Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Day to mourn, not celebrate, human rights
THIS year has been another bad year for human rights, and there is little to celebrate on International Human Rights Day. Mass killings have continued in Darfur, the Congo and elsewhere in Africa, with only minor and sporadic attention from the media or the UN. Dictatorships in North Korea and Burma terrorise their citizens daily, with no end in sight.
In Iran, a rigged election brought thousands of democracy protesters into the streets, where they were attacked (at least 70 people, including Neda Agha-Soltan, were reportedly killed) and arrested, followed by Stalinist show trials designed to intimidate these advocates.
Tragically, Human Rights Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Conventions, now serves as a reminder of the abject failure of the international community in living up to its moral commitments. Ignoring the pleas of victims around the world, the UN Human Rights Council is locked on to a political agenda that uses the rhetoric of international law as a weapon in the political war targeting Israel.
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which controls the UNHRCs agenda and chooses its officials, has no interest in opening a discussion of the systematic oppression of women or minorities in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Gaza, etc. Israel is a convenient diversion, which explains the obsessive focus on "war crimes" claims, including the biased mandate of the Goldstone report on the Gaza conflict.
To make matters worse, the non-governmental human rights watchdogs that were created to offset the unethical behaviour and biases of governments, have become accomplices in promoting oppression. Superpowers like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights and similar groups with multi-million-dollar budgets work closely with and support the agendas of the UNHRC and other international frameworks. Instead of speaking truth to this blatant abuse of power, officials of these self-proclaimed human rights groups are part of the problem, remaining largely silent while the abuses in Africa, Asia or the Arab world continue.
The past year has seen even greater co-operation between the UN and the NGOs in twisting human rights values beyond recognition. Human Rights Watch was caught attempting to raise funds from wealthy members of Saudi Arabia's elite.
Instead of leading the campaign against the abuses imposed by the Wahabi religious police, this "watchdog" hosted a member of the Shura council at a dinner which featured more Israel-bashing and dark warnings of the power of "pro-Israel pressure groups".
Other scandals, including the suspension of HRW's "senior military analyst", and unanswered questions about his professional qualifications, further tarnished this organisation. In parallel, Amnesty International and the other groups have accelerated the effort to transform human rights and international law into ideological platforms used against Western democracies and open societies.
Like HRW, a highly disproportionate percentage of Amnesty's reports and campaigns focus on criticising the US and NATO countries for alleged infractions in Iraq and Afghanistan, while terrorists and their state supporters get relatively little attention. This is a paternalistic and patronising distortion, which assumes that Muslims in al-Qa'ida or Afghan Taliban "militants" are exempt from human rights requirements, and are held to a lower standard.
But at the end of 2009 there are some signs of hope for the human rights community. The "halo effect" that had protected powerful groups from research and criticism has begun to break down. HRW founder Robert Bernstein published an oped in The New York Times in which he denounced his own organisation for betraying its moral principles.
Although HRW officials launched a campaign to discredit Bernstein and other critics (particularly NGO Monitor), in order to restore their lost credibility, others realise the need for an entirely new and unbiased leadership, particularly in activities related to the Middle East. On another front, the Canadian government has moved to halt the funnelling of millions of taxpayer funds to organisations that exploit the rhetoric of human rights in order to promote radical ideologies that undermine these values.
In the 1970s, radical groups that claimed to promote "social progress" and "solidarity" politics were able to obtain substantial funding from sympathetic officials in Canada and in liberal European governments.
By putting an end to this inversion, the Canadians can also contribute to a return to the core moral and universal principles of human rights. For people committed to the substance, and not only the language, of human rights, these developments suggest that a tipping point has been reached. The absurdity of a Libyan official chairing UN human rights sessions in which Iran, Darfur and China are erased from the agenda, with the assistance of groups like Amnesty and HRW, may finally be too great to ignore.
Big Brother Britain's sham backdown
Vetting shambles: Ed Balls' U-turn exempts 2 million adults from criminal checks... but 9 million parent helpers will still fall into the net
Millions of parent helpers will still have to undergo paedophile and criminal checks after a 'sham' U-turn by Ed Balls. The Schools Secretary confirmed that laws requiring criminal records checks on adults who work with children will be watered down after a public outcry that they were 'strangling school life'. Two million people will no longer have to be checked by the Vetting and Barring Scheme. But the VBS - set up to prevent paedophiles working with children - will still apply to around nine million.
