Saturday, January 31, 2009


Discussion Friday morning with Moosa Abd-ali , Ali Mushaima and Abbas Alamran, on the steeply deteriorating situation in Bahrain.

After the meeting I spoke to the Bar Human Rights Committee and emailed them as follows:

We spoke about the detention of Mr Hassan Mushaima, 61, Leader of the Haq movement, who has been a regular speaker at Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG) seminars I chair in the Moses Room of the House of Lords. This morning his son Ali Mushaima, a refugee in UK, came to give me details of his father's arrest. He was taken from his home at 03.15 on the morning of Monday January 26, but his interrogation only began at 21.00 that evening. It continued until 03.00 March 27, by which time he was so exhausted he had to be treated in hospital. Mr Mushaima is diabetic and has high blood pressure.
Mr Mushaima's lawyers Ms Jalila al-Sayed and Hassan Radi attended the interrogation but were not allowed to speak. The charges against him are as follows:
1. Ilegally organizing and managing a group of people to disrupt the provisions of the Constitution, laws or prevent any of the State enterprises or public authorities from exercising their duty, as stated in Article 6 of Terrorism law no. 58 of 2006, the punishment of which is life imprisonment.
2. Promoting the overthrow of the regime and political system, using force and illegal means, the punishable by five years imprisonment, as per Article 160 of the Penal Code of 1976.
3. Instigating hatred against the regime and undermining it and is punishable with imprisonment of up to three years as per Article 165 of the Penal Code
Since then some family visits have been allowed. Mr Mushaima toldhis relativesthat during the interrogation he had protested about the misrecording of his answers by Nawaz Hamza, the interrogator, but corrections were not made accordingly.
Mr Mushaima has been denied access to newspapers, radio or TV since his arrest.
The Bahrain authorities have published son Ali's name and picture, and a statement that they have requested the British to revoke his refugee status and return him to Bahrain.
Abdul-Jalil Alsingace, arrested at the same time, has also been a regular speaker at PHRG seminars on Bahrain.
Recent reports from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights ( are attached, together with a copy of a letter to Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch from one of the detainees, Abdul-Jalil Alsingace.

Discussion with Moosa Abd-ali , Ali Mushaima and Abbas Alamran

Friday, January 30, 2009

Another week

First and foremost, the picture below is of Lindsay and her Project Group on the bandstand. After several years they are somewhere near completion of their £3.5 million renovation of Myatt's Fields Park, with a new playground, restoration of the Victorian features, and still to come, a new children's building.

Monday, there was a statement in the House by the Leader, Jan Royall, on the story in the previous day's Sunday Times about four peers who were reported to have agreed to influence kegislation for amounts of up to £120,000. The reporter had them on tape, but this was not a criminal offence, and under the rules they couldn't even be suspended if the allegations are sustained by the inquiry she has launched. Everyone agrees that stiffer penalties should be available including expulsion, but this would need legislation. Even peers who are convicted of criminal offences are not liable to expulsion and in theory there is nothing to stop Jeffrey Archer from resuming his seat. I remember the Gannex millionaire Lord Kagan did return after serving a sentence for VAT fraud, and although he never spoke in the chanber, ne was a regular attender at the All-Party Penal Affairs Group, where I particularly remember him unfavourably comparing the standard of the cooking in Pentonville with the Santé in Paris.

Tuesday, Janet Whitaker's question on the imminent prospect of eviction of the 400 Travellers from their site at Dale Farm, near Basildon in Essex. There is still a faint hope that they may be able to appeal to the Judicial Committee for a stay of the possession order, but the likelihood is even at the best that all these people including many children will be kicked out long before there is anywhere they could legally station their caravans. The Council say the eviction will cost £1.9 million, but that's not the end of the story. The Travellers intend to move onto some other land they own, and the Council will need to spend another huge sum on a secind evction. There will be enormous costs for additional health, social security and children's services for years down the line, and the life chances of the young people affected will be permanently impaired.

Later, a meeting of the Penal Affairs Committee on drugs in prisons, a major problem that is never going to be completely solved. We don't really know how to get people off drugs, but we spend a lot on CARAT - 'Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice and Throughcare'. Not a word was said about alcohol, which is an even bigger problem in the community, but isn't treated as an addiction.

