In the last month there has been comprehensive coverage in newspapers, TV and online on the violations of human rights by China concerning the Uighur nationality in the Xinjiang province in North West China. The allegations range from the detention of Uighurs, mostly young men and women in the so called re-education facilities, to the forced sterilisation of women. The highlight of this was the grilling of the Chinese ambassador on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday 9th July. The audience was shown a video clip of blindfolded individuals rounded up by uniformed Chinese forces. The Chines ambassador had the default answer that China had faced terrorism in the province and was responding to a security threat. Furthermore, that the Uighur and Chinese peoples lived in harmony in the province. These allegations are extremely grave and China needs to be held to account.
Consider Kashmir in India. It is one of the most militarised regions in the world. For decades there has been a long record ofhuman rights violations in the region. The abuses range from mass killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and the suppression of freedom of speech.
The west has never held India to account for these violations. As usual the Indian government is using the same trope that there are terrorist activity and security threats to justify its policy and actions. The Indian army have a ‘free pass’ in the Armed Forces Protection Act which gives all its soldiers total immunity.
In 2015, Prime Minister Modi was welcomed in London, over a decade after the Gujarat massacre in 2002. He was accorded the honour of speaking in Parliament by PM Cameron and signed deals worth £9 bn between British and Indian firms. He visited Trump in the US and Trump in return visited India in 2020 with much fanfare. At that time mobs attacked the Muslim community in the north east of Delhi. At no time, Trump has ever expressed any concerns over India for its criminalisation of Muslims by vigilantes given a free licence by the BJP government. It is the only country in the world where Muslims are lynched. Human rights defenders are locked up and some journalists critical of the government have been killed.
Moving west first to Pakistan, its army has been involved in a counterinsurgency campaign in Balochistan. This involves treating the entire Baloch population as terrorist suspects. Disappearances of individuals and killings are common. Afghanistan’s long war has been mired with human rights violations with missiles targeting wedding parties, night time raids by US and British forces killing innocents, incarcerations and so on.
These violations are rarely reported in our media compared to the focus on Iran which is always subject to intense criticism on human rights. During the invasion of Iraq from 2003 and its subsequent occupation, the US and British forces committed gross violations of human rights – the murder and rapes in the town of Haditha, the torture and humiliations in Abu Ghraib, the repeated bombings of Fallujah and many other towns where civilians were killed and displaced. All these have now been erased from history and displaced by the horror of the Islamic State.
Similarly, Syria has come under relentless criticism for its violations of human rights and war crimes. But it is rare to see Turkey being criticised for ravaging cities and towns in its southeast using the alibi of fighting Kurdish terrorism. Its occupation of parts of North East Syria has led to widespread displacement of civilians and ethnic cleansing. Similarly Egypt under Sisi, who took over after the uprising in 2011 and the brief rule by Morsi, where imprisonment, torture and show trials are common place.
Finally, Israel. There has a long record of the Israeli defence forces’ and security services’ involvement in torture, killings, imprisonment, bombings and the collective punishment of families with their homes being demolished. These include night raids to round up children, forcing confessions from them and the imprisonment of children without any legal representation.
Following 9/11, following a resolution by the UN Security Council, all governments rushed to pass draconian anti-terrorism laws which were used to suppress dissent and opposition. Internationally there was a complete failure by the Security Council to ensure that these terrorism laws would not violate the provisions of international human rights law.
There is a desperate need to strengthen international human rights across the world. This should be done consistently in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1948. Past experience since World War II shows that for decades human rights have been used for geo-political interests.
During the Cold War, Western governments and the media highlighted the violations of human rights in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries, while ignoring widespread abuses of human rights in Latin American countries under military dictatorships with close relationship with the United States.
Noam Chomsky has consistently exposed these double standards over decades. Such double standards have seriously undermined the upholding of universal human rights across the world. It is high time that we spoke out boldly against them and demand that such double standards are abandoned.
All countries which violate human rights law should be held to account stringently. Our media have a key role to play in this and are failing because of their compliance with British foreign policy. The alternative media and social platforms should take up the banner because that it is the morally right thing to do.
Minimal moral integrity requires that not only should China be held to account for violating human rights, but also all the Western allies who commit human rights violations. The main stream media should stop condoning the violations of human rights by India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Israel forthwith.
When Sunday Times on 5 of July published its investigation on the horror of exploitation of garment workers in Leicester, the sensational press like Daily Mail joined in the chorus of condemnation. This news made into Reuters, the billionaire magazine Forbes and many other mainstream outlets. Workers at a Leicester-based producer of clothes destined for sale on Boohoo were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour an amount significantly less than the £8.20 national minimum wage.
In June, Mind the Label, an organisation which has been campaigning for fair deal for garment workers across the world published a damning report which found an alarming situation in Leicester not only for low wages but their theft, denial of benefits, modern slavery conditions and poor health and safety conditions under the COVID-19. The garment sweatshop remained open during the lockdown and the social distancing rules and face masks were ignored contributing to a higher infection in Leicester. Small-batch orders with a quick turnaround — common requests from fast-fashion brands such as Boohoo — encourage unauthorized subcontracting as suppliers race to meet deadlines. Urgent actions beginning with suspension of all Boohoo sales and production pending an investigation.
As far back as 2014, a report by the University of Leicester found systemic abuse, with wages as low as £3 an hour, an almost complete absence of employment contracts, excessive and underreported hours, sometimes gross health and safety violations and limited enforcement of labour regulations and standards.
In 2017, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights chaired by Harriet Harman made a special point to visit Leicester where they got briefings from researchers and had heard many witnesses. Whilst the government has produced an Action Plan in response to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and introduced some legislations including the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the committee expressed disappointment on the ground over its modest scope and lack of new commitments.
It called on the government demonstrating the same level of human rights commitment within its own procurement supply chains that it expects from companies, with expectations on all government suppliers to recognise trade union membership. Furthermore it asked for legislation that imposes a duty on all companies to prevent human rights abuses, and making it a criminal offence if they fail to do so, including in lower levels of the supply chain. It wanted stronger role for UK enforcement agencies in tackling poor practices, particularly in UK garment manufacturing.
To tackle the supply chain accountability issues, Baroness Young of Hornsey tabled the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill, which would rectify some of these problems. However the bill tabled did not make beyond first reading after the 2017-2019 Parliament proroguing the bill. The matter was not subsequently taken up by the Tory government.
Dispatches, a Channel 4 programme, sent a worker undercover into various factories in 2017 and reported that workers were paid well below the minimum wage. In May 2018 Sarah O’Connor of the Financial Times wrote an in depth investigation into the “dark factories” of Leicester. In some factories workers were paid as little as £3.50 an hour and no one was being held responsible. After the decline of the garment industry in Leicester from 2001 because of capital outsourcing to poorer countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc, new market forces had fuelled the revival of industry after the financial crash of 2008 with unbridled competition and super exploitation.
Many organisations including community groups, trade unions and Ethical Trading Initiative member brands have worked hard to address these issues over the years. However no significant progress has been made in resolving reports of illegal activities because of lack of support from central government or regulatory bodies.
The super exploitation in garment factories has been an open secret for years. This is government of millionaires who does not care a jot for the working classes and bent on deregulating under the banner of cutting down the red tape and is at ease with rabid exploitation and low health and safety standards. It is more interested in chasing illegal workers in the garment factories than enforcing decent labour standards. The number of labour inspectors in Britain is much lower than in comparable economies and the risk of effective inspection is clearly too low for businesses that are willing to undercut standards.
For capitalists in this sector, there is a reservoir of labour especially women to be exploited across the world. Just visit clothes chain stores and examine the labels where these apparels have been produced- Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam etc. So the garment workers in sweatshops and homes are in the heart of our cities with the same production model and lack of accountability seen in the global south. If Leicester, then why not Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, London and elsewhere. This is a national problem.
And from the party of Labour, the Labour Party, there is no significant intervention from Keir Starmer or any shadow minister. A vacuum has enveloped the party. They have chosen not to speak out against the terrible exploitation of the garment workers and hold the government to account.
The TUC estimates that several million UK workers cannot enforce their basic rights with the companies for which they are ultimately working. Often the TUC appeals to the government to enforce the law. But inevitably this falls on deaf ears.
It seems that by and large, trade unions have abandoned the lowest strata of workers. They have let the fragmentations of the working class to take its course under neo-liberalism. They have not brought together the employed, the unemployed and the lower strata of workers together to taken on the market forces that are unleashing the most intolerable conditions on the poorest workers. The latter are in no position to organise because any such move would would lead to them being fired by the employers.
The unions have not come up with new strategies to ensure that we do not move to a de-unionised workforce of the American way. This is unltimately the aim of the British capitalist class and the Tory party. The Trade Union movement should reach out to the communities of these workers, conduct research, establish an outreach and help them to become union members so that they can fight for better conditions.