Mr Balls said he had accepted all the recommendations of an independent review. Adults will have to be vetted only if they are working with the same group of children once a week or more, rather than once a month at present. But critics said schools were almost certain to demand the checks in case they were sued. A father who helps out with his school football team every week or a mother who volunteers at her child's nursery will still have to be vetted.
A pledge that families who host foreign exchange students would escape vetting turned out to mean only those who have spoken to the foreign family and agreed the exchange. Exchanges organised through schools will still involve vetting.
Tory spokesman Tim Loughton said: 'It will take a bigger shift in this juggernaut of over-control before schools and sports clubs feel confident that they don't have to vet every adult in sight. 'The point is that because the Government has gone overboard on this, everyone else thinks they need to go even more overboard.'
Mr Balls ordered a review of the vetting scheme by Sir Roger Singleton, chairman of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, following a storm of complaints that volunteers were being deterred from working with children. The outcry was led by children's authors, including Philip Pullman, who were told they would have to be vetted if they gave readings in schools. They will now escape vetting, unless they take part in 'workshops' with children.
Mr Balls yesterday denied making a U-turn, saying there had been a 'ludicrous over-reaction' from some schools and organisations. He told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show that parents trust schools and organisations to look after their children and it was right to ensure their trust was not misplaced.
But Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club, which campaigns against over-regulation, labelled the climbdown 'a sham'. She said: 'The policy would still require ISA registration of the father who helps out at his son's football team every week, or the mother who volunteers at her children's nursery. 'Ordinary people will still have to register on this vetting database - and be subjected to constant criminal records vetting - for carrying out the most natural and everyday activities.'
Philip Pullman welcomed the changes but said that such regulation was still 'fundamentally unhealthy'. He said: 'The whole thing seems to be based on the feeling that you can't trust anyone, that everyone is a suspect until they're proved innocent, and of course you can never entirely do that, so everybody has to remain a suspect.'
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, also welcomed the move and said the system was now 'more proportionate to risk'.
The ISA's checks are more stringent than those of the Criminal Records Bureau. The CRB looks for previous convictions but the ISA also looks at lists of people barred from working with vulnerable adults, which were previously held by separate government departments. The vetting scheme was recommended by the Bichard review into failures by police and social services involved with Soham murderer Ian Huntley. It is being phased in across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and will be compulsory from next November.
Mailmen refuse to deliver parcels in bureaucratized Britain
The aim of all bureaucrats is to maximize their funding and minimize their workload
Postmen across the country are deliberately failing to deliver parcels, a study reveals today. Householders expecting a package are routinely left 'Sorry you were out' cards without so much as a knock on the door. More than half of customers - 55 per cent - claim to have received one of the cards despite being at home when the postman called. Nearly a quarter - 23 per cent - say that this has happened at least three times in the past year, according to the study by customer watchdog Consumer Focus.
There are suspicions postmen are leaving parcels in the office to lighten their load for the day - and a leaked Royal Mail internal memo acknowledges staff are discarding parcels 'without any attempt to deliver the packet'. The practice means postmen are shifting the inconvenience of collecting packages to residents. Customers who get a card are forced to travel to delivery offices, often miles away and operating restricted opening hours, and stand in line to collect their goods.
Publicly, Royal Mail chiefs have played down the problem suggesting there are only a few isolated incidents. But a postal expert at Consumer Focus, Robert Hammond, said: 'There's a growing body of evidence that the "Sorry You Were Out" card issue is far from a series of isolated incidents as Royal Mail has claimed. 'This issue has to be thoroughly investigated and the problem stamped out. 'The high regard many of us have for Royal Mail will fade rapidly if they can't find a way of delivering parcels conveniently.'
The stories of some of the customers let down by the system will feature on BBC Panorama tonight. Research scientist Dr Andrew Curtis, from Bristol, tells the programme: 'I heard the letters drop through the postbox. 'I went to check immediately and there was a card there saying "We tried to deliver a parcel to you but unfortunately you weren't in". Obviously-I had been in - I'd been sat next to the front door. I hadn't heard the door bell ring, hadn't heard a knock.'
Panorama has seen an internal Royal Mail memo warning staff the practice must stop. Royal Mail operations director Paul Tolhurst said: 'It shouldn't be happening if customers tell us that it's happening, we will discuss that in the local office with the local postmen and we will try and put that right. 'That is not what they should be doing, but of course it does happen, and I'm not saying that it doesn't.'
