UK: Some reactions to the war

- Baton attacks on Bangaladeshi schoolkids marks "day of shame"
- Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission condemns war

On Wednesday 21 March, the day described as "a day of shame" by several thousand teenage students who walked out of their classrooms to lead a protest outside the Houses of Parliament against Tony Blair's support for the invasion of Iraq. Many of the students took part in a rolling sit-down protest, blocking traffic and creating chaos at the heart of the government's administrative centre, (the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Home Office are among the government buildings clustered around Parliament Square).

The demonstration was good natured with a number of rolling sit-down's designed to halt traffic, that seemed to bemuse and confuse the Metropolitan Police's attempts to restrain the teenage demonstrators. Their protests, which had seen the Met struggle to keep pace with the regrouping children, eventually came to rest at a major crossroads as their numbers were reinforced by new arrivals.

Having established a presence at the Parliament Square, Parliament Street, Bridge Street intersection groups of protesters attempted to link-up with demonstrators in other parts of central London by taking to the sidestreets. As police numbers became stretched so did their tolerance. After another attempt to break through police cordons into the streets surrounding the square, a small group of police officers launched a baton assault targeted on a small group of Bangladeshi schoolchildren. A number of children were filmed before being targeted by snatch-squads but, at this point most of them seemed to have been briefly detained and immediately released. The atmosphere was electric as shocked children screamed their disapproval and adults expressed their astonishment at the treatment of the schoolchildren.

Many adults assumed the police would want to allow the situation to return to the lively, but peaceful carnival that preceded the skirmish. For an hour or so, this was the case but when a group of a hundred or so youths, including some Bangaldeshi students, broke through police lines at Great George Street a number of officers again lashed out. Within 30 seconds they were joined by more officers who blocked the street, isolating a small number of the students from their colleagues, and sending snatch squads into the main body of demonstrators. Clashes ensued as teenagers attempted to prevent their mates from being snatched and police lashed out with their extendable batons. Youths reponded by lobbing plastic bottles, leaflets, bits of wood and the odd soft drink can.

After the Met's attack a number of young men were detained, some of whom were injured in the scuffles; others have alleged that they were beaten up. Eyewitness saw several of the young men receiving truncheon blows to the head, as well as other parts of the body; a number of people received bloody wounds. One police officer was also cut after receiving a blow to the head from a missile. After the situation dispersed, lawyers desperately attempted to locate where the children were being held, but as they had been dispersed to police stations across London it was several hours before their families could be reassured. While a number of the schoolchildren were clearly traumatised by events, many remain resolute, saying that they will not be intimidated and will mobilise their friends to attend the weekend's march and rally against the Iraq war.

Filed by Statewatch reporter

Human Rights Commission condemns attack on Iraq as an abuse of human rights (press release 21.3.03)

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, exercising its statutory duty to advise the Secretary of State as to the measures which ought to be taken to protect human rights, today advised Mr Paul Murphy that in the Commission's view the launching of a military attack by the United Kingdom against Iraq, without the support of the UN's Security Council, is a violation of international law and a very serious breach of the human rights of people in Iraq who as a result will be killed or injured.

The Commission stressed that it is a matter of record that the regime of President Saddam Hussein has been responsible for gross violations of human rights. But the best way for the international community to deal with this was through the recognized procedures put in place after the Second World War. It was far from clear that securing human rights was the sole, or even the primary, goal of the proposed military attack, but in any event international law did not recognize that objective as in itself a justification for war. The UN Charter specifies exactly when it is legitimate for one country to use force against another and the UK Government has not demonstrated that any of the specified grounds currently exist. The UN's inspectors ought to have been allowed to continue their inspections so that the Security Council could have come to an agreed conclusion in due course as to whether the use of force was required to implement the will of the United Nations.

Professor Brice Dickson, the Commission's Chief Commissioner, said:

"The Commission has not to date issued statements about the human rights policy of the Government as it affects people in other countries, but in view of the gravity of the situation Commissioners believe they would be failing in their responsibilities if they did not issue this advice now. We are the only statutory body set up specifically to provide human rights advice to the UK Government and we have a legal and moral duty to speak out. The most fundamental human rights are at stake.

One does not deal with human rights abuse by in turn committing further such abuse. In all situations, whether national or international, it is absolutely vital that the rule of law prevail over the rule of armed force. If governments are going to dispense with the rules when those rules do not suit their political agenda, we might as well return to

Notes to editors: 

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, established in 1999, has an obligation under section 69(3)(b) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to advise the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when the Commission thinks it appropriate to do so, of legislative and other measures which ought to be taken to protect human rights.

2. Brice Dickson can be contacted on 028 9024 3987 or 07901 853005.

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