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Trevor Kavanagh learns a hard lesson about human rights and due process

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“The overwhelming odds are that these guys were put inside for good reason — whatever sob stories their human rights lawyers are peddling on their behalf.” – Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun, 2007

“It is important that we do not jump to conclusions. Nobody has been charged with any offence, still less tried or convicted“, Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun, 2012

Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper has long been hostile to the idea that people suspected of wrongdoing should be treated as innocent until proven guilty, that no-one should be locked up for extended periods without a fair trial and due process, and that even if someone is tried and convicted of a criminal offence, they are still entitled to basic human rights.

When, in 2005, 47 Labour MPs joined opposition ranks to throw out the Blair government’s attempt to award itself the right to detain for 3 months, without charge or trial, anyone it claimed was a “terrorist”, the Sun’s political editor Trevor Kavanagh branded them “traitor MPs” who had “betrayed the British people”.

When, in 2007, Gordon Brown’s government requested the release of five UK residents who had been held for years without charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay, the Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh declared that “The overwhelming odds are that these guys were put inside for good reason — whatever sob stories their human rights lawyers are peddling on their behalf.”

“It’s just about possible the five… are totally innocent… But not very likely”, he suggested.

Yet despite these “overwhelming odds”, four of the five men – Binyam Mohamed, Omar Deghayes, Jamil El Banna and Sameur Abdenour – were subsequently freed after the US government failed to produce any evidence that could convict them of a crime. The fifth, Shaker Aamer, has still not been charged or tried, ten years after he was first detained.

Mohamed, Deghayes and El Banna were subsequently awarded millions of pounds in compensation after a court heard evidence (or as the Sun might describe it, a “sob story”) detailing the UK government’s complicity in their “rendition” and subsequent torture.

This weekend, another five men were arrested on suspicion of a criminal offence. Unlike Binyam Mohamed, Omar Deghayes, Jamil El Banna, Sameur Abdenour and Shaker Aamer, these five men were given prompt access to a lawyer, questioned, and then freed on bail.  Unlike Binyam Mohamed, they were not bundled into a plane, flown to Morocco and tortured with a scalpel, forced into stress positions or subjected to deliberate and prolonged sleep deprivation. They were not – as would have been the case for anyone accused of terrorist offences under the 2005 Bill championed by Trevor Kavanagh and the Sun – held without charge for 90 days while the Police scraped around for evidence.

Has British Justice Gone Soft? Given Trevor Kavanagh’s previous comments on human rights and due process, we might have expected him to be outraged that these five criminal suspects have been treated so leniently. But here he is discussing the case in today’s Sun:

“It is important that we do not jump to conclusions. Nobody has been charged with any offence, still less tried or convicted.”

Here he is on Radio 5: “the evidence that’s been suggested to those who have been arrested so far, is pretty flimsy stuff… people are wondering what on earth is happening… I feel very sorry for them and I know it’s causing them and their families a great deal of anguish”.

What could possibly explain this change in tone? Perhaps the fact that *these* five criminal suspects were Sun journalists, suspected of making corrupt payments to police and other public officials.

The problem with attacking basic democratic principles like human rights and due process is that you never know when you – or someone you care about – might be in need of them. Trevor Kavanagh’s Damascine conversion to the cause is surely to be welcomed. His friends at the Sun do, of course, have a right to a fair trial and to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. It will be interesting to see if they will now extend that same courtesy to the rest of us.

See also: Thaksin Shinawatra: “They don’t care about the rule of law, facts or internationally recognised due process!”

Written by Richard Wilson

February 14, 2012 at 12:41 am

Amnesty Urgent Action – Burundi: Free activist who spoke out

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From Amnesty International

URGENT ACTION

FREE ACTIVIST WHO SPOKE OUT

Anti-corruption activist Faustin Ndikumana was arrested on 7 February and charged with making “false declarations”. He had alleged that some magistrates had got their posts by bribing officials in the Ministry of Justice.

Faustin Ndikumana is President of Words and Action for the Awakening of Conscience and the Evolution of Mindsets (PARCEM). He wrote to the Minister of Justice asking him to investigate and halt corruption in the recruitment of judges. He held a press conference and gave radio interviews on 3 February denouncing alleged corruption within the Ministry.

