Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Putin up yours


According to the BBC, so it must be true, a Moscow Court has ordered that videos of Pussy Riot doing their ‘Punk Prayer’ in Moscow’s main cathedral should be removed from the internet or blocked. So, Mr Judge here’s what I think of your ruling:

Strasbourg English Speaking Union


It is hardly hot news but last Tuesday there was the inaugural meeting of the Strasbourg English Speaking Union. By the kind invite of the Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg it took place at the 18th century town hall.

The first presentation was from our host, Nawel Rafik-Elmrini whose official title is 2ème Adjointe – Relations internationales et européennes, coopération décentralisée for the municipal council, who talked about the building, Strasbourg and relations between the UK and the city. The room was the place where the Council of Europe had its inaugural meeting. After her speech Ms Rafik-Elmrini stayed on whilst we listened to the next speech.

Next up was John Darcy, Advisor to the President of the European Court of Human Rights. He started off by talking about the history of the European Convention on Human Rights which was then followed by the creation of the Court and then over time it was set up and started before the accession of various countries to the court. We hard about the way the Court had developed and the way the understanding and interpretation of the convention had developed, as a living breathing document.

He then talked about the almost 150,000 cases before the court which are added to with about another 50 to 60,000 every year. A lot of these are not cases which are relevant to the Court or have not completed all stages in the judicial process in their own country and are deemed inadmissible.

Mr Darcy, there was the inevitable reference to the name, then went on to talk about reform of the Court. Following judgements by the Court on votes for people in UK prisons and recently on Abu Qatada there has been pressure in the UK for reform of the Court or for the UK to withdraw from it all together. Following the visit of the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron MP, to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which I reported on here, as part of the UK Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe. He then spoke about what was then the upcoming Brighton Conference on reform of the Court. My understanding is it was outlined that as a result of the views of the other members of the Court it was unlikely there would be much of anything that would change as a result of the conference. Measures to streamline the judgement process to speed up decisions, and make sure that the Court does not make decisions that should properly be taken in countries, had been put in place anyway and were working.

So, it seems to me, that Dave’s attempt to attack the Court to satisfy his barking anti-European backbenchers resulted in him making a fool of himself in front of the Parliamentary Assembly followed by a lot of hot air with little, if any, achievement of change to the Court and the way it works.

After a short outline on the way the Strasbourg ESU would work we were given an apero courtesy of the people of Strasbourg and then we headed off, it being the birthday of JTO and I was taking her out for something to eat.

Strasbourg Calling (Sooo British)


Between November 2011 and May 2012 the UK is the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe. Not the European Union, which is also run by a committee of ministers confusingly called the Council of the European Union, but the Council of Europe (CoE) the body promoting and protecting Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law throughout its 47 countries. The CoE is probably best known for overseeing the work of the European Court of Human Rights(EHCR). The Minister for Europe, David Lidington, announced the UK government’s priorities for its chairmanship of the CoE’s Committee of Ministers in a written statement:

“The overarching theme of our Chairmanship will be the protection and promotion of human rights. The Government has repeatedly made it clear that human rights are central to its foreign policy. We aim to be an example of a society that upholds human rights and democracy, and we are committed to strengthening the rules based international system.”

Here is a list of the items which have happened during the Chairmanship and, as you can see here the UK Foreign Office even has a logo for the period. (above)

There is also a programme of 30 cultural activities has organised by the Communauté urbaine de Strasbourg (The council for the municipality of Strasbourg) in the period under the heading ‘Sooo British‘ with a brochure highlighting them all, available by clicking on this link [PDF, 971 KB, new window] A friend who was at the offices of the council this week to renew his parking permit said that the building was plastered with posters promoting it. I have to declare an interest at this point as the theatre group, TAGORA, of which I am a member are putting onOh What A Lovely War” in April which has ben included as part of the programme. (It was actually at a rehearsal last night I was told about the posters at the local council offices.)

The political oversight of the CoE is provided by the Parliamentary Assembly, where members of parliament, representing their home parliament, from the 47 countries meet four times a year in Strasbourg to elect judges to the court, receive reports on the activity of the CoE and to receive reports on matters affecting democracy, human rights and the rule of law in member countries. The first meeting for 2012 takes place next week and it is going to be addressed by both the UK Minister for Europe and the Prime Minister.(here is the agenda for the meeting.)

