Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Big Day!

It was Lindsay's birthday today, and we went out to dinner with JW at Angels and Gypsies,a new Tapas place in Camberwell where we had Pan tumaca; Pulpo a feira; Albondiga Sephardic style with black apricots, chickpeas and shaved Manchego; Selection of Ibérico jamón, chorizo, salchichón & lomo; prawn croquettes; slow cooked aubergine & coriander stew, and home made empanadas. It sounds enormous, but the individual dishes were quite modest. We gave it full marks.

Yesterday was a great occasion, with President Obama's speech to both Houses of Parliament and their spouses in Westminster Hall. It was very well received, and he got a long ovation at the end of it, and again as he walked down the aisle towards the north door, talking to the people nearest the aisle on either side. Unfortunately we were in the middle of our row so we didn't get to meet him.

In the morning I had joined in a question about Sudan:

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Government take the opportunity of President Obama's visit to discuss with him how we can best reinforce the demand made by the Security Council that the troops of north and south Sudan withdraw immediately from the town of Abyei? What has been the response of the northern Sudan Government to the Secretary-General's call for an investigation into the attack on UN troops in Goli, the raid on a UN-escorted convoy a week ago today and the shelling of the UN compound in Abyei?

Baroness Verma: I am sure that my noble friend will urge both the President of the United States and our Prime Minister to ensure that Sudan is part of the talks that they will have. I am aware that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is also concerned. He made a strong statement yesterday urging leaders from both sides to demonstrate the political will not just to resolve the situation in Abyei but also to talk about the communities that feel marginalised and out of the discussions at the moment.

I was pleased that coincidentally, President Obama referred to the crisis in Abyei:

In Sudan, after years of war and thousands of deaths, we call on both North and South to pull back from the brink of violence and choose the path of peace.

It would be good, however, it the UN Security Council and individual states would acknowledge that it was the north that invaded Abyei with overwhelming force, bombarding the UN peacekeepers. The aggressors don't want the people of Abyei to vote in the planned referendum on whether they want to be part of the north or south, when the south becomes an independent state in July.

Last Sunday we went to Lyulph and Sue's for lunch in my old constituency of Orpington. See Lyulph, above, and one of their cats covering me with her hair..

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Chairing the meeting on Somaliland at Chatham House
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On my right is Dr Steve Kibble, an old friend, and next to me on my left is Dr Abdishakur Sheik Jowhar, a contributor to Somaliland; the Way Forward, which was launched at the meeting. On my far left is Sarah Howard, an observer at the recent elections. Other speakers were Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell, Executive Director, African Peoples Advocacy, and Dr Jams Musse, who edited the book.

That was the week

Another week in which time seemed to vanish in a puff of smoke, though I can't say where it all went.

Monday, I moved:

That this House regrets that changes to the rules relating to the victims of domestic violence in the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (HC 908) remove the protection granted by the Rules to some victims who may therefore be forced to remain in the abusive relationships on which their immigration status depends.

To read the debate click here.

The Government were determined that the response to an application for leave to remain as a victim of domestic violence should be refused if the woman has unspent convictions. Their argument is that in cases where the conviction was strongly related to the abuse the victim had suffered, there was always the backstop that the Secretary of State had the power to grant the application outside the Rules. They don't agree that women are going to be deterred from applying by the words prescribing a mandatory refusal in the Rules.

Tuesday there was a special Party meeting to hear Nick Clegg on the draft House of Lords reform Bill, published that day. My impression is that it will be very difficult to get agreement to the proposals from our own benches even though it corresponds with longstanding LibDem policy, but even more so from both Tory and Labour backbenchers, and that it will take up enormous amounts of time in our House from the Grocott brigade. Shades of Harold Wilson's attempt to reform the Lords in 1968.

At questions, I came into the chamber and was reminded by Meral Ece that I was down to ask a supplementary on the second question, about the return of failed asylum seekers to the DRC!

Wednesday I met Begum Khaleda Zia, Leader of the Opposition in Bangladesh and leading members of her BNP, click here to see our meeting.

