Sunday, February 28, 2010

A very successful event

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At the Tooting dinner, with Rafiq Hayat and Nasser Butt. Ed Davey MP, LibDem Shadow Foreign Secretary, on the left next to Rafiq
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JW and Maite arriving at Stansted yesterday

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This week

It has been quite busy since I last posted, and there is still plenty of homework to do for next week.

Monday, some of us met a delegation of Somali Ministers. I asked them whether their 'government controlled more than 20% of the territory of south and central Somalia, ie excluding Somaliland and Puntland, and they just waffled. Similarly, I got no answer to the question of whether they would recognise Somaliland as an independent state.

A Reuters report today says that

'The insurgents [al-Shabaab]control most of the south of the drought-ravaged country, where fighting between the rebels and government troops, has worsened one of the world's most acute humanitarian crisis'.

Al-Shabaab has ordered the World Food Programme to leave the country, but WFP says it will carry on as long as its safe for their staff to remain.

Tuesday I attended a seminar by former President Musharraf of Pakistan. He said he was actively considering a return to politics, and I think many people in Pakistan would welcome him with open arms.

Wednesday morning, my EU Subcommittee met to consider a first draft of the report on our current inquiry, into the protection of Europe against large scale cyber attacks. What will the Tories, who are veering towards an anti-European stance, say about collective action of this kind? In the afternoon, a meeting to plan our tactics for Report stage of the Equality Bill, which begins on Tuesday.

This evening I went to a dinner in Tooting for our prospective LibDem Parliamentary candidate, Nasser Butt. Its an interesting challenge, with the Labour majority down from 17,000 to 5,000 at the 2005 election, when our campaign wasn't very strong. Nasser has proved himself as an activist in previous elections, and should do very wellhere.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010


The 10-day Parliamentary recess comes to an end on Monday, and its back to work, only six weeks before the dissolution and the general election campaign. Having this week off has been a good opportunity of clearing up some of the heaps of paper on the floor, as well as having a bit of time off. I finished Christopher Hogwood's Handel, a great book which increased my admiration for the composer. Its a pity we still hear mainly the favourites like Messiah when there's so much else in his huge output, like Giulio Cesare in Egitto which I listened to on CD - conducted by Karl Richter, with Dietrich Fischer-Diskau as Caesar, Tatiana Troyannos as Cleopatra. The next on my reading list is Alison Weir's The Lady in the Tower, about the last months of Anne Boleyn and the aftermath of her execution. Yesterday I attended an excellent lecture at the National Army Museum by John Sadler, on the battle of Towton. He's written a book on the subject, to be published shortly by Sword and Pen. And yesterday evening Lindsay and I went to St Martin's in the Fields to hear a performance of Musikalisches Opfer, which Lindsay said was too cerebral for her taste.

In the afternoon the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commissioner and a colleague called on me to talk about the latest developments including the programme for returning the 280,000 IDPs to their homes, since the crushing of the LTTE last year. Good progress is being made, with demining the former war zones and rebuilding destroyed or badly damaged houses. Road and rail links to the north are being restored steadily, and with a growth rate of 6% the economy can sustain the infrastructure spending needed.

They are obviously not pleased about the EU's severance of the trade preferences, on the grounds of Sri Lanka's human rights violations, and they consider that insufficient allowance has been made for Sri Lanka's emergence from a civil war that had lasted for 25 years, but the EU's demands are reasonable: that within six months, laws should be passed to ensure the independence of the judiciary, the police, the civil service and the elections department and that minimum human rights standards are met. These aren't requirements that would present any great difficulty, and in the further dialogue between Brussels and Colombo, we could suggest that if they are ready in principle to comply with these standards, we would offer technical advice on drafting the necessary Bills.

