Friday, December 24, 2010

Hate crime against Ahmadis

Sunday 05 December 2010
Threatened with death in shop windows: Channel 4 News Midlands Correspondent Darshna Soni investigates allegations of hate crime against Ahmadi Muslims in the UK.

It's not known exactly how many Ahmadis have settled in Britain - because many are too fearful to even admit they belong to the religion. They are a small, peaceful community who came here after fleeing persecution in Pakistan.

But many Ahmadis are now living in fear for their lives - because they claim a campaign of hatred against them by other, extremist Muslims, is being exported from Pakistan onto the streets of the UK.

Earlier this year in Lahore, Ahmadis were targeted in a murderous attack. 93 worshippers were killed including a number of Britons. Police fought a 3 hour battle with gunmen who had stormed two Ahmedi mosques - the group's religious views are highly controversial, because they dont believe the Prophet Mohammad was the last messenger. It's a view orthadox Muslims find heretical and clerics have lobbied the Pakistani government to introduce a number of anti-Ahmadi laws.

Lutfar Rehman survived the Lahore massacre, but witnessed others being killed. He says the ideology behind the attack is now being preached here in the UK.

"I was inside the mosque when we heard gunshot and the attackers came in. Sitting next to me was a little kid, with his father, his father was trying to save him... The attacks didn't just come suddenly, they were the climax of years of hatred and abuse against us. Ive seen all kinds of problems and hatred in society in Pakistan, now the same thing is happening here."

Since the attacks in Pakistan, we've found worrying evidence that a campaign of hatred is spreading in the UK. We've spoken to Ahmadis who have been physically attacked in the street - and to others who've been sacked from their jobs because they've refused to convert.

Zaheer Mirza owns a butchers in Tooting. He says in recent months, customers have been boycotting his shop after a lefleat started to appear in the community. The lefleat states that because he's an Ahmedi, his meat is not halal. "A lot of people hate us, that's why," he says.

I spoke to others who also claim they are victims. Abdul Majeed has just won an tribunal against his former Muslim employer - the panel found Mr Majeed was sacked because he's an Ahmadi and refused to convert. He told me that he had worked for his boss for two-and-half years - and had felt sick and upset, when he was asked to leave. We were unable to contact Mr Majeed's ex-employer - but during the tribunal, it was claimed he was influenced by anti-Ahmadi conference held in south London after the Pakistan attacks.

This is how it all begins. Shops boycotted, posters going up in windows, people sacked from their jobs.
Lord Avebury
Soon after the conference, our investigation found hate leaflets openly on display. In one shop selling hair products, we found a poster warning Muslims to stay away from Ahmadis. Police in Lambeth confirmed to us that they had been asked to investigate whether the poster constituted a hate crime. I went inside and spoke to the shopkeeper, Adeel Rubani. He told me that he disagreed with the Ahmadis' religious views and felt he had an obligation to "give information to other Muslims."

When I asked him whether he thought this added to an atmosphere in which Ahmadis were being singled out and targeted, he said no. "I've never heard of an Ahmadi being attacked," he said.

But the sentiments against Ahmadis have caused huge concern - and the matter was recently debated in parliament.

The human rights campaigner and Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Avebury, warns that the hate campaign could soon become "a holocaust." He says "This is how it all begins. Shops boycotted, posters going up in windows, people sacked from their jobs."

We tracked down the organisation behind the posters. Khatme Nubbawat - or finality of the prophet - is a British off-shoot of a Pakistani group accused of leading an extremist campaign against Ahmadis. In a recent speech, one of their preachers states that the Lahore attacks were an Ahmadi conspiracy. They are based in east London, and we were given a rare interview.

"I can assure you there is no such hate campaign going on here..."Akber Choudhry, the group's spokesman told me that they are simply countering Ahmadiyya propaganda. I showed him the posters we found in shop windows, and asked if they are inflammatory. "Certainly not."

Mr Choudhry says that the CPS had investigated the posters, but found that although unpleasant words were used, no laws were broken. "If speaking unpleasantly was a crime, democracy would not exist."
The Ahmadis are now seeking independent legal advice, to see whether the CPS can be made to re-investigate any alleged hate crimes.


No sign of Maurice on Skype this evening, and he hasn't left a message to say that he'd tried earlier.

Bhante rang. The Forest Hermitage has been isolated by heavy snowfalls, and the failure of the Council to clear the side road to the monastery. And into the bargain, he's had a nasty bout of flu, from which he's just recovering. The forecast is that the zero temperatures throughout the country will continue over the weekend.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The last day before the Christmas recess. I had the topical question, for which there is a ballot. The question was on the Government's reaction to the National Institute for Economic and Social Research report on caste discrimination in he UK. Under the previous Government, it was clearly understood that if the research found that caste discrimination does exist in the UK, they would activate Section 9(5) of the Equality Act, in effect treating caste as a 'protected characteristic along with age, race, religion, disability, marriage and civil partnership, gender and sexual orientation. The Minister who replied, Baroness Verma, was very lukewarm about the possibility of using the legislation that's there.

Later, down to Woking for cousin Dudi's funeral at the crematorium. She was 93, and had been getting steadily weaker. Very sadly also, her sharp mind had started to fade.
Posted by Picasa

My teenage visitors

Posted by Picasa

Short week

Monday Syed T H came to see me for a discussion over a cup of tea. I was delighted to hear that he had sold a painting - he is a foremost expert on Islamic calligraphy, and some of the major auction houses have been staging auctions of Islamic art.

Later, I had a meeting with Peter Low, who has succeeded Gaby Drinkwater as Coordinator of the Peru Support Group. With the Foreign Office taking greater interest in Latin America, we should be able to expand the membership.

