Probing UK War Crimes in Iraq. Bravo, ICC. Thank You, WikiLeaks

UK war crimes in occupied Iraq
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Preliminary investigation into UK activity in occupied Iraq

UK war crimes in occupied Iraq

UK war crimes in occupied Iraq

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court stated today that she will resume an investigation into conduct of forces of the United Kingdom during the Iraq occupation. In 2006, the previous Prosecutor issued a statement saying that he had decided not to proceed with investigations. Earlier, as we now know from Wikileaks, he had reassured diplomats that he had no intention of investigating conduct of the occupying forces in Iraq. Today’s statement by the Prosecutor notes that new information has been received in a submission by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and Public Interest Lawyers. The full communication, delivered to the Prosecutor in January of this year, can be found here. The Prosecutor should be congratulated for her courage in taking this step. It will no doubt incur the wrath of the right wing press and conservative politicians who think that there are two standards of justice, one for the global south and another for those who wrote the Magna Carta. Last week, the Prosecutor indicated that she would begin an investigation into the Ukraine as a result of that country’s declaration accepting jurisdiction of the Court. And presently, France is promoting a resolution in the Security Council aimed at referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. For the Court, this activity in States outside Africa where very strategic interests of major powers are involved is a welcome development. It will help to transmit a message that this is an independent and impartial institution capable of judging the strong and not only the weak. 

Up to 1,000 British soldiers face an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the following occupation of the country. The charges are mostly based on testimony given by detainees in Iraq and are related to the abuse and torture of detainees.

Slavery: Ancient and Modern

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A new 2013 Global Slavery Index has been published by the Walk Free Foundation, in which we read that Mauritania tops the list of countries where slavery is an issue, when ranked in proportion to population size. Many media outlets were quick to transform this into a headline, which has already blazed its trail through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

There are some important observations to consider when reading these headlines, which I want to highlight:

  • The index uses a broad definition of “modern slavery” which includes child marriage and human trafficking, including illegal immigration. In the case of Mauritania, what exists there, and is still being witnessed today, is descendant slavery, as found in several countries in the index, and which is anything BUT modern. The number of Mauritanian citizens being trafficked is so tiny it defies measurement, and while child marriage is legal under Sharia law, marriage itself is so popular that once again, the numbers are going to be incredibly difficult to determine with any measure of accuracy. Those cases of child marriage we do hear of are mostly in more remote, rural areas with scant statistical records.
  • The population of Mauritania has not been reported using an official census since 2000, and even then, the numbers were deliberately under-reported, as noted by the World Bank and the UN, the secondary sources used by this new index. All numbers for population for the past 13 years have been estimated and extrapolated from other data sources. These sources are studies which will also determine the scope of aid programs, a major source of income for successive, corrupt, governments of Mauritania. Therefore we must assume the numbers reported for those studies is impacted by the opportunistic greed of the ruling administration.
  • The percentage arrived at by the index is 4%. This is in stark contrast to the figure of 10% to 20% usually reported by NGOs and human rights organisations. No explanation is offered for this apparent discrepancy. Clearly, the government, which remains sternly in denial of the continued existence or practice of slavery in Mauritania, will consider this a major PR coup in its favour.
  • Hillary Clinton has noted that the new index is “not perfect” and therefore, we should expect to see changes to it as it develops over time.
Freed into homelessness and unemployment, former slaves in Mauritania build makeshift villages from found materials. But they are often made homeless again, their shanty-towns bulldozed in land-grabs, as happened in Leimghetty, outside the capital, Nouakchott, in May 2013

Freed into homelessness and unemployment, former slaves in Mauritania build makeshift villages from found materials. But they are often made homeless again, their shanty-towns bulldozed under order of state officials, as happened in Leimghetty, outside the capital, Nouakchott, in May 2013

We must take the issue of slavery seriously, because it is widespread and damaging and goes against everything decent human beings hold dear. But we don’t need glossy reports or “world leaders” (see video below) moralising about the subject as much as we need to see real concrete plans about how this scourge is going to be eradicated, and sensible actions which offer practical help for the victims to regain a dignified independence as well as their liberty.

