Friday, 23 December 2011

Time for change after 10 years of detention without trial

A man known only as G will be marking the 10th anniversary this week of being detained without trial by the British state.
"I’ve been here 10 years now, no trial, no charge, no evidence produced to challenge. Me, my wife and children don’t know how long it will take to attain justice and freedom," said G.
G and another man are the only two who remain of the 13 originally picked up in December 2001, following the passing into law of the Anti-terror Crime and Security Act (ATCSA).
The men, mainly Algerian, were taken to Belmarsh Prison, where they were detained. “I was put together with the other detainees. We were kept a minimum of 22 hours in the cell and never saw the sky. I did not see my wife for six months,” recalled G.
In 2004 there was the House of Lords ruling that the ATCSA was unlawful under the Human Rights Act. This resulted in the regime, known as control orders being developed. Detainees were restricted to a house or flat, with stipulations about where they could move in the local geographical location and at what times. Access to phones and the internet were banned. They had to ring the tagging company regularly.
The process that has kept G and others incarcerated over recent years has been overseen by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). This body operates under immigration law, dealing with cases where national security is in question. It operates with special advocates representing the detainee.
Lawyers for the detainees are not able to see all the material relating to why they are being held. The accused have never been told of what they are accused.
The government has been prevented from deporting the individuals concerned due to the danger that they may face torture or worse in the countries from which they fled. Some though have returned due to the mental torture being imposed by indefinite detention in the UK.
Two men who returned to Algeria were subsequently imprisoned in that country after receiving assurances before they left England.
Another Algerian man, Mustafa Taleb, was originally one of eight people accused of involvement in what became known as the ricin trial, where no ricin was ever found. Arrested in 2003, the case came to court in 2005 when all eight accused were cleared.
Then came the London bombings. A number of the acquitted men were picked up, including Mustafa Taleb, as well as G. They were served with deportation notices on the basis of being national security threats. Since that time these men have been held either in prison or under the house arrest style conditions.
Mustafa Taleb now lives alone, allowed out at set times and only able to move within a restricted area.
One person who has regularly visited him over recent years has been Bruce Kent, who has been appalled at what he has seen. “He has the marks on his body to this day from the torture and the British government want to send him back to the torturers,” said Mr Kent. “It is disgraceful and against British law to go on detaining people without knowing of what they are accused.”
Solicitor Gareth Peirce, who represents a number of the men and formerly represented the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, sees parallels with the treatment of the Muslims today and the Irish. She claims the lessons of the Troubles have not been learned.
Mrs Peirce believes the Muslim men held in detention have been treated as guinea pigs by the British government to see how far it can push things. “The continuing experiment is dangerous and insidious in more than one way. It has become very clear that when one challenge is overcome the goalposts are moved and a new system comes in,” said Mrs Peirce.

The Troubles provides an important link, suggesting that the whole process of cutting rights at the behest of maintaining security under the aegis of anti-terror law has been a work in process for the past 40 years.
So the Prevention of Terrorism Act was introduced in 1974 following the Birmingham pub bombings. Described as “draconian” by its author, then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, the PTA brought in seven day detention without charge. This was renewed annually.

Then as the peace process took hold at the close of the century and prior to 9/11, the Terrorism Act 2000 was introduced bringing in 14 day pre-charge detention.
After 9/11, the ATCSA was brought in bringing about the regime of internment with few limits. This has been refined since, with control orders and their successor the terrorism, prevention and investigation measures (Tpims)

The level of pre-charge detention went up to 28 days in 2005 after the Labour Government was defeated over its efforts to get 90 days passed.

So the plight of those individuals who remain detained without trial after ten years remains part of a work in progress. The last decade has simply been an extension of what went before in the Irish context, with the gradual extension of a security state that is accountable to no one. It has grown up in the shadows and Mrs Peirce is right those unfortunate individuals like G, Mustafa Taleb and others have become the guinea pigs for this process. And with the threat of civil unrest on the horizon, with the worsening economic situation, there can be little doubt that the security state will find more willing accomplices in government prepared to extend its powers still further. The big question for the rest of us is when will we say enough and insist that the rule of law is restored for all citizens of this country and that there will be no further detention without trial?

