Saturday, May 24, 2008

At the British Embassy, Paris

Monday, to Paris, where the Select Committee on International Organisations took evidence on Tuesday from the OECD, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The latter is important to our inquiry on communicable diseases because of the growing threat from epizootic disease that spreads from animals to humans, such as 'mad cow disease' or avian flu. Lunch on Tuesday at the British Embassy.

Wednesday, hosted a tea party for Leyla Zana, the Kurdish leader I had last met in 1993 when we toured eastern Anatolia together. She said that the Turkish constitution had to be amended to remove the clause which declares the unity of the Turkish republic and people, but the Kurdish people aren't asking for independence. On the detailed changes needed, she was cautious, saying that the constitutional amendment was the pre-requisite to discussion of questions such as the degree of local autonomy, mother tongue education etc.

Thursday, my oral question on the arrests of leading Baha'is in Iran, which elicited a sympathetic and helpful reply from the Minister, Mark Malloch-Brown. There had been a Presidential statement by the EU, and the Minister indicated that it might be possible to discuss an emergency Resolution at the Human Rights Council in the first half of June. Whether it would get through, against the 'like-minded states', a coalition of Islamic states plus Russia, China and their allies, may be doubtful. Some pessimists now think the usefulness of the UN human rights system is severely impaired by this line-up.

After Questions, I met Shafiq Chaudhry, who is refurning to Bangladesh to contest the forthcoming election as an Awami League candidate. He was very concerned about the treatment of Sheikh Hasina, the Party Leader, who is denied access to medical advisers of her choice by the caretaker goverrnment.

Next week the House is in recess.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Maurice Lubbock Scholars 50th Anniversary

The first picture is of the presentation of the silver bowl to the College by the Maurice Lubbock Scholars. Howard Davies, 1958, and Malcolm Forrest, 1958, the first two Scholars, made the presentation on behalf of the scholars, and Dr Paul Buckley received the bowl on behalf of the College. Altogether 27 of the Scholars attended, the highest number we have ever had. It was noted that the Maurice Lubbock Engineering Scholarship had spanned half the century of the Engineering School itself.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Burma: Cyclone Nargis, May 8, 2008

Land grabs in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

Three examples of land belonging to indigenous people being seized illegally in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and their property destroyed. I shall be going to Copenhagen to participate in the meeting of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission at the end of May:

NGO accused of grabbing land in Bandarban
News No. 85/2008, May 18, 2008

Development Organisation of the Rural Poor, a local NGO, is accused of grabbing lands belonging to Tripura nationality in Lama Upazila of Bandarban.

An NGO by the name of DORP has cleared fruit orchards and other trees of the Tripura people in Lama Upazila of Bandarban and then set fire to it, reports Prothom Alo, a vernacular daily published from Dhaka.

Now a signboard reading 'Saistyogram Dorp' (Sanatorium Village Dorp) has been put up over the said land, it added.

Taking responsibility for the destruction of the orchards, Dorp said it had taken those lands on lease. However, chairman of Bandarban District Council, Professor Thanzama Lusai and district administration officials refuted the claim saying there was no scope for land leases after the CHT peace accord.

The indigenous Tripura people have been living, for hundreds of years, in Tongo Zhiripara village under Soroi Union that lies about 20km north of Bandarban Sadar Upazila on Sualok-Lama road. Although a few families have land documents, others have been practicing Jum cultivation on the hills for generations under traditional land management system. The villagers said 10 - 12 days ago Dorp people cut the trees of their gardens in 25 - 30 acres of land and then set them on fire.

Khenda Tripura (65) said "I grew a mixed garden of teak, Gorjon, Gamari, mango and jackfruit in about 10 acres of land near my 2-acre plough land that I had been granted in 1982. The Dorp people have occupied both the plough land and the garden."

Rongsaha Tripura said "I grew an orchard five years ago. Now my heart breaks when I look at the destroyed orchard."

Zillyamoni, Rungkoma, Bikram Moni and many others said their titled lands and orchards had been grabbed by Dorp people.

Nurul Alam, a labourer employed by Dorp, said on orders of Dorp's Executive Director Noman and its field organisers Ayub and Malek, 20 - 25 labourers cut the orchards of the Tripura people and then set fire to it.

In this regard Dorp's Executive Director AHM Noman said they have 150 acres of hilly land in the area taken on lease. They have now taken initiative to grow a garden and build a hospital there. He claimed that the Tripuras did not possess any land in the said area.

