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  • US and EU Accused of Turning a Blind Eye to ‘Rampant Torture’ in Uzbekistan

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    Four men broke into Yusuf’s apartment in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent in July 2009 and started beating him, before putting him in handcuffs and taking him to the local police station. Yusuf says this was not the first time he was attacked and detained, but on this occasion he was questioned by officers for three days, who took a long baton to his head and used a plastic bag to suffocate him.
    He refused to sign a confession saying that he’d plotted to overthrow Uzbekistan’s constitutional order, but was ultimately convicted in court on drug charges and slapped with a fine.
    Yusuf’s story of torture and abuse at the hands of Uzbek authorities is just one of 60 testimonies compiled in a damning report out on Wednesday from Amnesty International alleging that “rampant torture” is an integral part of the justice system in the Central Asian country.
    The organization slammed the US and European Union (EU), claiming they are turning a blind eye to “endemic torture” in Uzbekistan — pinning this ambivalence on the country’s role as an ally in the War on Terror.
    “Uzbekistani people are routinely and systematically tortured there, it’s a regime that uses torture flat out, straight up, with no nuance,” Julia Hall, Amnesty’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights, who led the two year investigation, told VICE News.
    Related: The toxic Uzbek town and its museum of banned Soviet art. Read more here.
    Beatings, asphyxiation, needles inserted under finger or toenails, electric shocks, and rape are some of the torture techniques allegedly employed by President Islam Karimov’s regime that were highlighted by the human rights organization. The head of state has been in power since 1990, months before the country — which shares its southern border with Afghanistan — declared its independence from the Soviet Union.
    Authorities also reportedly use various psychological approaches, including intimidating detainees awaiting charges in detention centers with dogs. A letter given to Amnesty last year describes one inmate’s torture experience after being beaten in his kidneys, legs, and face.
    “I was in such pain, I was cold and naked, I thought I would not survive. On the third day, when I asked one of the officers to give me something to drink, he marched me from the basement [to the courtyard], tied me to a dog kennel, pointed to the dog’s feeding bowl and said: ‘If you want to eat and drink, help yourself,'” the letter reads. “He left me tied to the kennel. I stand, next to me sits a hound and every time I move it starts barking, so that I don’t dare move.”
    Uzbekistan has long been criticized for its human rights abuses, with Human Rights Watch calling the country’s record “atrocious.” Hall told VICE News that anyone who criticizes the government becomes a target. Free speech is heavily curtailed, with activists and journalists often caught in up in the mix. Muhammad Bekzhanov, the editor-in-chief of an opposition party newspaper, has been in prison since 1999, making him one of the longest-imprisoned journalists globally.
    While accusations against Karimov’s regime are nothing new, Hall said that the boost to global anti-terrorism efforts has given it a new feel. According to her, human rights abuses and the crackdown on people in Uzbekistan has been severe in the past few years, as Muslims and others have been labeled terrorists and subsequently targeted.
    Related: Reporters without borders unblocks censored news sites. Read more here.
    “It was kind of under a new frame after 9/11, governments like Uzbekistan in Central Asia, and governments all over the world could invoke national security at rogue under the veil of terrorism,” Hall added. “Other governments saw Uzbekistan as an ally in the War on Terror, and were less inclined to criticize the Uzbek government for human rights violations.”
    In the last decade, a series of countries around the world have lifted a series of sanctions against the regime. After the 2005 Andijan Massacre — during which authorities killed hundreds of protesters — the EU imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan, including bans on arms sales and travel. These measures, however, were pulled in 2008 and 2009.
    A 2004 US ban on military aid was revoked in 2012. Up until 2005 the US maintained a base near the country’s border with Afghanistan. The Tashkent regime pulled the plug in 2005, but allows the government to move goods for humanitarian purposes through Uzbekistan.
    The US State Department qualifies Uzbekistan as an authoritarian state, outlining human rights problems in a 2013 report, listing issues including torture, harassment of religious minorities, and denial of due process or a fair trial. The report also highlights violence against women, prolonged detentions, and life-threatening prison conditions.
    According to Hall, foreign governments have been cautious in their approach to Uzbekistan, in what she said is an attempt to keep the country on their side, especially as it will be a key ally as the war in Afghanistan appears to come to a close.
    At the same time, Uzbekistan has cracked down in the face of the Islamic State’s violent campaign in Iraq and Syria. While no official estimates exist for the number of Uzbek fighters in the group’s self-declared caliphate, the government — along with others in Central Asia — recently raised concerns about the threat of the group entering the country. Plus, as Hall notes, the country’s citizens have a history of traveling to foreign wars, like in the case of Bosnia and Chechnya.
    “It’s not a new phenomenon, but the rise of the Islamic State is a new threat,” she explained. “[But] we weren’t really looking at armed groups trying to establish a caliph, so you’re looking at something quite different in ISIS. The threat is real but there is no threat that can ever justify torture.”
    Moving forward, Amnesty is asking Karimov to condemn the use of torture. The rights group is also asking the US and EU member countries to bring human rights and torture into discussions with officials. Hill noted that the United Nations is also in the country.
    “We have asked them to make sure in every meeting they have with Uzbek authorities that human rights are on the table, we’re not even sure human rights are on the agenda,” She said. “They cannot go into total isolation, they are part of international community, but the reality is there is no pressure to clean up.”
    By Kayla Ruble
    April 16, 2015 | 2:05 pm
    Find this story at 16 April 2015
    Copyright https://news.vice.com/

    UN peacekeepers who rape and abuse are criminals – so treat them as such

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    UN peacekeepers guilty of sex crimes have long been treated with impunity, cementing a long-standing problem. The organisation must get its house in order
    Appalled by horrific descriptions of sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping forces, the organisation’s secretary general spoke passionately about the need to stop such crimes in its ranks.
    “We cannot rest,” he said, “until we have rooted out all such practices. And we must make sure that those involved are held fully accountable.”
    These words sound very much like the ones spoken by the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon last week in response to reports of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Central African Republic (CAR).
    But they were spoken more than a decade ago. It was a previous secretary general, Kofi Annan, who first pledged to eliminate the scourge of sexual abuse from the UN.
    Sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers remains ‘significantly under-reported’
    Read more
    Annan, to his credit, did more than just deplore the problem: he announced a zero-tolerance policy, commissioned a seminal report on the issue, and helped the UN to institute several reforms.
    Yet the sex abuse scandals have continued. Earlier this month, Amnesty International found credible evidence that a UN peacekeeper in CAR sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl during a 2am search of her family’s home. The girl says he dragged her out to a secluded part of the courtyard, slapped her when she began to cry, tore her clothing, and raped her. Her claims are supported by medical evidence.
    On Wednesday, the UN revealed more allegations of abuse of girls or young women by peacekeepers in CAR.
    In response to the earlier revelations, Ban sacked the head of the peacekeeping mission in the country and called an emergency meeting of the UN security council to address the matter.
    Heads do not often roll at the UN. The public spectacle of one of their own being forced to resign must have been unedifying for UN peacekeeping chiefs elsewhere. At a minimum, though, it should encourage increased vigilance of the sexual abuse problem.
    Sadly, it has become crystal clear over the past two decades that CAR is not the only country where sexual crimes have been carried out by the very individuals charged with protecting the local population from harm. The list of countries in which cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers have been reported is now quite long, with abuse apparently systemic in some.
    In Haiti, for example, a recent study (pdf) found that members of the UN peacekeeping mission engaged in “transactional sex” with at least 229 women in exchange for necessities like food and medication. The same study said that between 2008 and 2013, nearly 500 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse had been made against UN peacekeeping personnel, one-third of which involved minors.
    In his resignation letter, the head of the UN mission in CAR alluded to the possibility that sexual abuse by peacekeeping forces might be a “systemic problem” requiring a structural response. This is certainly the case.
    At the root of the problem is impunity: almost none of those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes of sexual violence face a real threat of criminal prosecution for their crimes. At the UN, many cases do not receive a thorough and immediate investigation. But even if a UN inquiry finds a suspect responsible for rape, there are almost no consequences.
    Typically, the alleged perpetrator is sent back home and the case ends there. Because of questionable rules regarding peacekeeper immunity, the onus is generally on the troop-contributing country to undertake prosecutions. They rarely, if ever, do so.
    India was recently in the news for punishing a few of its soldiers for sexual abuses that took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but those were military disciplinary measures, not criminal sanctions. And the number of cases bore no relation to the magnitude of the incidents.
    A much more aggressive approach to justice for such crimes is needed. Concrete and effective preventive measures must be instituted. Accountability must be made real and public, not just theoretical. Countries need to feel meaningful pressure to bring sexual abuse cases before their civilian courts; if they fail to do so, they need to be publicly outed. There has to be follow-up and transparency.
    Because accountability starts from within, the UN should take a critical look at its own failures in dealing with sexual abuse. It has already taken a step in that direction by setting up a review panel to examine its handling of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in CAR. Either that panel’s mandate and powers should be expanded, or its work should be followed by a more comprehensive, investigative assessment of the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse allegations.
    As Ban has said, “enough is enough”. After years of discussion, promises and strategies, the UN must solve the problem of sexual abuse by peacekeepers, once and for all.
    Joanne Mariner
    Thursday 20 August 2015 12.27 BST Last modified on Tuesday 25 August 2015 17.03 BST
    Find this story at 20 August 2015
    © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