Tuesday, I had a visit from some Bahraini teenagers, and was delighted to show them round the Palace.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Karen Dobrowska

Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday morning, I chaired a seminar on the catastrophic deterioration of human rights in Bahrain. 23 leading human rights activists are in trial for a variety of nebulous offences, and all of them had to endure a period of solitary confinement during which they were tortured The judge dealing with the case refused the defendants' plea that the torture should be investigated first, on the grounds that false confessions had been extracted from them, and this was the only evidence for their 'crimes'. The defence lawyers then walked out, and the judge said he would appoint replacements, but the defendants said they wouldn't accept that proposal, which is contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Under the ICCPR, everyone is entitled to appoint a lawyer of his or he own choice. At question time, we had an exchange on the Chagos Islands, see The Government line is that they have been told by the Americans that any return of the inhabitants who were kicked out by the British to make room for a us military base would create unacceptable security problems. Before President Obama came into office, the FCO twice persuaded the Americans to put their objections in writing to help with the court case, but now we are supposed to believe that only a verbal reiteration of the previous administration's policy has been offered. Wikileaks published the desperate plea of the FCO for the Americans to put it in writing, and the fact that they haven't done so makes it look as though there would be no security concerns if the few Chagossians who would want to return lived on the outer islands, 140 miles from Diego Garcia.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Last Saturday my cousin Dudi died at the age of 92, after spending quite a few years in nursing homes, steadily needing more care as time went by. She hated being dependent, and was lonely because she didn't make friends easily with the other residents. I felt guilty for not visiting her more often. It must be really hard to lose all your friends and relatives one by one, and to have very little in common with the people around you.

Tuesday morning, I chaired a seminar on the catastrophic deterioration of human rights in Bahrain. 23 leading human rights activists are in trial for a variety of nebulous offences, and all of them had to endure a period of solitary confinement during which they were tortured The judge dealing with the case refused the defendants' plea that the torture should be investigated first, on the grounds that false confessions had been extracted from them, and this was the only evidence for their 'crimes'. The defence lawyers then walked out, and the judge said he would appoint replacements, but the defendants said they wouldn't accept that proposal, which is contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Under the ICCPR, everyone is entitled to appoint a lawyer of his or he own choice. At question time, we had an exchange on the Chagos Islands, see The Government line is that they have been told by the Americans that any return of the inhabitants who were kicked out by the British to make room for a us military base would create unacceptable security problems. Before President Obama came into office, the FCO twice persuaded the Americans to put their objections in writing to help with the court case, but now we are supposed to believe that only a verbal reiteration of the previous administration's policy has been offered. Wikileaks published the desperate plea of the FCO for the Americans to put it in writing, and the fact that they haven't done so makes it look as though there would be no security concerns if the few Chagossians who would want to return lived on the outer islands, 140 miles from Diego Garcia.

Wednesday morning, EU Select Committee, at which evidence was taken from Robert Wainwright, Director of EUROPOL, in connection with our inquiry on the EU Internal Security Strategy. The five aims of the ISS are to disrupt international crime networks; to prevent terrorism and address radicalisation; to raise levels of security in cyberspace; to strengthen security through border management, and to increase Europe's resilience towards crises and disasters. The European Commission has submitted proposals to the Eiropeand Parliament and the Council for achieving those objectives, and it is that document with 41 proposed common actions, that is the subject of our inquiry.

Wednesday afternoon, a meeting of the All-Part Group on the Chagos Islands, chaired by Jeremy Corbyn MP.

Thursday morning, an appointment with my GP, Dr W, to make some adjustments in the medication I take for blood pressure.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Haemoglobin readings from blood tests
Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tuesday, meeting of Parliamentary Human Rights Group officers

Wednesday, PHRG meeting with Thomas Hammarberg, High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, an old friend. He spoke about the treatment of minorities, and particularly the Roma and gays. I sent him the 'letter of allegation' from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, the draft response that was submitted for approval to the CLG Minister Andrew Stunell MP, and my note on the 20% of the Traveller population who are homeless. Also my note on restoring the right of appeal against refusal of asylum to gays from countries that are considered 'safe'.

Thursday, meeting of the All-Party Group on Gypsies and Travellers, to hear from senior officials of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They are shortly going to publish a new report of the disadvantage suffered by the GRT communities, and it is to be hoped that it will soften the original hard line taken by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles. The proposal to create an offence of criminal trespass has been dropped, and the funding of new sites and restoration of old sites is to be restored. But the fundamental question is how local authorities are to decide on the amount of land they allocate for new sites. The numbers that were contained in the regional strategies have been abandoned, and every local authority is free to decide what replaces them, on the basis of 'local need'. Of course this means that as long as there is no guidance, no sites will be given planning permission except those for which Travellers themselves win an appeal. Research by Steve Staines of FFT shows that in a sample of local authorities in the southeast that have considered the matter, many intend to provide for not one extra pitch, including London, and the remainder have adopted numbers that are woefully short of the carefully researched requirements that were indicated in the regional strategy.

Friday, another session at King's, this time with the haematologist. Victoria came over, and has made a big difference to the paperwork.

Haemoglobin readins from blood tests
Posted by Picasa
Monday, to King's, to have cardiac ambulatory test. Three electrodes are strapped to the chest, and the signals are collected on a rectangular device about the size of a cigarette packet, over a period of 24 hours.

MRI of the brain didn't show any acute ischaemic lesions but there is a background of moderate small vessel disease. There are some discrete white matter lesions which appear to be more numerous on the left than on the right. Carotid Dopplers showed 40-49% on the right and 20-30% on the left. Interestingly, the white matter lesions on the brain are more numerous on the side of the lower grade carotid stenosis.

