Europe

Error message

  • Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Deprecated function: implode(): Passing glue string after array is deprecated. Swap the parameters in drupal_get_feeds() (line 394 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).

The Brexiteers are losing faith. Remainers are not.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/07/2022 - 4:46pm in

Tags 

Europe, Politics

One has to take good news where you can find it these days. This seemed like a rare glimmer of hope to me, from Byline Times:

Brexit has been the defining feature of Westminster politics since 2014, thwarting progressive parties and helping to sustain a long period of reactionary Conservative rule.

The intricacies of Brexit have been rehearsed and rehashed for more than half a decade, and the common narratives are difficult to dislodge.

However, evidence increasingly suggests that attitudes to Brexit are changing; that it’s no longer the binding force that propelled Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party to an 80-seat majority in December 2019.

This is confirmed by new Byline Times polling, conducted by Omnisis, showing that previously pro-Brexit cohorts of voters are now increasingly apathetic towards the policy – all while anti-Brexit voters are still firmly opposed to our separation from the EU.

The analysis in the article is confusingly presented, but a good summary is this:

In short: Brexit is no longer the binding force that it was in 2019 among Leave voters, whereas it is still a unifying issue among those who voted Remain.

The polling also shows that Mr Brexit, Boris Johnson, no longer draws political strength from his association with the project.

The Brexiteers are losing faith in the light of the evidence of Brexit's failure, in other words. Those of us who always said it was going to be a disaster have in the face of that same evidence unsurprisingly stuck to our convictions.

So, why is Keir Starmer getting everything wrong on this? I wish I knew.

Emboldened Opposition and a Galvanised Movement: What the End of Roe v Wade Means for Abortion Around the World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/06/2022 - 6:00pm in

The overturning of the seminal 1973 ruling by the US Supreme Court has been met with a mixed reaction by pro-abortion activists globally, reports Sian Norris

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES

SIGN UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

“The decision to overturn Roe v Wade is extremely grave in the impact it will have across the US,” Leah Hoctor, senior regional director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, told Byline Times. “The retrogressive nature of the decision is completely unprecedented in the global arena, in terms of the move to remove a constitutional right for abortion that has existed for 50 years.”

The announcement that the US Supreme Court had decided to overturn Roe v Wade – the 1973 case that allowed for nationwide access to safe, legal abortion – sent shockwaves around the world.

Since the decision was published, nine states have implemented abortion bans and a total of 26 states with a female population of 64 million are expected to ban or severely restrict abortion in the coming months. 

In the decades since Roe v Wade, 55 countries have introduced policies improving abortion access, including Spain, Ireland, Argentina, Kenya, Romania, Nepal and South Korea. Only four have introduced new restrictions on abortion in that time – the fourth being the US. 

The implications of the decision go beyond US borders.

Since Roe v Wade was introduced, America has occupied a dual role of being both a beacon of progress and freedom, and a world-leader in opposing access to safe, legal abortion – with opposition groups using their wealth and influence to attack reproductive healthcare in the US and around the world.

“The decision overturning Roe v Wade opens the home front in the US and Europe to autocracy’s war on democracy,” Monique Camarra, co-host of the Kremlin File podcast, told this newspaper.

The unprecedented nature of this decision now risks undermining progress on abortion across the globe. But there is a flipside too. The renewed focus on the fragility of human rights – with women and girls’ rights often a canary in the backlash coalmine – could galvanise progressive movements and law-makers to take positive action to protect abortion rights from further attack.

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

An Emboldened Opposition 

When news of Roe v Wade being overturned hit the headlines, anti-abortion groups and think tanks celebrated.

Heartbeat International – a crisis pregnancy service accused of spreading disinformation about abortion – called it the moment it “had been praying for”. Radical-right think tank The Heritage Foundation, which has multiple links to the UK Conservative Party, said it gives states “the power to fix America’s extreme abortion laws and enshrine protections for the unborn in law”. 

Across the Atlantic, extremist anti-abortion group CBR UK said “the UK is next” and Right to Life UK called it the “overturning of an unjust law”. 

“The main impact we are going to face is an emboldened opposition,” Martin Onyango, associate director of legal strategies for Africa at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, told Byline Times. “And an emboldened opposition movement is dangerous anywhere in the world. The opposition groups are getting bolder and braver. We expect them to intensify trying to influence other countries, including in Africa.”

In Kenya, where Onyango is based, abortion is protected as a constitutional right but is only permitted when there is a recognised threat to the mother’s life or health, or in emergency situations. It remains restricted by colonial era laws in the penal code. A recent constitutional court case, won by Onyango and his colleagues at the Centre, saw the High Court affirm the right to abortion under the constitution. The case involved a minor and a healthcare worker in the town of Malindi being arrested, after the healthcare worker provided post-abortion care. 

That the US was able to overturn abortion as a constitutional right after 50 years concerns Onyango, not least because the means that the anti-abortion movement used to win its battle could potentially be replicated elsewhere.

Roe v Wade as a judicial precedent and the setting up of abortion as a constitutional right has been used by Kenya and other countries,” he said. “In the Malindi case, we brought in the same principle reasoning that supported Roe v Wade – that forcing women to carry an unwanted pregnancy amounts to a violation of their rights including right to privacy.

"So when Roe v Wade falls, it means the reasoning for constitutional positions in countries like Kenya has fallen. That opens up a direct challenge to those constitutional provisions – although in our case, a referendum is required to change the constitution.”

In Europe, there are fears that opposition groups, including from the US, will use the overturning of Roe v Wade to push forward their own agendas. Between 2009 and 2018, US anti-abortion groups spent at least $81.3 million in Europe

“For decades, we've seen US fundamentalist organisations and the Christian-right working in the European region,” said Leah Hoctor. “There are active anti-abortion organisations in the European region who will seek to capitalise on this, and who will seek to grow support for their beliefs and their anti abortion activism.”