Then, a meeting with the Law Society, which is keen to have closer links to the Parliamentary parties, and is able to give us all good advice on legislation.

Wednesday morning, EU Select Committee to cnsider the draft of our report on the Community Civil Protection Mechanism, which deals with cooperation in tackling natural or man-made disasters, not only within the EU but for example, the terrorist attack on Mumbai. Our next inquiry is on money-laundering. In the afternoon, a meeting of the All-Party Group on Pneumococcal Disease, to consider the next stage in following up the recommendations of our Report. We also heard from the Malawi High Commissioner, aout his country's intention to sign up to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and to promote vaccination of all Malawi's children against pneumococcal disease. Its going to be a big project for them, because the High Commissioner told us there are large areas of the country where there are no health services whatsoever, and they will have to create vaccine delivery systems from scratch.

Thursday morning, meeting of the newly-formed All-Party Chagos Islands Group. There is an ambitious programme of work, but we have the services of an effective and energetic adviser, David Snoxell, former UK High Commissioner in Mauritius. The aim is that the islanders should be enabled to return to the outer islands, having been evicted altogether from their archipelago by the British Government when we handed Diego Garcia over to the Americans as a military base 40 years ago.

In the afternoon, chaired a meeting of the All-Party Gpsy and Traveller Group, at which the Equalities and Human Rights Commission survey of the literature on accommodation by Margaret Greenfield of Buckinghamshire New University was launched. There was a good attendance of Travellers, and some Parliamentary colleagues including Julie Morgan MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Group.

This week it was announced that the Liberal International had decided to confer this year's Freedom Prize on me, an unexpected honour considering that previous awards holders included Aug San Suu Kyi of Burma, Helen Suzman of South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal. I met them all, but don't think of myself as in their league. I may have been working on human rights for as long as any of them, but have never endured disadvantage or persecution.

Lindsay and her Project Group

Friday, January 23, 2009

This week

Monday - attended the Bangladesh All-Party Group, at which Pola Uddin and others who had observed the Bangladesh elections reported that they were efficiently run, orderly, and completely free of political interference. Unfortinately there was some violence afterwards, and there has been even more at the upazila - local authority - elections this week.

My old comrade from the Welsh Guards David Saunders and his wife Trish came to lunch and sat in the gallery for questions.

Tuesday morning, attended the LibDem Home Affairs and Justice team meeting, as I'm leading in the Lords on the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill. The Second Reading was to have been next Monday, but has been postponed to February 11 because the Banking Bill has overrun.

There was a Question (by Peter Blaker as usual) on Zimbabwe, The Minister, Mark Malloch-Brown, agreed with me that theb SADC mediation was finished, and it was time for the AU to step in, when they have their summit meeting next week. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of Zimbabwean failed asylum-seekers in limbo, because they can't be sent back there, yet the Government refuses to allow them to access services or to work. Maybe this is a ,atter we can address in the Borders Bill.

Early evening, I attended a British Library-sponsored seminar on 'Digital Britain'. Dame Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the BL, called for a coherent UK national digital strategy to include mass digitisation of content and digital literacy skills. The figure of 17 million people unconnected was bandied around, but some speakers thought it wasn't sensible to aim for 100% literacy. There would always be the very old, who didn't want to know what IT could do for them, but hard to reach goups such as young Afro-Caribbeans or Muslim women needed an individually targeted approach.

Wednesday morning, EU Select Committee, with two sets of witnesses giving evidence for our inquiry on the Civil Protection Mechanism, the EU's system for cooperation between member states in coping with either natural or man-made disasters, either in or outside the EU. Our usual weekly Party meeting 14.00 to 15.00. John Bercow's meeting on speech, language and communication problems at 17.00, then home to change for dinner at the Fishmongers.

Thursday, meeting with Daniel Wheatley and Barney Leitch of the Baha'is to discuss recent developments in Iran, and what the All-Party Group should be doing about them.

Later, an appointment at King's to discuss greenlight photoselective vaporisation of my prostate, a minor operation which they will do after an examination to see exactly what the size and shape of the prostate is.

