Leone may develop a stable three-party system.

One person who has emerged with great credit from the elections is the chair of the National Electoral Commission, Dr Christiana Thorpe. She is said to have done an excellent job by all the parties.

Charles Kemble

Charles Kemble, my 4g grandfather, as Macbeth, by kind permission of © The Art Archive/The Garrick Club.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sierra Leone elections

The Sierra Leone election results were supposed to be declared today, but the count had only been half completed by yesterday evening. The ballot boxes have to be transported from polling stations around the country and checked for irregularities before their summaries are added to the totals. Yesterday the UN said they would offer the use of their helicopters to bring in the boxes from the most remote areas.

The votes counted for the three main candidates up to last night are given in the first column of the following table, and the projected final results in the second column:

Actual Projected

Koroma 400,081 835,195
Berewa 310,321 678,070
Margai 120,231 261,100

The calculation assumes that the votes cast for each candidate in the polling stations that remain to be counted are in the same proportion as those already logged.

On this assumption, Koroma will end up ahead, but will not reach the 55% threshold necessary to give him the Presidency on the first round. In a run-off, although Margai (son of former PM Sir Albert Margai) has leaned towards Koroma, his supporters may prefer Berewa for ethnic affinity reasons. It could be a tight finish.

PS Blogger does allow a link to a Google spreadsheet, so the detailed calculation is given above. This is a really useful facility, but it isn't easy to find on Blooger Help.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Roger Kemble, by Thomas Beach, c 1786. by kind permission of the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath & North East Somerset Council.

He was my 4G grandfather; b March 1, 1721/22 at Hereford, d December 6, 1802. A strolling player and actor in Ireland and England, later actor/manager, he married Sarah "Sally" Ward, also an actor (b September 2, 1735 at Clonmel, Ireland, d 1806) at Cirencester, Gloucester June 6, 1753. They had thirteen children, four of whom died in infancy, but of the remaining nine, four were particularly successful on the stage – Sarah Siddons, John Phlip Kemble, Charles Kemble and Stephen Kemble.


Another 2-0 victory, so I lead 64-61

Roger Kemble

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bangladesh elections

The UK's Identity Cards Act came into force in March 2006, and the first cards are due to be issued to British citizens three years later. The cost will be at least £5 billion, and possibly as much as £20 billion.

In Bangladesh, the government plans to hold elections in December 2008, with electoral registration based on biometric ID cards, the specifications for which haven't yet been drawn up, let alone put out to tender, nor has any budget been announced. No decision has yet been made on whether the biometrics will be based on fingerprints or iris recognition, or whether contractors will be permitted to submit proposals based on either technology.

It would be impossible to plan and implement an IT system covering 50 million people within 18 months in a technologically advanced country, and it can't be done in Bangladesh, even if donors stumped up the money.


This week's ping pong: 1-1, 1-1 and today 2-0 to me, cumulative score 62-61 to me.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

With Mekh, Indrakumari and Kohee Gurung yesterday

Arrests in Somaliland

From Lord Avebury P0706084

Tel 020-7274 4617

August 7, 2007

Dear Mr President,

As a long term admirer of Somaliland’s record as a beacon of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in a region where these qualities are in short supply, I was alarmed to read of the arrests of Dr Mohamed Abdi Gaboose, Engineer Mohamed Hashi and Mr Jamal Aideed on July 28. These three gentlemen were architects of Somaliland’s freedom, and are surely entitled to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and of association, and the right to take part in the government of their country, which are found in Articles 19-21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Whilst the constitution of Somaliland provides that there shall be only three political parties, there is no law that I am aware of which says that the current three parties will always be the three accepted under the constitution. The constitution like all others also guarantees the right to association and the persons who have been arrested are arguing that they are simply exercising their rights to form a political association and to be given a chance to compete freely to become one of the three political parties allowed under the constitution.

May I respectfully urge you to release the three gentlemen, and to convene a representative assembly to determine how to secure maximum popular participation at the forthcoming elections, by a process that would determine which three parties have the greatest support and whose candidates’ names should therefore appear on the ballot papers. I need hardly emphasise the damage to the cause of Somaliland’s recognition that will result from failure to resolve this problem by discussion and agreement, rather than arbitrary detentions.

In the longer term, Somaliland may wish to consider whether it is necessary to place any constitutional limit on the number of parties. In most democratic countries the electors tend to support just a few parties, though others may put up candidates without harming the process.

Yours sincerely,

H.E. Dahir Rayale Kahin
The President of the Republic of Somaliland
Hargeisa, Somaliland
Email: ,

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Lindsay at Kew

Donna at Kew Gardens

Maria Theresa de Camp, my 3G grandmother

The actor-manager John Philip Kemble, once married, only once strayed. That was on an evening in January 1795 when, very drunk, he burst into the dressing room of an attractive young singer, Maria Theresa (Fanny) de Camp, and made to assault her. She repulsed him, but when the episode caused some gossip, Kemble put a notice in the papers:

'I, John Philip Kemble, of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, do adopt this method of poblicly apologising to Miss de Camp, for the very improper and unjustifiable begaviour I was lately guilty of towards her, which I do further declare her conduct and character had in no way authorised; but on the contrary, I do know and believe both to be irreproachable' [Linda Kelly, The Kemble Era, the Bodley Head, London, 1980, 105]

Miss de Camp married John Philp's brother Charles on July 2, 1806 at St George's, Bloomsbury