The majority of countries in Europe allow women access to safe, legal abortion, but there are exceptions.

Last January, Poland extended its already draconian abortion bans to include a ban on terminations in cases of foetal anomaly, while in Malta the procedure is banned in all cases. In Italy, where abortion is permitted, there has seen a concerning backlash against a woman’s right to choose, with increasing numbers of doctors refusing to perform abortions and populist leaders such as Matteo Salvini blaming abortion for causing a “demographic winter”. 

Room for Hope

While the overturning of Roe v Wade will embolden anti-abortion actors, the global trend when it comes to reproductive rights is a positive one. 

In June, Germany overturned a Nazi-era law that had prohibited the advertising of abortion services. France, the Netherlands and Spain have also taken steps to improve access to reproductive healthcare – despite fervent opposition from Christian fundamentalists. 

"The decision out of the US Supreme Court could actually galvanise the potential for even increased progressive reform across European countries,” Leah Hoctor told Byline Times. “We are calling on European leaders that support reproductive rights to put this support into action now, and to really take steps to bring European laws and policies into line with World Health Organisation guidance.”

Progress on reproductive rights is also happening in the Global South. In Kenya, the Malindi case was “a great milestone, because gradually we are chipping away at the restrictions we have, when it comes to abortion care in this country,” said Onyango.

Meanwhile, in Latin America, more and more states are liberalising abortion laws in what has become known as the 'green wave' movement due to the green scarves, flags and sashes worn by pro-abortion activists.

In 2020, Argentina legalised abortion, while abortion is now available on request to any woman up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy in Mexico City and the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Colima, Baja California, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Baja California Sur. Colombia legalised abortion on demand up to 24 weeks in February, while Chile is planning a referendum on making abortion a constitutional right. 

“The green wave across Latin America is a movement that has had so much impact in terms of systemic change in that region,” Hoctor added. “It's very important to underline that the global picture is a very hopeful one, and a very progressive one.” 

Additional reporting by Heidi Siegmund-Cuda

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Labour can win by-elections but it’s a long way from being ready for government

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 5:30pm in

I do not wish to rain on any one’s parade this morning, but I think it’s only right to note a big chunk of an article in the Guardian yesterday. They reported:

Labour has broken its long silence on Brexit, laying out detailed plans to improve, not scrap, the deal Boris Johnson struck with the EU, in a move it concedes will enrage remain supporters.

On the sixth anniversary of the Brexit referendum, the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, confirmed the party would seek only limited changes and would not seek to rejoin the single market which would bring the return of free trade and free movement of people

“We are not going into the next election saying that we will enter the single market or the EU.

“You might not like it but Labour is determined to govern the entire country,” he said adding “there cannot be a rehash of arguments” made in remainer constituencies like his in London.

“The British people have made a decision and we have to honour it,” he told the UK in a Changing Europe’s annual conference.

To not put too fine a point on it, that is full scale electoral cowardice of the first degree.

Labour can win by-elections against a corrupt government.

It could even win a general election.

But when it wants to duck Brexit and won’t either talk about how it will tackle inflation or stand up for working people, let alone offer a vision of how it wants to transform the UK, then it’s a long way from being near delivering what the country needs.

And that is the downside of this morning.

How Priti Patel Got the European Court of Human Rights Wrong

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/06/2022 - 8:45pm in

Professor Rory O'Connell unpicks some of the Home Secretary's misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the ruling that prevented the removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

As widely reported, the planned removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda last week was halted after the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordered interim measures. This has provoked the Home Secretary to criticise the European Court of Human Rights’ actions.  

According to the Home Secretary, the interim measures are based on "rule 39. They’ve not used this ruling previously, which does make you question the motivation and the lack of transparency.”

What is Rule 39?

Rule 39 is in the Rules of Court of the European Court of Human Rights.  This allows a Chamber of the Court, the President of one of its sections or a duty judge to indicate to the parties any interim measures that should be adopted in the interests of the parties or of the proper conduct of the proceedings. 

Interim measures under Rule 39 are used where there is an ‘imminent risk of irreparable harm’ and typically where there is a threat to someone’s life, or a threat that someone will be subject to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. 

The use of interim orders is most common in cases involving expulsion or extradition.

Is Rule 39 unusual?

No. Rule 39 deals with the situation where there is a case before a court that will need time to be resolved but there is a risk that one of the parties may suffer irreparable harm before the legal issues can be resolved. To protect the existing state of affairs courts can issue orders pending the resolution of the case. This can happen before domestic courts or international courts. 

It is therefore unsurprising that the European Court of Human Rights has such a provision in its Rules of Court; and it is reasonably long-standing, dating to the 1974 Rules of Procedure of the European Commission of Human Rights. 

Has Rule 39 been used before?

Yes.  According to European Court of Human Rights statistics, the European Court of Human Rights considered 5,518 applications for interim measures during the three years 2019-2021. Of these, the European Court of Human Rights decided 3,118 applications were outside of scope; refused 1,775 applications and granted 625 applications. 

The grant of 625 applications is a significant number though it should be put in the context of the overall workload of the European Court of Human Rights, which receives tens of thousands of applications each year.  

Has Rule 39 been used in a UK case before?

Yes. As Adam Wagner has pointed out, interim measures were ordered in the very high-profile Abu Qatada case. Of the 5,518 requests for interim measures during 2019-2021, 180 involved the UK. The European Court of Human Rights approved interim measures in 7 of those cases – 2 in 2020 and 5 in 2021. 

The Home Secretary has criticised the European Court of Human Rights for acting in an opaque way, not disclosing who the judges are, and just issuing a press release not a judgment. Is this true?

It is partially true but needs to be put in context. There is no judgment at this stage and the press release does not provide the names of any judges.  