Regarding the EEG, the background activity shows a bilateral and symmetrical alpha, at 8-9 Hz, up to 78 μV.It is seen over posterior regions and attenuates on visual attention. Some slow theta and delta activity is seen over temporal regions, especially over the left hemisphere. Some sharp transients may be seen associated to slow waves, and seen over fronto-temporal regions as well as more prominent over the left hemisphere. These probably don't represent epileptiform discharges but rather, non-specific changes which are seen in cerebro-vascular disease.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Rest of the week

Wednesday morning, regular meeting of my EU Subcommittee F of the Lords' EU committee on Home Affairs. Unfortunately I can't accompany the Committee to Brussels next week because I have a 24-hour cardiac test at King's

Lunchtime, a meeting to discuss the situation of the Hazara minority in Quetta city, Baluchistan. Terrorists have an almost free hand in the city, murdering and driving out the Hazara (who constitute 10% of the population) and other minorities, and anybody else who doesn't toe their line. The federal government does nothing to protect the peaceful citizens, and as elsewhere in Pakistan, the killers are never tried let alone convicted. Are we going to stand on the sidelines as Pakistan develops into a nuclear-armed Caliphate, dedicated to the teachings of ibn Taymiyya, Qutb and Maudoodi summarised in the previous entry?

Thursday, David Alton initiated a debate on human rights in which I mentioned this issue, as well as a couple of points from Tuesday's debate on Iran. ( This time we had seven minutes each, again totally inadequate for the extent of problems we face. I had intended to speak about the current situation in Zimbabwe, which hasn't been covered in the Lords for several weeks, and as there was no time, I tabled a motion for a 2 1/2 hour debate in which, as the mover, I would get 15 minutes. There is a ballot for these debates so the chances aren't great, but I will also ask the LibDems if they would allocate one of our Party slots to the subject.

Friday, I had a misnamed 'sleep eeg' at King's. As part of the test I took two knockout pills, but in spite of lying still for an hour or so in the dark I was still wide awake. The technician said it didn't matter. The note sent out by the hospital reads:

EEG (Electroencephalogram) is the investigation performed in a variety of disorders of brain function. It is often necessary if the cause of a blackout or other recurring disturbance of brain function is unknown The test is performed by placing 8-16 pairs of small disc electrodes on the scalp, using a watersoluble paste. This is a painless procedure and non-invasive......
The electrodes pick up tiny electrical signals from the brain, which are magnified and stored onto a computer. A specialist consultant then interprets the recording. During the test you will be asked to sit or lie down on a couch and relax. At times you will be asked to open and close your eyes. You will be asked to do some deep breathing for up to 3 minutes. It is often necessary to look at flashing lights at different frequencies. Some people find this slightly uncomfortable.
A Sleep EEG maybe recommended if a wake EEG does not show any definite abnormality. This is because in some patients the abnormalities are only seen during drowsiness or sleep, The procedure is similar to the routine procedure except that you will be asked to take some medication to enable you to fall asleep. The test will last for up to 3 hours; this includes a period of recovery time. The patient will be checked by a doctor to ensure they are fully awake and recovered, prior to leaving the department. As you will be feeling sleepy for the rest of the day you are advised to rest at home and remain from any demanding activities, and not to return to work or drive. If the appointment is for a child of 14 years of age or younger they may continue as normal and may return to school.
The technician performing the test will give a full explanation of the procedure and is available to answer any questions you may have. EEG (Electroencephalogram) is the investigation performed in a variety of disorders of brain function. It is often necessary if the cause of a blackout or 6{her recurring disturbance of brain function is unknown.

Lindsay picked me up after the test and I went to bed with a hot water bottle for three hours or so, but got up at 16.00 and have been working since then ( 5 1.2 hours) with a break for dinner.

Tuesday continued

From 13.00 to 14.00, a meeting with Equalities, a newly formed Government body to co-ordinate policy on women and gender equality issues in Government. I wanted to inquire whether they had considered Gypsy and Traveller inequality or would do so, and the answer is that Traveller organisations concerned with women's rights should submit evidence to them, and I'm drawing this to the attention of the UK Association of Gypsy Women.

At 15.390, a one hour debate on Iran in which all except the mover and David Howell, the Minister who wound up, had a mere three minutes, see There's so much to be said that a one-hour debate isn't appropriate, though arguably a psychopathic regime that stones its victims to death executes children and stones people to death for 'blasphemy' isn't susceptible to criticism from the House of Lords.

In the evening, a meeting in Committee Room 16 to launch the report of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group on the mission to Pakistan, to look into the current situation of the Ahmadiyya Muslims. They are suffering violent persecution, repression and discrimination, yet they steadfastly uphold their principle of 'Lover for all, Hatred for None', even in the face of atrocities like the suicide bombing of their two principal mosques in Lahore in which 92 worshippers were killed and scores more seriously injured.

There is a growing number of fanatics who believe in the division of the world into Dar el-Harb, the realm of the infidel, and Dar el-Islam, the realm of the believers. This is not yet a geographical division, because there is no country in the world that is governed strictly in accordance with the principles of the 'rightly-guided Caliphs' who immediately succeeded the Prophet. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they approached this ideal, and the objective is to re-create the Caliphate in one country, as a preparation for extending its rule throughout the world. Getting rid of the infidels in countries that are prevented from adopting rules of governance and jurisprudence derived from the Qur'an and the Sunnah is a first step towards this ideal, and because those infidels are 'wajib ul-qatl', worthy to be killed, there are rewards in paradise for the assassins who kill them.

So it isn't only the Ahmadis who are systematically murdered and driven from their homes and jobs by the Salafist fanatics, and it isn't only in Pakistan that religious hatred is driven to these extremes by Salafist prayer leaders in the mosques and madrassas Christians, Hindus and Shi'a Muslims are also on the receiving end of terrorism throughout the Islamic world, and the propagators of hatred are even establishing a foothold here in Britain. It is futile to imagine that we can defend ourselves against this threat militarily in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Somalia or Yemen. when the real need is for an ideological counter-attack in which the interpretations of Islam that are based on tolerance and coexistence are given the prominence they were accorded by the Prophet himself.

