Saturday, November 27, 2010

Peru Support Group conference

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Lyulph, after 4 1/2 hour drive Thursday evening

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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:

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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?

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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

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Irish Traveller Movement in Britain Conference

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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
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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.
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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

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Lunch today with Ursula Then in the afternoon, took part in a 3-hour debate on the EU Select Committee report Combating Somali Piracy: the EU's Naval Operation Atalanta. NAVFOR, as the EU force is called, has the task of escorting World Food Programme ships, and supply ships for the AU military mission to Somalia, through the region and into Somalia. So far they haven't lost a single ship, and the pirates have attacked easier prey. Amazingly, some shipowners still ignore the guidelines for avoiding attacks. The pirates rake in millions from ransoms to free captured ships and their crews. My speech is at

Carotid artery duplex

These images were produced in yesterday's carotid artery duplex scan. They indicate some narrowing of the arteries - 20% of one and 40% of the other - but not enough to justify surgery. Angioplasty is a possibility. (See

I need a bit of a tutorial on how to interpret these images. - probably there would be something on the web, but it would take time.
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Yesterday, to a meeting addressed by George Soros and Simon Taylor of Global Witness, about the success of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and the steps that still need to be taken to ensure that oil and mineral wealth doesn't end up on the pockets of dictators like the appalling President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.

This morning I spent from 07.30 to 11.00 in King's having an MRI of my head, a doppler scan of the neck arteries, and an interview with a consultant, to see whether there is an explanation for problems of balance I've had. No doubt this will become a bit clearer when she writes to my GP.

Then to the House, where I attended a meeting of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group on Iran, then asked a supplementary question following Richard Harries' question on the diversion of funds legally allocated to mitigating the disadvantages suffered by Dalits in India, into spending on the infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games. This had been admitted by the Home Minister and it was agreed that a way had to be found to restore the Dalit funding. I asked whether the UK would ask New Delhi what was their response to the recommendations made by the principal Dalit organisation, the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, including an audit of the money diverted, by the Comptroller and Audtor General of India.

Friday, November 05, 2010


Visit from Lanka this afternoon
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View from the window of the pink room today
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Friday evening, visit to the GP to talk about my variable blood pressure and balance problems. He prescribed a new beta-blocker, Amlodipine, and is arranging for me to have an unspecified test at King's
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With Margaret Steinitz
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