He was arrested on 7 February, questioned by a magistrate at the Anti-Corruption Court and charged with making “false declarations” under Article 14 of the Anti-Corruption Law. He could face five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 1,000,000 Burundian francs (US$ 775). It appears that he was arrested on the basis of a judicial complaint filed by the Minister of Justice. Societies and associations can also be prosecuted under the law and fined up to 10,000,000 Burundian francs (US$7,750).

Faustin Ndikumana is detained in Mpimba Central Prison, in the capital Bujumbura, and held in overcrowded and insanitary conditions. He is detained in violation of Burundian law. Under Article 71 of the criminal code, pre-trial detention must only be used where it is necessary to preserve evidence, protect public order, protect the suspect, prevent the crime from continuing or to ensure that the suspect appears in court.

Amnesty International considers Faustin Ndikumana a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. His detention may have a chilling effect on other civil society activists and journalists in Burundi. It could increase self-censorship, as they seek to protect themselves from arbitrary arrest.

Please write immediately in French, English or your own language:
–    expressing concern that Faustin Ndikumana has been detained on defamation charges for denouncing reports of corruption within the Ministry of Justice;
–    urging the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;
–   reminding the authorities that, as a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Burundi is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 22 MARCH 2012 TO:

President
His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza
Président de la République du Burundi
Bureau du Président
Boulevard de l’Uprona
Rohero I, BP 1870
Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Votre Excellence / Your Excellency

First Vice-President
His Excellency Thérence Sinunguruza
Bureau du Président
Boulevard de l’Uprona
Rohero I, BP 1870
Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Votre Excellence / Your Excellency

And copies to:
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Monsieur Laurent Kavakure
Ministère des Relations Extérieurs et de la Coopération Internationale
Bdg Grand Bureau, Bvd de la Liberté
BP 1840, Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 22 39 70
Salutation : Monsieur le Ministre / Dear Minister
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Burundi has a vibrant civil society which continues to speak out despite government attempts to silence it. The authorities have used harassment by judicial authorities, arbitrary arrests, prolonged pre-trial detention, and procedural violations of Burundian law to unduly restrict freedom of speech.

Burundi is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which protect freedom of expression. It is well established under international law that public officials must tolerate more, rather than less, criticism than private individuals.

Defamation or false declaration charges are regularly brought against civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists. They often result in prolonged pre-trial detention seemingly in attempts to silence government critics. Juvenal Rududura, vice-president of the trade union of non-judicial staff of the Ministry of Justice, was detained on charges of making false statements in September 2008. He had also alleged corruption in recruitment at the Ministry of Justice. He was detained for 10 months without trial, and the charges against him were never formally dropped.

The independence of the judiciary in Burundi is regularly compromised through political interference. The United Nations Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Burundi, Fatsah Ouguergouz, cited problems with judicial independence as a key weakness of Burundi’s justice system in his May 2011 report.

Name: Faustin Ndikumana
Gender m/f: m

UA: 44/12 Index: AFR 16/001/2012 Issue Date: 9 February 2012

Written by Richard Wilson

February 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Is Murdoch’s Man-in-Downing-Street above the law?

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From The Guardian

The government tonight came under pressure to set up a judicial inquiry into the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World after the paper confirmed that it has suspended a journalist while it investigates new allegations of the unlawful interception of voicemail.

The prime minister’s media adviser, Andy Coulson, has denied a report in the New York Times which claimed he freely discussed the use of unlawful news-gathering techniques when he was editing the paper and “actively encouraged” a named reporter to engage in illegal interception of voicemail messages. Coulson has always denied knowing of any illegal activity by his journalists.

Scotland Yard, too, found itself in the firing line after the New York Times quoted unnamed detectives alleging they had cut short their investigation because of their close relationship with the News of the World. A group of four public figures, including former deputy prime minister John Prescott, is poised to sue police over a failure to warn them they had been targeted by the private investigator at the centre of the scandal, Glenn Mulcaire.