A study of land leases records in the office of the Deputy Commissioner has revealed that Dorp's chief coordinator Babul Kumar Adhikari, AHM Noman, Nurul Islam and some others have been granted lease of 25 acres each in Doluchari Mouza. The leases were granted in the year 2000. However, under the provision of CHT peace accord land leases and transfer of lands already leased out should have ceased. The District Council officials were of the same view that as per the District Council Act of 1998, these leases were illegal.

Professor Thanzama Lusai, chairman of Bandarban District Council, said the Chittagong Hill Tracts Ministry had been requested to revoke all the leases granted after the CHT peace accord and the District Council Acts came into effect and without prior permission of the Councils. He added that he will take actions after an inquiry into the activities of Dorp.

The Officer-in-charge (OC) of Lama police station, Abul Kashem, said he had been informed that an NGO styled DORP cleared the orchards and gardens belonging to the Tripura people and added that the issue was under investigation.

Mohammad Ali, chairman of Soroi Union Council, agrees that what Dorp has done is tantamount to grabbing of indigenous Tripura people's land.

The Tripura villagers further said they had protested when their orchards were being cut. In order to scare the indigenous people off, the Dorp people filed a general diary (GD) with the local police station claiming that the Tripuras demanded Taka 2 lakhs (Taka 200 thousand) as subscription. They also alleged that the Dorp people had threatened them with arrest and even death.

Jonti, Manik Chandra, Bikram and Satyoram Tripura and many others said after the threats the indigenous people get frightened at the mere sight of police personnel in the area.
Based on Prothom Alo report published today, 18 May 2008.

From the Daily Star, March 2, 2008

20 acre lands of tribesmen grabbed in Khagrachhari
Haque's two sons are leaders of Jubo Dal and Chhatra Dal
Our Correspondent, Khagrachhari

Aminul Haque's two sons are leaders of BNP fronts-- Jubo Dal and Chhata Dal. He allegedly grabbed about 20 acre lands of indigenous people in Ganjapara union in Khagrachhari during the past alliance government.

Aminul is a resident of Mohazonpara Narikel Bagun area in the Sadar upazila. His son Bahadur Alam alias Bahar is Khagrachhari Jubo Dal vice-president and the other-- Shahidul Hoqueis a cadre of district Chatra Dal, the victims said.

The lands grabbed by Aminul Haque earlier belonged to some 10 indigenous families in Ganjapara, according to Golabari Union Parishad Chairman Chaila Prue Marma and some other sources.

While talking to this correspondent, some of the victims complained that Aminul grabbed most of the lands by using political clout during the rule of four-party alliance government. They were helpless as sections of unscrupulous officials and political leaders connived with the land grabber who also threatened of muscle power, they said.

They said they went to authorities concerned for legal action but they were 'harassed by some officials and local political leaders', they claimed.

"I went to the court of First Class Magistrate on August 8 last year to seek legal action. The then magistrate ordered police to investigate the matters and record a case", Golabari UP Chairman Chailapru Marma told this correspondent yesterday.

"But have not yet investigated the matter, let alone filing of case", he said.

Sub-Inspector Rafiq, who was asked to probe the allegations have done nothing so far, he said. "Rather, he has very good relations with the grabber", Chailapru Marma said.

He said he also submitted a complaint to joint forces in December last year to take steps for return of the grabbed lands.

Chaindi Aung Marma, 61, of Ganjapara area alleged that Haque grabbed about two acre lands of her family by making fake document.

"He (Haque) leased the land for two years for a brick field from my brother Mrasathowai Marma. After my brother died, he declined to return the land, saying my brother sold the land", she said.

Chaindi filed a case with the civil judge's court.

Anil Chakma of Perachhara Darmapur area claimed that Haque grabbed about one acre of his land. He moved police stations but to no effect, he claimed.

The victims also include Satho Aung Marma, Neeaung Marma and Lali Marma alais Lal Buri, who alleged that Haque grabbed about 10 acres of their land by using the then ruling party cadres and forged documents.

Some Bangalee people also alleged that was tried to grab their lands.

The victims alleged that Haque enjoyed the blessings of Khagrachhari municipality chairman and district BNP secretary Joynal Abedin, among others.

Joynal Abedin, a close aide to former lawmaker Wadud Bhuiyan, is also advisor to the Parbattya Chattagram Samo Adhiker Andolon (PCSAA), a forum of Bangla speaking people in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

While contacted, Hoque said he has all legal documents on the lands but he could not show any paper. He however admitted that he is facing some cases regarding land.