Then across the road to express solidarity with a large and colourful demonstration by the Somaliland diaspora on the 20th anniversary of their short-lived independence, calling for re-recognition, see The Government is sympathetic and will help the democratically elected government of Somaliland to build its health and education infrastructure, but they believe, as the Labour Government did before them, that it is for the African Union to take the lead. My own view is that the AU will never take the lead on this issue, and that we should be working with particular African states to agree on simultaneous re-recognition.

At 14.00 I joined a meeting in the Jubilee Room on Murder in the name of God organised by the recently formed All-Party Group on the Ahmadiyya Muslims. At 15.00 I had to break off to attend Questions. On Faith Schools: Imported Hate Material, I asked whether Inspectors were looking for teachers who were indoctrinating pupils with Salafist teachings, and the Minister offered to arrange for me to discuss the matter with the Chief Inspector. On a question by Navnit Dholakia about the UK Border Agency's use of intelligence, I asked whether there had been any improvement in their abysmal record of decision-making. The Minister, Baroness Browning, said that the UKBA acknowledged that they needed to improve and were working on it. The measure of their success would be a lower rate of success at the appeal stage.

Finally, I chaired a well-attended meeting on Somaliland at Chatham House. When I returned to the House to pick up the Rover and drive home, the battery was flat as a pancake and I had to call the AA. Their computer said the battery needed to be replaced, though it was only about 3 months old.

Today, my own question on the Bahrain government's termination of the education and maintenance grants of students at British universities who had dared to demonstrate against them. I was assured that we had protested against the decision, but I see that we are hosting the Crown Prince, showing that although we make ritual noises about the regime's gross and persistent human rights violations against their majority Shi'a citizens, its business as usual not just behind the scenes but in brazen cosying up to the hereditary oppressors at the highest level. The Prime Minister could hardly have chosen a worse moment for a photocall on the steps of 10 Downing Street with Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa than President Obama's call for a reversal of the traditional uncritical support for Arab dictators. The President said:

".... we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, ..... and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. (Applause.) The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis".

For as long as the al-Khalifas go in for mass arrests, torture, summary dismissal from government-controlled or government influenced employers, demographic engineering to bring about a Sunni-majority population, censorship of the media and blogs, and termination of the grants of university students who say a word against the government, we should have nothing to do with them. On the contrary, we should support the call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, for an independent investigation of the egregious breaches of human rights committed by the self-appointed king and his family.

Thursday, hosted a lunch for Chris Elias, President and CEO of PATH,and two of his colleagues. PATH is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the facilitation of pubic/private partnerships that will develop and roll out vaccines and other preventive health measures for the eradication of common childhood diseases such as dairrhoea and pneumonia. Effective vaccines have been developed against rotavirus, the most common and lethal cause of diarrheal disease, which kills 1.6 million children a year. Some 90% of these deaths occur to children in developing countries, where simple measures such as the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, investment in water and sanitation infrastructure, and oral rehydration therapy have already brought about dramatic reductions in infant mortality, and the rollout of vaccination against rotavirus has the potential to save millions more. The All-Party Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia, of which I'm co-chair, needs to consider these initiatives, which are connected with ours. Putting more aid resources into accelerating the development of preventive health measures makes a lot of sense.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Friday evening, to Oxford for the Maurice Lubbock Scholars annual dinner. I think this has been going for over 50 years, so there is a wide age range, from the present scholars in their early twenties, to the oldest who must be in their seventies by now. I'm sure my father would be delighted to know that the scholars celebrate every year, and I must say it gives me great pleasure to meet them.

Yesterday evening, a good conversation with Maurice on Skype,

Saturday, May 14, 2011


After the GAVI event I chaired a meeting on Bahrain organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the highlight of which was a telephone call with Nabil Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. He answered questions from the audience, and the picture he painted of the current situation was of relentless oppression against the leaders of the opposition, and against Shi'a intellectuals and professionals in all walks of life. Here is the BCHR update on yesterday's hearing in the military court:

Update-12 May 2011

At the trial today, and despite statements that the hearing would be open to international observers, Brian Dooley from Human Rights first and A lawyer from Frontline Defenders were not allowed into the hearing of the 21 detainees on trial for 10 different charges. The security personnel threatened the woman from Frontline that they would remove her forcefully if she did not leave.

