Law

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Will the Government Ever Face Accountability for its COVID Crimes?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 6:45pm in

Rachel Morris inspects the legal basis for the prosecution of the Government’s fatal failures during the pandemic

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A workplace manager, by failing to ensure a safe work environment, can be prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter if they cause the death of a person to whom a duty of care was owed. An organisation can be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter if its activities amounted to a gross breach of duty of care causing death. The outcome of criminal prosecution can include fines and prison sentences.

Yet, change the context to one in which the government causes death, and what are the consequences, if any?

One of every 342 people in the UK – almost 200,000 – have died of COVID-19, at a minimum. Meanwhile, 2.8% of the population, one in every 37, were estimated to be experiencing Long COVID symptoms of varying severity by April 2022.

Compare this to Japan, which has suffered 31,046 COVID deaths to date. Its population is nearly double that of the UK, with a density of 341 per square kilometre compared to our 281.

Thailand has a very similar population to the UK. It has a lower density of 137 overall, but similar density in its cities, where half the population resides. COVID fatalities there total 30,506.

What accounts for these stark differences between broadly similar populations? Culture, in part. Asian people of all ages have worn masks for years to protect themselves and others, with no complaints, histrionics or paranoia. It could be argued that many lives would have been saved in Europe and north America had masks been normalised rather than politicised.

But messaging around such things is connected to politics and political leadership. In a pandemic, people look to those leading them, who can change or suspend culturally-led behaviours.

An article in Nature about the Japanese response to the pandemic found that studies and communication were key to convincing and empowering citizens to protect themselves and each other, with culture playing only one part. For all countries that kept fatalities relatively low, it wasn’t about which measures were taken per se but that institutional attention was paid to the need for them.

The Oxford Coronavirus Government Response Tracker project calculates a composite measure of nine responses – the Stringency Index – with metrics ranging from public information campaigns to school and workplace closures and international travel controls. The higher the score, the stricter the response.

The UK has been consistently low on this index recently – not because the measures taken are less stringent, but because none are taken at all. There is no public health messaging any more – either about Coronavirus or the emerging Monkeypox. The Government never mentions the pandemic now, except when a minister tweets that the it is 'over’ or uses it as an excuse for economic crises.

The Government's handling of the Coronavirus crisis cannot reasonably be blamed on the opposition.

The UK’s positive responses included lockdowns reducing transmission, financial support for vulnerable employees and employers, praise for frontline workers, and the much-vaunted vaccine roll-out often referred to when the Prime Minister is seeking to save his own skin.

But the negatives are numerous: Boris Johnson missing the first five Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBRA) meetings about the pandemic; the 2016 Cygnus pandemic study mostly ignored; flights from China not banned; COVID-positive people sent from hospitals into care homes; the Prime Minister boasting of shaking hands with everyone in a hospital; the ignoring of World Health Organisation recommendations to test and trace the population; the adherence to ‘herd immunity’ advice; locking down too late, on multiple occasions.

There was also the abandoning of community testing; mass gatherings at sporting events; a lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators; cronyism and corruption around the awarding of contracts with poor outcomes; a lack of coordination between nations; millions of pounds wasted on Nightingale hospitals; people left with no financial support; ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ launching more COVID cases; non-mandatory masking; the overlooking of asymptomatic and airborne transmission; neither testing at nor closing airports; expensive and laissez-faire quarantine arrangements; an ineffective test and trace app; no ventilation in schools; ignoring Long COVID; ‘Partygate’ and its cover-up; and Dominic Cummings' Barnard Castle eye test.

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An Imminent Inquiry

If we focus on just two of the many failings – the lack of adequate PPE for healthcare workers, some of whom had to wear bin bags and thousands of whom died of COVID; and sending people back to care homes without testing, protections or mitigations – would either be enough to attract legal consequences for decision-makers?

In April 2020, consultant urologist Abdul Mabud Chowdhury died of the virus aged 53, five days after he had warned the Prime Minister via Facebook about a lack of “appropriate PPE and remedies”. Nurse John Alagos also died in 2020, aged 23. His mother claimed that he was not given adequate protective clothing while working with COVID patients on 12-hour shifts.

The Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 makes companies and organisations liable and guilty of manslaughter in the event of serious management failures resulting in grossly negligent breach of a duty of care. Section 11(1) states that government bodies can be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter, contrary to a usual rule that ‘crown bodies’ cannot be prosecuted for criminal offences. The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS trusts are covered by section 11(1).

In April, the High Court found that Government policies on discharging patients from hospital to care homes were unlawful because they failed to take into account the risk from non-symptomatic transmission. Former Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock had claimed that his department threw a “protective ring” around care homes. The High Court disagreed.

However, both Hancock and Boris Johnson blamed any failings on the now-disbanded Public Health England – and there have been no consequences for either.

The ruling stated that “the Government’s failure to protect... and positive steps taken by the Government which introduced COVID-19 infection into care homes, represent one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures in the modern era”.

Could this, or the avoidable deaths of healthcare workers, not meet the requirements of a Corporate Manslaughter Act prosecution?

Yet, sections three to seven specify exceptions for liability in public emergencies, exempting “decisions of a public authority in relation to issues of public policy (such as the allocation of public resources)”.

The draft terms of reference for the COVID-19 Inquiry include examining the protection of the vulnerable and PPE provision. While it will simply produce ‘lessons learned’, its findings could provide substance for grieving families who seek to pursue the prosecution of failures by public bodies.

The Government deflected criticism of its handling of the pandemic throughout with calls for ‘unity in crisis’. It is likely to avail itself of the public emergency exemption at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, the third COVID wave in six months surges across the country, largely unremarked upon, with no mitigations or free testing.

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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

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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.

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Bad Kingdom (1972)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/06/2022 - 5:10am in

In 1972, the government drew up plans to construct a deportation facility off the coast of Ireland that could house as many as 70 million people - the entire population of the UK, if need be. The intention was to make it an exact replica of the United Kingdom and call it Bad Kingdom. Nobody, it seemed, fulfilled the increasingly stringent criteria of what it meant to be truly British. 

Experts estimated that, by 2050, the United Kingdom's only remaining residents would be members of the Cabinet, the Royal family, and bald-headed perpetually enraged men with a poor command of the English language whose idea of patriotism was to attack with deckchairs anyone who so much as spoke with a foreign accent. 

In all likelihood, without enough people to maintain a working infrastructure, these UK residents would have to sneak into Bad Kingdom in order to stock up on supplies and to have a shower, although doing so would be illegal and carry a sentence of deportation back to the United Kingdom where they risked being deported to Bad Kingdom, leaving the UK empty.

Johnson is Attempting to Revive his Prorogation Ploy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 12:56am in

His unlawful suspension of Parliament in 2019 is now informing the Prime Minister’s last-ditch attempt to save his political career, argues Sam Bright

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Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue – suspend – Parliament in late August 2019 was short-lived, but it dominated the news agenda through to 24 September, when the Supreme Court ruled that it was unlawful.