Assistant Police Superintendent (ASP) Mohammad Tareq Ahmed, when contacted, said police has nothing to do till case is filed. He however said he will look into the matter.

When contacted, Joynal Abedin denied his involvement with Haque in land grabbing.


A group of citizens conducted an on-site inquiry on 28th and 29th April 2008 in Sajek Union, Rangamati District, following press reports of about 150 houses being burnt down across seven villages in the area. On arrival in the area, we saw that in eight villages within the reserved forest area in Sajek Union -- Nursery Para, Daney Bhaibachora, Bamey Bhaibachora, Purbopara, Balughatpara, Retkaba, MSF Para and Gongaram Mukh – the mostly Pahari houses which had been burnt down to the ground remained just as they were. The charred remains of burnt houses could be seen across a four kilometer long area. Many people are still in hiding. Others told us that several persons were injured during this incident. People do not have proper shelter, and some remain under open skies.
For the full story see

Bahá'ís of Iran

Letter sent to the office of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, Ms Asma Jehangir:

The Bahá'ís tell me that six members of the national-level group that helps see to the minimum needs of Bahá'ís in Iran in the absence of the formal elected Baha'i institutions, were arrested in their homes early on Wednesday (May 14) morning and taken to Evin prison in Tehran. Government intelligence agents spent up to five hours searching each home, before taking the Baha'is to prison.

Those arrested were Mrs Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr Afif Naeimi, Mr Saeid Rezaie, Mr Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr Vahid Tizfah. A seventh member of the coordinating group (known as the Friends in Iran), Mrs Mahvash Sabet, had been detained in Mashad on 5 March and has been held since then in Evin.

My informants recall similar episodes in the 1980s when scores of leading Iranian Baha'is were rounded up and killed. (All nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Iran were abducted on August 21, 1980 and disappeared without trace, but certainly that they were murdered. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Iran was reconstituted soon after that, but eight of its members were executed on December 27, 1981. All the elected Baha'i councils, national and local, were disbanded after that and have never been reelected since.)

Mrs Sabet was due for release quite some time ago, but her detention has been extended, without legal process.

The effect of these detentions is to create fear and uncertainty amongst the Iranian Baha'is and to enhance the suspicion that the regime's longer-term aim is to extinguish the Baha'i Faith in the land of its birth.

Could the Special Rapporteur ask the Iranian authorities why they have arrested these leaders? I'd be most grateful if you could let me know of any action you decide to take.


I have also written in similar terms to the Country of Origin Information Service, the source of information used by the immigration appellate authorities to help them determine who is a genuine refugee.

For further information see


JW and I have played two quick games of ping-pong for the first time since last October, 1-1 both times, making the cumulative score (since my last operation in April 2006) 77-76 to me. This is my barometer, and its reassuring to know that I'm not falling apart just yet.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Maurice Lubbock Lecture by Lord Browne

May 11, Philip, Lindsay, Alan & Victoria

Another week

Last Sunday Rhoda Torres came to tea, and it was the first time we'd seen her since before we moved to Camberwell 21 years ago. She seemed just the same, other than putting on a little weight since she gave up smoking. Somehow we omitted to take a photograph.

Monday, Dawn Smith, representative of the British Virgin Islands, came to lunch, and we discussed the Islands' successful regulation of the financial services industry, ecotourism, and Richard Branson's plans for development of the two islands he owns.

After Questions, the weekly meeting of my Select Committee, hearing evidence from Professor Davis Fidler of Indiana University and Dr Kellet Lee of the Centre on Global Change and Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Professor Fidler says that the global health picture (he doesn't like the use of the word architecture) is one of open source anarchy. He would like to see international law developing sets of health norms, on the lines of the International Health Regulations, but acknowledges that states are not readily going to cede that amount of sovereignty.

In the evening, to Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe, with Lindsay's brother Philip and his 13-year old son Alex, staying with us from Hong Kong. Puck was inaudible and the fairies were in punk fashion. Why doesn't the Globe stick to doing real Shakespeare?

Tuesday morning, to Mr Speaker's, as one of the judges for the Mr Speaker Abbott Award, given by the Press Gallery of the Commons to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the admission of journalists to the proceedings of the House of Commons in 1803. It was a varied list of nominees, all of whom had made significant contributions towards the promotion of Parliamentary democracy at some risk to themselves.

Then Lindsay and I had lunch with Lee Foster, development officer at William and Mary, Lindsay's old college.