The Guardian has learned that the Metropolitan police commissioner at the time of the original investigation, Sir Ian Blair, was among those whose names were found in material seized from Mulcaire, raising questions about whether officers who were directly involved in the investigation had discovered that they, too, had been targets of the newspaper. It is understood Blair was assured at the time that his phone had not been hacked.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 3, 2010 at 6:35 am

UK Foreign Office “covering up its mistakes and denying access to critical documents” over Iraq

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The picture of institutionalised mendacity presented by Carne Ross in today’s Observer is shocking – yet consistent both with my own personal experiences of the Foreign Office over the years – and the wealth of information that has emerged from other sources.

The unelected senior ranks of the civil service have more political power in their own right than is usually acknowledged. They now seem to be making the most of this in their attempt to evade accountability for their involvement in the systematic deception of the UK public (and Parliament) in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

From Carne Ross, writing in The Observer:

I testified last week to the Chilcot inquiry. My experience demonstrates an emerging and dangerous problem with the process. This is not so much a problem with Sir John Chilcot and his panel, but rather with the government bureaucracy – Britain’s own “deep state” – that is covering up its mistakes and denying access to critical documents.

There is only one solution to this problem, and it requires decisive action.

After I was invited to testify, I was contacted by the Foreign Office, from which I had resigned after giving testimony to the Butler inquiry in 2004, to offer its support for my appearance. I asked for access to all the documents I had worked on as Britain’s Iraq “expert” at the UN Security Council, including intelligence assessments, records of discussions with the US, and the long paper trail on the WMD dossier.

Large files were sent to me to peruse at the UK mission to the UN. However, long hours spent reviewing the files revealed that most of the key documents I had asked for were not there.

In my testimony I had planned to detail how the UK government failed to consider, let alone implement, available alternatives to military action. To support this I had asked for specific records relating to the UK’s failure to deal with the so-called Syrian pipeline, through which Iraq illegally exported oil, thereby sustaining the Saddam regime. I was told that specific documents, such as the records of prime minister Tony Blair’s visit to Syria, could not be found. This is simply not plausible.

I had also asked for all the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments on Iraq, some of which I helped prepare. Of dozens of these documents, only three were provided to me – 40 minutes before I was due to appear before the Chilcot panel.

Playing by the rules, I had submitted my written testimony to Chilcot before my appearance. In the hours before my appearance, invited to visit the Foreign Office to see further documents (mostly irrelevant), an official repeatedly sought to persuade me to delete references to certain documents in my testimony.

He told me that the Cabinet Office wanted the removal of a critical reference in my evidence to a memo from a senior Foreign Office official to the foreign secretary’s special adviser, in which the official pointed out, with mandarin understatement, that the paper sent that week to the Parliamentary Labour Party dramatically – and inaccurately – altered the UK’s assessment of Iraq’s nuclear threat.

In a clear example of the exaggeration of Iraq’s military capabilities, that paper claimed that if Iraq’s programmes remained unchecked, it could develop a nuclear device within five years.

The official’s memo pointed out that this was not, in fact, the UK assessment: the UK believed that Iraq’s nuclear programme had been checked by sanctions.

The paper to the PLP was instead sent by the foreign secretary to “brief” the wider cabinet. This paper was pure overstated propaganda, filled with ludicrous statements like “one teaspoon of anthrax can kill a million people”. The paper was soon made public, as part of the campaign to create public hysteria.

The official’s memo about the PLP paper contained nothing secret. It relates to a public document, the PLP paper. Yet, of all the references in my testimony, this was the one that the Cabinet Office most wanted removed. I refused. Strikingly, this memo has never been mentioned to the inquiry, including by its author, who testified earlier this year. Neither has the author of the PLP paper been questioned, or the paper itself discussed.

I was repeatedly warned by inquiry staff not to mention any classified material during my testimony. The only problem is that almost every document I ever wrote or read in my work was classified. It was made clear to me, and to journalists attending the hearing, that if I mentioned specific documents the broadcast of my testimony would be cut off. Other forms of retribution (Official Secrets Act prosecution?) hung in the air. It was a form of subtle intimidation.

Meanwhile, my requests to see documents about the infamous Number 10 WMD dossier were ignored, including requests for letters I had written.

This experience and the inquiry’s record so far is cause for concern. It is clear from testimonies so far that most witnesses, most of whom went along with the war at the time, are offering a very one-sided account to the panel. A story is being peddled that sanctions on Iraq were collapsing and the allied policy of containment was failing. Thus, the military alternative to deal with the Iraqi threat was more or less unavoidable.