Fridat 09.00, meeting with Alison Harvey of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association to discuss the Borders Bill, followed by a meeting with Lord West, the Minister in charge of the Bill. Then attended the debate on Matthew Oakeshott's Bill to provide that any Member of the Lords should pay full English taxes, whether s(he) lives in Britain or not. You'd think that was pretty obvious, but teh Tory leader, Strathclyde, made an intemperate speech against the idea.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


My blog has been given a rating of 7.0 'Very good' by based on the following criteria: Frequency of Updates, Relevance of Content, Site Design, and Writing Style. The best ones get 9.8 'Excellent', to which I don't hope to aspire because it would demand a lot of work, rather than picking a ready-made template off the shelf as I did. This blog does all I want or need, so I'm going to stay at around the 7.0 level!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Parliament resumes

It was back to school on Monday, when I got in a question on the deproscription of the PMOI when the decision comes before the European Council of Ministers at the end of the month. The Minister said he hopes the list won't contain the PMOI, so it will be the end of long and no doubt very expensive struggles through the courts to prove they aren't a terrorist organisation.

Tuesday, attended a presentation by DfID Minister Ivan Lewis MP on the DRC, and in the evening, a very successful meeting Nic Clegg had with the Asian community (though of course they are communities, plural)

Wednesday, meeting of my EU Select Committee, which is doing a quick investigation of the Civil Protection Mechanism, which allows requests to be made for EU help in coping with major disasters, inside or outside the EU. Then, my own question on the situation in Somalia, where there is no government and several conflicts, as well as a nest of pirates preying on ships in the Red Sea.

My statement on the Cameroon election commission ELECAM (see earlier blog) has had widespread coverage in the Cameroon media, and today I have been talking to the Commonwealth Secretariat about their mission which is due to go there on January 29, to look at the programmes of assistance with the establishement of ELECAM and reform of the Ministry of Justice.

Lindsay January 11

Victoria and Alan in Laos

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My speech at the Bahrain Seminar

This week Bahrain was hosting a regional security summit, and the Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, a close relative of the King like most leading members of the government, gave the keynote speech. He had the nerve to say that in Bahrain “individual rights are protected, and ….the fundamental principles of democracy, the rule of law, and economic freedom prevail”. As we have noted on previous occasions, one of the principles of democracy is that the people have the right to change the government through the ballot box, whereas in Bahrain, the electorate has no right or power to dislodge the ruling family. The Prime Minister, the king’s uncle, has held office as Prime Minister for 38 years, a world record. The king himself appoints all the Ministers, under a constitution that preserves the hereditary dictatorship.
Another principle of democracy is that the majority decide public policy. Again as we have noted before, on Bahrain the Shi’a did constitute 70% of the population, but they hold less than 13% if the top positions in government departments. I say ‘did’, because the ruling family has a long term strategy of encouraging immigration by Sunnis and emigration by Shi’a, in a unique piece of demographic engineering that was reported by Human Rights Watch and others. In the census of 2001 there were 406,000 citizens, and this has leapt to 529,000 by the end of 2007 . Although there are reports on how this is organised from reputable international organisations like the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the Asian Commission on Human Rights and the International Crisis Group, up to now there has been no systematic collection of the evidence, as I suggested when we met in August. I repeat: the conspiracy to change the cultural identity of a population is a crime against humanity that must be exposed, and the process of setting up a mechanism for receiving testimonies in confidence and publishing them on the web is now in train.
Collecting and publishing this material has to be done abroad, since freedom of expression is another of the rights which are not protected in Bahrain. Last week a writer and journalist, Maryam al-Shoroogi, was charged with sedition for an article she wrote on discrimination in public employment, based on her own personal experience. Whistle-blowers who report inconvenient facts are generally liable to prosecution, but we do know how the conspiracy is organised from the report by Dr Saleh al-Bander, a British citizen who was expelled when he published details of the plan master-minded by Sheikh Ahmed bin Atiyatalla Al Khalifa, yet another member of the royal mafia.
When three prominent human rights activists spoke at a meeting in Washington DC about the exclusion of Shi’a from higher education and public sector jobs, they were branded as ‘traitors’ and ‘stooges of the Unuted States’ on returning to Bahrain, and the Interior Minister, one more al-Khalifa, called for the enforcement of Article 34 of the Penal Code, which provides that a person who criticises Bahrain abroad is liable to three months imprisonment and a fine. I wrote to the Foreign Office Minister who deals with Bahrain, Bill Rammell MP, and he said our Ambassador was seeking a call on the Interior Minister to discuss his Article 34 demand, and also the wider issues of Bahrainis speaking at conferences abroad. But the British Consulate in Manama is an accomplice in making it difficult for human rights activists to speak at overseas meetings, by delaying the granting of visas, as with our speaker from the Bahrain Youth for Human Rights today. This is not the first time our invited speakers have had delays in getting their visas, and as there is no record of any of our speakers over many years complying with the immigration rules, one is tempted to suspect collusion between the consulate and the Ministry of the Interior.
Our Minister said he wasn’t aware of the coordinated smear campaign against Nabil Rajab, chairman of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and his two colleagues, who attended the Washington meeting. Human Rights Watch, IFEX, the network of free expression groups, and Frontline Defenders, have all carried notices about the threats, and its clear that the regime’s plan is to intimidate human rights activists in the hope of silencing them without having to use more drastic tools of repression.