I fielded a question on the Democratic Republic of Congo, asking if the Government would press for the appointment of a monitor for the performance by all parties of the humanitarian and human rights obligations they had undertaken in the January 23 Goma Agreement. Lord Malloch-Brown gave an assurance that the matter would be raised at the meeting of the Contact Group next week.

Thursday, to Oxford with Lyulph, for the Maurice Lubbock Memorial Lecture at the Engineering School, which was delivered by Lord Browne, former head of BP. He was making an argument for the wider contribution of engineers to the solution of political, social and economic problems, taking the case of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline as an illusttrative case study. Although there were formidable technological problems with the development of a large pipeline through terrain that is subject to extremes of temperature and earthquakes, there were also major environmental and political hurdles that had to be overcome.

Friday, again to Oxford with Lyulph, for the 50th anniversary of the Maurice Lubbock Scholars at Ballil. Malcolm Forrest, the second Lubbock Scholar, said it was the only Trust at the University where the trustees maintained personal links with the Scholars, as we do every year at the Annual Dinner. The Scholars had commissioned a magnificent silver bowl to mark the 50tn anniversary, which Howard Davies, the first Scholar, presented to me to give to the College. The Scholars also gave me a wonderful picture of the Palace of Westminster, looked at from the top of the Eye. Lyulph and I travelled to and from Oxford on the bus for the princely sum of £15 for the two of us, OK if you're not in a hurry, We caught the 23.30 on the return journey, reaching Flodden Road by 02.45.

This week in addition to Philip and Alex, who departed yesterday evening, we had Barbra Stapleton staying for a couple of days on her way from a NATO conference back to Kabul. She was in great form, but we didn't have nearly as much time to discuss the problems of Afghanistan as I would have liked.

Saturday, with Lindsay to the Sri Lanka High Commission, where we were the principal lay guests for the Vesak celebration. The High Commissioner invited me to say why I was a Buddhist, and I spoke for five minutes, relating the story of my conversations with Prins Gunasekera when together with Bala Tampoe we visited the south in 1971. The Four Noble Truths seemed at one level extremely simple, and at another, profound statements about the moral universe that were analogous to the laws of physics in the material universe. The Buddha's analysis of the 'five aggregates' of existence - form, perception, intellection, perception and consciousness - showed that each was changing over time; and if they constituted the sum total of the human being, there was no permanent entity in which the soul or self could reside. This convinced me of the doctrine of Anatta or soullessness, which is apparently so difficult for those brought up in Christian or Islamic societies to grasp.

There was then a sermon by Ajahn Vajiro from Amaravati, in which he dealt with the concept of Dukkha, generally translated as suffering or unsatisfactoriness, the common feeling that something is wrong with one's life even if for most people in the audience, there was enough to eat, they had adequate shelter, and clothing. He touched on the Five Precepts, saying that no doubt everyone present was observing them at that moment. Afterwards everyone circulated and we talked to many of the other guests, invluding Ajahn Vajiro, whom I had met on other occasions but this was the first time I had been able to have some conversation with him.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Short week

Monday was a Bank Holiday, and very welcome to have a day catching up.

Tuesday, our Select Committee on Intergovernmental Organisations, looking at communicable diseases, took evidence from Professor Harvey Rubin, Director of the Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis and Response (ISTAR) at the University of Pennsylvania. He wants to create a ‘Global Compact for Infectious Diseases’, to do the job of systems integration for the large number of IGOs, NGOs, governments, foundations and companies involved in fighting existing diseases and others that may develop in future. Professor Rubin is a great enthusiast, but I’m not convinced that we need yet another body to add to the dozens that already exist.

Then attended a meeting of the All-Party Armenia Committee, commemorating the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which more than a million Armenians lost their lives. Although there are a few Turks now prepared to discuss those terrible events, they aren’t yet ready to acknowledge the historical facts, and the EU doesn’t make it a condition of their accession.

Later, attended a meeting organised by Jeremy Corbyn for Liberation, to discuss progress towards the restoration of democracy in Bangladesh. I spoke briefly about the recent episode of ethnic cleansing in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, in which 8 villages were burnt to the ground by arsonist settlers, making between 150 and 200 families homeless and destitute. The government hasn’t launched an inquiry into this atrocity and not one of the criminals responsible has been arrested. The army, which has a very oppressive presence in the area, disclaims any knowledge of the events.

Wednesday, I joined in questions on Zimbabwe, asking the Minister Lord Malloch-Brown whether, since the regime has neither the money nor the logistical capacity to run a second round of the Presidential election, the international community has some leverage to provide not only the management of the second round, if it takes place, but the protection needed in the form of security for the members of the opposition who have been subject to repeated violence so far.

