Archives for posts with tag: Amnesty International

96 Amnesty International

This Essay by John Greenwell, originally prepared in 1970, was intended as background to the problem of civil disobedience which then confronted Amnesty International.

Amnesty International’s mandate was “to work for the release of and provision of assistance to persons who in violation of the provisions of (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) are imprisoned, detained or otherwise physically restricted by reason of their political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs or by reason of their ethnic origin, sex, colour, or language, provided that they have not used or advocated violence”.  During the 1960s as a result of the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the struggles against colonialism and apartheid, many people refused to obey laws and claimed the right to break them on the ground they conscientiously believed them to be wrong.

Amnesty International was born in the cold war and its work had at the outset focussed upon the prisoner of conscience who was being physically restricted for his or her conscientiously held ‘beliefs’.  Questions arose at the time this essay was written whether and to what extent the organisation should work to sustain those imprisoned for conscientious civil disobedience.

It’s excellent and well worth a read:

81 china-liuxia


China must release jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo along with others imprisoned for dissent, Amnesty International said today – one year after the Chinese activist won the award.

Liu Xiaobo has remained in prison since he was awarded the prize in absentia on 10 December 2010, while his wife Liu Xia has been under illegal house arrest.

Meanwhile, other government critics, such as veteran democracy activist Liu Xianbin, have also received long jail terms for speaking out on the same spurious charge of “inciting subversion of state power”.

“The plight of Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia is symptomatic of the Chinese government’s increasing zeal for stamping out dissent by any means necessary,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.

“The increasingly powerful police and security forces act with impunity as they hold individuals beyond legal supervision, often torturing and ill-treating them,” she said.

In August, the Chinese government proposed revisions to the criminal procedure law which would extend police powers to detain people in secret incommunicado detention.

Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power” following an unfair trial.

Hi wife Liu Xia, an artist and poet, has been living in enforced isolation at her Beijing home since October 2010 with all forms of communication, including phone and internet, cut off.

Activist Liu Xianbin was sentenced in March to 10 years in prison for his democracy activism, support of the Charter 08 petition movement and his writings on political reform. It is the third time he has been jailed. “With government authorities showing signs of increasing anxiety and insecurity in the lead up to important leadership changes, individuals are at risk of being accused of  ‘inciting subversion of state power’ for merely advocating for democracy, or calling for respect for human rights,” said Catherine Baber.

“Chinese citizens are living in a straitjacket as the authorities imprison and ‘forcibly disappear’ those who speak out for political reform, democracy and human rights, critique corrupt officials or believing in the ‘wrong’ religion,” she said.

Liu Xianbin has published articles on human rights and democracy and worked to increase public awareness of other persecuted activists.

He supported Charter 08, a proposal for fundamental legal and political reform in China, which was co-authored by Liu Xiaobo.

Liu Xiaobo was convicted for his writings on human rights and democracy as well as devising Charter 08, soliciting signatures to it and publishing it online.

Liu Xia was last heard from in February 2011 when she briefly managed to be in touch with a friend. In March 2011, the Chinese authorities told the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which is investigating her case, that “no legal enforcement measure” had been taken against her.

According to unofficial reports, Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo have been allowed to meet twice since January this year.


‘It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning’s trial was about sending a message: the US government will come after you’ – Widney Brown

Despite an acquittal on the most serious “aiding the enemy” charge against him, today’s verdict against the US Private Bradley Manning reveals the US government’s misplaced priorities on national security, said Amnesty International this evening.

Amnesty International’s Senior Director of International Law and Policy Widney Brown said:

“The government’s priorities are upside down. The US government has refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law despite overwhelming evidence.

“Yet they decided to prosecute Manning who it seems was trying to do the right thing – reveal credible evidence of unlawful behaviour by the government. You investigate and prosecute those who destroy the credibility of the government by engaging in acts such as torture which are prohibited under the US Constitution and in international law.

“The government’s pursuit of the ‘aiding the enemy’ charge was a serious overreach of the law, not least because there was no credible evidence of Manning’s intent to harm the USA by releasing classified information to WikiLeaks.

“Since the attacks of September 11, we have seen the US government use the issue of national security to defend a whole range of actions that are unlawful under international and domestic law.

“It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning’s trial was about sending a message: the US government will come after you, no holds barred, if you’re thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behaviour.”

The court martial today found Manning guilty of a range of additional charges, including ten lesser charges relating to misuse of classified information to which he had already pleaded guilty. Amnesty insisted that any sentence imposed for the other charges must take into account information relating to Manning’s reasonable belief that he was exposing serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Amnesty believes it undermines accountability when the US government is so selective about who it chooses to investigate and prosecute. This is particularly true when they seem intent on punishing those who reveal unlawful government behaviour and protecting those who actually engaged in or ordered such behaviour.

The hundreds of thousands of documents Manning released to WikiLeaks included videos and dossiers that pointed to potential human rights violations – including breaches of international humanitarian law – by US troops abroad and the CIA closer to home.

Earlier this month Amnesty described the judge’s decision not to drop the charge accusing Manning of “aiding the enemy” as ludicrous and as a decision which “makes a mockery of the US military court system”.

Video at the antiwar demonstration to commemorate 10 years of the war in Afghanistan – Trafalgar Square, London – 08/10/11

We all have a choice, 25 March 2003

When Bush and Blair begin their illegal and immoral attack on a country that offers us no threat, we all have a choice.

We can wring our hands and say there is nothing we can do in the face of such powerful piracy – or we can reclaim the democracy that has been so corrupted by an elected dictatorship (in Bush’s case, unelected).