There is another risk - that Sri Lanka, with its historic ties to the UK, and its decision to upgrade the use of English in parallel with Sinhala and Tamil in the public service, could nevertheless turn increasingly to China. Of course, we should welcome the availability of Chinese help in rebuilding the north, but we still have a lot to offer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bangladesh meeting report

An account of our recent seminar was published in the Bangladesh newspaper Independent:

Pandemonium at seminar on HR in Bangladesh

A seminar on Democracy and Human Rights in Bangladesh was abruptly ended when the supporters of Awami League and BNP started shouting at the British House of Lords in London on Monday, according to ANA.
The report said that the International Bangladesh Foundation organised the seminar at No 3 committee room of the House of Lords with vice-chair of the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group Lord Avebury in the chair. The seminar was attended, among others, by BNP senior joint secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, Bangladesh High Commissioner to London Dr M Saidur Rahman Khan, BNP international affairs secretary Kamaruddin, Awami League UK unit acting general secretary Syed Faruk, BNP lawmaker Abul Khayer Bhuiyan and British lawmaker Baroness Paula Uddin.
ANA reports that Fakhrul Islam Alamgir in his 25-minute speech brought allegation of issuance of eviction notice on Leader of the Opposition from her Cantonment residence, torturing the detained people to death, taking away rights of speech and media, torture on religious minority after the general election on December 29, 2008 and cruelty to women.
As the Bangladesh High Commissioner to London Saidur Rahman Khan stood up for reply to the allegations, the BNP supporters who were in the audience started shouting that the High Commissioner was appointed on political ground and thus they did not come to listen to the government voice.
The BNP UK unit convener Kamaruddin termed the present Awami League government as the by-product of General Moeen while the AL supporters in the audience shouted General Moeen was better than General Ziaur Rahman.
The BNP supporters again shouted when the Bangladesh High Commissioner pronounced Bangabandhu as Father of the Nation.
As the shouting of both the groups reached its peak, the seminar chairman Lord Avebury felt embarrassed and concluded the session.
Quoting seminar organiser Sujit Sen, ENA reported that Lord Avebury in his speech hoped that the BNP decision to join the Parliament session would not be hampered due to adverse comment of Prime Minister about the body of Ziaur Rahman.
He said that the ruling party should create scope for cooperation of the opposition parties and democracy could not be fruitful without the active cooperation of the opposition.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


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The Victoria and Albert

This afternoon we visited the V & A to see their collection of ancient musical instruments, which they announced were being put into store permanently to make way for a fashion exhibition, only to discover that we were already too late. Its a totally outrageous decision, made without any consultation with the music world, let alone the general public. But then I suppose it stems partly from what they see as popular taste, which they believe esteems fashion as a superior cultural good compared with music. Yet the fashion labels are miles too expensive for ordinary people, and some of them are downright ugly (

Next thing you know, the V & A will be relegating their statue of Handel to the junkyard. Perhaps it should be taken over by some other institution such as the Royal Albert Hall where it would be safe, and venerated by the musical public.

Chinese New Year

Lindsay on the way home from the Secularist of the Year. It was also the Chinese New Year yesterday, and the Chinese community was celebrating it with lively street decorations
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With Prajna Patel, who received the award on behalf of the Southall Black Sisters

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Southall Black Sisters

This year's winner of the Secularist of the Year was the Southall Black Sisters, a not-for-profit organisation established in 1979 to meet the needs of black (Asian and African-Caribbean) women. They highlight and challenge violence against women; empower them to gain more control over their lives; to live without fear of violence; and to assert their human rights to justice, equality and freedom. They have been at the forefront of challenging domestic and gender violence locally and nationally, and campaigning for the provision of support services to enable women and their children to escape violent relationships.

Their resource centre in West London provides a comprehensive service to women victims of violence and abuse, with specialist advice, information, casework, advocacy, counselling and self-help support services in several community languages. They are managed by a group of women with long experience of women's struggles and commitment to women's rights.

With Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society

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Home education

We're getting a lot of correspondence about the home education proposals in the Children, Schools and Families Bill. Here's what I said in a letter I wrote yesterday in reply to one of them:

Thank you for writing to me about the home education proposals in the Children, Schools and Families Bill. We believe these are ill-thought out and heavy handed, as our LibDem spokesperson Joan Walmsley has said in the Lords. Not only have ministers not yet properly thought out what should be expected of home educators, but they are now in danger of enforcing a “one size fits all” education through a system of registration which could well become a licensing system. LibDem MPs therefore voted against the existing Government proposals.