Midday, Lindsay rang me at the House to say that she couldn’t get onto the internet. I rang Netgear when I got home and at first they said the problem was that the router firmware was very old – ie probably three years old. Obviously I couldn’t download an upgrade but our kind neighbour Jamie not only did that for me, but also brought it round on a USB device of his own, as I couldn’t find either of mine. Towards midnight I had uploaded the new firmware to the router and it still didn’t work. Netgear –whose tech support line, based in India, was still open at that time – gave me an RMA number. They offered next day replacement for an express courier charge of £22 which I accepted with alacrity.

Thursday, I fielded the statement on Cyclone Nargis, asking the Minister, Christine Crawley, how the logistics of the relief effort were to be coordinated, and whether, as the enormous scale of the disaster became apparent, that was yet another reason for abandoning the sham referendum that is planned for this weekend.

Friday, the replacement Netgear router arrived and I installed it with a few minutes help from Netgear. Their tech support telephone line answers promptly and the technicians are first class, light years ahead of most hardware manufacturers.

Friday afternoon I collected my new htc PDA Phone from the Lords. A couple of years ago the computer department had told me I couldn’t have a PDA because I didn’t use Outlook or the Parliamentary email system, but this device lets one use Gmail, and synchronise it with the desktop. It also reads the Gmail calendar, which could be useful in allowing me to make and change appointments when I’m not at either of my desks at Flodden Road or the House, though it’s a beta, with some oddities. Anyway, it’s a brilliant tool, even incorporating a camera, see Doris and Lindsay below.

Letter to the Vietnamese government on the Buddhist festival of Vesak

From Lord Avebury

May 6, 2008


On 13-17 May 2008, your government will host the 5th United Nations’ Day of the Vesak in Hanoi. This should be a happy occasion, a day to remember Buddha’s message of tolerance and peace, and to inspire all people, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, to work together towards mutual understanding and harmonious coexistence in our world.
However, we are deeply disturbed by recent reports of grave repression against Buddhism, the very faith you claim to celebrate. Only the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, controlled by the Communist Party’s Fatherland Front, will attend these celebrations, whilst the independent, traditional Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) remains banned and its leaders are prisoners in their own pagodas.
In the run-up to the Vesak, Police have seized UBCV pagodas to use for State-sponsored events, evicted and harassed UBCV monks, nuns and lay-followers in Lam Dong, Hue, Quang Tri and elsewhere. On 2nd May 2008, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed deep concern on “significant official harassment of monks, nuns and youth leaders associated with the UBCV”, including the long-term house arrest of UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, 88 and his Deputy Thich Quang Do, 80, a 2008 Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Both monks have spent over 26 years in detention for their peaceful advocacy of religious freedom, democracy and human rights. Moreover, in the light of grave abuses against Buddhists, Protestants, Catholics, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai and other religious communities, the USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be re-designated in 2008 as a “Country of Particular Concern”.
We appreciate the progress you have made in certain domains, but this progress remains uneven. As a member of the World Trade Organization, non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and a signatory to key UN human rights treaties, Vietnam has a binding obligation to uphold all internationally-recognised human rights. This entails respect for the mother of all freedoms – the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.
In the occasion of the UN Day of Vesak, we urge you to release Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Most Venerable Thich Quang Do and restore the UBCV’s legitimate status. By this gesture, you will restore true significance to the UN Day of the Vesak, and honour the 2,000 year heritage of Buddhism in Vietnam.

Yours sincerely,

Eric Avebury

H.E. Nguyen Minh Triet, President, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
H.E. Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister
H.E. Nong Duc Manh, Secretary General, Communist Party of Vietnam
H.E. Nguyen Phu Trong, President of the National Assembly

Monday, May 05, 2008

Lets help Indonesian democrats combat bigotry

Copy of a letter to the Rt Hon the Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG, Foreign Office Minister with special responsibility for human rights, and of an editorial in the Jakarta Post:

From Lord Avebury

May 4, 2008

Dear Mark,

I am dismayed to see that according to the Jakarta Post, the Ahmadiyya Muslims are to be banned by ministerial order tomorrow morning, and that President SBY has no power to stop three junior ministers from making this extremist order.

This follows some weeks of agitated discussion about the proposed ban, and attacks on Ahmadiyya mosques.