However, this is how the European Court of Human Rights deals with these types of applications given the need for speed and the scale of the European Court of Human Rights’ workload. The approach is no different from other requests for interim measures whether involving the UK or other states.     

According to the Home Secretary the decision was politically motivated. Is there any evidence for this?

No. The Home Secretary does not offer any actual evidence or reasoning for this serious accusation. 

The European Court of Human Rights has included brief reasons for why it has requested interim measures in its press release. The European Court of Human Rights noted that the UK courts believed there was a serious question about whether Rwanda was a safe country and this would have to be decided at the merits stage of the case. Given there was no legally enforceable way to insist Rwanda return anyone to the UK if a UK court subsequently ordered, the European Court of Human Rights requested the interim measures. While brief, this reasoning does not disclose any political motivation. 

Was this decision due to Brexit?

It is difficult to see how Brexit has any relevance. The European Court of Human Rights monitors the application of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This is part of the Council of Europe system. The Council of Europe is separate from the European Union (EU). Following the expulsion of Russia, the Council of Europe has 46 member states. The 27 EU states are members but so are nearly a score of other European states. 

Will a British Bill of Rights make a difference?

The Telegraph also reports on the proposed new British Bill of Rights, suggesting this will curb the ability of ‘migrants who enter the UK illegally’ (ie presumably asylum seekers) to fight deportation. This comment in the Telegraph article highlights that the purpose of the proposed British Bill of Rights seems to be to reduce human rights protection rather than expand it. Any such move would not affect the legal position in international law. States cannot invoke provisions of their domestic law to avoid their international law obligations.  

Rory O’Connell is Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional Law at Ulster University, Northern Ireland. From 2014-2020 he was Director of Ulster’s  Transitional Justice Institute (TJI). Rory tweets @rjjoconnell.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Law-Makers Must Wake Up to the Threat of Artificial Intelligence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/06/2022 - 9:24pm in

The European Union's Artificial Intelligence Act will allow the creeping increased use of AI by law enforcement agencies to continue, reports Catherine Connolly

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

The European Union’s proposed Artificial Intelligence Act promises to be the world’s first legal framework designed to regulate the use of artificial intelligence. However, it falls short on several levels.

Firstly, it does not apply to military uses of AI. And while it does classify AI systems in a range of other areas as ‘high risk’, including certain biometric identification systems and law enforcement systems, it contains a number of exemptions that will still allow it to be used for those purposes.

In fact even some of the practices it deems 'unacceptable' will be allowed in specified circumstances, such as for ‘the prevention of a specific, substantial and imminent threat to the life or physical safety of natural persons or of a terrorist attack’.

As a result, deliberate loopholes for the use of ‘high risk’ and even ‘unacceptable’ systems will in future exist for law enforcement.

Alarmingly, as both European Digital Rights and the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law have pointed out, there also appears to be a trend towards creating further exceptions for the use of such AI systems for ‘national security’ and ‘public security’ purposes, with both France and Slovakia recently proposing amendments that would create exemptions in these areas.

Similarly, article 22 of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) affords individuals ‘the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her’, exceptions also exist here for reasons of national security, defence, and public security.

This is all the more worrying when considering that, AI systems developed or used exclusively for military purposes are already exempt from the AI Act, and that, if the recent French and Slovakian amendments are accepted, the AI Act would not apply to such systems when used for national or public security purposes.

This means that the AI systems used in autonomous weapon systems, aka killer robots - weapons that select and engage targets on the basis of data collected by sensors, would not fall under the purview of the AI Act. This is despite the fact that such weapon systems are ‘high-risk’ under any common understanding of the term.

In the context of armed conflict, the International Committee of the Red Cross has called for states to adopt new rules on autonomous weapons, including banning such systems where they would target people.

While international human rights law applies to all uses of force by law enforcement and other state security forces, the fact that AI systems used in autonomous weapons could go unregulated in the event of their use in such circumstances is not only irresponsible but dangerous.

It is naïve to think that weapon systems with autonomous functions won’t eventually be considered for use by domestic police forces using the ‘public security’ exemption, or used in the context of migration and border control under a ‘national security’ exemption.

ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE?
HELP US TO PRODUCE MORE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.

PAY ANNUALLY - £39 A YEAR

PAY MONTHLY - £3.50 A MONTH

MORE OPTIONS

We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.

For example, as a recent report from Statewatch reveals, since 2007 the EU has spent over €341 million in public funding on new technologies for immigration and border control that involve artificial intelligence, including autonomous border control robots.

The majority of that funding has gone to private companies, including at least one company that is actively developing increasingly autonomous weapon systems. At the same time, various EU bodies and agencies, including the European Defence Agency, are funding research projects focused on military uses of AI. 

Though autonomous weapon systems aren’t addressed in the Artificial Intelligence Act, they have been addressed elsewhere by the EU. In the recent final report from the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age, the Committee called on the European Council ‘to adopt a joint position on autonomous weapons systems that ensures meaningful human control over their critical functions’.

The report also stated that ‘humans should be kept in control of the decision to deploy and use weapons and remain accountable for the use of lethal force and for decisions over life and death’, and said that ‘machines cannot make human-like decisions involving the legal principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution'.

In resolutions passed in 2021 and in 2018, the European Parliament insisted on the need for a ban on killer robots. These interventions, while welcome, put autonomous weapon systems firmly in an armed conflict framework, and do not fully consider the possibility of their use for law enforcement or public security.

Given the EU’s focus on the military development of autonomous weapon systems, it would be easy to assume that states are well on their way to agreeing on new international rules for the development, deployment, and use of autonomous weapon systems in war. Unfortunately, this is not the case. International humanitarian law is the main body of law that regulates the conduct of armed conflict.

