Sunday, April 26, 2009


Today was our 24th wedding anniversary, and as anybody can see, we look exactly the same as we did then. But JW, present at the time, has changed a bit.

Sorry to say he has beaten me twice 2-0 this weekend and its becoming a nasty habit. Both games were 21-19 today.

Yesterday evening we went to Victoria and Alan's for her 50th birthday party but I forgot to take the camera.

Wedding Anniversary

Friday, April 24, 2009

This week


Very well-attended and successful Bahrain seminar alread mentioned, see below.
Lunch with Dr Alexandra Argenti to discuss her proposal for a Kurdish language course at SOAS
Meeting in the afternoon with Dr Ahmed Türk who talked about the crackdown on the Democratic Society Party in Turkey, of which he is President. The authorities had arrested 51 members of the DSP Assembly, 3 Depiuties and some 100 District officials, with more being taken in as we spoke. The majority are being charged with membership of the PKK, an illegal organisation. Dr Türk said the DSP had always tried to engage in the political process and still aimed for a peaceful and democratic solution to the question of Kurdish identity and self-government. In the Kurdish region all the other parties had presented a united front against the DSP, but the Party had nevertheless doubled the number of towns they held. fter their success, the media had started to discuss a solution to 'the Kurdish problem', and the PKK had declared a ceasefire, leaving room for political initiatives. But Ankara had refused to engage in a dialogue, and now these arrests were likely to trigger firther conflict. Now was the moment to prevent further escalation and explore means of granting the Kurdish people their lingustic and cultural rights (supposedly guaranteed by the OSCE), and the right to manage their own affairs in their own region.


Select Committee in the morning, taking evidence from Sir James Sassoon, former President of the Financial Action Task Force, an international organisation set up to combat money laundering and the financing of international terrorism (AML/CFT in the jargon) to which 34 states belong including all western European states. There are other regional organisations with similar functions including standard-setting, monitoring compliance and identifying threats, and one of the questions that interested me was the justification for having a different organisation (MONEYVAL) covering eastern states including the EU members that were formerly part of the Soviet bloc, each with its own Secretariat and decision-making structures, when in fact the standards set by the two organisations and their monitoring mechanisms were virtually identical. We will have to see whether the Committee found Sir James's answers on this point convincing. He was certainly a very informative witness.

At Question time, I fielded a question by my LibDem colleague Lindsay Northover on the current situation in Sri Lanka. The military operations against the enclave held by the LTTE seemed to be drawing to a close, with 122,000 civilians having by then escaped, and my question dealt with the offer by President Rajapaksa to send an all-Party Parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka, and the need to mobilise international humanitarian resources in support of agencies such as UNICEF and the Red Cross, to rehabilitate the civilians.

In the afternoon we had Third Reading of Borders Bill. Some changes had been made by agreement, but the Minister threatened - in the nicest possible way - to reverse the vote in which the Tories and LibDems had inserted a provision allowing those within 12 months of applying for indefinite leave to remain, to continue along that path.


Tajammul Hussain came to lunch, the first time I had seen him since he had returned from Pakistan. We talked about his visit, and of course about his former employers the UNHCR.

Then Lindsay and I went to the Guards Chapel for David Saunders' memorial service. I hadn't been in touch with him from the time I left the Welsh Guards in 1951, to the middle of last year when he invited me and Lindsay to the Remembrance Day service and afterwards to lunch (see posting at the time). After that he and Trish came to dinner with us, but then, tragically, he died suddenly after an operation to fit a pacemaker.

He had a splendid send-off, with the band of the Coldstream Guards and the Guards Chapel choir including the old favourite Welsh hymn Bread of Heaven.


This morning I had a blood test at King's followed by an appointment with the haematology consultant, a periodic routine since I had the lung tumour removed in April 2006, and a chest X-ray this time as well. Nowadays the consultant writes to the GP afterwards and copies the letter to the patient, a great improvement on the old days when it was difficult to get them to say anything.

Then a game of ping-pong with JW, 2-0 to me this time! He made the excuse that he had a late night out, but I may have been slightly more on form that in our last few encounters. I still have to record the previous two, which were 0-2 and 1-1, making the total 104-103 on his favour.

Video of the '62 Orpington by-election declaration.

With many thanks to the BBC for this clip, which used to be on their site On This Day. Perhaps they would put in back there by popular demand, before the 50th anniversary in less than three years' time?

Video of the '62 Orpington by-election declaration.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Olivia in Canberra, with cousins Alice and Adam

Bangladesh seminar, Monday April 21

Bangladesh: the new government’s programme

Committee Room 3, House of Lords, 11.00 April 21, 2009

Introductory remarks by Eric Avebury

This is our first seminar since the elections at the end of last year brought the Awami League Grand Alliance to power with an overwhelming majority. Its also the first we have held jointly with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bangladesh, and I am delighted to share the platform with the chair of the Group, Baroness Uddin, and a galaxy of. eminent speakers who will be looking at the new government’s programme and the current situation from a number of different viewpoints.

My first and most agreeable duty is to congratulate the people of Bangladesh and the former caretaker government on holding free, fair and peaceful elections with a massive turnout, far above the levels attained in the UK. The crucial promise in the AL manifesto was the establishment of good governance, but both parties were committed to the independence of the judiciary, strong measures against corruption, and the suppression of terrorism. Whether there can be the degree of collaboration between government and opposition that’s necessary to make Parliamentary democracy work, an ingredient lacking in the winner take all past, is still doubtful and I look forward to hearing what is said on that.