Though there is some truth to this argument, it was not what the Foreign Office, or the government as a whole, believed at the time. The true story is there to be seen in the documents. In memos, submissions to ministers and telegrams, the official view is very clear: while there was concern at the erosion of sanctions, containment had prevented Iraq from rearmament.

When invasion was promoted by Washington, the available alternative – to squeeze Saddam financially by stopping oil exports or seizing the regime’s assets, which I and some colleagues had repeatedlyadvocated, was ignored. Here the documents tell a different but equally clear and appalling story: there is not a single mention of any formal discussion, by ministers or officials, of alternatives to military action. It is hard to pinpoint a graver indictment of the government’s failure.

The oral testimonies delivered to the inquiry have not given an accurate picture of what the government really thought. Unfortunately, the panel is neither equipped, nor apparently inclined, to challenge witnesses on the contradictions of their testimonies with this documentary record. This may not be the panel’s fault: how can they know which pertinent documents exist?

In these circumstances, it is very worrying that the government machine is still trying to withhold key documents, and silence those of us with detailed knowledge of the policy history – and documents. I have been told too, from secondary sources, that members of the panel have been refused documents they have specifically requested.

There is a clear solution to these problems: break down the continued obstruction by the bureaucracy by releasing the documents – all of them. Only the most secret documents deserve continued protection, and there are very few of these. The vast majority of relevant documents relate to policy discussion inside the government before the war. Though profoundly embarrassing, there is little here that damages national security, except in the hysterical assessment of officials protecting their own reputation. Nick Clegg said a few weeks ago that almost all documents must now be released. He is right.

Carne Ross was the UK’s Iraq expert at the UN from 1997 to 2002. He now heads Independent Diplomat, a non-profit diplomatic advisory group

Written by Richard Wilson

July 25, 2010 at 3:46 pm

“Down with the Murdoch Empire!” – The people versus NewsCorp

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[applause]

Written by Richard Wilson

May 9, 2010 at 7:24 pm

The Don’t Get Fooled Again transparency challenge…

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Following on from the bizarre refusal by the Parliamentary authorities to reveal even the number of MPs currently under investigation for corruption, and prompted by Paul Bradshaw of www.helpmeinvestigate.com, I just sent the following message to the Labour Party. I’ve also sent similar messages to both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I’m a writer and blogger reporting on the election. I’m writing to ask if any Labour MPs who are standing for re-election on May 6th are currently being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and if so whether [you] will release their names?

I will also be putting this question to the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, with responses published in full on my website here: https://richardwilsonauthor.wordpress.com

Many thanks in advance for your help on this.

Best regards,

Richard Wilson

Written by Richard Wilson

April 15, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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Three weeks before a General Election, Parliament refuses to disclose details of which MPs are being probed by standards watchdog

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Less than a month before a General Election, you are not entitled to know whether the MP seeking your vote on May 6th is currently under investigation for corruption.

On March 25th I made a Freedom Of Information Act request to the Parliamentary standards watchdog, asking:

a) How many MPs are currently under investigation for suspected breaches of the rules (this could be anything from failing to disclose a second job to taking cash from lobbyists)

b) The names of any MPs currently under investigation.

It seemed to me that in the run-up to the General Election, it was important that the public should be aware which of the MPs currently seeking their votes are at the same time being investigated for dodgy dealings.

Given the well-publicised complicity of the House of Commons authorities in the abuse of Parliamentary expenses by MPs – and their role in the subsequent cover-up – along with the cagey and defensive attitude of the person I spoke to when I phoned the Parliamentary Standards Office a few weeks ago, I was expecting a fair bit of obstruction and evasion. They haven’t let me down.

Today I got an email from Bob Castle, who carries the impressive job title of “Head of Information Rights and Security” at the House of Commons.

According to Mr Castle,

The number of inquiries under way as at 31 March 2010 is information that will be included in the Commissioner’s Annual Report for 2009-10, which is expected to be published in the early summer. It is therefore exempt from publication under s22  of the Freedom of Information Act (information intended for future publication).

Conveniently for those MPs under investigation (and for all we know this could be all 646 of them), “early summer” in this context almost certainly means after the General Election on May 6th.  Last year’s annual report on MP abuses was published on 29th June 2009, the previous one on 17th July 2008, and the one before that on 25th October 2007.