At the moment, it looks like the main concern about slavery as far as many states are concerned, is that the proceeds are part of the “grey economy,” and therefore those doing the enslaving are also avoiding paying tax. It would seem that governments are more comfortable with the notion of fostering the sprawling mass of aid and development organisations, and collecting income tax from their often very highly-paid executives, while the rest of the agencies’ funds are able to legitimately avoid standard company tax because they are registered charities.

With new, harsher penalties being announced by the UK for anyone found guilty of trafficking, there is a great deal of justifiable public concern for the fate of the victims in all this, which is not clear from the statements being issued. These concerns are echoed in every country where trafficking or slavery is a problem. In Mauritania, for example, “international pressure” has led to a succession of rules, laws and proclamations from the government of the time, paying lip-service to the exhortations of donor organisations and countries willing to invest or otherwise bring revenue into the state coffers, with humanitarian strings attached. Yet each time the regime has banned or outlawed the practice of slavery, it has led to groups of people being “freed” by their former owners out of panic and fear, rather than concern. This has created a group of socially isolated former slaves, cast out of a bad but familiar situation, into an even more extreme state of insecurity, with no food, shelter, or work, and lacking even a basic education.

How extreme? Bad enough that some of them were forced to seek shelter in the refugee camp built to house those displaced from the conflict in neighbouring Mali. What happened when they were supposedly discovered? The UNHCR refused to feed them, and stopped issuing food rations to the entire camp, provoking a riot during which the food stores were broken into and rations seized by angry, humiliated, hungry, people with nowhere else to go and no other choices. That camp has been open since January 2012, and those Mauritanians were there almost from the start, but they were initially useful in boosting numbers for fund-raising appeals and supplying dramatic subtext to help justify the deployment of French and other military forces in Mali. Now, they’re surplus to requirements. Ironically, it is against the law to be homeless in Mauritania, land of the nomad. Expelling these Mauritanians from the refugee camp will subject them to risk of arrest and possible imprisonment, and certainly to harassment.

Such groups are likely to be found in every country where slavery is a current issue, and several where it has supposedly been eliminated, although their situations will vary. They all need support, and it should be delivered with as much publicity and enthusiasm as the speeches and statements and statistics, if not more.

RELATED STORIES

We Don’t Talk

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An anonymous statement was posted today with a link to NSA files which it is claimed, prove that the NSA is spying on people. Not only on American people, but citizens of over 35 different countries. My first thought, and I assume that of many others, was “how is this news?”. Do any of you really imagine that governments are not spying on us; what do you think all the biometric passport and identity card registrations are intended for? These schemes – passports in the “developed” world, ID cards in the rest (generously funded by stronger economies) – are presented as a means to “protect” our identity and to ensure freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It strikes me as like being told to have sex to protect your virginity.

Digression: My second thought, the one that crops up routinely these days, was “why do we always fall into the trap of talking about Anonymous as if it were a tangible entity, and not a concept?” For example “Anonymous releases  NSA files..” instead of “Files were released anonymously..” That is a trap I fall into regularly, and a fight I  know I am never going to win, so I don’t even try.

In the UK, there were and always will be concerns about these adventures which trespass into our private lives. Accordingly, beginning several years ago, we experienced a series of incidents, which were delivered to us as “data breach” revelations in the media, where government staff or contractors had somehow “lost” laptops, CDs, etc., which contained the records of millions of people or even entire families. Before too long, we could expect detailed information on every household in the UK to have been included on one or more of the “lost lists”. As far as I can recall, no one lost their job or was punished in relation to any of these events, and little news was published about what was being done to recover the missing items or data. What a fine strategy those “data breaches” would be for creating an independent database containing information on every person in the UK!

We also see reports in the media including the same major technology and service companies implicated in the NSA data gathering exercise – Apple, Amazon, Google – evading business tax. Between them, these companies also happen to collect data belonging to millions of individuals on identity, finance, movement or location, interactions and relationships. Is this corporate tax avoidance or a discount for services rendered?

