The UK Government should thank the European Court of Human Rights

Frederick Cowell

Image © ex_libris_gul

Following the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) ruling about Abu Qatada’s extradition the anti-Human Rights Act (HRA) brigade have been out in force. In his recent speech about the ECHR David Cameron claimed that the ECHR was in danger of undermining public support for civil liberties. This claim was accurate in large part because the same right wing newspapers that support him have been busy whipping themselves up into a self-righteous rage about the EHRA.

The UK government has received good results from the ECHR recently (not that you would know it) as they ruled that the system of whole life tariffs was not a form of torture. Forty six prisoners in the UK are currently serving whole life sentences and following an application from Jeremy Bamber, Peter Moore and Douglas Vinter (who are between them guilty of murdering nearly a dozen murders) the ECHR ruled that it was not “inhuman and degrading” for them to die in jail. The ECHR also approved the UK’s policy of deportation with assurances (assuming reliable guarantees against torture are given) in spite of the policy being strongly criticised by Amnesty International.  Needless to say these cases are nowhere to be found in the anti-HRA pieces from Michael Burleigh in the Daily Mail, Philip Johnston in the Daily Telegraph and Douglas Murray in the Daily Express. Instead the ECHR is presented as a judicial factory producing ‘outrages’ to be inflicted on the UK, even though the government wins the vast majority of applications to the court. Additionally these critics do not mention that Abu Qatada has not been convicted, let alone faced a criminal trial, in the UK. Whilst he is definitely unpleasant and has been involved with terrorist organisations, the fact that neither the Crown Prosecution Service nor the Director of Public Prosecution has been able to bring him to trial over a ten year period, despite numerous changes in the law, is illustrative of how the problem is much wider than ‘activist judges’ at the ECHR.

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Bellow’s History

Nik Williams

Bosnian widows grieving at a mass funeral in 2010

‘To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice’, uttered by Elie Wiesel. This phrase haunts the legacy of the Holocaust, it leaks into every remembered tale, every history book, every elderly relative drawing at the twines of their memories, every town square and every memorial. To kill twice, to condemn not the already condemned body nor the mind, but the memory is a crime we can all become culpable in, as we let the shape of the Holocaust and its horrors dissolve into nothingness. When something is hidden from view, withdrawn from circulation, its outline becomes hazy and indefinite. Soon you redraw the image in your mind, but it is never the same. Lengths have shortened, curves emerged and proportions are tinkered with and soon you have in your mind, the last navigatory tool, a caricature of what was. But is the Holocaust trapped under the weight of our collective history, bound up in twine shunted against the wall in the room coddled with cobwebs, to be missed, to be obstructed from view by the miscellany and knickknacks of modern life?

You think history is the history of loving hearts? You fool! Look at these millions of dead. Can you pity them, feel for them? You can nothing! There were too many. We burned them to ashes, we buried them with bulldozers. History is the history of cruelty, not love as soft men think.

Saul Bellow wrote this in Herzog and when thinking about the Holocaust, genocide and crimes against humanity, how can history be anything but cruel? To think of Bellow’s cruel history is to think of a long and continuous thread tying us to the camps at Dachau, Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, Belzec, Stutthof; the brutal war of independence in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan); Khmer Rouge’s utopic view of a ‘purer’ sense of communism that saw around 2 million people killed; the widespread murder and cannibalism of pygmy tribes in the DRC; inter-tribal violence in Rwanda that pitted Hutu and Tutsi against each other, severing villages and families; the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia and the list goes on. Reciting the list, part of me wants to call out to Wiesel: ‘how can we forget, it still happens, it is occurring around the world to remind us!’ But to remember a face, an individual instance, in such a sizable crowd, a mass of people where the edges of the crowd cannot be seen, is impossible. But how have we let such a crowd of the dead amass threatening to make the voices of each case inaudible above the din of the screams, yelps and sobs? Read more of this post

Is the holocaust still relevant in today’s climate?