The LibDems support those who want to home educate, and understand that it is usually a positive choice for the children and parents involved. However, we always have in mind the right of the child to an education. We regret that the Badman Report has given the impression that home education is more likely to be related to child protection issues than school education, and we understand why this has caused concern. It is important that the policing of child protection issues is separated from the issue of whether a suitable education is being delivered.

Local authorities can’t do their present job if they don’t know which children are being home educated, so parents should tell them. A voluntary system wouldn’t address the minority of cases where home education could be of poor quality or non existent. But notification is very different from licensing or registration. Our intention is that notification would lead to more support for home educators, such as help with exam costs and access to resources. It is also reasonable to ask all home educating parents to provide information on their home education strategy annually in writing or at a meeting so that the local authority can help and support them where required.

Further detailed consultation is needed on what is reasonably required of home educators before giving local authorities or the Government the power to approve only home education that complies with defined rules. As long as the child’s rights are being fulfilled there should be scope for a great variety of approaches. However, if it is any consolation to you, it is unlikely that these provisions will survive in the Bill because when the General Election is called they will not have been properly debated in the House of Lords, and we will not support the measures as they stand.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Short week

This evening Parliament has risen for a 10-day recess, with a crowded timetable in the next few weeks before the general election, which everybody assumes will be on May 6. The Equality Bill finished Committee stage yesterday and we're still hoping that by Report stage on March 2, the Government will have considered the powerful representations on adding caste to the characteristics for which there is protection against discrimination.

Yesterday the Eritrean Ambassador came to lunch, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about the situation in the Horn of Africa, and in particular the impasse on Ethiopia's refusal to accept the internationally approved border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Both countries maintain large forces on either side, and a huge swathe of territory is effectively barred to occupation and agriculture. The unnecessary burden on the economies of two poor countries is appalling, and the international community is largely to blame for not being firmer with Ethiopia.

We also talked about the trouble on Eritrea's border with Djibouti, on which the Ambassador promised to send me a note; the disorder in Somalia, which he thought should be addressed by the withdrawal of foreign forces and of the support given to the 'government', and human rights concerns in Eritrea like the detention of opposition activists including conscientious objectors. The Ambassador said that prisoners were not in secret locations, contrary to the universal findings of human rights organisations.

After that I chipped in on Navnit Dholakia's question about the ill-treatment of asylum-seekers by the UK Borders Agency (; then spoke in the Asylum (Designated States) Order, on Kosovo and Korea (as well as the point about gays, see earlier posting)

This morning, before the Bahrain press conference, I spoke on Lord Sheikh's question, about the Tamils of Sri Lanka:

Lord Avebury: The Minister may have seen the claim made yesterday by a Sri Lankan Minister that all the IDPs have been resettled except 70,000. Whatever the actual number, does the Minister agree that there is no coherent programme for making the former inhabited areas that were subject to conflict safe for habitation by removing the mines and by rebuilding the damaged or destroyed houses? Also, what progress has been made in dealing with the 11,000 alleged former LTTE fighters who are in indefinite detention? Will they be brought to trial?

Lord Brett: The noble Lord makes two important points. I will have to write to him with up-to-date information on the point about the detainees, but he is absolutely right about the requirement for demining and for reconstruction. DfID is providing some £12.5 million of humanitarian funding aimed at supporting two British NGOs, the HALO Trust and the Mines Advisory Group, to undertake demining activities. We are also supporting the UN operations team to provide transitional shelter for 2,000 returning IDP families to the Vanni area.

PHRG mission to Pakistan

Following a meeting at the Foreign Office on Monday, the Parliamentary Human Rights Group mission to Pakistan to investigate the treatment of minority religious communities is going ahead. Although the government has undertaken to address these problems, it provides them with no protection against incitement to religious hatred, and the laws that discriminate against particular minorities encourage a societal attitude of intolerance. Among the many submissions to the UN's Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan on the parlous condition of the minorities, it was stated that "Violence and discrimination by Islamic extremists and rival religious and ethnic groups regularly plague the country’s Shiite, Christian, Ahmadi, Hindu, and Sikh populations".

