Spotlight on Clive Stafford Smith OBE

Part 2 of 2

Each month, the HRC Blog features a significant figure from the Human Rights community to go under the Spotlight, answering questions put by students from the University of Essex.  This month, we feature Clive Stafford Smith OBE.  Part 1 covered questions about the death penalty and COVID19.   

 

NINTCHDBPICT000589082437Note from the Editor: This week is a particularly poignant one for Clive as it would have been the 60th birthday of Edward Earl Johnson, who was wrongfully executed in a Mississippi gas chamber in 1987 at the age of 26.   Edward’s tragic case came to the world’s attention through the documentary, Fourteen Days in May, which captured Clive’s attempts to halt the execution and followed Edward’s last few days and very final moments.  I would urge anyone interested in human rights and justice to watch this powerful documentary and support the work of Reprieve , the organisation Clive founded to give free legal support to the most vulnerable and forgotten people in this world. 

I would like to thank Clive for spending some of his precious time in answering our questions and for his inspiration to those of us joining the growing global human rights defence team.

 

About Clive

Clive Stafford SMithClive Stafford Smith is the founder of ‘Reprieve’ and a well known human rights lawyer.  He has spent his career fighting against the death penalty in America, only taking cases of those who could not afford a lawyer, assisting in the representation over 400 prisoners and preventing their execution in 98% of cases.  Clive is also known for his work in representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, successfully suing the US government to gain access to the facility, and helping to secure the release of some 80 detainees to date, with seven clients still there.  In addition to visiting and representing the detainees, Clive tracked down the families of ‘disappeared’ prisoners across the Middle East, prompting some unwelcome ‘interest’ from US allies, including the Jordanian Secret Police, who detained him in 2004.  In 2000, Clive was awarded an OBE for ‘humanitarian services’ and has won a raft of awards in the field of human rights.

 

Students’ Questions Answered

Clive was gracious enough to allow the students at Essex an opportunity to send him  some questions about his experiences and ongoing work in the field of human rights.  Clive answered questions on a range of topics.  In this second part, we explore the topics of Guantanamo Bay,  criminal justice reform and the decolonisation of the curriculum.  Clive also has some wise words of advice for our human rights students.

 

COUNTER-TERRORISM  & GUANTANAMO BAY

Clive&HonorBound

Clive at the entrance to Guantanamo Bay

Q: What challenges does the use of new technologies in counter-terrorism measures create for human rights activists?

A: There is no such thing as a challenge, only an opportunity.  But certainly the Drone Age means that we kill people around with world with some degree of impunity.

And for those of you who have read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, it is notable that his first law of robotics (coined in 1950, shortly after the first use of a nuclear bomb) states: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Sad to say, like the Manhattan Project and nuclear weapons, the military is in charge of most AI being used in drones, and the only use is to kill people. Again, we have the world upside down.

 

Q: To what extent do you believe that removing the human element in extrajudicial executions through the use of unmanned drones in the war on terror has led to an increase in human rights violations and blow-back on western powers?

A: This is indubitably true, as it has lowered the threshold for warfare (we can kill people in Waziristan without risk of American body bags – indeed while our “drone pilots” are drinking coffee in Nevada). We have also ignored hundreds of years of the developments of the law against assassination, and are going around the world killing people.

And that is just the Americans and the British. In turn, we encourage others, like the Russians (in Salisbury) and the deranged President Duterte (in the Philippines).

 

Q: Does the Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board still exist and does it still operate?  And what are the prospects for those already cleared for release being allowed to return to their home countries during Trump’s tenure..…Abdul Latif Nasser being one.

A: The “review processes” in Gitmo have always been a sham – “kangaroo courts” in the words of UK Justice Steyn. Nobody has been cleared since Trump became president so it does not matter that the PRB still exists in theory.  Nobody is going to be released by Trump, based on his midnight tweets. It is back to the middle ages, when a king could just lock you up without trial based on his fiat.