Let us not forget the banks and financial institutions that are too big to fail or be adequately punished for misdeeds and “miscalculations“, the governments and super-governments that are too entrenched to be accountable, and the media’s own scandals, manipulation and scare mongering. What your bank doesn’t know about you these days isn’t worth knowing. But it’s worth something to agencies that like to spy on you. The new data centre for Lloyd’s Bank is constructed like a supervillain’s fortress.

Lloyds Banking Group's new IT data centre

Lloyds Banking Group’s new IT data centre

It has more safeguards and failsafes than any similar structure I have ever heard of. That is good news, as long as all they are concerned with is looking after their clients’ money and securing their data. What difference does data centre security make if the bank is willing, or can be coerced under some new law, to simply hand over the data?

Taken together, this paints a rather horrific image: a collage of corruption, criminality, and mismanagement on a “big brother” canvas. These days I see a growing divide, with ordinary citizens showing an interest in alternative currency systems like Bitcoin or bringing back bartering on the one hand, and institutions selling us out on privacy while frothing at the mouth and waging war on (other people’s) corruption and money laundering on the other.

Many of my recent conversations have broached these topics, and the consensus is that people in general are not, as the media tells us, too lazy and self-serving to take action, but rather are trapped in a demotivating pattern of unquestioning acceptance and compliance. The manufactured obsession with new-newer-newest devices and social media, with the latter a long-term offender with regard to suspicionsprivacy scares and scandals, has spawned a self-perpetuating meme-based ecosystem.

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Social media tells us that smartphones or selfies are phenomena, and without question we embrace them, thereby creating and sustaining them. Generally, the feeling is that people need to disengage from the brainwashing, shun the presstitutes, and start to have meaningful, authentic conversations again, to reconnect with the world and their own thoughts, ideas and opinions. It is increasingly evident that a better sleeping pattern wouldn’t go amiss, either.

What do you think? I do actually want to know, yet I have so little confidence that you will respond, beyond the less than one percent of those who read and click “like”. I feel the distance between us more sharply each day, as we drift on these social media currents. Most days, I can barely see the coastline of our conversation.

News from Iran – Week 39 – 2012

Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani
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Prisoners’ News

A-Transfers

  • Kurdish political prisoner Shahram Elyasi, servinglife imprisonment, transferred from Evin prison to Rajai Shahr prison

B- Arrests/Incarcerations

  • Nursing mothers Zahra Nik-Aein and Taraneh Torabi sent to prison to serve their sentences along with their infants
  • Mehdi Rafsanjani arrested after being summoned to court on return from spending 2 years in the UK
  • Journalist & former Gorgan city council member, Abdolnaser Mahimani, arrested in Tehran while visiting his son
  • Adeleh Cheraghi arrested September 24. Her husband labor activist Alireza Askari recently released on bail
  • Ahmadinejad’s media advisor Aliakbar Javanfekr arrested & sent to Evin to start serving 6 months sentence
  • Mazandaran Uni student blogger Mani Tavakoli arrested on his way back home from Tehran. Whereabouts unknown
  • Activist Shokrollah Nazeri arrested after a search of his home. Whereabouts unknown
  • Prominent lawyer and member of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, Mohammad-Ali Dadkhah, began his 9-year prison sentence in Evin
  • Hasan Maadikhah taken to Evin to serve his 2.5 year sentence

C-Liberations

  • Green activist Mohamad Rahbari was released on Sept 11 after completing 6 months
  • Esmaeil Salmanpour, a Sarand earthquake relief worker was re-arrested and re-released
  • Hamid-Reza Moseibian, Behrooz Alavi, Hooman Taheri, and Vahed Kholousi - detained earthquake relief volunteers – released on bail
  • Rajabali Dashab (Babak) released after serving 3 year sentence
  • Activist Ali Samadpour released on bail after 83 days in detention