Is it sensible to evict the leader of the opposition from the house she has occupied since the assassination of her husband 28 years ago, whatever the legal position may be? A magnanimous attitude might help to secure the approval by the opposition of the reforms that are likely to be needed in the paramilitary forces, when the committee of inquiry reports in a couple of weeks time on the rising in the BDR. There have been mutinies before in the Ansar as well as the BDR, but the merciless slaughter of senior army officers was unprecedented, and the Pilkhana massacre raises questions about the whole system of supplementary armed forces; not only whether the BDF should be restructured or disbanded, but what should be the functions and relationships to the army of the RAB, the Ansar and the border guards as well

The government had declared that killings in custody were no longer tolerated, and it did seem that RAB had turned over a new leaf . But this month has seen a ‘cross-fire’ death, like the hundreds that have occurred in the five years of RAB’s existence, and six of the key witnesses to the Pilkhana massacre have also died mysteriously. The forces of law and order need to be utterly reliable and above suspicion when they are grappling with severe threats arising from organised crime and terrorism.

In a few days’ time a delegation of Home Office and FCO officials will be in Dhaka, to sign a long-delayed anti-terror deal with the government of Bangladesh. They need to be assured that the rights of suspects are upheld, and that confessions or witness statements aren’t being extorted by the use of torture. Our own government’s complicity in acts of torture committed abroad is already being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner following allegations in the case of Binyam Mohamed, and we need to be scrupulously careful, particularly where British terrorists are arrested in Bangladesh, that evidence of their activities is not tainted.

At our previous seminar last October 7 Sheikh Hasina reiterated her commitment to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord of 1997, and emphasised the importance of the Land Commission. These policies were in the AL Manifesto; as co-chair of the CHT Commission I discussed them with the Prime Minister when I was in Dhaka two months ago, and we look forward to concrete progress before the CHTC next visits Bangladesh in the summer.

The AL Manifesto promises that terrorism, discriminatory treatment and human rights violations against religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous people would come to an end permanently. There is to be equal opportunity in access to public services, though it remains to be seen how this is to be enforced, and what remedies are to be provided for individuals who still encounter discrimination on grounds of their ethnic origin, religion, language or nationality. Any discriminatory laws and other arrangements are to be repealed, and in education and employment, there is a promise of facilities to remedy the disadvantage experienced by religious minorities and indigenous people.

At the UN’s Review of Bangladesh in February, there were criticisms of the treatment of other indigenous peoples, of religious and ethnic minorities, and of women. There are six requests outstanding from the Human Rights Council for invitations, including one from the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom, submitted five years ago, but still with no date set. In 2002 the Special Rapporteur drew the government’s attention to repeated attacks on religious minorities, including dozens of killings and rapes, and destruction of places of worship. The situation has improved since then, and it would be useful for the government to have that confirmed, and to get the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on what more needs to be done to protect the minorities against the extremists

The AL government has avoided some of the worst effects of the global economic downturn, according to the World Bank, and in a Daily Star opinion poll last Thursday, more than four fifths of the respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the first 100 days of Sheikh Hasina’s premiership. The main area of concern was the law and order situation, and particularly the disorders in the colleges from internal strife in the BCL, the Awami League’s student wing. Its good that two of the ringleaders have now been arrested, and that the leaders of the banned Harkat-ul-Jihad have been charged with complicity in the Ramna Park bomb outrage of 2001. Ten people were killed and dozens injured as they celebrated Bengali New Year, a festival considered anti-Islamic by the extremists. One member of this group is alleged to have supplied the grenades for the attack on Sheikh Hasina on August 2004 when 21 people were killed.

In fact, the biggest challenge to the AL government, and to the stability and prosperity of Bangladesh in the future, is the continued menace of underground extremist organisations such as the HuJi and the JMB, said to number 100,000 supporters. These people are dedicated to the violent overthrow of democracy, and its replacement by a theocratic dictatorship based on what they imagine to be the rule of the Prophet and the two generations after him. In the process they are prepared to slaughter anybody who disagrees with them, and to ruin the lives of ordinary people including good Muslims, by discouraging investment. Bangladesh does have other major problems – a population growth rate of over 2%, requiring huge resources just to keep up the same standards of education, health and other public services, and the displacement of 30 million people caused by a global warming rise of less than a metre in the sea level. To cope with these challenges will require leadership, social cohesion and professional skills, not just over the lifetime of the AL government, but over the generation to come. We can’t look that far ahead this morning, but we may try to see whether, in the first 120 days, they are setting out in the right direction.

Report on Monday's seminar

Daily Star, Dhaka
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
UK MPs for int'l standard war crime trial
Star Online Report

The war crimes trial in Bangladesh should meet international standard, said some members of The House of Lords, the upper house of Britain's parliament, yesterday.

The British parliamentarians at a seminar also suggested appointing an international judge for the trial process, reports ATN Bangla.

The speakers at the seminar also termed the first hundred days of the Bangladesh government satisfactory.

The seminar also discussed several issues including recent BDR mutiny, cancellation of the lease of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia's Dhaka cantonment house, law and order situation and extremism in the country.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

With Rhoda at the door of her flat

The necklace

A tantalising story that needs more research:

My aunt Victoria Woods has a necklace which was left to her by Aunt Vivian, the daughter of Nellie Grant and Algernon Sartoris, who died in 1933 . The necklace was kept until her 18th birthday, May 29, 1935, so she never had the chance to ask Aunt Vivian about its provenance, but the history related by her mother, my grandmother, Margaret Lady Stanley of Alderley (grand daughter of Adelaide Sartoris and daughter of Mary Theodosia Evans Gordon nee Sartoris) was that the necklace was given to Julia Dent Grant by emissaries of the Mexican Emperor Maximilian, as an inducement, to persuade her to influence the General not to support Juarez and the Republicans in the Mexican civil war. Grant of course had a close interest in Mexico stemming from his service there in 1845-47.