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A fitting tribute to Bishop John Jukes would be to restore the World of Work Committee

The funeral of Bishop John Jukes brought together people from across the church and labour worlds.
An auxiliary bishop in Southwark, Bishop John always kept working people and the social teachings of the Church at the heart of his mission.
Reading the obituaries, it was interesting to hear how he first worked in the civil service, taking on the role as representative at the Inland Revenue Staff Federation National Conference. He then decided to study agriculture at university, which led to him spending a year working on Romney Marsh. It is believed that at this time he became in contact with the Franciscans in Rye, which eventually led to his joining that order.
Later in life, he became chair of the World of Work at the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, where he served for 20 years from 1980.
Bishop John believed that Catholic Social Teaching had much to contribute to the world of work, going back to Rerum Novarum (1891). Indeed, he helped organise a centenary conference in Liverpool to mark this encyclical in 1991.
Each year at the TUC Congress, Bishop John celebrated mass for delegates. In his sermon at St Mary Magdalene's Priory, Brighton, in 1999 he urged Catholics to put gospel values into practice by becoming active members of trade unions. And he urged the TUC to promote ethical values to counter some of the negative effects of globalisation.
Bishop John was prophetic, predicting the injustice for workers of much of what has flowed from globalisation and unregulated markets. The loss of job security; degradation of the human being, individuals or groups forced to work in inhuman conditions.
Reading about how Bishop John shared a platform at a TUC rally in Hyde Park, with National Union of Mineworkers President Arthur Scargill, brings one up short. How far things have slipped since those days?
Earlier this year there was no Catholic Church representation on the platform for the 500,000 strong TUC rally in Hyde Park against the cuts and for an alternative way forward.
The decision of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales to do away with the World of Work committee in 2001 was one of the worst it has made in recent times. The thinking can only have been due to neo-liberal managerialist voices being given too much sway in the decision making process. By this time Bishop John had retired, moving to serve a parish in Scotland.
Those crucial links that Bishop John and those who worked with him at the Bishops Conference had built up with trade unions and business have long since elapsed. As a result the Church was totally caught out when it came to the present economic crisis which is actually all about the world of work.
Had the World of Work Committee still been in place much of the evidence based research would have been there regarding the state of the jobs market, growth, globalisation and the injustice of neo liberal development model.
The bishops would not have been cobbling together committees made up of theologians, MPs and others to get a handle on how it was going to respond to the government’s Big Society agenda.
There would have been a ready voice on subjects like cuts to benefits, the living wage, migrant labour, the trade unions, pensions and worker's rights. The response would have been one based on justice, not a charitable response to help plug the gaps being created by an ongoing voracious neo-liberal market system.
Had Bishop John still been in post he would certainly have had something to say about the wholly unjust attempts of employer organisations to claim they can only be competitive if given even greater freedom to sack people.
The Church desperately needs to restore the function of the World of Work committee, so that it has the authority to speak out on matters in the workplace. Given that most people spend a huge amount of their lives in the workplace, surely the Church should have a credible view on this aspect of life?
If the Bishops Conference of England and Wales wants to mark the passing of Bishop John, then the best thing that could be done is to restore this function of the World of Work to which he gave so much of his life. His passing provides a timely reminder of the expertise that used to reside in this area. The Church needs this expertise in order that it can speak out on all work related matters, after all, are we not all workers in God’s vineyard?

