monitoring civil liberties in the European Union
January-February 2005, vol 15 no 1
Front page lead
EU: Role of new EU Internal Security Committee being decided by the Council - in secret
When the new EU Constitution was being hammered out one of the least contentious aspects was the proposal to create a Standing Committee on operational cooperation on internal security. Article III-261 says this standing committee is to be setup to: "ensure operational cooperation [by facilitating] coordination of the action of Member States's competent authorities". This text seems pretty explicit as to its role, namely "operational cooperation" and "coordination of.. action". However, a paper circulated by the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union (the 25 governments) to the Informal meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, 27-29 January 2005 says, quite extraordinarily: "The exact nature of the committee cannot be discerned by reading Article III-261". If the "nature" (ie: the job) of the committee cannot be read into the text of the Constitution, where can it?
UK: Stop & search: Ethnic injustice continues unabated
Black people are nearly seven times and Asian people over twice as likely to be stopped and searched as white people. Over the longer term, taking all stops and searches together, the Asian community has experienced the the largest increase, followed by the black community and the white community the least.
EU: Schengen Information System II - fait accompli?
After four years of secret negotiations, construction of SIS II is underway. Incredibly, the Council is yet to consult parliaments and the public on the new "functionalities" and consequences. The deliberate shielding of information has prevented parliamentary scrutiny and public debate around the development of SIS II and flies in the face of the EU's commitment to openness, democracy and human rights. Instead, the equally deliberate circumvention of the democratic process now threatens the human rights of those individuals who will be registered in SIS II/VIS. This system will be used to exclude millions from EU territory, to exercise surveillance and controls on the suspect population (mainly immigrants), and to create a biometric register of all entrants to the EU, not dissimilar to the "US Visit Program" (if much less well known).
UK: The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005
People subject to "control orders" limiting their rights and freedoms will not hear the evidence against them. This article details the passage and contents of the ace and its implications for civil liberties in the UK.
COMMENT: A stampede against justice
In a plea to parliamentarians, lawyer Gareth Peirce spells out the dangers of control orders: "What the government asks for here is the ultimate demand of any totalitarian regime: the executive is the accuser; the moment of accusation is also the moment of the imposition of the penalty. Wherever in the process a judge comes to be involved, the executive has already pre- determined that the individual will be stigmatised and punished on the basis of suspicion - that suspicion backed only by secret "information". This is a stigma that is intended to attach itself to the accused wherever he moves (if he can) nationally, and conveyed onwards, internationally. It is, of course, open-ended. It will destroy his family for generations."
EU: SITCEN's emerging role
Another indication of the growing executive power of the Council is the role of the Joint Situation Centre (known as SitCen). Last year Mr William Shapcott, Director of SITCEN, gave evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union's examination of EU counter-terrorism preparation (14 November 2004). He said that SITCEN "had existed as a sort of empty shell" until 11 September 2001 but that soon after the sharing of intelligence and assessments on external relations started. Later, in 2004, it was decided to extend the scope of SITCEN to cover internal security too especially through national security services.
EUSKADI: The "Ibarretxe Plan"
In February, the Spanish Parliament rejected the Basque Parliament's proposed reform the Estatuto de Autonomía para el País Vasco (Statute of the Autonomous Region of the Basque Country). The Basque Parliament had approved the Plan Ibarretxe (named after the president of the Basque government who presented it) in December 2004 after it received the backing of the three parties that support the government and three votes from the former Batasuna (the party that was banned because of its supposed links to ETA).
GERMANY: Asylum seeker burned to death in prison cell
On 7 January 2005, a Sierra Leonean asylum seeker burned to death in a prison cell of the police station at Dessau, Saxon-Anhalt, while his arms and legs were cuffed to the bed. Both the intercom system and fire alarms were disabled at the time. After weeks of silence, and increasing public pressure the state attorney has begun investigating the case.
ITALY: Gay Senegalese man's deportation rejected
A giudice di pace in Turin rejected the expulsion from Italy of a homosexual man from Senegal on 3 February 2005, deeming that the fact that homosexuality is considered a crime in the man's home country which can lead to up to five years imprisonment would lead to the expulsion representing a breach of Article 2 of the Italian Constitution, which states that "sexual freedom must be considered part of the wider right to express one's personality".
SPAIN: Record number of migrant deaths
A report by the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA, Andalusian Human Rights Association) entitled Illegal Immigration in 2004 highlights that last year saw the highest number of deaths of migrants attempting the sea-crossing into Spain that has been recorded in the last ten years.
SPAIN: Migrant regularisation hands power to employers
On 7 February 2005 a three-month period began for immigrants to fulfil requirements to regularise their residence in Spain. The process has been strongly influenced by the government's emphasis on the "underground economy surfacing", in which the objective is not to regularise those migrants living in an irregular condition (1,300,000, according to the government), but rather the regularisation of those migrant workers who are selected by their employers, (everything will depend on the employer because only those migrants with employment contracts will be considered).
Immigration - in brief
Italy: Moroccan dies trying to avoid detention
UK: McLibel 2 denied a fair trial - ECHR
On 15 February 2005 the "McLibel two", David Morris and Helen Steel, won their case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) when it found that the British government's failure to provide legal aid meant they did not receive a fair trial. In 1990 the pair were sued for libel by McDonald's for distributing leaflets that questioned the ethical nature of the company's operational practices. The result has been a 15-year legal case that included a 313-day trial, the longest in English legal history.
GERMANY: "Abu Ghraib style" abuse in army no isolated incident
Peter Struck, the German defence minister, first insisted that incidents of abuse that were uncovered in German army barracks last year were isolated incidents. Now the Defence minister and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces, Willfried Penner, has condemned the apparently widespread abuse but still insists that the German army should not be put under "general suspicion". On 1 December 2004, in a defence committee meeting in parliament, Struck admitted that preliminary investigations had been initiated in more than ten cases, and according to the national paper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the army has begun investigations in at least 17 locations.
EUROPE: EU threatens to build own defence market
Rapidly mounting frustration with US restrictions on defence technology transfers appeared in a 17 January gathering in Brussels of EU and NATO officials, industry executives and defence policy experts, organised by the New Defence Agenda conferencing group. EU and industry officials warned that the US Department of Defense (DoD) technology export rules will drive the EU to create its own defence market.
Military - in brief
UK: Block the Aldermaston Builders; Europe: French military can use Galileo
GERMANY: Amnesty International criticises police brutality
In 16 November 2004, a 30-year-old was arrested by police in Bonn for drunken behaviour and taken to the police station where he was restrained and consequently fell into a coma, from which he is not expected to recover. The failure to prosecute confirms criticism levelled at German authorities by Amnesty International, which published a special report on police brutality in January 2004, finding a systematic failure by German authorities to investigate and bring to justice officers responsible for violence and ill-treatment.
GERMANY: Refugee killed in police custody
On December 27, Laye-Alama C., 35, from Sierra Leone, was arrested by the police of the city-state of Bremen, on suspicion of drug trafficking and was transferred to the local police headquarters. Two and a half hours later he was dead. Nevertheless, on 4 January, Bremen's Senator for the Interior denied that the refugee's death had occurred, informing the public that the victim was recovering.
UK: Home Office reports show CCTV fails to cut crime
In February a Home Office project on the impact of closed-circuit-television, carried out at 14 sites in town centres, city centres, hospitals and residential areas, reported that most of the systems failed to cut crime or make people feel safer.
Policing - in brief
UK: Ex-RUC chief new Chief Inspector of Constabulary; UK: Police probe officer for anti-Muslim comments
Racism & Fascism
GERMANY: Planners of bomb attack on Jewish cultural centre on trial
In 2003, chief public prosecutor Kay Nehm initiated proceedings against several members of the Munich based neo-fascist organisation Kameradschaft Süd ("Comradeship South") on grounds of forming a terrorist organisation. In a raid on 10 September 2003, the police found 14 kg of explosives that the group had planned to use in a bomb attack on a Jewish community centre in Munich (see Statewatch Vol. 13 no 5). Two separate trials have now started against nine of the group's members in the Munich regional court. They are expected to uncover more links between the skinhead scene in Germany and the far-right NPD, which was successful in recent regional elections in eastern Germany
GERMANY: Dresden Nazi demonstration countered
On 13 February, around 5,000 fascists demonstrated in Dresden on the 60th anniversary of the bombing of the city by the allies, an event which is traditionally used by German neo-Nazis to ally itself with nationalist forces and to revise Germany's history by portraying it as a victim of foreign aggression during world war II. Throughout the day, neo-Nazi groups continued to attack left-wing gatherings and anti-fascists.
Racism & Fascism - in brief
UK: BNP condemned as member gets 5 years for racist attacks; Germany: Nazi websites hacked on anniversary of Dresden bombing
ITALY: CIA kidnaps Imam and hands him over to Egypt
The Milan prosecutors' office is investigating the kidnapping in Milan on 17 February 2003 of Nasr Osama (aka Abu Omar), a 42-year-old Egyptian Imam who was under investigation, suspected of being a member of an Al Qaida cell. Prosecutors have uncovered evidence pointing to CIA involvement in the operation, including documents used to hire a vehicle that was used in the kidnapping.
IRAQ/UK: Small fry sentenced
In February three British soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers appeared at a military court martial in Osnabruck, Germany, accused of assaulting and sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners as part of Operation "Ali Baba" on 15 May 2003 at Camp Bread Basket, Basra.
UK: Youth deaths "a measure of our failure"
The relentless toll of deaths in prison has continued into 2005. Gareth Price, aged 16, took his own life at HMYOI Lancaster Farms, on 20 January. Two days later Karl Lewis, 18, killed himself at HM YOI Stoke Heath. Of these deaths, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, was moved to comment:
"I hope that these tragic deaths will act as a wake up call to all those in this country who consider themselves civilised. What more visible way for a nation to prove its virtue than by the way it treats and nurtures its children".
UK: Still no justice for Ray Gilbert
Ray Gilbert has been in prison for 23 years, convicted of the 1981 murder of betting shop owner John Suffield, a crime he did not commit. Ray, in 1981, was a young, poorly educated man with a speech impediment and the scars of a violent childhood. He confessed to John Suffield's murder after two days and nights of police interrogation without legal representation. There is no forensic evidence to link him to the crime, he was never identified and his initial verbal admission bore little relation to the facts of the murder, suggesting that his written confession was "coached." Ray's co-defendant John Kamara has long since been freed by the Court of Appeal.
SPAIN: Moroccan prisoner found hanged in isolation cell
Mustafá Zanibar, a 41-year-old Moroccan prisoner who was sentenced to 29 years in prison for murder in April 1994 and was accused in 2004 of belonging to a cell that was planning the bombing of the Audiencia Nacional (a special court with exclusive competence for trying terrorist offences) in Madrid, was found hanged with his belt in an isolation cell at Zuera prison (Zaragoza) on 24 February 2005.
PORTUGAL: Prison suicide and alarming prison death statistics
Jorge Manuel da Conceição died in a punishment cell in Sintra prison on the night of 5-6 February 2005, after committing suicide by hanging himself. He was a drug addict, and his family argue that negligence by the prison services may have played an important part in his death. Official figures published on 2 December 2004 by the ministry in response to questions asked by the Green Party MP Isabel Castro indicate that there were 42 deaths in Portuguese prisons from 1 January to 31 May 2004. Thirty-five of these were recorded as suicides.
Security & Intelligence
ITALY: Rising number of interceptions set to exceed capacity
An official from the security department of Tim (the leading Italian mobile telephone service provider, with a 43% share of the market) faxed a letter to the justice ministry and to prosecutors' offices all over Italy on 19 February 2005, to let them know that the constant increase in the "activation of telephone interceptions", has meant that the maximum number of lines that it can use for interceptions (5,000) are already being used. Telephone service providers are obliged by law to execute interception orders, and Tim thus informed justice officials of its inability to do so if the current trend of rising numbers of interception orders continues.
ITALY: Inspection finds breaches of CCTV surveillance rules
A cycle of inspections carried out by the Italian data protection authority and a special unit of the Guardia di Finanza (customs police) to check whether video-surveillance regulations issued in April 2004 are being implemented threw up mixed results. The inspections found instances in which citizens were not informed of the presence of CCTV systems, such as in the metro stations in Rome and Milan, and in some buildings run by the finance Ministry. The personnel in charge of the treatment of personal data did not appear to be aware of their responsibilities, even in places where greater attention was paid to privacy regulations.
* In addition, the bulletin carries a round-up of new books, reports and publications
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