    UN peacekeepers face new sex abuse allegations in CAR

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    Three more accusations levelled against peacekeepers in CAR a week after Ban Ki-Moon asked UN head of mission to resign.
    UN peacekeepers earlier had been accused of sexually abusing children in Bangui and in the eastern part of the country [AP]
    Three young females, including a minor, have accused United Nations peacekeepers of raping them in the Central African Republic, the global body has announced, taking the number of allegations to 13 since the UN stationed troops in the country in September.
    The announcement on Wednesday comes a week after Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary-general, removed the head of the peacekeeping mission in CAR over the handling of a series of similar allegations in the conflict-wracked country.
    Vannina Maestracci, spokesperson for the secretary general’s office, told reporters that families of the three young females made the allegations on August 12 and that the alleged rapes occurred in “recent weeks”.
    Similarly, a statement from the peacekeeping mission said UN headquarters was “immediately informed” of the allegations and that it was collecting “all available evidence”.
    The alleged rapes occurred in the city of Bambari, where peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are stationed.
    The CAR is still battling daily clashes between rival militias in the country’s hinterlands [Reuters]
    Congo’s UN ambassador, Ignace Gata Mavita wa Lufuta, told The Associated Press news agency that three members of Congo’s military have been accused and that he had just met with UN officials about looking into the allegations.
    He didn’t address the allegations but said it’s “not normal” that vulnerable people would be victims of those meant to protect them.
    Congo’s troops serve in no other UN peacekeeping missions, and its nearly 900 troops were accepted into the mission in CAR at a time when few countries were volunteering people to serve in the chaotic country, which has been ripped by unprecedented violence between Christians and Muslims.
    Last August, the New York-based Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict said Congo’s troops, which were already in the country as part of an African Union mission, should be excluded from the UN mission.
    The advocacy network pointed out that Congo’s armed forces have been noted in Ban’s annual report on conflict-related sexual violence. They were included again this year.
    Last week, following the removal of the head of the CAR peacekeeping mission, Ban met with the Security Council and the heads of all UN peacekeeping missions to discuss new measures to swiftly investigate alleged sexual assaults and hold peacekeepers accountable.
    Ban’s actions came after Amnesty International accused UN peacekeepers in CAR’s capital this month of indiscriminately killing a 16-year-old boy and his father and, in a separate incident, of raping a 12-year-old girl.
    Related: Are UN peacekeepers doing more harm than good?
    UN peacekeepers earlier had been accused of sexually abusing children in Bangui and in the eastern part of the country.
    The peacekeeping mission is also being investigated over how it handled child sexual abuse allegations against French troops last year, in which children as young as nine said they had traded sex for food.
    Maestracci, the UN spokeswoman, said that so far, the peacekeeping mission has received 13 allegations of possible sexual abuse and exploitation since UN troops began arriving last year.
    Under an agreement with the UN, countries have the sole responsibility to prosecute their troops taking part in peacekeeping missions, but if they take no action to investigate, the UN can step in. Even then, the UN only has the power to repatriate troops and suspend payments to countries for troops who are accused.
    In at least one case of alleged sexual abuse or exploitation by a peacekeeper in CAR, a country repatriated its accused citizen, the UN said.
    20 Aug 2015 08:33 GMT
    Find this story at 20 August 2015
    Copyright http://www.aljazeera.com

    UN’s Central Africa force hit by new allegations of rape

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    The United Nations’ (UN’s) troubled peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic has been hit with new allegations of rape by peacekeepers, including one underage victim, a UN spokesperson said on Wednesday. Last week the head of the Central African Republic (CAR) mission, known as MINUSCA, was sacked after a series of allegations of sexual abuse and excessive use of force by peacekeepers. MINUSCA chief Babacar Gaye was replaced by Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, who was named the mission’s acting chief. “A new series of disturbing allegations of misconduct have recently come to light,” UN spokesperson Vannina Maestracci told reporters. “The events allegedly took place in recent weeks,” she said. “These new allegations concern a report that three young females were raped by three members of a MINUSCA military contingent.” She said one of the women was a minor and the incident occurred in Bambari, where troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are deployed. The allegations were reported to MINUSCA’s human rights division on August 12 by the families of the three women, Maestracci said. UN sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to Reuters that the accused troops were from DRC. The sources said the United Nations in New York was made aware of the allegations on August 17 and the Congolese authorities the same day. “The troop contributing country has been asked to indicate within 10 days if it intends to investigate the allegations itself,” Maestracci said. “Should the member state decline to investigate or fail to respond the United Nations would rapidly conduct its own investigation.” MINUSCA has been asked to preserve all evidence. Maestracci said that since its establishment in April 2014, MINUSCA has received 61 allegations of possible misconduct. That includes 13 cases of possible sexual exploitation and abuse. She said that so far two UN police officers and four soldiers have been repatriated on disciplinary grounds, which is in addition to 20 soldiers who were sent home “on administrative grounds” for suspected excessive use of force pending the conclusion of an investigation.Allegations of misconduct by UN troops are not new. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has vowed to crack down on abuse and misconduct by peacekeepers and is pushing to ensure greater transparency and accountability by governments of those found guilty of such behavior.
    Edited by Reuters
    Find this story at 20 August 2015
    Copyright http://www.polity.org.za/

    Code Blue: U.N. Accused of Giving Immunity to Peacekeepers Who Commit Sexual Abuse

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    The United Nations is coming under criticism for failing to investigate allegations of sexual exploitation of children by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic between December 2013 and June 2014. The Guardian obtained a leaked report that says French soldiers raped and sodomized starving and homeless young boys who they were supposed to be protecting at a center for internally displaced people during intense fighting in the country. Even after the exploitation was brought to the attention of senior U.N. officials, the U.N. never reported it to French authorities — nor did it do anything to immediately stop the abuse. So far, the only person to be punished is a U.N. aid worker, Anders Kompass, who stepped outside official channels to alert French authorities about the sexual exploitation. Kompass has since been accused of leaking the confidential report in breach of U.N. protocols and now faces dismissal. We speak to Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, which has launched the Code Blue campaign.
    This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
    NERMEEN SHAIKH: The United Nations is coming under criticism for failing to investigate allegations of sexual exploitation of children by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic between December 2013 and June 2014. The Guardian obtained a leaked report that says French soldiers raped and sodomized starving and homeless young boys who they were suppose to be protecting at a center for internally displaced people during intense fighting in the country. Even after the exploitation was brought to the attention of senior U.N. officials, the U.N. never reported it to French authorities, nor did it do anything to immediately stop the abuse. So far, the only person to be punished is a U.N. aid worker, Anders Kompass, who stepped outside official channels to alert French authorities to the sexual exploitation occurring. Kompass has since been accused of leaking a confidential report in breach of U.N. protocols and now faces dismissal.
    The Guardian obtained the leaked report from Paula Donovan, who will join us shortly. She and other activists have just launched a new campaign called Code Blue, which seeks to hold the United Nations accountable for sexual misconduct. Earlier this month, the group held a press conference to announce the campaign. This is Stephen Lewis of AIDS-Free World, followed by Theo Sowa of the African Women’s Development Fund and Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh.
    STEPHEN LEWIS: Never, but never, can sexual exploitation and abuse be subject to immunity. That’s the first step. The second step flows logically. Once the immunity is removed from non-military personnel, then the military will be under tremendous pressure to expunge sexual exploitation and abuse from their ranks.
    THEO SOWA: When the U.N. becomes the protectors of predators instead of the prosecutors of predators, that destroys me, because I believe in the U.N.
    AMBASSADOR ANWARUL CHOWDHURY: Transparency, I think, is the keyword here. We need to be open about how many such cases are there of sexual abuse and exploitation, which countries are involved in it, what they are doing, and how the cases now being sent by the U.N. to them are being handled.
    AMY GOODMAN: United Nations peacekeeping missions have long been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Kosovo to Bosnia, also Burundi, Haiti and Liberia. In March, the U.N. came under criticism for ignoring an internal report that called sexual exploitation, quote, “the most significant risk” to peacekeeping missions across the globe. The leaked document described a culture of “impunity” when dealing with sexual misconduct cases among U.N. peacekeepers, saying, quote, “UN personnel in all the missions we visited could point to numerous suspected or quite visible cases of [sexual exploitation and abuse] that are not being counted or investigated.”
    For more, we go to Boston, Massachusetts, where we are joined by Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, which has launched the Code Blue campaign.
    Paula Donovan, in the last two weeks, you’ve issued major findings. You first held a news conference at the U.N. and now released another report. Tell us what you have found.
    PAULA DONOVAN: What we’ve found overall, Amy, is that there is a tremendous amount of lip service given to the zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse policy by the United Nations. And that really came to light over the past month or so, when we received leaked documents about this U.N. official, Anders Kompass, who was under fire, ostensibly for having leaked a document that demonstrated how serious, very serious, documented cases of the rape and sodomy of children, of young boys in the Central African Republic, had been known to the U.N., had been documented by the U.N., and had been completely ignored by them for eight months. And what it shows is that when the United Nations learns of these abuses, it seems to be that the first—the first response is to simply lie low and see whether or not they can get away with not reporting it to governments and not alerting the public about the danger, the imminent danger that they’re in, and just sort of maintaining almost a forensic view that “we’ll watch as these abuses go on and develop, and maybe record them, but we have no obligation to intervene.”
    And the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNICEF were taking these horrible testimonies from children, as the abuse was continuing, mainly by French soldiers, also by Equatorial Guinean and Chadian soldiers, and simply sitting on the reports for a month at a time, continuing to take these documented cases and testimonies from the children, and then eventually sending them on to Geneva to the headquarters of the human rights office, where only one person stepped up and said, “I need to alert the French right away and get an investigation started.” He’s now, months and months later, under review for having handed over the document with the information about the kids and the soldiers they described to the authorities who could—in France, who could take things into hand.
    NERMEEN SHAIKH: And how have the French authorities responded since this has come to light?
    PAULA DONOVAN: They have—initially, they opened an investigation, a preliminary investigation, in July of 2014, when Anders Kompass first handed the document over to them. It seems as though that was stalled almost immediately by the refusal of the United Nations to allow them to—to allow the police to talk to the people who had interviewed—the U.N. staff who had interviewed the children and could give them more information about their whereabouts and about the soldiers. Then there was a long period of silence, when no one appears to have done anything. And once AIDS-Free World exposed this to the media—and that was only on April 29th, 2015—then things kicked into gear, and the French have now taken up their investigation again in earnest.
    AMY GOODMAN: Paula Donovan, we only have about two minutes to go. You’re leading a campaign to get rid of immunity in the United Nations around sexual abuse and exploitation. Explain how the U.N. shields its own members from due process when they are accused of sexual assault.
    PAULA DONOVAN: Under an ancient convention from 1946, the U.N. staff are all protected from being involved in any sort of legal process. So whether they’re witnesses, whether they have evidence, whether they’re the perpetrators themselves, if it has to do with sexual exploitation and abuse, then the secretary-general has to, on a case-by-case basis, decide to waive their immunity and allow them to be subject to what the rest of the world is subject to—called in to testify, cooperating with a criminal investigation, or actually arrested, in the case of perpetrators. And this just infects the entire U.N. system, and the way they deal with sexual exploitation and abuse is such a sham that we’re essentially saying it needs an external, independent investigation from top to bottom.
    NERMEEN SHAIKH: And so, what do you think the U.N.—what kinds of internal changes are you calling for within the U.N. so that these allegations can be dealt with in a better way in the future?
    PAULA DONOVAN: I think—right, so as the Central African Republic case shows, serious member states of the United Nations have to take hold of things, and they need to move in and figure out: When an allegation of sexual abuse is first brought to light, what are the—what are the mandated protocols? How do we respond? And then, what do the various agencies and institutions within the entities within the U.N. have to do? Should UNICEF—and my answer is absolutely yes—should they have to move in immediately to protect—
    AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
    PAULA DONOVAN: —children from further abuse? The whole U.N. needs to be looked at from top to bottom by an external commission.
    AMY GOODMAN: Paula Donovan, thanks so much for being with us, co-director of AIDS-Free World, which has launched the Code Blue campaign, seeking to end sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. military and non-military peacekeeping personnel.
    FRIDAY, MAY 29, 2015
    Find this story at 29 May 2015


