Friday, November 30, 2012

Anti-Caste Discrimination meeting November 29, 2012

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At the packed two-hour meeting of the Anti-Caste Discrimination NGOa in Committee Room 4A on Wednesday November 28, 2012. The participants approved a demand that the Government implement S 9(5)(a) of the Equality Act, to make caste a protected characteristic and thus make caste discrimination in employment, education and the provision of goods and services unlawful. This demand has now been sent to the Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport (and to the junior Minister in the Lords). Baroness Thornton attended the meeting and said she would draw the attention of the Shadow Minister in Equalities, Yvette Cooper MP, to the demand, and she was confident it would be endorsed by the Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party.

On this matter I have acted in my individual capacity and not as spokesman of the Liberal Democrats, though of course the Party supported me when I moved the amendment on the Equality Bill which became S 9(5)(a). It should therefore be a formality to get the Party to endorse the demand, but it bwill be necessary to go through the motions because it wasn't part of the coalition's agreed programme.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I wasn't expected at haematology clinic this morning because the change of date I had requested wasn't recorded, but a consultant saw me anyway. The platelets had gone up from 520 to 560 since the previous blood test, so the hydroxycarbamide is increased from 5 to 7 days a week. Haemoglobin was unchanged at 10.2; it tends to be reduced by hydroxycarbamide, so the overall result is satisfactory. WBC and neutophils weren't mentioned, but I'll ask GO for charts. I did say I would like to speak to other patients with myelofibrosid and the mutation W515L if there are any on the books at King's and they can put us in touch without breaching medical confidentiality.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

82 years ago

My mother, me and my sister Olivia, who died on October 27, a few days short of her 86th birthday. She had some very hard experiences in her life, but I have the happiest memories of our childhood together before the war.
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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Keynote speech at Peru Support Group AGM November 17, 2012

I’m pleased that the theme of this year’s Conference is Peru and the Persistence of Inequality. Those of you who have read The Spirit Level or spent any time on The Equality Trust website will acknowledge that there is evidence to show that a correlation exists between inequality and social malfunction. The greater the degree of inequality, the worse the physical and mental health of the population, the greater the misuse of illegal drugs and alcohol, the higher the rates of crime and violence, and so on. The statistical evidence from OECD countries for this statement is abundant and convincing, but there seems little doubt that it would apply to a society like Peru if the figures were available. When we met a year ago, the government of Ollanta Humala was nearing the end of its first 100 days in office. In that period, measures were passed that aimed to improve the position of the poor and, in so doing, reduce levels of inequality in the country. Several of our speakers at last year’s conference expressed cautious optimism that what was happening might indicate a new commitment among officials in Lima to advance the interests of Peru’s poorest. The commitment to double spending on education, with similar increases in health and other public services, to double the national minimum wage over five years and to introduce non-contributory pensions, funded partly by graduated direct taxes on income and a windfall tax on extractive industries all promised a radical departure from García’s prioritisation of the interests of Peru’s business elites and particularly those of investors in extractive industries which generate much of Peru’s GNP. Shortly after our that however, developments in the country led many to reassess their views of the Humala administration. Community demonstrations in Cajamarca against the US$ 5 billion Minas Conga mining project in late 2011 provoked a political crisis and led Humala to dismiss the cabinet of Salomon Lerner. He was then replaced as prime minister by Oscar Valdés, a retired colonel with a long-standing relationship with the president. Many of the more progressive elements of the ruling coalition lost their posts at the same time, putting in doubt some of the redistributive aspects of its political programme. In the event, some of these reforms were indeed delayed under the Valdes cabinet. Perhaps more disconcerting was the confrontational stance the government adopted towards those protesting against extractive projects. During the next few months, demonstrations in Cajamarca and in Espinar were greeted with the declaration of states of emergency in those regions. A number of civil liberties were restricted, and there was an accompanying increase in the use of heavy-handed policing techniques. As well as the death of several protesters during clashes, this period also saw prominent human rights defenders, including Marco Arana, being beaten by state officials. Such tactics, and the ongoing controversy over the Conga project, eventually led to a dip in Humala’s approval ratings which, in turn, prompted a second cabinet reshuffle in July. Valdes was replaced by Juan Jimenez, a lawyer with expertise in constitutional matters and, to a lesser extent, human rights. This move represented a slight shift back towards the centre, but was by no means a return to the programme on which Humala was elected. Since this date, the president has sought to re-launch the idea - championed by Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula - that growth is the consequence of foreign investment, and that without growth there can be no increase in social spending. Peru is on track for an enviable 6.2% GNP growth rate this year, and in September there was a balance of trade surplus of $403 million. Investors are queuing up to pour money into gas, hydro, renewable, transmission and distribution infrastructure, as well as maintenance and overhaul of power stations. There is already an agreement with Brazil to export up to 6,000 MW of electricity up to 2016 and that could be expanded. But critics have noted that in the Peruvian context, the link between foreign investment, growth and the elimination of poverty is by no means automatic. Those who profit from new commercial projects have tended to be already among the wealthiest sectors of Peruvian society. Geographically, most of the money created from extractive industries ends up in Lima and not in the parts of Peru where it is generated. Despite some advances, the Humala government has not, thus far, made a significant impact on levels of poverty and inequality in Peru. The World Bank poverty rate had dropped from 48.3% in 2004 to 31.3% in 2010, but there has been no sign of an acceleration, and a large gap remains between regions to date. While only 15% of Lima’s population lives in poverty, areas such as Huancavelica have rates closer to 80%. In total, the gap between the richest and poorest regions in the country is over 600%: in the rich countries that make up the OECD, the widest gap is 100%. The pernicious effects of inequality in Peru, and Latin America in general, are often overlooked by external observers. Bill Gates told the Spanish government last February that it made no sense to help countries like Peru which have “resources to exploit and could be as rich as a European country”. It is indeed better off in terms of GNP per head than Bosnia, and almost on a level with Serbia and Bulgaria if indeed it hasn’t done so already this year with its higher rate of growth. But the principle of cutting off aid to middle income countries has taken off and is being adopted in policy decisions, including those of the UK and the EU, and the UK has just signalled the ending of our aid to India, whose GNP per head is far beneath Peru’s. Nor are we in a position to advise Peru on how to reduce inequality, considering that the burden of eliminating the deficit here has fallen disproportionately on the worst off. There is no one simple explanation for the persistence of inequality in the country. Indeed, discussion of what factors have contributed to the phenomenon will comprise a large part of today’s debate. Some point to the legacy of colonialism, while others highlight low levels of tax revenue, uneven distribution of mining profits, weak institutional machinery, gender disparities or the poor performance of public schools. The menace of the drugs business and the continued activities of Sendero Luminoso is a possible contributory factor in the areas affected, and Humala is gearing up for an expansion of defence and counter-narcotics spending particularly in the valleys of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, the so-called VRAEM area. Of course the motive for this programme isn’t to benefit the people in the VRAEM, an area the size of Belgium which has been under a state of emergency since 2003, but to protect the gas pipeline which crosses the area. There is an $850 million project under way to double the capacity of the line, which is of benefit to the economy as a whole. But the programme does include improvements to the infrastructure of the region, and assistance to the local farmers with alternative crops to replace coca cultivation, which accounts for half of Peru’s production. Maybe the EU could help with that part of the programme, which is so obviously in our interests. Our speakers today will examine the issue of inequality in Peru from a variety of different angles and perspectives. The conference will feature several sessions on the causes and consequences of the phenomenon, as well as the success of initiatives which aim to reduce it. In addition to the UK-based experts on Peru here with us today, we will also be joined – via Skype – by two eminent Peruvian academics and development professionals for the afternoon session.