In the same way, the al-Khalifas use the monopoly service provider Batelco to block websites that deal with human rights abuse in Bahrain, including the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The al-Bander report also shows that large sums of money are paid to organisations running websites and Internet forums which foment sectarian hatred, and to GONGOs – Government Organised NGOs – such as the Jurists' Society, the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, the Bahrain First Society and the Bahrain Political Society. The regime is also spending money on a US lobby firm, Patton Boggs, to peddle the line that the Shi’a are getting a fair deal in Bahrain.
Unfortunately, it has turned out that the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, which was intended to be the mechanism for identifying and rectifying human rights abuses in every country as its name implies, is ineffective. In the case of Bahrain, there were submissions from 12 ‘stakeholders’ with serious criticisms of inequality and discrimination; violations of the right to life, liberty and security of the person; maladministration of justice and breaches of the rule of law; denial of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and right to participate in public and political life, and the right to an adequate standard of living. But the report which followed doesn’t have a single word to say on any of these matters. It simply repeats some of the minor recommendations made by other member states, such as that Bahrain be invited to inform the Human Rights Council in four years time what plans it has to pass laws for the protection of domestic workers, and that the draft press law ought not to unduly restrict freedom of expression.

We just held the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was the occasion for much self-congratulation. It would have been far better, to have recognised the insufficiency of the UN processes it has taken the world all that time to create, and to underline the necessity of holding seminars like this, to allow genuine debate on the persistent and endemic human rights crises that still undermine many people’s freedoms. The submerged half of Bahrain’s population looked in vain to the new system in Bahrain, but until there are the fundamental changes to their own system of governance they will continue to rely on us to keep their flag of liberty aloft.

Bahrain Seminar

A seminar I chaired in the Moses Room on December 18, successful in terms of highlighting the worsening human rights situation. But there is a great hou-ha being made by the authorities in Bahrain on imaginary terrorist activities, and their Foreign Minister says he has written to the FCO making vague allegations about the involvement of Bahraini political refugees in the UK. (see / He says that no official request was made to hand them over to Bahrain, but hints that some of them are party to the “terror plot”.
It was highly improper to parade accused persons on TV, labelling them as terrorists, before they have appeared in court, a point made by defence lawyer Mohammed Ahmed. This reduces the chance of fair trials.

Apart from those on trial, others are being framed including Hassan Mushaima, Leader of the Haq Movement, a guest speaker at our seminar. Mr Mushaima was roughed up at the airport when he returned on January 3, and has been banned from leading prayers at the al-Sadiq mosque as he normally does. At the usual prayer time, entrance to the mosque has been denied to worshippers.

There are reasons to suppose that the ‘confessions’ made on TV were extorted by torture, particularly from marks on the bodies of the individuals concerned. However, the lawyers haven’t been granted access to their clients, another serious breach of the rule of law.