Today, new IHL rules on the means and methods of warfare are primarily made by states acting either within the UN treaty-making system – such as through the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons – or through external treaty-making processes, such as the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.

For nine years, states have been meeting to discuss autonomous weapon systems within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons at the UN in Geneva, but progress has been continuously blocked by a small number of highly militarised states. And while numerous EU member states participate actively in these UN discussions, many of these countries have still not committed to supporting the negotiation of new legally binding international rules.

The recent deployment of weapon systems with autonomous functions and target recognition capabilities (Russia’s use of the KUB-BLA drone in Ukraine, for example) and uses of biometric identification systems (such as Ukraine’s use of facial recognition technology supplied by Clearview AI) highlight not only the growing prevalence of these technologies but also the urgency of effectively addressing their development and use.

The boundaries between technologies of war and technologies of state and police power have always been porous and the AI Act fails to recognise this. European law-makers need to take note.

Dr Catherine Connolly is the automated decision research manager for the Stop Killer Robots campaign

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

No Sanctions Applied to 11 UK Firms With Links to Sanctioned Russians

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/06/2022 - 9:52pm in

Diogo Augusto reports on several domestic companies whose directors feature on the UK’s international sanctions list, that have so far evaded the authorities

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Eleven UK companies with directorship links to individuals who are targets of Government sanctions due to their proximity to the Kremlin have not themselves been sanctioned, Byline Times has found.

After the invasion of Ukraine by Russia this past February, countries and international bodies have been implementing a series of sanctions in an attempt to hit Vladimir Putin and his regime.

Byline Times has searched the 1,267 individuals and 151 entities on the Consolidated List of Financial Sanctions Targets in the UK and has found 11 companies which, despite their link to designated persons, have not been sanctioned.

The firms are not accused of wrongdoing, though it is worth questioning the efficacy of the UK’s sanctions regime, when the companies associated with those sanctioned are able to operate seemingly unencumbered.

RCIF UK

The Russia-China Investment Fund (ICIF) was created through a bilateral agreement between the two countries and now includes Saudi Arabia. In an effort to seek mutual investment opportunities, the Chinese sovereign wealth fund contributed $1 billion and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) – its Russian counterpart – contributed another $1 billion.

The fund is incorporated in China but also controls the RCIF UK, a British entity created to manage a UK branch of the fund. It was created in 2014 with a share capital of $3 million, now increased to $20 million.

One of the four directors of RCIF UK is, since 2014, Kirill Alexandrovich Dmitriev, a Kyiv-born Russian national featuring on the UK sanctions list.

According to the document, “As Chief Executive Officer of RDIF, Dmitriev is working as a director or equivalent of a Government of Russia-affiliated entity, and for a person which is carrying on business in a sector of strategic significance to the Government of Russia; and for a person which is carrying on business of economic significance to the Government of Russia, and is therefore obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia”.

Companies House doesn’t specify any owners for RCIF UK and the fund is not listed on the sanctions list.

RCIF UK did not respond to our request for comment.

Terra Services

Terra Services Limited (TSL) was incorporated in the UK in 2003 with sole director and owner Pavel Ezubov. TSL is a dormant company and declared in 2021 to have assets just over £300.000 and no employees.

Ezubov occupies entry number 245 on the UK sanctions list for being an associate of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (entry 205).

Deripaska was the owner of TSL until, in January 2018, Ezubov took over.

TSL unsuccessfully sued the National Crime Agency in 2020 after a storage unit was searched and 11 boxes of TSL documents apprehended at the request of the US Department of State while investigating the case of Donald Trump associate Paul Manafort.

Under UK rules, TSL should be automatically subject to an asset freeze as it is owned by a designated person. However, it has not been included on the sanctions list.

Sberbanque de Russie

With a share capital of £1 billion, this currently dormant company incorporated in 2016 has 10 active directors, two of them are currently on the UK sanctions list.

51% of the company is owned by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and the remaining 49% belongs to Sberbank of Russia, state-owned and the country’s largest bank. Sberbank is, itself, a target of financial sanctions. This information is on the company’s incorporation document and all subsequent updates have not reported a change. Yet, a spokesperson for Sberbank told Byline Times: “Sberbanque de Russie is not related to Sberbank Group.”

Sberbanque director Herman Gref is listed as number 316 of the UK sanctions list for being CEO and board chairman of Sberbank. According to the UK Government, “Sberbank has been designated as a person involved in obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia. As the Chief Executive and Chairman of the board of Sberbank Gref is associated with a person involved in obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia, and has received a financial benefit from that person”.

Lev Khasis, another director and first deputy chairman of Sberbank, was included in the list (431) through an urgent procedure after Canada imposed sanctions on him and the UK considered it in the public interest. There have been reports that Khasis, a dual US-Russian citizen, fled Russia suddenly shortly after the invasion of Ukraine.

Sberbanque, not owners is not listed on the UK sanctions list.

Eugene Tenenbaum

Tenenbaum is a Ukraine-born Canadian national, featured on the UK sanctions list due to his association with Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire who is still listed as the owner of Chelsea Football Club.

Tenenbaum is linked to six different companies which all seem to be in the Chelsea FC orbit. He is one of the directors of Fordstam Limited, the parent company of the group through which Abramovich’s financing of the club was facilitated. There are then five more companies under the umbrella of Fordstam Limited which all list Tenenbaum as their director: Fordstam Developments Limited, Chelsea Digital Ventures Limited, Chelsea FC Holdings Limited, Stamford Bridge Projects Ltd, Chelsea Football Club Limited.

As a result of sanctions imposed on Abramovich, he has announced his intention to sell the club. However, the process has been bumpy with one of the issues being the outstanding £1.6 billion debt that Fordstam owes Abramovich.