Coalition Government's attack on working people must be resisted

The extraordinary attack of the Coalition Government on the lives of working people in the UK continues apace. There seems no need to bring in technocrats in the UK to perform to the will of the markets, as has been the case in Italy and Greece, given that the Coalition Government appears to act simply as the slave of capital with almost every move it makes.The first lie to nail is the one that says that the present crisis is all down to the last Labour Government. The myth cultivated by the Coalition Government - with the help of the right wing media. The truth is that the present economic situation is the result of the banking crisis of recent years. The frustration of people is that instead of making the bankers pay for their recklessness, they have instead been bailed out and told to get on with things pretty much as before. As the economy bombs with demand for goods disappearing the Coalition Government continues to bail out the banks. The latest contribution being in the form of £75 billion of quantative easing. This money was handed to the banks to further shore up their balance sheets, when it should have been handed out to the public with stipulations about spending inside a set period of time.While the present crisis in capitalism lurches on with no end in sight, those who own capital have seen the opportunity to dump the cost of the crisis on the workers. The Occupy London Stock Exchange camp outside St Pauls and its counterpart in the US have become so unpopular with the ruling class because they have refocused the agenda on the real cause of the crisis, namely capital and more specifically the banks.At a popular level, particularly in the media, there has been an effort to distract from this central theme by seeking to blame individuals for the crisis. So there has been a focus on benefit cheats, these lest we forget are those fraudulently claiming the likes of disability and unemployment benefits, rather than bankers trousering billions. The complicit role of the media in peddling this stuff can be seen from one simple fact, namely that £20 billion of benefits go unclaimed every year, compared to £1.2 billion lost due to fraud. Who would believe that was the case from the way the benefits issue has been covered over the past couple of years?Another myth we are fed is that everyone is living longer, so pensions have to be changed with workers retiring later and paying more. First, there is the question whether everyone will be living longer. The pre and post war baby boomer generation have lived long lives, due to good diets and the welfare support network put in place by successive Labour and Conservative Governments in the post war period. A major contributor to this improvement was the NHS.Today, some 60 per cent of the population are obese. The welfare support network is rapidly being dismantled to the point where services will only soon once again be available for those able to pay. Given this vista of development, the claim that the present generation will be living longer appears doubtful. Ironically, it will only be if the post 1945 settlement is defended and maintained that people will continue to live longer.There is also ofcourse the massive fiddling of figures that goes on with pensions. The fourth biggest economy in the world can afford to pay pensions. There is a huge surplus of over £50 billion in the National Pension Fund. The argument over public sector pensions also needs recalibrating with a focus on bringing private sector pension provision up to public sector levels, not dragging the latter down to a level that often amounts to virtually nothing. A properly funded state pension is the answers in the long term, not making workers pay more for less.Another area where there has been an effort to make the best out of a good crisis by capital is on the question of removing regulations. This lest anyone forget happened in the banking sector leading onto the crisis. But leaving that blip aside, capital insists for companies to be competitive there must be less protection for workers. It should be easier to sack them and more difficult for workers to access employment tribunals with grievances. What has been amazing is to witness the way so much of the media simply go along with this argument. Whenever there is a discussion on a programme like Newsnight or Question Time, where is the trade union voice? It is usually a combination of government ministers, business voices and then someone from a think tank. This results in a ridiculous circular argument concerning how for instance there can be a reduction in the 240,000 cases that go to employment tribunals every year. The one scenario never discussed is just maybe the employers ought to stop breaking the law and infringing workers basic rights. Maybe it is the employer’s unfitness for their role that should be the focus, rather than how much easier it can be made to exploit workers. This simple explanation rarely enters the media lexicon.This overall assault on working people needs to be exposed. As mentioned earlier the Occupy London has helped focus attention on some of these issues but more needs to be done. The unions were right to strike to protect pensions, it put down a marker that working people are not going to continue picking up the tab for rich people’s avarice. More resistance is needed, particularly if the government moves to legislate to restrict the right to strike even further.Although it seems unlikely that working people would accept such a scenario, if the economic crisis bites deeper and given the one sided nature of most the media then the mood music of fear could be created to legislate away these hard won rights. For an example of a similar work in progress – where liberties were taken away on the basis of a largely unsubstantiated crisis - look no further than anti-terror law and the war on terror. Once the mood music of crisis was worked up to a pitch the populace seemed willing to accept any nonsense no matter how flimsily justified.The present situation represents a real challenge to working people, with a government seemingly totally committed to the interests of capital to the exclusion of all else. The present programme of “reform” amounts to the dismantling of the whole of the post war settlement, including the welfare state, pensions and NHS, that created a better chance for the mass of people. The onslaught can be defeated with a new more just society being established with the common good becoming the binding mantra but there is still a long way to go if such a victory is to be won.