If the story is true, the bribe must have been tendered some time before the end of the US Civil War on April 9, 1865 , but after Maximilian came to the throne on June 10, 1864. When Lee surrendered, quite a few Confederates fled across the border and took service under Maximilian, and Grant actively supported the Republicans, with the tacit support of President Johnson. Less than a month after the surrender at Appomatox, Grant sent Sheridan with 42,000 men to the Rio Grande, hoping that a show of strength would persuade Napoleon III to withdraw the French troops propping up Maximilian’s puppet régime . By that time it is inconceivable that the Emperor would have sent a delegation to Grant, or to have sought to influence him through his wife.

Ishbel Ross, Julia Dent Grant’s biographer, says that among the wedding presents given to Nellie was ‘a necklace and earrings of diamonds’ , but they are not in the long list of presents in the New York Herald . The Herald reporter says he was the only journalist invited to the great event at the White House, and if the diamonds were on display with the rest of the presents, he could not have missed them. Perhaps they were concealed because of the awkward problem of how to explain where they came from. The Grants did have a reputation for accepting unsuitable gifts, but if my grandmother’s story was accurate, it could have been really embarrassing.

Eric Avebury
September 20, 2004

JW triumphant

Recess over

Tomorrow Parliament resumes, and its a busy week ahead. In the morning I'm chairing a seminar in Committee Room 3 on the current political situation in Bangladesh, followed by lunch with an academic who is hoping to start a Kurdish Studies Programme at SOAS.

JW has beaten me 2-0 twice in a row, bringing the score up to 101-100. After two years of keeping the records, I suspect that my eyesight and agility may not be improving, whereas his may be. Fifty eight years difference between us may possibly make a slight difference.

We had tea today with Rhoda Torres (see above), who used to work for me more than 30 years ago, when we were at Eccleston Square Mews. She still lives round the corner from there, in a flat with views on two sides, overlooking the traffic lights at the end of Ebury Bridge. Her daughter Diana, a little girl in those days, has a high powered job in New York.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Alex arrives in time for dinner

Maite and JW

View from the spare room this morning


There is much ado in the media about the use of the blogosphere for 'political' purposes, which seems to mean almost entirely for attacking other parties and their members. We read that the three principal Tory bloggers get about 100,000 hit a month, while a leading Labour blogger, Tom Harris MP, notches up only 22,000. My own sitemeter recorded a paltry 1,497 hits in April, but sorry, readers will have to look elsewhere for scandal.

Ping-pong today 1-1, cumulative score Dad 101 JW 96

Friday, April 10, 2009

Reuter on Bahrain press conference

Bahrain opposition wants EU, UN monitors at "show trial"

Wed Apr 8, 2009 2:03pm EDT

* EU, U.N. asked to attend trial of government opponents

* British lawmaker: protesters face "merciless onslaught"

* Bahrain minister says trial is not politically motivated

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON, April 8 (Reuters) - International monitors should attend the trial in Bahrain of opposition figures accused of plotting to overthrow the Gulf state's government to ensure they receive a fair hearing, their supporters said on Wednesday.

British lawmaker Eric Lubbock, vice chairman of the human rights group in the upper house of parliament, called the trial "an iniquitous act of persecution against those who stand up for human rights".

After weeks of violent anti-government protests, he said, Bahrain's Sunni Arab leaders had grown "increasingly ruthless" and observers from the European Union and United Nations were needed at the trial in the island kingdom.

He told a London news conference he feared the fate of Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Shi'ite opposition group Haq, would be sealed in a political "show trial" manipulated by the ruling family in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet.

Bahrain strongly denies those claims. It says Mushaima and others will receive a fair trial and rejects claims the hearings are politically motivated.

"Potentially very serious terrorist attacks were uncovered and prevented in December, and the government has a duty to investigate and prosecute individuals against whom there is evidence," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

Saeed Shehabi, of the Bahrain Freedom Movement, an opposition group, told the news conference: "The presence of EU observers in the forthcoming trials will be crucial."

Lubbock said some anti-government protesters had been injured by police and some of those arrested were tortured.

EU representatives attended the last hearing and should attend the next court date on April 28, and the U.N. torture envoy should also try to go, Lubbock said. (Additional reporting by Frederik Richter in Manama)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Seminar on Bahrain

Today we held very successful seminar on the political and human rights crises in Bahrain at Millbank House, a Parliamentary annex. Our regular guest Dr Abdul Jalil Al-Singace wasn’t able to attend because he is one of the main defendants in the show trial, but he sent us an excellent video statement. We also had a video statement from Maitham Al-Sheikh, who was severely tortured during his 15 months in prison and had to be released for urgent hospital treatment. Then we had a short account of the March 25 court proceedings from Dr David Gottlieb of the Islamic Human Rights Commission; an analysis of the origins of the present crisis by Dr Saeed Shehabi, and comments on the role of women in the popular uprising by Zainab Meftah. There was a general discussion, and it was agreed that we would urge the Czech EU Presidency to commission an observer to attend the adjourned court proceedings on April 28, and that we would contact the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, asking him to investigate the many allegations of torture made by detainees.