There was a palpable sense at the time among political observers that Johnson could feasibly resign, having instructed the Queen (she, after all, is the person who orders the prorogation of Parliament) to effectively break the law.

It was a moment that shook our constitutional consensus. By trying to shut down Parliament for a month, Johnson was attempting to bend democracy to his individual will – a means through which to limit scrutiny of his Brexit plans and force them through a divided legislature.

Johnson did not resign and his plan was eventually rationalised as the act of a Prime Minister trying to break a parliamentary impasse – one that had dominated democratic debate for the previous three years. Exceptional circumstances justified a radical response, some argued.

However, especially in recent days, it has become evident that prorogation was not a one-off event – it is now Johnson’s governing playbook.

The Prime Minister – guided by his former chief aide Dominic Cummings – gleaned a valuable political lesson from the prorogation affair: he could attempt to break the law, ultimately fail, and win political favour among crucial constituents of potential supporters.

In July 2019, Johnson took over a Conservative Party in office but not in power. Party unity had dissolved, with new Brexit alliances forged between Labour and Conservative MPs seeking to prevent a hard departure from the EU, while the DUP and the Tory-Brexit ideologues pulled in the opposite direction – taking down Theresa May in the process.

To survive in office, Johnson needed to create a new political settlement – and, just a few months after unlawfully proroguing Parliament (and suspending 21 rebel MPs who tried to stop a no deal Brexit), he won an 80-seat majority at the 2019 General Election.

Prorogation undoubtedly played a role in this outcome. Johnson is a wrecking ball – he destroys personal relationships, conventions and often his political opponents. His innate sense of superiority bestows a belief that destruction is justified, because the world is designed to serve his interests, and if institutions or individuals don’t serve this higher purpose, he can simply reorder them.

Fortunately for Johnson, this instinct seems to resonate among Brexit voters in more deprived parts of the country – forgotten people who’ve seen the political system strip their towns of jobs and decent services, all while pumping money into metropolitan lodestars such as London and seemingly burgeoning the bank accounts of those at the top, including MPs.

People want a wrecking ball to dismantle the established order, which they see as financially corrupt and morally bankrupt, and they have been willing to look past Johnson’s elite background if he can achieve this.

Last Chance Saloon

Yet Johnson has betrayed that trust. ‘Partygate’ exposed his charade – showing his willingness to lie to protect his personal fame and political fortune. He’s not the messiah, as said Monty Python, he’s just a very naughty boy.

And so, the Prime Minister is walking the same political tightrope as in 2019.

His parliamentary majority has dissipated, with 148 Conservative MPs voting for him to stand down. He’s clinging onto power thanks to a rump of support among hardline Brexiters, who – in alliance with the DUP – are pushing him to effectively scrap a key component of the Brexit deal that Johnson negotiated and signed after the 2019 victory.

Therefore, once again, he needs to manufacture a new political settlement – to win over the public and stop his slide into political oblivion.

To do this, he appears to be reapplying the principles of prorogation – summoning his powers of demolition and aiming them at institutions of power, in order to regain his anti-establishment aura.

Britain may withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, he has suggested, after a judge in Strasbourg blocked the Government's attempt to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. And the EU is threatening legal action, after the Government sought to introduce legislation that will unilaterally amend the trading relationship between Northern Ireland, the EU, and Britain.

As in the case of prorogation, it’s not actually important to him that he succeeds – Johnson is simply trying to generate enough political heat to prove to his 2019 constituents that his Partygate transgressions were a one-off; a terrible, regrettable mistake.

But he is a repeat offender – a man seemingly captured by his own cult of personality – and it’s unclear whether voters will buy his bluster.

A test case will be the Wakefield by-election on 23 June – a ‘Red Wall’, pro-Brexit seat won by the Conservatives in 2019 for the first time since 1931. The polls currently show the Tories trailing Labour in the constituency by 20 points – which is perhaps why Johnson has grasped the nuclear option. He knows, as in 2019, that he has little to lose.

Meanwhile, as our fatally wounded Prime Minister tries to play king for a few more weeks, people and political institutions will suffer. The desperate asylum seekers threatened with deportation to Rwanda will be traumatised – scarred by the prospect of being trapped in a foreign country, away from their families, potentially subject to human rights abuses.

And while our democracy may rebuff many of Boris Johnson’s assaults, he is showing how the desecration of rules, standards and conventions is a politically lucrative profession – one to which future generations of power-hungry plutocrats may well subscribe.

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Killings in Somalia: War Crimes, Deception, and Impunity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/06/2022 - 9:08pm in

Mohamed Gabobe explores several reports of extrajudicial killings by Western-backed forces in Somalia

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After taking a motorbike ride from Mogadishu’s bustling Taleh junction to a dirt road on the outskirts of the Somali capital, where I trekked past a row of shanty homes, I caught my first glimpse of the elderly woman I was scheduled to meet. Standing before me with the warmest of smiles, she gestured towards her home, inviting me to enter.

She didn’t know much about me, only that I was eager to hear her story. She tells me her name is Sadiya, and that her family hails from the village of Buurane in the Middle Shabelle province, a region synonymous with militancy and where the rules of engagement are often non-existent.

When I offer a smile in the direction of three young children sitting on an old rug. she says, “These are my son’s children. They were left with me after he was murdered.”

Sadiya tells me how her 18-year-old son Sharmarke and his friends were cutting onions on the porch of her home, the day they were approached by coalition troops from Burundi serving under the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia, commonly referred to as AMISOM. The troops ordered the young men to go inside for reasons Sadiya doesn’t know.

AMISON soldiers routinely patrol the village of Buurane and its surrounding areas – often implementing curfews and detaining civilians under the mere pretext of suspicion. Many are often held under arbitrary detention for weeks – sometimes even longer.  

On this occasion, however, the AMISOM troops departed without incident. Sadiya’s son and his friends went back to their chores, before starting a card game.

Moments later, a massive blast punctured the air, and a cloud of thick black smoke billowed into the night sky. A roadside bomb had struck a nearby AMISOM convoy. 

Not long after that, AMISOM troops returned to her home. She remembers spotting one peering through the window seconds before they opened fire. Screams and falling glass engulfed the tiny home. Her son was cut down by a hail of bullets, piercing his heart and spine, and striking his friend sitting directly behind him.  

The friend died instantly, but her son clung to life, screaming for his mother to stop the bleeding while mouthing the words to the Shahada (the Islamic declaration of faith).

The AMISOM troops barged into the home and pointed their weapons at Sadiya and her dying son, she says. Sadiya pleaded with the soldiers to allow her to tend to her son’s wounds, but to no avail. Her son bled to death in front of her eyes.

As Sadiya tells me this, she slumps to her knees, and sobs uncontrollably. 

“It’s one thing to watch your child be shot in front of you. It’s another to watch them bleed out while begging for your help,” she says.