D-Other News

  • Azari activist Hamidreza Ranjbar sentenced to 3 yrs+74 lashes by court in Tabriz
  • Azari activist Mohamad Ahadi summoned by Court in Khoi for second time in 3 months
  • Labour activist Farhad Ebrahimi summoned to appear in court in Sanandaj
  • Sepehrdad Saheban summoned to Branch 23 of Tehran Revolutionary Court
  • Deteriorating health condition of political prisoner Fayzollah Arabsorkhi. Medical treatment not provided
  • Death row prisoner Zaniar Moradi denied medical treatment
  • Mohammad Rigi convicted of drug trafficking was hanged in Evin
  • 8 inmates executed en-masse in Ghezelhesar prison
  • 5 people sentenced for their Facebook activities
  • Mahvash Sabet Shahriari, one of the Baha’i leaders, suffering from osteoporosis but denied hip replacement surgery
  • Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani

    Foad Khanjani in urgent need to be hospitalised for back problems

  • Detainee Mohamad Eskandarian in need of medical attention for damaged ear after torture during 4 months of detention without charge
  • In all, 11 prisoners in Rajaei Shahr prison are being denied urgent medical treatment
  • At least 7 prominent activist arrested in West Azerbaijan, Iran ; charges, status, and whereabouts unknown
  • At least 15 people executed in the last two days in Tehran and Karaj

News of injustice in Iran

  • Iran among the top six worst performers in Freedom House’s Net Freedom Report
  • 17 Sunni teachers banned from teaching in Kurdistan province
  • Shargh Daily, reformist paper,banned again. Managing Editor and cartoonist Hadi Heidari summoned by judiciary over a cartoon deemed insulting to army

University – Culture

  • Severe floods in Rasht
  • IMF: Iran is experiencing a brain drain at the rate of 180,000 individuals per year
  • Iran cleric declares that temporary marriage is the only option for widowed women
  • New iPhone 5 selling for equivalent of US$1,320 in Tehran bazaar

Protests

  • Iranian activists from US, Canada and Europe went to New York to protest Ahmadinejad’s speech. A group attacked and assaulted the IRI foreign ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast
  • 10,000 more workers signed a petition against living conditions

Iran Economy

  • Toman-US Dollar rates hit 2720; Gold coins reach new record high 1,400,000 Toman
  • Luxury car imports up 30%

Iran abroad

  • Turkish trade deficit falls on gold sales to Iran
  • Ahmadinejad made his final visit as President to the United Nations General Assembly in New York
  • France, Germany, Britain want more sanctions on Iran
  • Argentina and Iran to discuss 1990s bombings – after Argentina threatened to close its embassy in Tehran
  • Iran looking to build relations with Afghanistan and India through Chahbahar port
  • Swiss-based Vitol trades Iranian fuel oil, skirting sanctions
  • Head of the European Union demanded the release of Mousavi, Rahnavard and Karoubi & wants a meeting with them
  • India’s imports from Iran fell 5% between July and August

Politics in Iran

  • Iran made additional claims about what it calls “foreign sabotage”
  • Iranian Minister of Culture threatens to boycott the 2013 Oscars in the wake of the anti-Islam film

Miscellaneous

  • Iran readies domestic Internet, reportedly blocks Google, Gmail, etc
  • (again) and then had to provide regime personnel with circumvention tools so that they can maintain access. The Minister of Communications denied these reports.

News from Iran – Week 37 – 2012

Ahmad Reza Ahmadpour
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Prisoners’ News

A- Transfers

Ahmad Reza Ahmadpour

  • Ahmad Reza Ahmadpour, defrocked cleric, transferred to Yazd Prison.
  • Human Rights activist Navid Khanjani has been transferred from Evin to Rejaei Shahr prison.
  • Hossein Ronaghi Maleki transferred to Tabriz prison quarantine in preparation for transfer to Evin.
  • Isa Saharkhiz transferred from Evin to Rejaei Shahr prison.
  • 6 of the earthquake volunteer aid workers arrested in Azerbaijan have been transferred to Evin 350:
    • Navid Khanjani
    • Sepehr Saheban
    • Esmaeil Salmanpour
    • Saeed Shirzad
    • Hooman Taheri
    • Masoud Vafabakhsh.