    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    On April 29, 2015, the world learned of disturbing accounts of sexual abuse of young boys by French, Chadian, and Equatorial Guinean peacekeepers at a displaced persons camp in the Central African Republic (CAR). The interviews, which had been conducted nearly a year earlier by staff from the UN’s Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and UNICEF, were leaked to the Guardian newspaper by AIDS-Free World. The resulting article also detailed the account of Anders Kompass, a career human rights official from Sweden, who had been suspended and was being investigated by the UN for his role in passing details of the abuse to the French government.
    For the past month, Anders Kompass has remained silent on his role in this affair, even as the UN publicly blamed him for ‘leaking’ the report. AIDS-Free World has since obtained and is releasing today a series of incriminating internal UN documents, memos and email correspondence—including Kompass’ own account of the events—that expose the UN’s inaction. They also point to efforts by several senior UN officials to silence a staff member who could expose their failure to sound the alarm or protect children from imminent harm.
    This is the untold story.
    In early May of 2014, an international NGO requested help from MINUSCA, the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic: several displaced children in the capital, Bangui, had reported that they and their friends were being raped by international forces in exchange for food.
    On May 19, 2014, a junior OHCHR Human Rights Officer on temporary assignment with MINUSCA and a UNICEF staff member conducted an interview with an 11-year-old boy. The child reported that a French soldier promised him food in exchange for oral sex, negotiated with a guard to bring him onto the base, raped him, and then gave him biscuits and cash. The boy gave a detailed description of the soldier and said he could positively identify him in a photo.
    The human rights officer ‘immediately’ relayed her interview notes to a MINUSCA official who acted as her supervisor in the Central African Republic. By all accounts, Renner Onana, Chief of Human Rights and Justice, did not take action: No warning was sent out to soldiers, no effort was made to inform the French or other authorities, nothing was done to prevent ongoing abuse, no alert was issued to the tens of thousands of internally displaced adults in the camp that sexual predators were disguised as protectors and posed imminent danger to children and other civilians. There is no record that on May 19th, 2014 that first child interviewed was offered the immediate protection he required.
    Over the next five weeks, the Human Rights Officer and UNICEF staff members interviewed multiple known child victims as they were tracked down by a volunteer for the NGO that had requested the UN’s assistance. Several child victims known to the volunteer couldn’t be located. After each interview—on May 19th, May 20th, June 5th, June 17th, June 18th, and June 24th—the OHCHR human rights officer delivered her notes to MINUSCA; the UNICEF staff members wrote up their own notes of forced oral sex and anal rape of boys aged 8 to 15—and still no action was taken.
    During the June 18th interview, a 13-year-old boy said he couldn’t number all the times he’d been forced to perform oral sex on soldiers but the most recent had been between June 8th and 12th, 2014—several weeks after the UN’s first interview. Even with solid proof that the crimes were still occurring as they gathered additional testimonies from children, MINUSCA, OHCHR, and UNICEF took no action. (UNICEF is cited in the human rights officer’s reports as having plans to attend to the interviewees’ education, family reunification, and psycho-social needs. UNICEF spokespeople have since been directed, ‘if asked,’ to state that those needs were met. No specifics are included about which children received assistance, or how many in total.)
    Leaked documents show that additional UN officials in MINUSCA, Geneva, and New York received the human rights officer’s official final report of interviews with child victims before her departure from CAR, on July 14th, 2014. It is not known which UNICEF officials received final reports. In total, the interviews document sexual abuse of 13 children by a total of 16 peacekeepers: 11 were French, 3 were from Chad, and 2 were from Equatorial Guinea. Another 7 peacekeepers solicited children or acted as accomplices. The report implicates 23 soldiers in all.
    By agreeing to be interviewed by the UN, the children expected the abuse to stop and the perpetrators to be arrested. When children report sexual abuse, adults must report it to the authorities. A child needs protection and, by definition, does not have the agency to decide whether to press charges. They deserved the protection they assumed they would receive once the UN knew of their abuse.
    Instead, more than a year passed before their stories came to light, and the investigations began in earnest.
    By mid-July 2014, at least 12 UN staff had received the human rights officer’s report. All were aware that no action had been taken, no authorities had been alerted, and the abuse was ongoing. One of the 12 recipients, Roberto Ricci, brought the report directly to the attention of his supervisor in Geneva, Anders Kompass. It was then that Mr. Kompass informed French diplomatic authorities, who requested a copy of the report in order to launch an investigation. Kompass delivered the report to the French authorities in July with a written and signed cover note and received written acknowledgement and thanks on July 30th from the French government, informing him that an investigation was underway. That official letter was stamped as received on August 5th and entered into the OHCHR correspondence log.
    French investigators arrived in CAR’s capital, Bangui, on August 1st and questioned Renner Onana, MINUSCA’s Chief of Human Rights and Justice—the official who had received a summary report from the Human Rights Officer after each interview. The investigators were referred by MINUSCA to the Human Rights Officer, who asked first Renner Onana, and then Cecile Aptel, OHCHR’s Senior Legal Advisor, about whether to speak to the police. After consultation with the Office of Legal Affairs in New York, Aptel instructed her to reply to the French authorities that they should present any questions in writing through UN lawyers; the legal office would convey written answers.
    The Human Rights Officer’s UN immunity from legal process had been invoked. The UNICEF staff members who had taken part in the interviews were similarly approached by French investigators. They too referred investigators to the Office of Legal Affairs.
    The French investigation stalled.
    Anders Kompass. UN Photo/ Violaine Martin
    Anders Kompass. UN Photo/ Violaine Martin
    On August 7th, 2014, Anders Kompass briefed OHCHR Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri and emailed the report to her on August 8th. The Deputy High Commissioner’s assistant, acknowledging receipt, informed Mr. Kompass by email that same day that the Executive Office of the Secretary-General had been briefed.
    Despite Kompass’ definitive assertion and reference to an August 8th email, Pansieri testified in her official account of events—submitted months later to ‘inform’ the investigation into Kompass’ actions—that she first “became aware of the situation some time in early fall, most probably September 2014 (I regret I do no[t] recall the exact date)” through Cecile Aptel, in the context of a leak. Pansieri expressed regrets for having failed to follow up once she learned about the abuses in CAR, (citing a ‘very hectic’ period dealing with budget cuts and the inherent staff tensions and stresses), and attests that her attention was only turned to it again many months later, in early March 2015.
    In his statement to the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein also claims to have learned about the allegations of sexual abuse in CAR in “Autumn of 2014,” shortly after he took over the post.
    Around the same time, OHCHR formally requested that the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigate Anders Kompass regarding ‘leaked cables’ in an incident involving Western Sahara.
    On December 22, 2014, just before the UN offices closed for the holiday break, the Secretary-General submitted the final report of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic (S/2014/928). While the commission did not reference the MINUSCA/OHCHR/UNICEF report of abuse by international peacekeepers, it did provide a very specific recommendation: “The Secretary-General’s periodic reports on peacekeeping operations in the CAR should include an analysis of any violations that are alleged to have been committed by both UN peace-keepers and non-UN peacekeepers authorized by the Security Council.”
    Three months later, when the Secretary-General submitted his annual report on the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse for 2014, it contained no mention whatsoever of the reports of child sexual abuse in the Central African Republic.
    In early March 2015, High Commissioner Zeid learned informally from UN Chef de Cabinet Susanna Malcorra that Anders Kompass had been cleared of wrongdoing in the Western Sahara case because the investigation “could not substantiate any responsibility for Kompass.”
    On March 6th, a full eight months after she’d last heard any news about the CAR case, the Human Rights Officer who had interviewed the child victims spoke with two senior OHCHR lawyers. They questioned her about her report and her assignment in CAR, and then they briefed both Zeid and his deputy, Flavia Pansieri.
    On March 12th, on Zeid’s orders and at the request of UN Peacekeeping head Hervé Ladsous, Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri asked Anders Kompass to resign.
    In demanding Kompass’ resignation, the UN made a grave tactical error: a career human rights official from Sweden, Kompass was so trusted that he’d been put in charge of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) just weeks before his abrupt dismissal, when the High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner were both absent from the office. The sudden move to terminate him stunned Kompass; the reasons given outraged him. He was being accused of having inappropriately alerted the government of France, nearly a year earlier, to the discovery by OHCHR and UNICEF staff of rampant child sex abuse by French soldiers who’d been sent to protect civilians in the war-ravaged Central African Republic.
    Kompass refused to resign, and he threatened to go to the press.
    On March 13th, Pansieri briefed High Commissioner Zeid about her interaction with Kompass. Zeid decided that the situation was serious and that they should brief Chef de Cabinet Susanna Malcorra and “other senior colleagues” in person.
    High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. Photo: UN Photo/Violaine Martin
    High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. Photo: UN Photo/Violaine Martin
    The following week, at the Secretary-General’s Senior Staff Retreat in Turin, Italy on March 19-20, 2015, Chef de Cabinet Susanna Malcorra arranged a meeting between Zeid, Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri, Under-Secretary-General (USG) for OIOS Carman Lapointe, and the UN’s Director of Ethics, Joan Dubinsky, to discuss Anders Kompass.
    At the meeting, these senior UN officials decided to open an investigation into Kompass—a fact made even more striking by the knowledge that OIOS and the UN Ethics Office are meant to operate at arm’s-length from the rest of the UN system, in order to ensure accountability and transparency.
    The High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Deputy High Commissioner, and the most senior officials of the UN in New York had known for many, many months about Kompass’ ‘inappropriate’ emergency transmittal of a report documenting the child abuse. And they knew that it was only thanks to his transmission of that report to the government of France that the French had immediately reacted and sent an investigation team to the CAR.
    With the High Commissioner’s ill-considered demand that Kompass resign, and Kompass’ unexpected refusal to do so, the UN’s most senior officials were finally forced to pay long-overdue attention to the contents of the document they were claiming he had leaked. That was enough to instill panic: clearly, they had all ignored and neglected the appalling crisis it described. If their negligence became public, the UN would face questions for which there were no reasonable answers.
    In Turin, it was decided that Zeid and Pansieri would collect statements from a select group and would send them on with a request for a formal OIOS investigation. Pansieri asked Kompass to write an account of his role in passing documents to the French and suggested he send it to her at her personal email account, rather than her UN account. When Kompass gave his statement, he was not informed that it was intended to be used as part of an investigation against him.
    On April 7th, the Deputy Swedish Ambassador to the UN called Chef de Cabinet Susanna Malcorra. Unable to reach her, he called Joan Dubinsky, Director of the UN Ethics Office. He told her he was informed about an OHCHR report about paedophilia alleged against French soldiers in MINUSCA. Furious that Kompass had been asked to resign without any trace of an investigation or due diligence, he warned that “it would not be a good thing if the High Commissioner for Human Rights forced Mr. Kompass to resign. If that occurred, it would go public, and a harmful and ugly debate would occur.”
    Following the initial meeting in Turin, the group continued corresponding via email about an investigation into Kompass. Two weeks later, on April 9, 2015, Zeid formally requested an OIOS investigation into Kompass for his ‘leak’ of the report of sexual abuse in the Central African Republic.
    Attached to the High Commissioner’s official request for an investigation into Kompass’ actions are six statements: a statement from Anders Kompass, the subject of the investigation; a long and a short statement from the Human Rights Officer who conducted the interviews; a statement from High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein; a statement from Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri; and a joint statement from two OHCHR lawyers recounting their conversation with the Human Rights Officer about her request from the French investigators and the fact that the request had immediately been turned over to the UN Office of Legal Affairs. The request for investigation and the statements were sent together as one package, first to the Director of Ethics, then to OIOS.
    The statements conflict dramatically, with one exception: throughout the period when the abuse of African children first came to the attention of numbers of people within the UN, senior officials who were informed seem to have kept no records of meetings or discussions, and recollections are vague. The child victims receive no mention in the statements, nor are there any expressions of concern or curiosity about their welfare. No one providing testimony claims to have inquired about the status of any investigations, about any protection measures enacted, or about any tracing, prevention or support provided to child victims; those omissions are neither noted nor explained. The sole focus of concerted attention is on the alleged ‘leak’ by Anders Kompass.
    During the week of April 13, 2015, a month after his refusal to resign, Kompass was suspended with pay and escorted from his office. He challenged OHCHR’s actions against him before the UN’s Dispute Tribunal; a judge subsequently found in his favor and demanded his reinstatement—pending the outcome of the investigation that is now under way.
    The Director of the Investigations Unit in the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), who would normally oversee such a case, recused himself from involvement in the investigation. He had protested in writing to his supervisor, OIOS USG Carman Lapointe, that a decision had been made at the highest levels to investigate Kompass, that the requisite intake process to first determine whether an investigation was warranted had been bypassed, that due process had been abridged, and because of this, any investigation would be prejudiced and improper. The USG for OIOS replied that while she agreed that such processes are usual, the senior management had decided to bypass these processes, and the Director of the Investigative Unit should abide by senior staff’s wishes. She wrote, “Agreed; however in this case I have decided.”
    When questioned by Member States in mid-May about why her Director of Investigations had recused himself from the investigation of Kompass, OIOS Under-Secretary-General Lapointe responded that she did not know why.
    Since the Guardian reported on the information provided by AIDS-Free World, the High Commissioner, his spokesperson, a UNICEF spokesperson, the Secretary-General’s spokespersons, and officials from Peacekeeping have addressed the media. There is ample reason for Member States to question the answers given.
    UNICEF statements regarding the agency’s involvement in the interviews raise grave questions about UNICEF protocols and mandatory disclosure regulations when dealing directly with children in general, and with child victims of sexual abuse in particular. The fact that a child victim of sex abuse by soldiers still at-large was interviewed in the MINUSCA offices, ushered past military and civilian peacekeepers—many of whom could have been perpetrators, their accomplices, or friends—raises critically important questions about the training and skills of all involved. Also of concern is the fact that there appear to have been no ‘mandated disclosure’ guidelines for OHCHR or UNICEF staff, making clear the obligation to report, without delay, any allegations or suspicions of child sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities. The interviewing also raises questions about whether protocols exist regarding the interviewing, by UNICEF and OHCHR staff, of minors who are unaccompanied by an appropriate adult and whose legal parents or guardians may not have consented to the interview.
    The investigation is currently underway to determine whether Kompass is guilty of any wrongdoing. Susana Malcorra, who occupies one of the most powerful positions in the UN system as Chef de Cabinet for the Secretary-General, is publicly stating to governments and the media that Kompass is being investigated because he is guilty of wrongdoing. This suggests a pre-determined, inevitable outcome of the investigation and calls into question the judgment of the Chef de Cabinet regarding public statements. More seriously still, it should cause Member States to wonder whether the entire system of adjudication in the UN has become a kangaroo court.
    The account above, the leaked documents linked to it, and the strong implications of misconduct and impunity at the very highest levels of the UN may come as a shock to many readers. The grim reality is that those with experience within the UN system are unlikely to be surprised. They know that this is not an unusual case; it is simply one that has come, partially, to light. For those of us who are staunch believers in the UN’s critical purpose and noble ideals, this case is deeply troubling because it is not unique. It is part of a continuing and disturbing pattern afflicting and endangering the entire UN system. That pattern is never more overtly on display than in the UN’s handling of sexual exploitation and abuse. The starkest miscarriages of justice and disregard for victims of UN sexual abuse occur within peacekeeping operations.
    The UN secretariat exists to serve the collective interest of the world’s governments, to uphold their highest standards, and to implement their agreed actions.
    Today, those Member States are balanced on a precipice, in imminent danger of losing all control over a UN secretariat that acts without discretion, without governments’ full knowledge, with no real oversight, and with increasing levels of impunity.
    Member States must commission an external investigation into the whole UN system, at every level, in headquarters and country offices, to review all components related to sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping, the UN’s most costly undertaking. Investigating this CAR case is critically important, but insufficient; the external investigation must focus on the handling by the UN system of sexual exploitation and abuse allegations in all peacekeeping operations. That investigation must comprise—and be administratively supported by—entirely external, totally independent, impartial experts, with no past or current conflicts of interests, and no future interests that would hamper their ability to judge, critique, demand accountability, and recommend harsh sanctions if and where necessary.
    This account raises the tragic spectre of countless children in the Central African Republic who will be scarred for life by sexual abuse. They were betrayed when they disclosed to the UN, and it failed to protect them. In the life of a 9- or 12-year-old, a year waiting for protection from an abuser is an eternity. In the life of a serial rapist, a year provides countless opportunities to abuse and exploit more children and become more practiced at escaping detection.
    The events and their gross mishandling have done tremendous damage to civilians, and to the UN’s reputation and credibility. They call into question the top leadership, while casting a dark shadow on the many thousands of principled, hard-working UN staff who report to them.
    If these dreadful revelations aren’t enough to press Member States to initiate an external investigation and take back control of the United Nations, nothing will.
    POSTSCRIPT: On June 3, 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced plans for an external independent review to examine events following the sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic. AIDS-Free World welcomed the UN’s response and issued the following statement:
    The announcement from the Secretary-General today of plans for an external, independent review to examine events following the sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic is to be welcomed. It responds to one of the urgent demands that AIDS-Free World has been making over the last several weeks, and since we launched our Code Blue campaign.
    The Secretary-General has three challenges.
    First, this must be a truly external and independent inquiry. No member of existing UN staff should be appointed to investigate nor to act as the investigators’ secretariat.
    Second, it must be understood that top members of the Secretary-General’s own staff will have to be subject to investigation. This must go right up to the level of Under-Secretaries General. No one can be excluded, whether the Director of the Ethics Office or the USG of the Office of Internal Oversight Services or the Secretary-General’s own Chef de Cabinet. It would appear that all of them and more acted inappropriately in response to the dreadful events in CAR.
    Third, the reference in the Secretary-General’s announcement of a review to ‘the broad range of systemic issues’ is crucial to the inquiry. What happened in the Central African Republic was an atrocity, but the fact that the UN stood silent for nearly a year after its own discovery of widespread peacekeeper sexual abuse (even if by non-UN troops) is itself a bitter commentary on the Secretary-General’s declared policy of ‘zero tolerance’.
    If Mr. Ban Ki-moon and Member States want to rescue zero tolerance, they must cleanse the UN system of negligence and misconduct once and for all.
    May 29, 2015
    Editor’s note: For the full list of internal UN documents leaked to AIDS-Free World, visit: www.codebluecampaign.com/undocuments
    Download the PDF version of the statement here.
    Find this story at 29 May 2015