Sadiya’s account is consistent with testimonies of other eyewitnesses to mass killings carried out by AMISOM troops. A scathing report by Human Rights Watch revealed how AMISOM troops targeted wedding-goers near the Somali port town of Merka in 2015, killing six men, and denying medical care to the lone survivor, who later died of his wounds.

Sadiya said the soldiers remained in her home for two hours after her son bled out, leaving only when Somali Government troops arrived to retrieve the lifeless bodies of her son and his friend. Murdered at 18 years-of-age, Sharmarke would never get to see the arrival of his third child.

Moreover, in the weeks and months that followed, Sadiya endured relentless threats and intimidation from AMISOM troops, who would repeatedly show up at her home and order her to leave, she claims, often threatening to burn down her home if she continued to refuse their demands.  

Sadiya says the AMISOM troops told her that they were carrying out military operations in the area and she needed to vacate the home, but this was an order given only to her, and nobody else in the village. The same troops that brutally murdered her son were now forcefully displacing her from the only home she’s ever known.  

Many of her neighbours advised Sadiya to heed the warnings and not risk losing the three young grandchildren, but she refused to leave and instead pleaded her case to local authorities located several kilometres away in the district of Mahaadey. 

But she was turned away.

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Rampant Impunity

Coincidentally, the district of Mahaadey is home to a large-scale African Union military base that hosts foreign troops from Burundi. Sadiya believes her cries for help fell on deaf ears because coalition forces in Somalia wield immense influence over the local authorities, which explains why Somali officials often turn a blind eye to atrocities carried out by coalition forces from the African Union. 

Deployed to Somalia in 2007 under the auspice of the United Nations Security Council, the AMISOM consists of thousands of foreign troops from nearly a dozen states in Africa, fighting under the rubric of the global ‘war on terror’, but without meaningful oversight or transparency.

Sadiya then made her way to the city of Jowhar, the provincial capital of the Middle Shabelle province and seat of power for Somalia’s semi-autonomous Hirshabelle state, turning up at the headquarters of the-then regional vice president, Ali Gudlaawe.

Again, she was turned away by Somali troops.

When the threats became too much to bear, Sadiya made the decision to flee Buurane. During the night, her brother-in law put Sadiya and her three grandchildren in a vehicle and sent them to the capital Mogadishu, where they remain to this day.  

Two years have passed since the brutal murder of her son Sharmarke and his friend Abukar, but Sadiya is yet to receive any answers, let alone accountability from the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia.  

After meeting Sadiya, I made my way to the notorious Suuqa-Hoolaha neighborhood in the Huriwa district of Mogadishu, which is a known to be an al-Shabaab stronghold. This isn’t an area that journalists often venture to.

There, I met Ibrahim, the father of Abukar, who was shot and killed in Sadiya’s home. Ibrahim fled the village of Buurane with his two remaining daughters immediately after his son’s murder. The trek to Mogadishu on foot took him and his children seven days. He’s never returned home since. Ibrahim wants justice for his family but knows that the prospects for accountability are slim.

Prosecuting African Union soldiers for atrocities in Somalia is nearly impossible, as the Somali Government has no jurisdiction over the multi-national coalition troops on their soil, which are funded by the European Union and supervised by the US and UK.  

They are rarely, if ever, held accountable for the rampant war crimes and human rights abuses they are alleged to have committed.

The Case of Mohamed Hassan

During my investigation into war crimes by AMISOM troops in Somalia, the most perplexing case was the murder of Mohamed Hassan, a local university student from Mogadishu. He offers a typical example of how broken promises, deception and impunity make the death of a loved one at the hands of coalition forces even much more unbearable. 

I arrived at the Tarabunka junction in Mogadishu, and stood in front of a mechanic shop, waiting for the go-ahead. A young woman dressed in all black wearing a Niqab (face veil) approached and told me to follow her.  

I eventually found myself at the home of a prominent tribal chief – an older gentleman with a bright orange beard dyed in traditional colouring. I sat down at the table. What followed was the traditional Somali custom of drinking tea and getting acquainted with one another.  

As we spoke, the tribal chief was eager to tell me about the ordeal of his family members who had been killed by AMISOM forces. When I began the interview, I couldn’t help but notice the armed gunmen in military attire standing a few meters away. The tribal chief told me not to worry; they were his people (clansmen).  

He told me how his nephew, Mohamed Hassan, who he had raised from birth, was murdered by AMISOM forces in Mogadishu. “Mohamed was walking down a road in the Hodan district of Mogadishu, when he was struck by an AMISOM convoy, driving at full speed on 3 July 2014,” he said.

Mohamed died instantly from his wounds, as the AMISON convoy sped off. Ibrahim shows me a photo of his deceased nephew.

A baby in a person's arms</p>
<p>Description automatically generated with medium confidenceA photo of Mohamed Hassan following his death

AMISOM military convoys in Somalia, particularly in the capital Mogadishu, routinely strike civilians while patrolling the city. Countless civilians have either been killed or wounded over the years, as has been widely reported in the Somali media.  

The tribal chief said that he had reached out to his fellow clansmen, who held senior ranks in the Somali Armed Forces, to track down the AMISOM convoy responsible for his nephew’s death. It had made its way to Spartiva, they said, a football arena turned military base that housed foreign troops from the AMISOM coalition, but primarily from Uganda.  

It was revealed that a Ugandan soldier by the name of Lance Corporal Tumusiime Robert was behind the wheel of the AMISOM truck that killed Mohamed Hassan. The soldier was detained and transferred to the fortified Halane compound (Somalia’s Green Zone) in Mogadishu, which houses numerous Western embassies, the United Nations headquarters, and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  

But justice and accountability would not be forthcoming. “It was like running in circles,” the tribal chief told me.

They took up their case with the African Union, which responded by appointing a board of inquiry to investigate the murder, concluding that the family should be compensated, but the reparations never came.

“We were misled and deceived,” says the tribal chief.

The family were only ever given excuses. At times, the African Union would claim it was waiting on further confirmation from its headquarters in Addis Ababa. Other times it wouldn’t give an explanation, despite AMISOM’s own board of inquiry having agreed to compensate the family for Mohamed’s death.  

“All we got at the end were documents from a Djiboutian official at AMISOM,” said the tribal chief, which he then shared with me.  

The documents show a probe conducted by a six-member board from the African Union investigating the death of 20-year-old Mohamed Hassan at the hands of coalition troops.  

The findings, as detailed in the documents, concluded that the AMISOM convoy was at fault in the death of Mohamed and therefore the family should be duly compensated.  

The document shows the names of the military officials appointed to the board, as shown here:

A piece of paper with writing on it</p>
<p>Description automatically generated with medium confidence Text, letter</p>
<p>Description automatically generated

Another document identifies the driver of the military convoy that killed Mohamed Hassan. The vehicle number is also stated on the document:

Text, letter</p>
<p>Description automatically generated

However, the tribal chief told me that they’ve almost given up hope on receiving any form of justice.