At the hearing, the lawyers complained that they did not have enough time with their clients and that the prison conditions were very bad. They also demanded the detainees be given more time to use the bathroom. The government lawyer said that was not necessary and the prisons were just fine. One of the lawyers asked the judge to release the detainees and that they would attend the trial, but the judge refused saying that the sentence if they were found guilty would be either death or life imprisonment, so bail was out of the question. During the hearing, AbdulHadi Alkhawaja told the judge that he feared for his life as he had been threatened by his jailers that they would kill him. After the hearing, all the families were allowed to see the detainees except Alkhawaja's family, who were told they would only see him if the lawyer from Frontline left. She did, but they did not allow the family to see him anyway.

Human Rights First on Alkhawaja: "When he was recovering from the operation they tortured him again," Torture and Unfair Trial of Protesters in Bahrain

Human Rights Watch: "Activist Bears signs of Abuse":

The security also threatened all the families that if they speak to the lawyer from Frontline they will not be allowed to see the detainees.

Mohammed Jawad Parweez told his family he had been tortured and showed them marks on his arms and legs from long periods of being hanged.

With Lady Benjamin at the event organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action against Childhood Pneumonia, "Saving 4 million childrens' lives by 2015 through immunisation". It was a curtain-raiser for the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation pledging conference in June. Among the speakers were Jim Dobbin MP (co-chair of the APPG), Natasha Kaplinsky, Save the children ambassador, Helen Evans, CEO of GAVI, Alan Duncan MP, minister of state for international development, Simon Wright from Save the children and me (also co-chair of the APPG).

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With Natasha Kaplinsky and Jim Dobbin MP at the GAVI event

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Good testimony from Joe Stork

Human Rights in Bahrain
Testimony prepared for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
May 13, 2011
Joe Stork
Deputy Director, Middle East & North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch

Congressman McGovern and other Distinguished Commission Members:
Thank you very much for holding this important hearing on the human rights situation in Bahrain, and for inviting me to participate.
Human rights conditions in Bahrain have grown increasingly grave since mid-March, when the government violently put down pro-democracy and anti-government street protests. Since then, we have seen an unrelenting official campaign of punitive retribution against Bahrainis who participated in or otherwise supported the protests.
This campaign has included the apparently arbitrary detention of more than a thousand persons, of whom some 630 remain in detention. Almost all have had no contact with lawyers or a brief phone call with families and their whereabouts and well-being are unknown, including elected members of parliament as well as doctors and other professionals. This pattern of incommunicado detention is all the more worrisome in that in April four persons died in custody, some apparently as a result of torture and others from medical neglect. Early this week, 14 opposition activists were brought before a special military court, at least one of them bearing unmistakable signs of torture.
More than 1200 workers and employees have been summarily dismissed from their jobs apparently because of participation in the protests, in violation of Bahrain’s labor laws as well as international standards. Several professional associations, such as the Teachers Society and the Bahrain Medical Society have been suspended or effectively taken over by the authorities. The government engineered a hostile takeover of the country’s only independent newspaper, expelled this week the Reuters correspondent who was Bahrain’s only in-country international journalist, and have denied access to other foreign journalists wishing to report from the country. Meanwhile state-controlled Bahrain TV and pro-government print media routinely vilify pro-democracy groups as traitors operating at the behest of Iran and feature commentaries fomenting hatred against the Shia community – who comprise the majority of Bahrainis and majority of protesters.
It is important to note that this fierce and sometimes deadly repression has continued – and indeed intensified – despite the fact that since mid-March the government has been fully in control of the security situation. In Bahrain people continue to face arbitrary arrest, and effectively be “disappeared” and subjected to torture, many weeks after the protests have been suppressed. This is not Libya, where rebel forces have taken up arms against the government, or Syria, where thousands of protesters take to the streets week after week in city after city. This repression is purely vindictive and punitive.
And unfortunately, in contrast to Syria, Libya, and other sites of unrest and repression, the United States government has had little to say about any of this, at least in public, and those few words have tended to be general in the extreme. We know, and just about every Bahraini knows, that the Obama administration weighed in forcefully, behind the scenes but with success, to persuade the Al Khalifa ruling family to pull back troops and security forces after they violently attacked protesters between February 14 and 17, killing seven and wounding many more. We also know that the administration worked very hard, though futilely, to head off Saudi Arabia’s military deployment to Bahrain. At that time, and since, senior administration officials have publicly criticized the Al Khalifa family’s resort to force, but these remonstrations have been for the most part quite general, stating for example that Bahrainis, like other people, should enjoy universal rights.
Quite frankly, at a time when night after night masked armed men, both uniformed and plainclothes, are breaking into homes and hauling off Bahrainis to unknown locations, to interrogation centers where torture or ill-treatment are routine, a time when people are pulled out of cars at checkpoints and beaten, a time when people suffering gunshot or other wounds inflicted by security forces fear going to medical centers where other security forces beat and arrest them – these are times when something more forceful and more specific is badly needed.
Mr. Chairman, I have been closely following the human rights situation in Bahrain since 1996, when I joined Human Rights Watch and, as one of my first assignments, documented rampant abuses during an earlier period of unrest in the country. I witnessed the sharp and substantial improvement that occurred after King Hamad took over from his father in 1999: in the early years of his reign, he abolished the State Security Courts, freed political prisoners, and invited those in political exile, in many cases having been forcibly expelled from their own country, to return.
While Human Rights Watch continued to criticize failures to institutionalize reforms in areas of free expression and freedom of association, we noted that reports of arbitrary arrests and abuse in detention declined markedly. It was with considerable dismay, then, that we received increasing reports, beginning in late 2007, of a revival of torture during interrogation, which we documented in a report we released in the capital, Manama, in February 2010. Despite official promises to investigate and hold accountable anyone found responsible, the only investigation we are aware of was superficial in the extreme, and no one, to our knowledge, has been criminally investigated or prosecuted. And, it must be said, the US government has at no point publicly commented on the problem beyond reporting in the annual State Department country report that we had made such allegations.
Mr. Chairman, my colleagues were on the ground in Bahrain from the night of February 17 until April 20, when the authorities refused to renew a colleague’s visa. On May 4, our legal consultant travelled to Bahrain in order to observe trials before the special military court, but was turned away at the airport. Although our on-the-ground access has been restricted for several weeks now, we will continue to work with Bahraini authorities to insure that we are able to return, and we hope that Bahrain will not join the ranks of Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as countries completely closed to international human rights reporting.
Based mainly on our field work – I myself was part of the team on the ground on the week of March 21 – I would like to summarize the most critical human rights issues in Bahrain and conclude with some recommendations of steps that Congress and the Obama administration should urgently take.
Suspect Deaths
Human Rights Watch confirmed the use of live ammunition against [largely] peaceful protesters, as well as the misuse of birdshot pellets and rubber bullets, between February 14 and 17, killing seven protesters and wounding many more. The government announced the formation of an investigative committee of three officials headed by a deputy prime minister to investigate the deaths, but if it has pursued this assignment it has done so with a complete absence of transparency. Committee members refused to discuss their methodology with Human Rights Watch, and other government officials have told us that they did not know what the committee had done, if anything. In mid- March another dozen or so people were killed in clashes, including several security officers and at least one South Asian worker killed by a mob. Further deaths occurred in subsequent raids on Shia villages in the week that followed.