Joshua speaking

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With Joe (L) and Joshua (R) at the HRW presentation

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This morning we had an excellent seminar given by Joe Stork and Joshua Colangelo-Bryan of Human Rights Watch on their just-published report Torture Redux: The Revival of Physical Coercion during Interrogations in Bahrain. By a combination of interviews with people who had been tortured in custody, and documentary evidence including medical reports, HRW demonstrates beyond doubt that torture as a means of extorting confessions from detainees, has become common again, after a period following the accession of Sheikh Hamad when it was in abeyance. Joshua said that it wasn't just a case of misconduct by individual interrogators; the sheer extent of the evidence and the fact that no reports had been made by officials of the Internal Affairs Department- responsible for investigating abuse of detainees - or of the Public Prosecution Office, who are supposed to interview detainees in the presence of their lawyer within 48 hours of arrest, makes it clear that torture is condoned by the authorities.

HRW are making 14 detailed recommendations to the government of Bahrain - which is a signatory of the Convention Against Torture - and are asking the governments of the US, France and the UK to urge the government of Bahrain to comply with them. They want the training provided to Bahrain's security forces by the three states to be made conditional on the ending of torture, and of impunity for the officials who order, carry out or acquiesce in acts of torture.

Parliament has now risen for a 10-day recess, so questions to Ministers on the Government's response to these recommendations will have to wait. In the meanwhile I'm writing to Ivan Lewis MP, the Minister at the FCO who deals with the Middle East, drawing his attention to the HRW report and its recommendations.
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Sam Rainsy

Question on Today's Order Paper:

Lord Avebury to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will propose that the European Union makes representations to the government of Cambodia about the convictions and prison sentences passed on the leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, and two Members of Parliament belonging to his party.

Monday evening Sam Rainsy came to see us in the Lords, to give us a summary of the latest developments in Hun Sen's longrunning persecution of him and his party. He was convicted in absentia on trumped-up charges and sentenced to two years in prison, and two MPs of his Party have been imprisoned, so for the time being he has to stay in exile. Last time there was a similar episode, he was given a royal pardon in response to representations from all round the world, so we need to generate a new campaign.

Asylum and homophobia

On Monday the Church of England’s General Synod effectively rejected an appeal for tolerance on issues of sexual orientation by the Archbishop of Canterbury, when the Archbishop of Uganda, the Very Rev Henry Orombi, made a ‘pugnacious speech’ according to The Guardian, placing his church firmly behind the homophobic legislation now going through the Ugandan Parliament.

As it happens, the House of Lords was debating legislation to add two countries to the ‘white list’ of states which are supposedly safe for asylum-seekers to return to. I started my speech with a reference to the treatment of gays in certain countries, and Uganda in particular:

The last time we had a designated states order was July 2007, when I asked, for the second time, whether the Government had considered the use of the power to designate states in respect of straight people only, given that so many countries tolerate hate speech and violence against homosexuals or even pass explicitly anti-gay legislation, such as the Bill in Uganda, which President Obama has described as "odious". I had no answer on either occasion, so I try for the third time to persuade the Minister to agree that subsection (5C)(h) would allow the Secretary of State to designate a state for persons of a given sexual orientation if he considers that appropriate and, further, that the persecution of gays in some states would fully justify this use of the power.

Bangladesh Seminar, Committee Room 3

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Meeting on Bangladesh this morning

Bangladesh meeting Monday

Welcome to Mr Mirza Fakrul Islam, senior secretary general of Bangladesh Nationalist Party and an ex Minister, and we’re also honoured by the presence of H E Professor Dr Syedur Rahaman Khan, the High Commissioner.

We are pleased to learn that the BNP is rejoining the parliament tomorrow after a long absence, and we look forward to hearing about the policies they will be advocating on democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and I certainly hope they won’t be deterred by the Prime Minister’s gratuitous statement in Parliament about the grave of the late president Ziaur Rahman. The people of Bangladesh would like to hear their views on democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and Parliament is the place where those matters can be discussed and reported in the media.

In the first year of the present government, some progress has been made, but there are grounds for serious concern in certain areas. The trials of the BDR mutineers are moving slowly and the proceedings are not transparent. With the killers of Bangabandhu, on the other hand, the legislation was passed hastily, the trial rushed through, and the five have already been executed.