My the tribal chief’s revelations didn’t end there.

Pulling his seat closer, he told me that a relative named Omar Dhoore was extrajudicially murdered by AMISOM troops in volatile Lower Shabelle province on 1 September 2017, when Omar was tending to his crops in the farming village of Golweyn.

The tribal chief said that Omar was abducted by foreign troops from Uganda serving under the AMISOM coalition. He was taken to the town of Buula-Mareer, which hosts a large-scale Ugandan military base.  

The tribal chief claims that he led a group of local elders there, pleading for the release of Omar, only to have their request rebuffed. 

Days later, however, locals discovered Omar lifeless on the side of a dirt road that connects the town of Buula-Mareer to the village of Golweyn – bullet holes riddling his body.

Both of Omar’s hands and eyes were tied shut. The brunt of the bullet holes was across his face and head. The tribal chief showed me a photo of Omar’s body, claiming it demonstrates evidence of extrajudicial murder.

A picture containing text, person, indoor</p>
<p>Description automatically generatedA photo of Omar Dhoore following the discovery of his body International Culpability

Over the years, AMISOM troops have been implicated in numerous extrajudicial killings and wanton massacres of civilians. The abduction and brutal execution-style murder of Omar Dhoore has eerie similarities with other cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Most notably, the 2021 Golweyn Massacre, which saw seven civilians abducted and murdered.

When the tribal chief and local elders went to the AMISOM base in Golweyn, demanding to know how someone in their custody could be later found dead on a dirt road, the Ugandan military commanders openly acknowledged that Omar was killed in “retaliation” for a recent attack carried out by the terror group al-Shabaab in the area, causing the deaths of several Ugandan soldiers. 

In disbelief, the tribal chief led his fellow elders to the fortified Halane compound (Somalia’s Green Zone) in Mogadishu, where they held a closed-door meeting with Ugandan military officials. 

During the encounter, the Ugandan officers from AMISOM admitted wrongdoing and stated that they would compensate the victim’s family to the tune of $3,000 – but that soon turned out to be another false promise.

“They’ll make you promises for accountability and compensation, then have you keep going back and forth, running until you get tired and just simply stop coming back,” the tribal chief said.

To this day, they’ve heard nothing further about the compensation. Five years have now passed since Omar was murdered.

“He had no affiliation with the insurgents. He didn’t deserve to die,” the tribal chief said.

AMISOM has a mandate to fight the armed group al-Shabaab and prop up Somalia’s fragile government. but as of 31 March of this year, the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted resolution 2628, which states that AMISOM will transition into the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) and will oversee the withdrawal of multi-national coalition forces from Somalia by December 2024.  

While this move is welcomed by the people of Somalia, it offers little comfort to the families whose lives have been wrecked by these forces.   

Prominent international human rights organisations have directly implicated AMISOM troops in the deliberate targeting of civilians by indiscriminately shelling densely populated urban areas under the pretext of fighting militants, particularly during the siege of Mogadishu, which spanned from January 2009 to August 2011.  

Similar reports released by human rights bodies have accused AMISOM forces of using rape as a weapon of war against both women and young children. 

To that end, Western governments that continue to finance, supervise and provide cover for AMISOM bear part of the responsibility. Indeed, the continued presence of foreign troops in Somalia is a direct result of decisions made in Washington, Brussels and London.

If calls for accountability continue to be brushed aside by the so-called ‘international community’, then Somalia will be remembered as another terrible example of how Western-sponsored foreign military interventions, often under the guise of counter-terrorism and peacekeeping, cause more harm than good.

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Banks v Cadwalladr: Shining a Torch in the Darkness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/06/2022 - 3:31am in

Peter Jukes looks at the precarious persistence of investigative journalism in Britain – especially when it comes to Russia, Trump and Brexit – and the importance of the public interest defence

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Even though I had little doubt Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr had a great defence against the libel suit brought by the Leave.EU backer Arron Banks, the night before the judgment was handed down by the High Court was still a sleepless and troubled one. 

Through the five years I have personally known Carole and followed her award-winning investigations into Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and Russian interference in the Brexit and Trump votes, there had been very little in the way of justice. 

Back in June 2018, when I first obtained the tranche of emails between Arron Banks, his head of Communications Andy Wigmore and various figures at the Russian Embassy during the Brexit and Trump campaigns, I knew this was way beyond the one “boozy lunch” Banks had admitted to his book The Bad Boys of Brexit. These emails became the basis for several co-written articles in the Observer, and various follow-ups of Banks’ connections to Russia in The New York Times, the Washington Post and on Channel 4 News. 

Those articles and programmes still stand. For the past two years, neither I, nor any of those august news organisations, have been sued for libel and threatened with financial ruin or public disgrace. Only Carole Cadwalladr has had to suffer that ordeal for 24 words she uttered in a 15-minute TED talk:  “And I am not even going to go into the lies that Arron Banks has told about his covert relationship with the Russian Government.”

I barely noticed those lines at the time. It seemed quite simple. Banks has constantly changed his story about the number and content of his meetings with the Russian Embassy. As for “not even going to go into it”, all I took Carole to mean was that Banks’ reasons for being evasive were unknown. Carole has never once said Banks financially benefited from the multiple meetings with the Russian Embassy. Indeed, one of the first things she said to me after seeing the email exchanges about gold consolidation deals and diamond mines between Banks and the Russian Ambassador was: “There’s no sign he received any money.”

British libel law, however, does not rely on intention but on what an average listener would have understood. At a preliminary hearing over ‘meaning’ three years ago, Mr Justice Saini ruled a reasonable listener would understand that “Banks told untruths about a secret relationship he had with the Russian Government in relation to acceptance of foreign funding of electoral campaigns in breach of the law on such funding”.

It was a blow. Since Carole had not intended that meaning, she couldn’t provide evidence that Banks illegally accepted foreign funds. The truth defence would no longer work. 

She and her legal team had no choice but to opt for the public interest defence: in other words, even if people understood a false defamatory meaning from her words, this was defensible given the enormity of the issues at stake. 

British libel law is difficult for journalists and so encouraging for rich would-be claimants that many overseas citizens pursue cases in the English courts (even on words which are barely read here) because the costs and the burden of proof are so chilling that publications are more likely to capitulate, issue an apology and pay damages. It’s one of the reasons why the late Sir Harry Evans told me he preferred working in the US, where the burden of proof is on the claimant rather than the journalist. 

In general, every journalist wants to tie down every fact and meaning so they can have a truth defence. In that dream scenario, lucid information is clearly at hand so one can lay out all the story in such forensic detail no challenge is possible. But, in the messy real world, investigative journalism isn’t like visualising a vast spreadsheet or dissecting a body on an autopsy slab. The subjects of your investigation are either surly, aggressive, deceptive or silent. It’s less like a post-mortem or data crunching exercise than shining a torch in the dark while others try to wrest the torch from your hand. 