To give just one appalling example that we investigated: on March 19, 32-year-old Hani Jumah, a cleaner from Khamis village and father of year-old twins, was outside his home when police swept through his neighborhood. According to witnesses, he was not protesting at the time or engaged in any unlawful behavior. Police chased him into an apartment building under construction. Neighbors found him unconscious, lying in a pool of blood, with massive injuries to his knees and arm caused by a shotgun firing pellets at point-blank range. Several days later my colleague found fragments of his knee-bone as well as a tooth and pieces of human tissue stuck to the wall and ceiling of the empty room, apparently the result of the force of the shots that maimed him. As far as we are aware, Jumah never regained consciousness: late on the night he was shot, security forces moved him from a private hospital to the Bahrain Defense Force hospital; when his parents went to the BDF hospital to ask about his condition, officials denied he was there. The next information they received was five days later, on March 24, when hospital officials called the parents to tell them to retrieve his body the next day.
As noted below, the hundreds of persons arrested are being held incommunicado, without access to lawyers or families, their whereabouts and well-being unknown. These are exactly the conditions that are conducive to torture or ill-treatment, and we know of four deaths in custody in April – some apparently as a result of torture and others from medical neglect. On April 28 state-run Bahrain TV aired a program that included a videotaped “confession” by Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer – one of those who had died in custody earlier in the month and whose body – seen by Human Rights Watch at the time of his burial – bore unmistakable signs of torture.
Approximately 30 persons have been killed since February 14, most of them protesters or bystanders at the hands of security forces. We are aware of no investigations into the circumstances of what in many cases appear to be unlawful killings. While this number may appear small compared with deaths inflicted by security forces in Libya or Syria, in just 10 weeks they exceed the total number of deaths that occurred in the five years of serious unrest in the mid and late 1990s, and they occur among a population of just 500,000 Bahrainis (and an equivalent number of expatriate workers).
Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions
The Bahraini government has provided no information about the total number of persons arrested, detainee whereabouts and well-being, or in most cases the reasons for arrest. We believe that the number of persons arrested to have been approximately 1,000, with approximately 630 presently in detention. These include leaders of legally recognized political opposition societies, like Ibrahim Sharif, a Sunni who heads the secularist National Democratic Action Society, and Matar Ibrahim Matar and Jawad Fairouz, recently elected members of parliament representing the Wifaq society, a Shia Islamic party that made up the largest opposition bloc in the parliament.
As noted, the widespread use of incommunicado detention raises serious concern about torture or ill-treatment in detention. We have already mentioned several deaths in custody. On May 8, authorities brought 14 protest leaders before a special military tribunal on charges ranging from plotting to overthrow the government – apparently based on the calls of some to transform the monarchy into a republic, although most of the protesters were demanding a constitutional monarchy – and specious offenses such as spreading false news and harming the reputation of the country. One of the 14, human rights and political activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, bore facial fractures and head injuries, apparently the result of severe beatings he sustained since authorities detained him a month earlier, on April 9. Several defendants in the courtroom walked with distinct limps.
Attacks on Medical Professionals
Attacks by security forces on medics first occurred in the pre-dawn February 17 raid on Pearl Roundabout protesters, when police attacked a volunteer medical tent, beating and in some cases arresting nurses and doctors. As a result of this as well as allegations that the authorities had prevented the dispatch of ambulances to attend to wounded protesters, the grounds of Salmaniyya Medical Complex, the country’s largest public hospital, for weeks became a protest site as well, with protest posters, blown-up photos of wounded protesters, and occasional speeches by opposition leaders.
When the authorities declared martial law on March 15 and launched a wholesale crackdown on the street protests, Salmaniyya hospital was also targeted. On March 16 armed and uniformed masked men took control of the hospital, including patient wards, and restricting entry to and exit from the complex. Persons whose injuries appeared to be as a result of confrontations with security forces were frequently arrested and beaten, with those requiring urgent medical care moved to the sixth floor, which became an improvised detention area with highly restricted access.
My colleagues had frequent and relatively unrestricted access to Salmaniyya hospital prior to March 16, and occasional access several weeks later. Government allegations that doctors refused to treat Sunni patients, or brought in weapons, or used the hospital’s blood supply to simulate more grievous protester injuries – which surfaced only after the military takeover of the hospital – appear to be fictive. Human Rights Watch wrote to the Minister of Health on April 21 requesting information about these and other allegations but we have not yet had any response.
Salmaniyya hospital remained under the direct control of security forces when the last of my colleagues departed in late April, and according to Doctors without Borders, this remains the case today.
Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals have been among those targeted for arrest. According to Physicians for Human Rights, more than 80 doctors and other medical professionals have been arrested, of whom about 20 were since released. On May 4, officials announced that 150 doctors and nurses had been suspended pending investigations, and two days ago, on May 11, the pro-government Gulf Daily News carried a so-called news story headlined, “Rogue doctors seen working.” The military prosecutor has brought charges against 24 doctors and 23 nurses and paramedics that include embezzling funds, possessing weapons and ammunition, inciting sectarian hatred, dissemination of false news, and participation in unauthorized rallies and meetings. Human Rights Watch has received reports in the past several days of additional arrests of doctors and medical workers from Salmaniyya and other health facilities.
Restrictions on the Right to Freedom of Information
