British UN vote shows we need independence to scrap Trident

John Finnie three-quarterJohn Finnie has called on all those committed to nuclear disarmament to back an independent Scotland, after the United Kingdom refused to join with 123 United Nations members in their call for a global summit to abolish nuclear weapons.

John urged Jeremy Corbyn supporters in Scotland to back scrapping Trident via independence, calling it the “only realistic prospect” of removing nuclear weapons from Britain.

He said:

“Instead of siding with the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations in voting to set up a conference to negotiate ways of prohibiting and eliminating weapons of mass destruction, the UK voted with the nuclear club states who continue to stand in the way of progress on disarmament.

“Those members of Scottish Labour who want a nuclear-free world must now accept that Jeremy Corbyn’s party no longer offers a British road to disarmament. The only realistic prospect of removing Trident from Scotland and to join with countries like Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa in saying ‘no’ to nuclear weapons, is for Scotland to become an independent country and vocal member of the international community.

“I urge those Labour members to join the Greens and others in this campaign.”

John condemns Czech Deputy PM’s anti-Roma ‘parasite’ comments

John Finnie with Gypsy Traveller activist Roseanna McPhee
John Finnie with Gypsy Traveller activist Kathy McGuigan

In two separate incidents over the last week, the Czech Republic’s Deputy Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, has appeared to deny or even condone the imprisonment of Czech Roma people in a concentration camp by occupying Nazi forces, and – on a visit to the camp itself – described Romani people as “parasites”.

John Finnie has written to Mr Babiš, condemning his comments and demanding both an apology and policy changes to alleviate the severe discrimination suffered by Romani people in the Czech Republic.

There are at least 3,000 Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland. There is a distinctive Highland Traveller tradition, while Romani people have been part of the Scottish community, especially in the Lowlands, for more than 500 years. Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland are subject to far more prejudice than any other ethnic group – the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that a 37% of people would be upset if a close family member married a Gypsy/Traveller, and 46% said a Gypsy/Traveller is unsuitable for employment as a primary school teacher.

John told the Czech Minister that it was his duty, on behalf of Gypsy/Travellers in the Highlands and Islands, to challenge the racist propaganda – such as Mr Babiš’s comments – that generates these hateful attitudes.

You can read John’s letter to Andrej Babiš below – click to view as a PDF.

Dear Mr Babiš, Like very many people around the world, I was appalled by your recent comments regarding Roma people in the Czech Republic. Your claim that the camp at Lety was not a concentration camp but merely a “work camp” not only desecrates the memory of the 300 Roma who died there and the 500 who were transported from Lety to Auschwitz, but propagates the corrosive, racist slur that Romani people are lazy, unproductive or criminal and warrant fascistic treatment. By prefacing these comments with the words “there were times when all Roma worked,” you not only reinforce that slander, but suggest your approval of the atrocity committed against Romani people at Lety. At best, these comments deny of the extent of the Holocaust; many will wonder whether in fact they represent sympathy with the Holocaust. On your recent visit to Lety, ostensibly to apologise for the above comments, you described members of the Roma community as “parasites”. I am sure you are aware that the use of dehumanising language such as this, casting Romani people as vermin, is an indispensable component of the xenophobic propaganda that underpins both the Nazi Holocaust and the present-day persecution of Roma. The horrific prejudice and discrimination faced by Romani people, and the related ill-treatment of other Gypsy/Traveller people, causes great hardship, misery and injustice, not just in the Czech Republic but across Europe, including here in Scotland. Racist and degrading comments such as yours are the building blocks of this hatred. On behalf of my Gypsy/Traveller constituents, and in solidarity with that community across Europe and beyond, I request that you make a full and unqualified apology for your racist remarks, desist from making any such remarks in the future, and adopt policies that dismantle the structural discrimination suffered by Czech Romani people. Yours sincerely, John Finnie MSP

John presses for answers on seizure of Sea Shepherd boat

Sea Shepherd boats seized since Sept 2014John Finnie is investigating the way the Scottish authorities seek and carry out court warrants to confiscate property on behalf of foreign governments, after a boat belonging to the conservation organisation Sea Shepherd was seized by police and handed over to the Danish Navy.

Sea Shepherd, like Greenpeace, use ships and boats to take to investigate and take direct action to prevent the slaughter of whales and dolphins. The rigid inflatable boat Echo that was seized by police on Tuesday 1 September belonged to the Sea Shepherd ship MY Sam Simon, which was refuelling in Lerwick harbour as part of their campaign against the “grind” in the Faeroe Islands, where pilot whales are herded onto a beach to be killed with knives. The grinds kill around 800 pilot whales per year.

In response to a letter from the Faroese chief of police, the Crown Office sought and was granted a warrant to seize the Echo. On Friday 4 September, police told Sea Shepherd’s lawyers that the boat would be held in Scotland for a week, allowing time for an appeal. Sea Shepherd did appeal and the High Court suspended the warrant at 3.43pm on Friday afternoon, but contrary to the police’s assurances, the boat was already on board the Danish Navy warship HMDS Knud Rasmussen on its way to the Faroes, having been handed over less than an hour before.

John raised the issue at last week’s First Minister’s Questions, asking:

What assessment will be made of procedures that were employed in relation to the seizure and non-return of a Sea Shepherd UK boat from Lerwick harbour?

Nicola Sturgeon replied:

Obviously, it would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail on the matter because it is under criminal investigation. The Crown Office received a letter of request from the Faroese authorities and subsequently sought a warrant in the matter, which was then executed, on the basis of allegations of criminal activity. Given the circumstances, it is not appropriate for me to say any more on the issue.

John then pursued the issue with the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, who heads the Crown Office, with two letters.

In his first letter, John asked about how exactly another country goes about seeking a seizure of property, in the way Denmark (which controls Faeroe and is responsible for policing and justice on the islands) did over the Echo. Given that once the boat was in the possession of Denmark there seemed to be no way to get it back, he asked what timeframe there is to ensure the opportunity for an appeal. Finally he asked about whether the Crown Office’s response takes account of whether the property was being used to prevent acts which would be illegal in Scotland, as the Faroese whale hunt certainly would.

In a second letter, sent today, John has asked about the Crown Office’s actions when they are aware that the court is considering an appeal to suspend a warrant, and when they learn that a suspension has been granted. In the Lerwick case, police handed the Sea Shepherd boat over to the Danish Navy even though the Crown Office knew that a decision on suspending the warrant to do so was imminent, and once the warrant was granted there doesn’t seem to have been any attempt by the Scottish authorities to return the Echo to its owners.

John is still waiting for a response to his questions to the Lord Advocate. In the meantime, pilot whale grinds continue in the Faroes, and Sea Shepherd’s Captain Alex Cornelissen says “if the Danish government thinks that by confiscating the Echo they will stop Sea Shepherd, they are very sadly mistaken.” If you’d like to support Sea Shepherd’s work in the Faroes, you can donate here.

Palestine gu Brath!

I was honoured to be asked to speak at the 13th Conference for Palestinians in Europe, last Saturday in Berlin.

I was invited by the Council for European-Palestinian Relations (CEPR), which also funded the European Parliamentary delegation I was part of which visited Gaza the week after the Israeli attacks in December 2012. The Berlin conference was co-ordinated by the Palestinian Return Centre, the Palestine Assembly in Germany and Palestinian organisations from across Europe.

The Scottish Parliamentary week had been eventful one from a Palestinian perspective with my friend and colleague Sandra White’s debate on recognising the State of Palestine on the Tuesday. The following day, the Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Palestine meet in the evening when a well-attended meeting heard of various educational initiatives to bring academic impartiality to the issues of Palestine. The Group saw an excellent 20 minute film prepared by the Balfour Project which laid out the history giving rise to the present plight of the Palestinians. Impartial information is always important, and given the recent shocking revelation that a North Lanarkshire school had homework worksheets labelling Palestinians as “terrorists” it is evident that much remains to be done.

I left Edinburgh on Friday morning before 8 and got back after 11 the following night so it was certainly a ‘flying visit’. I shared the plane from London with Pat Sheehan MLA, a Sinn Féin Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who had also been part of the Gaza delegation.

On arrival in Berlin we went to the offices of one of the many Palestinian support groups in the city, home to Europe’s largest Palestinian population – up to 40,000. There we met two teenage Palestinian brothers who’d arrived a few months previously from Syria. Since ‘Al-Nakba’ or ‘the Catastrophe’ in 1948, when the creation of Israel saw half of the Palestinian population expelled, Palestinians have lived throughout the Arab nations with many, over half a century later, still in ‘refugee camps’. The plight of Palestinians living in Syria, particularly those in the infamous Yaramouk refugee camp who suffer greatly, is of immediate and pressing concern to Palestinians worldwide.

The Conference had various book stalls and art exhibitions. I was hugely impressed by the collection of a Yaramouk artist who, denied of normal painting materials, used collected coffee grounds to create memorable pictures.

At night, we were joined by Liberal Democrat Lord Hugh Dykes, another long-time supporter of a just Middle East settlement and were part of a group of three hundred who listened to a series of speeches from delegates attending from around the world before being given a sumptuous Palestinian meal.

In the month leading up to the Conference there had been a significant campaign in the media, organised by pro-Israeli lobby, to smear the conference as some gathering of ‘terrorists’. The campaign had even called on the German authorities to cancel the event. The anticipated opposition demonstration saw a few dozen turn up and they were kept well away from the Conference centre by a significant police presence. A happy, family carnival atmosphere was the hallmark of the day, with lots of children with flags and a great array of food stalls.

Mr Adel Abdallah, General Secretary of the Palestinians in Europe Conference opened the event, held in a giant hall which reminded me of the SECC. He welcomed everyone adding that those attending send a message to the whole world that the Palestinian people will never forget their basic rights, including the precious right of return to their homeland of 1948.

I was originally advised that myself, Pat, Hugh and a local German politician, Alexandra Thein of the Free Democratic Party, were to each speak for ten minutes then participate on a panel. However, the growing number of high profile delegates, including Mr Mustafa Al Rumaid, Moroccan Minister of Justice; a special envoy from the Turkish Prime Minister; the highly respected leader of the Palestinian Initative Party, Dr Moustafa al Barghouti and many others meant there were no morning panels with all speakers being limited to less than 5 minutes.

When called to speak I offered greetings from the Parliament’s Cross Party Group advising that an independent Scotland would have recognised the state of Palestine. I also suggested that, as the architect of the Middle East chaos, the United Kingdom should take the lead in seeking a resolution by recognising the state of Palestine, an act which could be a catalyst for the EU to do likewise.

I suggested Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, needed an ‘incentive’ for peace and the removal of Israel’s tariff free access to the EU and divestment was the way to incentivise action. I said language was important and the use of words like ‘war crimes’ and ‘genocide’ appropriate. I quoted lines from a Dick Gaughan song – ‘by theft and murder they took the land now everywhere the walls rise up at their command’ – saying, whilst not written about Palestine, it clearly could have been, and the walls must be taken down.

I contrasted the response of the UK and Scottish Governments to last year’s attack on Gaza when the Scottish Government advised that the international community should act to investigate war crimes; offered to treat the injured and provide asylum to those seeking it and called on everyone to work to bring about a just and lasting peace settlement. By contrast, the UK had simply stated that it ‘recognised Israel’s right to defend itself’.

Like Pat before me, who said a few words in Irish, I finished talking with some Gaelic. I explained Alba gu Brath meant ‘Scotland for ever’, and Eirinn gu Brath ‘Ireland forever’, so finished with the words Palestine gu Brath! A short but sweet contribution to a crowd of over 10,000, and a privilege to be in such esteemed company.

After, I enjoyed speaking with delegates many of whom were fully aware of the level of support for Palestine in Scotland.
Pat and I were interviewed by a German documentary film crew travelling Europe and visiting Israel examining ‘anti-Semitism’. I suspect that, notwithstanding a very aggressive interview style, I may not feature in the finished article. Saying ‘for the fourth time I unreservedly condemn violence from whatever quarter’ visibly disappointed the interviewer who tried without success to provoke some intemperate comments. Off camera, the producer indicated that there was a popular belief in Germany that support for Palestine was a ‘left’ issue and that supporters rarely criticised those on both sides who resort to violence, adding that he never hears the same people criticise China about Tibet. I invited him to recommence filming at which point I would happily condemn China’s atrocious record of human rights abuses! After some friendly chat about football and Scotland, the crew conceded that they envisaged the Conference would be fertile ground for anti-Semitism however that transpired not be to be the case. There you go then – nothing but talk of peaceful co-existence, right of return, adherence to international law and humanitarian norms!

Pro-Israel groups, whose nonsense about the Conference dominates pre- and post-event online coverage, work hard at putting pressure on German politicians not to engage with Palestinian groups. Alexandra Thein, who is married to a Palestinian, none the less bravely decided to speak and, notwithstanding there being no German/English translation, her passion and commitment were evident and she earned great respect for refusing to be intimidated.

It was apparent that the right of return was a key issue for everyone. I spoke to a middle-aged man who lives in London about the background. I asked him if he really would uproot himself and his family from London and go to a new state of Palestine. He told me he had been born in Syria and brought up in Libya where he graduated from university and was long-time resident of London. He told me passionately that felt he was entitled to the ‘right of return’, a right which he may or may not exercise, the important thing was it would be his choice. He told me that wherever he’d lived, no matter how well he was received, he was never a national of that country, the one consistent thing in his life was he was always a ‘Palestinian’.

The day of the Conference saw two significant events, the death of 17-year-old Palestinian, Ali Abu Ghannam, shot by Israeli police and the earthquake in Nepal. On my return to Scotland I learnt that Israel was commendably sending 260 medical and rescue crew members to assist with the disaster in Nepal. It is however to their eternal shame that they have never seen fit to send such resources to assist Gaza!

The many concerns about Israel’s casual disregard for international law and their dehumanising of the Gaza’s citizens remain. Whatever the challenges, whatever the irony that Tony Blair is a ‘Middle East Peace Envoy’, we must all redouble our efforts to push for a just and lasting peace settlement for all.

Scots police to investigate CIA torture

John Finnie - Amnesty InternationalLord Advocate Frank Mulholland has ordered police to investigate whether the shocking US Senate report on the CIA’s programme of kidnapping and torture could lead to criminal charges in Scotland, after John raised the issue in a formal parliamentary question.

John pressed for an update on Police Scotland’s 18-month-long investigation into the use of Scottish airports by CIA ‘rendition’ flights, and asked that the evidence of the shocking US Senate report released yesterday be taken into consideration.

Mr Mulholland ordered Police Scotland to reopen the investigation into rendition flights in June last year, but little information on the progress of the inquiry has been forthcoming, leading John to question whether it has been given sufficient priority. He said today:

“If there were any doubt, the Senate report confirms that the CIA operated a brutally violent, international criminal enterprise over the seven years from September the 11th. Even for someone who has been following the widespread abuse of human rights in the name of the ‘War on Terror’, the details revealed in this document are shocking and upsetting.

“Even the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee now concludes that the United States, through the CIA, is guilty of torture.

“I hope this report and the explicit evidence it contains will now spur the Scottish authorities to make more progress in the criminal inquiry into the CIA’s use of Scottish airports as part of kidnap and torture programme. This is not an historic investigation; the overwhelming likelihood is that very many of those responsible continue to be active, and some responsible for the political direction of the Agency still hold very senior office in the United States.

“Given the Senate Committee’s conclusion that CIA leaders lied about their activities to policymakers, there is no reason to be complacent about the possibility that these crimes continue in some form.

“Today, International Human Rights Day, marks the one-year anniversary of the Scottish National Action Plan which Nicola Sturgeon launched with intention of making Scotland a ‘beacon’ of human rights. We owe it to ourselves, to the international community and most importantly to the CIA’s victims to live up to that ambition in our investigation of these terrible crimes.”

Torture anywhere in the world is a crime in Scots law under the terms of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, the same law that allowed Augusto Pinochet to be arrested in the UK for torture carried out in Chile. There are additionally a variety of criminal offences which may have been committed on Scottish soil by virtue of the use of Scottish airports to refuel CIA aircraft.

John’s question, lodged at Holyrood this morning, reads:

Question S4W-23608: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 10/12/2014

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S4O-02812 by the Lord Advocate on 22 January 2014 (Official Report, c. 26845), what progress has been made by the investigation on the use of Scotland’s airports for rendition flights and whether the terms of the investigation will be amended in light of the publication of the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence’s report, Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

John is the Convenor of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on Human Rights. This evening, he will be hosting a reception, jointly with Amnesty International, reflecting on the first year of the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights and on the human rights situation in Scotland and around the world. The event will be addressed by Humza Yousaf MSP, the Minister for External Affairs and International Development.