That’s the reality for most journalists taking on organised crime, rich business people or collusion between oligarchs and their political placemen. You get a fraction of the truth and you pose questions and have to raise inferences, in good faith, hoping you are not misunderstood. When it comes to the hard edge of investigative journalism, the public interest defence is one of the last redoubts for those taking the risk of raising matters of urgency and import. 

Essentially, the public interest defence means that, even if the meaning of a statement is potentially inaccurate or defamatory, there is an added protection if those statements – whether they concern high-profile policy decisions or the use of public money – speak to matters of high importance, and are published responsibly with an opportunity to comment. 

Given that Banks is the largest-ever political donor in British history, loaning and donating at least £8 million to Nigel Farage’s Leave.EU campaign, it is not hard to see how his undisclosed meetings with the officials of a hostile foreign power – especially in the controversial and momentous result of the 2016 EU Referendum – wouldn’t be in the public interest. 

As Gavin Millar QC said, summing up for Carole Cadwalladr, the TED talk was “unquestionably speech which addressed the matters of the greatest possible importance to the organisation of the political life of the country. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of matter in which the public interest could be greater”. 

Since the failure of his libel case, Arron Banks has said he is considering an appeal, and has tweeted “I won the only thing that mattered – Brexit” – thereby underscoring that this was always about politics rather than personal privacy and reputation. Banks has made himself a political figure who has used his money to affect the lives of all of us. 

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Over the past four years, Banks and Wigmore have defamed me on several occasions, claiming I had hacked his emails or used blackmail to obtain them (Justice Steyn dismissed these claims). But such is the political importance of those Russian meetings, I’m not going to use the law courts to dispel his misrepresentations of my work. I’ll use the public sphere to appeal to the court of public opinion. 

Back in 2018, the suspicion of Russian interference in British elections was mocked by many from the left and right. It has since been underpinned by US congressional reports and confirmed by parliamentary select committees. Even Boris Johnson conceded Vladimir Putin tried to interfere in British elections, only adding that he had not ‘successfully’ interfered. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Byline Times has produced official US military investigations that assessed that Brexit was part of the Russian President’s greater strategic plan.

None of this matters to the legal defence of Carole, or her reasonable belief in the public interest ‘at the time’. But it surely matters to the country, and to the future resolve of investigative journalists who would follow in Carole’s footsteps. 

Since Banks is claiming Brexit as his brainchild, we should be allowed to ask how financially ruinous it has been for the country. If he had been victorious, this would not only have been ruinous to Carole financially, but would have chilled any further investigation into Russia’s role in Brexit. 

But the cost of this victory has been too high and no individual should have to suffer over two years of such an ordeal. 

The law should provide for a quicker strike-out for public interest cases. It should ensure defamation cases proceed from the substantial moment of publication (for example in the Observer) rather than consequent remarks made by the journalist.

I have seen firsthand the psychological isolation Carole has suffered without the backing of a publisher, not to mention the constant threats and trolling on social media and the silence of many of her peers. Justice Steyn wrote that she didn’t think Banks’ claim was a SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) case but there is little doubt that this protracted libel case has had the effect of silencing a prominent investigative journalist for over two years.

As Carole herself commented after the judgment, “my investigation into Brexit, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook triggered investigations on both sides of the Atlantic, record-breaking fines and findings of multiple breaches of the law, including by Mr Banks' Leave.EU campaign. But I am the only person to ever face trial”.

What kind of country are we where no good deed goes unpunished; in which journalists are hounded for exposing wrongdoing, while the political and media class either applaud or sit on their hands? 

We need those torches shining in the darkness, even if they flash across our minds with incomplete or partial impressions of the bigger picture. Because, without those shining a light, however small and flickering, we would never see anything. Our democracy would die in the darkness. And the costs of getting the small things wrong should never be at the expense of getting the big things right. 

Peter Jukes is the Co-Founder and an Executive Editor of Byline Times

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From Rwanda to Northern Ireland: The Failures of the Government Legal Department

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/06/2022 - 3:09am in

Barrister Gareth Roberts assesses the breakdown in respect for the rule of law within Downing Street

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This summer may well end up as the busiest and most significant for a branch of government that is rarely in the public eye but the influence of which is felt by every other department before, in turn, touching the lives of everyone else: the Government Legal Department. 

The Government Legal Department is there to offer advice and opinion to ministers and departments on every aspect of law and public policy. 

As every law student is told, legal opinion has to be objective, honest and legally sound. Lawyers are not there to provide lip-service for their clients – we are not allowed to make up a defence where no defence exists, we are not there to tailor facts or evidence to suit a particular position that our client wishes to take. Nor are we allowed to deliberately misinterpret the law or try to bend the rules. 

This is the same for every lawyer, whether they be the exhausted duty solicitor who is providing advice in the middle of the night to people caught drink driving, or the Attorney General. 

The Government Legal Department is a prestigious arm of the profession – the government, traditionally, has attracted the best and the brightest lawyers around – and rightly, because the legal advice that underpins public policy is fundamental to any democracy. Government lawyers, perhaps more than any other, must have the ability to give advice that is legally sound to individuals who may not like what they’re being told.

Indeed, ministers are politicians and by definition are ambitious – they care desperately about their own agenda and their own career. It can’t be easy telling a minister that the policy they have proposed may be unlawful.

Traditionally, the Government Legal Department would be involved at an early stage in the development of a new law or a public policy – indeed when I was a researcher working on the opposition benches in the 1990s, it wasn’t unusual for the Government Legal Department to offer advice on plans or proposals being proposed by politicians who were not even in Government, to ensure that their proposals were lawful.

It was taken as read that when a bill was put on the floor of the House of Commons, or a minister stood up at the Despatch Box to make a statement about policy, a lawyer had reviewed it and given honest, independent advice as to its lawfulness. 

It is rare that the public sees or hears legal opinion. The convention is that legal opinion is not disclosed outside government – which is another reason why we must be absolutely confident that this legal opinion is objective and correct. 

Perhaps the first time many of us had reason to question the legal opinion given to ministers came during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. It appeared that in its desire to support the Americans and invade the country, Tony Blair’s Government was prepared to put undue pressure on its own lawyers. Thus led to the then Attorney General, Lord Peter Goldsmith, changing his legal opinion on the lawfulness of invasion, something for which he was criticised in the Chilcot Report, describing the advice as “far from satisfactory”.

The repercussions of that poor advice are still reverberating.  

Professional and Political Obligations

Boris Johnson has never risked overly burdening himself with the finer points of law or the constitution. 

From his first days in office, when he tried to unlawfully prorogue Parliament in an attempt to pass his Brexit deal, it was clear that he was not interested in the question of whether his policies and activities were within the bounds of either convention or the law. 

Since then, the Prime Minister has continued to act in a way that suggests he either doesn’t care about or doesn’t understand the laws of the land. 