Introducing the Peru Roundtable
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 02, 2010


From left to right: Jose de Echave, Anne Lindsay, the Peruvian Ambassador, me, Javier Diez Canseco, Paul Rathbone
Posted by Picasa
Going back to Tuesday, the morning was taken up chairing and making introductory remarks at a roundtable on Peru organised by the Peru Support Group, and backed by the NGOs CAFOD, Progression and Christian Aid. The principal speakers were JOHN PAUL RATHBONE, Latin America editor of the Financial Times; JAVIER DIEZ CANSECO human rights and anti-corruption activist and former member of Congress; ANNE LINDSAY, Lead Analyst on the Private Sector at CAFOD, the official overseas development and relief agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and JOSE DE ECHAVE, head of the Collective Rights and Extractives Industries programme at the Lima-based NGO CooperAcción (Programa Derechos Colectivos e Industrias Extractivas).

The garden, from eye level
Posted by Picasa

Flodden Road, from our bedroom window this morning December 2
Posted by Picasa

December 2, from JW's window
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Peru Support Group conference

Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa

Lyulph, after 4 1/2 hour drive Thursday evening

Posted by Picasa

Last week

Monday: meeting with Dowlat Nowrouzi and her colleague from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, to discuss the current situation in Iran. They are particularly concerned at the moment about the siege of Camp Ashraf, where hundreds of their members are living in appalling conditions. The European Parliament has issued a written declaration calling on Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, to urge the United States to remove the PMOI from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, as the EU has done, and call on the United Nations to provide urgent protection to Ashraf residents.

On November 18, the UN General Assembly's Third Committee passed a lengthy Resolution echoing concerns expressed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who issued a report in October that criticized Iran's use of torture and the death penalty, its poor treatment of women, and repeated violations of due process of law, as well as its failure to protect the rights of minorities, such as the Baha'i, Sufi, Baluch and Kurdish communities.

But what leverage does even the UN have over this psychopathic regime? There's a debate on Iran in the Lords next Tuesday, and I need to make some attempt to answer this question.

Monday afternoon, attended a meeting with Rupert de Mauley, the Government Minister who answered the debate we had on human trafficking, to go further into the reasons why the Government hadn't signed up to the EU Directive on the subject. The short answer was that we would consider the matter again as we see how the EU develops the proposal.

Tuwsday morning, I chaired a meeting in Portcullis House (an annex of Parliament) on the EU's Free Trade Agreement with Colombia and Peru. Then lunch with Somaliland experts. At Questions, I joined in asking the Home Office Minister Baroness Neville-Jones questions about paperwork and procedures, none of which she was able to answer. As I had sent her an email indicating what I was going to ask, it was rather disappointing, but I noted that every other questioner got the same treatment:

23 Nov 2010 : Column 1004

Immigration: Home Office Procedures

2.52 pm

Asked By Baroness Gardner of Parkes

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will review the procedures and paperwork required by the Home Office from applicants for immigration or residential status.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, online forms containing guidance have already been introduced on the UK Border Agency website to make things easier for applicants. Next year, tier 4 student applicants, which comprise the largest category, will be able to create their own customer account to assist them to complete their online application, pay for it and view its progress. All immigration application forms will be available online by 2015, and the aim is to simplify and clarify application procedures in all categories.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the Minister for that reply. My question relates to long-term residency in the UK, and I declare an interest in that I have had the right of abode for many years and have been here for 50 years. Why were new regulations introduced in 2006 requiring everyone to resubmit documents? In 1985 I had a letter saying that no repeat would ever be required, but in 2009 I was told that I must resubmit all originals. I am getting the same complaint from many people. Will the Minister also comment on the Canadian lady who, just this week, after 60 years in the UK, was stopped at the airport as an illegal immigrant?

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the aim of the 2006 regulations, which were brought into effect by our predecessors, appears to have been to cut down on fraudulent claims to the right of abode by ensuring that the validity of the certificate of entitlement which applicants have to have was limited to the lifetime of the passport to which it was attached. Requiring new certificates of entitlement enables a further check on the genuineness of the eligibility to take place. As regards the Canadian lady, on the basis of the press reports-and I have no other information-it would appear that this lady, who was allowed into the country, will be able to claim her right of citizenship through descent. I think that she will have no problem in doing that, and of course she will not have to pay.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will my noble friend put copies of all the paperwork in the case of Anwar and Adjo in the Library, including the judgment of Lord Justice Sedley in which he said that "a shameful decision" had been made-the effective criminalising and enforced removal of an innocent person without either worthwhile evidence or the opportunity to answer? Lord Justice Sedley went on to request that the misuse of the powers of one of the great offices of state should be drawn to the attention of the Home Secretary. Has that been done, and what remedies is the Home Secretary providing for this misuse of powers?

23 Nov 2010 : Column 1005

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not familiar with this case, which obviously the noble Lord is interested in, in detail. I will write to him.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, have the new Government amended the guidelines which the last Government gave to immigration officers instructing them to allow the second, third and fourth wives of Muslim men, together with their attendant children, to live in this country,

"even if that sets up a polygamous marriage in the United Kingdom"?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not familiar with that provision. I understand why the noble Lord is asking the question; I fear that I will have to look into the matter and perhaps write to him.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, as regards asylum applicants-which is a part of this larger question-is the noble Baroness aware that the UK borders authority operates a dispersal programme and system? Will she encourage it by all possible means also to disperse its centralised Croydon office to the regions so that applicants do not have to travel huge distances at great inconvenience for their principal interviews?