Roman Abramovich still shows as the ultimate beneficial owner of Fordstam Limited  (and Chelsea Digital Ventures Limited) and, although it is expectable that this will change once the sale is complete, it is unclear whether Tenenbaum will continue as director of these six companies.

All the other companies list Fordstam Limited as the sole owner and none have been listed on the UK sanctions list.

Chelsea FC did not respond to our request for comment.

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

Nigina Zairova

Zairova (entry 1234 on the sanctions list) is the director and, since March 2022, owner of Reashon Holding Ltd and Athlone House Limited. Although Zairova was always director of both companies, before March, they were owned by Mikhail Fridman.

According to the UK list of sanctioned persons “there are reasonable ground to suspect that Zairova is acting on behalf or at the direction of Fridman”.

Mikhail Fridman is on the list himself, at number 264, for being “closely associated with President Vladimir Putin”. He is also owner of Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest privately owned bank. Alfa did not respond to our request for comment.

Athlone House is the name of the large Victorian house Fridman bought in 2016 for £65 million and Athlone House Limited’s declared nature of business is: “activities of households as employers of domestic personnel”.

These companies should be automatically subject to an asset freeze as they are owned by a designated person. However, they have not been included on the sanctions list.

A UK Treasury spokesperson told Byline Times that: “The UK does not designate entities in their own right that could have exposure to sanctions through their ownership and control structure, as that could change at any time.”

However, an official financial sanctions guide, says: “An asset freeze and some financial services restrictions will apply to entities… that are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by a designated person”.

It adds: “The UK Government will look to designate owned or controlled entities/individuals in their own right where possible”.

While ownership is sometimes easily accessible, control is a fuzzier concept. One of the roles of the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) is to enforce financial sanctions. However, when asked if it knew whether these companies had or should have their assets frozen or how third parties could know whether a company was controlled by a designated person, the Treasury declined to comment.

The Treasury spokesperson also said that OFSI was not able to comment on specific companies due to data protection laws, but declined to specify which laws prevented this.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

‘Ukraine Fatigue’ Will be Vladimir Putin’s Biggest Ally in the Months Ahead

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 8:34pm in

Ukraine's victory matters to the world and the West should continue to provide support in whatever way it can, says Paul Niland

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Vladimir Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine is now entering a new phase, necessitated by his failure to accomplish his early goals militarily and the attrition rate of his stockpile of equipment, ammunition and personnel.  

What began as an attempt to capture the entire country – through the thoroughly mistaken notion that if he could take the capital and install a proxy as head of state to replace the democratically-elected president – is now a battle focused in the eastern Donbas region and a coming battle to re-take the areas in southern Ukraine that have been occupied since 24 February.

Before this year's invasion, Russia controlled 7.2% of Ukraine, after it annexed Crimea and occupied parts of the east in 2014. The latter was made possible by the Russian Army’s hollowing-out of Ukraine’s border defences, leaving more than 400km of the internationally recognised border fully open for the insertion of fighters and weapons supplies from the Russian Federation.

Today, Russia is occupying some 20% of Ukraine and the active frontline extends to 1,200km. This has been allowed to happen by apathy, indifference, and ignorance.

The horrors of Bucha were not an isolated occurrence. The way the Russian Army has been shown to behave there are their standards, applied everywhere – and so the occupation of 20% of Ukraine leaves millions of people subject to abductions, executions, rapes and looting.

The near-total destruction of Mariupol was also not a one-off. In Severodeonetsk and Popsana Russia’s prime military tactic is one of scorched earth – everything in the path of their advance is being destroyed.

But the percentage of the country that is occupied by Russia is not the most important factor. The lives of individuals are being shattered.

One of the victims of Russia’s occupation of Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, was a 75-year-old woman named Larissa. She had founded a kindergarten there, which she ran for decades. She was a matriarch of that community, with many people having been entrusted to her care when they were very young. Larissa had just recently retired. She is one of Putin's victims.

Ignorance is cured by knowledge. Every voice from Ukraine has been telling the same story since 2014: they know they are not fighting 'separatists' but forces deployed by the Kremlin. This fact is important because is the weak response to Russia's 2014 invasion was the result of some people tending to believe that there is a shred of truth in the notion that the people of eastern Ukraine, being Russian speakers, have an affinity to Russia and are different from other Ukrainians. The conflict that started in 2014 wasn’t locally initiated but it led to Ukrainian citizens in 7.2% of the country becoming Russian hostages. Now, residents of 20% of Ukraine are hostages.

Apathy and indifference is also playing its part. But the notion of 'Ukraine fatigue' is a difficult one to fathom for those of us living in the country. With the war having now raged for 110 days, the only party with the right to be fatigued are the Ukrainians themselves, but they are not. Because they are engaged in an existential battle for the survival of their nation and the freedom of their fellow citizens. Not only can they not walk away from this fight, they will not – and nobody should expect them to.

In this way, the war in Ukraine does not stand at a crossroads. We are not facing a situation where it could go either way and either side may be able to win, for a variety of reasons.

While some commentators predicted that Kyiv could be encircled and fall in 72 hours, Ukrainians never accepted any such notion. While some expected that the significantly out-matched firepower that held on to the port city of Mariupol would collapse within days, Ukraine’s defenders in that city fought on for 84. This is no surprise to veteran watchers of this war who remember the heroic defence of Donetsk airport, which lasted for almost a year.

We will see the same commitment in Severodonetsk and Slovyansk, both of which are cities in the Donbas that are now the scenes of heavy battles. These will be contested street by street, building by building, by the land forces stationed there. They too will be protracted battles, despite the fact that those places are simultaneously being destroyed by Russia’s long-range artillery.

ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE?
HELP US TO PRODUCE MORE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.

PAY ANNUALLY - £39 A YEAR

PAY MONTHLY - £3.50 A MONTH

MORE OPTIONS

We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.