Monday, November 19, 2012

At the ITMB Annual Conference

Last Thursday I was the keynote speaker at the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain Annual Conference. There was a record attendance and some really useful contributions.
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Yesterday at the ITMB Annual Conference

With the Chair, Pauline Anderson. The meeting was a great success and the best attended ever!
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Bahrain: unlawful deprivation of citizenship

On November 5, 31 Bahrainis were deprived of their citizenship arbitrarily, without notice and without judicial process, contrary to customary international law. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that everyone has the right to a nationality and no-one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.

The victims can appeal these decision, but there is no point. The king has absolute power to grant or rescind citizenship, and the courts wouldn’t dream of overturning his decisions.

No wonder that hundreds of Bahrainis demonstrate against the government every day. Even after a total ban on meetings they continue to turn out after Friday prayers. The ruling family’s assault on the rights of the people provokes their hatred, and they are calling for regime change. The ancestors of the royal family came from Zebara in the 18th century, so the chant on the streets is

Your visit is finished – go back to Zebara

In Arabic it rhymes:

Intahat Ziyara, Oodoo illa Zebara

The US State Department repeat their call to the government of Bahrain to create a climate that is conducive to reconciliation, to meaningful dialogue, to reform, to bring peaceful change.

Britain also calls for peaceful dialogue, but many of the leaders of the opposition are serving life sentences in prison, among them Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Haq movement and Abduljalil al-Singace, the head of its human rights bureau; Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a leading human rights activist.

Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, is imprisoned for three years for a remark he made on Twitter.

The Bassiouni Commission, which examined hundreds of human rights abuses following the uprising that began in February 2011, recommended that political prisoners should be freed and compensated for the torture they suffered.

Prince Salman, the crown prince, gave the Foreign Secretary William Hague a personal commitment to an inclusive political dialogue. This can’t happen while most of opposition are behind bars.

Now the provocative and unlawful deprivation of these people’s citizenship, with the threat of more to come, makes it harder than ever to start a dialogue.

Our Government needs to tell the hereditary autocrats of Bahrain that the long-term peace and stability of Bahrain can’t be achieved by killing, torturing and arbitrarily imprisoning human rights and political activists.