My introductory remarks:

The Paradoxes of the Kingdom of Silence

This is an unhappy time for the Kingdom of Silence we are here to discuss, and there is also silence in the western media about the escalating crisis in Bahrain. There is negative feedback between the harsh and repressive acts of the authorities, and the growing resistance of ordinary people on the streets. More people including many schoolchildren are being injured by the security forces and foreign mercenaries, and we have photographs of their injuries. More people are being detained, and many of those detained are being tortured, including the victims of the show trial of 35 who are accused of acts of terror.. The main defendant Mr Hassan Mushaima has been a frequent attendant at our previous seminars, and we strongly believe the trial is an attempt to stop him engaging in political activities. The Haq movement, of which he is leader, is the main
opposition to the regime, and makes no secret of the fact that it wants constitutional reform to replace the absolute monarchy by a democratic system with a genuine Parliament, independent courts of law, freedom of expression, and an end to the demographic engineering exposed by Dr Salah al-Bandar three years ago.

For upholding principles that we say we support all over the world, Mr Mushaima, and our other good friend Abdujalil al-Singace, also a regular guest here, face a trial which has been severely criticised by Human Rights Watch, and I'll come onto that in a minute. But first I want to tell you about a message I had from Dr Singace yesterday, which he was able to send as the only one of the 22 arrested who was granted bail.A friend of his, a professor from the Hoover Institution, a well-known think tank which is part of Stanford University in the US was on a cruise ship that called in at Manama, and he invited Dr Al-Singace to lunch on board the ship with him and his academic colleagues.

When Dr Al-Singace presented himself at the port, officials first said they needed an instruction in writing from the ship's captain or the travel agents to allow him on board. The travel agent then arrived, with a list of visitors that included the name of Dr Al-Singace. But he was still detained by port officals in a security room for an hour and a half, until a senior government official turned up, to announce that the Foreign Ministry had issued an instruction giving permission for only three persons to board the ship and speak to the travellers. These were a member of the ruling family who is an assistant under-secretary of the Foreign Ministry; a Mrs Allison Samaan, Deputy Head of the Shura Council, and Dr Mansoor alJamri, editor-in-chief of Al-Wasat newspaper, tolerated by the government because he knows what not to say on sensitive topics.

The American professor was dismayed, that his idea of asking Dr Al-Singace to speak to the visiting academics was hijacked by the regime, and turned into a circus to polish their image. The professor learned, by hints dropped in his discussions with officials, that Dr Al-Singace was not to be allowed to speak to the visitors for political reasons, but none of
them had the guts to come out and say so plainly. So finally, the professor gave up the idea of having lunch on board as had been agreed with the tour organisers and the ship's agent and decided to come on shore for lunch with Dr Al-Singace. As they were leaving the port area together, they came face to face with Mr Al-Khalifa, who was being greeted with kisses on the nose by port officials, and Ms Samaan, who were waiting to be escorted in their Mercedes to regale the Americans with a fairy story about the 'democracy, transparency and openness' enjoyed by citizens of Bahrain.

Now to return to reality. At the end of last year, the state-controlled TV screened a group of young opposition activists who had been held incommunicado for 11 days confessing to acts of violence at a Haq rally. They said that Mr Mushaima had told them to do this, as part of a plot to overthrow the government, but when they first came to court on February 23, their lawyer said they had been tortured. They said they had been beaten with water hoses on their feet, and given electric shocks, especially on their genitals, and I have asked her whether she has submitted a formal complaint to the UN Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak.

At the last hearing on March 25, the court unprecedentedly agreed to reinvestigate the case, to order an end to the solitary confinement of the defendants, and to appoint a medical committee to investigate the torture allegations. The presence in the court of representatives of the EU Presidency, as well as numerous human rights NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and the Islamic Human Rights Commission, may have had some bearing on this outcome, and I suggest this meeting ask the EU Presidency to attend the resumed hearing on April 28.

But this trial, though it is indeed an iniquitous act of persecution against those who stand up for human rights in Bahrain, is only one aspect of the increasing ruthlessness of the hereditary dictatorship. Seeing that the population has lost patience waiting for the reforms that never came after a controlled Parliament with no real power was established, the al-Khalifas have clamped down on every expression of dissent, using violence on the streets, blocking access to human rights websites, and spying on members of the opposition.

Even the US, Bahrain's staunch ally, has to criticise the regime in the State Department's report on human rights. They say that in 2008

“Citizens did not have the right to change their government The government restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association and some religious practices. Domestic violence against women persisted, as did discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect, particularly against the Shia majority

Yesterday the Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists wrote to the King protesting against the recent deterioration of press freedom in Bahrain and the government's ongoing campaign against critical or opposition Web sites and blogs. The crackdown against those sites has resulted in dozens of them being blocked inside the kingdom, including the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

The State Department report had already detailed mass arrests of demonstrators and their allegations of torture from the whole of last year, and defects in the court system now glaringly apparent to the whole world. The king appoints all judges by royal decree, and he is chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council which supervises the work of the courts
and public prosecutors. There is no right of access by defendants to evidence held by the government.

What can we do to persuade our own Government to be as plain as that, instead of being so careful to avoid commenting on human rights violations in Bahrain, as they have been ever since the Parliamentary Human Rights Group first took up the problems in January 1994? In 1996 we published our correspondence with Foreign Office Ministers under the
title A Brick Wall, and you would have to look at that compilation to see how Ministers evaded expressing any opinion on the disastrous violations of human rights over those years. But when Labour came to power in 1997, it can't be said there was any change of attitude.