The Ukrainian Army will fight on until the end as long as it has the weapons and ammunition to do so. And it must – as Ukraine’s victory will have demonstrable international consequences too.

A global food security crisis is now at risk due to Russia’s continued blockade of Ukraine’s southern sea ports. If it continues, millions of people in Africa will face famine. The resulting flow of refugees and migrants will mean that the fall-out from Putin’s manufactured food crisis will not be confined to Africa.

Ukraine’s win will also be a clear win for democracy. At the heart of Putin’s rationale for war is the fact that Ukraine presents a democratic success story that is anathema to his corrupt rule. It shows that political plurality and free and fair elections are models that can be applied to countries that were once tethered to Russia’s yoke. This remains something that is, at the same time, irksome to Putin and a longstanding goal of the West.

Finally, Russia has presented a growing threat to the wider world for years. Recent months have seen rhetorical aggression aimed at the Baltic countries, Sweden, Finland, Poland and the Czech Republic to name but a few. By giving Ukraine the weapons it needs to legitimately crush Putin's army while it invades Ukrainian soil, western countries will reduce the future threat to themselves at the same time.

The West's continued support of Ukraine's battle is not only the right thing to do morally – it is also the best thing to do strategically.

Paul Niland is an Irish journalist based in Ukraine. He is the founder of the country’s national suicide prevention hotline, Lifeline Ukraine

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Britain’s attack on its own protocol is one more exercise in Brexit gaslighting | Fintan O'Toole

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/06/2022 - 3:00pm in

Ministers are portraying themselves as victims of a deal they created for Northern Ireland. A classic blame-shifting strategy

Forget, for the moment, the technical details of the Northern Ireland protocol bill that seeks to renege on Britain’s commitments under its withdrawal agreement with the European Union. Forget – as the British government itself has done – old-fashioned principles of conservatism such as telling the truth, keeping your word and obeying the laws you yourself have made.

Think, rather, of the strategy that Johnny Depp’s lawyers employed against Amber Heard. It is called Darvo – deny, attack and reverse victim and offender. This legislation should be called the Darvo bill: deny the flagrant breach of international law. Attack the very thing you are purporting to defend, which is the political and economic stability of Northern Ireland. And blame others (in this case the EU) for the known consequences of your own choices.

Fintan O’Toole is a columnist with the Irish Times

Continue reading...

Will Belarus Invade Western Ukraine?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/06/2022 - 8:55pm in

Nikola Mikovic considers the evidence for whether Russia is set to mobilise its only close European ally in the Ukraine war

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Preparations for Belarus’ invasion of Ukraine seem to be underway. Although Minsk still does not have enough troops on its southern borders, in the foreseeable future Russia’s only ally in Europe could join Moscow in its military adventure.

Ever since the Kremlin launched its so-called ‘special military operation’, Minsk allowed Russia to use Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine from the north. It is no secret that since February, Russian troops have been crossing the Belarusian border into Ukraine in an attempt to seize Kyiv. After they failed to capture the Ukrainian capital, Moscow significantly reduced is military presence in Belarus, and redeployed its forces to the east of Ukraine. According to open-source intelligence reports, only 700 Russian soldiers remain in Belarus.

This number is far from enough for any offensive military operation. There is no doubt, however, that Russian forces will continue to use Belarusian territory for launching missile attacks on Ukraine, although another attempt to seize Kyiv is extremely improbable.

Still, recent political and military developments in Belarus suggest that Minsk seems to be preparing for direct involvement in the Ukraine war.

On 10 May, Belarus’s Army Chief, Viktor Gulevich, announced the deployment of Belarusian special forces and equipment in response to what he described as a “southern threat” from Ukraine and NATO. At the same time, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered the creation of a new military command centre in southern Belarus. He also signed a law that allows the expansion of the powers of the internal troops of the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs. The internal troops, according to the new bill, will protect the public order, strengthen the state borders, participate in territorial defense, and ensure the rule of law in the zone of the ‘counter-terrorist’ operation. 

Given that the vast majority of the Belarusian population opposes any involvement of their troops in the war in Ukraine, Minsk likely aims to strengthen the country’s security apparatus to prevent any potential protests if Belarus, pressured by the Kremlin, eventually decides to invade Ukraine. In other words, for Lukashenko all options are on the table, and he is preparing the ground for a possible escalation.

Subservient to the Kremlin

Ukraine, for its part, has already built a new line of defence along its border with Belarus, although some officials in Kyiv believe that an attack from the north is not very probable. According to Viktor Andrusiv, advisor to the Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs, the Russian military has started removing its 122-calibre ammunition from Belarus to the Donbas. Such a move, in his view, signals that Belarusian troops will not cross the border.

Belarus has, however, recently bought Iskander missile systems as well as S-400 air defence missile systems from Russia. According to Lukashenko, thanks to such weapons, the country’s military is now a “totally different army.”

More importantly, according to Ukrainian Defense Intelligence reports, Belarusian Armed Forces have deployed up to seven battalions on the border with Ukraine. Belarusian troops have reportedly started conducting mass military exercises in the Gomel region, where the “transition from peaceful to wartime conditions” is being worked out.

“It’s a wartime condition, but without war for now,” Lukashenko told his top defence officials on 26 May.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian leader claims that it is the West, rather than Russia, that could be preparing an invasion.

“We will have to fight for western Ukraine so that it is not chopped off. Because this is death for us, not only for Ukrainians. Terrible processes are underway,” Lukashenko said on 10 June.

From a purely military perspective, in order to prevent Kyiv from sending reinforcements to the Donbas, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Russia could pressure Belarus to invade certain parts of western Ukraine. Such an action would allow the Russian army to complete its second stage of the ‘special military operation’ and establish full control over the Donbas.

It is, however, rather questionable if there is a political will in the Kremlin for such an escalation. More importantly, an additional problem for Moscow and Minsk is that Belarus lacks the manpower to seize western Ukraine. 