 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Black Lives Matter Black Friday

Q: With the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter movement garnering an unforeseen amount of international pressure for racial justice, civil rights activists are championing for total criminal justice reform in the US.  If this were to occur, in what context would you see this happening? What would be your primary goals in the implementation of a ‘just’ criminal justice system?

A: By and large I would encourage people not to tinker with the machinery of death and incarceration. It is anathema. I would no more send someone I love to prison, no matter what they did, than I would thrash my 11 year old child. Prison solves nothing at all.

Yes, there are some dangerous people. Many of them are currently policemen with guns, but others are those who start wars, and there are people who commit serious offences like murder. But if you think you would never murder, you need to ask yourself why? Is it because you are somehow morally superior (like the Klan?) or is it because you had many benefits that others do not have?

There are other solutions to our societal problems, but for that you may have to wait for my next (thrilling) book…

 

DECOLONISING THE CURRICULUM

UDHRQ: Many people are calling for the de-colonisation of the educational curriculum in Europe and America.  Do you believe the same is necessary in the theory and practice of human rights in order to provide genuinely universal implementation?

A: It is not so much de-colonisation that we need, as de-mystification. What we are taught in schools and in life is just nonsense on many levels. People were not “men of their times” they were barbarians. As are we today in many ways. The more interesting issue is whether we cannot look at ourselves today and identify the way in which we, as a society, are just mad.  Obviously racism is mad.

I challenge everyone to come up with at least one practice that you see around you where the overwhelming majority of the world (or your country) thinks it is totally right and justified, but you think they are all a bit deranged. Racism is not good enough as there are lots of people who think that is insane. So you have to go much further afield. If you can’t think of any, then I fear you are a subject of indoctrination in the same way as the people were who burned the witches in Salem.

One example might be the idea that Britain should have closed borders and clutch close to our breasts all the benefits we have from pillaging other countries, just because we happened to get away with it and now say we are “British”. But in my world there are many examples. I sit watching the world around me with bemusement.

At a very simple level, human rights are about humans. They are not about British people or Americans.  It is telling in this regard that the US has not ratified one human rights convention that is enforceable in a US court; just as it is telling that the British think that “parliamentary supremacy” means that Priti Patel can tell us how nasty we should be to other people (rather than supremacy over a nasty executive, originally perhaps King Charles 1).

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

Campaignagainstarms tradeQ: With economic interests at the heart of international relations, what are the prospects for holding the states with the biggest pockets accountable for human rights violations?  And if existing mechanisms are not working to provide that accountability, what can we do as human rights advocates to make real change?

A: “Accountability” does not mean prosecuting people and putting them in prison. On one level, that makes us as unpleasant as them. Rather, it means bringing power to the powerless, and putting a stop sign up to abuses. That is remarkably easy, partly because you and I are not afraid of anyone, and politicians are afraid of everyone.

Power is not just about law, which is only one tool in our tool box. It is as much about the court of public opinion. So those of us who are privileged – which includes everyone who has the spare time to read me rambling on – just has to do what my mother told me to do, which is to get between the haters and the people who are being hated, and just say ‘No’.

 

FINDING NEW TACTICS THAT WORK

social mediaQ: As a Human Rights Lawyer, one needs to keep on transforming ways to keep the cause alive but sometimes bringing change is difficult.   How have the tactics changed over the years to today, when social media has become such an important tool for mobilizing causes?

A: You’d be bored to death if you did the same things all the time, but the rules actually remain the same. The most important rule is that we are Brer Rabbit and the when they misbehave the government plays Brer Fox (as do the other bad guys). That means that the government is very big and quite strong, but not terribly clever; whereas you are small, rather clever, and a teeny bit arrogant. So all you have to worry about is getting a bit ahead of yourself.

Our job is persuasion. Another flaw the liberals have is that they are too pious and take themselves too seriously.  Humour is a much more persuasive tool than piety.  And we have to remember that we are trying to persuade people who speak different languages.