    Ripe for Abuse Palestinian Child Labor in Israeli Agricultural Settlements in the West Bank

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    Hundreds of Palestinian children work on Israeli settlement farms in the occupied West Bank, the majority located in the Jordan Valley. This report documents rights abuses against Palestinian children as young as 11 years old, who earn around US $19 for a full day working in the settlement agricultural industry. Many drop out of school and work in conditions that can be hazardous due to pesticides, dangerous equipment, and extreme heat.

    Children working on Israeli settlements pick, clean, and pack asparagus, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet peppers, onions, and dates, among other crops. Children whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said they begin work as early as 5:30 or 6 a.m. and usually work around 8 hours a day, six or seven days a week. During peak harvest periods, some children reported working up to 12 hours a day, over 60 hours a week. Some children described pressure from supervisors to keep working, and not to take breaks.

    Although international law, as well as Israeli and Palestinian law, sets 15 as the minimum age of employment, many children told Human Rights Watch that they began working at age 13 or 14. Even younger children work part-time, and one boy interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that he worked together with a boy who was only 10 years old.

    The work that children perform can be both grueling and hazardous. Some children who work on settlement farms described vomiting, dizziness, and skin rashes after spraying pesticides with little protection, and experienced body pain or numbness from carrying heavy pesticide containers on their back. Many suffered cuts from using sharp blades to cut onions, sweet peppers, and other crops. Heavy machinery also causes injuries. One child said he saw another child who was pinned under a tractor that rolled over. Another boy said he caught his finger in a date-sorting machine. Children risk falls from climbing ladders to prune and pick dates. Two children had been stung by scorpions while working in settlers’ fields.

    Temperatures in the fields often exceed 40 degrees Celsius in summer (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and can be as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in greenhouses. Some children described nausea and other symptoms indicating they were susceptible to heat stroke from working in such extreme temperatures. One boy told Human Rights Watch that he had repeatedly fainted while working in a hot greenhouse.

    None of the children interviewed received medical insurance or social insurance benefits, and the majority of those who needed medical treatment due to work injuries or illness said they had to pay their own medical bills and transportation costs to Palestinian hospitals. Three Palestinian children who got sick or were injured while working and had to go home or to the hospital said they were not even paid for the hours they had worked that day, much less for the time they had to take off work.

    To research this report, Human Rights Watch interviewed 38 children and 12 adults in Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley who said they were employed to work on settlement farms in the area, as well as teachers and principals in those communities, Israeli and Palestinian labor lawyers, development-agency staff and labor rights advocates. Children are a minority of Palestinians employed on settlement farms, but most Palestinian children who work in settlements do so in the agricultural sector. All of the children and adults Human Rights Watch interviewed said they took the work due to a lack of alternative jobs and because of the dire economic conditions faced by their families – conditions for which Israel’s policies throughout the occupied West Bank including the Jordan Valley, which severely restrict Palestinians’ access to land, water, agricultural inputs like fertilizers, and their ability to transport goods, are largely responsible. One 18-year-old said that he quit school in Grade 10 because, as he explained, “so what if you get an education, you’ll wind up working for the settlements.”

    The vast majority of the children working in settlements whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had dropped out of school. Teachers and principals told Human Rights Watch that children often dropped out around Grade 8, or age 14. Of the 33 children that Human Rights Watch interviewed who were then working full-time in agricultural settlements, 21 had dropped out of schools in Grade 10 or earlier; the other 12 dropped out of secondary school in Grade 11 or 12. Other children worked part-time while still attending school, often at the expense of their studies. “It’s very obvious which kids go to work in the settlements, because they are exhausted in class,” said a school administrator.