Stop it, you’re being nasty, go away


The Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society at University College London has put the image below from the cartoon, Jesus and Mo, on their facebook page to advertise a weekly pub social. The students union at the University has asked them to remove it as it is offensive. Thankfully the Society has refused and started a campaign against this censorship including a petition here. The petition states:

“In response to complaints from a number of students, the University College London Union has insisted that the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society remove the following image from a Facebook event advertising a pub social. It has done so on the grounds that it may cause offence to Muslim students.

This is a gross infringement on its representatives’ right to freedom of expression taken by members of the first secular university in England. All people are free to be offended by any image they view. This does not give them the right to impose their beliefs on others by censoring such images.

We the undersigned urge the University College London Union to immediately halt their attempts to censor the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society and uphold its members’ right to freedom of expression.”

I have already signed the petition and would urge anyone reading this to do the same. The Rationalist Association cover the matter here.

I have followed the Jesus and Mo cartoon for a number of years and have enjoyed the witty way it raises issues relating to belief systems and religions whilst suggesting the world would be better if we just got on more with each other and not looking at what divides us. Having the main prophets of the two main religions concerned disputing with a barmaid whilst drinking down a pub is, I think  part of the charm and wit of the comic strips. Like this blogger I am surprised they have not drawn the ire of those who would ban and censor before.

One of the Islamic societies at the university has issued a statement:

Once a particular act is deemed to be offensive to another, it is only good manners to refrain from, at the very least, repeating that act. In this particular case, when at first the cartoon was uploaded, it could have been mistaken as unintentional offense. When certain Muslims voiced their offense over the issue, for any civil, well-mannered individual or group of individuals, it should then be a question as to the feelings of others and the cartoons should then have been removed.

I could like other bloggers list a number of things I find offensive about Islamic practice, like the treatment of women, gay men etc and undoubtedly once I have asked the perpetrators of those practices to stop they will. Hmmm, didn’t think so. Shows what a weak argument they have. Alternatively I could just follow the response of the fantastic Butterflies and Wheels blog, “Bollocks.”

Showing the power of Jesus and Mo here is an another response to the Islamic association:

On a different note, another artist I discovered by seeing her live at my local music venue (5 minutes walk from my door.)  was Anna Calvi. I had avoided looking into her music as it had been the subject of so much hype but I am glad that last Autumn I went to see her. The show was spectacular and I didn’t think three largely static people could give such a powerful show. If she is playing near you go and see her. I’ve also bought the album and play it frequently. She was responsible for dragging me into the 21st century as I bought it as a download; I had bought individual tracks during the last couple of years but it was the first full album I bought that way. I don’t know what it was about last year but most of the things I liked were by women, often very percussion focused. Anyway, enjoy:


Václav Havel II


After my post about Václav Havel here yesterday I got the following message this morning from a friend who was formerly a member of the Riga chapter but is now working in Prague:

He was the single best person I’ve ever met. Walked behind the funeral cortege earlier. Extraordinary. A very peculiar mix of emotions. And some very funny anecdotes.

As you can see in the picture (hat-tip AFP, Robert Michael), here in a commentless piece for the BBC and here in the Daily Telegraph thousands of people joined Stephen to walk behind the coffin and pay their respects.

On Monday I contacted the Czech Representation to the Council of Europe here in Strasbourg to see if they were going to have a book of condolence in memory of the former President. They emailed me back the next day with details of the place and times it was available for signing. This morning I went to the Representation which is at the top of a building on a crossroad, pictured. As I made my way up to the top I passed a number of SAMU staff who I discovered were going into a flat below the Representation.

When I got to the representation the door was opened by a woman and I was shown by a man into a darkened room with the curtains drawn. Near the middle of the room, set at a 45 degrees angle, was a table with a book on it and a pen on an open page, the book of condolence. There was another table more in the corner, closer to the closed curtain windows, which had on it a photo of Václav Havel, some candles and a vase containing some white flowers. I sat down and composed my self then picked up my fountain pen. I read the previous entry from the Representation of Azerbaijan before turning to the next blank page and started to write something based upon Anthem by Leonard Cohen, particularly the lines;

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Whilst writing my piece the bell went. I finished, got up and walked over to the table with the candles on it for a moment of pause before turning and waiting at the door to let the next person in. I was then seen out by the two members of staff and went down the stairs again. At the bottom the SAMU were getting two people out of the lift, one on a wheeled stretcher and the other in a wheelchair heading towards two ambulances on the pavement with their lights flashing. I got on the bus and went home still thinking about the gloomy room and the man I had gone there to commemorate.