There is good in everyone but you have to find it. An example would be a capital jury trial: the jurors can only get on the case if they promise that they can impose the death penalty so you are foolish if you preach to them that the death penalty is immoral. It also does not work to quote Shakespeare as I once did (“The Quality of Mercy is not Strain’d”). On the other hand, in the US the chances are they are Christian, which means that the death penalty is really about Matthew chapter 5, verse vii: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Translated to a juror, this means that if you do as the prosecutor wants and show no mercy, you get eternal damnation; if you do as I suggest and show mercy, you go to heaven. Your choice.

 

HIGHS, LOWS AND SOME WISE WORDS

Cliveypoo_opt-150x150Q: What has been your greatest achievement and your biggest failure or regret throughout your career?

A: Hard to say here. I have learned huge amounts from people I have represented, and also been able to hand back lives to a fair number of people who were being tormented by one government or another. That is cool, but I don’t think of it as an achievement, so much as a privilege.

On the other side of the ledger, notwithstanding losing six clients to the chamber (including Edward Earl Johnson – you can watch that miserable failure online.  My greatest failure by far is the fact that I advocated life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty in the 1980s at a time when life generally meant 7 to 10 years.  Jurors would vote death because they were afraid of parole and so I wrote a fairly influential article about how we should have “truth in sentencing” so that life meant life – purely to avoid the death penalty.

Taking the fact that there are now 206,000 people serving LWOP in the US, and that they each serve at least 25 extra years each, I recently calculated that my bright idea had caused perhaps a total of 1,954 MILLION days of additional prison misery for people.

I don’t beat myself up about this too much. I think it was an astoundingly stupid thing to advocate, but the best I can do is never to allow another of my clients to suffer LWOP.

 

Q: Do you have any unfulfilled burning ambitions left?

A: I am not sure I have any “ambitions” – that is an odd word.  I do have lots and lots of things I want to do. And they change every day as there are fascinating things all around. I just wish there were 72 hours in the day.

 

Q: What advice do you have for any students embarking on a career in human rights?

A: I am afraid I have a full lecture (rant!) on this, and we will have to share it sometime. But in a word, never accept the foolish rules society (and your teachers!) foist upon you.  Do not ask yourself, for one thing, how you can ‘get’ a job – rather, think how you can create the job you want to do.  I have never had a real job in my life and I do not plan to have one. Instead, I have always created the job I want, and raised the money to fund it.  When you think how much time you waste on other things like Latin and Maths (I have never found a Roman to talk to, and while I did Further Maths A level it has no relevance to my life), it is astounding that we spend so little time working on creating a job we’d like to do.

 

 

 

Spotlight on Sami Al Haj

By Pauline Canham

Each month, the HRC Blog will feature a significant figure, or team from the Human Rights community to go under the Spotlight, answering questions put by students from Essex University.  This month, we feature Sami Al Haj.

Sami_al_haj

Image courtesy of Al Jazeera Media Network

About Sami

Sami Al Haj is the Director of the Centre for Public Liberties & Human Rights at the Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN) in Doha, Qatar.  He was born in Sudan and started working for Al Jazeera as a cameraman in 2001.  Shortly after the events of 9/11, he was sent to cover the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, an assignment that would change his life forever.  After two months, while crossing from Kandahar across the border into Pakistan, Sami was arrested and detained by Pakistani Intelligence on 15th December 2001 and subsequently handed over to the Americans.  Nothing could have prepared Sami for the horrors that were to come and the course that his life would take as a result.  After some time at the infamous Bagram detention facility, where he experienced harsh and humiliating treatment, he was transferred to a facility in Kandahar and then on to Guantanamo Bay, where he remained as Prisoner 345 for 6 years, without charge.