Cameroon Campaign Group statement

Cameroon Campaign Group

Statement by the Chairman, Lord Avebury, January 10, 2009
The independent electoral body ELECAM was voted into law by the National Assembly at the end of 2006, providing for a transitional period of up to 18 months, during which ELECAM would assume the functions previously carried out by the Interior Ministry and the National Elections Observatory. The international community, in Yaoundé, including the UK, had urged the Government of Cameroon to press on with the implementation of ELECAM as quickly as possible.
After much delay, and after consulting political parties as required by the law, President Biya announced the names of persons appointed to ELECAM on December 30, 2008. Not a single member of the opposition parties is included, and most are high-ranking members of the ruling CDPM – see the table below. There may be challenges to the list in the courts, but in the meanwhile the Commonwealth should ask President Biya to reconsider these appointments and come up with a balanced list.

Dorothy Limunga Njeuma Political Bureau member of ruling CPDM
Cecile Bomba Nkolo Political Bureau member of CPDM
Fonkam Azu’u Samuel Central Committee member of the CPDM
Jules Nana Nschwangele CPDM Mayor of Kribi
Abdoulaye Babale Former CPDM Minister
Thomas Ejake Mbonda Former CPDM Governor
Mohaman Sani Tanimou Technical Adviser to the President of Cameroon
Elie Mbonda Director of the President’s wife’s (Chantal Biya) Foundation
Justin Ebanga Ewodo Former member of NEO (the previous weak electoral commission)

The other three members, (two men and a woman - namely Adamou Ali, Pierre Roger Efandene Bekono and Mrs. Sadou Daoudou), have no known political affiliation, but in view of the 100% loyalist composition of those with known connections, it is probable that the three are also loyal to the CPDM.

The ELECAM law also provides that members have to be persons of proven integrity. It was reported last week that four people were arrested as they tried to board a plane to the US with fraudulent documents allegedly signed by Fonkam Azu'u Samuel, for which they claimed to have paid him large bribes. For the time being, this appointment is doubly unlawful.

The European Union had agreed to provide support for the establishment of ELECAM. Until these matters are cleared up, we call for payments to be suspended.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Mission to Mogadishu?

January 9

And eight days later its still hot water bottle weather, meaning below freezing at night, rising to 2 or 3 in the daytime, but with the forecast saying it will get a bit warmer on Sunday. I haven't stirred out of the house except to attend the briefing by FCO Minister Bill Rammell MP on Gaza on Tuesday. He didn't say anything that wasn't already in the public domain. Now the Security Council has called for an immediate and durable ceasefire, but Hamas has dismissed the Resolution and the Israelis have immediately rejected the demand as unworkable. The Franco-Egyptian proposals are still on the table. The Israelis will call a halt to their attacks, which are totally disproportionate, when they have done enough damage as they see it, to Hamas's capacity to launch rocket attacks.

While the media have plenty of time and space to cover events in Gaza, other conflicts which involve even higher civilian casualties and possible international risks are virtually ignored. With the Ethiopians about to pack their bags and leave Somalia, the two possible scenarios are either a crescendo of fighting between the different factions, or the resumption of power by the extremist Islamic Courts. Either way, the so-called Transitional Federal Government exists only in name. The ineffective 'President' Abdullahi Yusuf has gone, and there is no reason to think that last-minute attempts by the UN to recruit credible additional forces for AMISOM, the AU peacekeeping force, are likely to be any more successful than previous efforts.

Phil Krone was staying with us last night, and we were fantasising about a peace mission to Mogadishu. Its noticeable that the current UN mission is to Nairobi and Addis Ababa, and if they went to Mogadishu, how on earth would they decide who to speak to, if they weren't kidnapped by pirates or assassinated by al-Shabaab on the way there? There are no scheduled flights to Mogadishu, so any peace mission, whether by the UN or Phil Krone/Eric Avebury, would have to rely on getting the Red Cross to provide a charter aircraft. What operator would be prepared to charter a plane to fly to Mogadishu and who would insure it, let alone the lives of the passengers? Who would provide security on arrival? I think we'll need another meeting to work out the minor details.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Day 2009

Lindsay and I celebrated New Year's Eve by not going out; our only gesture towards the festival was to watch the fireworks on the South Bank 2-3 miles away from John William's window at the top of the house. Its not a very good view, not only because its so distant, but also because there are some trees in the way. Then we took a hot water bottle to bed with us. JW, needless to say, was out on the tiles until daylight, and this evening he's going to Alastair's.

The pictures below are of dinner on December 30, with Jay and Jeremy, their house guest Innocent, who is at Atlantic College, and JW.