28 July, 2010

The killing fields of Cambodia - "justice" at last ?

Appalling cruelty from one individual to his fellow men seems to be endemic in the human race.  This was never more so than in Cambodia (formerly Kampuchea) under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s.

From 1975 to 1979 the S-21 Security Centre operated in Cambodia.  Over 12,000 people were ruthlessly killed by the Khmer Rouge regime.  The leader of S-21, an appalling individual called Kaing Guek Eav (alias Duch), has been sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for his prominent role in these atrocities which amounted to crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions 1949.  See The Guardian 25th July 2010.

He was sentenced by the "Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia" which is a national court but United Nations appointed judges and prosecutors were used.

In passing the sentence, the court found that there was mitigation: co-operation with the Chamber; admission of responsibility; limited expressions of remorse and the coercive atmosphere in the country at the time and potential for rehabilitation.  The informed reader may well doubt some of those and, even if they are accepted, the reader may well feel that the immense seriousness of his criminality merited nothing less than the remainder of his life in prison.  It is little wonder that the few known survivors are unhappy with the outcome - see BBC "Tears and Disbelief at his sentence".  The court's statement may be read on their website - see here.

It is reported that Duch will appeal against his sentence - BBC 28th July.  This may be his right but it hardly shows a jot of remorse.

Addendum 30th July:   A film "Enemies of the People" deals with aspects of the Khmer Rouge regime in Kampuchea.  The film is co-directed by Thet Sambath.  An interesting and rather moving article appeared in The Guardian 27th July and see also New York Times 29th July.  Thet Sambath's views about justice not being vindictive are very powerful.  In Cambodia there is a museum at Tuol Seng dedicated to the genocide which took place.

Addendum 28th March 2011:   The appeal by Eav against his sentence has commenced.  In a heavily criticised move, it has already been commuted to 19 years imprisonment - The Guardian 28th March 2011.

Addendum 2nd February 2012:  Eav's sentence was increased to life imprisonment to reflect to gravity of his offending - BBC 2nd February 2012.

23 July, 2010


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued an Advisory Opinion relating to Kosovo which declared independence from Serbia on 17th February 2008.  Here is a link to the opinion which is to the effect that the declaration of independence did not violate international law.  This is far from being a ruling that Kosovo is an independent State - see here for the views of international law expert Professor Paolo Gaeta

The U.K. maintains an Embassy in Kosovo and William Hague (Foreign Secretary) has commented on the ICJ ruling.  Hague said - "The UK holds firm in its conviction that Kosovo's status as a State and with its territory defined by its existing borders is a positive force for stability in the Western Balkans. I urge both Kosovo and Serbia to embrace this opportunity to reconcile and to become good neighbours."

The EULEX KOSOVO website is an interesting source of information. 

See also "The World Court's Non-Opinion" - article on Opinio Juris

20 July, 2010

Chilcot: Former Director of MI5 said that Iraq "radicalised" Muslims

In evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry, the former Director of MI5 (Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller) said that the Iraq War "radicalised" Muslims.  See The Guardian 20th July and analysis of her evidence by Richard Norton-Taylor - The Guardian 20th July.  To be frank, most ordinary people will probably find this entirely unsurprising.  The U.K. has a considerable Muslim population and their feelings appeared to count for little in the eyes of the Blair government when it decided to join the USA in the Iraq occupation.

Further on this story - The Independent 21st July 2010 - which argues that Manningham-Buller has "destroyed" Blair's argument that the Iraq War would make the world safer.

15 July, 2010

So-called "Detainee Legacy Issues" ...

The Guardian 15th July 2010 reports on documents made public in a High Court case brought by certain former detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Key passages from the documents may be seen on the Guardian's website - here.  The Guardian's report states:

"The true extent of the Labour government's involvement in the illegal abduction and torture of its own citizens after the al-Qaida attacks of September 2001 has been spelled out in stark detail with the disclosure during high court proceedings of a mass of highly classified documents.
 Previously secret papers that have been disclosed include a number implicating Tony Blair's office in many of the events that are to be the subject of the judicial inquiry that David Cameron announced last week.
Among the most damning documents are a series of interrogation reports from MI5 officers that betray their disregard for the suffering of a British resident whom they were questioning at a US airbase in Afghanistan. The documents also show that the officers were content to see the mistreatment continue."
The present government clearly wishes that this litigation would come to an end and that the cases are settled by mediation.  An inquiry has been announced (see here) to be chaired by Sir Peter Gibson (a former Lord Justice of Appeal).  The government appears to refer to these cases as "detainee legacy issues".  Of course, the cases are one aspect of the appalling mess left behind by the Labour Government but it is the United Kingdom (as a State) which will have to bear any eventual responsibility and it is the U.K. which is a signatory to the international Convention on Torture.

The UK Human Rights Blog (prepared by barristers at 1 Crown Office Row) covers this story.

The possible involvement of Jack Straw and Downing Street in the rendition to Guantanamo of Martin Mubanga is also of concern - see here.  

There is now more than adequate material to say that the former Labour government has definitely got a "case to answer" and it is high time that the public heard the truth instead of government always hiding behind the mantra of national security.  In the aftermath of "9/11" some western politicians appear to have forgotten just what our traditional values are.