The policy of transporting asylum seekers to Rwanda was announced by the Home Secretary in April, following a deal struck between the British and Rwandan governments in Kigali. The United Nations was not consulted at any stage during the negotiations despite the fact that any such agreement would impact upon the UK’s obligations under international law and the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which the UK is a signatory. 

At the time, the Rwanda policy was deemed by many to be a political stunt – an attempt to throw a bit of ‘red meat’ to the right-wing forces in the press and on the Conservative backbenches. Many assumed that once the policy was considered carefully and the lawyers were given the opportunity to offer an objective opinion, it would be quietly shelved. 

But it hasn’t been.

Indeed, with every attempt to expose the policy for being a shameless and immoral act of political opportunism, Home Secretary Priti Patel – who has consistently derided during her time in high office – has dug in further. Now, despite opposition ranging from the Church and (seemingly) the Royal Family, to specialist refugee charities, planes are sat on the tarmac poised to take refugees to central Africa. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has made it clear that the deal with Rwanda is in contravention of international law, the UK Government disagrees, and the matter will ultimately be decided by the High Court in July. 

As a lawyer, I find it extremely difficult to foresee circumstances in which I would advise my client that the organisation existing to oversee the law pertaining to the status of refugees – the UNHCR – is wrong about the interpretation of its own protocol. 

I also hope that if I was placed under pressure to change that opinion, I would stick to my professional obligations.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is another area where the law courts will be called upon to offer important adjudication. 

Again, the Government seeks to act in a way in which appears to involve a breach of the law – this time, its obligations under both the Good Friday Agreement and its Brexit agreements with the European Union.  

A bill is due to be put before Parliament in the coming days, and one assumes that at some point this bill will have been scrutinised by the Government Legal Department and opinion sought as to whether its enactment will be a breach of international law. Again, it is inconceivable that that won’t be the case. 

Sadly, for this Government, short term political survival is far more important than national or international law.

In his private and public actions, the Prime Minister has consistently demonstrated that he views the law as an encumbrance that must either be ignored or bullied into passive compliance. 

This is profoundly dangerous. 

For the UK, which has no written constitution and relies upon a set of archaic conventions to keep the government in check, the role of the Government Legal Department to set out the law properly and dispassionately is absolutely vital.

If it stops doing that or is cowed into a role where it simply tells the Prime Minister what he wants to hear, then we the people risk losing a vital weapon in our ability to keep our government in check.    

Gareth Roberts is a barrister

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What Is Being Misconstrued About the Banks v Cadwalladr Case

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/06/2022 - 2:38am in

Sam Bright unpicks the spin surrounding the high-profile defamation judgment

A momentous legal case has seen a judgement today, with political campaigner Arron Banks failing in his libel suit against investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr, regarding claims about the former’s alleged links to Russia.

The case has taken nearly three years to reach this verdict, which has been accompanied by frenzied online debate about the culpability of those involved.

Today, despite Cadwalladr’s victory, prominent commentators and outlets sympathetic to Banks have suggested that the journalist admitted her falsehoods – thus ultimately, they say, proving her reporting was false and unjustified.

However, this is a misrepresentation of the case.

The judge came to an initial verdict in December 2019 about the meaning (referred to as the ‘single meaning’) of Cadwalladr’s statements – determining that a reasonable person would have understood them to mean that: “On more than one occasion Mr Banks told untruths about a secret relationship he had with the Russian Government in relation to acceptance of foreign funding of electoral campaigns in breach of the law on such funding.”

While the judge decided that this was the implication of Cadwalladr’s remarks, the journalist says that this was not her intention. Below are her original remarks in relation to Banks:

Therefore, given that Cadwalladr was being asked to prove claims that she did not intend to make, she made an apology to that effect, saying: “It was not my intention to make any such allegation and I accept that such an allegation would be untrue.”

As the judgment notes: “Ms Cadwalladr gave evidence that ‘there was no evidence’ that Mr Banks ‘had gone through with the deals’ (proffered via the Russian Embassy) ‘or made any money from them’; or that he ‘had accepted any money from the Russian Government or its proxies’. Nor was there any evidence ‘that Russian money went into the Brexit campaign’. Ms Cadwalladr also made clear that she had never thought Mr Banks was a ‘Russian agent’ or a ‘Russian actor’.”

Rather than proving the truth of the ‘single meaning’ determined by the judge, Cadwalladr therefore relied on a public interest defence – attempting to prove that what she said was on a matter of public interest. Through a combination of this defence, and insufficient evidence – in the view of the judge – to show that Banks suffered serious harm to his reputation, the claims were dismissed.

Another angle taken by publications sympathetic to Banks is that Cadwalladr defamed the Brexit campaigner but that he was awarded no damages.

Defamation can be a by-product of exposing individual and corporate wrongdoing. The purpose of a libel trial is to decide whether this is justified by any fair defences – truth, fair comment or public interest. As was partly the case in the Banks v Cadwalladr trial, it also comes to a conclusion about whether there was serious harm to the individual’s reputation or not.

The ultimate facts are that Banks’ claims were dismissed.

He has suggested he may appeal the decision and maintains that “this was never about seeking to silence criticism".

"Carole knows that, had she apologised and agreed not to repeat this false accusation at the outset, these proceedings would never have been necessary,” he added.

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The Government Continues to Stoke Burning Embers in Northern Ireland

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/06/2022 - 9:50pm in

As Boris Johnson prepares to change the Northern Ireland Protocol, Jonathan Lis explores how his recklessness, a hard Brexit and lasting questions of identity are threatening peace once again

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It was not very long ago that people began to talk about Northern Ireland as if it were a normal place. The Good Friday Agreement entrenched, power-sharing in full operation, the province ran – for the most part – smoothly and peacefully. Of course, the main parties disagreed about big and small issues – but everyone had something they wanted and agreed to make the process work. The political crisis which brought down the Northern Ireland Executive in 2017 was not about sectarianism or the constitution but the misspending of public funds.

Today in Northern Ireland the leaders of one of the two main communities argue that their side of the constitutional equilibrium has been upended. The Executive is deadlocked and the nominal First Minister cannot take up her post.

And the UK Government is using the situation as a pretext to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol in whole or in part, thereby ripping up its Brexit Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, breaking international law, and inviting a full-blown trade war with its closest neighbours.

Amid all the talk of crisis, it is easy to dismiss the political earthquake that took place last month. A nationalist party – Sinn Féin – won an election in Northern Ireland for the first time. The borders of Northern Ireland were drawn, quite literally, to prevent that from ever happening. It is supposed to have a built-in unionist majority – that was its only reason to exist.

The result does not bring reunification any closer in practical terms. A border poll would have to be called by the Secretary of State on the basis of clear evidence for popular support. Even if that happened, many thousands of voters who opted for the non-aligned Alliance Party in this election would choose to remain in the UK. And yet a rubicon has been crossed. 

Sinn Féin is no longer a minority party or playing second fiddle – it won a clear mandate as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Vice-President, Michelle O’Neill, has every right to take up her position as First Minister. That, of course, is a part of the problem. 