    All the children Human Rights Watch interviewed said that they were working to provide money for their families. When asked why children chose to work, a Palestinian middleman who supplied Palestinian workers to settlers told an Israeli human rights worker: “Ask [the children] if they have any bread in the house.” Palestinian children and adults who work in settlements told Human Rights Watch that they hoped the international community would pressure Israel to end settlement agriculture and lift related restrictions on Palestinian land-use, access to water, freedom of movement, and market access, and instead, allow Palestinians to cultivate their own lands and to create an economic environment in which they could support their children to stay in school and receive an education. In some cases, Palestinian workers said that they worked on farmland that Israel had, in violation of international law, confiscated from their own villages and allocated to settlements.

    Most of the children and adults live in villages in the Jordan Valley. Some of the children came from villages elsewhere in the West Bank, moved to the Jordan Valley, and lived for months at a time in empty warehouses there, working in settlements during the day, in order to save on the cost and time required to travel from home.

    Children working in agricultural settlements earn very low wages. All of the Palestinian adults and children whom Human Rights Watch interviewed earned far less than the Israeli minimum wage, which was 23 shekels ($6.20) per hour for adults and between 16 and 18 shekels ($4.30 and $4.86) per hour for children at the time the research for this report was conducted. Most earned only 60 to 70 shekels per day ($16 to $19), and some children took home 50 shekels per day ($13.50) after paying for transportation to and from settlements to work; most workdays lasted 7 or 8 hours, except during peak harvesting times.[1] Military orders issued by the Israeli military commander in the West Bank make provisions of Israel’s domestic Minimum Wage Law applicable to Palestinian workers in settlements. However, many children either did not know that Israel had a minimum wage law or that the law’s provisions were supposed to apply to Palestinians working in settlements.

    All the children Human Rights Watch interviewed said they were employed through unwritten agreements with Palestinian middlemen working on behalf of Israeli settlers. Israeli settlers’ practice of using Palestinian middlemen to hire Palestinian laborers, including children, means that there is no work contract or any other documents linking the children directly to the settler-employer. In practice, it is extremely difficult for Palestinians who work in settlements to demand their rights under Israeli labor law without such proof of employment. According to a Palestinian middleman, workers are paid “in cash, [get] no pay slips, and there are no [work] permits, so there is no paper trail to demand severance pay or anything else.”

    Most labor disputes that Palestinian workers and middlemen described to Human Rights Watch involved severance pay, presumably because workers demanding severance pay have already lost their jobs and so have less to lose from making legal claims than workers who are employed. Israel’s Minimum Wage Law – which is applicable, via military orders, to Palestinian workers in settlements – states that workers cannot waive their rights to minimum wages, but none of the Palestinian children or adults interviewed said they expected or had demanded to be paid minimum wages. The Palestinian middleman believed that if a worker asked a settler-employer for a raise, “they’d fire you.”

    Find this story at 13 April 2015

    the report

    © 2015 Human Rights Watch

    Evidence of police complicity in blacklisting of trade unionists stretches back decades

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    Police are alleged to have been covertly helping companies to blacklist trade unionists since before the Second World War

    The blacklisting of trade unionists by major firms over the years has been an inherently secretive practice. Even more secretive, it seems, has been the state’s covert collusion in such a practice.

    From time to time, the public get glimpses that reveal how the state has facilitated the blacklisting. These snapshots suggest that there has been regular collusion for many decades.

    The police and blacklisters have not welcomed public scrutiny of their relationship. However the trade unionists who were blacklisted are now pressing for the upcoming public inquiry into the failures of undercover policing – to be headed by Lord Justice Pitchford – to scrutinise the allegations (see here for more details).

    In all these years, there has never been an in-depth, independent, and public examination of these persistent allegations.

    Some of the evidence of this collusion is detailed below – the most recent dates from 2008. According to a leaked document, a secretive police unit that was involved in monitoring political activists met a blacklisting agency that was funded by large companies.

    The agency, operating under the bland name of the Consulting Association, unlawfully compiled confidential dossiers on thousands of workers who were considered by company directors to be politically active or potential trouble-makers. Many workers were denied employment for long periods.

    A note of the meeting at an Oxfordshire hotel on November 6 2008 records that the purpose of the police unit, which was then expanding, was “to liaise with industry”.

    Police ‘spied on activists for blacklisting agency’
    Read more
    More evidence dates from the 1990s. Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer who has now become a whistleblower, has disclosed that he believes that he personally collected some of the information that later appeared in the files of the Consulting Association. Francis infiltrated anti-racist groups between 1993 and 1997 as a member of the Metropolitan Police’s undercover unit, the Special Demonstration Squad.

    The blacklisting files recorded one bricklayer as being “under constant watch (officially) and seen as politically dangerous”.

    An official watchdog, the information commissioner, shut down the Consulting Association, after seizing many of its files in a raid. Dave Clancy, a former police officer who worked as an investigator for the watchdog, has testified that “there is information on the Consulting Association files that I believe could only be supplied by the police or the security services”. These details, he added, were specific and came from police records.

    An earlier incarnation of the blacklist was run by another clandestine agency, called the Economic League. This organisation had been set up shortly after the First World War, at a time of widespread industrial unrest, and, again, was financed by large corporations.

    The Economic League had began to compile secret dossiers on workers around the country.

    It seems that from early on, the Economic League received help from the police. Documents chronicle how Economic League officials worked closely with police in Lancashire in the 1930s.

    In 1937, they met detectives who were monitoring political “subversives”. The league’s Manchester organiser reported to his superiors that he had “Manchester police in here yesterday and found them extremely helpful and have now arranged to work in the closest co-operation with them. Among other things, they promised to give me as long as I like looking over their Communist industrial file in their office.”

    Blacklisted workers seek to prise open secrets of covert police surveillance
    Read more
    Days later, the league’s Manchester organiser wrote to the chief constable of the local force and thanked him for his help. At one point, the league asked police to carry out surveillance on a meeting of trade unionists as the blacklisters considered it “of considerable importance”.

    At another point, the league’s Manchester organiser told his boss that he was due to get a report of a Communist Party meeting from the police without having to send “one of our own men”.

    In that same year, Special Branch passed onto the Economic League a confidential list of Manchester communists.

    Fifty years on, and collaboration still seemed to exist. In the 1980s, an undercover television sting caught the candid thoughts of an Economic League official who said :”We give all our information to the police. In return, they’re not exactly unfriendly back.”

    Michael Noar, then the Economic League’s director-general, said in 1987 said that “of course, the police and Special Branch are interested in some of the things we are interested in. They follow the activities of these groups in much the same way as we do and therefore they do get in touch with us from time to time and talk to us and say ‘were you at this demonstration or that’.” He added that “in the course of discussions, there is an exchange of information just in the ordinary course of talking.”

    Phil Chamberlain, co-author of a book on blacklisting, being interviewed
    Police and Economic League officials have acknowledged they had meetings together, but say information about individuals was not passed to the league.

    One unnamed Special Branch officer recently told an internal police investigation into the undercover infiltration of political groups that the “flow of information was purely one way”. The Economic League was treated solely as a source of information, according to the officer, and it was Special Branch policy not to share any information with the league.

    Jack Winder, who worked for the Economic League from 1963 until its closure in the early 1990s, told a parliamentary inquiry two years ago that he had meetings with the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch over a long time for what he called “general chit-chat”. He told MPs that the “exchange of detailed information” about individuals was “absolutely forbidden”.

    Sources : Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, Blacklisted :the secret war between big business and union activists (New Internationalist, 2015); Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, Blacklist – the inside story of political vetting (Hogarth Press, 1988). For a detailed and documented history of the Economic League, see the work of researcher Mike Hughes here.

    Rob Evans
    Tuesday 16 June 2015 11.03 BST Last modified on Tuesday 16 June 2015 11.06 BST

    Find this story at 16 June 2015

    © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

    Blacklisted workers seek to prise open secrets of covert police surveillance

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    Trade unionists blacklisted by major firms are pushing for the public inquiry into undercover policing to examine alleged collusion between covert police officers and company directors

    Blacklisted workers have intensified their campaign to uncover the extent of secret police surveillance operations against them.

    Covert police officers are alleged to have passed information they gathered on the trade unionists to multi-national firms who maintained a secret and unlawful blacklist.

    The blacklisted workers want the allegations examined by the public inquiry that has been established into the police’s use of undercover officers to infiltrate hundreds of political groups.

    That inquiry – to be headed by Lord Justice Pitchford – is drawing up its remit which is due to be announced by the end of July. This here and here gives some background on the inquiry that was set up by home secretary Theresa May.

    This week, the blacklisted workers said they have applied to be given a central role in the inquiry. In legal terms, they are seeking to be made a “core participant” in the inquiry.

    It is not yet known who will be the “core participants” in the Pitchford inquiry. The status is given to those who, for example, have a direct and significant interest in the issues that will be examined.

    On the blacklist: how did the UK’s top building firms get secret information on their workers?
    Read more
    It allows them to see evidence in advance of it being aired at the inquiry and to seek to cross-examine witnesses.

    The application by the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) has been made by Imran Khan, the lawyer who also represents Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen. (For more details, see this).

    Dave Smith, the group’s spokesman, said: “Hopefully by the BSG applying for core participant status, we will be able to guarantee that spying on trade unions and passing over information to private companies becomes a theme within the Pitchford inquiry.”

    “Police and security services spying on trade unions is not a one-off aberration, it is standard operating procedure by the state.”

    An official watchdog closed down the blacklist in 2009 after discovering that major firms kept confidential files on workers deemed to be “trouble-makers”. Checks were run on trade unionists to deny them work if their names were on the list.

    The police’s role in giving information to the blacklist has yet to be fully brought into the public domain.

    Imran Khan, the lawyer working for the blacklisted workers. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
    Imran Khan, the lawyer working for the blacklisted workers. Photograph: Richard Saker/Richard Saker
    Read this, this, and this for accounts of how the police are alleged to have colluded with the blacklisters by gathering and sharing information on trade unionists.

    More than 580 blacklisted workers have launched legal action against 40 large construction firms in a case that is due to be heard in the High Court next year. They say the blacklisting files date from at least 1969.

    At a preliminary hearing this month, lawyers for the blacklisted workers told a court that the blacklisters had deliberately destroyed documents after they had been raided by the official watchdog, the information commissioner. (Read this for more details).

    Meanwhile, Smith, the co-author of a new book, Blacklisted : the Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists, is due to give a talk on the controversy on Tuesday June 2. This here gives details of the talk in London that is being organised by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and the Institute of Employment Rights.