The government has banned numerous websites and publications, including those of legally recognized political societies, arrested journalists and bloggers, and carried out a hostile takeover of the country’s one independent newspaper, Al Wasat. In mid-March, unknown assailants attacked and partially destroyed the newspaper’s printing press. The founding editor of Al Wasat, Mansoor al-Jamri, along with two other former editors, are being tried next week – the first session is scheduled for May 18 – on charges of “publishing fabricated news and made up stories…that may harm public safety and national interests.” According to the editors, the six fabricated stories had been sent as e-mails from different addresses but a single external internet protocol (IP) source based in a neighboring Arab country. All the stories dealt with alleged incidents, such as nighttime raids on homes by riot police, that have been frequent and routine in Bahrain since March 15. The emails appeared to have been sent to other Bahraini papers, making them appear more authentic, but with small mistakes in the addresses so that in fact Al Wasat was the only recipient. Two Iraqi journalists working with Al Wasat since 2005 were summoned for questioning and summarily deported, along with their families, when they refused to support official claims that al-Jamri had knowingly fabricated the stories in question. In other words, not only the stories but the criminal charges appear to have been fabricated. Human Rights Watch monitored Al Wasat’s content before and since al-Jamri’s removal, and found that it had largely – although not completely – ceased publishing news and analysis differing from that of the rest of Bahrain’s mass media.
Two other points of note with regard to freedom of information.
First, while some international journalists have been permitted to report from Bahrain since March 15, others have been refused entry. This week the government ordered Frederik Richter, who for the past three years has been the only international journalist based in Bahrain, to leave the country within the week.
Second, the role of the state-run Bahrain television, and the remaining print media which are all friendly to the government and mainly function as its mouthpieces, have actively promoted government allegations against Al Wasat, against the medical professionals, and more broadly against Shia Bahrainis as traitors and worse. The Gulf Daily News on May 1 published a “letter,” signed “Sana P.S.,” riffing on termites and white ants as an “intelligent type of pest” that periodically swam and destroy buildings and crops, and concluding that “to me they are very similar to the February 14 group that tried to destroy our precious, beautiful country. The moral is: to get rid of white ants so they don’t come back is to get rid of the mother (the head) responsible for these destructions. There is no point in capturing and getting rid of baby ants when the mother is still reproducing!”
Summary Workplace Dismissals
Since late March, according to the independent General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU), more than 1200 workers have been summarily dismissed from their jobs. In most cases the stated reason for dismissal has been absence from work during and immediately after street protests, but the dismissals were carried out in violation of Bahraini law, which requires that such absences be for at least 10 consecutive days and that workers receive written warnings after five consecutive absences. Human Rights Watch interviewed 18 workers fired from six companies. All said they were given no advance warning and the companies did not conduct independent investigations to determine that they had violated company or government regulations before they were dismissed. Those fired include 22 local union leaders and six members of the GFBTU executive board. We note that the AFL-CIO has petitioned the US government to notify Bahrain of its intent to suspend the Bahraini-US Free Trade Agreement for violation of ILO conventions prohibiting violations of freedom of association. The International Trade Union Confederation, for its part, has called for the establishment of an ILO Commission of Inquiry into Bahraini violations of ILO Convention No. 111, prohibiting discrimination in hiring and firing for reasons of, among other things, political opinions. The government itself has fired or suspended hundreds of employees from ministries and other official institutions.
Human Rights Watch strongly urges the US Congress and the Obama administration to speak out vigorously and publicly about rampant and continuing serious human rights violations in Bahrain. The United States should not be seen as complicit in a campaign by an autocratic government to stifle popular demands for democratic rights, a dynamic that has an especially dangerous sectarian dimension in Bahrain, where the ruling family and its close allies are mainly Sunni and Shia make up the majority of the citizenry.
First, particularly given the close and longstanding security relationship between the United States and Bahrain, the US should announce a comprehensive ban on security assistance to Bahrain, including the commercial sale of riot control as well as military hardware, until authorities there take measurable steps to halt the violent suppression of peaceful protesters and to hold accountable those responsible for the unlawful use of force, the use of torture or ill-treatment, and arbitrary arrests and detention. Because Bahrain values its military and security relationship with the United States, and seems less concerned with its civilian relations with Washington, it is crucial that US military officials stress to their Bahraini counterparts, including Marshal Khalifa bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, the head of the current martial law government, that continued close military relations, including the presence of the US Fifth Fleet headquarters, require a prompt and comprehensive halt in serious human rights violations.
We further urge the Congress and the Obama administration to criticize by name the most flagrant abuses, such as unlawful killings and torture, and the wholesale impunity for serious crimes in violation of international law – and to do so publicly. Administration officials have told us that they have not done so because they do not think it will be any more effective than private demarches for reversing the deteriorating human rights situation. While we cannot guarantee that public diplomacy will have the desired effect, the time for relying only on ”quiet” diplomacy is long past, given the current state of affairs. It is also important to realize that what is at stake is not only the situation in Bahrain, but US credibility regarding human rights issues throughout the region. As long as the US speaks forcefully regarding violations in Iran, Syria, and Libya, as it should, but is publicly silent when it comes to Bahrain, it undermines the efforts and credibility of the US to promote human rights in all countries, whether allies or adversaries.
Finally, it is crucial for the Obama administration to take the lead in calling for the UN Human Rights Council to address, by name, Bahrain’s human rights crisis. This need not take the form of a special session, such as those held recently on Syria and Libya, but it should clearly and specifically be directed at Bahrain, perhaps along with other serial abusers such as Yemen. The efforts of the Obama administration to transform and rehabilitate the role of the Human Rights Council are badly undermined by its deafening silence when it comes to Bahrain.

The military in the CHT don't protect, they oppress

humanitarian news and analysis
a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

In Brief: Bangladeshi monks call for demilitarization of CHT

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
The CHT has a largely Buddhist population
BANGKOK, 12 May 2011 (IRIN) - The Bangladesh Jumma Buddhist Forum has called for the demilitarization of Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in a statement addressed to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Bangkok.

"We are asking for the withdrawal of the 365 military camps, as promised in the 1997 Peace Accord, to end the human rights violations against the indigenous people," Dipayan Chakma, president of the Jumma Buddhists Forum, who presented the letter to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 12 May, told IRIN.

The displacement of tens of thousands of Jummas in the past 10 years, and the burning of more than 100 houses in the past month, as well as two Buddhist temples, has been perpetrated by Bengali settlers backed by the military, according to Chakma.

"The majority of human rights violations committed against indigenous peoples in the region [are] attributed to the extensive presence of security forces," said UN special rapporteur Lars-Anderson Baer in a study conducted in April.

Theme(s): Human Rights, Refugees/IDPs,
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Mushaim'a and Khawaja in court on Thursday

Tuesday I went to the Bahrain Embassy with Ann Clwyd MP, chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, for a inconclusive discussion with the Ambassador, H E Khalifa bin Ali Al Khalifa, a relative of the King, naturally. He wasn't prepared to acknowledge the blitz against the opposition, with over a thousand arrests, the dismissal of Shi'a professionals from the Salmaniya hospital, the universities and the refinery, the widespread torture of leading members of the opposition such as Hassan Mushaima, Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja, Abdul Jalil al Singace etc, all personal friends of mine and regular visitors to the UK during which they have spoken at the regular seminars we have held twice a year in the Palace of Westminster.

This is accompanied by a systematic clampdown on freedom of expression, with the mysterious death in custody of Karim Fakhrawi, founder and board member of Al-Wasat, the country's only independent daily, the destruction of the printing presses by armed thugs from the security service and the arrest of the editor Mansoor al-Jamri.
Al- Wasat newspaper was supposed to shut down on May 9, 2011 according to a resolution adopted by the Annual General Meeting that was held on May 2,2011, but the Bahraini authorities contacted the newspaper's investors and told them that the paper ought to continue. So al-Wasat is still being printed.