For all the talk of unionist concerns about the Protocol – which requires checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK – there are strong suspicions that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is refusing to support the Executive on principle. For many unionists it is unthinkable to play ‘deputy’ to Sinn Féin, even if the posts are hierarchised only in name. The leadership of Northern Ireland is for unionists, and if they can’t have control of the ball, they will pick it up and go home. 

The DUP has only itself to blame for what is happening.

The party was warned in 2016 that Brexit would divide people on the island politically and economically, requiring new trade barriers and therefore a new trade border – and still it supported it. It has since done everything it can to avoid taking responsibility for its colossal error or even admitting it made one – a process in which it has consistently put its own electoral interests ahead of its people’s prosperity. Its ensuing self-sabotage has now accidentally ensured the result it most feared. As morality tales go, this one is on the nose.

And yet, of course, the DUP is genuinely aggrieved. A border in the Irish Sea, justifiably or otherwise, makes it feel cut-off from Great Britain and its internal market. The more Britain diverges on regulation, the further that gulf will appear. The DUP was almost inconceivably foolish to believe Boris Johnson when he denied a sea border would ever exist but, unlike him, they at least adhere to a basic political principle.

The DUP and the UK Government are mutually propelling the current crisis. Both have put short-term calculations first; both are bad at politics; both are furious they cannot have their own way and are sacrificing their voters and the UK economy, respectively, to show it. And yet they are not equally culpable. 

The DUP may have been gullible, naive and petulant, but it is the UK Government that has been uniquely cynical and dishonest from the start.

In recent weeks and months, the Prime Minister has again been resurrecting the excuses for why the Protocol needs to be unilaterally modified and fabricating some new ones for good measure. The demands are onerous, he says. They were unforeseen. They threaten the Good Friday Agreement. He even wrote in the Belfast Telegraph that the Government didn’t anticipate the shocks of the pandemic, war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

The problem is that everything he says is either sophistry or a lie – it doesn’t matter that unpredictable world events have occurred since 2019. The Protocol was negotiated for all circumstances and for all time. If the Government wasn’t prepared for difficult events, it should not have negotiated something so precarious. Indeed, if circumstances are now so unfavourable that we need to cancel the Protocol, we surely need to cancel Brexit itself. 

“There is no disguising the fact that the delicate balance created in 1998 has been upset,” he wrote, having himself upset it. “I agreed [the Protocol] on the basis that it protected the Good Friday Agreement,” he told Channel 4, having spent the previous three years endangering it. This is, after all, the man who, as Foreign Secretary, compared a border which claimed more than 3,500 lives to the boundary between two London boroughs.

Johnson, as ever, projects his failures onto his opponents and accuses them of that which he is guilty of. He accuses the EU of being insincere in its desire to protect the Good Friday Agreement when, in fact, Brussels was prioritising it before London even acknowledged it was an issue.

The Prime Minister’s most revealing comment was to Channel 4: “I hoped and believed that our friends would not necessarily want to apply the Protocol in quite the way that they have,” he said. In other words, because he had no wish to implement an international agreement, he assumed that the other side wouldn’t either. It encapsulates Johnson’s solipsism – because all he understands is duplicity in the compulsive pursuit of self-interest, he cannot conceive of anyone else behaving in good faith. He cannot even understand them working towards interests that aren’t his.

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The EU has applied the Protocol in just the way it said it would: to the letter. Indeed, it has tolerated both the UK’s extended grace periods and faithlessness and acted more leniently and constructively than many imagined. There was no secret in the Protocol. It announced what it was and the Prime Minister agreed to it. Not only that, he used it as the foundational pillar of an entire election campaign. Opponents warned what that ‘oven-ready’ deal entailed and Johnson dismissed them as liars and fearmongers. 

The first problem for the Government is that new legislation will not help anything. The DUP has already stated that it will not consider joining the Executive until legislation has been enacted, not simply tabled. Meanwhile, the moment it is enacted the EU will retaliate.

The second, much bigger problem, is the Government’s stupidity. As Johnson himself identified, we are dealing with crises that seemed impossible just three years ago: recovery from a pandemic, a major war in Europe, and an economic earthquake hitting every citizen in the country. 

Politically, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK has made a great play of European unity. Britain and the EU have cooperated closely on sanctions, assistance and rhetoric. Beginning a major new political crisis defies not only all logic but the key objectives of solidarity and coordination. The only person who could possibly cheer it is Vladimir Putin himself.

Even more astonishing are the economic ramifications. The cost of living crisis is already pushing millions of people closer towards poverty or deeper into it. The Bank of England Governor, a man not renowned for hyperbole, has warned of “apocalyptic” rises in food prices. It is just possible that a trade war with our largest export partner – and one of our largest suppliers of food – will exacerbate that crisis.

The move to dis-apply parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol are not about improving lives but scoring political points. It may be an elaborate bluff and Parliament may reject it. The point is that the Government is comfortable threatening to wreck Britain’s economy and international reputation – and stoking the embers of a recent civil war. Whatever comes next, that is enough to damn it for all time.

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‘I Am Counting the Seconds’: The Iranian Dissident Set to be Deported to Rwanda

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2022 - 11:24pm in

Frankie Vetch interviews a man facing the harsh reality of Priti Patel’s renewed hostile environment

When Bahram (not his real name) refused to fire on the protestors, it changed his life forever.

Last year the Iranian policeman escaped his country. 27 days ago, he entered the UK. Then 10 days ago, he was told he would be deported to Rwanda.

All that now stands between him and deportation is a decision by the UK High Court.

“If I go to Rwanda, considering the relationship between Rwanda and Iran, I will definitely be hunted down,” he told Byline Times. “I’d much rather go to Iran and be taken to my execution immediately, than for it to be drawn out.”

Bahram is just one of 130 people selected to be deported to Rwanda next week. To the Home Secretary, he is an 'illegal migrant'. But for many lawyers and experts he is a legitimate asylum seeker.

This is not the first time that Bahram has faced deportation. He escaped persecution in Iran by going to Turkey. “Iranian officers are known as having free reign in Turkey,” Bahram said. “There have been many arrests and many kidnappings by Iranian intelligence officers.”

Concerns about the safety of Iranians in Turkey have been raised before. In 2020, 33 Iranians were deported back to Iran, where two were killed for their involvement in the same 2019 protests that led to Bahram’s prosecution.

Bahram was only saved by a lawyer who freed him from a deportation centre. After this, having spent around a year in hiding, he felt the pressure on his family would increase. He knew once again that he would have to flee. 

“I contacted my family and they gave money to a smuggler,” he said. “I put my life in the hands of the smuggler.”

Bahram was first taken to a house near the Turkish coast and hidden. The house was dirty and there were 20 people in one small room. They were given a sandwich or two a day. He felt like he was under house arrest.