    Rob Evans
    Thursday 28 May 2015 11.51 BST Last modified on Thursday 28 May 2015 12.00 BST

    Find this story at 28 May 2015

    © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

    Blacklisting: The Secret War Big Business Wages on Workers

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    You’d hope that construction work would be one area of life where tabloid stories about “health ‘n’ safety going mad” were actually true, in order to stop people getting in the way of machines designed to smash concrete, or falling off some 20th floor scaffolding. In fact, for years, the opposite has been the case, as people raising health and safety concerns have been systematically nixed from getting a job in construction.

    From at least the 1980s, construction companies kept a secret “blacklist” of some 3,200 workers that they wanted to ensure never found work. These included various types of people who somehow got in the way of the companies making a fat profit—workers who complained about dangerous practices on sites, trade union organizers who tried to get a better wage, and even environmental protesters who weren’t employed in the industry but got in the way of construction. Lives were ruined as tradespeople found that they were mysteriously denied work all the time, despite being qualified. Some people were even pushed to suicide as they couldn’t provide for their families.

    In 2009, an article written by journalist Phil Chamberlain in the Guardian ended up being put on the desk of an investigator at the Information Commissioner Office. That kick started a chain of events which exposed the truth of blacklisting that many had already suspected for years. Following a raid on the organization set up by the companies to manage the secret blacklist—the Consulting Association—the Blacklist Support Group was formed to represent blacklisted workers. The secretary of the group Dave Smith, a trade unionist who was blacklisted himself, has teamed up with Phil Chamberlain to write a book exposing the practice. Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists tells the story of multinationals and the state colluding to undermine trade unionism and thousands of workers fighting for their dignity—a fight which continues to this day. I caught up with the pair at the book’s launch last week.

    Continued below.

    Man Decapitated in France and Islamist Banner Found on Site
    Man Decapitated in France and Islamist Banner Found on Site

    Australian Government Contractors Will Now Go to Jail for Reporting Detention Centre Child Abuse
    Australian Government Contractors Will Now Go to Jail for Reporting Detention Centre Child Abuse

    A Year After His Kidnapping, a British Man Is Still On Death Row in Ethiopia
    A Year After His Kidnapping, a British Man Is Still On Death Row in Ethiopia

    A Bachelor Party Prank Went Very, Very Wrong When the Cops Responded to the Groom’s ‘Kidnapping’
    A Bachelor Party Prank Went Very, Very Wrong When the Cops Responded to the Groom’s ‘Kidnapping’
    VICE: Dave, you’ve written this book as somebody who has been a victim of blacklisting. Tell me about your experience.
    Dave Smith: My blacklist file is 36 pages long and runs from 1992 until 2006. The first entry records a protest about several week’s unpaid wages on a Balfour Beatty site. The rest of my file is about safety concerns I have raised including asbestos and overflowing toilets. I could never get a job for any of the large companies but managed to find work with small subcontractors or via employment agencies for a while. But it reached a point where even the agencies wouldn’t offer me a job. This is recorded in my blacklist file. I went from driving a large four by four to a £300 [$445] fiesta van and during the height of the building boom I was virtually unemployable. I had to leave the industry to pay the mortgage.

    “Blacklisting people who complain about safety causes deaths on building sites. It’s as simple as that.”

    How big was the human cost throughout the industry?
    Some people we interviewed for the book have been out of work for 20 years. When you first tell someone that, they go “out of work for 20 years? Building work? That can’t be right,” but then when you actually see their file, they’re out of work and as soon as they get a job, the company find out, and they’re sacked. They get another job as soon as they’re fired and they’re sacked again. We’ve been talking not just to the workers but their wives and their partners. Kids aren’t getting new trainers, kids aren’t going on school trips. People have lost their houses over this. Quite a few people, their relationships have broken up. This isn’t just about numbers, it’s about the fact they’ve taken food off our tables and that’s why we’ve taken it so personally.

    One of the main reasons workers were added to the blacklist was for raising health and safety concerns. What kind of impact does this have on building sites?
    Well everybody knew there was a blacklist. It wasn’t a secret, although the employers always denied it whenever the politicians asked them. Management used to say, “If you carry on like that we’ll make sure you never work again in the building industry” and it wasn’t an idle threat—it was true. The impact on health and safety is, if somebody moans about a bit of scaffolding or the toilets overflowing and gets sacked for it, then next time when the toilets are overflowing or there’s asbestos, people just keep their head down and don’t say anything, which is one of the reasons why constructions got such a terrible health and safety record. Blacklisting people who complain about safety causes deaths on building sites. It’s as simple as that.

    The promotional video for ‘Blacklisted.’

    The blacklist was mainly a list of construction workers, but not entirely. What other kind of people were on the list, and why?
    Phil Chamberlain: It started off as a construction blacklist and—I think it’s the nature of the surveillance—once you start compiling it takes in more and more people. People who the companies are concerned about suddenly get drawn in. If we look at the road protests [anti-road building activism] that grew up around the 1990s, they affected construction companies. The environmental protesters who took part in roads protests aren’t union members but they’re people the companies want to keep tabs on. That coincides with the kind of people which the state are interested in keeping tabs on as well. That’s when you start to see that kind of cross over. We’ve got academics and journalists on the list as well. People who start to cause worry to the companies started to be added in.

    So you’re talking about a cross over between the construction companies and the state. Was the list compiled with the active collusion of the police?
    It appears there were links between construction companies and the police. The question is about how systematized that contact was. In some cases it would have been personal contacts developed up over a number of years or inherited. We’ve spoken to industrial relations officers from the companies who have freely acknowledged meeting Special Branch people and we know the industrial desk at Special Branch was tasked with looking at trade unions and maintaining contact with corporations. We know those links existed and have done for a number of years. In some cases it would have been done on a fairly informal basis and in other cases perhaps more systemically done.

    The files are quite clear in that some of the files contain information that could only have come from the police. That not just us saying that, the Information Commissioner’s Office looked at the files and came to the same conclusion independently to ourselves.

    It’s quite clear this is much wider than construction and much wider than the UK but that’s because it’s the nature of the economic system which can’t deal with that kind of dissent, which is ultimately about preserving some profit margin at the expense of democratic, legitimate forms of protest.

    In the book you draw a lot of parallels between the blacklisting scandal and the the phone hacking scandal. Why is that?
    I think it’s fascinating in the sense that when Rob Evans and I wrote the article for the Guardian in March 2009 and in the summer Nick Davies writes that superb piece showing the breadth of phone hacking. The numbers are relatively similar.

    But phone hacking victims are getting some sense of justice, whereas blacklisting victims are having to fight to be listened to.
    The differences is who they are. The celebrities have got a lot more access to mechanisms to make their voice heard. They can employ better lawyers, they can apply pressure in a number of different ways.

    The willingness to address the issue of phone hacking is in stark contrast and I think it’s because they’ve treated it as a corruption issue, but with blacklisting this was the normal mode of operation. That says something fundamental about the way we handle industrial relations in this country, the way we handle dissent in this country, which is far more frightening and needs to be resisted.

    The book ends by putting blacklisting in its global and historical context. How widespread is the practice, and similar tactics?
    One of the guys who ran the Economic League [predecessor in many ways to The Consulting Association] said to Parliament: “it’s gone on since the pyramids,” as if it’s part of your hazard of working. I think there’s a danger of accepting it because then we don’t get to challenge it and say that fundamentally this is wrong.

    It’s quite clear in this country it’s operating in the NHS. There was a story published two weeks ago about keeping files on people involved in airline disputes with British Airways. We’ve looked at cases that have taken place in Canada where migrant workers from Mexico have been monitored and refused visas to go and work in Canada. There was a case in France in 2013 where Ikea used access to police files to monitor people in their stores. We’ve got evidence of a company based in Ireland which recruits migrant workers keeping files on workers in Europe who might be causing problems.

    It’s quite clear this is much wider than construction and much wider than the UK but that’s because it’s the nature of the economic system which can’t deal with that kind of dissent, which is ultimately about preserving some profit margin at the expense of democratic, legitimate forms of protest. Most of these people are simply just raising health and safety issues. There was a case in Indonesia where people were upset about conditions at an Adidas company and they reached for the blacklist. It’s a tool for managing, but it doesn’t mean it’s right.

    Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists is available from New Internationalist Books

    March 16, 2015
    by James Poulter

    Find this story at 16 March 2015

    Copyright Vice.com

    Home Office to blacklist extremists to protect public sector

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    Theresa May says new extremism analysis unit is compiling list of legal but unacceptable individuals and groups to prevent another Trojan horse scandal

    The Home Office is drawing up a blacklist of extremist individuals and organisations with whom the government and public sector should not engage, Theresa May has revealed.

    The list of legal but unacceptable organisations is being compiled by a new Home Office “extremism analysis unit”, which is also to develop a counter-entryism strategy to tackle Islamist radicalisation and ensure there is no repeat of the Trojan horse affair in Birmingham schools across the public sector.

    In a speech outlining a wishlist of measures and powers to tackle extremism in Britain, the home secretary acknowledged that the work of the new unit had received only cabinet approval so far.

    May was put in charge of developing a cross-government extremism strategy last October, but she has so far failed to resolve outstanding problems raised by at least four Conservative cabinet colleagues.

    “Chris Grayling wants more clarity on its impact on prisons. Theresa Villiers wants more consultation with Northern Ireland, where extremism is obviously historically a big issue. Eric Pickles wants work to be done on the impact on communities and faiths and Nicky Morgan wants more work done on the role of Ofsted,” said a Westminster source.

    Instead, the home secretary outlined a list of measures a majority Conservative government would introduce, including closure orders for premises being used by extremists, banning orders, and a review of the impact of sharia law in Britain. The package would include a positive campaign to promote British values.

    May said the new extremism analysis unit “will help us to develop a new engagement policy – which will set out clearly for the first time with which individuals and organisations the government and public sector should engage and should not engage”.

    She added: “This will make sure nobody unwittingly lends legitimacy or credibility to extremists or extremist organisations, and will make it very clear that government should engage with people directly and through their elected representatives – not just through often self-appointed and unrepresentative community leaders.”

    She said it was known from the Trojan horse affair in Birmingham schools that extremists use entryist tactics to infiltrate legitimate organisations to promote their own agendas.

    “The counter-entryism strategy will ensure that government, the public sector and civil society as a whole will be more resilient against this danger,” the home secretary said in a speech in Westminster.

    The move goes far beyond current powers to ban violent extremist and terrorist organisations and paves the way for a range of non-violent legal organisations to be put on a blacklist and boycotted by the government.

    David Cameron, for example, has promised for the last five years to ban the non-violent radical Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir but it has failed to meet the legal criteria to be banned.

    The Home Office defines extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of armed forces whether in this country or overseas”.

    A recent Home Office consultation produced many comments that a much tighter definition was needed and such vague terms could catch a wide range of organisations. Those blacklisted would be likely to mount legal challenges to the decision.

    In outlining her list of possible new measures that a majority Conservative government would introduce, May revived the idea of closing down “extremist” mosques, new “extremism officers” in prisons, a review of how Sharia courts impact in England and Wales, a review of citizenship laws to ensure respect for British values, and a review of unregulated “supplementary” schools.

    The home secretary called for a new partnership to defeat the extremists. “To those who do not want to join this new partnership, to those who choose consciously to reject our values and the basic principles of our society, the message is equally clear: the game is up. We will no longer tolerate your behaviour.”

    Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “Everyone other than the extremists agree that we should robustly defend and actively promote the pluralistic values our society rightly holds in esteem.

    “But it isn’t enough for the home secretary to say it, she needs to act.

    “We need to work in as many communities as possible, throughout the UK, to support civil society and defeat extremism.

    “And we should never tie the hands of our agencies and the police in confronting dangerous, violent extremists. The government’s record is one of making that harder, not easier.”

    Alan Travis Home affairs editor
    Monday 23 March 2015 15.28 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 24 March 2015 08.21 GMT

    Find this story at 23 March 2015

    © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

    Blacklisted: The secret war between big business and union activists

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    Demo outside parliament, TUC Day of Action on Blacklisting in 2012
    REVIEW: The communications revolution of the past 40 years has transformed our capacity to hold and use information about large numbers of people. As databases grow from hundreds to thousands and then tens of thousands of people, our fear grows that much of this information may have been gathered wrongly: that the information itself is incorrect, or that it has been gathered without our consent or knowledge.

    We all suspect that our personal data is being shared behind our backs, whether by utilities companies eager to trade on vulnerable pensioners, or by parts of the secret state who are monitoring emails on an industrial scale in the hope of catching extremists. Very rarely do we find out for definite who has been harmed or how.

    In the conventional press story that usually follows, attention is paid to the whistleblowers, self-sacrificing individuals such as Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning who once played a part in a system of malicious data collection but threw their position away in order to expose the corrupt practises of giant organisations.

    Blacklisted: The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain is published by New Internationalist on 22 March
    You can read Dave Smith on www.thejusticegap.com (Six years and still waiting: the legal implications of blacklisting)
    The story of the construction industry blacklist, brought to light in this extraordinary book, corresponds in many ways but not in others to our conventional fears about the manipulation of data. One difference from the usual story is that Dave Smith, the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, and Phil Chamberlain, the freelancer who originally broke the story of the blacklist in the Guardian, are able to show in much more graphic detail than is usual just how much harm was caused to the victims.

    They have interviewed several hundred building workers and their family members, union officials, construction managers, former policemen, environmental activists, blacklisted academics or journalists, and blacklisters.

    From the accounts of the first group, they are able to describe what it is like to be a skilled worker, and to find yourself suddenly unemployable, like Frank Morris who describes going home to empty cupboards during the recent Olympic building boom because he had supported a dismissed colleague and been placed on the blacklist, or Dave Ayre who said: ‘I’d been sacked so many times at Christmas that my kids that my kids thought it was part of the Father Christmas story.’

    A second difference is that the champions of the story are the building workers who have been fighting for decades to secure trade union and healthy safety rights in their workplaces, rather than the whistleblowers.

    There were indeed managers within the blacklisting process who became disenchanted with their employers and belatedly blew the whistle on this practice – such as Alan Wainwright, whose evidence at an early Tribunal hearing led to Chamberlain’s report and the subsequent raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office of the blacklisting company, the Consulting Association.

    But Wainwright is an equivocal figure in the story, seemingly trusted neither by the employers nor the construction workers. And much the same can be said of Ian Kerr, the man who kept the blacklist going, very profitably, for decades. Kerr’s widow Mary spoke to the authors and described how he died of a heart attack shortly after giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee. Only two of Kerr’s colleagues within the TCA, staffed as it was by the personnel directors of all the main construction companies, even sent her their condolences. Not one attended his funeral.

    If there are heroes to Smith and Chamberlain’s story it is rather individuals such as Mick Dooley and Chris Clark, founders of the Join Sites Committee, a rank-and-file union group of the early 1990s.

    One of Dooley’s best-known actions was a strike at Vascroft in 1992, when he occupied a tower crane for 10 days in protest at the dismissal of union stewards, effectively preventing an entire site from working.

    That tactics of this militancy were required is evident from the other passages of the book which describe the worsening conditions on sites over the last twenty years as union organisation has decayed. One of their sources Robert Smith describes working on the huge and vastly profitable Channel Tunnel extension to St Pancras, among rats, without toilets or other basic safety requirements.

    While there was much that the employers might truthfully have told each other about the tactics of certain individuals, blacklisting went far beyond the sort of open, honest record of occasional unofficial militancy that might be justifiable. It extended to the private lives of those who were being spied on, their relationships, the employment of their relatives, the private opinions of their partners.

    The names on the blacklist which cause the greatest distress are those who were rumoured to have worked at a site where the union had called a strike or who were said once to have purchased a copy of a left-wing newspaper, and found themselves subject to a simple data-trawl, often years and sometimes decades later. And where their name was on the blacklist, for any reason, they simply were not employed.
    A large portion of the narrative is given over to the accounts of the legal battles which have led to the discovery of the blacklist and to the partial attempts to obtain redress for its victims. I have acted as a barrister for two of the litigants, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on these parts of the narrative. In any event, a previous article by Dave Smith for this website explains that part of the story.

    Was blacklisting specific to construction, or has it become part of the ordinary way in which industrial relations are conducted in this country? I have sat in court and listened to employers in radically different industries from construction admit to all sorts of practices which differ only in scale from the picture in this book.

    Has blacklisting ended? The authors term it ‘a global phenomenon which has been going on for centuries’. Kerr’s files were constructed out of the technology of a previous industrial era. His data was held on paper cards in drawers. New technology makes it easier to spy on large numbers of workers and to hide the fruits of this industrial espionage, but no less destructive in terms of their consequences for those about whom false data is being held.

    The authors, and the whole campaign whose voices they have recorded, deserve our thanks for bringing this secret conspiracy into public focus.

    Posted by David Renton on March 12, 2015.

    Find this story at 12 March 2015

    © 2015, ↑ The Justice Gap

    Police continued spying on Labour activists after their election as MPs

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    Ex-minister Peter Hain says whistleblower’s disclosure of spying operations during 1990s raises questions about parliamentary sovereignty

    Police conducted spying operations on a string of Labour politicians during the 1990s, covertly monitoring them even after they had been elected to the House of Commons, a whistleblower has revealed.

    Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer, said he read secret files on 10 MPs during his 11 years working for the Metropolitan police’s special branch. They include Labour’s current deputy leader, Harriet Harman, the former cabinet minister Peter Hain and the former home secretary Jack Straw.

    Francis said he personally collected information on three MPs – Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and the late Bernie Grant – while he was deployed undercover infiltrating anti-racist groups. He also named Ken Livingstone, the late Tony Benn, Joan Ruddock and Dennis Skinner as having been subjected to special branch intelligence-gathering. The files on all 10 were held by Scotland Yard.

    The whistleblower said special branch files were often “very extensive” and typically described the subject’s political beliefs, personal background such as parents, school and finances, and demonstrations they attended. Some contained “some personal and private matters”, Francis added.

    Hain called for the home secretary, Theresa May, to ensure that an existing judge-led public inquiry into undercover policing examines the extent of the surveillance of members of parliament.

    Why were special branch watching me even when I was an MP?
    Peter Hain
    Read more
    In an article for the Guardian, he wrote: “That the special branch had a file on me dating back 40 years ago to anti-apartheid and anti-Nazi League activist days is hardly revelatory. That these files were still active for at least 10 years while I was an MP certainly is and raises fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty.”

    The Met’s special branch has been responsible for monitoring political groups considered to pose a threat to public order. Francis worked for special branch between 1990 and 2001. For four of those years he went undercover to spy on anti-racist groups as part of a covert unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which was controlled by special branch.

    In recent years Francis has publicly detailed many aspects of this covert work, disclosing, for instance, that the SDS collected information on the relatives of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and other families seeking justice over alleged police misconduct.

    Francis approached Hain and described how he had read the pink special branch files – known as personal registry files – on the MPs while he was working for the police. He said some of the information in the files dated from the subjects’ days as political campaigners before they entered parliament, but special branch continued to store details of their political activities after they were elected to the Commons. “When you become an MP, the files don’t stop,” he said.

    He said that while he was undercover pretending to be an anti-racist campaigner in north-east London, Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, often talked at meetings and demonstrations he attended. He reported back details of her activities to his special branch superiors.

    To a lesser extent he collected information about Corbyn, the Islington North MP, and Grant, who represented Tottenham from 1987 until his death in 2000. “They were in meetings and I was there and they were talking about things and that is what I reported on,” he said. His superiors were “certainly very grateful” if he passed on information involving MPs, he added.

    Last year the Metropolitan police said it did not know how many elected politicians it was currently monitoring, after it was revealed that it had logged the political activities of Jenny Jones, the Green party’s sole peer, and a Green party councillor in Kent on a secretive database.

    May ordered the public inquiry after a string of revelations about the conduct of undercover officers who infiltrated political groups for more than 40 years. The officers routinely formed sexual relationships with women they had been sent to spy on. The remit of the inquiry, which is to be led by Lord Justice Pitchford, has yet to be defined.

    Livingstone, former MP for Brent East and former mayor of London, said he backed the idea of an inquiry covering surveillance of MPs but said this would probably only be serious under an Ed Miliband government.

    He said: “I wish I could have been a threat when I was an MP but I was completely powerless. My phone was being bugged in the 80s when I was on the Greater London Council. MI5 always denied it was them. So this was done by special branch?

    “Did they think we were a threat to the western system? If only this were true. What a load of crap. What’s so ridiculous is that we were being subjected to IRA bombings right the way through that period and they were wasting officers spying on me and Tony Benn. It’s a complete waste of police resources. People like me and Tony Benn were sadly never a threat to capitalism because we never had the powers. I’d love to see the files. My kids would love to see the files. They’re most likely full of rubbish.”

    Hain said the public should know whether covert surveillance hindered the MPs’ ability to represent their constituents and speak confidentially with them.

    He said that when he was Northern Ireland secretary between 2005 and 2007, undercover operations to defeat terrorism and serious crime were vital. “But conflating serious crime with political dissent unpopular with the state at the time means travelling down a road that endangers the liberty of us all.”

    Ruddock, the MP for Lewisham Deptford, described the news as “utterly appalling” and and “affront to parliament”.

    She said: “It is a surprise and I think it is absolutely outrageous. The MI5 surveillance of me in the 80s had no justification whatsoever, was found to be illegal. The idea that it could carry on without even the pretext that I was involved in CND when I was a member of parliament is completely and utterly outrageous.”

    Ruddock said she has written to May today demanding answers and would write again to whoever was the new home secretary after the election. She has also submitted a request to the police to see the file held on her and wants to know whether the Conservative political leadership of the day authorised the operation.

    May has promised that the remit of the public inquiry will be drawn up in consultation with people who were spied upon.