You will remember that there were earlier instances of threats and attacks on Ahmadis in Indonesia. I wrote to the then Prime Minister in July 2005 about a threatened ban at that time, copy attached for ease of reference, without receiving a reply as far as I can trace. In December 2007 I wrote twice to Meg Munn MP at the FCO, and received the attached reply saying that the EU had decided not to take any action.

I’m sure that President SBY deplores the religious intolerance of some sections of Indonesian society just as much as the Jakarta Post, but although the Post say the ball is in his court, he has been silent on the controversy as far as can be seen. Please, can we galvanise the EU into saying something about the attacks on Ahmadi mosques, and the unacceptability of the proposal to ban a peaceful and harmless religion?

Yours sincerely,

Eric Avebury

The Rt Hon the Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG,
Foreign & Commonwealth Office,
London SW1A 2AH


Editorial: Religious persecution
Fri, 04/18/2008 10:05 AM | Opinion
Here is an important announcement. Indonesia has officially stopped being the tolerant nation it has always proclaimed to be, especially when it comes to religion. The country with the world's largest Muslim population, one that has long prided itself for its diversity and peaceful coexistence between people of different faiths, is no longer a safe place, particularly for religious minorities.
Never mind what the Constitution and the state ideology Pancasila say -- that freedom of religion is guaranteed and that citizens are protected to practice their faith. Today, those are mere ornamental words. The reality on the ground is the state has started to persecute people for their religious beliefs.
On Wednesday, a government panel decided that Ahmadiyah, a Muslim sect that has its origins in India but now has followers worldwide, including in Indonesia, is heretic and contravenes the tenets of Islam. The Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs -- comprising government prosecutors, police and officials of the religious affairs and home ministries -- issued a recommendation that Ahmadiyah, as a religious organization, be banned, along with all its activities.
The ball is in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's court, being the person authorized to ban any organization. But there is real fear that before he makes his ruling, the recommendation itself will be sufficient for various vigilante groups to start attacking and harassing followers of Ahmadiyah.
Many followers of Ahmadiyah have already had to live in makeshift shelters after coming under violent attacks in recent years from vigilante groups who acted on the fatwa (religious edict) of the Indonesian Ulema Council declaring Ahmadiyah heretic. The police, whose duty it is to ensure that every religious minority is protected, did not make much of an effort to prevent the violence. Typically, they only evacuated Ahmadiyah followers to safety and then gave the thugs free reign to destroy and burn down property belonging to the group.
Now, the same vigilante groups and many others like them will be encouraged to resume their attacks. Even the police will be required to act upon a ban and start rounding up the followers of Ahmadiyah. If this is not state-sanctioned religious persecution, then we don't know what is.
No wonder the first reaction from Ahmadiyah leaders when the ban recommendation came Wednesday was to brace themselves for violent attacks and to defend themselves. They knew too that they no longer could count on the protection of the state and the police against future attacks.
What is most disturbing is the way representatives of the conservative Muslims flexed their muscles to secure the ban, at times using violent language, forcing the government to comply.
This is the first time in the republic's history that the state, which proclaims to be neither theocratic nor secular, has interfered in the substance of the religion. In the past, the state restricted its role to ensuring freedom of religion and the right for everyone to practice their faith. It leaves the question of the right or wrong of particular teachings to religious leaders. Wednesday's recommendation broke the long-held taboo and clearly shows the state siding with the Muslim conservatives by agreeing Ahmadiyah is heresy and contravenes the tenets of Islam.
This is setting a dangerous precedent, for no religion is safe now from the possibility of having its beliefs probed and judged to contravene Islam. That literally means just about every existing religion. One wonders, now that the conservative Muslims have had their way, who they will target next. They know the state will again be submissive to their will.
This is the state playing God, a dangerous game that would spell the end of the religious diversity that has always underpinned this republic. We may as well declare Indonesia an Islamic state. At least the rules of the game for the religious minorities are clear. Today, we have a government that is failing in its constitutional duty to protect the religious minorities.
It is encouraging to see that Muslim leaders from the moderate camp quickly distanced themselves from the recommendation by the government panel and denounced it as a violation of the Constitution (which, incidentally, is an impeachable offense).
Former Muhammadiyah chairman Syafii Ma'arif and leading Islamic scholar Azyumardi Azra both said the recommendation reflects the views of "extremist" elements in Islam rather than the "moderate" that continue to preach peace, tolerance and respect for religious differences.
More of them should come out of their shell and speak out about the real Islam.
If the state can no longer be counted on to defend Ahmadiyah followers, then the task should be taken up by moderate and peace-loving Muslims. They, along with leaders of religious minorities, should join hands in fighting religious extremists in our society (and apparently, in our government) and prevent this country from degenerating into a lawless state.
This republic was built upon, among other things, religious diversity and religious freedom. You take those away and you may as well forget about the republic. May God be with us.

