Daily archives: March 24, 2007

Elimination of Uzbek Human Rights Movement

From Amnesty US, an upsetting summary of the Uzbek government’s campaign to wipe out the last remnants of pro-democratic opposition in Uzbekistan. I know the majority of the people named in this report personally. This comes as the German presidency seeks to move the EU towards closer relations with the Karimov regime.



Government crackdown on human rights defenders

Secret trials and torture in the ‘information war’

The ruthless campaign by the government of Uzbekistan to silence human rights activists and journalists shows no sign of abating. The imprisonment, ill-treatment and harassment of individual human rights defenders has accelerated as protests over the killings of hundreds of unarmed men, women and children in Andizhan on 13 May 2005 refuse to go away.

President Islam Karimov conceded publicly in October 2006 that failures by local authorities might have contributed to unrest in the eastern town of Andizhan. Yet his government is still rejecting any independent international investigation of reports that the security forces fired indiscriminately at largely peaceful demonstrators. Instead, hundreds of protesters were detained and scores of people have reportedly been sentenced to up to 22 years in prison, including several prominent human rights defenders. Most of the trials were closed or secret.

International organizations have been forced to close their operations in Uzbekistan, including the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in March 2006. The government has continued to renege on its promise to allow access to prisons by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Some of the harshest punishments have been inflicted on Uzbekistan’s own human rights defenders. Amnesty International is calling on the government of Uzbekistan to stop the persecution of human rights activists and journalists, and for effective action by the international community in support of those who courageously stand up for human rights.

Prisoners of conscience

Some human rights defenders have been prosecuted on charges that were reportedly fabricated, and sentenced to long prison terms after grossly unfair trials that denied basic rights of defence and failed to meet international legal standards.

See details of individual cases…

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Bob Woolmer and The Law of the Sea

Life sometimes throws up connections which take us aback. Yesterday I was blogging about Bob Woolmer, and about the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as it covers the current spat in the Gulf over the Iranian detention of British marines.

I spent three successive Februaries of my life – three months in all – representing the UK at the annual UN Conference on the Law of the Sea, which was aiming to break a twenty year deadlock and get the Convention into force. This was viewed, rightly, as a major British priority, with both navigation and continental shelf provisions being essential national interests. A major aim was to prevent just the kind of gratuitous interference in shipping in which we have ourselves been indulging lately in the Persian Gulf. It doesn’t take too much thought to understand why it is in the UK interest that shipping should not be subject in general to armed interference.

Where was that conference every February? Jamaica. Where did I live all those months? The Pegasus hotel, in which Bob Woolmer has now been murdered. I know it intimately. So do generations of cricketers. The conference always coincided with the Kingston test, and the teams usually used the Pegasus. I once had the honour of being knocked flat in the lift by a boisterous Merv Hughes mock fighting with Alan Border. I also got to speak with Clive Lloyd over breakfast. I will never forget the impression he gave of incredible latent power, not just physical, like nobody else I ever met.

The Convention on the Law of the Sea had been stalled for decades, unable to enter into force because of a dispute between the developed and developing worlds over the ownership of minerals on the deep seabed, beyond continental shelves. In particular, the dispute was driven by over-optimistic estimates of the future value of Manganese nodules found around deep volcanic vents. The Convention proposed that companies exploiting the deep seabed should pay a levy to an international authority, which would apply it to international developmental purposes. The developing countries, represented by the G77, were for huge levies and great regulation. The US were totally against the whole principle. The Europeans were prepared to go along if levies were small and regulation light.

The negotiation had become completely hidebound as each group entrenched its position over twenty years of these meetings in Jamaica. I was able to play a key role in breaking down these barriers, simply by not accepting the position as hopeless and by reaching out to the G77. The fall of the iron curtain removed the hardline Soviet position behind the G77, and the coming of Clinton to replace Bush was going to make the US more flexible. At the key moment, the UK had the chairmanship of WEOG, the Western negotiating group, and I happened to be leading the UK delegation for ten days prior to the arrival of our very senior and greatly respected international legal expert.

I had gained the trust of the G77 group by the simple expedient of drinking with them over weeks and treating them as colleagues not opponents. The fact I was an Africanist helped. The key drafting of what became the Protocol amending the Convention was put down on paper by UN Deputy Secretary General Satya Nandan, G77 chair Dolliver Nelson and WEOG chair me, late one balmy Jamaican evening as we sat with our legs dangling in the Hotel Pegasus swimming pool, rum punches in hand. And that wording stuck through the next eighteen months of negotiation that resulted in the Convention entering into force.

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Things Fall Apart

I went today to speak to a national conference of the Society of Friends, or Quakers. I was delighted to be invited because I have always had a huge amount of respect for them and the good work they do. When the followers of George Bush or Osama Bin Laden make me despair of religion, I think of the Quakers as an antidote.

I was talking at 11.15, so I got up in Shepherds Bush at 6.45 to get there by train. The journey was complicated by weekend engineering works, but I made it to Swanwick at 11am. Alarm bells started to ring when the taxi driver had not heard of the Hayes conference centre. Nor had the guard at the Marina, the girl in the pub, or the man in the Post Office. It turned out I was at Swanwick in Hampshire, and the conference was at Swanwick in Derbyshire, several hundred miles away.

The Hampshire Swanwick has a railway station. Swanwick in Derbyshire doesn’t, so when I bought a ticket nobody asked me which one I wanted. But when I looked through my agenda it did in fact say Swanwick, Derbyshire. So it was entirely my fault.

I had clerical and other assistance from day 1 of my working life, and subsequently PAs and drivers, and servants at home. I was always very aware just how reliant I was on this assistance. I think this comes over in my book. I may be bright, but I am not at all practical. Get me to a meeting and I will have complete command of the brief and the meeting, but without help I will never get there. In many ways I am the archetypal absent-minded bumbler, brain always on a knotty question while I lose my spectacles. I have lost four mobile phones this year. I really feel quite depressed about it; now I face the every day problems of self management that everyone has to deal with, I simply cannot cope. Despite trying very hard indeed.

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The Timing of Accusations?

On the morning of the same day when the British marine forces were detained, British sources were busy briefing on Iranian involvement in attacks in Southern Iraq. Obviously, just a coincidence.

It is about one year since the last, failed, attempt by the UK to implicate Iran in attacks on their forces in Iraq.

The Independent 5th Jan 2006: “MPs and soldiers’ families have demanded an explanation from the Government after a U-turn over claims that Iran was complicit in the killing of British soldiers in southern Iraq. Britain has dropped the charge of Iranian involvement after senior officials had repeatedly accused the Tehran regime of supplying sophisticated explosive devices to insurgents. Government officials now acknowledge that there is no evidence, or even reliable intelligence, connecting the Iranian government to the infra-red triggered bombs which have killed 10 British soldiers in the past eight months.”

Shaped charges formed the core of the allegations last year – this time they are only claiming reports from local sources and clearly state they have no proof. As again, it is perhaps the timing of the accusations that is of most interest.

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