Inspiring women in the struggle

I recently visited Elizabeth Rendall as she lived out her final days at a nursing home in South Woodford.
Elizabeth was propped up in bed with the sun streaming in through the window. She was as full of verve as ever, despite being heavily dosed with morphine due to the pain being caused by the cancer.
She spoke of the work, the need to move onward in striving for justice in the world.
This was typical of Elizabeth, always concerned to work for a better world in line with gospel values right up to her dying day.
I only knew Elizabeth for the past 20 years of her life but she certainly served God fully throughout her time on this earth.
Educated by the Ursuline sisters at St Angela’s in Forest Gate, east London, Elizabeth joined the order when she was 18. She then became a teacher at the nearby Ilford Ursuline school. Finally, she went on to Wimbledon where she was head for nine years.
It was whilst at Ilford Ursuline that Elizabeth taught Kathy Piper, who went on to work for the Catholic Institute for International Relations and later become chair of the Brentwood Justice and Peace Commission. “It was Elizabeth, as my teacher, who taught me to care about social justice as part of faith commitment, at the age of 14. I wonder now how many other people she inspired down the years to become involved,” said Mrs Piper.
Elizabeth then left teaching, working as a sister in a Welsh parish before she decided to leave the Ursulines and take up a role in education and research at CAFOD.
Elizabeth worked for 10 years for CAFOD particularly on its Renewing the Earth campaign. The environment was her real passion, with the destruction being caused by global warming a constant concern to her.
She worked on the environment at local, diocesan and national levels. Elizabeth also worked across faiths, involved with Christian Ecology Link and Operation Noah.
This commitment to the environment was lived out at her funeral which she insisted be conducted by a Columban priest due to that orders work for justice and creation around the world. The mass took place at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in east London, adorned with greenery.
Beyond the environment though Elizabeth was always there supporting the work. She marched against the various wars and supported the multi-faith group Peace and Justice in East London with its work for peace. She also supported the group’s work with the families of those being detained without trial in the UK.
It was in this work that Elizabeth came into contact with another remarkable Catholic woman Sarah Hipperson.
Sarah campaigned against detention without trial but before that she was part of the Greenham Common camp. It was back in the 1980s that Sarah upped and left the leafy London suburb of Wanstead to campaign against nuclear missiles being sited at Greenham Common in Berkshire.
Sarah eventually spent the best part of the next 18 years at Greenham Common, endeavouring to prevent a nuclear armageddon occurring. Then she helped establish a peace garden at the site in order that this particular struggle was not forgotten.
A former justice of the peace Sarah ended up serving several prison sentences for her direct peaceful actions in seeking the removal of the US missiles.
Now in her 1980s, Sarah has returned to Wanstead, where she continues the work for justice.
Another person doing work for justice is Sister Catherine Reily, who has been quietly supporting the Travellers at Dale Farm for the past eight years. She visits the site on a regular basis, supporting the families and helping out where she can. A quiet supporter but another steady witness to gospel values.
Sister Pat Robb has worked for years on behalf of refugees, standing up for human rights. Whenever I see Sister Robb, she always has a cause, some injustice that she wants taken up. A family in trouble a person being mistreated who has already suffered the effects of torture.
These fantastic women should be an inspiration to all in the Church, they’ve worked away really putting gospel values into action.
The institutional church has rarely been supportative of much of the work that these women have done but it is these witnesses to truth and justice that really live out gospel values. They are the true prophets and disciples of Christ in this modern age.
It is the witness of the likes of Elizabeth, Sarah, Catherine and Pat together with many others that sustain the rest of us at difficult times in a Church struggling to find its way in the modern world. These and others continue to battle away in the margins for social justice.
Surely, adopting a more inclusive approach to these and many other women would offer a real way forward for the Church in the 21st century.