This week’s round-up is brought to you by Charlotte Bellamy
Instead of reparations and an apology for Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, David Cameron is to bestow Jamaica with £25m (or 40%) towards the cost of a new prison – an offer which is “an insult to the people of Jamaica”, according to Jamaican MP Mike Henry, who had led the effort to force a vote on reparations which took place in the Jamaican Parliament in January and passed unanimously. The motion stated that Jamaica would be entitled to receive reparations equivalent to what former slave owners received after abolition.
Prior to Cameron’s visit, Sir Henry Beckles, the chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, called on the PM to acknowledge his responsibility for his share of the situation and to contribute to a “joint programme of rehabilitation and renewal”. He described the PM as “a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors”. The Cameron family was said to have reaped “bonanza benefits”. During his visit, however, Cameron announced that financial reparations “were not the right approach”.
Is a UK-subsidised prison the right approach? BBC political correspondent Carole Walker suggested that some eyebrows may be raised by such an allocation of the Foreign Aid budget. Frances Crook, the CEO of the Howard League, has raised not just her eyebrows, but also concerns that building a prison in Jamaica is “not the answer to the UK’s prison problems”, not least because it is “wrong to spend British aid on building a prison” when “refugees in camps are facing winter and the budget is stretched”. In addition, the Jamaican prison would only take 300 men by 2020, when prison numbers in this country are going up by more than 300 every month.
- In the week that saw the Human Rights Act turn 15, Sir Simon McDonald, the British Foreign Office Chief, inauspiciously commented that human rights are “no longer a top priority” for the Government. Resources will be funnelled into trade deals ahead of fighting injustice in other parts of the world, as part of the Conservatives’ “Prosperity Agenda”, the Independent reports. This perhaps explains George Osborne’s recent silence on human rights abuses during his “trade mission” to China, for which he has been praised by a grateful if somewhat surprised Chinese Government, and criticised by Amnesty International.
- More fuel was thrown on the fire of the UK’s tangled relationship with Saudi Arabia when it emerged last week via leaked Saudi Foreign Ministry files that the UK made a secret deal with the Saudis to bag themselves both countries seats on the UN Human Rights Council in 2013. Saudi Arabia – who has sanctioned more than 100 beheadings this year – now chairs a UNHRC panel that selects senior officials to draft international human rights standards and report violations. Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Policy and Government Affairs, described the revelation as “a slap in the face for those beleaguered Saudi activists who already struggle with endemic persecution in the kingdom”.
- The daughter of a man who committed suicide in 2013 after being declared fit to work by an Atos ‘heathcare professional’ is compiling a dossier of information on her father’s case to assist the imminent UN investigation into whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have led to “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights. This follows a coroner’s conclusion that Mr O’Sullivan’s suicide was a direct result of the outcome of the assessment. The coroner reported found that the Atos healthcare professional (an orthopaedic surgeon in this case) had failed to take into account the views of any of the deceased’s doctors, who had diagnosed him with recurrent depression, panic disorder and agoraphobia.
- The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has called for “firmer measures” against States ignoring judgments of the Strasbourg Court, urging Council of Europe ministers to make use of the 2010 “infringement procedure” (a tool “as yet untried”) which allows the Court to rule on whether a State has breached its obligation to abide by the Convention. This recommendation was based on a report focused primarily on nine countries responsible for 80 per cent of the 11,000 unimplemented cases (Turkey, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Romania, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Ukraine), though the UK received a special mention (Appendix 1, s10) for “unresolved issues” relating to “significant implementation problems” specifically in relation to prisoner voting rights, following Hirst v UK (No 2) and the pilot judgments Greens and MT v UK where the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting was found to be a violation of Article 3.
In the Courts
- Bouyid v Belgium: slapping by law enforcement officers of individuals under their control was degrading treatment under Article 3 ECHR. Two brothers had alleged that police officers in Belgium had slapped them in the face whilst at a police station in Brussels. The Court found that this had undermined their dignity. The Court emphasised that in a democratic society ill-treatment was never an appropriate response by the authorities, explaining that “a slap to the face affects the part of the person’s body which expresses his individuality, manifests his social identity and constitutes the centre of his senses”.
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