When Sheikh Hamad succeeded as ruler, there may have been some temporary grounds for hope of genuine reforms, but it soon turned out that what the ruling family was after was an imitation democracy, with the real power kept in the hands of the king, his uncle, the longest serving Prime Minister in the world, and the rest of the al-Khalifa family, who get appointed to nearly all the highest offices. But the Foreign Office resolutely ignores both the fact that Bahrain continues to be a hereditary dictatorship, and the unscrupulous methods used by the regime to sustain itself in power. Their annual report on human rights for 2008, unlike the State Department's, contains not a word about unlawful detention or torture, or the severe discrimination against the Shi'a.

We shouldn't ever give up on trying to persuade Whitehall to adopt a more robust attitude to the crimes of the al-Khalifas against their own people, but at the same time perhaps we need to concentrate more on Brussels, with the Czech Presidency of the EU at least having an observer at the trial. And the European Parliament has just passed a resolution
calling for the proclamation of 23 August as a Europe-wide Remembrance Day for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.

With the European elections coming up in June, why don't we send a briefing to all the candidates here in the UK on the situation in Bahrain? They could ask the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, to issue a statement on the administration of justice in Bahrain, and more widely on the causes of unrest. The tension between the royal family, terrified of losing one iota of their power, and the people, frustrated by their total exclusion from policy-making, can only lead to instability in a key state of the region, and that must surely be of great concern to Europe.

Finally, we need to activate the UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures, which could play a larger role in highlighting what's going on now. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited the country 8 years ago, shortly after the government had repealed the emergency legislation which had been used to keep opposition leaders in custody for years in the 90s. Now that people are being detained under fabricated
charges, its time for the Working Group to take another look. The Special Rapporteur on Torture, who has never been to Bahrain, should be seeking an invitation. The Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers has an obvious interest in the current situation, as does the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. Above all, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Ms Asma Jehangir, should investigate the systematic discrimination against the Shi'a, mentioned by the US State Department.

Let us send a message of solidarity to our brothers Hassan Mushaima, Abdul Jalil Al Singace, and all other victims of the regime's persecution. Lets resolve to step up the campaign to protect all the people of Bahrain against the merciless onslaught by the hereditary dictatorship, and to mobilise the international human rights process in their defence.

CTC forms: four years of irresponsible carelessness

Since the beginning of 2005, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy has been trying to get the Prison Service to process the confidential Counter-Terrorist Check (CTC) forms quickly and with proper care for the sensitive personal information demanded. After endless attempts to get the matter taken seriously including much correspondence with Ministers and changes of procedure, forms are still being lost and seriously delayed for no apparent reason. Not only are chaplains reluctant to trust that personal information is being held securely, but the effect of the system's unreliability is to demotivate existing chaplains so that they resign, and new potential chaplains who don't like hanging around for six months before the prisons are satisfied they aren't terrorists.
From Lord Avebury P0904044

020-7274 4617

April 4, 2009

Dear Jack,

I’m turning to you in desperation, having corresponded unsuccessfully with a series of Home Office and then Justice Ministers on the Counter-Terrorist Check (CTC) forms that have to be submitted by Buddhist Prison Chaplains for the last four years, starting with Paul Goggins in March 2005 and continuing with Fiona Mactaggart, Patricia Scotland, Gerry Sutcliffe, and finally Philip Hunt. We still haven’t got a workable solution to the simple problem of dealing with CTC Application Forms quickly and effectively after much correspondence and hundreds if not thousands of hours spent on it by the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Angulimala (of which I have been Patron for some 23 years) and Government Departments. In the hope that it may give you some idea of the intractability of the matter, I attach a pdf of most of the correspondence I have had with all those Ministers.

The CTC forms contain sensitive personal information, yet the processing of them is casual in the extreme, as a few recent examples attached demonstrate. Forms get lost, and not infrequently they are ignored for six months, having then to be re-submitted. It doesn’t seem to be appreciated that Buddhist prison chaplains are providing a valuable service, and treating them in this way is disastrously demotivating. We were assured that the processing of the forms by Shared Servicing was going to solve the problem, but that hasn’t been realised. Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with the process itself, but there should be a very simple additional procedure, that the documents be kept in a file with a cover sheet, which the person responsible would sign and date. This would mean that if an official sat on the file for six months, you could tell who is to blame.

The Rt Hon Jack Straw MP,
Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor,
102 Petty France,
London SW1H 9AJ

Dharmachari Sunanda's experience so far:

June 2005

As part of the paperwork chase prior to a security audit, HMP Birmingham insist he complete a CTC form. He was already covered by the one submitted at the end of 2004, so he refused.

They said he had to resubmit the form as they did not have the 2004 one on file. He replied that they had no reason to keep the CTC form on file and it would be illegal to do so.

The matter was allowed to lapse

June 2007

He was aware that his CTC would expire at the end of 2007 but did not want to submit a form via HMP Birmingham unless they could assure him they were using a secure and auditable method of keeping the forms safe.

He emailed Sue Chapman, his line manager, in June 2007 telling her this. He had no reply, and she retired from the prison service December 2007.

January 2008

His CTC clearance had expired, and he heard nothing from the prison. He kept Ven Khemadhammo, Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy, informed of his status.