Advisors counsel SBY against banning Ahmadiyah
Desy Nurhayati , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 04/23/2008 1:07 AM | Headlines
The Presidential Advisory Council is advising President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to cancel the issuance of a joint ministerial decree to outlaw "heretical" Islamic sect Jamaah Ahmadiyah.
A ban on Ahmadiyah would be a "bad precedent" to Indonesia's democracy and freedom of religion, council member and legal expert Adnan Buyung Nasution told a news conference after a meeting with sect leaders here Tuesday.
At the meeting, Ahmadiyah representatives were accompanied by activists from the Alliance of Religious and Belief Freedom.
"We will immediately advise the President to prevent the issuance of the decree for the sake of upholding democracy, tolerance and freedom of religion," Buyung said.
"We only have a little time to analyze the issue and meet with the President before the joint decree is issued. But we can assure that we will seriously handle this matter."
Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Widodo Adi Sucipto said last week the government would issue a joint decree based on a recommendation by the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem).
The decree is currently being drafted by the Religious Affairs Ministry, the Home Ministry and the Attorney General's Office.
Bakor Pakem recommended the government outlaw Ahmadiyah for failing to honor the 12-point declaration regarding faith and social values consistent to Islamic values after being given three months to prove its commitment.
The interdepartmental board led by the junior attorney general of intelligence said it found Ahmadiyah had continued to follow activities that deviated from mainstream Islamic teachings.
Buyung said the board and the planned joint decree had no strong legal basis, and were only serving to take repressive actions against a group of people.
"We think the establishment of the board itself has no firm legal basis even though they acted based on the 1965 law on the prevention of the misuse and disgrace of religion," he said.
Buyung was quoted by as saying all but one member of the nine-member Presidential Advisory Council opposed a ban on Ahmadiyah.
He identified the disagreeing member as Ma'ruf Amin, who is also deputy leader of the Indonesian Ulema Council that publicly declared Ahmadiyah a "heretical" Islamic sect.
Ahmadiyah spokesman Ahmad Mubarik said his group slammed the Bakor Pakem pronouncement that the sect hadn't committed to the 12-point declaration.
There should be an independent team, instead of the board, to decide whether Ahmadiyah had complied with the declaration or not, he said.
Ahmadiyah advocacy team member Lamardy said the sect demanded the President protect people in their religious beliefs.
Bakor Pakem, which was established in 1994, consists of senior officials from the Attorney General's Office, the Indonesian Military, the National Police, the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Home Ministry.
The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, which is grouped in the Alliance of Religious and Belief Freedom, urged the Attorney General's Office to dissolve the board, saying it violated people's basic rights.


Since I started this blog two years ago, the site has received 9,272 hits, an average of 41 per day, but the number in the last week was 286. Its never going to reach a mass audience, but the numbers convince me its a worthwhile exercise.

Bank Holiday

My grandfather Sir John Lubbock MP FRS, author of the Bank Holidays Act 1871.

How doth the Banking Busy Bee
Improve his shining Hours?
By studying on Bank Holidays
Strange insects and Wild Flowers!

(Punch, 1882)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Michael Woodward

I had a very touching letter from Patricia Bennetts, sister of Father Michael Woodward, who was murdered on board the Chilean naval ship Esmeralda in 1973. After all these years, five former naval officers have been charged with the murder. I had tried to find a way of getting the case raised under the EU-Chile Association Agreement which contains a human rights clause, but like all these clauses in all Association Agreements it turned out to be useless. However, my correspondence shows that behind the scenes FCO Ministers did urge the Chilean authorities to pursue further investigations and now at last some action is under way. Six high ranking ex-officers have been charged with the kidnapping and torture of Fr Woodward.