Guantanamo_captives_in_January_2002

 

While there, according to Sami’s lawyer and founder of Reprieve, Clive Stafford Smith, “Sami endured horrendous cruelty – sexual abuse and religious persecution”. He was beaten, deprived of sleep and force-fed after going on hunger strike.

On 1st May 2008, Sami was released without charge.  He said that he was glad to be free but sad that his ‘brothers’ remained in the hands of “people that claim to be champions of peace and protectors of rights and freedoms.  But a true just peace doesn’t come from military force or threats to use…bombs or economic sanctions.  Justice comes from lifting oppression and guaranteeing rights and freedoms and respecting the will of the people…”

Shortly after his release, and his long awaited reunion with his wife and son, Sami returned to Al Jazeera, where he created a new team dedicated to the field of human rights and civil liberties.

IMG_6213

 

Students’ Questions Answered

Sami_al_haj_smSami was gracious enough to allow the students at Essex an opportunity to send him and his team some questions about his experiences and ongoing work in the field of human rights:

 

Q: It is almost 20 years since 9/11 – What are the biggest changes faced by journalists and humanitarian aid workers operating on the ground in war zones, and have the policies of the war on terror had a ‘chilling effect’ on journalists’ ability to hold truth to power?

A: Regrettably,  journalists are now facing a far worse reality with regard to field coverage. Authorities, militias, and armed groups all endeavour to suppress the voice of truth.   Counter- terrorism policies went to the extent to limit the range of ethical journalism and criminalize journalists.  Press freedom has been compromised all over the world.

 

Q: To what extent do you believe that the CIA Enhance Interrogation Program at Abu Ghraib and other so called ‘black sites’ emboldened repressive regimes in their own torture practices?

A: Tyrants and dictators felt at ease seeing the free world legitimizing water-boarding and torture, we can see that in the Middle East and elsewhere.

 

Q: After your experiences at Guantanamo, do you believe in the universality of human rights both as a concept and in practice?

A: Indeed. My personal experience has provided me with a more humane universal vision and understanding.   I believe human rights should be granted to all individuals regardless of their race, religion or nationality.   Human Rights mechanisms and intentions are good.   However, unfortunately, in practice, things are quite different.

 

Q: Were you told why you were being detained in Guantanamo?   And what gave you the strength to endure your detention?

A: My guards told me that I was being brought to Guantanamo and I would never leave alive.   No information was given except that YOU ARE GUILTY, YOU ARE A TERRORIST!!   I endured due to my strong belief in Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.  Throughout my tormenting experience, I believed that I would go out and support my family.

 

Q: To what extent do we see a repetition of the policies of exceptionalism that we saw immediately after 9/11 playing out now in Syria, and how can we ensure a fair judicial process to those accused of involvement with ISIL?

A: Unfortunately, all Middle Eastern regimes  do not believe in an independent judiciary system, and the British and Americans do not want the defendants to stand trial in London nor in Washington DC.

 

Q: How can journalists, humanitarian workers and human rights practitioners maintain their safety in hostile environments?

A: They should adhere to safety guidelines, and subject themselves to strict professional training.   At our Centre at Al Jazeera, for example, we have a Safety Section, and we provide journalists in the Middle East and elsewhere with workshops on the necessity of safety.

IMG_9620

 

Q: Can you tell us more about your team and objectives at Al Jazeera?

A: The Public Liberties and Human Rights Centre first started as a specialised desk within the Al Jazeera Arabic newsroom in 2008 and expanded to become a Centre in 2015.  The Centre now has a team of 14, all based at Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, spread between the Arabic and English newsrooms and online, writing articles and doing research.  Our aim is to ensure human rights content across all AJMN platforms, to raise awareness and competence of international humanitarian law with journalists in the field,  and inform the public about human rights issues and legislation.  In addition, we endeavour to build and develop strategic partnerships with international, regional and local organisations to identify human rights violations and contribute to the promotion of freedom of expression and the press.

