Archive for December, 2008

Gaza: where are the Christmas peacemakers?

Posted: December 29, 2008 in Uncategorized
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I never thought I’d ask this question but where is Tony Blair?
As Hamas and the Israeli government square up – home-made rockets against F-18s – just where is our Middle East “peace envoy”?
I thought he might have come out and done something (although on past behaviour I don’t know what I could have been expecting.)
The people of Gaza have been living under a crippling blockade since the summer of 2007.
Its population of 1.5 million lack fuel, food and medical supplies. Seventy per cent are living without electricity.
In November 2008, John Ging, the United Nations’ senior official in Gaza, told the Washington Post: “This is a disastrous situation, and it’s getting worse and worse… It is unprecedented that the UN is unable to get its supplies in to a population under such obvious distress; many of these families have been subsisting on this ration for years, and they are living hand-to-mouth.”
That same month, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, while urging Hamas to end its rocket attacks, demanded the Israeli government lift its blockade.
“The Secretary-General is concerned that food and other life saving assistance is being denied to hundreds of thousands of people, and emphasizes that measures which increase the hardship and suffering of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as a whole are unacceptable and should cease immediately,” said a UN report.
Three out of four people in Gaza are living in poverty and 45 per cent are unemployed. Those, too, are UN figures.
According to the Red Cross, “chronic malnutrition is on a steadily rising trend and micronutrient deficiencies are of great concern”, while Unicef has reported that one in five of the population has access to six hours of water every five days – and other’s access is limited.
Today, on the third day of the latest violence, the death toll stands at 312 inside Gaza (according to Hamas) and two in Israel (according to Israeli police).
And what will the latest round of bloodshed achieve?
Robert Fisk notes in today’s Independent: “The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel’s anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas’s anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which … See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and … Got it? And we demand security for Israel – rightly – but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel.”
As Israel’s people prepare to go to the polls to elect a new prime minister in the new year, its army is apparently preparing to go into Gaza on the ground.
Fisk takes an Israeli general’s claim that “no country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them” and notes that when the IRA were firing mortars over the border into Northern Ireland, Britain did not unleash the RAF on the Irish Republic.
“Did the RAF bomb churches and tankers and police stations and zap 300 civilians to teach the Irish a lesson? No, it did not. Because the world would have seen it as criminal behaviour. We didn’t want to lower ourselves to the IRA’s level.”
And what of the people inside Gaza? What is their reaction to the Israeli government’s blockade and assault likely to be?
A yearning for friendship and peace with its neighbour? Or the harbouring of further hatred that will continue to expose the uselessness of our Middle East “peace envoys” for decades to come?

Cardiff Lib Dem councillors have reportedly added their support to the longstanding campaign for an inquiry into a number of miscarriages of justice in South Wales.
But the latest campaign calls – sparked by Plaid Cymru councillor Neil McEvoy – have caused a row.
If Cardiff council agrees to back the public inquiry then, as the South Wales Echo reports, it would force the city’s two representatives on the South Wales Police Authority into an embarrassing position.
Jacqui Gasson, the Caerau Liberal Democrat councillor who is Cardiff’s longest serving representative on the police authority, is said to be “furious” and is particularly concerned about an inquiry’s costs.
“This smacks of old Labour,” she told the South Wales Echo. “I will not be mandated to do anything. I want to know what the public thinks. Would the public agree for their policing suffering to pay for a public inquiry that should have been held more than 10 years ago?
“I agree in principle with what Neil wants but this should have been done 10 years ago and not at a cost to the police authority purse.”
Coun Gasson’s statement raises two points.
Firstly, the campaigners have indeed been calling for an inquiry for the last decade. Michael O’Brien, of the Cardiff Newsagent Three, for instance, did so on the steps of the Court of Appeal in December 1998 – virtually 10 years to the day. His voice joined those of South Wales Liberty (now South Wales Against Wrongful Conviction) and fellow miscarriage victims Jonathan Jones and Annette Hewins.
Should those who suffered the miscarriages and the families of those who lost loved ones in the unsolved crimes be denied answers simply because the police and politicians keep batting the issue into the long grass?
Secondly, we don’t have to go back 10 years to find a dedicated and experienced councillor, and a member of the South Wales Police Authority, saying she was “embarrassed and uncomfortable” about the oppressive actions of some officers in the cases.
She said she had been “horrified” at the appeal court judges’ comments in the Newsagent Three case, for instance, and added: “I am one of those people who believes the police cannot investigate themselves and because of the number of cases here I support a public inquiry.”
The councillor was speaking at a cross-party press conference in Cardiff in July 2002, and was reported in the South Wales Echo.
The councillor’s name? Jacqui Gasson.
Maybe Coun Gasson should go back to seeing this as a matter of principle. One of her roles as a police authority member, after all, is to ensure the force is “effective, efficient and accountable to the public”.
Coun McEvoy says of his motion on the inquiry: “Even if we aren’t successful in forcing a public inquiry, it is important that the capital city of Wales is saying what went on is unacceptable.”

DNA database ruling

Posted: December 4, 2008 in Uncategorized
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The storage of innocent people’s DNA by the UK government “could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society”, according to the European Court of Human Rights.
Court judges made the comment as they ruled that two British men should not have had their DNA and fingerprints retained by police.
The men’s information was held by South Yorkshire Police, although neither was convicted of any offence.
The judgment is likely to have major implications on how DNA records are stored in the UK national database.
The details of about 4.5 million people are held and one in five of them does not have a criminal record.
Under present laws, the DNA profiles of everyone arrested for a recordable offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are kept on the database, regardless of whether they are charged or convicted.
The European court found that the police’s actions in the case of the two men were in violation of Article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life – of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The judges ruled the retention of their DNA “failed to strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests,” and that the UK government “had overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation in this regard”.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: “The government mounted a robust defence before the court and I strongly believe DNA and fingerprints play an invaluable role in fighting crime and bringing people to justice.
“The existing law will remain in place while we carefully consider the judgment.”
Phil Booth, of the NO2ID group, which campaigns against identity cards, said: “This is a victory for liberty and privacy.
“Though these judgments are always complicated and slow in coming, it is a vindication of what privacy campaigners have said all along.
“The principle that we need to follow is simple – when charges are dropped suspect samples are destroyed. No charge, no DNA.”
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics reports on the ethical questions raised by recent advances in biological and medical research.
Its director, Hugh Whittall, said: “We agree wholeheartedly with this ruling. The DNA of innocent people should not be kept by police.
“People feel it is an invasion of their privacy, and there is no evidence that removing from the DNA database people who have not been charged or convicted will lead to serious crimes going undetected.
“The government now has an obligation to bring its own policies into line.”
Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood said the ruling “should signal the start of a process whereby the police should destroy DNA and fingerprints of all those who have not been convicted”.
“We are living that people living in a so called democratic society yet these two men had to take their case to a European Court to defend their human rights,” she said.
“This decision comes just before the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the December 10. Now more than ever we must be vigilant about our rights. This case shows why we must remain vigilant about our rights.”