February 2008

Ven Khemadhammo received a letter from Head of Prison Service, Phil Wheatley, referring in part to the Buddhist Chaplain at HMP Birmingham. Mr Wheatley said he has asked West Midlands Area Manager Sue McAlister to contact Dharmachari Sunanda, but she has not done so

Approx April 2008

Omar from Personnel asked him verbally a couple of times to give him a fresh CTC form; and indicates that he will personally keep it safe. He said he was waiting for a response from his line management first.

October 2008

Prior to another security audit, HMP Birmingham asked him to complete a CTC form, and he referred them to previous correspondence, especially that with Phil Wheatley.

November 2008

Rev Saido told him of a trial procedure that permits CTC to be submitted directly to Shared Services vetting team. He sent them a form on November 17, 2008, and informed HMP Birmingham accordingly.

December 2008

Shared Services return the form as he had signed it in only one of the two places necessary. He corrected this and sent it again.

February 2009

On February 27, Shared Services telephoned him with a query about the form and he answered, to their satisfaction.

April 2009

As of April 2, he has heard nothing more.

Ven. Phra Maha Sangthong Dhammacaro - Brixton

His completed CTC form and his nomination to be Buddhist chaplain to HMP Brixton was submitted through Brixton in July 2008. In January 2009 it was returned for him to sign again because it was six months old and therefore out of date. There has been no further word on any progress. The former Buddhist chaplain to Brixton resigned on April 27, 2008, after serving as Buddhist chaplain to Brixton for many years. He had been asked to complete a CTC form in 2007 and it had been lost. He complained to the Information Commissioner but with no result. Ven. Sangthong was ready to replace him immediately but it took until July to get his form properly filled in - he is Thai and was not immediately in possession of all the facts asked for - and submitted.

Jean Spinks - Bedford

Her completed CTC form and nomination to be Buddhist chaplain to HMP Bedford was submitted through Bedford in July 2008. It has since been returned for her to sign again because it was six months old and therefore out of date. Jean was also required to appear at the prison with her passport etc to submit to an identity check, this is normal procedure but it had to be on a Friday, because that was the only day that the person responsible for establishing identity since the disbanding of local personnel departments was available to do it. That meant that Jean had to take a day off work. Again, no further word on the progress of this CTC application.

Dh. Jayamitra (Julian Kreeger) - Pentonville.

On January 21st he wrote to Ven Khemadhammo:

Today I received back my CTC from the vetting service people in Newport, to be signed by me and dated again as the signatures are now more than 6 months old.(This is the original; when I went into Pentonville they had `lost` it, so I filled out another copy there). I`ll send it back to them today.

Actually it looks like it hadn't been lost but sent on to Shared Services but the person in Pentonville didn't know that, so now he has filled in another! Pentonville has been a very difficult prison to deal with and get anyone appointed to. To date, no further word.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

More from SCMP

More from the

South China Morning Post

UK set to make HK minorities citizens

1,000 BN(O) holders to get British abode

Ambrose Leung
Mar 31, 2009

Hundreds of stateless members of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities are set to gain full British citizenship, when peers in the UK decide tomorrow to relax an immigration rule which has stranded them in Hong Kong since the handover.
The amendments to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill will benefit mainly people of Nepali and South Asian origin, estimated to number about 1,000.

But the altered law will still bar Hong Kong Chinese holding British National (Overseas) passports from applying for full citizenship.
The two amendments, originally proposed by Lord Avebury, of the opposition Liberal Democrats, were adopted by the government and are now sponsored by the Labour Party's Home Office spokesman, Lord West of Spithead. They will open the door to people who were left stateless when, for various reasons, they failed to apply for full British citizenship before the handover.
Speaking from London, Lord Avebury, who has long campaigned for resolving what he called unfinished business left open by London before 1997, welcomed the British government's latest position.
"I am very happy indeed. In 1997, the government promised nobody would be stateless as a result of the handover. This is a fulfilment of the promise they made. We are just insisting they fulfil all their promises."
Lord Avebury estimated the number of people affected was about 1,000.
The expected change to the law would end one of what London has admitted is a series of "anomalies" in its immigration policies. Before the handover, about 8,000 British Dependent Territories Citizens (BDTC) - mostly former Gurkhas in the British forces and their descendants - were granted British citizenship. But some who applied, including those who did not fulfil the requirement of being ordinarily resident in Hong Kong on or before February 4, 1997, because they were abroad at the time either studying or as minors travelling with their parents, were denied citizenship.
They were given BN(O) passports - which carry no right of abode in Britain - after the BDTC passport expired at the handover. They include Nepalis who had renounced their nationality before seeking British citizenship, as Nepal did not recognise dual nationality. Being non-Chinese and unable to receive Chinese nationality they were considered "stateless" by the British, and some were only allowed to stay in Hong Kong at the government's discretion.
Lord Avebury expected the earliest date those concerned could apply for British citizenship would be in the summer, after the expected passage of the bill in the House of Lords, and expected endorsement in the House of Commons by the Labour majority.
He said it would rectify the problems left over by a 2002 law, which granted citizenship to British overseas citizens, British subjects and British protected persons but not to BN(O) holders. In Hong Kong, a spokesman for the British consulate said the move was intended to address "various anomalies" relating to the awarding of British citizenship. If passed, it would only cover a limited number of stateless people and would not confer British citizenship to anyone already eligible for nationality of another state.
Law Yuk-kai, director of Human Rights Monitor, said Britain "has a moral obligation to correct its mistakes, and should not leave behind its former subjects because of technical reasons". Ganesh Kumar Ijam, spokesman for the Hong Kong Nepalese Federation, said: "This would definitely be one more option for Nepalese to live and work in the UK. Whether they will go would depend on their individual judgments."
The Immigration Department said about 4,800 foreigners had applied for Hong Kong SAR passports in the past three years. Foreigners can renounce their nationality and apply to be naturalised as Chinese citizens.