The night he left, they were shuttled out in groups of four. He walked for half an hour to a small boat. He was then taken to a bigger boat. Around 67 people were crammed into a 10-metre-long ship – the equivalent of fitting six football teams into a boat less than half the length of a tennis court. He had been sold a lie.

“It was not safe at all,” Bahram told Byline Times. “The smuggler had told us that it was about 27 metres in length, and had shown us pictures and videos.”

In the early hours of the morning, they started their three-hour trip across the water. “There were many times we nearly drowned,” he said. “There was a Ukrainian captain on the ship, if it weren’t for him we would have 100% drowned.”

But this was not the last boat he would take or the most dangerous.

When they approached the shore, those who could swim were told to do so. Some women and children were taken on small boats.

On the beach, they were divided into groups again and put into lorries. There was no way to tell the time, but it took Bahram and his four other companions at least two to three days to get to their next destination. Tucked away in a lorry, to eat they had biscuits. For a loo, a plastic container. In this lorry, he travelled an unknown route.

His first night free from the lorry was spent in a forest. It was very cold. At 5am he was taken to a beach. He had arrived on the French coast and was now to make the final and most dangerous part of his journey – the English Channel crossing.

There were around 10 men armed with guns and knives. The boat was a small blow up raft. The five of his travelling companions were soon joined by a growing crowd. 

“There were some people who did not want to get on the boat but were threatened,” Bahram said. “Because of that I decided that I must get on the boat.”

This boat was worse than the one they had taken from Turkey. It was just a life raft, less than 10 metres in length, accommodating at least 40 people. “At that point, you know it is not in your own hands,” Bahram said. “A wave would come over and you would think you would die.”

When a French naval ship dwarfed their raft 10 to 15 minutes into their journey, it stayed there, watching over them. Bahram realised it was trying to protect them from drowning.

After about five hours, Bahram arrived at the British coast. His journey from Turkey had taken between 17 and 20 days. He had escaped two countries and travelled across the world by foot, boat and lorry.

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Welcome to the UK

As part of the UK’s new immigration policy, refugees entering the UK across the Channel or by other so-called ‘illegal routes’ can be deported to Rwanda. Once there, they can claim asylum, but there is no route back to the UK. Priti Patel hopes the plan will “overhaul the broken asylum system and break the evil people smugglers”.

But experts, human rights activists and lawyers doubt the legality of the plan.

Gillian Triggs, an assistant secretary-general at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has said it is a breach of international law. The UNHCR has also said that the majority of people crossing the Channel are refugees and not migrants.

Between January 2018 and June 2020, more than 50% of people detected crossing the Channel were from Iran. Three other Iranians are reportedly set to be deported alongside Bahram.

Arriving cold, with wet clothes and an empty stomach, Bahram felt very happy to have arrived in the UK. But, just 17 days after reaching safety in the country, he was sent a letter by the Home Office – his application for asylum had been refused. He is now to be sent 4,000 miles – almost two-and-a-half times the distance he travelled from Turkey – to Rwanda.

Lawyers have filed a judicial review for his case today, challenging the Government’s policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. It could take months for the case to be reviewed and would likely be combined with other applications for judicial review. Bahram could still be deported while the case is being reviewed.

His lawyers, who have only had five days to prepare, will also potentially file for an injunction on Monday. If this is the case, the court could halt his deportation while his case is being reviewed.

Hamid Sabi, a British human rights lawyer of Iranian origin, said it is “absurd” of the Government to argue it is illegal to arrive on a dinghy. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, if a person arrives in the UK and asks for asylum, they have entered the country legally.

Bahram’s ‘Crime’

In November 2019, protests erupted in Iran over the tripling of fuel prices. In response, the Iranian police and military cracked down on protestors using weapons. Amnesty International estimates that more than 300 people were killed.

The Aban Tribunal – an international people’s tribunal – was set up to assess the killings. Bahram was a witness, explaining how he was ordered to shoot protestors.

As a policeman with 60 people under his command, he told his forces that under no condition must they use firearms. Bahram said the protestors were cooperative, “very polite” and “totally peaceful”. But he said other policemen and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard started to shoot at people, killing some. 

“I saw snipers target anybody,” he said. “There was no rhyme or reason to it. Peaceful protestors were arbitrarily shot.”

After the protests, Bahram says he was arrested and taken to a detention centre where he spent 97 days in solitary confinement and was “subjected to the most serious types of psychological torture”. In one instance, he was handed a forged report, he says, that claimed his family had died in an accident and were in a morgue. He went on hunger strike and, after weeks, they allowed him to contact his family.

Bahram said he was given a mock trial in a military court, with no prosecutor or jury. It lasted 10 minutes and he was condemned to five years and 10 months in prison. He was accused of acting against national security and collaborating with demonstrators. When he was let out on bail, he fled to Turkey.

Shadi Sadr, a human rights lawyer and organiser of the Aban Tribunal, said that “Bahram’s refusal to fire and his decision to testify against the Iranian regime were acts of conscience" and that he was "punished for it once and is being punished again for trying to escape through the only way available to him”.

Sadr added that the UK Government’s Rwanda deal “is in violation of a number of human rights principles, including right to life" and is a "blatant breach of due process that bars basic rights given to refugees”.

Human Rights Watch has criticised Rwanda’s human rights record and poor treatment of refugees. Lewis Mudge, its central Africa director, has said that the “Government continues to embrace a policy of cruelty by sending refugees to a country with a track record for human rights abuses”.

Hamid Sabi, who acted as counsel to the Aban Tribunal, indicated that Bahram was a serious target for the Iranian state, having been a “very important witness” as one of few policemen to have criticised the Government. He also confirmed that members of his family have been arrested.

Nowhere Left to Escape

Bahram’s life is constantly in the hands of someone else. The Iranian state. The Turkish state. The smugglers. The UK Government. And now its judicial system. Not because he is a criminal but because, when he was in a position of power, he refused to follow orders by killing innocent civilians.

When Hamid Sabi escaped persecution in Iran after the 1979 Revolution, he did not need a visa to enter the UK. He questions whether, in modern Britain, he would be given sanctuary.

“The Iranian community in London are shocked,” he said, “nobody can understand where they found this solution to the problem.”

As Bahram counts down the days until he will be made to board a flight to an unfamiliar land – one in which he will once again be at the mercy of a foreign state – he is left in a prison-like detention centre.

“There are cells, they shut the doors at a certain point at night,” he said. “They let us out half an hour a day in the yard. It’s basically a prison.”

He has no safe way to contact his family directly and has to communicate through a friend. Bahram has not spoken to them for almost a month. Nor, he says, has he been allowed to see a specialist doctor to assess his heart condition. No medication had been provided until yesterday, when he was told he was to be given a malaria tablet.

“Right now, I am just counting the seconds," he told Byline Times. Trying to distract myself and tell myself that this is not going to happen... The only thing I can do these days is just hope.”

Bahram refused the malaria pill and told them he did not want to go to Rwanda; a small act of resistance from a man with nowhere left to escape.

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