Bob Castle goes on to say that:

While there is a public interest in providing access to information such as that covered by your request, this interest is being met by regular publications of information about number of complaints received.

This means, as far as I can tell, that in the opinion of the Commons bureaucrats, a 4o-page report published just once a year tells us, the public, all we deserve to know about the investigations being carried out by the body whose job it is to stamp our corruption by our elected representatives.

It would surely not cost the Parliamentary authorities very much simply to disclose the number of MPs currently under investigation. As a commenter on this article helpfully points out, releasing that information would almost certainly have taken less time than typing out their lengthy excuse for not doing so.

We are also not allowed to know the names of any of the MPs under investigation, as this would apparently infringe the “priveleges of Parliament”.

What this is really about is an attitude. Despite being paid out of the taxes we earn, Bob Castle certainly does not seem to be behaving like someone who believes he is actually accountable to the British public. More than any of the details in this particular case, it’s that attitude that seems most worrying, because it seems to show that the same mindset that allowed the expenses to scandal to happen is very much alive and well in Westminster.

While many of our most corrupt and tainted MPs are stepping down at the next election, and while many others will be fired on May 6th when the voters have their say, Bob Castle and his unelected colleagues will all still be there on May 7th, doing, presumably, what they’ve always done.

As it turns out, Castle played a starring role in the expenses cover-up:

…the preliminary decision in favour of detailed [expenses] disclosure was made by [information commissioner] Mr Thomas.

Signed by Graham Smith, the deputy information commissioner, and dated October 2, 2006, it stated:

“The Commissioner requires that the House of Commons shall provide the complainant with the requested information with the following redactions made. “

The redactions included identification of any third parties e.g. traders; personal and third party addresses; and details of bank accounts and mortgages.

A leaked email from Bob Castle, a data protection and FOI officer at the Commons, sent to Nicole Duncan at the commissioner’s office, protested that the wording of the decision was “inaccurate and unfair”.

Further leaked emails show Ms Duncan continually tried to extract information about the expenses claims of the named MPs.

However, in November 2006, Ms Duncan emailed Mr Castle to “confirm that for the purposes of the [final] Decision Notice in this case we will not be reproducing the exact details of what information the House holds in relation to each of the MPs.”

A reply from Mr Castle at the Commons stated that “the House considered that it would be a breach of the fairness provisions of the first data protection principle to provide any personal data relating to an individual MP’s claims including information as to whether part of their allowances claim is in respect of mortgage or rental payments”.

He added that “until the case is finally determined” the Commons believed it was “released from its obligations” under key sections of the FOI Act.

I’ve appealed this latest FOI refusal, but conveniently, again, for the MPs under investigation, given the timescales involved for FOI appeals, it’s inconceivable that any kind of ruling would be made this side of the General Election.

My personal view is that clearing out the corrupt MPs will not be enough (although it is a very good start). We need a wholesale clear-out of the officials who, for so long, have been doing such a lamentable job of protecting the integrity of our Parliamentary system.

The exact questions I asked were:

I would like to know:

1) The number of MPs currently under investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

2) The names of any MPs currently under investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

And here are the exemptions cited in full by Bob Castle:

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is inquiring into these matters under the procedures set out in Standing Order No 150. The number of inquiries under way as at 31 March 2010 is information that will be included in the Commissioner’s Annual Report for 2009-10, which is expected to be published in the early summer. It is therefore exempt from publication under s22  of the Freedom of Information Act (information intended for future publication). While there is a public interest in providing access to information such as that covered by your request, this interest is being met by regular publications of information about number of complaints received. Therefore, the balance of the public interest rests with maintaining the exemption while this information is being prepared and finalised for routine publication.

The procedure approved by the Committee under SO No 150 does not currently provide for the disclosure of the remaining information requested (a list of the names of MPs under inquiry).  As this procedure has been approved by the Committee in accordance with the Standing Order, the exemption under s34 is necessary to avoid infringing the privileges of Parliament, which include the rights of each Committee to interpret its own orders of reference. I must therefore refuse your request.

Written by Richard Wilson

April 9, 2010 at 11:17 am

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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