 

Q: How does Human Rights fit with Al Jazeera’s core business?

A: Human Rights issues are no longer fleeting news, but at the core of what the Al Jazeera Media Network does.  Al Jazeera’s interest in human rights has clearly emerged as a key element during analysis and discussion both in general and more particularly in the area of press freedom and the detention of journalists.

 

Q: What achievements you are most proud of in the work that you have done over the last 12 years?

A: I believe, over the last 12 years, we have done very well with regard to spreading the culture of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa.  We are now an effective partner of UNESCO, specifically with respect to Press Freedom and we work closely with the International Press Institution.   Our editorial section has contributed over 5,000 pieces and 6 full length documentaries and our partnership section has held more than 60 workshops with international experts from the UN and other global institutions benefitting over 1000 journalists from Al Jazeera and other media organisations.  We are also very proud of our Global Solidarity Initiatives, working in partnership with other media organisations in the areas of press freedom, anti-hate speech, protection of journalists and humanitarian workers, safeguarding displaced persons, rights of prisoners and detainees, and consolidation of transitional justice and the rule of law.

 

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges and the top 3 priorities for human rights advocates around the world?

A: The biggest challenge right now is the rise of the far right all over the globe.  The top 3 priorities are Right to Religion, Right to Health and Press Freedom.

 

Q: What one piece of advice would you give to a human rights student just starting out on their career?

A: Never compromise.

 

My thanks to Sami and his team for engaging so generously with the questions from our students.  The HRC Blog Editorial team will be publishing further Spotlights in the coming weeks and months and welcome suggestions from students, staff and alumni for subjects they’d like to see featured.

 

 

International Human Rights News: Weekly Roundup

by Julia Kedziorek and Amita Dhiman

Each week students at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre prepare an overview of the past week’s human rights related news stories from around the world.  This summary contains news articles from 5th March to 11th March 2020.

This week’s stories in focus

International Women’s Day Protests around the world

Women took to the streets around the world on the 8th March to protest against inequality and gender violence…

Mexican women: “This is our feminist spring”

80,000 people took the streets of Mexico on 8th March, protesting against gender-based violence. Women went on strike for a day, across areas of both professional and domestic life, to highlight the impact of their absence. Mexico has the highest number of murders of women, averaging more than 10 a day,  320 in January 2020 alone.

The aim of the protests was to challenge the misogynistic view of women held in Mexico’s masculine culture. “Mexico is a country of rights, but only on paper” said  Ana Pe cova, Director of EQUIS Justice for Women.

Female protestors in Kyrgyzstan arrested

In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, dozens of women were arrested for ‘public order offences’ as they protested against gender violence and inequality, while masked men attacked them, injuring some and tearing up their placards

 

Stop the executions of tortured detainees!

Death_penaltyBahrain
Human Rights Watch is calling for the Bahraini authorities to overturn the death sentences of two men who allege they were tortured during detention.  Their original convictions were reversed in Oct 2018 when evidence emerged to support their torture allegations but was reinstated by the High Court of Appeal in 2020.

Egypt
UN human rights experts have called for the release of 4 minors, among those facing death sentences in a mass trial in Egypt.   British MPs are urging the Foreign Secretary to intervene on human rights grounds, and Amnesty International’s MENA Research and Advocacy Director, Philip Luther said “The death penalty can never deliver justice” particularly when the defendants have alleged that they were subject to torture.

‘LGBT+ free zones’ in Poland 

LGBTFreezonesOver 100 municipalities in the south-east of Poland have declared themselves as “LGBT ideology free” zones.  There has been a rise of right-wing rhetoric from the ‘Law and Justice’ ruling party, declaring the LGBT community a threat to traditional Catholic based Polish morality.  The anti-LGBT movement’s aim is to stop the “rainbow plague” (a term coined by the Archbishop of Krakow), destroying the morality of Poland’s youth.  Although the zones have no basis in law, they are a clear example of encouraging discrimination.