Louisa Pawsey

Image © Matt Brown

Holocaust Memorial Day brings with it the knowledge that there are still people who remember suffering at the hands of the Nazis. It also brings pain to people whose families will never be complete because there is someone or multiple someones missing from the dinner table.  But for the rest of us exactly how important is the 27th of January? Just another day in the calendar?  Another day for you to live your life?  Have you even noticed that Holocaust Memorial Day is now printed in every diary and on every calendar? Is anyone interested?

As a military historian, I should be shouting from the rooftops about the importance and relevance of Holocaust Memorial Day – but I just can’t.  In fact, the more I study, the more I realise how little people care and how little relevance the holocaust has to anybody that wasn’t affected or involved.  Of course it’s not just the holocaust that has this effect, every year the amount of people wearing a poppy in November has seemed to dwindle and it is fashionable to protest against the armed forces.  As a historian, the first thing you learn is that the further back in history you go, the less interest people have and there will come a time when all the Holocaust survivors will have disappeared.  Read more of this post

The issues that shall really determine Scottish independence

Scott Hill

Image © Saul Gordillo

So, we now know the all-important question: Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? Yesterday, the Scottish government published its consultation paper[1] on an independence referendum to be staged in the autumn of 2014. Within the document, which outlined a path similar to what many would have predicted, it was stated that 16 and 17 year-olds should gain the right to vote, those voting should be residents of Scotland and, crucially, the possibility of a multi-option ballot was left open, meaning that Scots may get the opportunity to vote for full-fiscal autonomy; an option they seem to prefer[2].

Whilst the document remained largely controversy-free, a few troubling queries could be forthcoming. It seems odd that the majority of sportsmen representing Scotland in rugby and football, for example, will not be permitted to vote on the future of their country. However, this is an awkward issue for which there appears to be no easy way round. Either way, somebody out there with a strong affiliation for Scotland shall miss out on the vote. Perhaps by making eligible all those who can prove that they were born in Scotland would be the best solution. Others will point to the fact, in relation to 16 and 17 year-olds voting, that individuals not permitted by law to enjoy an alcoholic beverage or puff on a cigarette have no plausible right to vote. I, however, am quite relaxed about the proposition put forward by the SNP. Read more of this post

100 years of the War on Drugs

 Oliver Hotham

Image © World Economic Forum

100 years ago today, as the opium trade reached new levels of notoriety for its criminal activity, the USA and 12 other countries signed the 1912 International Opium Convention, which stated that:

The contracting Powers shall use their best endeavours to control, or to cause to be controlled, all persons manufacturing, importing, selling, distributing, and exporting morphine, cocaine, and their respective salts, as well as the buildings in which these persons carry such an industry or trade.

This was the first international agreement to limit the trafficking of narcotics, and while the intentions of the “War on Drugs” seemed noble and right, it has implicated the United States and its allies in innumerable crimes against humanity.

The War on Drugs would be, to a certain degree, acceptable, at least morally consistent, if it were not mired in hypocrisy. We support, for example, the corrupt government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as part of the war against the Taliban, but the president’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been implicated in the Afghan heroin and opium trade, the products of which fuel heroin addiction around the world. Read more of this post

The Object of Torture is Torture:10 years of Guantanamo Bay

Dominic Turner

Image © U.S. Army

In the South-Eastern periphery of Cuba lies the province of Bahía de Guantánamo. Unlike the rest of the Caribbean island, its vegetation does not grow green and abundant. If only the signs of American imperialism were limited to the Cuban mainland’s only McDonalds and Starbucks. If only the crimes perpetrated in this naval base concerned the validity of the United States’ occupying lease, obtained under the threat of force.

Ten years ago, Guantanamo Bay received its first detainees and began an unending tale of human suffering and degradation for children as young as 13 and men as old as 98. Eye witness accounts detail a nightmarish existence of systematic beatings, torture, and humiliating treatment. But its not just the physical abuse that destroys the victims of Guantanamo. Its in every spiteful action, in every callous deed, the breaking up of families by denying prisoners even the right to exchange letters. By desecrating copies of the Quran and imposing unimaginable periods of solitary confinement.
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Hold Fire on the ‘Scottish Defence Force’

Jevon Whitby

Image © Andrew Higgins

This week saw Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond announce his ideal plan for a ‘Scottish Defence Force,’ should Scotland vote to become independent. Under the currently very vague plans, Scotland would retain one base of each type for a total strength of 20,000 Scottish troops. In acquiring control of a segment of the UK’s current military, Scotland would have control over its engagement, but would become a NATO ‘ally,’ rather than member.

For the SNP, Westminster control is an issue of pride, but more realistically: employment. The Scottish defence ‘community’ is set to rise by as much as 20,000 over the next eight years as British personnel are brought back from bases in Germany, many to Scottish bases.

Coalition attempts to cut the defence budget by an alleged 74% in Scotland with ‘massive and disproportionate’ effects in July promoted an angry resistance campaign, with Salmond arguing that Scotland’s geographic position and economic problems should give it extra protection when it comes to cutting the defence budget. Read more of this post

Guest Blog: Why we disagree: but where to go from here?

Cameron Dron

Our class had a very interesting set of lectures the week before last. Given by Heiko Roehl from the German Development Agency (the GIZ), we were introduced to a number of knowledge and organizational learning concepts. It touched upon a lot of the things that I have been thinking about recently, like the nature of truth, why it is that people – even intelligent ones – can disagree so vehemently about such a wide range of issues and how it is that we as individuals can come to make more of an effort towards understanding each other.

Something that really crystallized all of this rather well was a wee diagram explaining a concept called ‘Relevance Systems’. This theory or way of thinking about individual beliefs and knowledge can help us to understand why and how it is that we can come to have such radically different views of the world. This struck me powerfully because I have been trying for a while to get a better idea of why it is that people disagree about climate change. This helped me to understand the why a bit better, but I’m still not sure if it helps to form any solutions. Time will tell. Read more of this post

Abstinence and abortion

Georgia Lewis

Image © Juliette Culver

Nadine Dorries’ bizarre abstinence-education for girls bill gets its second reading today. Prochoice people across the UK will be holding their breath and hoping that commonsense prevails and it is howled down as soundly as her proposal to prevent the likes of Marie Stopes and BPAS providing pre-abortion counselling was last year.

The timing is superbly tragic – in the same week, the Lancet published a study demonstrating that the number of unsafe abortions is rising around the world and the steady decline on abortion rates of the 1990s has stalled. It doesn’t take a genius analyst of statistics or sociology to figure out that abstinence-only education doesn’t work when it comes to preventing unplanned pregnancy – and to only subject girls to this absurd, outdated, discredited form of sex education is only going to cause an increase in the abortions Ms Dorries hates so much. Read more of this post

Another Misadventure in Somalia

Andrew Noakes

Image © United Nations

After a spate of kidnappings carried out by Somali militants on Kenyan soil, Kenya has decided to try and fix the problem of Somalia the only way it knows how – by mounting an invasion. Of course, it is not the first country to attempt such a bold move. Kenya follows in the footsteps of Ethiopia, whose troops were forced to conduct an ignominious retreat from the country after they alienated almost the entire population of Mogadishu, and the United States, which has been too terrified to carry out any major military operations in sub-Saharan Africa ever since.

The Kenyan intervention is likely to end in failure. As the Ethiopians and Americans both eventually learned, there is no viable stand-alone military solution to the breakdown of governance, peace, and order in Somalia. The underlying political, economic, and social problems, such as the lack of food security, disunity and distrust among rival clans, corruption, and fear of central government (after the brutal and factional rule of the Somali dictator, Siad Barre), have to be solved if there is to be any serious improvement in the security situation. Read more of this post