Dallying with human rights in Britain

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The UK, which claimed to be the cradle of democracy and human rights, has in recent months witnessed a terminally downward trend in observation of human rights at home and abroad on the international arena.

Honest to God, the Old Imperialist could have seen better days. Until recently, the history of human rights abuse in Britain pertained to its impish role in other countries but the violation of human rights in recent months has sufficed to put Britain high on the black list of countries with deplorable human rights abuse histories.

The first notable instance of such a violation is the brutal crackdown on the peaceful student protests against the inconsiderate Tory-Liberal Democrat cuts and the massive cuts to spending on higher education which shoved the British government closer to the verge of collapse as far as human rights are concerned. Tens of thousands of students took to the streets of London in November 2010 and protested against plans by the government to raise tuition fees by up to three times. However, the protests were received with the heavy-handed brutality of the British police which used the notorious technique known as ‘kettling.’ Also known as containment or corralling, kettling is a violent tactic used by British police for controlling protesters. The tactic consists of forming large cordons of police officers who move onto the crowd to limit their movement or escape to the extent that the protestors are denied access to toilets, water or food.

A prominent British human rights lawyer likened the "heavy-handed" and politicized treatment of student protesters to the brutal victimization of the miners during the strikes of the Thatcher era. Condemning the police techniques as "outrageous" tactics, Michael Mansfield QC said the right to protest in Britain had been seriously endangered and that people who sought to hold peaceful protests had to accept the threat of being faced with ‘heavy policing and draconian sentencing.’

A nose bleeds in an Asian or Middle Eastern country and the British government raises a hue and cry about it, makes a mountain out of a molehill, promptly condemns it and encourages other countries to join in choral sympathy. However, it allows itself the latitude to resort to any and all inhuman acts in order to retain its calm and peace and safeguard its stay in power.

On an international level, however, the British Government came under the sharp blade of criticism when it transpired that Britain had sold a considerable quantity of arms to Arab countries including Bahrain and Libya in order to quash the pro-democracy movements. These weapons were used by the brutal regimes of Colonel Gaddafi and the Bahraini monarch to kill and injure the protesters. The British government also sanctioned the sale of a number of crowd control products to the Bahrain regime including CS hand grenades, demolition charges, smoke canisters and thunder-flashes.

This took place with the full knowledge that the Bahraini regime was already mired in a popular uprising and that it had used sheer brutality to crush the protests. British Foreign Secretary William Hague while keeping mum on his country’s sanctioned sale of weapons to the Arab country voiced his deep concern over what was happening there but urged Britons to stay away. Later disturbing images and videos emerged on the internet, showing Bahraini protesters who were badly injured or horrendously mutilated. The images helped to lay bare the ugly face of a great hypocrisy called Britain. Britain’s only response to this disgrace was reflected in the words of Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt who said, "We will not authorize any exports which, we assess, might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, which might be used to facilitate internal repression, or which would in any other way be contrary to the [British Government’s] criteria."

Symon Hill, associate director of the think-tank Ekklesia says: "This news raises serious concerns about the UK government’s commitment to the development of democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. Many UK taxpayers will be alarmed to discover that they have unwittingly facilitated the sale of tear gas and crowd control weapons to regimes that have used them to suppress peaceful protests."

He further casts doubts on the claim that the British ministers were ignorant of the nature or the purpose such weapons might serve.

"It is difficult to imagine how else British ministers thought such equipment would be used".

One cannot easily turn a blind eye to the fact that the British government was well aware how the weapons would be used in the hands of the Bahraini regime. Add to this scandal another bigger one. Seeing that the popular uprising was getting out of control and that Bahrain was not capable of quelling it, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain asked his Saudi counterpart, King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, to send troops to help him crush the protest. The Saudi king dispatched as many as 1,200 members of the Saudi military to help crack down on the demonstrators. The Saudi military, which is well trained in quelling protests, received their efficient training from the British personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia. The group reportedly consists of 11 army staff under the command of a brigadier. Nicholas Gilby of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: "Britain’s important role in training the Saudi Arabian National Guard in internal security over many years has enabled them to develop tactics to help suppress the popular uprising in Bahrain."

By way of whitewashing the scandal, the British Ministry of Defense ironically described the British training of the Saudi forces as a plan "to engender a culture of respect for human rights."

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox responded to the issue by saying that the government trains a lot of forces including the Saudis, describing them as a "a major strategic partner, a major partner in the battle against terrorism." Either the minister is ignorant or he is playing the ignorant as it is no secret that the Saudis are among the most important sponsors of terrorism.

As in Libya, aside from supplying the regime of Gaddafi with weapons including tear gas/irritant ammunition, crowd control ammunition, small arms ammunition, ammunition for wall- and door-breaching projectile launchers to deal with the protesters, the British government has a history of double dealings with Libya. A 39-page dossier emerged, much to the chagrin of the British government, exposing its complicity in Abdel Hakim Belhaj’s capture, torture and return into Gaddafi’s hands seven years ago. The man, now head of the Tripoli Military Council, is planning to sue the British government for the role MI6 had in his torture and imprisonment.

According to Belhaj, he "was suspended from a ceiling and tortured at a secret prison at Bangkok airport before spending six years in solitary confinement in a jail in Tripoli. He claims he was questioned by three British agents, one a woman, who ignored his complaints about mistreatment. His pregnant wife was also beaten, he says" (The Daily Mail, September 11).

To add insult to injury, Britain made a mockery of human rights when Home Secretary Theresa May claimed at the Conservative Party conference that an immigrant was able to stay in Britain because he had a cat, warning that the legislation had turned into a charter for criminals and foreign terrorists. Loud and clear, she asked for the axing of the Human Rights act, a move supported strongly by British Prime Minister David Cameron who demanded an immediate scrapping of the act and said he sought to alter the "chilling culture" created by the Act. He vowed to replace Labour’s law with a British Bill of Rights. The clear implication is that the axing of the Human Rights act has been high on the government’s agenda and that they are preparing the ground for everyone to face a fait accompli. British MP Sadiq Khan slammed the plan and said, "The Human Rights Act is the most significant defense for people against state power ever passed. Scrapping it is a lazy and incoherent position to hold."

Yet, to the British government what’s done cannot be undone. It is manifest that they have long cherished a secret agenda and that it is now the time for them to put it into practice.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of British human rights abuse at home as well as overseas. There are certainly black secrets of human rights violations in the history of Britain which can harrow one with fear and wonder.

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