On the war criminals of the 1971 liberation war, in which three million people are estimated to have been killed, there is concern about the conformity of the 1973 Act with international standards, and the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs has said in reference to Bangladesh that respect for due process in high-profile trials is particularly significant for a country's international reputation.

Second, there seems to be a deterioration in the law and order situation. In spite of the strong commitment to human rights by the AL, Human Rights Watch reports that in 2009 extrajudicial executions, custodial torture, and impunity for members of the security forces continued. Killings by RAB actually increased in the second half of 2009. RAB had to apologise for the torture of the New Age journalist F M Masum, an act that was condemned by the Leader of the Opposition. Khaleda Zia said that incidents such as this had increased since the AL government came to power.

One immediate problem is the violence and intimidation being used by the student League BCL, affiliated to the AL, to interfere with the admission process of Dhaka University Bangladesh and other institutions of higher education. Ministers say they will act against these criminal activities, but surely the answer is a strong police presence on the campus, to arrest and bring the culprits to trial.

On corruption, the government has asked for the withdrawal of charges initiated under the interim government against AL supporters, but nearly all the cases against members of the present opposition are continuing. Its difficult to understand how the legal process can be manipulated in this way by a government supposedly committed to the rule of law, and why the independent Anti-Corruption Commission isn’t allowed to do its job.

The Human Rights Commission, reinstated last July under a former Chief Justice with extra powers to investigate violations by the country's armed forces and police - another high profile undertaking in the AL’s manifesto – is also virtually invisible.

In the CHT – where I have to declare an interest as co-chair of the CHT Commission, in which capacity I have visited Bangladesh three times - the withdrawal of some military forces last year was a welcome development. But other crucial recommendations we have made are not yet implemented. In particular we said there should be a time-bound action plan for implementation of all the provisions of the 1997 Peace Accord, and that the Land Commission should give priority to settling the vexatious disputes between indigenous people and settlers on title, which cause a great deal of friction.

Perhaps our distinguished guest will explore some of these issues in his remarks, but we very much look forward to this opportunity of hearing the insights of such a key figure in the politics of Bangladesh, whatever his priorities are.

After the meeting on caste and the Equality Bill

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Equality Bill - caste

This morning we had a one and three quarter hour meeting with the Minister, Baroness Thornton, who is steering the Equality Bill through the Lords, at her invitation, to put the case for dealing with caste discrimination while the Bill gives us the opportunity. The agenda is reproduced below and would you believe it, all those listed spoke, plus others besides. It was a unique and historic demonstration of unity by the organisations representing several hundred thousand people from the Dalits and 'Scheduled Castes' living in the UK, and as the Minister said in her reply, this is an issue whose time has come.

It still remains to be seen whether the Government will agree to amendments while the Bill gives us the opportunity and the pressure needs to be maintained.


11.45 February 4, 2010 Meeting

Caste and the EQUALITY BILL

Committee Room 4a, HOUSE OF LORDS

Chair Baroness Thornton

Introduction Lord Avebury

Speakers (maximum 3 minutes except for Annapurna who gets max 10 minutes)

ACDA (Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance) Dr Raj Chand

MMU(Manchester Metropolitan University) Ms AnnapurnaWaughray

CWUK (CasteWatch UK) Mr Sat Pal Muman

DSN UK (Dalit Solidarity Network UK) Mrs Meena Varma

SGRS-UK (Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha UK) Mr Sat Paul

CARJ/CACD Mr Haynes Baptiste

(Catholic Association for Racial Justice)/(Coalition Against Caste Discrimination)

British Asian Christian Council D Mr William Sidhu

Asian Christian Association Mr Ramesh Alexander

ACC (Association for Community Cohesion) Mr Savio Mahimaidass

VODI (Voice of Dalit International) Mr Eugene Culas

Central Valmik Sabha International(UK) Mr Gian Chand Ghaiwal

Central Valmik Sabha (Southall) Mr Gurpal Gill

Shri Guru Ravidass Temple (Foleshill, Coventry) Mr Pashori Lal

Federation of Ambedkerite and Buddhist Organisations Mr Gautum Chakravarty

Asian Rationalist Society, Britain Mr Sachdev Virdee

International Humanist and Ethical Alliance Keith Porteous Wood

Response by Baroness Thornton

Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC
Rodney Bickerstaffe, president of the UK National Pensioners Convention and former leader of Britain's largest trade union, UNISON