Ukraine claims that Belarus aims to increase its army from 45,000 to 80,000 soldiers. But, in order to do that, Minsk would have to significantly increase its military budget, and find a way to motivate its troops to take part in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. After that, Belarus would have to form new battalions, regiments and brigades, build temporary military camps in the south of the country, as well as fuel and ammunition depots.

Although this is a long-term process, recent developments on the ground indicate that such a scenario is entirely possible.

Given that the war in Ukraine is unlikely to end any time soon, Belarus is expected to continue preparing for an escalation of the conflict. As a result of the controversial 2020 presidential election, Lukashenko had ended his ‘multi-vector’ foreign policy and started kowtowing exclusively to Russia.

Thus, it is the Kremlin, rather than Minsk, that will have the last say about the deployment of Belarus in its bloody battle against Ukraine.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Resting Place: Marking My Grandmother’s Grave Helped Me Find My European Identity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/06/2022 - 6:00pm in

Patrick Howse shares the story of three generations of his family – a tale of loss, discovery, conflict and plural identities

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

A brand-new stone stands at the head of my grandmother’s grave. It is 90 years since her death, but the plot was marked for the first time just a few weeks ago. Despite having a large family, she died alone in a strange country, and no member of that family ever visited her grave. It took the current generation to piece together her story, and to commemorate her life. It’s a story of war, imperialism, conflicting loyalties, emigration, and loss. And it’s a story in which Brexit played a belated but significant role.

I moved to Germany in 2016 with my Bavarian partner and daughter. My decision to leave Britain was spurred by Brexit. My father was always proud of his Irish heritage (my name is no accident), and I was always aware of my Irish blood. And that blood, passed down by my grandmother, qualified me for Irish citizenship – something I had often thought about, but never too seriously. After all, on the face of it, I’m as English as it’s possible to be. I was born, raised, and educated in England, and I worked there most of my adult life. But Brexit changed everything.

The Brexit debate in England was dishonest and xenophobic. If the world wars were mentioned at all, it was by middle-aged people who claimed ‘we won’ them, with little comprehension of the sacrifices their parents or grandparents had to make – and no understanding at all of what real war is. There was also a widespread and very unhealthy nostalgia for the Empire – something I found particularly distasteful.

Discussions about, or recognition of, our shared European history, values or culture were almost entirely absent. When any positives of EU membership were mentioned, they were the economic benefits.

I came to realise the sad truth that I no longer belonged in England, and so, in my fifties, I became an Irish citizen. Even as I applied for that citizenship – by virtue of my grandmother’s country of birth – it dawned on me, and on my sisters, that we knew very little about her, including where she had been buried. 

That inspired the research that found me standing beside a shiny new marble headstone in an English graveyard on the 90th anniversary of her death.

Rita and Harry

Margaret – known as Rita – was born in County Cork in 1897. She had a twin brother, two other brothers, and a younger sister. Difficult days lay ahead for her and for Ireland.

In the Irish War of Independence, and the subsequent Civil War, those family members found themselves on different sides. In the war against the British, that meant a split along pro- and anti-independence lines; in the Civil War, brothers who’d been on the same side apparently took different views of the signing of the treaty that brought the war against the British to an end. 

By the end of 1922, they had all fled the country. Rita married a British Army officer and moved to England; the rest all went to America, along with their mother.

Rita's new husband, Harry, had been through the First World War. As a junior infantry officer, and later as a company commander, he spent 18 months on the frontline, fighting in the Battle of the Somme shortly before his 20th birthday. A second-lieutenant, he joined his regiment in September 1916 as a replacement after the carnage at the beginning of that battle. Three other junior officers joined at the same time – within two weeks they had all been killed or wounded.

Harry went on to lead a company at the Battle of Messines, and then at Passchendaele in 1917.  He survived the war but, by the time it came to an end, he had lost all his close friends and had seen death on a huge scale – but also intimately, up close. 

Reading between the lines of the regimental Commander’s War Diary, it’s probable that he killed during his service. 

He certainly ‘went over the top’ with his men at Messines, and the engagement was a bloody one. A few weeks later, the conditions at Passchendaele – where Harry’s company fought in a swamp between Railway Wood and Sanctuary Wood – were appalling. Harry was wounded there and shipped back home for treatment. That meant he missed Ludendorff’s desperate final offensive of the following spring; an action in which the last of Harry’s contemporaries and friends were slaughtered.

It was with this baggage that Harry was sent to Ireland in 1918. 

Harry Howse in 1932. Photo: Patrick Howse

It’s not easy to trace exactly what he got up to in Ireland because the Commander’s War Diary is of little use. The battalion’s officers were named in the diary’s entries throughout the First World War, so it is possible to know exactly where Harry was on any given day during that conflict. In Ireland, the document becomes much more coy, with no names attached to individual actions (it was also kept secret for 50 years). While this was a regular army unit, and Harry was not a Black and Tan or Auxiliary (both of which played particularly shameful roles in Ireland), I think it’s likely he played a full part in the fight – and the fight got dirty. That’s not something I’m proud of.

I don’t know where or when Harry and Rita met, but they were married in Dublin in 1921. There’s no doubt in my mind that they were in love. Rita would not have had to look hard for reasons not to marry an Englishman. Harry had to agree to any children being brought up as Catholic in order to marry Rita. Marrying an Irish Catholic at that time would not have done his career any favours, and it also caused a rift with his parents. One of my aunts told me once that she remembered Harry’s mother as a harsh old harridan. She vividly recalled “a Victorian looking woman”  who dismissed the small child with disdain and the words “there’s bad blood there”.  

Harry and Rita defied this parental disapproval and got married anyway. They had five children in quick succession. But this isn't a happy story.