10 July, 2010

Her Majesty addressed the United Nations General Assembly

Her Majesty The Queen addressed the U.N. General Assembly on 6th July 2010.  Her visit may be viewed on the Monarchy website.  His Excellency the Secretary-General of the U.N. referred to her as a symbol of "grace, constancy and dignity".  Of that there is no doubt.  See Ban Ki Moon's comments.

09 July, 2010

Complicity in Torture - Inquiry announced by UK government

On 6th July, the Prime Minister (David Cameron) announced that there would be an inquiry into the question of British complicity in torture conducted abroad - BBC 6th July. The Guardian 6th July also reported on this important development - Guardian 6th July.  There has been serious concern over a number of years about whether Britain has been in some way complicit in either torture or in extraordinary rendition.  For example, Binyam Mohamed claimed that British agents put questions (via the CIA) to his interrogators.  The previous government failed to deal adequately with these allegations and there is little doubt that this has done damage to Britain's standing in world opinion.

This inquiry is to be led by former appeal court judge Sir Peter Gibson who is now the Intelligence Services Commissioner.  Therein lies what is perhaps the first criticism of the inquiry.  As the civil rights body Liberty put it - "his continuing role as Intelligence Services Commissioner since 2006 ... will hardly give torture victims and the wider public the sense of a fresh pair of eyes on a sore that has festered in the shadows for so long".  He is to be assisted by Dame Janet Paraskeva (Civil Service Commissioner) and Peter Riddell (a former journalist).

No prosecutions can result since witnesses will be granted indemnity.  (Note: This was also done in relation to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry in Northern Ireland).  Interestingly, it is now some 18 months since the Attorney-General of the day was reported to be considering ordering an investigation into allegations that British agents fed questions, via the CIA, to those interrogating Binyam Mohamed - see Telegraph February 2009.

Cogent criticisms of the inquiry are set out by REPRIEVE.  Against a background of such criticism it is to be doubted that the inquiry will convince right-thinking public opinion.  However, the announcement of the inquiry is welcome.  It is charged with reporting by the end of this year.

With regard to publishing the inquiry findings, it is worth noting that Sir Peter Gibson conducted a review in connection with Intelligence and the Omagh Bombings in 1998 - see Northern Ireland Office. His key   findings were put in the public domain.

See UK Human Rights Blog - for a very good article covering in full David Cameron's statement
See also Watching the Law - May 2010.

Addendum: 20th July 2010 - the human rights organisation "REPRIEVE" is calling for Sir Peter Gibson to stand down from this inquiry.  They have a point.

Addendum: 29th July 2010 - the government has rejected the accusation that Sir Peter Gibson might be compromised in conducting the inquiry - see The Guardian 29th July.   They see the attack by REPRIEVE as "unwarranted and baseless".  They add that, since he is not sitting as a judge conducting litigation or a statutory inquiry, there is no legal obligation to satisfy the tests of impartiality and independence which would apply in those situations.  I still think that REPRIEVE have a point but there it is.

02 July, 2010

Foreign Affairs and the new government: No.3

The Foreign Secretary (William Hague) has set out the foreign policy approach which the new British government will adopt.  See Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2nd July 2010.  The speech received a detailed look by The Independent 2nd July 2010.  Hague referred to the U.K. maintaining its relationship with the U.S.A. but it would be a "solid not slavish" relationship.  There will be greater emphasis on the European Union and the government would seek to increase Britain's influence by increasing the number of officials working for the E.U.  (The U.K. is 12% of the E.U. population - which now comprises 27 nations - but has 1.8% of the staff).  There would also be increased diplomacy with India, China, Brazil and Latin American nations.  Of course, those are the growing economies of the world and good relationships with them will be vital in the decades ahead.  However, as the Independent article notes, the U.K. cannot enter into international trade arrangements on its own but acts via the E.U.  Given the current economic climate in the U.K. it is difficult to see where the resources will come from in order to increase diplomacy but, in many ways, the U.K. cannot afford not to do so.

01 July, 2010

How Goldsmith changed advice on the legality of war

The Independent 1st July 2010 published an article showing the steps through which Lord Goldsmith QC came to his final advice about the legality of the Iraq War.  This topic is discussed in greater detail in the post below.

Meanwhile, the events surrounding Iraq continue to produce points of controversy - e.g. the Dr Kelly Inquiry is in the news again - see Daily Mail 1st July.  The Supreme Court of the U.K. has reversed the Court of Appeal in a case concerning the death of a soldier in Iraq - see The Guardian 1st JulyThe Guardian 1st July also comments about the Iraq Inquiry and Goldsmith's advice, pointing out that the Iraq Inquiry is all about the political context in which Goldsmith operated.  Yet another article covers the refusal of the British Ministry of Defence to hold an inquiry into certain Iraqi civilian deaths which occurred when the detainees were under British control - see here.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, continues to collect honours in recognition of his work for "liberty", the latest being the Liberty Medal awarded by the U.S. National Constitution Centre - see Telegraph 1st July.  Blair was, along with U.S. President George W. Bush, one of the architects of the military action in Iraq from 2003.