No joking in humourless Leftist Britain
Top comedians and wits, including Alexei Sayle, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry, say Britain is being turned into a “global laughing stock” because of its draconian libel laws. They are the latest critics to call for reform of the legislation which is stifling free speech. Sayle says he endured a “horrible experience” after he was sued for libel. He eventually won the case, but said he risked financial ruin because of the high costs of defending himself in the London courts. The comedian said yesterday the case racked up thousands of pounds in costs, which he never recovered even after successfully defending the action. “It would have been cheaper if I’d just stabbed the f*****,” he said. “The most I would have got was an Asbo barring me from certain parts of Croydon.”
Sayle said the libel writ was issued after he wrote a graphic novel called Geoffrey the Tube Train. Someone who worked with Sayle in the comedy business claimed one of the characters resembled him and his reputation had been sullied. “I was determined to fight the case,” said Sayle. “But everything you own hangs on a philosophical discussion about the meaning of words. I risked losing everything. “The penalties of a libel case — both in terms of awards and legal costs — are completely distorted and out of proportion to any offence.”
Sayle and other comedians are supporting a campaign for an overhaul of the libel laws. They say the threat of a ruinous writ means comedians, as well as scientists and other individuals and bodies, are having to sanitise their output.
Robin Ince, a stand-up comedian and television panellist, said lawyers hired by TV channels were routinely censoring comic material because of libel fears. He said: “England is the envy of the world for anyone who wants to crush dissent. “It means you now have this hideous mire of lawyers and there is a constant fear [of a possible action]. They err on the side of over-caution.”
The Sunday Times has highlighted how British libel laws are being used to threaten scientists publishing critical research and to prevent scrutiny of rich and powerful figures based overseas.
Last week Dara O’Briain, the presenter of BBC2’s satirical show Mock the Week, launched a Libel Reform Campaign petition. He said the libel laws were a “dangerous joke” being used to silence or censor writers. O’Briain said he was most concerned by the threat to scientific research and comment but had also feared for his own performances. “I think in a couple of cases the people in question thought, ‘We will just look stupid if we take action’,” he said. “But this is essentially a poker game because even if you are right you will lose a six-figure sum. It’s ludicrous.”
Dave Gorman, the comedian and author, said: “The costs of a libel action silence people because you cannot afford to fight. We should have a legal system that gives redress to people whose reputations have been damaged, but this isn’t it.”
Other comedians supporting the campaign include Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry, the presenter and wit, who said Britons should “cringe with embarrassment” at existing legislation that made the UK a “global laughing stock”. “Our laws can be manipulated to protect the corrupt and to hide the truth,” he said.
A public backlash against the libel laws began after the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) sued the science writer Simon Singh for describing chiropractic remedies for some childhood ailments, including asthma, as “bogus” since there was insufficient clinical evidence. He has appealed against a preliminary judgment against him but has already racked up legal costs of £100,000.
Mr Justice Eady, who presides over many libel cases, is a popular judge with many claimants. In a preliminary hearing in Singh’s case, he ruled the word “bogus” in an article meant the science writer was accusing the BCA of dishonesty, which Singh disputes and certainly never intended. Eady has also allowed foreign claimants to pursue cases against overseas publications, bolstering London’s reputation as a centre for libel tourism. Lawmakers in several American states have passed laws to protect their citizens from UK courts.
Eady defended the libel courts at a legal conference earlier this month, saying there were very few cases involving foreign claimants. Campaigners point out that the mere threat of a London libel action by a rich individual or powerful corporation is often enough to quash criticism, so most cases are unlikely even to reach Eady’s court.
It has also emerged that respected American newspapers are considering pulling their London editions because of the risk of a costly libel action. An Oxford University report published last year found libel court costs were 140 times higher in Britain than in the rest of Europe.
The Libel Reform Campaign — backed by English PEN, the Index on Censorship, Sense about Science and Reporters without Borders — wants capped damages, strict controls on costs and a stronger defence of public interest. The petition, launched last week, states: “Journalists, authors, academics, performers and blog-writers cannot risk extortionate costs, which means they are forced to back down.”
Jonathan Heawood, director of English PEN, which promotes literature and human rights, said: “There is growing public anger. It’s wrong that writers are being intimidated into silence.”
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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