B- Arrests/Incarcerations

  • Samin Ehsani summoned to Evin to purge her sentence.
  • Rashid Esmaili member of Policy Council of Advar Tahkim (Alumni Society ) was arrested by IRGC agents.
  • Soleiman Mahmoudian arrested in Saqez and sent to Saqez prison.
  • Mehran Malaveisi arrested in Marivan and sent to Saqez prison.
  • Journalist/Human Rights activist Shiva Nazarahari sentenced to 4 years + 74 lashes reported to Evin to start serving her sentence.
  • Hamed and Jamal Sheikhi arrested in Marivan and sent to Saqez prison.

C-Liberations

  • Popular poet Mohammad-Reza Ali-Payam (Haloo) released on 100 million toman bail.
  • After 3 years imprisonment, journalist Masoud Bastani is released on furlough.
  • Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani released, acquitted of apostasy.
  • National-Religious activist Alireza Rejaei has been released from Evin on a 3 day furlough.
  • Abdollah Shahbazi, jailed Iranian historian, released.
  • Ali Tase released from Marivan prison after 2 months detention.
  • Obeid Zarei released from Marivan prison after 2 months detention.
  • These aid workers were released from custody:
    • Morteza Esmailpour
    • Danial Hasani
    • Esmail Salmanpour
    • Saeed Shirzad
    • Bahram Shojaei

D-Other News

Mohammad Tavassoli

  • After writing a letter to the Chief of the Judiciary, former Tehran mayor Mohammad Tavasoli summoned to court on a case that was closed 3 years ago.


News of injustice in Iran

  • Farzad Ahmadi, a labour activist and tailor, sentenced to 4 months in prison in Sanandaj.
  • Court of Appeals has upheld a 3 year sentence of Maryam Alangi. Her husband Mohsen Dogmechi died in prison last year.
  • The Appeals Court in Tehran has upheld a 5 year sentence for the Child Rights activist Samin Ehsani.
  • Court of Appeal has sentenced Zahra Mansouri to 2 years in prison and 5 years suspended.
  • Amanollah Mostaghim’s 5 year sentence upheld by Appeals.
  • Shahnaz Sagvand, wife of jailed worker Ali Nejati on trial, charged with spreading propaganda against the system through an interview with Foreign Media.
  • Gonabadi Dervish, Nosrat Tabasi, sentenced to 5 years in prison.
  • 11 people who were transferred from Ghezel Hesar prison to Evin Ward 240 were hanged, among them 5 Afghans.
  • A man was hanged in public on Monday in Shahrood.
  • Verdicts have been issued for 40 people involved in the bank fraud case. 4 have received the death penalty and 2 have received life in prison.


University – Culture

  • Gender Segregation forces girls to drop out from school in the villages of Yasuj due to lack of accommodation.
  • Qaraati: Iranian Universities should be equipped with “temporary marriage” headquarters.
  • Iran censures text messages containing the word “dollar” following collapse of its currency.


Iranian Economy

  • $1 = 2305 Toman on Saturday, 2430 on Sunday, 2600 on Monday, and 2500 (Euro 3250 ) on Tuesday.
  • Black Market estimated to account for 21% of Iranian economy.
  • Two manufacturing factories in Arak and Esfahan closed in one week; 600 workers lost their jobs.
  • Deputy Minister of Industry, Trade and Mines: 38% decrease in car production in the first 5 months of the year.
  • Iran’s Central Bank went bankrupt.
  • Iran surpasses Bolivia to become number one in the world in inequality in distribution of wealth.
  • Rent prices increase by a staggering 60% says Iran’s Census Bureau.


Iran  Abroad

  • Sierra Leone takes 10 Iranian ships off register.
  • Iran seeks to reopen London embassy; UK refuses.
  • Egypt denies in talks to buy Iranian oil.
  • Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, slammed Bahrain’s imposition of jail terms on 13 leading opposition figures in the kingdom.


Politics in Iran

  • The Majlis has set up a special joint friendship group to boost parliamentary ties with Syria, Egypt, Palestine and Morocco.
  • Protest against the American film caricaturing Mohammad in front of the Swiss Embassy.
  • 100 teachers in Hamadan protested deceptive announcement of Minister of Education claiming 15% rise been implemented.


Miscellaneous

  • Iran ambulance personnel get equipped with teargas.
  • Iranian Paralympians take home 24 medals.