Bart Staszewski (pictured), an LGBT activist and film-maker, has created “Military zone-do not enter”-style road signs as part of a project to highlight the discrimination.  Adam Bodnar, Poland’s independent Commissioner for Human Rights, stated the Government is increasingly homophobic in its sentiments and questioned the allocation of EU funds in areas that allow discrimination to flourish. The European Parliament adopted a convention condemning the so called  “LGBTI-free zones” in December 2019.

The abduction of the daughter of Dubai ruler from a UK street

Shamza_AlMaktoumThe lapsed investigation into the disappearance of Sheikha Shamsa, the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, from the streets of Cambridge 20 years ago is to be reviewed by police.   Human Rights Watch is pressing for the release of the ruler’s 2 daughters, who are said to be held captive in the UAE.  Shamsa was abducted in 2000 and her sister, Latifa, was kidnapped and forced back to Dubai, after fleeing on a boat to India in 2018.  Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the Emir of Dubai and the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates.  Sheikh Mohammed has strong ties with the UK, creating the largest horse racing team in the world and is a regular at Ascot, often photographed with the Queen.

 

Other stories making the news around the world

International

Africa

Europe

Latin America and the Caribbean

Middle East

North America

South and South-East Asia

West and Central Asia

An Independent Investigative Mechanism: Identifying Ways To Combat Impunity In Georgia

By Mariam Uberi

According to a number of civil society and human rights commentators, Georgia requires an effective independent body to deal with the investigation of torture perpetrated by law enforcement officials.

Between 2013 and 2015, the Public Defender’s office made 58 referrals to the General Prosecutor’s office to investigate alleged ill treatment of prisoners either by the police or prison staff. Some reports indicate that the Prosecution office has either dropped some investigations or did not provide any information during the course of the investigation.

In 2016, the number of alleged acts of ill treatment committed by the police was higher than that perpetrated by prison staff. The number of referrals for investigations into ill treatment in prisons dropped by one third. Reportedly, only two of 173 allegations of ill treatment perpetrated by police were brought to the court.

These statistics raise serious questions around whether the investigative powers vested to the State security services, the Ministry of Corrections and the Ministry of Internal Affairs lack adequate guarantees of independence and impartiality to address legal wrongs by its public authorities. Further, the Public Defender’s office and various UN human rights bodies have highlighted trends of either dismissing allegations of ill treatment against state agents or instigating charges that carry lesser sentences.

This post will review the national legislative framework on torture and ill treatment and how it is implemented. It will then provide an overview of pertinent human rights obligations and will review a draft law on independent investigative mechanisms aimed at ending impunity by law enforcement agents.

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The European Court of Human Rights exercises due deference to Great Britain: Ireland v United Kingdom redux (2018)

The Long Read Series

By Aoife Duffy

Just over 40 years after its famous Ireland v United Kingdom judgment, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the Irish government’s request to review its 1978 finding that the United Kingdom had committed an Article 3 violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 3 states that “[n]o one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The historical context of the original ruling was violent conflict in Northern Ireland; the contemporary context of the revision judgment is intense debate about European institutions and standards following the Brexit referendum. Whereas the European Commission found that the United Kingdom’s combined use of five techniques – hooding, wall standing, exposure to white noise, reduced diet and sleep deprivation – amounted to torture, the European Court categorised the system of interrogation not as torture, but inhuman and degrading treatment. In 2014, the Irish government submitted a revision request under the Rules of the Court on the basis of fresh evidence – a dossier of declassified files released under the 30 year rule that seemed to corroborate the Commission’s finding of torture. In short, the Irish government argued that had these facts been known at the time, the European Court would not have diverged from the Commission’s finding of torture. This post will demonstrate that the revision judgment was settled along weak procedural lines, which can easily be picked apart by reference to the declassified files that triggered the revision request. In addition, it will question the utility of situating history making in this type of legal forum.

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