This comes hard on the heels of the imprisonment of former General Manuel Contreras, convicted of the terrorist bomb attack in Washington DC which killed former foreign minister Orlando Letelier and his assistant Ronni Moffitt on September 21,1976. Letelier's widow Isabel fought tenaciously for justice for more than three decades.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

With Richard Shepherd, President of the Gypsy Council, and Grattan Puxon

With Qaran leaders and Somaliland friends

Lubbock Lecture, with Nicky Oppenheimer and Colin Mayer, Dean of the Said Business School

This week

Monday: Peter Kessler of UNHCR came to lunch. We discussed the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI) personnel still in Camp Ashraf and those who left the camp and went to the US-managed Temporary International Protection Facility (TIPF). I had heard that some 300 decided to return to Iran with the help of the ICRC, where they were compelled by the regime to participate in humiliating propaganda exercises. Of those who went to the TIPF, some 80 still remain there, 55 are in the Kurdish region, and 30 crossed into Turkey. Unfortunately, states that normally accept refugee resettlement cases including the UK aren't prepared to consider helping with these people. I suspect that our own Government's attitude is conditioned by the case now awaiting a hearing in the House of Lords, in which they are appealing to theHouse of Lords against the High Court and Court of Appeal decision to grant the PMOI's application for 'deproscription' under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Second, we talked about the 'Special Immigration Status' created in the Criminal Justice & Immigration Bill, for people like the Afghans who hijacked an airliner to escape from Kabul in 2000 when the Taliban were in power. This was due to be discussed for the third time on Wednesday on Third Reading of the Bill. We unsuccessfully sought to add a condition for a person to be designated as SIS, that the Secretary of State should certify that he was a danger to the public (

In the afternoon, Select Committee on International Organisations, taking evidence via a videolink from Mrs Zsuzsannna Jakab, Director of the European Centre for Disease Control. This session can be seen at

Early evening, to the Sudanese Embassy, to meet the Foreign Minister Mr Deng Alor and the Adviser to the President Dr Mustafa Osman Ismail. We talked about the delaus in UNAMID deployment, which they said were the fault of the troop-supplying states and the states which hadn't provided the transport for Egyptian and Ethiopian contingents that were ready.

The Census they said was going well, but the government of the South had said that they would only accept the result if it confirmed their view that the population of the south was a third at least of the total. This was important because the census would determine the number of MPs from North and South, and the Parliament would enact the Referendum Law.

They said that while the international community was spending $1.2 billion on Darfur, the East was being neglected, though it was the region suffering from most deprovation including killer diseases such as drug-resistant TB.

Tuesday, to Oxford for the Annual Maurice Lubbock Memorial Lecture at the Said Business school, delivered by Nicky Oppenheimer, hed of De Beers. The title was Diamonds,Development and Democracy, largely drawing on the history of De Beers in Botswana, the country with the highest rate of continuous growth in the world over a 40-year period. Nicky Oppenheimer showed that the so-called 'resource curse' was a myth, and that with good governance, poor countries could leverage their natural resources to escape from poverty.

Wednesday, apart from sitting in the Criminal Justice Bill for several hours, I had the topical question, on the BBC's allegations of trading weapons for gold by peacekeeping forces in the DRC. The Minister Mark Malloch-Brown acknowledged that small-scale illicit trading had taken place, but claimed there was no evidence of weapons being exchanged for gold. I have since sent him references to the Human Rights Watch material on the subject published May 2 under the headline UN: Tackle Wrongdoing by Peacekeepers (

Thursday, to the Geological society for a discussion on 'The Role of Business in Transforming Africa’s Natural Resources to Shared National Wealth', continuing Nicky Oppenheimer's theme with an expert panel - Paul Collier, author of 'The Bottom Billion'; Nkosane Moyo of the private investment group ACTIS, and Jane Nelso, Senior Fellow, Harvard Busines School. Nobody mentioned the UN or African Conventions against Corruption, or the OECD Code of Conduct for Multinational Corporations.

The President of the Geological Society, Richard Fortey, said that the Society's Lyell Centre was digitising their records and making them available to learned institutions,though I didn't gather whether this was going to be a chargeable service. Among the treasures in the Library, on show, was an early copy of Georgius Agricola's De Re Metallica, though not the first edition of 1556.

Friday, a meeting with the Qaran political leaders from Somaliland. The consitution is ambiguous, but President Riyaale relies on a clause which stipulates that no more than three parties may contest elections, to exclude the Qaran from the elections, which have now been deferred until the end of 2008 - also, paradoxically, against the constitution!

Today, Saturday, to the Dale Farm Travellers' site in Essex, to open their new community centre. The event was a great success, but the residents are under threat of eviction by Basildon Council. Next Friday is the day the High Court delivers judgement on the residents' judicial review application against the decision to kick them out, making all the people homeless. Such an outcome would be utterly disgraceful, and Mr Justice Collins has already hinted that the era of forced evictions of Gypsies and Travellers is over.