At this moment in time, I really miss the wisdom of Mike Marqusee whose wrote in his essay ‘SUCCESS, FAILURE AND OTHER POLITICAL MYTHS’ (Red Pepper, December 2013),
“There are worse things than failure, and while failure is nothing to glory in, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can learn more from a failure than from success- if you recognise it as such. But if the only lesson you draw from failure is never to risk failure again, you’ve learned nothing at all.
“Needless risks should always be avoided. We don’t have resources to squander. But the elimination of risk is impossible if you’re contending with power. Without risks all that can be done is to reproduce existing social relations. There is no truth, no beauty without risk, because these things can only be secured in the teeth of resistance, against institutions and habits of thought. To succeed in any way that matters, you have to take your place in the republic of the uncertain, when you risk yourselves, not your stake in other people’s labour. It’s the action taken in the full knowledge of the possibility of failure, and its consequences, that acquire leverage.”
The winter election of 2019 was a great risk for Labour. The outcome was affected by many factors – Labour’s bipolarity on Brexit, the civil war within the party, Jeremy Corbyn’s distorted image, the tsunami of disinformation by the right wing mass media, the smears of antisemitism, the undermining of Labour by Tony Blair and his acolytes, amongst others. None of these factors are isolated from each other, but they intersected to undermine Labour’s campaign. Jeremy’s public perception was determined by the mass media which began his vilification since he entered the leadership contest in 2015.
There can be little doubt that the mass media plays a significant role. Newspapers and TV are more powerful than armies. We lost the battle for hearts and minds because we did not have the means to counter the vast campaign of disinformations and propaganda. Every means available was used against the Labour party and its leadership.
In a prescient observation more than a 150 years ago, Marx observed that those who own the means of production also own the means of information enabling them to produce and regulate the production and distribution of ideas. The control of the means of information central to influencing public opinion was missing in the original Clause IV. From our experience, the most important lesson we need to learn is, that to win the battle for ideas for the public good and social ownership, we need to have adequate control over the means of public information and have a strategy followed by concrete actions to counter disinformation
To this day, Chomsky and Herman’s analysis on the role of the media in shaping public opinion in a democratic society remains unrivalled. The selective filtering of news by the media, the setting of the political agenda and the confinement of public discussion within narrow limits is all the more powerful with the TV channels playing a significant role in moulding public perception.
Empirical analysis of media bias as we approached the election day showed that press hostility to Labour in 2019 was more than double the levels identified in 2017. By the same measure, negative coverage of the Conservatives halved. For Granville Williams, editor of Media North which monitored the press closely, “It was a disturbing experience, reading what can only be described as undiluted propaganda day after day in the bloc of avid Tory-supporting newspapers which worked closely with the Tory HQ election campaign to maximise the assault on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s election policies.”
We need to be cautious in adopting the term ‘fake news’ that has become a popular media reference, on grounds that it tends to frame the problem as isolated incidents of falsehood and confusion. Rather the public is subject to systematic disinformation which can be defined as intentional falsehoods spread as news stories or simulated documentary formats to advance political goals.
The choice for us is to accept this and succumb to this enormous pressure to win an election by tilting to the right, abandoning socialist politics and accepting neo-liberal norms just as Tony Blair did with his pact with Rupert Murdoch. Or we work out imaginative ways in which to counter the disinformation.
Jim Ring in his article ‘BLAST FROM THE NORTH’ (Labour Briefing February 2020) put the challenge succinctly:
“We have one great disadvantage in this fightback campaign- we have no public voice of our own. It is time for the unions to delve into their vast pockets and sponsor a professional media service-combining television outlets, newspapers and social media facilities- to get our message across to everyone.”
The techniques used by the mainstream media spring from the ideas of the Public Relations pioneer Edward Bernays who considered stereotypes as influential in shaping public opinion. The media created a range of stereotypes of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. The response to these was a public relations disaster for the party on all the issues such as antisemitism, extremism, electability, economic management, etc. What is urgently needed for the party is to have a Public Relations team with visible and identifiable voices who would rebut disinformation with boldness immediately.
The idea of community organising is getting traction now and should be taken forward urgently. CLPs should also prioritise community engagement and create Community Engagement Officer posts on their Executive Committees. Simultaneously, the provision of adequate financial resources to constituency parties is needed so that they can publish a quarterly newsletter through the year for every home in the constituency. Such a newsletter would be not replicate the party leaflets but could be a vehicle to tell local personal stories about the impact of universal credit, homelessness, housing crisis, transport, pollution, hospital trolley waits, mental health, cuts affecting services, etc. The production and distribution of such newsletters would be the responsibility of local activists in the campaign committees. This would complement the growing use of online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram amongst others.
Monopoly control of the whole media is by a handful of billionaires and global corporations with just three companies controlling 83% of the newspaper market and just two individuals – Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere -dominating the national press. Serious discussion on how wider control of and access to the media can be put in place for a democratic political order is urgently needed with a view to incorporating fundamental media reform into the next Labour manifesto.
Back in 2003 Imogen Bunting, whose birthday it would have been today, wrote this on the film INJUSTICE by Tariq and Ken. To date the film still has not been shown on UK television, despite all the awards and media acclaim and THE RELEVANCE OF IT STILL TODAY.
This piece was written by Imogen for a possible book on the film Injustice. We approached 19 publishers for the book, but while screenings do occur now, because the film was banned/threatened for so long by the court injunctions of the Police Federation, no publisher seemed able to risk a publication. As you can see from below, the failure of the publishers (some respected left wing houses) was not because of the quality of the writing – here as ever Imogen was on the case.
Media Racism: Reporting black deaths in the British press: Injustice and…
The COVID-19 crisis is a mirror that vividly reveals what value our society places on the life of the elderly and the work of health and social care workers.
There has been so much spoken written about the COVID-19 crisis that it would be pointless to repeat the arguments from every side of the spectrum. Boris Johnson and his ministers have had free play in dominating the political agenda. Right from the start, Johnson used a 15 second soundbite crafted by his spin doctors to capture the evening TV newscasts and the next day’s front pages. The daily briefings have become an instrument of political propaganda where a numbers theatre was enacted and the politics of fear embedded.
How did our society value human life during this crisis? It is not up to an individual to measure the worth of lives. Neither is it a matter of a mere economic calculus. We can tell how lives are valued by the action we as a society take based on the policies that are put in place.
Right from the beginning, the slogan was ‘Save the NHS’.There was a political calculation, based on the anxiety of the government, that the NHS would be overwhelmed given its current capacity which had been reduced drastically over the last 10 years of austerity. The NHS had lost 17,000 beds and tens of acute hospital services had been closed through mergers. There was also a staffing crisis with 10,000 doctor and 40,000 nurse vacancies. For the party which had set upon dismantling the NHS with the landmark Health and Social Care Act of 2012, it was a bit of a cheek now to ‘Save the NHS’. Of course the slogan worked well because the public at large still believes in the NHS.
So right from start, care homes were excluded. They were not part of the NHS but the responsibility of local councils which are required to outsource them to provide providers. Nonetheless, if the national priority was to save lives, then the residents of care homes and their staff should have been given the highest protection since it was well known that fatalities were the highest in those over 80 years old.
Care homes were quarantined so that the vulnerable could not receive appropriate medical care, let alone GP visits. To free up NHS beds, the elderly were often returned to care homes without being tested for the COVID-19 infection. This led in some cases to infection of others. The staff were not supplied with appropriate PPE and were them selves vulnerable to the infection and if infected likely to spread it.
The deaths in care homes were not counted from January to nearly the end of April and not included in the numbers at the daily briefings which focused on hospital deaths. This was a scandal. Besides COVID-19 deaths, many elderly people have died because of lack of medical care for other critical conditions.
There are attempts to rewrite history by politicians who suggest that there was a protective ring around care homes. Nothing can be further from the truth. Everything points to the fact that the lives of the vulnerable in care homes were of little value.
When reports began to emerge about health workers, doctors and nurses dying because of COVID-19 infections, the government was not collating information on such deaths. It took some time before those who died were named by the press. Initially, ministers were reported questioning whether doctors who died got their infection in a work related situation.
When health workers reported that they did not have full PPE protection, the government launched a drive using military logistics to ensure that hospitals received the supply. Yet it was found out that the stockpile that was set up in 2009 for a possible pandemic had not been replenished and thousands of items were beyond their shelf life. Best before dates were relabelled with the government claiming that they were retested without making the results public. The government then launched an emergency operation to purchase the necessary PPE from countries such as Turkey. Items purchased were later found not to meet the standards.
Weeks went by when the frontline workers were not getting PPE at the required level. This was a failure that caused unnecessary deaths. A government which cared for the lives of frontline health workers would have never put their lives at risk. It was doctors and nurses who were at risk, not the managers in the offices running the hospitals.
Does our society value the work of junior doctors, nurses, support staff and care workers? Just look at the way junior doctors were treated over their contracts back in 2016 when new working arrangements were imposed on them ignoring many issues of safety and stress on the pretext of providing a 7-day service.
Nurses have been the victims of a decade of ‘efficiency savings’ in the NHS with their pay frozen pay for 10 years. The replacement of bursaries by loans has left many of them in debt. Hospital cleaners were outsourced to private companies 30 years ago. The companies often pay them barely a living wage.
Care workers have been described as ‘unskilled’ when they have to look after the varying and complex needs of the elderly. They are employed by private providers who pay them low wages and fail to give them appropriate training. Those care workers supporting the elderly in their own homes work under immense stress, with employers applying time and motion methods.
The last thirty years of the hegemony of neoliberalism has always emphasized ‘value for money’ and ‘added value’ with an utter determination to reduce everything to monetary value. How under these conditions can we expect individuals and society to think in terms of the value of human life?
Many of the questions raised here cannot be answered by words but only by action, by creating a more humane society in which health and care services will be fully funded and publicly owned and run.
It is time the British government abandoned its double standards on human rights and denuclearisation.
When the House of Commons
returned after its unlawful prorogation on Wednesday September 25th,
the debate following the statement by the Foreign Office minister,
Dominic Raab on Iran was instructive. It demonstrated that the
established US narrative in the corporate media on Iran is deeply
embedded in the perceptions of both sides of the Commons.
statement had two key elements. First, that in the wake of the
attacks on the eastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia which cut oil
production by half, Iran had become a destabilising force in the
region. Hence, in his words, “Iran must never begin access to
nuclear weapons and that is why the UK remains committed to the 2015
joint comprehensive plan of action, notwithstanding US withdrawal.”
Secondly Iran was in
breach of human rights, particularly in detaining dual citizens.
be credible, the defence of human rights must be universal. It is
right that Iran should be criticised over its detention of dual
citizens and right to demand their release but also to insist that
due processes of law in Iran are transparent. However, defending
human rights should not be selective and opportunistic. There are
horrendous violations of human rights on a daily basis by Israel
which are condoned consistently by our media and our politicians. So,
too, in Egypt under Sisi, Turkey under Erdogan and Saudi Arabia
amongst others. The violations of human rights by Western powers are
egregious. Drone attacks killing civilians are indefensible. There
is no place for double standards in applying international human
rights standards. Attacking the alleged enemies of Western powers
for breaching human rights whilst turning a blind eye when the allies
breach them, undermines human right norms internationally.
in the region were ratcheted up when Trump decided to withdraw from
the nuclear agreement and imposed sanctions on Iran. The nuclear
agreement reached by the five powers, backed by the security council,
was to contain Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium and prevent it from
developing nuclear weapons. After Trump’s decision, the European
powers have tried to maintain the nuclear agreement. For its part,
Iran has pressurised them to protect it from US sanctions. As yet
European powers have not able to come up with a mechanism to assist
Iran overcome the impact of US sanctions.
condition that the Foreign Secretary laid down for engagement with
Iran is that “it should show the respect required for the basic
principles of the rules-based international system”. Members
of the United Nations are bound by the Charter, Articles One and Two
which affirm the right of all peoples to self-determination, the
sovereign equality of states, the prohibition of the use of force and
of economic or political interference in the internal affairs of
sovereign states. Yet these fundamental principles of international
continue to be grossly violated by the US, the UK and other European
states. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was probably the most serious
violation of the Nuremberg Principles, a supreme crime of war of
Iran has in modern time not
invaded any sovereign state. On the contrary, the US and UK
successfully overthrew the democratically elected government of
Mossadegh in 1953 and imposed a dictatorship under the late Shah
until 1979 when a landmark revolution led to the establishment of
the Iranian Islamic Republic. Since then the western powers and their
allies have conducted a war of attrition against the Iranian people
under the pretext of stopping it developing nuclear weapons. The
lifting of sanctions under the nuclear treaty
was a short respite. Trump’s assertion to the UN General Assembly
that Iran was spreading terror across the region cynically inverted
the reality. It is the US, its allies and proxies which have in the
last three decades invaded and slaughtered innocents and destroyed
countries across the region from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan,
Yemen and Somalia. This has led to millions of displaced and
refugees. There is little acknowledgement that wars lead to
widespread displacement. Blockading
a country economically through sanctions so the civilians cannot
obtain the means of life and life-saving medicines
is economic warfare. Iran
is subject to severe sanctions by the US whose aim is to reduce its
oil exports to zero. Locking Iran out of the system of exchange and
trade is causing immense economic hardships and lack of availability
of life-saving medications. These sanctions are an act of war. How
long can the US quarantine a population of 100 million?
Raab’s statement that “we need a longer-term framework that
provides greater certainty over Iran’s nuclear programme and, as
the attacks on Aramco demonstrate, we must also bring Iran’s wider
destabilising activities into scope”, indicated that the UK
government has moved towards the US position. So have the European
powers gradually. Many had predicted that the nuclear agreement would
collapse following the withdrawal by the US because European powers
and corporations could not circumvent US sanctions. It is likely that
this will happen in the near future.
underlying problem here is that the western powers are not prepared
to address the issue of denuclearisation in the region. This would
require that the only power that possess nuclear weapons in the
region, Israel, is brought into consideration. An agreement to
denuclearise across the region would mean the inspection of Israel’s
nuclear weapons capability. The US and Israel do not want this to
happen. The shadow of Israeli nuclear weapons hangs across the Middle
we confront again the stark double standards that western policy
applies in its dealings with the nations in the region.
fall of the Berlin wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, did
not lead to the rhetorical peace dividend. It led to the
strengthening of US hegemony, controlling the destiny of the world in
a way similar to the emergence of British
domination of the world
after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. With no checks and
balances, the US resorted to extreme actions of regime change in the
region, reshaping it with its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Hopefully, there are signs that this era is coming to an end with the
US failing to carry out regime change in Syria.
demonstrates that we still live in an epoch of imperialist system
within which a hierarchy of highly developed nations led by the US
are able to subject other nations to their dominations, using a
variety of means from economic sanctions, blockades, to low intensity
wars and invasions. Changing this system will require a sustained
resistance by peoples across the world and within imperialist
countries. However much we disagree with Iran, it is vital that we
oppose not only war against Iran but economic sanctions as well.
his speech at the Labour annual conference, Jeremy Corbyn said “Have
we learnt nothing?” and advocated the need for diplomacy to solve
problems. He has been principled in pursuing peace his entire life
and has opposed all the wars in the Middle East. It is time the
country listened to him. A government led by him would bring a
paradigm shift in UK foreign policy.
in the region will take generations to reconstruct. This they cannot
do on their own but only with significant international assistance.
This has hardly begun. We need foreign forces to move out of the
region and regional powers to come together to establish peace and
security. The wounded have to be healed, people need to be fed, the
displaced need to be housed, the young need to be educated and jobs
need to be provided for the youth. The economy must serve the people
with good infrastructure providing clean water, electricity and
transport links. Democracy needs to be embedded so that those who
exercise power are accountable to the people.
Financial sanctions, trade embargo and blockade of Venezuela by the United States pose the gravest of threats to the well being of the civilian population
The political right has monopolised the conversation about Venezuela in print and on TV. It case is well rehearsed and follows the party line of the United States that President Maduro is a cruel illegitimate dictator and his corrupt government has mismanaged the economy to sink the country into a humanitarian disaster. The left has countered this by defending the gains of the Chavista revolution and puts the current situation to the steep fall of oil prices and the US sanctions.
This confrontation was well captured by Andrew Neil’s This Week political review when Ken Livingstone valiantly defended the gains of the Chavez revolution whilst Andrew Neil put the opposite case with the assistance of Alan Johnson and Esther McVey. Regrettably Ken Livingstone was rinsed by Neil because he could not answer how the sanctions had affected Venezuela or which sanctions were imposed when, whereas Neil with his selective briefing notes pointed out the oil sanctions were recent and reinforced the US line on the mismanagement by the Maduro government. Kenan Malik in The Observer castigated Livingstone for ‘bullshitting’. This was instructive to those on the left-if we are going to defend Venezuela, then we need to be armed with facts and be well briefed.
The starkest glimpse of US sanctions policy is Eisenhower’s memorandum in 1960s that stated “a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
Over the last four decades, with the micro-electronics revolution, the world economy has become more integrated. With the dollar as a reserve currency and a monopoly over world financial system through bank credit and clearance, the US is the nerve centre of monetary power in global commerce. Jack Lew, the former Secretary of Treasury during the Obama administration, declared that“economic sanctions have become a powerful force in service of clear and coordinated foreign policy objectives—smart power for situations where diplomacy alone is insufficient, but military force is not the right response. They must remain a powerful option for decades to come.”
The legal cover for intensifying economic warfare on Venezuela began with the passage of Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act passed by the US Congress on the 18 of December 2014. The Act directed the President to block assets and apply exclusion sanctions to any person, including current and former Venezuelan government officials who are involved in violating human rights, curtailing civil freedoms and hindering democracy in the country. The Act was extended further from the end of 2016 to 2019 under the Trump administration which intensified sanctions on Venezuela.
Within three months of this enactment, on March 8 2015, the Obama administration issued the new Executive Order 13692, declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by Venezuela. It also empowered the Treasury Department to set in place surveillance of Venezuela’s financial transactions in the United States. Even though the executive order deceptively stated that there was no intent to target the people and the economy of Venezuela, by blocking the personal and business accounts of seven Venezuelan officials, it fired the first shots for the imposing constraints on Venezuelan individuals and businesses operating in the US financial system.
Concurrently the major financial rating agencies ranked Venezuela as a high risk country akin countries in armed conflicts in spite of the fact that Venezuelan government had been making regular debt repayments. This aimed to push the country towards default by preventing debt restructuring , creating disincentives for international investments and provided a pretext for impounding Venezuelan assets.
The banks and financial institutions took their cue, and they stopped extending credit to Venezuela state and institutions. Over the following year well into 2016, Venezuela accounts were shut down by the major US banks. Banks across Europe followed suit. This diminished the capacity of Venezuela to make payments in dollars and added costs when making payments by other means. Russian firms and Chinese banks also baulked at carrying out contracts because of the pressure from the US securities and exchange commission.
The hammer blow was struck by Trump on August 25, 2017 by the issue of Executive Order 13808 which prohibited new financial dealings with the Venezuelan government and its oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA). In the following twelve months, there was a dramatic decline in oil production. The loss of credit prevented PdVSA from obtaining finance for investing in or maintaining the oil industry infrastructure.
Perhaps even more important was a letter of guidance issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) on September 20, 2017, warning financial institutions that “all Venezuelan government agencies and bodies, including SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) appear vulnerable to public corruption and money laundering” and `red-flagging’ several transactions originating from Venezuela as potentially criminal . Fearing that it was too risky to participate in money laundering inadvertently, many financial institutions proceeded to close Venezuelan accounts. Venezuelan payments to creditors got stuck in the payment chain, with financial institutions refusing to process wires coming from Venezuelan public sector institutions.
The US has been engineering the collapse of the Venezuelan currency, the Bolivar, for years, firstly by preventing the inflow of dollars to Venezuela and secondly by facilitating the outflow of dollars. The shortage of dollars drives up the value of the dollar and pushes down the value of the Bolivar. The prices of imported goods (medicines, critical food commodities, business commodities, spare parts ) rise rapidly. Domestic businesses cut back on production leading to mass layoffs and lower wages which in turn led to collapse of consumption. For several years, US policy has been to ensure that US businesses in Venezuela repatriate their dollars back to the US or divert them to their subsidiaries elsewhere. It has also encouraged richer Venezuelans to bank their dollars in Miami or to invest them in financial vehicles set up in Colombia. With shortage of dollars, black market thrives. The manipulation of exchange rate by publication of pernicious exchange rate not grounded on factual purchase and sale transactions using a website in DolarToday based in Miami has been used to artificially drive inflation levels since 2010. Taking all this together, not only the foreign exchange market is affected but also the price levels in the economy, leading to the loss of purchasing power and distorting production and marketing of commodities.
Venezuela is a gold producer and exporter. Gold is a substitute for dollar and to stop Venezuela using its gold reserves, in November 2018, the US imposed sanctions on the gold sector of the Venezuelan economy. The Bank of England was asked and complied by freezing Venezuelan gold deposit worth $1.2bn. Countries like Abu Dhabi where gold is traded globally have been asked to stop trading Venezuelan gold.
On 28th January 2019, the Trump administration imposed further wide ranging and stringent sanctions on the oil sector of Venezuela which exported $12bn of crude oil and oil products to the US in 2018. US companies are prohibited from buying and selling any oil products from and to Venezuelan PdVSA or any entities it has a majority stake in. At a single stroke, this move deprived Venezuelan of a major source of foreign exchange revenue leaving it at risk of not being able to import vital food and medicines.
Venezuela does not have any capacity to refine the oil it produces to enable it to have economic independence. The oil refineries owned by the state owned CITGO Petroleum Corporation are in the southern US gulf coast. This leaves it at the mercy of US oil companies and the US government. The recent seizure of CITGO by the US blocked assets worth $7 billion deprived the government of dollars which could be used to import food and medicines. Furthermore Venezuelan crude requires diluents such as Naphtha which the PdVSA imported from Houston based subsidiaries of the Indian Reliance Industries. This has now been halted.
The cruellest move in all this is the deliberate blocking import of vital medicines and equipment that are a matter of life and death for many patients in Venezuela. In July 2017, Citibank refused to process Venezuela payment for the import of 300,000 insulin doses. In October 2017, the entry of vaccines to the country was delayed for four months because the US blockade made it impossible to make payments in the Bank Swiss UBS. In November 2017, to tackle a Malaria outbreak, Venezuela made a payment to purchase primaquine and chloroquine, to the BSN laboratory Medical in Colombia. The Colombian government blocked the dispatch of tai-malarial drugs. In the same month, the European company Euroclear, founded by JP Morgan, seized $1.65 billion that were destined for the purchase of food and medicine. The following year in May 2018, the payment of $ 9 million was blocked for the acquisition of supplies for dialysis equipment.
According to a Latin American Geopolitical Strategic Centre (CELAG) study, US economic war on Venezuela since Maduro’s April 2013 election through 2017 cost the country $350 billion in lost production of goods and services. If Maduro received international financing from the IMF Venezuelan GDP growth from 2013 – 17 would have exceeded Argentina’s This hidden war of monetary imperialism has seriously damaged Venezuelan economy. The shortage of essential food commodities and medicines has led to an economist aligned to the opposition, Fransisco Rodriguez to call for a oil-for- food programme similar to that for Iraq in 1990s. Readers may recall that sanctions on Iraq led to an estimated death of a 500,000 infants.
The economic warfare on Venezuela is worse than what was done to Iraq and a portent of the shape things to come for those countries which are in US cross-hairs such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Iran unless countervailing forces develop to contain US hubris. The unity and the resistance of the working class, the rural classes and the military against the oligarchy backed by the US will determine the outcome of this struggle. International solidarity in challenging the corporate media’s narrative for regime change and the Tory governments sanctions policy is vital in this struggle.
The United States is putting in place its long planned intervention for regime change in Venezuela with serious consequences for the future of its people
The wave of the so called ‘pink’ tide that washed the shores of Latin America in response to the post-1970s neoliberal straitjacket of privatisation, low tariffs, reduced social spending, weakened labour laws and increased social inequality, has receded. Following the uprising in Venezuela in 1989, left leaning governments were elected in Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, and El Salvador. But now, in Brazil, Dilma was deposed and Lula jailed with neofascist Bolsonaro crowned, in Ecuador Correa’s successor Lenin Moreno has reversed policies, in Argentina, Christina Kercher’s replacement Macri is beholden to IMF for his survival, in Chile after Pinochet is in the hands of a business man Sebastian Pinera after two staggered terms of Michelle Bachelet. Only Evo Morales and Maduro remain. In Nicaragua Ortega faced a street movement to remove him has so far survived. In Cuba the Castro era has ended with the leadership of a new generations facing immense pressures from the United States after 60 years of blockade.
It is inconceivable that the US, with its dense military, surveillance and political networks, with deep financial pockets, has been a passive agents in this shift towards the right in a region which it has long regarded its backyard. It has a reputation to seek to restore its power even after a severe defeat such as in Vietnam. It has been firmly ensconced in Colombia both economically and militarily for decades where the right wing as consolidated under Duque. It condoned the removal of President Manuel Zelaya 2009 by American trained generals and the subsequent murders of thousands of indigenous activists, peasant leaders, trade unionists, journalists, environmentalists, judges, opposition political candidates, and human rights activists. The removal of the left wing President Lugo through impeachment by the Paraguay’s Senate had implicit support of the US.
In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez came to power in the wake of the great uprising by the poor in 1989, the Caracazo against the IMF-brokered austerity that was suppressed by the military killing more than a thousand people. Chavez, a career military officer led a revolt against corruption in 1992, only to be jailed but this catapulted him to hero status. Release in 1994, he won the presidential vote 1998 by a landslide. The triumph of Chavez promised hope for improvement to the poorer classes with his embrace of Bolivarianismo, after Simon Bolivar, the iconic leader of the war of independence from Spain in the early 19th century who promoted social reform and unity in Latin America. For the first five years in power, Chavez was forced to fight rearguard action from the reaction of the elite and the oligarchy supported by the US. In 2002, he luckily survived a coup attempt by the military who abducted him and only mass action from thousands of his supporters enabled him to return to power in two days. This was followed by a war of attrition with attempts to shut oil production down and a recall referendum. He survived numerous assassination plots to triumph and achieved great success electorally.
At the height of his power from 2005 to his final election in 2012, the social gains as a whole were spectacular: greater employment, more and better housing, better nutrition, better medical care, height life expectancy and increased literacy through better education. Over the whole 14 year period of his rule to his death by cancer in 2013, Chavez never deviated from improving the lot of the poor through a redistribution policy using part of the proceeds of the oil revenue.
Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor, on taking power of his first term in 2014 was to see the collapse of oil price. In 2014 Venezuelan oil was still 88 US$ a barrel . In 2015 it halved to $44. In January 2016 it had reached its lowest level for over 10 years, at $24. Additionally there was pressure from the US when Obama declared Venezuela as a ‘national security threat’ and imposed sanctions in 2015 later to be intensified by Trump precipitating a severe economic crisis.
Over the last five years, Venezuela’s per capita income shrunk by 40 percent, a decline that parallels war torn countries such as Iraq and Syria. Whereas, it earned $100bn in oil revenues in 2012, by 2017 this fell to $32bn, a decline of about two thirds. Whilst part of this could be explained by the collapse of the oil prices in January 2016, the lack of investment in oil production because of cash shortages, but the drastic fall in production can be attributed to the US financial sanctions imposed in August 2017 barring US persons from providing any financing to the Venezuelan government or the oil company PDVSA.
At the security council meeting on Sat 26 January, Ms. DiCarlo, the UN Under Secretary-General of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs described the situation in Venezuela as “dire”, and as having both an economic and political dimension. “The population is affected in a systemic way, nearly all 30 million Venezuelans are affected by hyperinflation and a collapse of real salaries; shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies; deterioration of health and education services; deterioration of basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, transport and urban services,” she told the Council. Whilst there were calls for political solution, at no stage the sanctions that has strangulated Venezuela were mentioned.
In August 2018 Alfred de Zayas the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years criticised the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans. According to him the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law. All economic measures taken by the Maduro government have not been effective and led to a black market and corruption. Facing such a serious crisis, the government has become more authoritarian.
The financial strangulation over three years prepared the ground for toppling the Maduro who faced an intractable war of attrition with the opposition from 2014 onwards with violence including three assassination attempts. When the opposition won the National Assembly elections in March 2016, it challenged the executive power of the president through legislative means. This confrontation led to the Venezuelan Supreme Court repeatedly annulling laws made by the National Assembley. Attempts were then made to shorten the presidential term and to initiate a recall of referendum. The Maduro government called a referendum to elect a constituent assembly which the opposition boycotted. The Presidential election of May 2018 was boycotted by the main opposition saw Maduro win the election with 68 percent of the vote on a low turnout of 46 per cent against some minor opposition figures. The domestic opposition, United States and Lima Group of mostly right-leaning Latin American governments say they do not recognise the results even though from US President Jimmy Carter declared that Venezuela’s electoral system is the best in the world.
This was the juncture when a cascade of well coordinated actions were launched by the US government and the opposition with tightening of the noose around Venezuela by imposing sanctions on its oil companies and withholding its gold reserves in the UK. John Bolton’s targeted Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as a troika of tyranny that need to be dismantled in the name of freedom and democracy. This was followed by Juan Guaidó, the President of the National Assembly declared himself as the President on 23 January and was immediately recognised so by Trump, the US allies in Latin America, UK and European powers. Vice President Pence incited the Venezuelan population to go out in the streets against Maduro. As expected an intense public relations campaign in the media followed with a selective narrative and images in support Juan Guaidó as someone that 80% of Venezuelans had never heard of until last week. Research into Guaido’s background reveals is the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s agencies as a part of a cadre of right-wing student activists set up to undermine Venezuela’s socialist government, to destabilise the country and one day seize power. He participated in violence organised by the Popular Will party which led to the arrest and exile of its leaders.
The US has embarked on a strategy of setting up a parallel government in Venezuela in order to bring about a counter revolution. European countries become accomplices in this by issuing a ten day ultimatum for Maduro to call elections with the threat of recognising Guaidó as interim president. As expected this has been rejected. Now an economic crisis has been compounded by a political crisis. The outcome of this is difficult to foresee. There could be widespread civil unrest with violence and even a civil war. Intervention by the Venezuelan military could be decisive. Mercenary proxy forces funded by the CIA could enter the country from Columbia and Brazil. There is a possibility of US invasion on humanitarian grounds. Guaido has rejected negotiation with Maduro. Several countries have offered mediation. This could be a way forward to resolve the political crisis. The US is showing little interest in such mediation. International security requires patient diplomacy and conflict resolution. For this to happen, we need to set in place internationally a system of checks and balances where no country is able to act in extreme ways.
It has been argued that all this is about the US wanted to grab hold of Venezuela’s immense oil reserves. Whilst this is only partly true, there are elements of geopolitical competition when Venezuela because of US sanctions turned to Russia and China for investment. Both these countries have made significant investment in Venezuela. Above all, the US seeks to erase the legacy of Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution which not only asserted national sovereignty but sought to counter the neoliberal order and create alternative institutions for Latin American unity.
It is risible that many media outlets including those who claim to be liberal have claimed that this is about democracy. Historical experience attests that the US foreign policy has blocked democracy across the world by supporting dictatorships, invasions, counterinsurgencies, proxy wars, assassinations and regime change amongst many other nefarious strategies. In Latin America the memories of the overthrow of the President Árbenz of Guatemala (1954), the overthrow of President Allende in Chile(1973), the support for military dictatorships across Latin America ant the ‘dirty wars’ in Central America, are still fresh. The US has inflicted immense pain on the people of Latin America and blocked the development of democracies in all the countries continually.
The appointment of Elliot Abrams as a special envoy to Venezuela bodes ill the country. Elliot was the architect of the “dirty war” in Central America where death squads murdered at least 250,000 people in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. The victims were overwhelmingly unarmed and poor civilians as well as teachers, doctors, peasants, workers, students, women, nuns and priests, including bishops such as El Salvador’s martyr Oscar Romero.
It is best to see Venezuela in the wider context of a US led imperialist system which has, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, asserted monopolistic power over world security. This freer play has enabled Trump to usher an era of bullying in international relations where Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State and John Bolton the National Security Adviser issues threats to vulnerable countries. They represent the ugly face of imperialism. With the blocking of Venezuelan crude to refineries in the US, they are throttling Venezuela to make it submit to their yoke, to their dictation. This is unforgivable because the suffering of the Venezuelan people will be horrifying.
The mass of Venezuelan people, the bottom 99 percent, face extreme danger. Any takeover of the country by proxy of US will lead to the privatisation of the resources of the country, their looting, the dismantling of the social security, education, housing and education provision. The mobilisation of the mass of Venezuelan people will be critical. Although exhausted by the economic warfare they are by no means subservient because of their historic experience of Chavez’s revolution in spite of the distortions it has undergone over time because of internal and external threats.
The US intervention in the name of democracy must be opposed and resisted without reservations. We need to counter the propaganda blitz in the mass media which supports intervention with a counter narrative that is grounded in history to show how imperial interests have destroyed societies across the world. We need to defend the rights of the Venezuelan people to sovereignty and self determination. We must oppose all sanctions that are starving Venezuelan people. This is the time to speak out critically and boldly in public to oppose our government’s support for intervention in Venezuela. To express your solidarity and oppose US intervention, you can join the Venezuelan Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War Coalition.
As one hunger striker, Leyla Güven is in critical condition, why is our media ignoring her!!
are so engrossed with Brexit almost every hour of the day with the
twenty four hour cycle, our public world view has turned inwards,
shrinking our horizons, as if nothing is happening in the wider
world. The arrival of dinghies with a small number of refugees
(labelled as migrants) caused a national panic led by the tabloids so
that the navy had to mobilised to protect our shores against this
invasion. And there is always our obsession with the world across the
atlantic with President Trump as the centre of the world and his
slightest idiosyncrasies in tweets must always make to our screens.
Beyond that our foreign policy dictates that we always find some time
for any breaches by US defined “rogue states” like Iran, or
security threat North Korea and Russia or possible some Chinese
skullduggery. Our media remain generally silent as hundred of
thousands of children are at risk of dying in Yemen, Palestinians
being shot dead by snipers in Gaza, political prisoners in Egypt,
Syrian refugees freezing away in Lebanon and refugees trapped in the
slave camps of Libya. These would never be on the political agenda
and thrust themselves in public consciousness.
What we see or hear is chosen for us in most cases giving us a moral uplift to show we are endowed with higher values. This is not to say that some cases by themselves are undeserving. The detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran is harrowing and she must be released. The story of the Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun now given a home in Canada after her courageous refusal to be deported from Thailand and success in securing a UN refugee status.
Last week, Nazanin has started a three day hunger strike to draw attention to her medical condition. Unfortunately, most British people have not heard of the Kurdish woman politician, Leyla Güven, whose life hangs by the thread, has today completed 75 days of hunger strike today in Turkey. Güven is 55-year-old and she was imprisoned in January 2018 for speaking out against the Turkish state’s illegal invasion and occupation of the majority Kurdish region of Afrin in Rojava (northern Syria). During this military operation severe war crimes were committed and civilians were systematically targeted by Turkish-backed Syrian militias who raped, looted, kidnapped and killed with impunity. As a politician she is a legally elected Kurdish member of the Turkish parliament, member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), former mayor, and co-president of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), the largest civil society body in the Kurdish regions of Turkey. Leyla Güven faces over 31 years in prison for simply being critical of the Turkish regime. Due to the state of emergency regulations imposed on the country after the attempted coup in 2016, Leyla Güven is the first case in Turkish history of a representative who was not released from jail upon being elected.
She started the hunger strike to protest against the Turkish government policy of isolation(solitary confinement) of political prisoners. In particular, she called for the end of isolation imposed on the Kurdish political leader Abdullah Öcalan. At the third hearing of her case in a court in Diyarbakir on November 7, Leyla Güven said, “Today the politics of isolation on Mr Öcalan is not imposed on him alone, but on a people in his person. Isolation is a crime against humanity. I am a member of this people. I am starting an Öcalan indefinite hunger strike to protest the isolation on Mr Öcalan. I will not submit any defence to the court from now on. I will continue my protest until the judiciary ends its unlawful decisions and this politics of isolation is terminated. If need be, I will turn this protest into death fast.”
Abdullah Öcalan was kidnapped from Nairobi 20 years ago and incarcerated in the Imrali island prison in the sea of Marmara close to Istanbul. There have been long periods of isolation imposed on him during the last two decades. No one from his family, his doctors, his lawyers or friends have been allowed to visit him for the last three and half years. This is against international principles(Mandela rules) agreed by United Nations in 2015 which forbid solitary confinement for 22 hours or more a day without human contact for a period that exceeds 15 consecutive days. Combined with the violation of his rights to receive his lawyers and family members, the systematic obstruction of communication with the outside world, the isolation imposed on him is akin to mental torture.
International solidarity builds
Over the past weeks, solidarity hunger strikes have spread inside and outside prisons across several countries with the participation of more people all around the world with the motto “Leyla Güven’s demand is our demand”. In addition to political prisoners in Turkey and Kurdistan, Kurds and their friends have launched solidarity hunger strikes, demonstrations and actions all around the world. Close to 200 prisoners both women and men are currently on hunger strike in more that 20 Turkish prisons. Young Kurdish activist Imam Sis has entered the 35th day of his hunger strike in Wales, while Nasir Yagiz in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan reached day 61. Other hunger strikes are taking place in the autonomous Kurdish refugee camp Makhmour, in different places in majority Kurdish areas of Syria, Iraq and Iran, as well as in Lebanon and Armenia. In Europe, fifteen Kurdish activists and political figures, including former MP Dilek Öcalan, have begun an indefinite hunger strike in Strasbourg to pressure the European Council’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) to fulfil its duties and address their single and basic demand to the institution: to pay a visit to check on the condition of Abdullah Öcalan.
An international call has been issued to demand an immediate end to the solitary confinement of Öcalan and other political prisoners in Turkey. Among the first signatories are well-known personalities like Immanuel Wallerstein and David Graeber, as well as activists, thinkers, trade unionists, feminist writers, MPs, MEPs, senators, researchers, journalists, historians and artists from around the world. Angela Davis who was imprisoned in1970s when she joined a hunger strike to protest against prison conditions has called for the release of Leyla Güven. South African lawyers and political figures, including spokespersons for the National Assembly, who have actively participated in the campaign to free Nelson Mandela, have drawn parallels between Mandela’s anti-apartheid struggle and imprisonment, and Kurdish freedom struggle led by Öcalan.
These hunger strikes brought back brought back to me the memories of the Northern Ireland hunger strikes in 1980s which led to the death of Bobby Sands and nine other hunger strikers because of the rejection by the Thatcher government to give them political status. The treatment of Irish prisoners, their protests, their suffering and the death of Bobby Sands was superbly captured by Steve McQueen in his prize winning dramatic film ‘Hunger'(2008). For the republicans the memories of these are still fresh to immediately show solidarity with the Kurdish hunger stikers. Last week, Martina Anderson, Sinn Féin MEP met with the family of Leyla Güven, as well as her legal representatives, but was denied access to the prison in Diyarbakir where she is being held. At a rally in Derry, after returing from Turkey, she called on the international community to demand the release of Abdullah Ocalan and Leyla Güven.
Kurdish people want the international community to back their demand
to end the isolation. They believe the end of isolation will assist
and advance their peace process. As we stand here tonight and look
towards the H-Block monument it is important that we remember Leyla
Güven and all the other Kurdish hunger strikers. Their resolve and
determination is just as strong as Bobby Sands’ and Raymond
McCartney’s was at that time.”
This massive solidarity amongst the Kurdish people comes from the deep respect and admiration for him as a political leader, thinker and visionary. Öcalan is overwhelmingly recognized as the chief negotiator and representative of the Kurdish people in the peace talks with the Turkish state. He is the initiator of several ceasefires and initiatives to work towards an end to the conflict. By isolating him, Turkey is actively sabotaging any chance of returning to the negotiating table and bringing an end to the violence. The international signature campaign for the freedom of Abdullah Öcalan, concluded in 2015, managed to gather an astonishing 10.3 million signatories. Apart from drawing up a roadmap for peace ten years ago, Öcalan is the advocate of Democratic Confederalism, a unique political and social proposal that avoids the pitfalls of nationalism. From fighting for a nation state of Kurdistan, he is advocating a vision whereby the diverse ethnic and religious groups could work together within the existing boundaries of states to build a democratic framework from the grassroots hence overcoming the fragmentation that exists across all the nation amongst different ethnic groups. At the heart of this is the liberation of women from patriarchy by active participation in all walks of life and developing an economy that puts ecological preservation and sustainability as central to all activity.
The roots of Turkish -Kurdish conflict
The roots of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict lie deep in history of the region. The defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire following WWI was followed by the carving up of the region into nation states such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel and Jordan by the mandate powers, Britain and France. At this most critical juncture in world history millions of Kurds granted a nation state and found themselves fragmented across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The emergence of the Turkish nations state was marked by the Armenian genocide in 1915 and the brutal suppression of Kurds as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk laid the foundation of Turkish ethno-nationalism, denying them political autonomy and respect for their language and cultural identity. Since 1925, Kurdish uprisings and resistance were violently suppressed and Kurdish social advancement blocked. In 1970s there was a growing radicalisation of the Kurds with the founding of several clandestine parties based on socialist ideology. The relentless persecution of all forms of Kurdish political expression persuaded many activists to take up arms against the state. The PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) was established in the 1978 under the leadership of Öcalan. With the military coup in Turkey in 1980, the PKK shifted its cadres and bases to Lebanon and Syria from where it launched its first attacks on Turkish security forces. This law intensity war reached its most violent phase in 1990s. Over 40,000 people were killed in the conflict, including PKK militants, Turkish soldiers, pro-state paramilitaries and (above all) Kurdish civilians. Over thee million were displaced from the rural areas to towns and cities. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey for thousands of human right abuses. Many of the judgements are related to systematic execution of Kurdish civilians, torturing, forced displacement , destruction of villages, arbitrary arrests, detentions, disappearances and murder of Kurdish journalists, activists and politicians.
But this was not the end of the ‘Kurdish problem’ for the Turkish state, as the resistance helped to catalyse a broader political awakening. Despite facing intense state repression, pro-Kurdish democratic movements were continually carving a space on the electoral stage articulating the demands of the Kurdish population. Every political party and civil society movement that rose to carry the banner of freedom and democracy since the 1990s was suppressed by state violence and national security laws both at national and local level.
Kurdish electoral breakthrough and Erdoğan’s revenge
A peace process and accompanying ceasefire that was initiated by Öcalan in 2012 but brought to an end in Summer 2015 by Erdoğan. The birth of the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) in 2012 was to provide immense hopes on the democratic left blocs in Turkey and posed the greatest challenge to Erdoğan’s supremacy. In 2014 local elections, the HDP’s regional offshoot the DBP (Democratic Regions Party) made significant gains in the south east. It won 2 metropolitan municipalities and 97 municipalities. In the 7 June 2015 elections, it polled an unprecedented 13 percent with its support rising throughout Turkey. It denied Erdoğan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) an absolute majority in the Parliament with its vote falling by 9 per cent. This obstacle in the path of his supremacy infuriated Erdoğan and he set out to build a new alliance with ultra-nationalist MHP (Kemalist Republican Party) based on the repression of the Kurdish movement. The Turkish army went on the offensive against the PKK in the borderlands of Iraq and the renewed conflict created a febrile atmosphere with funerals of soldiers and policemen broadcast on the TV. Against this backdrop, he engineered a fresh election on 1 November 2015 to secure a majority. The HDP lost ground but still secured a vote just above 10 percent to have deputies in Parliament. The Chair of the HDP Selhattin Demirtaş and his co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ detained shortly afterwards to face terrorism related charges.
Beginning with 2016, the Turkish army targeted the Kurdish urban strongholds,, reducing much of Diyarbakir’s old city to rubble and inflicting similar destruction of Sirnak, Cizre and Nusaybin. According to UNHCR, Turkish forces have killed hundreds of civilians and are guilty of summary executions, torture and rape. More than half a million Kurds have been driven from their homes.
Following the botched coup in the summer of 2016, Erdoğan exploited the opportunity to crush dissent by declaring a state of emergency initially for three months which has been extended several times. A decree passed in September allowed the government to remove elected mayors in the south east and replace them with appointed officials. 85 mayors from HDP’S sister party have been imprisoned. Charges levied against HDP politicians range from ‘carrying out propaganda for a terror organisation’ to membership of the PKK itself. Approximately 6,000 HDP members are now under arrest. Erdoğan government targeted civil society initiatives and the pro-Kurdish media. A group of more that 1,100 academics who signed a petition urging a peaceful approach to the Kurdish question have suffered persecution and administrative sanctions, with 360 removed from their post so far. The daily Ozgur Gundem has been shut down. HDP supporting TV stations have been forced off the air. 11,000 Kurdish and left-wing teachers, who belong to the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Egitim-Sen), have been accused of being PKK supporters and threatened with dismissal. More than 250,000 people have lost their jobs and over 50,000 have been jailed.
spite of all the repressive measures that Erdoğan
has imposed on Kurdish politics, the success of the political
breakthrough by the HDP will resonate for a long time. The Kurdish
organisations have revived a form of politics that few people in
Turkey thought possible and stimulated the desire for a peaceful
multicultural and egalitarian society in Turkey.
Erdoğan seized the high moral ground on the horrific murder of Jamal Kashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul through carefully manipulating information to reveal the involvement of the Saudi death squad. Yet his record in Turkey of unbridled despotism cracked down on journalists, imprisoning eighty one by the end of 2016, a third of the world-wide total of 259, accusing them of anti-state activity. It is well known that Turkish state security forces routinely inflict torture on their prisoners to obtain confessions.
Western powers collaborate with Erdoğan’s despotism
The Western governments have steadfastly looked away at the horror in Turkey for a long time. They have a deep rooted strategic relationship with Turkey at all levels including trade, diplomacy, military and intelligence services. Turkey became a member of NATO in 1952 and hosts 24 NATO bases making it the eastern anchor NATO power. The massive Incirlik base in the Adana province close to Syria is used by the US-led coalition forces as a launch pad for raids on ISIS and is NATO’s largest nuclear weapons storage facility.
More recently, for the EU, Erdoğan has provided an invaluable service for warehousing refugees deported from Europe and controlling their flow by deploying his machinery of repression in exchange for a deal with billions of Euros. The banning of the PKK under anti-terrorism legislation in the UK, EU and US has supplied cover for the Turkish state to associate all Kurdish political and social movements with terrorism and use the state security apparatus and courts to deny Kurds political and social freedoms. It also enables the counter terrorism apparatus in Western countries to criminalise diaspora Kurdish communities for solidarity with the struggles of their compatriots in their homelands.
Western double standards are laid bare and cannot be defended if public reasoning were to prevail. The mass media propaganda and disinformation allows our governments to get away with these. The acceptance of Kurdish rights and the inclusion of Kurds into a democratic polity is the litmus tests for Turkey and Europe. The delisting of PKK as a terrorist organisation is one of the most important steps that needs to be taken. Although the Belgium Supreme Court overruled the decision of the Appeal Court in 2018, the decision of the latter that the PKK was not a terrorist organisation but ‘a party to an armed conflict as defined by and subject to international humanitarian law’, did for the first time set a legal precedent that will need to be revived in the EU and UK.
Britain, what is needed is a change in our foreign policy to tilt it
towards peace and conflict resolution rather than waging perpetual
war and weapon sales. Such a policy would also bring under control
and tightly regulate the arms industry and the security state. It
will support the UN to play a greater role in resolving conflicts.
The current situation whereby the US excludes the UN from dealing
with the situation in the Middle East is totally unacceptable. Given
its record, the Tory government will never undertake such a
transformation in our foreign policy. Only a Corbyn led government
can bring about such a change.
Meanwhile, international solidarity for the Kurdish hunger strikers and for the freedom of must be put at the forefront by progressive social forces in Britain. It is good to see the GMB, Unite and other trade unions taking an initiative to set up a ‘Freedom for Öcalan’ campaign. Our demands should be heard loud and clear
Leyla Güven now!
Free all the political prisoners now!
Acknowledgement: I have used two main sources for facts and part of the narrative in crafting this article. I would like to give credit to Dilar Dirik and Cengiz Gunez for their analysis on this issue.
The atrocious killing of 44 children in August when their school bus on the way to a picnic was blown apart in Sadaa province got widely reported. As usual, they were not named and the grief of their families was unheard. The Saudis initially denied it by asserting that it was a legitimate military target and a month later said that is was a mistake. The UN duly called for an independent investigation, a futile gesture which is yet to be accomplished. Then the usual silence that has hidden the mass atrocities against Yemeni people from the public view by our media and politicians since 2015, descended. We just need to contrast the rolling coverage on the conflict in Syria especially around Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta to the insignificant reporting of the mass atrocities in Yemen.
The absence of credible figures on the death and injuries caused since the invasion of Yemen in March 2015 seems deliberate and convenient for the Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC) governments and also enable the foreign powers US, UK and France supporting the war to give diplomatic cover for their allies. Access to journalists and impartial witnesses has been made extremely difficult and independent investigations have been replaced by reporting from press releases. News outlets receiving Saudi largesse of any kind are unlikely to send out journalists to report on the issue.
A more accurate estimate of deaths has come from Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) which tracks conflicts worldwide. It found that nearly 50,000 people, including combatants, died between January 2016 and July 2018. Given that this does not include data from the first nine months of the Yemen conflict, when fighting was most intense, the figure is likely higher in the range of 70000 to 80000. We have no idea about the number injured but they must run in tens of thousands. Their suffering in the backdrop of lack of hospital care which has been destroyed is too heart rending to contemplate. As Patrick Cockburn has shown the catastrophic death toll and injuries in Yemen has been downplayed by the media, politicians and governments. What is more that since the attack on Hodeida, the death toll has increasing at the rate of 1000 to 2000 per month.
This has resulted in mass starvation in Yemen which has been ignored by the world at large. The pictures of the wasted bodies of children suffering from acute malnutrition and of adults who can barely walk are deeply shocking. The war has left three-quarters of Yemen’s population, more than 22 million people, in needof urgent humanitarian aid. More than 8 million Yemenis are on the brink of severe famine, and 1.1 million are infected with cholera. In June 2017, the UN warned a famine was looming in Yemen. Yet more than a year later, there has been a reluctance on the part of UN bodies to declare a famine in Yemen and identifying the blockade by the GCC as a major factor. The continual repetition by the UN agencies and humanitarian agencies at the end of 2018 that famine is imminent is disingenuous when mass starvation is rampant in Yemen.
By the end of 2016, according to UNICEF, 2.2 million children acutely malnourished and required urgent care. Another 1.7 million children suffered from Moderate Acute Malnutrition. A year ago, in Nov 2017, based on their caseload of 400,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), Save the Children calculated that 50,000 children under the age of five will die of hunger and disease in one year– an average of 130 per day or one child every ten minutes. Symptoms include jutting ribs and loose skin with visible wasting of body tissue, or swelling in the ankles, feet and belly as blood vessels leak fluid under the skin. Malnourished children also have substantially reduced immune system function and are many times more likely to contract and die from diseases like cholera and pneumonia than healthy children. This was before the attack on Hodeida and the situation is a catastrophe now. There is a severe risk that a whole generation of 8 million of Yemen’s children who for most part have no access to schools, health services and food are going to be lost.
The bombing raids have brought about a large displacement of households. The current estimates at June 2018 suggest that 2.3 million were internally displaced (IDPs), of which 345,000 were from Hodeida which came under attack in June 2018. Displacement puts families in very vulnerable position in terms of food availability and habitation. Previous research shows that the majority of IDP households live within host communities, placing strain on limited resources during an ongoing conflict.
The Yemeni have become an Unpeople – those whose lives are deemed worthless, expendable in the pursuit of power and commercial gain of Saudi Arabia, Emirates, UK and US. The Royal Saudi Air Force has conducted more 100,000 bombing sorties in Yemen. The GCC have a formidable arsenal of state-state-of-the art tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, high performance jet aircraft and attack helicopters. The Saudi navy—backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other states—controls access to Yemen’s ports. The UAE has led the ground force occupation of South Yemen using militias and mercenaries. In contrast, the Huthis are a militia with no air force or navy. Their ground forces are equipped with small arms primarily. They have acquired tanks, some missiles and other heavy weapons from the depots of the former Yemeni army. They are no match in weapons but have still resisted the onslaught to bring the war to a stalemate.
The immense amount of weaponry that has been sold by the Western Powers to the Saudis and Emiratis clearly demonstrates that the international system that relies on militarism and warfare to sustain itself. The Saudis with a third largest military expenditure in the world of $70bn in 2017 The Emirates are also high spenders in military and well equipped. Britain has a historical shameful alliance with the Saudi Arabia supporting internal repression and external aggression with weapons made in UK. Besides the weapons sales the US and the UK are involved in training, intelligence, targeting logistics, air refuelling and the naval blockade. The U.S. provides Saudi-led forces with satellite intelligence and satellite-guided radio navigation technology. With US serviceman in the control room targeting strikes, this is also an American war involving war crimes.
One of the most inglorious episodes in British politics was the defeat of the motion moved by the shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry demanding that the government should stop backing the brutal Saudi-led campaign in Yemen on 26 Oct 2016. Jeremy Corbyn who has a faultless record of opposing foreign wars one of the largest bank bench rebellions with more than 100 Labour MPs voting against the motion. It would not be an exaggeration to say that all the MPs who voted against the motion have Yemeni blood on their hands.
The disinformation about the causes of the Yemeni conflict is widespread and routinely repeated in our media. The conflict is located in the Yemeni’s own pathologies, their social and economic backwardness that leave them open to violence and thus “civil war”. The proxy element of Iran backing the Huthis with arm supplies is played up with every news item. Since there has been an air and port blockades in place over three years, there is not the slightest possibility of Iran supplying Huthis with arms. Iran political and diplomatic supports the Huthis who share a common Shia faith with Iranians is a far cry from military involvement. The claim of a linkage between Iran and Huthis relies heavily on assertion by the Saudis and Emiratis which is peddled uncritically by Western media.
The root causes for the conflict lie in the complex history of Yemen in the modern period with a more that a century of British occupation of Southern Yemen with Aden as the centre, which ended after a liberation struggle in 1967. Northern Yemen was ruled by an Imamate after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and always in conflict with the powerful northern neighbour, the KSA, which annexed three Yemeni provinces in 1934 and spread its brand of Wahhabism in Yemen which led to the revival of the Shia Zaidism of Huthis to resist Saudi encroachments. Yemen was also affected by the larger development in the Arab world especially the Egyptian Nasserite revolution with the North becoming a part of the wider United Arab Republic in 1958. The South established a socialist republic after liberation. Yemeni leaders off and on flirted with anti-Western ideologies like Nasserism, Pan-Arabism, Non Alignment, Baathism, Communism and various forms of Islamism. The conflict between the two statelets ended in a union in 1979 under the authoritarian leadership of President Abdullah Saleh for 30 years who played realpolitik during the cold war and moved in the US fold after 9/11 to join the war against terrorism after the decision in 1990 to oppose the gulf war against Iraq for which Yemen was punished severely by the US and the Saudis who expelled 800,000 Yemeni workers. The presence of Al Qaeda in Yemen and its attack on US targets led to continual drone strikes in Yemen by the US exacting a civilian toll since 2002. The economic shock of structural adjustments imposed by the IMF and World Bank drove the larger part Yemeni population resulted in a sense of despair due to rising poverty. The winds of the Arab Uprising of 2011 swept the Yemeni masses onto the streets demanding a change of government, greater democracy and an end to corruption. To counter the uprising, the GCC with the US manoeuvred a transitional period with Saleh leaving in return for immunity and Yemen’s vice president Mansour Hadi assuming power legitimised through a referendum for a two year period from February 2012. Hadi steamrolled the country into the membership of World Trade Organisation (WTO) that required egregious amount of economic austerity and liberalisation hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable hard. Besides budgetary cuts threatening the livelihoods of tens of thousands of state employees, Hadi rushed through the biggest wave of privatisation of the major sectors of the economy. This met widespread resistance from different sectors of Yemeni society. The three key members of the GCC- KSA, UAE and Qatar were already in competition against each other in terms of taking over Yemeni real estate and other assets and Hadi exacerbated this by favouring KSA and Qatar to reverse UAE ascendancy in the region. With Qatar being blockaded by KSA, the UAE collaborated in the invasion of Yemen to control and plunder its resources. Behind these stood the US and UK with their corporations and finance keen on controlling the strategic region and its assets. Hadi failed to end the two year transitional government with a new constitutional arrangement well into 2015 creating a political crisis. The slashing of fuel subsidies in the summer of 2014 prompted angry protests and brought thousands onto Sanaa’s streets. Hadi’s policies resulted in uprising led by Huthi-Saleh alliance taking over Sanaa and then moving towards Aden, forcing Hadi into exile in Saudi Arabia. For a full expose of the complex political economy of Yemen, the power struggles and the geopolitics I recommend Isa Blumi’s meticulous critique encompassing the past and present to understand the underlying causes of the devastation visited on the Yemeni people.
Leaving the special UN envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths to bring the two sides together through bilateral consultation is not going anywhere. Given the horror of the humanitarian catastrophe, The UNSC needs to replace UNSCR 2216 with a more balanced resolution to set the stage for political reconciliation, declaring a ceasefire and lifting the blockade. It should hold all the parties accountable for their actions, not just the Huthis. The restoration of President Hadi faces opposition across Yemen with a separatist movement emerging in the South. But recent developments have shown that the US is the real power broker and has excluded the UN from taking control of the situation in the Middle East. On October 31, Mike Pompeo called for a cessation of hostilities within the next 30 days. What happened immediately after this was instructive. The UAE rushed 10,000 fighters to Hodeida and the KSA started its bombing of the city in spite of the appeal from a large number of humanitarian organisations. His announcement and the way it was presented by the MSM was that peace would descend on Yemen but this was a deception giving the GCC an opportunity to break the stalemate and take the city of Hodeida and choke the supply of food to the bulk of the Yemeni population. Seeking the Huthis to surrender will perpetuate the cycle of violence in a country that is already fragmented for generations. Yemen has already been reduced to a fragmented failed state like Libya with long term consequences to the stability of the region.
The callous murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate at Istanbul on October 2 has brought in the limelight the violence of the Saudi state. Yemen got greater attention as some journalist made linkages between the killing of one individual and the killing of tens of thousands in Yemen. On October 25 the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of an imposition of an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia. Germany followed by imposing a ban on weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. The appeal by Jeremy Hunt during his recent visit to the KSA and UAE for an end to Yemen war was rather supine and lacking in any grave concern about slaughter of innocents and mass starvation in Yemen. Yet again the deference of Saudi Arabia prevails and whatever resolution we see in the near future from Britain will play to Saudi advantage. What is needed is the immediate cessation of bombings and lifting of the blockade to save Yemeni children, women and men from death. The whispers of the dying Yemeni children and the sighs of their mothers are not being heard in the filter bubbles of power brokers.
The silence about the barbaric violence is illustrative of the selectivity of Western empathy and the necessity to keep the war obscure to the wider public. There are social forces ensuring that Yemen is off the headlines in spite of the humanitarian catastrophe. The erasure of information, spin and disinformation about Yemen has successfully shut down debate, expression of outrage and solidarity. The GCC and the US and UK are resorting to violence to obtain their objectives of economic, cultural and political hegemony over Yemen. The imprint of the US empire is writ large because the GCC countries are American protectorates.
Our hope lies in the conscience of ordinary people who have often shown their unwillingness to tolerate unspeakable violence and cruelties due to policies of nation states and international geopolitics. The organisation of compelling protests on significant foreign policy issues from the Vietnam war, apartheid and Iraq war by activist coalitions showed determination and resourcefulness. Yemen is crying out for such protests urgently against the complicity of Britain and US to stop its descent into a terrible genocide.