Thousands may qualify under UK abode plan
Ambrose Leung
Apr 01, 2009

The number of stateless people belonging to ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong, who may become British citizens as a result of an imminent change in an immigration law, may reach into the thousands, the British government says.
This latest estimate by the British Home Office is higher than the original estimate by the politician pushing for changes to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, which will be put to a vote today in the House of Lords.

Members of the Nepali community in Hong Kong welcomed the Labour government's adoption of the two amendments moved by Lord Avebury, of the Liberal Democrats.
They urged officials to state clearly who would be eligible if the bill was passed.
The South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) yesterday cited Lord Avebury's estimate of about 1,000 predominantly Nepali people who could benefit from the move. A spokesman for the British consulate said the number would not be too high.
"In practice, only a limited number of people will be eligible under these proposals," he said. "The Home Office believes that the numbers are in the thousands, not tens of thousands. Detailed eligibility criteria will be published after the law is passed."
If the amendments are passed - which is also likely to ensure support in the House of Commons because of the Labour majority, it would end one of what Britain has admitted is a series of "anomalies" in its immigration policies. Before the handover, about 8,000 British Dependent Territories Citizens (BDTC) - mostly former Gurkhas in the British forces and their descendants - were granted British citizenship.
But some who applied, including those who did not fulfil the requirement of being ordinarily resident in Hong Kong on or before February 4, 1997, were denied citizenship.
They were given British National (Overseas) passports - which carry no right of abode in Britain - after the BDTC passport expired at the handover. They included Nepalis who had renounced their nationality before seeking British citizenship. Being non-Chinese and unable to receive Chinese nationality, they were considered "stateless" by the British, with some allowed to stay in Hong Kong only at the government's discretion.
Ekraj Rai, chairman of the Hong Kong Minority Communities Association, called on the British government to clarify what he described as a very complex system of immigration regulations that had seen multiple amendments in past years.
Fermi Wong Wai-fun, director of Unison Hong Kong for Ethnic Equality and who works with Nepali groups, said the British government had a moral duty to cater for the rights of those who had previously served it in the colonies.
"The British should clarify who would be eligible as soon as possible," she said.
Lords back citizenship for BN(O) holders

Ambrose Leung
Apr 02, 2009

Peers in the House of Lords last night endorsed a long-desired change to British immigration law, which would open doors to Britain for thousands of Nepali and South Asian people currently living in Hong Kong.
The amendment to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill sought to give full British citizenship to a group of British National (Overseas) passports holders who do not have citizenship in any country.

Speaking in the debate, Lord Avebury, of the opposition Liberal Democrats, said he was grateful to the Labour government for adopting his amendment, which would solve the long-standing problem in the immigration system that left some of its former colonial subjects stateless.
"When transferring Hong Kong to the Chinese, the government did promise to leave nobody stateless. But in the end it did leave people stateless. This amendment now rectifies this anomaly," he said.
Lord Brett, speaking on behalf of Lord West of Spithead, the Labour government's Home Office spokesman who co-sponsored the amendment, said the amendment would "provide a new route" for BN(O) holders in Hong Kong who are stateless to become British citizens.
"I would confirm that was a relatively small number," he said, saying the figure to benefit would amount up to "thousands".
Last night the lords continued to debate and vote on the remaining clauses of the bill. Lord Avebury's other amendment which dealt with the transfer of citizenship by descent was withdrawn.
Lord Avebury expected the bill to be quickly passed by the Labour majority when it reaches the House of Commons. He said the application for citizenship could begin in the summer.
About 8,000 British Dependent Territories Citizens - mostly former Gurkhas in the British forces and their descendants - were granted British citizenship before the handover in 1997. But some, including those who did not fulfil the requirement of being ordinarily resident in Hong Kong on or before February 4, 1997, were denied citizenship.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Yesterday I spent editing a report on the Chittagong Hill Tracts (as co-chair of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission); constructing a letter to Jack Straw about security procedures in the prisons for visiting chaplains (as Patron of the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Angulimala); writing to two British aid workers in Colombia about an announcement of a change in our policy on Colombia; helping a neighbour who married a Japanese citizen when she was awaiting the outcome of an appeal against refusal of her application for an extension of leave to remain as a student, and writing to Home Office Minister Lord West to correct a point I made in one of the debates on Wednesday. I had misinterpreted a note, while I was sitting on the bench, about correspondence between the Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill and the Home Office Minister who deals with immigration, Phil Woolas MP.

The recess will allow me to prepare for a press conference on the human rights situation in Bahrain next Wednesday, and looking ahead a bit further, a seminar on Traveller accommodation in London in City Hall at the end of the month, as well as continuing to clear the piles of paper off the floor and make sure I've dealt with them!

Ping-pong with JW yesterday 1-1, cumulative score 100-95.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Victoria came over today and did another blitz on the filing, cleared a lot of the papers off the floor, and rearranged a lot of the stuff, liberating quite a few boxes. We had a game of ping-pong before she left, which I won 2-0. Also had one game with JW which I won, but he defeated me 2-0 yesterday, making the total 99-94. JW has been working as a volunteer in Simon Hughes' office today.