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, is this in relation to passport applications? Is that the question the noble Lord is asking?

Lord Hylton: No. It is to do with asylum applications.

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I will have to see what can be done. This seems rather distant from the original Question.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, can the noble Baroness answer this one? She will be aware that, a few months ago, the previous Government published a draft Bill on simplifying the immigration law. Contained within it was a proposal on information, to bring together piecemeal powers to require and supply information through specific gateways. Will the Government be taking that forward?

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know. You will have to wait and see.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I express an interest as a lawyer whose firm does a lot of immigration and asylum work, and I preface my question by saying that what I have to ask has no effect on the numbers coming in. As my noble friend the Minister will know, the previous Government tried their best to simplify the procedure for those applying for immigration and asylum and to move to a points-based system. The situation now, however, is that the questionnaire that applicants have to fill in is 60 pages of technical, concentrated stuff. If they get any aspect of it wrong, they fail. Legal aid is being withdrawn for asylum. Will my noble friend at least review the questionnaire process in order to simplify and clarify it?

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, we should try to make these procedures as comprehensible, simple and clear as we can, consistent with having to acquire the correct information. We will see what we can do.


After questions, did an interview for Channel 4 on extremists and incitement to religious hatred against the Ahmadi Muslims in the UK. They promised to let me know when it was going to be aired.

In the evening, chaired the AGM of the London Bach Society, of which I'm President.

Wednesday I had an appointment in the Cardiac Department of King's at 09.30, but the doctor hadn't arrived by 09.50 and I had to leave to get to EU Select Committee for 10.30. King's, and I dare say other hospitals as well, have a casual attitude to being on time for appointments, and their excuse if you complain is that they make allowances in the timing for the patients who don't turn up. They can't use that excuse this time, and if I get a moment I intend to complain.

After Select Committee, a meeting if the Zimbabwe all-Party Group.

Friday, to Oxford, to chair a meeting at Balliol of the Maurice Lubbock Trustees. The fund has recovered well from the recession, and we aren't having to curtail any of our regular activities at Balliol and the Engineering Department. Lyulph gave me a lift both ways, and on the return journey we were diverted off the M40 motorway onto a tiny side road, lengthening the journey from an hour and 40 minutes to about 4 1/2 hours. At least it gave me the opportunity of a nice long chat with Lyulph, who also called in for supper when he dropped me off at home.

Saturday, I also had a lift, this time to Kingston University, where I chaired the annual conference of the Peru Support Group. We had a really excellent keynote speaker, Javier Diez Canseco, and first class leaders for the workshops. Extract from my introduction:

When the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, gave the Canning Lecture earlier this month, he made the point that he was the first occupier of the post to do so in the two centuries that have elapsed since the dawn of Latin American independence. He promised to reverse the decline of our diplomatic presence in the region with the closure of four embassies in the 90’s and he talked about intensified and equal partnerships with countries in Latin America, with much greater ministerial attention devoted to them. We are keen, he said, to broker a strategic alliance between Latin America and Europe on climate change; to work closely with the countries of the region in tackling drugs and violence; to support sustainable development and address climate change. We welcomed the steps being taken to address the rights of indigenous people, he said, and he mentioned the visits by Jeremy Browne MP, the Minister of State at the FCO responsible for the region, who also happens to be lead minister on human rights – and a Liberal Democrat.
The Foreign Secretary referred to Peru several times in the course of his lecture – in the context of Peruvian fiscal discipline, counter-narcotics cooperation, and climate change. I’m sure PSG members are pleased about this greater interest in Peruvian affairs, and it was good to see both the recently-appointed head of the FCO’s Americas section Angus Lapsley and the head of the Andean team Liz Younger at the seminar we held last Tuesday on the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Peru and Colombia.
But there’s a possible contradiction between the FTA and other components of our engagement with Peru, already the leading mining country in Latin America, with much of the UK’s additional business resulting from the FTA also in extractive industries. There could be harmful side effects, on the environment, climate change and the rights of indigenous people. Continued growth in global consumption of raw materials would appear to be incompatible with sustainability, the buzzword that Mr Hague picks up from the Impact Assessment in his reference to development in Latin America. Not only does mining require huge inputs of energy itself, but the products manufactured from the materials dug from the earth need energy over their lifetime to make them work. So the reduction of global energy consumption, as a precondition for mitigating a disastrous rise in atmospheric and ocean temperature, calls for a halt to the rise in world mining output.
There are also the implications for indigenous people of uncontrolled development. In a public statement at the beginning of November, AIDESEP denounced the plans of the government to grant mining, logging and tourism concessions after blocking the indigenous consultation law approved by Congress last May. Peru ratified ILO Convention 169 12 years ago, but has still to embody it in domestic law, so that not unnaturally the frustration of indigenous communities simmers away under every development and occasionally breaks out into violence, as in Bagua, on which the PSG held a seminar in June.
We have also taken a particular interest in the English court case against Monterrico Metals, a UK-registered company, in which protesters successfully upheld their claim to have been unlawfully detained by agents of the company. The PSG briefed me for a debate on Latin America in the Lords in June in which I raised these and other concerns.
During the last year the PSG has raised the level of our inter-agency collaboration with Amnesty International, Progression, ABColombia, the Trade Justice Movements and many others. At the European level we are a key member of the Peru Europe Platform and we have played a key role in coordinating the twice-yearly meetings in Brussels and in lobbying MEPs.
In the next 12 months there should be scope for public opinion to influence the institutional changes that the Free Trade Agreement requires, so that the negative impacts foreseen by small farmers, peasant communities, indigenous peoples and the civil society organisations that support these sectors are alleviated, or that compensating benefits are provided in terms of education, health and infrastructure services, and job creation. The European Parliaments, which have to ratify the FTA, can ask the Peruvian embassies in their countries how they intend to deal with rural poverty, with 70% of the rural population living below the poverty line. Not unnaturally, those people are not likely to envisage the benefits of the foreign direct investment, when the substantial amounts already spent by the UK, Spain and the US on capital projects, accounting for over half of foreign direct investment in Peru, have made a negligible difference to their living standards.
How these problems are seen by the Peruvian electorate as a whole will also become clear in 2011, when no doubt they will be discussed in the general election campaign. Our keynote speaker, Javier Díez Canseco, is well placed to give us some insight into the mood of the people, having been elected six times to Congress for the Partido Democratico Descentralista (PDD), of which he was a co-founder. We noted the narrow victory of Susana Villarán in the mayoral election in Lima, the first woman to be elected to the post and a previous keynote speaker at our AGM, I think in 2006. Like Ms Villarán, Mr Diez Canseco has always been a staunch campaigner against corruption and a human rights activist. Perhaps he can say whether her victory indicates a shift towards the left in Peruvian politics, helped perhaps by the coalescence in 2007 of 7 regional movements and the Party for Social Democracy in a new movement, the Social Force Descentralist Party (Partido Descentralista Fuerza Social). At the last count there were, I think, 21 political parties in Peru, a reflection of the fact that they have a list system of proportional representation. It would be interesting to know whether there is any discussion of changes in the electoral system, as we are likely to have in the UK over the next year. In the proposed reform of the House of Lords, the members would be elected on a system of proportional representation, but it would be the single transferable vote, which doesn’t lead to proliferation of small parties. It may be, of course, that when most people are worried about where the next meal is coming from, they aren’t interested in electoral systems, even though it might be shown that with some other system, they would be more fairly represented.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More from ITMB conference

Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa

Irish Traveller Movement in Britain Conference

Posted by Picasa

This is a time of crisis and uncertainty for the GRT community, when the policies that were being developed and implemented by the previous Government over a period of six years have been shredded, and the mantra of localism means that targets for providing sites for homeless Travellers have been abandoned permanently. Travellers themselves are being blamed for unauthorised developments, at a time when the Government has made sure that local authorities will hardly ever grant planning permission for sites. The Government has torn up Circular 01/2006 without issuing any guidance on planning, and homeless Travellers – which means anyone not on an authorised site – have no alternative but to take their chance on the most suitable bits of land available.
We saw what was coming in a document issued by Caroline Spelman MP before the election, when she was Tory spokesperson on Communities and Local Government, and we wrote to her at the end of March arguing that scrapping the targets would derail the timetable for eliminating unauthorised encampments, increasing tension between Travellers and local communities, and ensuring that Travellers, already the most disadvantaged of any ethnic group, would have even greater difficulty in accessing public services including health and education. The ITMB has given examples of what’s happening already: Central Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Bournemouth and Poole, Epping Forest and London, have all reduced the allocations they had been given following a detailed and painstaking approach to ascertain the provision required of each local authority and the timetable for that provision. When Mr Pickles gave them a free hand to decide what they would do, it was back to 1994 when a previous Tory Government repealed the obligation to provide sites in the Caravan Sites Act 1968.
Where the local authority plans to allow fewer sites than were calculated as necessary in the GTANA, the inevitable result will be more unauthorised sites, the reverse of what the Government say they’re trying to achieve. The Government’s change of policy has already attracted the attention of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, which finds in its current report on the UK that
“An excessive emphasis on enforcement (ie eviction) involving often protracted and expensive litigation, instead of seeking forward-looking solutions in consultation with all members of the local community, has..... been shown to damage race relations”
And they recommended that
“the UK... encourage local authorities to treat enforcement measures... as a last resort, and to privilege wherever possible.... mutually acceptable solutions”.
It will be interesting to see how the Government replies to this advice, and also how the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing reacts to the Government’s response to his letter of allegations, largely on the treatment of people living on the Dale Farm site. Throwing the residents off the site, at a cost of up to £10 million for the police alone according to the local paper, plus fees of £2.5 million for the notorious bailiffs Constant & Co, plus the medical and social costs down the line, is a shameless and inhuman way of dealing with the problem.
Meanwhile as you know, the High Court has ruled that Mr Pickles acted unlawfully in scrapping the regional targets because he acted without Parliamentary approval. Anonymous sources in the DCLG say Mr Pickles isn’t going to bother with an appeal, because legislation to be introduced next month will put things right. In other words, its OK for the Government to break the law, and then change it retrospectively to cancel the illegality. We will see whether Parliament agrees with his arrogant new doctrine that Ministers don’t need to bother with the law, because if the courts rule against them, they can just alter the law.
Mr Pickles also intends to introduce stronger planning enforcement powers for local authorities to deal with breaches of planning control and for limiting the opportunities for retrospective planning applications. So at the same time as making sure there won’t be enough lawful sites anywhere in the country, he’s arranging for Travellers who are left out in the cold to be constantly moved on without regard to the immense harm they will suffer, especially the children.
If families know they’re at risk of being evicted at very short notice, they will be reluctant to send their children to school. We were pleased to see that education did comparatively well in the Spending Review, with an extension from 2012-13 to 15 hours per week of free early education and care to all disadvantaged two year old children, as the cornerstone of a new focus on the foundation years before school;
a new premium worth £2.5 billion targeted on the educational development of disadvantaged pupils, and

the 5 to 16s schools budget rising by 0.1 per cent in real terms each year

But if GRT children don’t attend school, and there are no specialist Traveller Teachers, how is this money going to benefit them? The pupil absence statistics published a couple of weeks ago tell us that absence rates are highest of all ethnic groups for Irish Travellers at 23% and we know that the real figures are probably much worse, because of the reluctance of GRT pupils and their parents to declare themselves.