Bahrain and the other Gulf monarchies need fundamental reforms that transfer power from permanent autocrats to the people, as in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and soon we hope, Syria.

Britain should line itself up with the future, and not with anachronistic family oligarchies.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bahrain press conference November 13

Press conference this morning to discuss the Bahrain government's unlawful deprivation of 31 people's citizenship. There was no judicial process, contrary to the comstitution and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and there is no practical possibility of an appeal because firstly no grounds were given for this measure and secondly, everybody knows that it was decided by the king, whose word IS the law. I was interrviewed by al Jezira and it was on their news bulletin at 21.00 this evening
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Thursday, November 08, 2012

EVAR surveillance

This morning I had the regular six-monthly EVAR surveillance. This is to check that the Endovascular Aneurysm Repair performed on July 19, 2010 is still working.

The plastic aorta is joined to the main artery coming from the heart at the top, and to the two branches going into the legs at the bottom, leaving the original aorta surrounding it to collapse.

They need to make sure there isn't any leakage at the joins, and so far there hasn't been any problem.

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal: abduction of defence witness Shukho Ranjan Bali

On November 5, 2012 at around 10.00, defence witness Shukho Ranjan Bali was abducted from the International Crimes Tribunal premises.

He was coming to testify for the accused Allama Delwar Hossain Sayedee.

As the car taking Bali and the senior defence counsel Mizanul Islam approached the Tribunal, uniformed policemen stopped it for a security check at the entrance. The police said they had instructions not allow anyone except designated lawyers to go inside the Tribunal Room.

As Mizanul Islam was explaining that Bali was a defence witness, a group of plain-clothes men approached the vehicle, grabbed Bali and tried to pull him out of the vehicle. Islam and his associate counsel tried to prevent them and called the uniformed policemen who were silently observing the unfolding event.

At this point one of the plain-clothed men identified himself as member of the ‘Detective Branch’ and said that he had instructions from the ‘higher authority’ to take the witness away. They then removed him from the vehicle and forced him into their car.

Islam’s colleague Shohag Banna asked where they were taking Bali, and was told that it was to the Detective Branch head office at ‘Minto Road, Dhaka’. The uniformed policemen made no attempt to intervene.

Defence counsel believed these plain-clothes men belonged to the ‘Rapid Action Battalion’ an elite security agency, in view of the similarity of the incident to others in which the RAB were known to have been involved.

The Chief Defence Counsel Abdur Razzaq brought this to the notice of the Tribunal, and prayed that the Tribunal should issue directions to the law enforcing agencies to ‘produce’ the defence witness before the Tribunal. The Tribunal merely requested the Chief Prosecutor and Chief of the Investigation Agency to ‘look into the matter’. Defence counsel immediately tried to amend the order of the Tribunal, considering the probability that it was the Investigation Agency and Prosecutor themselves who had ordered the abduction, but the Tribunal refused this application.

Bali was both a victim and eye witness to crimes committed in 1971. He saw his brother Bisha Bali’s murder and arson which destroyed their village.

Mizanul Islam tried to file an official complaint (known as a ‘General Diary’ or GD) with the Shahbagh Police Station on the evening of the incident, November 5, but the police refused to accept it. They also refused to say why they were refusing to accept the GD. a legally obligation.

An urgent application before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh was filed seeking direction upon the government to produce Bali (Writ of Habeas Corpus under Article 102(2)(b)(i) of the Constitution of Bangladesh) on November 6, 2012 and the Court fixed the hearing date as November 7, 2012. At that hearing the Deputy Attorney General appeared before the court and informed it that the Attorney General himself would appear on behalf of the Government, but not at that time due to personal difficulties. The Court felt obliged to postpone the hearing and fixed November 11, 2012 for the next hearing.

On November 8, 2012, the Chief Prosecutor held a Press Conference at which he alleged that the defence had engaged in ‘False Propaganda’. He claimed that the witness Bali was hiding due to intimidation by the defence team. He further claimed that Bali’s daughter Shukho Ranjan Bali had filed a General Diary with Police confirming that he was being so intimidated. The Prosecutor referred to GD No. 773 filed on February 25, 2012, almost 10 months previously, in the ‘Undur Kani Police Station’, according to the Investigation Officer’s deposition of August 5, 2012.

The Prosecutor did not say why Bali was not able to file the GD himself, nor could he say where either Bali or his daughter were now.

The Tribunal and the police ignored the testimony of the four eye-witnesses to the abduction, Senior Defence Counsel Islam, Senior Defence Counsel Manjul Ansari, Defence Counsel Hasanul Banna Shohag, and the driver of the vehicle Uzzal. No witness statements were taken from the police officers who saw the abduction, and there has been no attempt to find the abducted witness.

Knowing the fate of others who have been abducted by RAB in the past, if Bali has come to any harm, command responsibility will rest on senior law enforcement officials, and on those who were in charge of the Tribunal’s security.

A detailed account of this event by David Bergman: