monitoring civil liberties in the European Union
November-December 2000, vol 10 no 6
Front page lead
UK/EU/G8: Seven year retention of all communications data proposed: in a "safe and free society" everyone is a suspect
The UK National Criminal Intelligence Service has called for all forms of communications (phone-calls, mobile phone-calls, faxes, web sites and internet activity) to be recorded by telephone companies and internet service providers for law enforcement agencies to access without any form of further authorisation. Although apparently a UK initiative, the proposal has featured in long-running discussions in EU and G8 working parties. It appears that the "agencies" do not want new legislation causing public discussion and debate and are seeking instead to create the "communications data warehouse" through an industry code of practice and "national security" exceptions in international data protection legislation.
UK: The Hillsborough Trial: A case to answer
In 1989 96 people were crushed to death before a football match at the Hillsborough stadium, Sheffield. This feature analyses the private prosecution of the two South Yorkshire police superintendents brought by the bereaved families, following a decade of campaigning (the Director of Public Prosecutions having concluded that there was insufficient evidence against any officer). Despite both men's acquittal after lengthy deliberations among the jurors, "the families' pursuit of limited justice had not been misconceived." [Based on Phil Scraton's recently updated book "Hillsborough - the Truth".]
EU: Where now for accountability in the EU?
Considers the differences between Europol's annual report to the public, and its "secret" report to the EU Council of Ministers. Concludes that there is no reason why the latter should not be in the public domain, questioning the European Police Office's accountability to the public. Also looks at the Decision that no further Schengen Convention annual reports will be produced following Schengen's incorporation into the EU framework. This will reduce accountability in Schengen-based international cooperation on policing (including cross-border pursuits and surveillance), internal border checks, movement of persons, drug trafficking, judicial cooperation and use of the SIS.
EU: Too much information creates confusion
According to Loyola de Palacio, Vice-President of the European Commission "obliging institutions to divulge internal notes, in many cases, would only cause confusion among citizens.. sometimes an increase in misinformation results from an excess of information". Such a derisory approach to freedom of information and civil society is currently typifying the Brussels institutions approach to the drafting of a new code of public access to EU documents. The article examines the latest developments around the new code.
Essays for an Open Europe: How journalists have spiked NATO's secrecy guns by Aidan White, Secretary-General of the European Federation of Journalists
Considers the security establishment's "summertime coup" when the Council of Ministers unilaterally amended its own rules of procedure to deny access to information. Reprinted from Essays for an Open Europe.
UK: CoE "cybercrime convention": legitimising surveillance
The proposed Council of Europe Convention on cybercrime is a legally-binding international treaty aimed at harmonising criminal law and procedural aspects of "offending behaviour against computer systems, networks or data." As drafted, the convention will empower law enforcement agencies to conduct extensive surveillance of private communications, with very low standards for accountability and judicial control.
France: Medical records seized at drug treatment centre
A French judge seized medical records in a methadone centre in July, following the refusal by staff to hand over patient lists which they deemed to be confidential. Workers call for law enforcement officials to respect the duty of confidentiality which characterises their work. They say patients will not attend care centres unless they are guaranteed anonymity, and criticise the imbalance of the law in favour of law enforcement as opposed to medical confidentiality and patients' rights.
Switzerland: Big Brother Awards
A Swiss civil liberties group, together with an Internet User Group, have staged a Big Brother Awards ceremony to highlight the activities of surveillance agencies in the country. The Federal Department of Defence, the chemical/pharmaceutical company Roche SA, the national telecommunication company Swisscom as well as the Chief of the Federal (Political) Police were honoured in this year's ceremony, to be reviewed next year.
Germany: Asylum seeker threatened with deportation without court hearing
Following a wave of repression against politically active refugees in Germany, a Nigerian human rights activists and member of the self-organised African refugee network The Voice, is being threatened with deportation without a court hearing. Akubuo Anusonwu Chukwudi, known for his outspoken campaigning for the rights of refugees and migrants in Germany, has started a hunger strike and says he would rather die than be deported back to Nigeria.
Austria: Pilots responsible for deportation deaths?
The court case dealing with the death of the Nigerian asylum seekers Marcus Omofuma, who was killed during his deportation at the hands of Austrian police officers, has thrown up pressing questions of liability in the case of death or injury during deportations from Europe. The defence team wants to make the pilot responsible for deaths on aircraft on the grounds of international aviation regulations. Anti-deportation campaigners have long been concerned with issues of responsibility.
Italy: Judge questions constitutionality of immigration law
In November, An Italian judge refused to approve the detention of nine undocumented immigrants, challenging the constitutionality of the 1998 Italian law on immigration on the grounds that it allows for the restriction of personal liberty without trial. A defence attorney in Milan claims that the right to defence "is simply ignored" in detention centres, while in Trapani six immigrants due for expulsion were released for the violation of their right to defence.
Immigration - in brief
Germany: Asylum-seekers can work - if no German applies; UK: John Quaquah to sue Home Office; UK: Refugee sues Home Office under Human Rights Act
Military - in brief
Italy: Life sentences for Argentinean Generals
Netherlands: CCTV getting more and more "popular"
Since January 1999 more than 30 Dutch cities have introduced CCTV in public places and yet there are no plans to introduce laws to govern its use. Following proposals to introduce "smart cameras" civil liberties groups are concerned that the Dutch landscape will resemble that of the UK in a few years.
UK: "Shocking" CPS decision allows officers to escape charges
The CPS has announced that there is "insufficient evidence" to bring charges against any of the police officers involved in Roger Sylvester's death outside his home in north London in January 1999. The ruling, which was widely condemned by Roger's friends, family and supporters, was described as "shocking" but "no surprise" by his mother, Sheila. The decision not to prosecute means that Roger's inquest will be the only public forum for the events surrounding his death; it is expected that the police officers will be called to give evidence, but will refuse to answer questions to avoid incriminating themselves.
Policing - in brief
UK: Demonstration highlights deaths in custody; UK: No charges over Harry Stanley
Racism and fascism
Germany: Token sentences in migrant death case
Eleven right-wing youths were given light sentences after they chased the young Algerian asylum seekers Farid Guendoul to death in February 1999. Anti-racists and the victim's family are outraged by the court proceedings and the final sentences, both of which, it is argued, reflect the unwillingness of German courts to send out a strong signal against racist attacks. The case has thrown up questions of institutional racism, a phenomenon not widely discussed in Germany despite recent promises by the government to act against far-right violence.
UK: Far right-loyalist links strengthened
Recent activities have confirmed links between the National Front and Combat 18 and loyalist paramilitaries in Belfast. The jailing of key C18 members for their part in an attack on an Irish civil rights march in 1998, and the presence of UDA killer, Steve Irwin, on National Front and Combat 18 demonstrations indicates the importance of neo-fascism to both organisations.
Racism and fascism - in brief
UK: BNP reinstates expelled executive members; France: European Court rejects le Pen's appeal; Ceuta: Moroccan children boycotted in school
UK: "Shut YOIs" call as racist killer is jailed for life
The racist killing of Zahid Mubarek in Feltham Young Offenders' Institution has led to an investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality into racism in the Prison Service. Amid calls for the institutions closure seventeen-year old Kevin Hansen hanged himself in September, unable to tolerate the harsh prison regime which saw him locked up for most of the day.
UK: Raid on Blantyre House "unjustified"
A liberal "regime based on trust" at Blantyre House resettlement centre was shattered in a brutal raid by prison officers dressed in riot gear. Evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee by the Prison Service was misleading, raising suspicions that a shadowy Prison Service investigation unit - The Chaucer Group - was carrying out a vendetta against the liberal policies at the centre.
EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council, 30.11-1.12.00
"Illegal immigration", facilitation of "entry, movement and illegal residence"; carrier sanctions; entry into force of Schengen acquis in Nordic states; "Eurojust" - European public prosecutions unit; EU report on organised crime.
Czech Republic/Denmark: Jailed Danish youth bailed
A Czech court has released the last remaining jailed Danish protester from the protests against the IMF/World Bank in Prague on September 26th. The Danish foreign minister has had no reply to a formal request to the Czech president for the 18 year-old to be pardoned.
* In addition the bulletin carries a round-up of new material and full listing of UK parliamentary debates