The Rt Rev the Lord Harries of Pentregarth

Baroness Northover

The press release issued by the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance:


An unprecedented meeting on 4 February 2010 between 17 organisations representing over One Million people in the UK, came together with one voice and called on the Government to outlaw Caste Discrimination in the same way as other forms of discrimination. They produced a Joint Statement which is attached. It is the hope of the organisations that the Government would table an amendment to include Caste (as a subset of Race) at the Report Stage of the Equality Bill to protect victims or potential victims of Caste Discrimination in the UK

Campaigners have been lobbying Government in recent years to introduce legislation to protect victims or potential victims of caste discrimination here in the UK. The Equality Bill is currently being debated

in the House of Lords and aims to strengthen protection against discrimination, advance equality and simplify the law.

At present, if someone is discriminated against or harassed because of their Caste in places of employment, or if they are in receipt of public services like health and social care or education for example, there is no legislation in place in the UK to protect them.

Campaigners have been lobbying for caste to be legally recognised as a form of discrimination here in the UK for many years..

The Anti Caste Discrimination recently linked up with four academic centres and produced a report and presented it to the Government. The report, Hidden Apartheid, Voice of the Community, Caste and Caste Discrimination in the UK, highlighted many examples of how Caste discrimination affects numerous people here in the UK in the areas covered by the Equality Bill.

At the meeting on 4 February 2010,, the Government acknowledged that caste discrimination does exist in the UK, and it is hoped that the Government would table an amendment to include Caste (as subset of Race) at the Report stage of the Equality Bill in the House of Lords.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Discrimination Law Reform, said :

“Let us hope the Government will add a power in the Bill to enable them to make caste discrimination unlawful by Ministerial order so as to prevent this ancient source of injustice and oppression from taking root here. Mahatma Gandhi's struggle against the evils of caste-ism should inspire Government and Parliament.”

Lord Avebury, who moved the amendment on caste discrimination at Committee Stage, said:

“If the momentum of the campaign is kept up, we should get there”.

ACDA’s Chairman said:
The Government have finally conceded that caste discrimination is an issue here in the UK, and has taken on aboard some of the recommendations ACDA made to Government in our report
`Hidden Apartheid – Voice of the Community – Caste and Caste Discrimination in the UK’ November 2009.

“We know providing legal protection in cases of known discrimination (alongside other non legislative actions) helps brings about a societal change for the better. When the first Race Relations Act was introduced in the ‘60s, it brought about a real change in behaviour. Legislating on Caste will have the same affect and bring about a much fairer and a more cohesive society to which we are all committed

The meeting on 4 February 2010 was requested by Government and organised by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, and was in response to the amendment clauses that had been tabled to the Government’s Equality Bill which cover Caste. The consortium of community, voluntary and charity organisations also endorsed a Joint Statement which was previously presented to Harriet Harman’s office calling on Government to treat all its citizens fairly and treat Caste discrimination like it does other forms of unacceptable discrimination and to include this in the Equality Bill.

Note to Editors

What is Caste?
Caste is a combined social system of occupation, endogamy, culture, social class, and political power. Caste is not the same as class, in that members of a Caste are deemed to be alike in function or culture. Castes are often assumed to fit into the four varnas, jati, which means ‘birth, is a system of social divisions organized according to relative purity, with Brahmins at one extreme and low caste and ‘untouchable’ people (who are considered impure and polluting to ‘higher’ castes) at the other. What is a Dalit? Dalit is a self-designation for a group of people traditionally regarded as low caste or untouchables (outcastes).

Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA)
ACDA is an independent, non-profit making voluntary organisation and is an alliance of like-minded organisations sharing a common goal and similar values ACDA was formed in 2008. More information is available on

Biometric data

On December 5, 2008, I was asked to take up the case of a British citizen Mr A who was detained by the police at Heathrow and required to give a sample of his DNA and to have his fingerprints taken. Just before that the European Court of Human Rights had ruled, in the case of S and Marper, that the indefinite retention by the authorities of biometric samples taken under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act from persons with no criminal record is unlawful. Mr A's samples were taken under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 but the principle is the same.

I wrote immediately to the Home Secretary, Jaqui Lait MP at the time, and had an answer from a junior Minister five weeks later, referring to the procedure for getting the samples destroyed. To cut a long story short, it took me 14 months and a great deal of correspondence, not to mention telephone calls, to get an official letter saying that Mr A's samples had been destroyed, though Mr A has a clean record. I do wonder how many innocent people's samples remain on the database because they didn't have the know-how or persistence to get them removed. I'm putting down a Parliamentary Question to see if there are any statistics on the subject, as follows:

How many persons have had their biometric data taken by the Counter-Terrorism Command under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000; of these, how many have asked for their samples to be destroyed by applying to the Chief Police Officer of the force which took the DNA and fingerprints, under the Exceptional Case Procedure; how many of these applications have been successful, and what was the average length of time between the first request to have the samples destroyed, and notification to the applicant or his representative that the samples had been destroyed.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Yesterday we had an hour's debate in the Grand Committee on the appalling problems in the DRC, initiated by my colleague David Chidgey. He summarised the situation brilliantly in the ten minutes he was allotted. But I couldn't help reflecting that the previous debate on the DRC, as long ago as November 2008, was in Government time, and I asked the Minister Bill Brett to see that we had regular periodic opportunities of reviewing the UN's involvement, and the UK's influence on UN policies. The DRC is after all the largest UN peacekeeping operation in the world, having a budget this year of $1.35 billion, to which the UK is a major contributor.

In spite of this vast expenditure and the presence of 20,000 UN troops, eastern DRC still endures not only the massive human rights atrocities committed by independent armed groups, but also the crimes perpetrated against civilians by the national army. Belatedly, the UN plans to cease cooperation with any units that are found to have killed or displaced civilians, but that's too late. I asked whether consideration might be given to an element dropped from earlier UN strategy, of embedding UN troops in every army unit, or at least in the units that had been formed out of former rebels.

The Minister said that he counted 47 questions put to him during the three quarters of an hour taken by Lord Chidgey and others, and he would have to answer most of them in letters. The trouble with that is that although Ministers' letters are put on the Parliamentary website, they don't get the same public attention as what is said in the debate itself. And just to get it off my chest, knowing that David also feels this way, what is said in the Grand Committee is treated as somehow less important than what is said on the floor of the House itself.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Here's a scan of my Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA), taken at King's on January 4. The width is 4.97 cm, compared with the previous measurement of 4.5 cm, taken October 16, 2008..

An AAA is a thin section of the wall of the aorta that bulges outward. Its weaker than normal artery wall and may not withstand the pressure of blood inside - though at the bulge, the pressure is less than in the rest of the aorta by the normal laws of hydrodynamics. If the width is greater than 5.5 cm the odds on rupture are higher and the risk increases with size, though surgery isn't normally indicated until it gets to 6 cm. At the rate of increase between the last two scans, that point would be reached in about 2 1/2 years.
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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Lead-contaminated Gypsy site in Kosovo

Following an up earlier posting, here is the answer to a Question on this issue:



Asked by Lord Avebury

    To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to assist the World Health Organisation's campaign to shut down the lead-contaminated camps at Osterode and Cesmin Lug in Kosovo, and to resettle the Roma inhabitants on uncontaminated land. [HL1645]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): The Government are fully supportive of, and committed to, the international effort towards the closure of the lead contaminated camps at Cesmin Lug/Cesmin Llug and Osterode, and the successful resettlement of the Roma inhabitants to uncontaminated land. The Government are co-funding soil testing in Roma Mahalla to ensure the planned site for rebuilding homes is uncontaminated.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

With Tameem Ebrahim on the Terrace yesterday after lunch and useful discussion - mainly about citizenship and the problems left over from the 2009 Act
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A remarkable film about Avebury with a commentary by John Betjeman: