Irish Republican Information Service (no. 322)

Irish Republican Information Service (no. 322)
Teach Dáithí Ó Conaill, 223 Parnell Street, Dublin 1, Ireland
Phone: +353-1-872 9747; FAX: +353-1-872 9757; e-mail: saoirse@iol.ie
Date: 20 Eanáir / January 2014

Internet resources maintained by SAOIRSE-Irish Freedom

http://saoirse.info

In this issue:
1. Martin Corey Campaign welcomes his release
2. Statement from POW Department, Republican Sinn Féin
3. Fearghal Ó hAnluain remembered in Monaghan
4. Marian Price receives suspended sentence
5. Margaretta D’Arcy jailed
6. Multiple stop and searches ‘rights breach’
7. Student targeted by MI5
8. Reavey brother criticises refusal of British government to release files
9. Taxi-driver throws Irish speakers out of his taxi in Scotland
10. Questions need to be asked about the demise of our native language
11. Changes to bus routes in Arklow town
12. Child rapporteur warns of impact of High Court ruling on detention
13. Autism scandal brewing in Ireland
14. Ireland’s Nelson Mandela
15. Archaeological find shines light on ancient religious rituals
16. Unionists reject Haass Provo motion
17. Conditions ‘tragic’ in YarmoBritish refugee camp
18. Israel back Britain decision on ten hunger strikers
19. Four killed in Cambodia as police fire on strikers
20. Pakistani government held in contempt of court for failure to stop US drone strikes
21. John Pilger’s damning new film about indigenous Australia
22. Europe’s limited help to Syrians criticised by Amnesty
23. Guantanamo Bay marks 12 years

1. Martin Corey Campaign welcomes his release

The Release Martin Corey Committee welcomed the news that Martin Corey had been released from Maghaberry jail.

“FINALLY after nearly four years internment, Martin Corey was released from Maghaberry jail, Co Antrim on January 15, 2014.

“Martin was interned on secret evidence gathered by secret police and held without a charge or trial since April 2010.

“The British Government, British secretary of state and all those involved in the internment of Martin Corey showed contempt for human rights and were involved in a despotic policy of ruling by decree.

“We would like to thank everyone who was involved in the Release Martin Corey Campaign, Republican Sinn Féin, the countless activists who stood on picket lines and those who went to jail themselves to highlight Martin’s case.

Cáit Trainor, chairperson concluded: “We take this opportunity to welcome Martin home and wish him the best of luck in the future”.

2. Statement from POW Department, Republican Sinn Féin

THE release of Martin Corey from Maghaberry jail in Co Antrim on January 14, 2014 was “not before time” according to Josephine Hayden, a spokesperson for the POW Department, Republican Sinn Féin who welcomed his release in a statement on January 15.

She said “The treatment meted out to Martin Corey for nearly four years was nothing short of barbaric and it was difficult to get the general public and the media interested in Martin Corey’s internment from the beginning. While, quite rightly, we saw/see criticism of the mistreatment of prisoners in other countries – on social media and in the press — the case of Martin Corey was ignored, with a few honourable exceptions, by people here at home.

“The various British secretaries of state hid behind a wall of silence and claimed that Martin Corey was ‘a threat to the public’. Their case was based on secret evidence/closed material and unspecified allegations. The role of the courts to ensure that ‘not only must justice be done, but must be seen to be done’ took such a back seat that it disappeared.

“Not only was justice not done to Martin Corey, an injustice was done to him. Unspecified allegations are not allowed in courts of law, unless of course the allegations are made by states. We have seen the British Crown Forces and their collaborationists hide behind physical screens and screens of silence in many cases down the years, black-ops in good working order, still operational.

“For almost four years Martin sat in a jail cell not knowing why he was there – this is also the type of action that even the British condemn in other countries.

“Martin was held without any due process, he was never questioned from the time of his arrest about any specific incident(s) and his legal team have never been allowed to challenge any of the secret evidence that was bought before the Parole Commissioners – neither the legal team or the judge saw the secret evidence adjudicated on by a state appointed advocate.

“On his release the statement from the Northern Ireland (sic) Office said ‘The Parole Commissioners have decided to release Martin Corey on a licence that is subject to conditions which are designed to manage the risk they assess him to pose.’ On his release – after four years – we are still asking the question ‘what risk’?

She concluded: “Is it any wonder the Republicans have no confidence in and refuse to engage with what operates as the justice system in the Occupied Six Counties, when it sees a man who ran his own business for 20 years, just picked up and interned on the word of some anonymous MI5 individuals and held without charge or trial for almost four years. And who, according to media reports [BBC and UTV January 14/15, 2014], cannot even reside in his own home town.

“Martin should never have been interned in Maghaberry or any other jail. He should have been, and should be now, at home with his family and friends, working at his business and getting on with his life”.

3. Fearghal Ó hAnluain remembered in Monaghan

ON January 12 Republicans from across Ulster, Leinster and Connacht gathered at the Cathedral in Monaghan town and, led by an impressive colour party and a piper, marched to Latlurcan Cemetery to the grave of Fearghal Ó hAnluain, who died in action at Brookeborough Barracks, Co Fermanagh, along with his comrade Seán Sabhat from Limerick on January 1, 1957.

At the graveside proceedings were chaired by Republican Sinn Féin Vice-President Fergal Moore, Monaghan. A wreath was laid on behalf of the Republican Movement by Ard Chomhairle member Matt Conway and a decade of the Rosary recited by Dara Slaone. Seán Doyle, piper from North Antrim, played a lament as the flags were dipped.

The main oration was delivered by Vice-President Cáit Trainor, Armagh who said:

“In the 1950s the mantle of Irish Republicanism was thrust upon a new generation, one of whom was Fearghal Ó hAnluain. He with his comrade Séan Sabhat gave their lives in the pursuit of Irish freedom while taking part in the now famous raid on Brookeborough Barracks, This act of defiance and courage sent shock waves throughout Irish society and let the Irish people know that Irish Republicanism did indeed manifest itself in every generations as had been prophesied before by countless other patriots.

“Fearghal Ó hAnluain from Monaghan came from a staunch Republican family. Being reared in the tradition of Pearse and Tone left this young man with an instilled sense of responsibility towards his country and a desire to see its independence realised. As a natural step for a young Irish revolutionary, Fearghal joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and together with comrades from various parts of Ireland he took part in a daring military operation to secure weapons at Brookeborough Barracks. While on this operation, he and his comrade Seán Sabhat were fatally wounded. Fearghal Ó hAnluain gave his life in service to the all Ireland Republic on New Year’s Day, 1957 at the age of just 20.

“Fifty-seven years later these two iconic figures of Irish resistance are a household name in Republican and nationalist homes. Their daring and commitment has left a legacy that has followed through until the present day. Today is not unlike the period of Operation Harvest. Many people have tried to defeat the Republic but while there is one man or woman willing to resist British rule in Ireland, we have not lost. History has shown us that in every generation there has been a renewed resistance to British rule, they can never defeat the Irish Nation, not while we exist.

“Since the time of Fearghal Ó hAnluain and Séan Sabhat countless Irish men and women have given their lives for the very same principle of self determination, independence and liberty. We remember the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives and pledge our allegiance to those people who continue in the struggle for Irish Independence.

“There are those who have tried to change Republicanism, tried to misinterpret what it is and those who claim to be Republican while actively working it. To be a Republican is simple, it requires a core belief in Irish independence while not recognising, anything other than the Irish Republic as legitimate. As Republicans there are no alternatives, we don’t accept partition and we can’t accept British institutions or concessions.

“Republicans subscribe wholly to the 1916 proclamation and everything it entails, we go further giving ÉIRE NUA as a realistic view to the future. ÉIRE NUA and SAOL NUA are the only viable options at present for a peaceful and democratic Ireland, they deal sufficiently with all aspects of the past and the future, and yet many people know nothing of them. The pursuit of independence, peace and freedom was not answered with the Stormont [Good Friday] Agreement. The state persecution and censorship of anyone opposed to the Stormont Agreement exposes clearly why concessions do not work and why ÉIRE NUA is the only solution for a peaceful Ireland.

“Middle-ground political pundits who use their time spent in jail or the IRA as justification for espousing tired old arguments in favour of concessions give nothing to the new generation of Republicans, only mediocrity, pseudo-intellectualism and demoralisation. While in one hand giving legitimacy to fight occupation elsewhere in the world they try to impress their own inadequacies on the new generation, trying to use their self perceived status as Republican elders as a tool to remove radicalism and bring us back to subservience.

“But we have news for these backsliders, we have a new generation, with a renewed optimism, self-confidence and vigour who will, despite all the obstacles, put us back on the footing of independence. Those who are more interested in picking over the bones of military defeats and political treachery serve no current purpose. Much like the Young Irelanders of the mid-1800s who rejected O’Connellism, there is a new generation of Irish revolutionary Republicans who refuse to bow down and will not accept constitutionalism dressed up as radicalism.

“One of the biggest obstacles facing us today is, I believe, how to communicate with that section of the Irish people who are perhaps bored with politics or have prejudged ideas on what a Republican is. They are not excited by the idea of Republicanism because they have been force fed a bland revisionist idea of what it is. People believing Republicans seek to join the Free State, that its a Catholic aspiration or a civil rights movement. It is difficult to present the truth to these people in the face of media censorship. We must be more active on the ground, more transparent and simple in our language for people to be left under no illusion as to what it is we want. We want a 32-County Irish Republic, a New Ireland for all, leaving behind old prejudices and creating an Ireland of equals. The Free State is a failed entity and the Six-County statelet is a failed entity. The Irish people deserve to take their place among the free nations of the world. Republicans today are no different than they were 100 years ago. Our right to freedom is the same right asserted by countless generations before us.

“The apathy of some Irish people towards human rights abuses in Ireland must be challenged. The case of Martin Corey stands out among many. Martin is currently in his fourth year of internment. Many people point to his licence revocation as justification for this internment; that somehow the British do not need to give a reason for his incarceration as it is a licence issue; that it’s all perfectly legal. While that may be the case, it must be pointed out that because something is legal, it doesn’t make it ethical or right. The fundamental right to have an opportunity to defend oneself has been removed in this case and that is a human rights abuse. The Irish people do not stand a chance under British occupation; political dissent is deemed illegal and Republicans are dealt with under the harshest of terms.

“The British government and their allies in Stormont fear Republicans, they fear what we stand for, they fear the voice we give to the people. They are right to fear us, for we stand against their tyranny, we seek to destroy their cozy existence of tribal rule and power grabbing. We give truth to the lie that Ireland is a settled state. More than ever we must push ahead with our aims. With two years until the centenary of the 1916 Rising we must ensure that we are on a steady footing towards the Republic.

“In 2014 we again endorse the words of General Liam Lynch ‘We have declared for a Republic and will live under no other law.’ ”

The crowd assembled behind the colour party and marched back to the Cathedral where Fergal Moore closed the commemoration by calling on Seán Doyle to play Amhrán na bhFiann.

4. Marian Price receives suspended sentence

MARIAN Price McGlinchey was given a suspended sentence on January 7, 2014.

Marian Price previously admitted a charge of buying the mobile phone used by the so-called Real IRA to claim responsibility for the murders of two British soldiers outside Massereene Army Barracks in March 2009. She also admitted helping out at a Real IRA Easter commemoration in April 2011, during which she was pictured holding a statement for a masked man in a Derry cemetery.

Sentencing Marian Price, Judge Gordon Kerr QC told the court that pre-sentence reports presented to him suggested she was “no longer interested in political activity”. He also spoke of her physical and psychiatric problems, saying sending her back to jail would result in a worsening of her mental health“there is no doubt she has significant health problems”.

Marian Price pleaded guilty to providing property for the purposes of terrorism on March 8, 2009, and for this she was handed a 12-month prison sentence. She also admitted aiding and abetting, counselling and procuring the address made to encourage support for the Real IRA at the Easter Rising parade in Derry on April 25, 2011, for which she received an eight-month sentence. Judge Kerr ordered that the sentences run concurrently, which he then suspended for three years.

Saying he felt there was a low risk of re-offending, the Judge warned McGlinchey that if she came before the court in the next three years, she would serve a 12-month jail term in addition to the sentence that brought her back before the court.

5. Margaretta D’Arcy jailed

ANTI-WAR activist Margaretta D’Arcy was jailed on January 15 for trespassing on the runway at Shannon Airport.

The Galway woman, who is 79, had a three-month suspended sentence activated after she refused to sign a bond to keep away from ‘unauthorised zones’ at Shannon. Margaretta conducted here own defence just as Mary Kelly did in 2003 when she was charged with ‘criminal damage to a US Navy aircraft without lawful excuse’ when she took an axe to a war plane. Based on Mary’s actions Margaretta D’Arcy produced a play called Big Plane, Small Axe. The film follows her ordeal through three successive trials, in Kilrush and Ennis, and finally her sentencing at Limerick.

Well-known as a writer and a member of Aosdána, Margaretta D’Arcy was convicted before Ennis District Court in December, along with fellow activist Niall Farrell, after Judge Patrick Durkan was tols by the prosecution that they had ‘endangered lives’ in blocking two flights from landing at Shannon in October of 2012.

The two members of the Galway Alliance Against War claimed they had a legal right to protest there against US Military use of Shannon.

Both received three-month prison sentences which were suspended on condition they enter into a bond for two years and to stay out of unauthorised zones at Shannon Airport. However, having refused to sign the bond, Margaretta D’Arcy was arrested at her home in Woodquay in Galway on January 15 and taken to Limerick prison to serve her sentence.

Her fellow campaigners have expressed outrage at her detention and a number of pickets and protest are planned in Dublin and Limerick and at Shannon itself on Sunday 9 February.

On January 17 a picket was placed on the 26-County Department of Justice, Stephen’s Green, Dublin. The well attended picket included many of her comrades in the CPI and PANA, members of the Irish arts and TDs.

Musician Dylan Tighe and writer and actor Donal O’Kelly drafted a letter to protest against what they call the “outrageous jailing of artist Margaretta D’Arcy”. The letter is posted on their Facebook pages and they are urging people to sign the letter, with a hope to gather the names of as many Irish artists as possible.

In the letter they stated that as Irish artists they were deeply “disturbed and outraged” at the jailing of D’Arcy, adding that it is “grossly inappropriate and shameful treatment of a 79-year old woman”.

The letter goes on to say that they are in complete solidarity with her actions and “applaud her bravery in a time of tremendous cowardice” and call for her immediate release.

Another picket was placed on Limerick Prison on the evening of January 15 and was very well attended. Shannonwatch said it will continue with the pickets repeating her demands GET THE US MILITARY OUT OF SHANNON.

A picket also took place in Galway on January 20.

6. Multiple stop and searches ‘rights breach’

ON January 13 the High Court in Belfast was told that a Derryman stopped and searched dozens of times under special legislation suffered human rights breaches.

Lawyers for Steven Ramsey, from the Creggan area of Derry city, claimed the RUC/PSNI practice interfered with his rights to privacy and liberty under European Law and is seeking a judicial review of powers used to repeatedly detain him.

He claims that since 2008 he has been stopped nearly 100 times under the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007. His legal challenge is focused on incidents alleged to have occurred since a code of practice was introduced in May 2013.

Counsel for Steven Ramsey contended that the RUC have continued to breach their powers since then. No dispute was raised to his denials of involvement in any illegal organisation or political party, and lack of convictions for paramilitary activity, it was pointed out.

He was not arrested as a result of any of the stops. In written legal arguments developed in court, Karen Quinlivan QC claimed the procedure was incompatible with the Article 8 right to privacy and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

“In this case the applicant has been stopped on numerous occasions in public by police officers and obliged to submit to a search of both his person and the vehicle in which he was travelling,” she said. “He was detained for various periods of time ranging from 2 minutes. Refusal to submit would have been likely to lead to arrest and detention. There has, therefore, been interference with the right guaranteed in Article 8.”

Ms Quinlivan argued that the power used in her client’s case could not be said to be necessary in a democratic society.

In a further point, she claimed the police actions breached his Article 5 rights to liberty. According to her case Stephen Ramsey was deprived of his freedom, regardless of the duration of the searches to which he was subjected.

“The applicant was stopped, obliged to remain where he was and submit to the search and if he had refused he would have been liable to arrest, detention and criminal charges,” she said.

The legal challenge is relying on a ruling that similar operations which targeted a former IRA hunger striker and a brother-in-law of Martin McGuinness were unlawful.

The case centres on stop and search actions carried out under the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007. Last year the Court of Appeal identified a lack of adequate safeguards against potential abuse of the system in the cases of Bernard Fox and Marvin Canning.

7. Student targeted by MI5

ON JANUARY 17, Stephen McCourt, a student from Newtownabbey, County Antrim was approached by an MI5 agent.

Stephen was returning home by train from a morning exam when he was woken by a tap on the shoulder from a stranger at Ballymena station. The stranger handed him an envelope with his name on it and when Stephen opened it he saw it contained £50 and a quote from Karl Marx. Stephen is studying politics the University of Ulster in Coleraine.

The quotation is believed to have been taken from a letter Marx sent to his father. It read: “History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good.”

Stephen McCourt said he “feels harassed by it [the incident] and it has left me paranoid too. It has left me feeling that they are watching me”.

“Karl Marx would probably be my political inspiration,” he noted. “In my university bag there was a copy of the Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx. There was no contact number and that would suggest they are going to contact me again.”

The approach to Stephen McCourt matches the modus operandi of two known MI5 operatives who usually call themselves ‘Brian and Julie’. In the past, this team have openly introduced themselves to people as being ‘from MI5 and have sent both cards and letters to political activists which insinuate that they have a deep insight into their personal lives and inviting their targets to collaborate with them in some way.

8. Reavey brother criticises refusal of British government to release files

ON January 13 a brother of the three Reavey brothers, shot dead at their home in Whitecross, Co Armagh in January 1976, called on the British government to release all the files relating to the case.

Eugene Reavey accused the government of being ‘unwilling’ to reveal files relating to the murders carried out by the notorious Glenanne Gang. Sources claim that the gang included British soldiers from the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC, police force in Occupied Six Counties) and members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Twenty-five British soldiers and police officers have been named as being part of the gang in the book Lethal Allies.

John Martin (24) and Brian (22) were shot dead when the UVF gang burst into their home on January 4, 1976. Their 17-year-old brother Anthony who was wounded, died several weeks later from his injuries.

Eugene Reavey claims the ‘Thirty Year Rule’ that should allow the release of such documents is now in its eighth year, and says there is no valid reason for the information not to be made available.

Prompted to speak out after the collapse of the Haass talks, he says British Prime Minister, David Cameron, must play his part in dealing with the past.

“Official calls are constantly being made by government figures including David Cameron for a resolution of the past here. But they themselves by their inaction are preventing the very resolution that they are demanding,” he said.

“Almost forty years after their murders by a sectarian gang, every attempt to get truth and justice has floundered on the refusal of the prime minister of the day to make the files on this case available, or to have them redacted.

“If those in government are sincere in putting justice and equity before whatever it is they are hiding, if they are sincere in giving leadership regarding the difficult issue of past, then they must step forward and unlock the impasse as they alone have the key to do it.”

9. Taxi-driver throws Irish speakers out of his taxi in Scotland

IT was reported on January 8 that a Scottish taxi driver had been accused of kicking passengers out of his car after demanding that they stop speaking Irish.

A formal complaint was lodged to Glasgow City Council after the man, who remains anonymous, allegedly told his Irish passengers to “stop speaking in that language” during a ride just before Christmas.

The Glasgow Evening Times reported that Donegal woman Kathleen McAleer, 21, was one of the four passengers in the car when the incident happened on Monday, December 16 at 2am.

The mental health nurse was travelling with a friend and two cousins, Joseph and Anthony Blair.

She said: “My cousins were just talking to each other in Irish, which is their first language. The taxi driver turned around and said to them: ‘Stop speaking in that language’.

“We didn’t really know how to take it. He said: ‘When you are in Britain, it is English you speak. I said to the driver ‘Excuse me’, shocked that somebody would say that to them. I said: ‘That is out of order’.

“He then said: ‘If they want to speak in that language they can get out of my taxi.’ So we got out and said we wouldn’t pay.”

The Glasgow Evening Times also reported that the man’s company, Hampden Cabs, refused to comment on the incident.

However, when asking an official from the firm about what happened, the spokesman reportedly insisted that it was related to another story whereby drunken passengers had intimidated an elderly driver. After being told by the paper that that was an entirely different incident, the paper reports that the spokesman said “I couldn’t imagine four people coming over from Donegal and going to a party in Britain and not being drunk”, before laughing.

10. Questions need to be asked about the demise of our native language

ON January 13 the PRO of Comhairle Laighean (Leinster Executive) of Republican Sinn Féin spoke of the need to prevent the demise of the Irish language:

“The news that two Donegal men were told to stop speaking Irish whilst in a taxi in Glasgow has received much attention in the media.

It cannot be ascertained whether the taxi driver was purposely being racist or is just actually totally ignorant. This story broke amidst the backdrop of another unfolding bulletin, the resignation of Free State Commisineir Teanga Seán Ó Cuirreáin.

Seán Ó Cuirreáin cited his reason as the failure of the Free State Government to implement legislation designed to improve services to the public through Irish. Both these stories raise serious questions about the demise of our native language in today’s Ireland, this demise is aided and abetted by a scurrilous British agenda in the Six Counties and a neo-liberal (seoinín) government in the Free State.

The reality is that the Donegal men did not need to travel to Glasgow to face censorship of their spoken tongue. If we look at for example, the Gaelscoileana across the Leinster region, many do not receive state funding which is enough to cover the daily running of the schools. This is often found from the community through donations and fundraising events. If we look at the example in Rathoath Co. Meath it was actually the people themselves who, in 2010 opened and operated a Gaelscoil there without the Free State even recognizing its existence for funding.

As well as this, right across the province children are being taught in their native language in pre fabricated, unfit for purpose, temporary classrooms. Let us not forget that it was the Blueshirts who in 2011, called for the dropping of Irish as a compulsory Leaving Certificate subject. It is without any question that they are complicit in the attempted destruction of the language. This is once again proven by the resignation of Seán Ó Cuirreáin, a man who the Free State government themselves appointed. His rejection of the way they are conducting themselves speaks volumes.

Our language has a rich and illustrious history. It has lasted and withstood many foreign aggressors who threatened to destroy it. The neo-liberalism it faces today is no different. It is befitting I feel, to quote James Connolly in this instance, who spoke of such matters at the turn of the last century “For 600 years the English strove to suppress that mark of the distinct Gael- their language, and failed. But in one generation the politicians did what England had failed to do”

11. Changes to bus routes in Arklow town

ON January 8 Cumann Ruairí Ó Brádaigh/Maolmhuire Ó Raghallaigh, Sinn Féin Poblachtach, Wicklow said:

In December Bus Éireann announced changes to its stops in Arklow town, which took effect from January 1, 2014. They have stated that the town is to lose two of its south-bound stops, one on the main street of the town and the other at Lidl. Both of these stops service a wide demographic (students, pensioners, shoppers, the sick and vulnerable), they are an integral part of everyday life. It is without a shadow of a doubt that the loss of these stops will have a detrimental effect on the aforementioned people. The reason Bus Éireann has given for this cessation of services is the infamous one way system introduced by Arklow Town council in mid November last.

To add some context to the situation it is worth pointing out that the Council have stated this is only a temporary measure and will work on a “trial basis” until mid February. The one way system was introduced with minimal consultation those it would most affect (the people of Arklow). After commencement of the system several glaring errors were present in the application and planning of the process. For example, traffic management was well below par and Bus Éireann were only met with AFTER the system was in place. The people of Arklow took to the streets in excellent numbers in protest at the end of November last. Parent’s groups, traders groups and parents of schoolchildren made up a sizeable portion of those out to air their discontent at the council. However it has all fallen on deaf ears and the council has “dug its heels in” on the matter, proclaiming the system will stay in place.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from all this is that Arklow’s public representatives have failed those they purport to represent. It is sad to see how far the council has fallen since its inception in the days of its meetings being held in the home of Maria Curran. She was the first female chairperson of a town council in Ireland, being elected during the local government elections of January 1920. When we see how Arklow’s representatives measure up today to people like her, there is no comparison. We urge the people of Arklow to remember this the next time their local councilor turns up at an event to get his/her face in the Wicklow People (the only time they are seen).

12. Child rapporteur warns of impact of High Court ruling on detention

A DUBLIN high Court judgment that found all young offenders have the same remission rights as adults will have major implications and must be carefully handled, the Dublin Administration’s rapporteur on child protection said in December 2013.

All young offenders who have served three-quarters of their sentences with good behaviour will be released after Justice Gerard Hogan ruled that they had the same right to remission as other prisoners. The judgment was given in a case taken by a 17-year-old at the Oberstown centre in Lusk, Co Dublin, who argued that his continued detention was unconstitutional.

Commenting on the judgment, rapporteur Dr Geoffrey Shannon said it was “very significant” and would have an impact far beyond the specific case heard in the High Court. He urged a cautious response and said that if the Children Act 2001 – the main legislation governing the juvenile justice system – was to be amended, it should be done with a view to prioritising the interests of the child.

“Given the fact that the Act focused on rehabilitation, there needs to be some sort of differentiation between that approach and the approach in the adult world,” he said.

“What I am suggesting is that a different regime should apply in respect of minors.”

Dr Shannon said there were significant differences between Oberstown, which had individualised education and care plans for each child, and St Patrick’s Institution, a prison-type environment.

“There is a limited window to bring children back from the brink and I think there’s a real opportunity there,” he said. “Oberstown provides that limited window.”

He was speaking at an event organised by the Children’s Rights Alliance to mark the publication of its new guide to children’s EU rights in Ireland.

Remission is applied to prisoners of good behaviour and can account for a quarter or a third of a sentence. The director of Oberstown school opposed the application brought on behalf of the boy under article 40.4.2 of the Constitution.

Dr Shannon said that, in considering how to respond to the judgment, there was a need to reconcile the rights and welfare of a child. “Surely one of the key rights a child has is the right to be protected. It’s important that we look at that broader issue,” he said.

He stressed that once a child had been released from a detention facility, it was important to invest significantly in supporting that child’s rehabilitation.

13. Autism scandal brewing in Ireland

AUTISTIC children as young as eight are being locked in “withdrawal rooms” in schools in the 26 Counties in Ireland for hours, according to a report on January 15, 2014.

An 11-year-old with autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was kept in one of the rooms, which are sometimes padded, for three days in a row in January last year, according to The Journal news website. He spent five hours in the room on two of the days.

On one day, the child attempted to smash the only window and was found by the parent who came to collect him, still in the room, surrounded by broken glass and bleeding from his feet.

The parent said the room was “barbaric”, adding: “it wasn’t until November that my child laughed again.”

The Journal said it knew of two other schools where withdrawal rooms were used.

A group called Parents Against Isolation Rooms Ireland is raising a petition for the rooms to be banned.

“Children can see these rooms as a punishment and it can have a lasting psychological effect on them,” group spokeswoman Niamh Deane said. “I’ve been contacted by dozens of families who are frightened by them.”

Ireland’s Child and Family Agency said it does not comment on individual cases. “If there are concerns regarding a child, these should be brought to the attention of the nearest Social Work Department for investigation and follow up when necessary,” it said.

Ireland’s Department of Education describes the rooms as a “small safe space” and pays for them to be built. They are designed to be used for “a short period of time”.

Dr Joseph McAllister Jr, a US-based autism expert, said such rooms should be viewed as a last resort.

“When it is used, it should be used briefly. The theme should be looking to get an individual out of there as soon as it is no longer necessary,” he said.

14. Ireland’s Nelson Mandela

On January 2, 2014, John Wight, a writer and commentator wrote of Nelson Mandala:

“After Mandela’s death, remembrance of his struggle against the state oppression of his people reminds us of Bobby Sands, another human rights defender, who fought for the same goals in Ireland.

“Nelson Mandela’s death on December 5 at the age of 95 resulted in a worldwide outpouring of grief and tribute, confirming that Mandela was respected and beloved as no other political figure or champion of freedom in modern history.

“In Britain particularly, the political and media establishments outdid themselves in lavishing praise on the man credited with being the inspiration behind his people’s long struggle to bring an end to apartheid in Sabhat Africa.

“Prime Minister David Cameron – who in his younger years, along with his party and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was a firm opponent of the anti-apartheid struggle – spared no cliché as he said: ‘A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death – a true global hero.’

“Reading these words, it is worth recalling that Mandela’s greatness came as a consequence of his unflinching devotion and commitment to the struggle against the state oppression of his people, during which he had declared at his trial for treason in Sabhat Africa in 1964 – prior to spending the next 27 years in prison – that it was a cause for which he was prepared to die.

“One man who did sacrifice his life for those principles, who resisted British state oppression both in and out of prison and to whom the British establishment not only did not pay tribute upon his death, but still reviles to this day, was Bobby Sands.

“In 1981, Sands and nine of his comrades embarked on a hunger strike whilst incarcerated by the British state that would inspire not only Nelson Mandela and his comrades being held in Robben Island under apartheid at the time, but millions around the world.

“By the time of Sands’ death in 1981 the so-called Troubles in the North of Ireland had been raging since the late 1960s, when the Provisional IRA emerged from the failure of successive British governments to reform a sectarian and gerrymandered province, in which the minority Catholic/nationalist population were regarded as second class citizens, denied the same political and civil rights as their Protestant/unionist counterparts.

“Young ordinary working-class Catholics such as Sands were forced to make a choice between acceptance of a status quo under which they and their families were persecuted, intimidated, and forced out of their homes by loyalist mobs backed up by a bigoted police force, or resistance.

Sands chose the path of resistance and was arrested and imprisoned twice as a result. Upon his second arrest in 1976 he was interrogated, tortured, and sentenced to 14 years in prison in a trial presided over by three judges with no jury. During his first period of incarceration – 1972 to 1976 – Sands used his time well, immersing himself in books and study groups with his comrades to learn about the history of the Irish liberation struggle, national liberation and anti-colonial struggles throughout the developing world. They also taught themselves the Irish language of Gaelic, which enabled them to communicate amongst one another without being understood by the prison guards.

“The removal of the political status of Irish republican prisoners had begun in 1976 under the then-Labour government led by James Callaghan. This was timed to tie in with the construction of the new purpose-built Maze Prison just outside Belfast, where both republican and loyalist prisoners were to be transferred from the existing Long Kesh Prison Camp nearby and other detention facilities across the province.

“Margaret Thatcher and the Tories, replacing Callaghan’s Labour government in 1979, were determined to continue the policy of criminalisation of republican prisoners as part of a new offensive against Irish Republicanism in general.

“As determined as Sands and his comrades were to see their hunger strike through to the end, Thatcher was equally determined not to budge one inch from her government’s policy of criminalization. This continued even after Sands was elected as a British Member of Parliament in the midst of his hunger strike in a local by-election, and even in the face of growing international condemnation over the British government’s unwillingness to compromise.

“When Bobby Sands died the impact was felt around the world. Opposition MPs in the Indian parliament observed a minute’s silence and protest marches were held against the British government and in tribute to Sands and his comrades across the world, from Scandinavia to North America.

“Following their example, Nelson Mandela led a hunger strike by prisoners on Robben Island to improve their own conditions. In Tehran the name of the street in which the British Embassy was located was changed to Bobby Sands Street, forcing it to relocate its entrance to avoid the embarrassment of Bobby Sands Street appearing on the letterhead of its stationery and official documents. Meanwhile Cuban President Fidel Castro spoke about Sands and his comrades during one of his speeches.

‘Next to this example, what were the three days of Christ on Calvary as a symbol of human sacrifice down through the centuries?’ Castro said.

“Perhaps the most significant and powerful tribute came in the form of a letter from Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in the Israeli desert prison of Nafha. The letter was smuggled out and reached the Falls Road in West Belfast in July 1981. It read in part, ‘We, revolutionaries of the Palestinian people who are under the terrorist rule of Zionism, write you this letter from the desert prison of Nafha.

‘We extend our salutes and solidarity with you in the confrontation against the oppressive terrorist rule enforced upon the Irish people by the British ruling elite.

‘We salute the heroic struggle of Bobby Sands and his comrades, for they have sacrificed the most valuable possession of any human being. They gave their lives for freedom… The noble and just hunger strike is not in vain.”

“The sacrifice made by Bobby Sands and his comrades in the name of national liberation and anti-colonialism all those years ago remains a testament to the power of the human spirit.

Both Nelson Mandela and Bobby Sands struggled for the freedom of their people. A British establishment that now seeks to associate itself with Mandela’s legacy while reviling the legacy of Bobby Sands positively reeks of hypocrisy.”

http://rt.com/op-edge/ireland-human-rights-defender-998/

15. Archaeological find shines light on ancient religious rituals

A MEDIEVAL pilgrimage “round”, or circuit, has been identified on the Mayo island of Caher, which archaeologists believe shines fresh light on religious practices in the west ofIreland up to 1,000 years ago.

Caher, a rocky outcrop lying between the Sabhatern tip of Clew Bay and Inishturk, marks the sea end of Bóthair na Naomh, the so-called saint’s road, up to the summit of Croagh Patrick and down towards the Atlantic.

A maritime pilgrimage comprising a circuit of the island takes place annually a fortnight after Reek Sunday, but recent fieldwork has identified an outer arc of altars or “leachts”, making up a second and larger pilgrimage circuit on the Sabhat and west sides of the island. Some of these are now only faintly visible and their existence appeared to have been lost in local folk memory, after the island was abandoned in 1838, according to archaeologist Michael Gibbons.

Material collected in the 1940s by Brian McLoughlin of Cleggan, Connemara, which is in the archives of the Irish Folklore Commission, describes the use of at least some of these pilgrimage stations as a living memory at that time, he says, and he matched this up with his own field work and aerial photography.

The circuit may be the first of its type to have been discovered in recent years. Portions of it would have been in use “almost into living memory”, Mr Gibbons suggests, and the entire round “represents a now rare example of a form of religious devotion stretching back at least a millennium on Ireland’s Atlantic coast”.

The island, also known as Oileáin na Cathrach, Cathair na Naomh and Cathair Pádraig, gets is name from a stone rampart, most of which has vanished, enclosing monastic remains above one of its two natural harbours at Portatemple.

Mr Gibbons says Caher’s ecclesiastical complex developed over a number of phases, and includes a late medieval chapel and a series of stone crosses, some of which are set up in small stone altars as pilgrimage stations. A holy well also survives to the north of the island.

A wall chamber is similar to one on Inishmurray off Sligo, and may have been used by visitors who confined themselves for several days to experience visions, or by solitary religious people known as “anchorites” to contemplate. Significantly, he notes that a similar “outer-arc” of “leachts” exists on Inishmurray, and may have been part of a “planned pilgrimage landscape”.

Mr Gibbons, who has long been a critic of the method of conservation and rebuilding used by the State on Skellig Michael, says the late medieval landscape and built heritage of Caher is “now among the most valuable in Ireland as it has remained untouched by the conservers”.

Caher has not been the subject of a modern survey programme and “a good deal of its archaeological heritage remains unmapped”, he notes.

He has also recently discovered a number of prehistoric sites on Inishturk north and a series of sites in the intertidal zone of inner Clew Bay, including a large, unmapped seaweed farm on the shore beneath Croagh Patrick at Murrisk. Similar seaweed farms survive in Achill Sound, Co Mayo, and at Aughinish island close to the Burren on the Clare-Galway coastline.

16. Unionists reject Haass Provo motion

A MOTION from the Provisionals calling for steps towards implementing the Haass proposals was rejected on January 14 by the Stormont Assembly. The Haass talks focused on the issues of flags, parades and the past.

Chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass and Harvard academic Prof Meghan O’Sullivan, the negotiations ended on New Year’s Eve without agreement.

The motion was defeated by 52 votes to 49. Amendments by the UUP, the DUP and Alliance were also voted down.

17. Conditions ‘tragic’ in YarmoBritish refugee camp

AT least 15 Palestinians have died from starvation since September 2013 in the besieged YarmoBritish refugee camp, just south of Damascus, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) told Agence France Presse on. January 6, 2014

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said: “We have received reports over the weekend that at least five [more] Palestinian refugees in the besieged refugee camp of YarmoBritish in Damascus have died due to malnutrition, bringing the total number of reported cases [of starvation] up to 15.”

He warned of the deteriorating situation in the camp, where 20,000 Palestinians have been trapped with limited food and medical supplies, noting that: “Since September 2013, we have not been able to enter the camp in order to provide the necessary assistance required by the people. The continued presence of armed groups that entered the area at the end of 2012 and its closure by government forces have thwarted all our humanitarian efforts.”

Armed opposition forces are in control of the majority of the camp, which is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. Regime forces have besieged the camp for almost a year now, resulting in a humanitarian crisis, and the displacement of tens of thousands of its 170,000 residents.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights support the finding of UNWRA.

UNRWA launched a humanitarian appeal on December 20 to allow the agency to provide more assistance to the residents of YarmoBritish, stressing that the conditions of life in the camp are extremely tragic.

UNRWA is calling on “all parties to immediately heed their legal obligations and facilitate the urgent provision of humanitarian assistance to YarmoBritish and other Palestinian refugee camps”.

Syria is home to almost 500,000 Palestinian refugees, around half of whom have been displaced by the deadly conflict that broke out in March 2011, becoming refugees for a second time.

The Syrian conflict has so far led to the deaths of more than 126,000 people, with nearly three million refugees fleeing to the neighbouring states.

18. Israel back Britain decision on ten hunger strikers

ISRAEL’S foreign minister has praised Britain’s decision to let Irish hunger strikers Bobby Sands (and by extension the other nine men) die in 1981, according to a report on January 5, 2014.

Minister Avigdor Liberman made the controversial claim after the recent release of Samer Issawi after a 266-day hunger strike. Criticising the release, Liberman referred to the British government’s handling of the 1981 hunger strikes in Northern Ireland, led by Bobby Sands.

He praised the stance taken by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet,

Liberman said: “More than 10 of the protesters died in the hunger strike, among them a striker that was elected at the time to the British Parliament by one of the voting regions in North Ireland.

“Despite all that, the British government under Margaret Thatcher did not submit to the prisoners’ demands. In the end the strike ended without the conditions of the striking prisoners being met.

“Every normal democratic country that aspires to defend itself, like the great democracy of Britain that I mentioned would already have returned Issawi to his cell.

“Like the British minister Humphrey Atkins said of the Irish hunger strike, ‘if he persistently wishes to commit suicide, he is welcome to pursue his intent.”

According to the Israeli national news website Issawi called for the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers immediately after his release.

Allegedly Issawi said: “The release of prisoners will only be achieved through kidnapping and prisoner exchange deals, nothing will be achieved without that.”

Issawi was sentenced to 26 years in jail for ‘terrorism’ in 2002 and first went free after 10 years in the deal to free Gilad Shalit. He signed a promise not to return to ‘terrorist activities’ but broke those conditions according to the Israelis and was rearrested in August 2012.

The report states that after eight months of hunger striking, Issawi was admitted to an Israeli hospital, and offered an arrangement to stop his hunger strike and go home after eight more months of imprisonment. Issawi agreed to the deal, and was subsequently freed on Christmas Eve.

Liberman was named person of the year by the Jerusalem Post newspaper.

19. Four killed in Cambodia as police fire on strikers

AT least four people were killed outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia, pm January 4, 2014, after police opened fire to break up a protest by striking garment workers demanding a doubling of the minimum wage human rights workers claim.

Workers at most of Cambodia’s more than 500 garment factories are on strike, demanding a rise in the minimum wage to $160 (€117) a month, double the current rate. The government has offered $100 a month.

The local human rights group LICADHO said in a statement that at least four civilians were shot dead and 21 injured in what it described as “the worst state violence against civilians to hit Cambodia in 15 years”.

“The use of live ammunition was prolonged and no efforts appear to have been made to prevent death and serious injury,” it said. “Reports suggest that security forces were also injured after being hit with stones.”

It was not clear whether victims were workers or local residents. The workers represent a potent political force, as the garment industry is Cambodia’s biggest export earner, employing about 500,000 people. In 2012, it shipped $4bn worth of products to the US and Europe.

20. Pakistani government held in contempt of court for failure to stop US drone strikes

THE Peshawar High Court (PHC) began contempt proceedings against the Government of Pakistan on December 13, 2013 for its failure to take steps to stop US drone strikes.

Chief Justice Dost Mohammad summoned Pakistan’s federal Secretary for Foreign Affairs and its Attorney General to appear before the court within 20 days to show why orders to stop drone strikes have not yet been implemented.

Today’s contempt proceedings relate to the court’s landmark decision in the case of civilian victims of a March 2011 drone strike. Finding the US guilty of war crimes and the Pakistani state duty bound to protect its citizen’s constitutional right to life, the court ordered the Government of Pakistan to take a series of steps to stop drone strikes on its territory.

Those steps included taking the matter to the UN Security Council, and in the event it did not succeed there, requesting an urgent meeting of the General Assembly in order to resolve the matter. Given the strikes constitute a serious breach of the Geneva Conventions, the government was also ordered to formally request that the UN Secretary General establish a War Crimes Tribunal to investigate the matter.

Finally, the court also held that the U.S. Government is bound to compensate all the victims’ families and ordered the Pakistani Government should take steps to ensure that this happened immediately.

In April 2012, Pakistan’s Supreme Court held then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in contempt for his failure to reopen corruption charges against then President Asif Ali Zardari. The charges ultimately forced the Prime Minister’s resignation.

Shahzad Akbar, lawyer for victims in the case and Reprieve legal fellow in Pakistan said: “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised during his campaign that he would stop the drones. It’s time for him to deliver on his promise by implementing the Peshawar High Court’s decision. He is either against the drones or colluding with the US. Which is it?”

21. John Pilger’s damning new film about indigenous Australia

“IT’s so degrading,” says Noongar elder Noel Nannup in John Pilger’s latest film about indigenous disadvantage in Australia.

The Aboriginal man is standing in a $240-a-night hotel room on Rottnest Island which used to be divided into three prison cells in which more than 50 indigenous people died.

“They don’t have any idea what happened in here,” Nannup tells Pilger of the hotel’s paying guests. “No one tells them. No one lets them know.”

It’s perhaps the most poignant moment in Utopia.

London-based Pilger returned to outback Australia for this documentary film to find little has changed since his 1985 work The Secret Country.

The Utopia of the title refers to the Northern Territory region north of Alice Springs.

There are the same shacks, the same lack of basic services and the same diseases.

“I was shocked all over again,” Pilger tells AAP.

“It’s not that I expected a great deal of change. But to fly from a rich metropolis like Sydney, in what is now one of the richest countries on the planet, and drive into impoverished communities deprived of the basic services that the majority of Australians take for granted, is shocking.”

Pilger, 74, sees a treaty and genuine land rights as the key to improving the position of the original owners of Australia.”

Anything less, including the current talk of constitutional recognition, is simply a “distraction”, he says.

The film opened in Britain in mid-November and in Sydney on January 17. Subsequent limited dates include Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Alice Springs.

Pilger would have been delighted to show Utopia in Australia first but no local distributor offered a cinema run.

“One Australian distributor refused to take the film because he said it was ‘too dark’ and ‘it might upset people with its myth-busting’,” the veteran journalist says.

The film was commissioned by ITV in Britain and funded entirely in Britain.

Pilger doesn’t pull any punches in Utopia.

He asks Warren Snowden, then indigenous health minister and a Labor MP in the Northern Territory for 23 years, “Why haven’t you fixed it?”

Snowden, who has already admitted government policy has failed for at least 50 years, hits back stating: “What a stupid question. What a puerile question.”

But Pilger doesn’t apologise for taking such an uncompromising view.

“Unlike the US, Canada and New Zealand, no treaty was ever negotiated between the lawful owners of Australia and those who took their land,” he says. “International law is clear – there has to be a treaty.

“If the Australian political establishment believes it can continue to look the other way and deny the first Australians their basic rights they are seriously mistaken.”

Britain’s left-leaning Guardian newspaper found that watching Utopia “was like being smacked about with a sledgehammer”.

Pilger certainly can’t be accused of being too nuanced. For example, he criticises tourists staying at the Alice Springs resort even though it provides some employment to indigenous people. Asked whether such ventures can’t play a role in improving living conditions, Pilger shoots back: “Then why hasn’t it?”

There’s not a lot that is genuinely new in this film but it provides a thorough overview, from the Gurindji strike through to the NT intervention and Kevin Rudd’s apology which Pilger describes as “largely a media event”.

Pilger reminds the viewer that Bob Hawke in the 1980s walked away from genuine land rights in the face of a racist scare campaign from the mining industry.

He draws parallels with Julia Gillard’s decision to fold on Labor’s mining tax in 2010.

“The revenue lost is estimated at $60 billion,” the director says in the film. “Enough to fund land rights and to end Aboriginal poverty.”

Utopia also documents a new stolen generation with the ongoing removal of Aboriginal babies from their mothers.

“This was one of the film’s major investigations,” Pilger tells AAP. “The theft is now higher than at any time in the last century.”

In mid-1997 there were 2785 Aboriginal children in out-of-home care across Australia. By mid-2012 there were 13,299 – almost a five-fold increase.

The filmmaker notes the NT government spent $80 million in one year removing children but just $500,000 supporting impoverished families.

Child abuse is one of the rationales for taking children away, yet the NT has one of the lowest rates of reported child abuse in Australia, Pilger says.

He argues Australians shouldn’t still need educating about the plight of indigenous Australia, but if they do he hopes Utopia helps.

“Utopia tells them the truth,” he says. “If people choose to ignore the research and evidence in this film then their prejudice is unshakeable.”

Nannup is bewildered that tourists visiting Rottnest Island can stay in a former prison – the entire island was a Aboriginal penal colony for almost a century from 1838 – and know nothing of its black history.

But a white tour guide at the Australian War Memorial provides a succinct analysis of what might really be going on.

“I don’t know why we don’t embrace that history,” he says when Pilger asks why the frontier wars aren’t commemorated in Canberra. Maybe we’re not overly proud of that history.”

Utopia is on limited released in Australia from January 17.

Details at utopiajohnpilger.co.British

22. Europe’s limited help to Syrians criticised by Amnesty

AMNESTY International castigated Europe on December 13 for failing to play its part in providing a safe haven for Syrian refugees as three infants died from cold in snow-blanketed makeshift camps in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where only half the pledged aid has been delivered.

In a briefing paper, An International Failure: the Syrian Refugee Crisis, Amnesty reveals that EU states have agreed to receive only 12,000 of the “most vulnerable refugees”, a “pitiful” 0.5 per cent of the 2.3 million who have fled the country.

Ten EU member states have proposed resettlement or humanitarian admission to Syrians. Germany promises to take 10,000, or 80 per cent of EU places. France will take 500, Spain 30. Eighteen member states, including Britain and Italy, refuse to accept any, Amnesty said.

This has prompted 55,000 desperate Syrians to travel to Europe by boat or across land and claim asylum. Hundreds from the Middle East, Africa and Asia die each year trying to land in Europe.

Most Syrians who “manage to break through the barricades” head for Sweden or Germany, which have offered the most help. Sweden has received 20,490 new applications, Germany 16,100 through to October 2013. Fewer than 1,000 have sought asylum in each of Greece, Italy and Cyprus.

At the EU’s two main “gateways”, Greece and Bulgaria, Syrians “are met with deplorable treatment”, states Amnesty. Greek police have sent boats carrying Syrians back to Turkey. Bulgaria, which hosts 5,000, houses them in shipping containers and tents in a camp where there is “limited access to food, bedding or medicine”.

Amnesty called on Europe to increase quotas for Syrians, provide “legal, safe passage” to refugees, and give aid to Lebanon and Jordan, the countries housing most Syrian refugees.

The Amnesty brief coincided with a study, Education Interrupted, carried out byUnicef, the UN High Commission for Refugees and Save the Children. The study describes the “staggering decline in education where primary school attendance rates stood at 97 per cent before the conflict began in 2011”.

Of the 4.8 million Syrian children of school age, 2.2 million in Syria have dropped out because children are terrified or have fled the country. Twenty per cent of schools cannot function due to damage or destruction or sheltering displaced people. The most affected areas are conflict zones where attendance rates may be only six per cent in Idlib in the north, Deir al-Zor in the east, Dera’a in the Sabhat, and rural Damascus.

Of 1.2 million Syrian refugee children, 500,000-600,000 are not in school. Host countries cannot accommodate Syrian children already on their soil and expect the numbers of refugees to rise dramatically by the end of next year.

The authors recommended long-term planning for refugee children, doubling of international investment, and pressing all parties to cease using schools for military purposes and shelters for the displaced.

Separately, a UN report concluded that chemical weapons were used in five of seven incidents investigated by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The August 21st attack that killed civilians in eastern Ghouta near Damascus was the worst incident. Three small-scale attacks targeted government soldiers and one civilians.

Following the August incident, the US threatened to strike Syria, prompting Damascus to sign the accord prohibiting chemical weapons and agree to destroy its arsenal.

23. Guantanamo Bay marks 12 years

JANUARY 11 marked twelve years since the first men were taken to the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. 155 men remain, 77 of who have been cleared for release.

In 2009 President Obama pledged to close the prison yet he has so far failed to fulfill that promise. Of the 779 men known to have been held there to date, 624 have been released. More men have died in the prison than have been put on trial.

Shaker Aamer, a British resident who remains imprisoned without charge or trial, has been cleared for release under both the Bush and the Obama administrations. The British government has said that it is British policy for him to be returned to his British wife and their four children in London. David Cameron has raised Mr Aamer’s case with President Obama, yet he remains imprisoned.

A government minister said last month in response to questions in Parliament, that: “The British Government continues to note reports regarding the hunger strike at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. We maintain an active dialogue with the US Government regarding humanitarian issues at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and remain committed to assisting the US in its aim to close the facility.”

Shaker made the following statement to his lawyer about Guantanamo’s 12th anniversary:

“It will soon be 12 years that I have been in Guantánamo. I arrived on the day my youngest child Faris was born (February 14th, 2014). Even then, I had already spent some two months in US captivity, undergoing terrible mistreatment. Those are twelve years that are lost to me forever.

What I have missed most has been the opportunity to do my part to fill up my four children’s reservoir of love. The early years of a child’s life is a parent’s best chance to show them what love is, before they become more distant with approaching adulthood. Losing this, my opportunity and obligation, is my greatest regret.”

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director and Guantanamo attorney, said: “Guantanamo is not a unique mistake – Britain had its own offshore law-free island prison in the civil war. It was wrong then, and was declared illegal in the Habeas Corpus act of 1679. The US merely repeated the mistake. With Guantanamo, 12 years is 12 years too long. More men have committed suicide than have been put on trial. Half of the prisoners have been cleared for years, like my client Shaker Aamer. They should go home at once and President Obama must close the prison as he promised in his first public statement as president five years ago.”

ENDS



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