Lindsay and Phil this morning

Phil Krone has been with us this week, in between visits to Paris and Prague. He was delighted by the great welcome accorded to President Obama - as we all were - and took back armfuls of newspapers

With Phil

Creature in Myatt's Fields

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Borders, Citizenship & Immigration Bill

Yesterday was the second and final day of Report Stage of the Bill, in which our long-running campaign to secure gender equality of citizenship rights between children born abroad was finally brought to a successful conclusion. Now, it will make no difference to a child whether the claim is based on descent through the female or male line. That was in the Bill as drafted, but we also got some of what we wanted through amendments - the right to registration as a citizen of a minor born to a British citizen by descent, and another on the right of a British National (Overseas) who has no other citizenship to register s a British citizen. These amendments were tabled by the Government in response to our requests made earlier in the Bill, and over some years before that.

In addition, we and the Tories voting together won two major amendments, on the 'common travel area', and the transfer of judicial review cases from the High Court to the 'upper tribunal', though it is possible these victories will be reversed when the Bill gets to the Commons.

Apart from these changes to the text of the Bill, we also had an undertaking to consider further, our proposal to equalise the right of an illegitimate child who can prove their paternity, in circumstances where they would have been entitled to British citizenship if the father had been married to the mother. We also had a sympathetic response from the Minister, Bill Brett, on the citizenship rights of descendants of the Chagos Islanders, who were evicted from their homeland in 1969 to make way for a US base. The Government weren't prepared to give way, but said that discussions between the islanders' representatives and the Foreign Office could include questions of citizenship. We entered the caveat that if the offer is accepted, it should be without prejudice to their claim to be allowed to return.

There was also a promise to add a glossary of the technical terms used in the Bil, as there was in the draft Bill published last July.

The Bill implements an undertaking by the Government for the immigration service to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, as all other public authorities are already obliged to do under the Children Act 2004. But, inexplicably, the duty will only apply to officials in the UK, and not to either officials or contractors escorting families being deported, or at the detention centres we maintain in France and Belgium. We tried to put that right, but couldn't persuade the Tories to vote on it.

Finally, we got an undertaking right at the end, to discuss the position of the children born to British mothers and foreign fathers overseas, who are already being granted citizenship rights under Clause 43 of this Bill as a result of our earlier campaigning over many years, but who are on some other and inferior route to British citizenship. If there are deadlines in the latter process, how would they be allowed to put that process on hold, pending the coming into force of Clause 43? That's what we need to discuss with Ministers now.

News from The Forest Hermitage

The March issue of the NewsLetter of the Ven Chao Khun Bhavanaviteht (Luangpor Khemadhammo) OBE is at

One of the matters referred to in the News and Musings is the extraordinary saga of the Buddhist Adviser to the Armed Forces, and the Endorsing Authority (EA) which was established to monitor this operation. The Ministry of Defence appointed Mr Ron Maddox as Adviser some years ago, and when he didn't like the agenda for an EA meeting, he wrote letters to the majority of the members purporting to dismiss them. The Minister, Kevan Jones MP, upheld this arbitrary action, saying that the appointment pf members of the EA was a matter for the Buddhist communities, though Mr Maddox hadn't consulted any of them. The representative organiation of the Buddhist Sangha (the body of monks) wrote protesting about the decision, but their views have been ignored by the Minister. The text of my latest letter (dated March 15) to the Minister follows, and awaits a response:

Thank you for your letter of February 27, ref D/Min(Veterans)/KJ MC00598/2009, about the Endorsing Authority for the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy. Will you please let me have the names of the persons on the EA which has been appointed by Mr Ron Maddox, and how you reached the opinion that they represent a broad spectrum of Buddhist traditions – other than being assured of this by Mr Maddox himself?

You say that the appointment of Mr Maddox was made on the advice of the Buddhist Society, of which Mr Maddox was an official at the time. The Buddhist Society doesn’t ‘represent a broad spectrum of Buddhist traditions’ but has been run by a small inner circle for some years. Perhaps that helps to account for its declining membership and other internal problems. I used to be a member of the Society but discontinued my membership some years ago, after Christmas Humphreys died.

You now repeat, as you have said several times already, that the provision of a Religious Endorsing Authority is a matter for the Buddhist communities to agree on There was a working EA, and by your own logic there ought to have been consultation when Mr Maddox decided to write to the majority of its members purporting to dismiss them. Why did you not then say to Mr Maddox, as you keep reiterating to me, that the EA is a matter for the Buddhist communities? I agree with you, it shouldn’t be for one autocrat to decide or suddenly alter the composition of the EA, without any consultation whatsoever.

Equally, by the principle you say you are following, the appointment of Mr Maddox should be a matter for periodic consultation with the Buddhist communities. You haven’t responded to my challenging the permanence of this appointment, and I ask you to address that point now.

In the meanwhile, as I said in my last letter, since we have made no progress through private correspondence, I agreed with the Ven Khemadhammo Mahathera that your letter be made available to a wider circle of the Buddhist communities, and to this end he has placed your letter on his blog, accompanied by the attached comment. I am considering whether any additional means of disseminating the problem are needed, so that you may know whether ‘the Buddhist communities’ think there has been adequate consultation, either on the appointment of Mr Maddox as Buddhist Adviser t the Armed Forces, or his purported dismissal of members of the Endorsing Authority. In the meanwhile, I venture to hope that your letter of February 27 wasn’t your last word on the subject, and that you will now heed the advice we have been trying to offer, which I respectfully suggest is more representative than the advice your officials have taken so far.