    Francis said: “My question is: how can people help formulate this public inquiry if they didn’t actually know they were spied upon? By me revealing that these MPs were also spied upon the same as many trade union members, countless law-abiding political activists and demonstrators also were, they can all demand to be included in the inquiry.”

    A Met police spokesman said an internal police inquiry, Operation Herne, was unable to fully investigate claims by Francis as he has been unwilling to speak to the inquiry.

    The spokesman said the Met had not shied away from issues raised by Operation Herne and another inquiry. “Whilst talking openly about undercover policing is challenging because of its very nature, the upcoming inquiry represents a real opportunity to provide the public with as complete a picture as possible of what has taken place,” he added.

    Two SDS undercover officers previously spied on Hain in the 1960s and 1970s when he campaigned against apartheid and racism before becoming the MP for Neath in 1991.

    Rob Evans and Rowena Mason
    Wednesday 25 March 2015 18.13 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 00.40 GMT

    Find this story at 25 March 2015

    © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

    FBI Spied ‘Beyond Its Authority’ on Keystone XL Opponents

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    New investigation reveals agency’s actions amounted to ‘substantial non-compliance’ with its own rules

    The FBI violated its internal rules while spying on Tar Sands Blockade activists in Texas protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, a new report shows. (Photo: Tar Sands Blockade/flickr/cc)
    The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) broke its own internal rules when it spied on Keystone XL opponents in Texas, violating guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming overly involved in complex political issues, a new report by the Guardian and Earth Island Journal published Tuesday has revealed.

    Internal documents acquired by the outlets through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show how the FBI failed to get approval for launching investigations into Houston-based protesters, whom the agency labeled “environmental extremists,” and held a bias in favor of the controversial tar sands pipeline—currently awaiting federal approval—extolling its supposed economic benefits in one document which outlined reasons for spying on its opponents.

    “Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices,” the file states. “The Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.”

    The Guardian reports:

    Between November 2012 and June 2014, the documents show, the FBI collated inside knowledge about forthcoming protests, documented the identities of individuals photographing oil-related infrastructure, scrutinised police intelligence and cultivated at least one informant.

    ….However, the partially redacted documents reveal the investigation into anti-Keystone activists occurred without prior approval of the top lawyer and senior agent in the Houston field office, a stipulation laid down in rules provided by the attorney general.

    Additionally, the FBI appeared to have opened its file on the Keystone XL opponents in 2013 following a meeting between officials from the agency and TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.

    “For a period of time—possibly as long as eight months—agents acting beyond their authority were monitoring activists aligned with [direct action climate group] Tar Sands Blockade,” the Guardian writes.

    Dozens of activists were arrested in Texas in late 2012, although none were accused of violent crime or property damage, according to key Tar Sands Blockade organizer, Ron Seifert.

    “Less than a month after TransCanada showed the FBI a PowerPoint claiming that people opposed to [Keystone XL] need to be watched, Houston’s FBI office cuts corners to start an investigation; it’s not surprising but it is revealing of who they really work for,” Seifert told Common Dreams on Monday. “The FBI has been harassing and actively repressing communities of organizers for decades.”

    Yet more records show that the FBI associated the Tar Sands Blockade, which organizes peaceful protests, with other “domestic terrorism issues.”

    Other documents suggest that the Houston-based investigation was only one of a larger probe, possibly monitoring other anti-Keystone XL activists around the country.

    “We’re not surprised,” Seifert continued. “We’re also not deterred. Movements for climate and environmental justice are activating people from diverse political backgrounds to take direct action to defend themselves from threats like [Keystone XL]. People are stepping out of the blind alleys of electoral politics and building grassroots power, and that’s scary for people who want a monopoly on power.”

    Tuesday, May 12, 2015
    byCommon Dreams
    byNadia Prupis, staff writer

    Find this story at 12 May 2015

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

    As Internal Docs Show Major Overreach, Why Is FBI Spying on Opponents of Keystone XL Pipeline?

    Van nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl

    A new report confirms for the first time that the FBI spied on activists in Texas who tried to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Documents from the FBI reveal it failed to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened its investigation, which was run from its Houston field office. The files document “substantial non-compliance” with Department of Justice rules. The Tar Sands Blockade mentioned in that report was one of the main groups targeted by the FBI. Agents in Houston office also told TransCanada they would share “pertinent intelligence regarding any threats” to the company in advance of protests. We are joined by Adam Federman, contributing editor to Earth Island Journal and co-author of the new investigation published by The Guardian, “Revealed: FBI violated its own rules while spying on Keystone XL opponents.” In February, he also revealed how the FBI has recently pursued environmental activists in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington and Idaho for “little more than taking photographs of oil and gas industry installations.”

    This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

    JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A new report confirms for the first time that the FBI spied on activists in Texas who tried to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The report is based on FBI documents obtained by The Guardian and the Earth Island Journal. The documents also reveal that the FBI failed to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened its investigation, which was run from its Houston field office. The files document, quote, “substantial non-compliance” with Department of Justice rules. Much of the FBI’s surveillance took place between November of 2012 and June 2014.

    AMY GOODMAN: The Tar Sands Blockade mentioned in the report was one of the main groups targeted by the FBI. Agents in Houston also told TransCanada they would share, quote, “pertinent intelligence regarding any threats” to the company in advance of protests.

    For more, we are joined by Adam Federman, contributing editor to Earth Island Journal, co-author of this new investigation that was published by The Guardian. It’s headlined “Revealed: FBI Violated Its Own Rules While Spying on Keystone XL Opponents.” In February, he also revealed how the FBI has recently pursued environmental activists in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington and Idaho for, quote, “little more than taking photographs of oil and gas industry installations.”

    Adam Federman, thank you so much for joining us from Burlington, Vermont. Talk about this most recent exposé. How do you know the FBI was spying on those who are opposed to the Keystone XL?

    ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, the recent investigation is based on more than 80 pages of documents that we obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. And the most striking thing about them is that they demonstrated for the first time that the FBI opened an investigation into anti-Keystone pipeline campaigners in Texas in 2012, late 2012, and that investigation continued through 2013, despite the fact that it was opened without proper approval from within the FBI. And what’s interesting about them is that they show extensive interest in Tar Sands Blockade and activists organizing in Houston, particularly in, yeah, neighborhoods in East Houston, where tar sands oil would eventually end up at the refineries that are based there.

    JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the most surprising revelations that you found in these documents, could you talk about that?

    ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, there are several. I mean, the fact that the investigation was opened without proper approval is probably most noteworthy. The FBI requires approval from legal counsel and a senior agent for investigations that are described as sensitive, and those include investigations into political or religious organizations, media institutions, academic institutions, and basically they set a higher threshold for opening an investigation. So, the fact that the Houston domain failed to do that obviously violates agency protocol.

    But I think, more broadly, the documents also sort of illuminate the FBI’s characterization of environmental organizations and activism in the country. You know, the sort of opening salvo in the investigation is a synopsis of what they call environmental extremism, and that sort of undergirds the entire investigation and has also—you know, we’ve seen the same sort of language used in other contexts, not just surrounding Keystone pipeline.

    AMY GOODMAN: Adam, many of the—looking at the quotes in the FBI documents, they talk about, as you said, the environmental extremists and say, quote, “Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices. The Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.” Can you explain these documents?

    ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, I mean, that quote is really quite amazing for a number of reasons. Mike German, a former FBI agent who’s now at the Brennan Center and who we worked with on this story, you know, said that that characterization would include just about anyone who watches the evening news. I mean, it’s such a broad brush to tar—to describe environmental activists as extremists simply for being concerned about things like pollution, wildlife and property rights.

    And then the FBI also goes on to claim that the Keystone pipeline is vital to the national security and economy of the United States, which of course is highly controversial and contested. And as I’m sure your viewers know, the State Department is still deliberating over whether to approve the northern leg of the pipeline itself. So that question remains open; however, it seems that the FBI has taken it upon its own to suggest that the pipeline is crucial to U.S. national security and financial security.

    JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the 2010 intelligence bulletin from the FBI Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit that you obtained. It warned that, even though the industry had encountered only low-level vandalism and trespassing, recent “criminal incidents” suggested environmental extremism was on the rise. The FBI concluded, quote, “Environmental extremism will become a greater threat to the energy industry owing to our historical understanding that some environmental extremists have progressed from committing low-level crimes against targets to more significant crimes over time in an effort to further the environmental extremism cause.”

    ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, it’s a fascinating document. And the story behind how I obtained it is because of the fact that that very document was used by the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security to justify surveillance of anti-fracking groups in the state. And it essentially captures the FBI’s thinking on, you know, the threat of environmental extremism to—specifically to the energy industry. And this is laid out, as you say, in 2010, so I think that this is sort of the foundation for the FBI’s approach to the environmental movement more broadly. And I think, with these more recent documents, we’re seeing that sort of carried out in real time. And we also know that the FBI has had high-level meetings with TransCanada and that local and state law enforcement along the pipeline route and in Pennsylvania and elsewhere has actively investigated and spied on environmental activists of, you know, all stripes. And it’s quite systematic, and I do think that the FBI is in many ways leading the charge.

    AMY GOODMAN: You report the FBI’s monitoring of Tar Sands Blockade activists failed to follow proper protocols for more than eight months. I want to read the FBI’s response: quote, “While the FBI approval levels required by internal policy were not initially obtained, once discovered, corrective action was taken, non-compliance was remedied, and the oversight was properly reported through the FBI’s internal oversight mechanism.” That’s what the FBI said, acknowledging they didn’t initially get approval. Adam, as we wrap up right now, if you can talk about what—the legality of what the FBI did, in what you released today in the Earth Island Journal and The Guardian, and also in your past reporting on FBI spying on activists?

    ADAM FEDERMAN: Well, I think, unfortunately, it’s perhaps not the exception that the FBI has opened an investigation without proper approval. In 2011, the inspector general issued a report showing widespread cheating on a test that was designed to prevent this very kind of thing from happening. So it essentially demonstrates a lack of internal control. But more broadly speaking, the question that I think we need to be asking is whether the investigation, opened properly or not, should have been conducted to begin with. I mean, Tar Sands Blockade is committed to nonviolent civil disobedience. They’ve been very open and transparent about their activism and work. And I think the question is whether this investigation should have been opened to begin with, and, quite frankly, if the FBI is actively investigating other anti-Keystone pipeline activists or anti-fracking activists in other states.

    AMY GOODMAN: Adam Federman, we want to thank you for being with us, contributing editor to Earth Island Journal, where he covers the intersection between law enforcement and the environment. He co-authored the new investigation published by The Guardian, “Revealed: FBI Violated Its Own Rules While Spying on Keystone XL Opponents.” We’ll link to that story at democracynow.org. When we come back, it’s the 30th anniversary of the MOVE bombing, when the Philadelphia police bombed a neighborhood. Stay with us.

    WEDNESDAY, MAY 13, 2015

    Find this story at 13 May 2015

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