Moreover, three leading editorial staff, Mansoor Al-Jamri, Walid Noueihed and Aqeel Mirza, (as well as Mr Ali Sherify who had been forcibly deported on May 4, 2011) were summoned to appear before the High Criminal Court on May 18, 2011, accused of fabricating news. The three senior editors were forced out of the newspaper under direct pressure and orders from the Bahraini authorities on April 2, 2011, and government stooges have been installed in their place.

There's a good article by Robert Fisk in today's Independent, see

Wednesday EU Subcommittee F in the morning, putting the final touches to our report on the EU's Internal Security Strategy. Then a lunchtime meeting to launch the Traveller Law Reform Project's Panel Review on the Coalition Government's policy on Gypsies and Travellers, A Big or Divided Society? Th . The inquiry was based on two days select-committee type hearings of evidence from experts, a formula that translated well, and I think the Panel's recommendations will be given the sympathetic consideration they deserve when the Localism Bill reaches the House of Lords.

Thursday I attended the morning sitting of the LibDem peers' 'AwayDay', a misnomer as it was held in our usual Committee 4A. There were a lot of constructive thoughts on how we recover from the loss of 700 councillors in the local elections, and the debacle of the referendum on AV. Then at 14.30, to Portcullis House to co-chair (with Jim Dobbin MP) a meeting of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Global Action against Childhood Pneumonia to draw attention to the pledging conference in June of the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation. Helen Evans, Chief Executive of GAVI spoke, also Alan Duncan the responsible Minister at DfID, who said that the UK would come up with an increased contribution.

After that, a meeting on the situation in Bahrain with the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the highlight of which was a telephone conversation with Nabil Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Finally, Priyanka Motaparthy, the Human Rights Watch expert on Kuwait came to dinner, and we had a useful discussion on the current state of play on the Bidoon. HRW are about to publish her new report on the subject.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

This week

Monday was a Bank Holiday, thanks to my grandfather.

Tuesday, took part in a dinner hour debate on changes to the Immigration Rules affecting Tier 1 and Tier 2. Tier 1 (General) is abolished, and only 1,000 exceptionally talented people are to be admitted in the coming year. The qualifications needed for Tier 2, highly skilled workers, are raised, and also subject to a numerical limit. See

Wednesday morning, Subcommittee F of the European Union Committee. We considered a draft report on the EU's Internal Security Strategy, and will probably finalise it next Wednesday. Afternoon, took part in Janet Whitaker's question on the shortfall in the provision of the Teachers' Education Service for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, Its a subject to which I'm sure we will return, because the Traveller Education Service is either being totally extinguished or severely curtailed by local authorities up and down the land, in spite of the fact that Gypsies and Travellers are the most disadvantaged educationally of all minorities, in terms of absence and uner-achievement.

Thursday, David Chidgey had sent a message to say he had missed his connection in Johannesburg on his way back from Maputo, so I stood in for him when his question on Sudan came up, I voted against the Government for the first time on Angie Harris's amendment to knock out the police commissars from the Police Bill.

Friday, worked at home, and dear Victoria gave me some help with the paperwork.

Early evening, to the Frontline Club in Paddington,to the launch of Ursula Smartt's magnum opus on media law. She has done a fantastic job covering a very topical subject, and dealing with very recent cases. Somehow I missed her husband Mike's emailed photos, and I haven't discovered how to insert photos into an old entry, so the picture is a bit late. But nothing can dim my admiration for her versatility!



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Later I had my regular conversation with Maurice in Auckland on Skype. Its a terrific boon to anybody with close relatives on the other side of the world.

Speaking of IT, I bought from Amazon a Netgear NAS MS2110, a 'network attached storage' device that gives users of the network a terabyte of storage,plus an additional Western Digital hard disk that mirrors the first. Netgear pride themselves on their technical support, but my experience of getting answers to simple questions was dire. After being kept hanging on the line for ages, I was told that the product was out of warranty, and that I must have bought it more than a year ago. I had to scan and email the Amazon invoice to convince them I'd bought it as recently as April 10, 2011. Does this mean that Amazon had the product in their warehouse for a year waiting for a buyer?