There is only one responsible way to achieve the second goal. The polite term is civil disobedience. The street term is rebellion.

In 1946, Justice Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leadership, said that the “very essence” of international justice “is that individuals have international duties which transcend national obligations of obedience imposed by the state”.

The British government is about to commit a great criminal act. That is not rhetoric – it is true. Every tenet of international law makes that clear, not least the United Nations Charter itself. Indeed, the judges at Nuremberg were quite clear about what they considered the gravest of all war crimes: that of an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign territory.

In the face of this impending crime, the “international duty which transcend national obligations of obedience” now belongs to you, the millions of people who have understood the nature of the crime. Now, you have both the right and the duty to act.

Rebellion against a government committing a crime in your name is now of vital importance. Silence and inaction will only embolden Blair, this man who has taken this country to war unnecessarily five times in his six years in office. Remember his remark that North Korea, a nuclear power, is “next”.

On the day of the attack on Iraq, leave what you are doing if you can. Leave your home, work, college, school. Join a demonstration. If you are unsure where to go, contact the Stop the War Coalition on 07951 235915. Their website is
Or get in touch with Globalise Resistance, which is organising mass walkouts and street blockades in the cities. Phone them on 020 7053 2071. Their website is
Amnesty International is another source: 020 7814 6200.
Their website is
There will be non-violent protests by Reclaim the Bases, which is organising gate blockades and peace vigils at military bases. Contact 07887 585721. Their website is
Be encouraged that the revolt is already under way. In January, Scottish train drivers refused to move munitions. In Italy, people have been blocking dozens of trains carrying American military personnel and weapons, and dockers have refused to load arms shipments. US military bases have been blockaded in Germany, and thousands at Shannon in Ireland have made it difficult for the US military to refuel its planes on their way to Iraq.

Propaganda is a weapon almost as lethal as any bomb. For months, “weapons of mass destruction” has been a phoney news issue. As former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter has said constantly, Iraq is “90-95 per cent” disarmed. The current head of the weapons inspection team, Hans Blix, has all but called Blair and Bush knaves and liars. When asked what secret arsenals there were in Iraq, one of his inspectors said: “Zilch”.

And yet we have been forced to participate in this charade: to debate and analyse its specious agenda. BBC current affairs programmes, on radio and television, have consistently promoted the government’s warmongering as legitimate by channelling and echoing its ever-changing deceptions.

A memorandum leaked last week, written by Richard Sambrook, a senior BBC executive, warns programme makers against broadcasting too much dissent and “attracting some of the more extreme anti-war views (even though) there is no question there is a majority public view which is against unilateral US action.”

That he regards principled objection to the killing of innocent people as “extreme” while saying nothing about the murderous willingness of Blair and his apologists reflects the distortion of intellect and morality that pervades so much of BBC current affairs.

When a maverick BBC documentary dared to investigate Israel’s weapons of mass destruction and the use of gas by the Israelis, thus showing the hypocrisy of Bush and Blair, it was dropped from a prime slot on BBC2 at the last moment and put out at 11.20 pm – when most people were asleep.
In the United States, where a recent survey found that 75 per cent of current affairs interviews were with either current or former government or military officials, censorship is more entrenched. However, when the attack begins, watch how politicians and former military brass and assorted “experts” fill the small screen in this country.

Propaganda may well have made the difference between war and peace, and life and death for untold numbers of Iraqi men, women and children. Had the great broadcasting institutions and the great newspapers, on both sides of the Atlantic, not channelled and echoed the lies and the false agendas, but relentlessly exposed them, the Bush gang, I believe, would not have been able to go ahead with this outrage. Neither would Blair.

For this reason, journalists and broadcasters now have a special duty to rebel. Wherever they are, they should follow their conscience, not the demands of a propaganda machine, however subtle and seductive, and materially rewarding.

They might compare their comfortable lives with those of journalists in dangerous countries, like Turkey, an American satellite, which, like Britain, has a population overwhelmingly hostile to an attack on its neighbour, Iraq.

Many Turkish journalists have done their job fearlessly and exposed the mendacious nature of what George Orwell called “official truth”. Some have gone to prison and others have been murdered by the state; but their courageous actions have provided millions of their compatriots with the truth.

Unlike in Britain, for example, a great many Turks are aware of the deaths and suffering of Iraqis caused by the American and British led embargo.

Winston Churchill, when he was colonial secretary, said: “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” Nothing has changed. That was 80 years ago. He was referring to Kurds and Iraqis.

When the Bush/Blair attack begins, the insidious equivalent of Churchill’s poison gas will be used by the Americans and almost certainly by the British.

This is depleted uranium, a sinister component of tank shells and airborne missiles. In truth, it is a form of nuclear warfare, and all the evidence suggests that its use in the Gulf War in 1991 has caused an epidemic of cancer in southern Iraq: what the doctors there call “the Hiroshima effect”, especially among children.

America and Britain have denied Iraq equipment with which to clean up its contaminated battlefields, and towns and villages, which are about to be poisoned all over again, just as they have denied cancer treatment equipment and drugs, just as this week they caused the United Nations to dismantle an efficient Iraqi food distribution system.

As the dissident reporter Robert Fisk asked recently: Who will have the courage to describe the effects of depleted uranium, a true weapon of mass destruction, a crime against humanity, as part of the “liberation” that will be the headlined propaganda?

By refusing to echo state lies, and by recognising and rebelling against censorship by omission, no British journalist risks jail, or worse, as in Turkey.

Instead, they begin to restore honour to their craft and, along with millions of their readers, listeners and viewers, the very best of people, reclaim democracy from its powerful thieves.