Rassemblement contre les actes racistes


UPDATE: L’Alsace reports that racist tags, swastikas and the signs of the SS, were found on the walls of a football club-house and a house under construction for a Turkish origin French person at Riedseltz in Wissembourg.  Yesterday morning two 18 year old young men were arrested by the Wissembourg Police and are being held in custody whilst the Police pursue their enquiries.

Strasbourgeois – together against racism


As there is a report of another swastika being daubed on a house lived in by two families of Turkish origin in Hoenheim, after the story I reported ealier this week when two houses lived in by people of Turkish and Franco-Turkish origin were set on fire and also daubed with swastikas, the people of Strasbourg are being urged to stand up against racism at 18:00 at the Place de la Republique.

Today I received a message from the Parti Socialiste saying that racist, anti-semitic and hate acts have multiplied in the region, particularly in Strasbourg.  It then goes on to outline the events in Hoenheim and calls for all PS activists to join the demonstration caled by the League of Human Rights and congregate in the Place de la Republique on Wednesday ay 18:00.  I hope as many people who read this as possible join us to say they will not accept this hate in our city.

Rassemblement contre la haine – mercredi 2 février à 18 heures : Place de la République

Appel à la mobilisation

Depuis plus d’un an, des actes à caractère raciste, antisémite ou haineux se multiplient dans notre Région, et notamment dans l’agglomération strasbourgeoise. A chaque occasion, le Parti Socialiste a condamné ces actes et s’est joint aux initiatives visant à les dénoncer.

Dans la nuit de jeudi à vendredi dernier, deux incendies criminels se sont déclarés aux 5 et 6 rue de Mundolsheim à Hoenheim. Les inscriptions laissées sur les murs ne laissent aucun doute quant aux motivations des auteurs. Le mode opératoire aurait pu tuer. Comme relevé dans la presse, les familles habitant ces maisons n’ont échappé que de justesse au feu déclenché par des poubelles incendiées placées devant leurs portes d’entrée.

Un rassemblement ne résoudra pas dans l’instant les problèmes posés par l’extrême-droite en Alsace, mais le Parti Socialiste ne peut se taire face à cette manifestation de haine. Tou-te-s les militant-e-s sont appelé-e-s à se joindre au rassemblement proposé par la Ligue des Droits de l’Homme :

Place de la République à Strasbourg,

mercredi 2 février à 18 heures

Tunisia has lit the flame of hope, Egypt next.


As well as preparing some work for next week today, as yesterday, has been spent following via the BBC but also Sky, Al Jazeera, i-tele and even Iranian Government mouthpiece Press TV, the uprising in Egypt.  After the success of the people of Tunisia(wiki) in riding themselves of their corrupt dictatorial regime it is now the turn of the people of Egypt to take to the streets to fight for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.  I cannot think of anything I can do from here, my Safe European Home, but people of Egypt I stand with you in solidarity.

Here’s a piece from someone imprisoned and tortured by Mubarak’s security talking about his experience but also suggesting some secular leaders who should be part of the country’s future and here are some inspiring pictures of people putting their life on the line for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.  It’s old and hoary but nevertheless, enjoy:

Three cheers to the United States


Oh well, I seem to end the year on a series of pontificating stories and here’s another one.

I believe myself to be on the left.  My views have changed from when I also believed myself to be on the left twenty or thirty years ago.  I hope so, otherwise what’s the point in living, having experiences and learning?  Previously I shared the knee-jerk anti-Americanism that is too prevalent on the left.  A readiness to quickly condemn America for failing to hold to the high standards it sets itself, often condemning America for things other nations didn’t even set out to do.  Coming to an understanding of the centrality of human rights, democracy and the Rule of Law for anyone calling themself a Democratic Socialist has helped me grow away from that knee-jerk anti-Americanism of my youth.  There are two things I want to celebrate and America has been central to the good news in both cases.

First, a little late I’ll grant you, I want to celebrate the vote in the Senate last week to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell‘.(wiki)  The law will be signed by President Obama today and he’ll be joined at the signing by one of the nurses, Major Margaret Witt (pictured)  whose sacking under the earlier legislation played a part in the change in the law.  Of course there are now lots of questions about how this change in the law will be implemented, for example;

will gay troops have their own showers and accommodation? Will same-sex partners get military health benefits? What happens to a military chaplain who says he can’t minister to someone who is gay?

but there’s time to work through the issues.  We see another centre-left government introducing a significant step-forward for human rights, as a previous Labour administration was able to introduce civil partnership rights, change the age of consent and roll back homophobic legislation from the 1980’s.  The important thing is the changes in the UK and America only happened because the left was in government, you can’t change much from opposition.

The second three cheers for the US took place at the United Nations, where the US campaigned to reinstate sexual orientation as a category of vulnerable people for unjustified killing.  A number of Middle East, Asian  and African countries had succeeded in the UN HUman Rights Committee in removing from the resolution a reference to killings for reasons of sexual orientation, which was included along with killings for racial, national, ethnic, religious, or linguistic reasons, and killings of refugees, indigenous people, and other groups.  It is reported the US succeeded in persuading some countries including South Africa, Rwanda and Albania who hadn’t voted on the earlier motion to vote in support this time and with the new motion passing the UN General Assembly by 122 votes to 0 with 59 abstentions it was a good result.

The US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice (pictured above) said, “Laws that criminalize gay relationships don’t just violate human rights, they hinder social cohesion, economic development, and public health,” whilst a spokesperson for President Obama said, “Protecting gays and lesbians from state-sponsored discrimination is not a special right, it is a human right.”

General progress and improvement does not mean there are not worrying things happening at the same time.  For example the refusal of the defeated candidate in Côte d’Ivoire(wiki) to accept their defeat and have himself sworn in as President, risking restarting the civil war which the elections were meant to see an end to.  The UN has demanded an end to provocations and human rights violations.  Whilst not in the same league I was also going to point to the high cost of onions in India but the government has done something about it.

White Christmas

I don’t know why a White Christmas should be so good.  The snow we’ve had so far this month hasn’t been a bringer of much joy, or engenderer of much Christmas feeling here.  The forecasts predict a 60% chance of precipitation with temperatures between -2 and -9 so it’s no surprise they are forecasting snow for the morning on 25th December.  Anyway as the next part of the campaign to try to engender the Christmas spirit in me here’s Bing with a medley of videos and films for possibly his most famous song:

The castle


Václev Havel is  a hero to me.  Before 1989 he was a human beacon shining for human rights in the then Czeckoslovakia.  After the fall of the wall he did the practical politics of being president of the country.  ‘To the Castle and back‘ is one of my favourite books about practical politics, setting out a wonderfully human politics but also showing that even the president of a country is frustrated about achieving nitty-gritty little things, yet he achieved a massive amount.  Being a signatory of Charter 77 (wiki) which called for human rights for the Czech people, many of which the constitution of the country and the Helsinki Accords,(wiki) which the country had signed, already guaranteed.   This inspired Charter 08 in China, one of whose signatories, Mr Liu Xiabao, has been serving an 11 year prison sentence for signing the Charter since 2009.  This week he received the Nobel Peace Prize.  Among those who nominated him for the prize was, you’re probably ahead of me here, a Mr Václav Havel.  I’d like to thank the Normster for pointing me to the Democracy Digest blog which published an English translation of the letter written by Václav Havel to Mr Liu Xiabao in which he confirmed there is a ‘moral minimum’of rights and values shared by all nations and civilizations.  (Picture on the left is of Václav Havel trying to deliver a petition in support of Liu Xiabao to the Chinese Embassy in Prague.)  I totally agree with him on this, the proponents of moral relativism are so wrong.  There are universal rights of which Human Rights are amongst the most important.  But then I would say that living in the capital of human rights, the home of the European Court of Human Rights. The letter from Václav Havel is:

Dear Liu Xiaobo

I am one of the thousands and possibly millions of people who rejoice that you have received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. It is always encouraging when one sees that respect for human rights and freedoms does not capitulate in the face of power and might, and does not make concessions to practical political and economic interests, as if often the case. You are not the only hero of the day – those who awarded you the prize are also heroes. And this award is not only comfort for you, it is a good deed for all, because it tells the whole word that it is still possible to serve the truth and such service can receive public recognition and thus be proposed to others as a source of inspiration. In other words, there is still hope.

Among other things I am profoundly convinced that if international interest in your fate  is maintained, your government will relent and release you, and then, successively, all other Chinese political prisoners. After all, it too must think in practical terms and realise that it is not in its interest to have the sort of reputation acquired by persecuting such people as you.

Like probably all the signatories of the Czechoslovak Charter 77, I am naturally touched that our campaign provided inspiration for the Chinese Charter 08. I am touched not only because it recalls our own efforts of many years ago but because it is confirmation of something I have long believed, namely, that fundamental human rights and freedoms are universal values that are shared in their basic outlines by all nations and civilisations in today’s world. I have had the opportunity to meet dissidents from many different countries and been surprised how similar their ideals, experiences and concerns are. And even the repertoire of persecutory skills of the authoritarian governments in their countries was strikingly similar and was totally unrelated to whether the governments in question went under a right-wing or a left-wing banner. There simply exists a sort of moral minimum that is common to the entire world and thanks to which people from countries as different and far apart as the Czech Republic and China can  strive for the same values and sympathise each other, thereby creating the basis for true – not simply feigned – friendship.

It is not clear when your efforts will achieve concrete successes. They need not be immediate. For the time being only partial and indirect successes might be apparent. But sooner or later the status quo in your country will change, partly because in the long term the market economy is fundamentally incompatible with authoritarian government.

You should not be perturbed by uncertainty about whether or when the struggle for human rights will bring concrete results. This was our experience: we sought to do good things because they were good and not to take into account the times or what might be gained. That approach has many advantages: not just the fact that it eliminates the possibility of disappointment, but also that is lends authenticity to the efforts in question. Being guided by tactical considerations does not win anyone over but instead tends to encourage further tactical manoeuvres. From reading your Charter 08 I am convinced that you are aware of all that.

In all events you should also be prepared for the alternative of early success. Although I am rather suspicious of those who are too prepared for history, it is necessary to be prepared to a certain extent. That is our experience. It would be splendid if you managed to draw lessons from the various blunders and confusion that our countries experienced after the fall of the Communist regime, and steer clear of them.

I send you my heartfelt greetings, dear Liu Xiaobo. I congratulate you on the Nobel Peace Prize and I wish you health and good cheer, if possible.

Yours sincerely,

Václav Havel

UPDATE: I have now finished reading ‘Life‘ by Keith Richards and greatly enjoyed it too.  Towards the end he talks about Václav Havel and I thought it worth repeating here:

“At the end of the Steel Wheels tour we liberated Prague, or so it felt.  One in Stalin’s eye.  We played a concert there soon after the revolution that ended the communist regime.  “Tanks Roll Out, Stones Roll In” was the headline.  It was a great coup by Václav Havel, the politican who had taken Czeckoslovakia through the bloodless coup only months earlier, a brliiant move.  Tanks were going out, and now we’re going to have the Stones.  We were glad to be part of it.  Havel is perhaps the only head of state who has made, or would imagine making, a speech about the role rock music played in political events leading to a revolution in the Eastern Bloc of Europe.  He is the one politican I am proud to have met.  Lovely guy.  He had a huge brass telescope in the palace, once he was president, and it was focused on the prison cell where he did six years.  “And every day I look through there to try and figure things out.”  We lit the state palace for him.  They couldn’t afford to do it, so we asked Patrick Woodroffe, our lighting guru, to relight the huge castle.  Patrick set him up, Taj Mahal’d him.  We gave Václav this little white remote control with a tongue on it.  He walked around like a kid, pushing buttons and going whoa!  It’s not often you get to hang with presidents like that and say, Jesus, I like the cat.”

The picture accompanying this post comes from this piece on Radio Prague which I listened to occasionally when it was more likely to be a broadcast about tractor production – I did really hear one about that – than about the visit of ‘decadent western musicians’!

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