The local authority does have a statutory requirement under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 to monitor and assess the impact of their policies on children from a GRT background. Assuming that the Government aren’t going to water down this obligation, and bearing in mind that GRT children are the lowest achieving groups at all Key Stages, we need to know what strategies the Government are going to adopt with a view to eliminating under-achievement, and in particular, what they intend doing about projects launched by the previous administration.

We did have a meeting with the Minister who deals with Traveller education, Nick Gibb MP on October 14, which I had been asking for it ever since the election. He had offered us half an hour, but we continued for well over an hour, and it appeared that he was genuinely interested in what the Traveller teachers’ representatives had to say. The Coalition policy says we are going to make a vigorous attack on disadvantage, but I got the impression that the DfE hadn’t got around to deciding what to do in practical terms. This came out plainly at the third Gypsy and Traveller Educational Forum held at the DfE, and I’m optimistic that GRT families too have begun to realise that to escape from poverty and disadvantage they need a big educational upgrade. We heard about the work being done in Canterbury and neighbouring authorities in Kent, where Gypsy children have no problem in ascribing, numbers have shot up, bullying has gone down, and achievement is steadily improving.
I have also been asking for a meeting since the election with Andrew Stunell MP, the Minister at the DCLG who deals with Travellers. I did have a one-to-one chat with him a few weeks ago, but he is still not prepared to have a round table discussion with stakeholders, pending the appearance of policy statements expected before the end of the year.
The CLG’s Business Plan 2022-15, published last week, says the Coalition’s priorities include meeting people’s housing aspirations and giving local people and communities far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which they live. We say we will support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in communities. But what if most local authorities, armed with greater powers taken over from Whitehall, decide to ignore the aspirations of Travellers as they have always done in the past? There are to be strong incentives for local authorities to build new homes, and there will be financial incentives in 2011-12 and after to provide new sites for Travellers, but previous experience shows that cost isn’t the main deterrent.
What the CLG do say is that local parish councils or neighbourhood forums will bring forward ‘neighbourhood plans’ in which “Local and historic demand” is the new benchmark for site provision for Gypsies and Travellers. You can imagine that few of these bodies are going to come forward with plans for a Traveller site in their area, and when I had a look at a few neighbourhood forum meeting minutes last weekend and I found none. This could be the subject of more systematic information gathering, to see what’s happening on the ground.
If the neighbourhood forum does come up with a proposal for a Traveller site, then under the Localism Bill due to come before Parliament, local electors could trigger a referendum vetoing the proposal. In fact, this idea could make it difficult for councils to adopt plans for the benefit of any minority, and not just for Travellers.
In London, the Mayor reduced the number of pitches to be provided from 538 in the original plan to 238 in the revised plan of March 2010, and then in a further so-called “Minor alteration” to zero in September 2010. He intends to develop “a different policy approach that will enable boroughs and stakeholders to meet required needs in light of local circumstances”. The boroughs will no doubt hold interminable consultations on their required needs, also coming up with the answer zero. I have asked the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to investigate whether the Mayor has acted unlawfully in failing to carry out an equality impact assessment of this proposal.
Let me end on a positive note. We have all been asking for the GRT communities to be consulted on the far-reaching policy changes being developed by the CLG, and the Department have now invited the Gypsy Council , the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, Friends Families and Travellers and the All Party Parliamentary Group Secretary, to a meeting to discuss their concerns and put forward their views about the Cross Departmental working groups, and the Big Society Agenda on November 24. Many of the Government’s policies are set in stone already, but at least the principle of consultation may allow the GRT communities to modify those which are under development, not only in the CLG but also in the Department for Education .

Caption to be added tomorrow, I hope
Posted by Picasa

The Kurds of Syria

Speech at the meeting to draw attention to the Syrian government's treatment of its Kurdish people, 18.30 November 16:

Syrian human rights violations towards its population of over a million Kurdish remain systematic, flagrant and severe. Kurds in Syria can face discrimination at every stage and in every area of life. A Kurdish child can be denied citizenship at birth, and can later risk torture and death at the hands of Syrian state agents for voicing peaceful political or cultural beliefs, deprived of his or her basic human rights and freedoms.

Syria has, as have so many other countries, taken on extensive obligations with regards to human rights within its borders. It has signed and ratified many of the central UN human rights treaties. Accepting a legal, as well as a moral and political responsibility towards every human being within its jurisdiction, is not reflected in the Syrian government’s treatment of its population.

Syrian human rights violations are in no way an exclusively Kurdish phenomenon; they can be carried out against every individual, irrespective of their ethnicity. At the same time, identity-based discrimination of the Kurds puts them in an especially vulnerable position.

With regards to torture and ill-treatment, Syria consistently fails to adhere to its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture. The condition of its prisons are still of grave concern and the use of torture against detainees is widespread.

Despite legislation outlawing arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, and the use of force against detainees, the use of these practices, particularly against politically active Kurds, is widespread and habitual. The imprisonment of Kurdish activists and human rights defenders for vague offences such as “weakening nationalist sentiment” is widespread.

Even though allegations of torture are often substantiated by testimony, interrogators in court, medical evidence and reports by human rights bodies, no disciplinary action or prosecutions have ensued against public officials. Such cases form a body of examples of credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment not being effectively investigated.

The Syrian legislative framework also falls short of preventing torture and ill-treatment. A presidential decree from September 2008 provides police, state security forces, and customs police personnel with state immunity while they carry out their duties. Also, there appears to be no law regulating the admissibility of out-of-court statements by an accomplice. This allows the court to consider confessions extracted from defendants or witnesses under torture or other ill-treatment.

Other rights under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are similarly infringed. There are numerous examples of violations of the right to life. The death of Kurdish conscripts, especially those being politically active, under suspicious circumstances whilst carrying out their mandatory military service is a frequent occurrence in the Syrian military, and no investigation is carried out by the Syrian authorities into these deaths. Each year, the celebration of the Kurdish New Year ‘Newroz’ brings reports of brutality against Kurdish people. In 2010, KHRP received reports of death, serious injuries, and arbitrary detentions of Kurdish civilians after celebrating the Newroz festival in the Kurdish area of al-Raqqa, Syria.

The freedom of expression is restricted under equally harsh measures from the regime, giving little or no room for open and peaceful exchange of ideas and political opinions. Consequently, political activity outside the auspices of the Ba’th Party or PNF, remains illegal. Kurdish political parties operate covertly, but members are vulnerable to prosecution, arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention. Human rights activists’ activities are also severely limited. Human rights organizations are usually denied the required registration as a private association, and human rights activists are prevented from travelling abroad and are targeted and harassed by the Syrian government.

Similarly, many Kurds in Syria are deprived of their economic, social and cultural rights. Issues with regards to these rights are especially severe for those who are stateless. The fact that many Kurds were stripped of their Syrian citizenship following the 1962 census constitutes in itself a violation of the right to a nationality under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Deprived of their citizenship, they were divided into two sub-groups, the ajanib or ‘foreign’ and the maktoumeen or ‘unregistered’ and underwent a corresponding reduction in their rights.

Being stateless they are unable to legally own land, housing or businesses. As a result, their children cannot inherit their land or other property. Lacking passports or other adequate travel documents, they are effectively trapped in Syria, risking torture or ill-treatment if caught trying to leave the country illegally.

Not being recognised as citizens also means that the stateless Kurds can suffer in relation to remuneration as employers often exploit the vulnerable situation of stateless Kurds with a lack of official documentation..

Kurdish children constitute another particularly vulnerable group in Syrian society. Children deemed to be maktoumeen are unable to acquire Syrian citizenship, and do not have the rights inherit their maktoum father’s property, although they automatically inherit his lack of citizenship. Stateless children also have restricted access to education. Efforts made to ensure all Arab children are educated are not made for Kurdish children, and even though stateless children are allowed primary education, there is a distinction between no certificate given to maktoumeen, and a certificate stating that the student is ‘foreign’ given to ajanib. Since the classes are taught in Arabic and the teaching of Kurdish is illegal, children only speaking Kurdish will have further restrictions on gaining an education.

As one can see, the examples of human rights violations against the Syrian Kurds are numerous, systematic and grave. The will of the Syrian government to remedy the situation, to reform the laws and to implement them properly, to recognize its Kurdish minority, and to ensure a better life for its citizens, seems to be completely absent.

The international community must continue and increase its pressure on Syria to bring about changes in the human rights situation. Specifically, the Syrian government must be urged to:

• End the state of emergency that has been in force since 1963;
• Recognize the existence of the Kurdish ethnic minority and
guarantee Kurdish political and cultural rights in the Syrian
• Grant permission for an international committee of human
rights organizations to visit Syria and investigate the situation
of the Kurdish minority; and to
• Release Kurdish and other political prisoners in Syria.
Posted by Picasa

Courtesy Adrian Brookes/Imagewise

World Pneumonia Day

On Tuesday, I chaired a very successful event to mark World Pneumonia Day in the Moses Room of the House of Lords, see above. Speakers included H E Mr Edward Turay, High Commissioner for Sierra Leone in the UK on Sierra Leone’s progress on child health and pneumonia; Helen Evans, Acting CEO of the GAVI Alliance, on GAVI and vaccination in the developing world: Stephen O’Brien MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, on the UK’s support of the fight against pneumonia in the developing world, and Professor Kate O'Brien, Deputy Director of the International Vaccine Access Centre at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Afterwards, lunch with the Eritrean Ambassador, whose country is making excellent progress towards achieving the Millenium Development Goals, including particularly those on maternal and infant health.

In the evening, I spoke on behalf of the Kurdish Human Rights Project (of which I'm President) at a meeting on the Kurds of Syria, se above

Catching up

Monday, lunch with Carys Davies of Refugee Action; meeting of the Chagos Parliamentary Group.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Get Fuzzy

The extraordinary tale in the Washington Post of November 8, 2010 of Eric the cat, who is writing a horror movie to be entitled The Aveburyville Horror, about the ghosts in a 100-year old house being scared away by the ghosts in the 5,000 year old yard:, then go to Monday November 8, 2010


On Thursday I joined in Caroline Cox's Question on the Burmese elections ( Then I had a meeting with Vivien Stern and David Ramsbotham to discuss their forthcoming visit to Bahrain we had a three hour debate on the EU Committee's report.

In the evening, to the London Bach Society's concert in St Bartholomew the Great:


The Priory Church of St. Bartholomew-the-Great, West Smithfield, London EC1
(By kind permission of The Rector, Dr. Martin Dudley)
Anthony Robson guest director & recorder
Rodolfo Richter leader & solo violin,
Gillian Keith soprano
Rachel Beckett solo flute & recorder
"Be content..and on with the dance"
Joh. Seb. BACH (1685-1750)
Suite No 2 in B minor BWV 1067
Ouverture: Lentement-Rondeau-Sarabande-Bourree l/ll-Polonaise-Double-Menuett-Badinene

Solo Cantata " "Ich bin in mir vergnugt" BWV 204
(Leipzig 1726/7, probably composed for a family occasion and originally sung by Anna Magdalena Bach)
Interval (20 minutes)
Suite No 1 in C major BWV 1066
Ouverture: Courante-Gavotte l/ll-Forlane - Menuett l/ll-Bourre l/ll-Passepied l/ll
Brandenburg Concerto NO 4 in G, BWV 1 049
(Allegro-Andante-Presto) Peter AllsoPP OMO-2010)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010