Partings of the Way

My father Desmond was born in Bristol in 1922. Ireland’s Civil War was underway, and Rita’s Irish family had taken the decision to move to America (indeed some had already left). 

Rita headed home to show them her son, and say farewell to them for what turned out to be the final time. Of course, there was no question of Harry going with her at that stage.

We only have family legend to go on at this point, but by my father’s account (he was too small to have any actual memories of the events that unfolded) the family got together somewhere in County Cork. A local IRA column broke in, and was about to murder my infant father, when his uncle – Rita’s older brother who was himself an IRA man – intervened and saved his life.

The family went their separate ways, and my father never visited Ireland again.

Harry remained in the Army and, after Ireland won its freedom, he had postings in Egypt and Sudan, and then in India. Rita went with him, at least initially. My father, the eldest boy, remembered his ayah – an Indian nursemaid – with great affection all his life and, as a small boy, was as comfortable speaking to her in her native language as he was in English. Though my grandfather remained in India, the rest of the family returned to England.

In 1932, Rita became ill with a brain tumour and died at the age of 34. My father was 10, and his youngest brother was just a baby. My grandfather – still a serving army officer – was away in India. He, and all the children, were unable to attend the funeral – in fact, none of them ever visited her grave. 

The older children were packed off to schools and the youngest was cared for by acquaintances of Rita’s. They were never even told where she was buried.

Harry left the Army when Rita died. His commanding officer’s reference described him as “a brave, active and intelligent officer”. He returned to England and met the woman who was to be his second wife on the boat home.  

Providing a mother for his five motherless children may well have been a motivation for this whirlwind courtship, and probably provided another reason for not dwelling too much on Rita’s fate – or the whereabouts of her mortal remains. But I believe we can only understand Harry’s actions by looking at them through the prism of his experiences in the trenches, in Ireland, and British imperial India. 

From the time he first went into combat at the age of 19, he had been conditioned to make quick life-and-death decisions and see their bloody consequences play out before his eyes in real time. He was used to being the person who made those decisions, and he was used to being obeyed. There was no room in this process for emotion or sentiment – and certainly grieving played no role at all. All of this inflicted an emotional distancing and insecurity that has blighted my family’s interpersonal relationships for 90 years.

Desmond in 1940. Photo: Patrick Howse

Only one of Rita’s five children is still alive and she is in poor health. She has spent most of her life in Canada. One of Rita’s sons moved to Australia; another lived and died in France. My father worked in the Middle East for a decade and never settled anywhere for very long. He had been a soldier in the Second World War, wounded and captured in North Africa. Those were experiences he never talked about.

Even my mother – who, of course, married into this family – was afflicted by Harry’s emotional legacy. She met my father at Christmas 1945 and they married in 1947. 

My mother fell pregnant for the first time as my father entered his final year as a civil engineering student. She went to stay with her parents as the due date approached and my father prepared to sit his final exams. Very sadly, she had a miscarriage. Her parents contacted Harry with the news, but he did not pass it on to my father – because he took the decision that the exams were the priority and that my father should not be distracted.

Almost 60 years later, as she lay dying, my mother confided this story to me, and talked quietly about the devastating impact facing such a loss – alone, and with no emotional or psychological support – had on her life. 

For me, Harry’s behaviour fits into the pattern established while watching friends and comrades die around him, and losing the woman he loved at a cruelly early age. It fits into the pattern of the carnage that the survivors of war are left to deal with as best they can – usually without very much help and little understanding. It also fits into a pattern of the damage imperialism inflicts, not just on the oppressed, but also on the oppressors.

A New Identity

The family tradition of emigration continued in my generation. My father's five children now live in five different countries. 

What I knew of my family history, and my career as a journalist covering conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, killed off any illusions I might have had about the consequences of war and Britain's place in the world. It seemed obvious to me that the only sane and legitimate response to the lines of Portland headstones in military cemeteries in France and Belgium, and dozens of other countries around the world, was to vow to do everything necessary to stop those wars happening again.

This view was strengthened and deepened for me when my German partner and I had a daughter. I felt we could all have a home in an inclusive, stabilising European Union. The EU was founded to give us all a peaceful future; a mechanism that would ensure European nations talked to each other, cooperated with each other, and didn’t sink into war. That is what it has done successfully for more than 70 years.

Ireland has healed many of its wounds with the help of the EU and, for all its faults, the Republic is now recognisably and comfortably a European nation. My great-uncles had to make irrevocable choices about what sort of Irishmen they were. The Good Friday Agreement, and EU membership north and south of the border, enabled Ireland to move on. Of course Brexit has recklessly endangered that settlement, but the fact remains that the EU has done much to take the sting out of Ireland’s conflicting identities.

The EU, on a continental scale, was designed to make the dilemmas faced by my great-uncles and my grandmother a thing of the past. In that sense, I can belong there. My confused identity can be reconciled under the protection of the EU – I don’t have to choose between being English, or Irish, or even German – by being Irish I can be wholly European.

Which brings me back to my grandmother’s grave; a little piece of England forever in Ireland, so long forgotten. 

It was the anniversary of her death, but that was pure coincidence – at least, it was no plan of mine. As I stood there on a fine spring day, thinking of my family, I realised that we now had something we had always lacked and had always been searching for: a focus, a place to feel at home. Perhaps Rita’s grave gives us that and we can start a new tradition of gathering from around the world to mark anniversaries (the next will be in June, on what would have been my father’s 100th birthday).

Even as I stood reading the inscription on the stone, I felt a strong conviction that I had returned home to Ireland – spiritually, if not physically. A country my grandmother, father and great uncles had to flee has offered me a political sanctuary and a safe European identity. It’s also given my generation the chance to lay some ghosts of the past to rest. 

It's our job to heal and that's a work in progress. For me, standing at Rita's gravestone was a step along that path.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Pages