UN Oral Intervention: Repeal Article 353 of Bahrain’s Penal Code

The following has been submitted in the format of an Oral Statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Right’s Council, and was prepared by Next Century Foundation United Nations Liaison Katya Kox-Kruger:

The Next Century Foundation recognises that the Kingdom of Bahrain has made significant strides in promoting women’s rights. However we ask for the repeal of Article 353 of Bahrain’s penal code. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes the right to life, liberty, and security, including sexual safety. However Article 353 of Bahrain’s penal code allows a perpetrator of sexual assault or rape to escape prosecution if they marry their victim.

Similar laws have been repealed in Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Palestine.

Rape and sexual assault are violent crimes committed against innocent women. The immediate repeal of Article 353 would remove the legal protection from prosecution currently given to perpetrators. 

In 2010, Bahrain developed a commendable program called “Together Against Violence and Addiction” which offers courses on listening to victims. 

The Next Century Foundation calls on Bahrain’s Supreme Council of Women to continue programs educating the public regarding the issues of sexual assault and rape and supporting victims of abuse. This is integral to changing the narrative and the social stigma associated with rape. 

The Supreme Council of Women has submitted suggestions to the government in regard to the repeal of Article 353. Now it is time for the government to respond.

Bahrain’s progress on women’s rights has been substantial, however, Article 353 is not only a gross violation of this progress, but is also a deep source of suffering that should not be allowed to continue. We appeal to the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain to continue their exemplary progress on safeguarding women’s rights by taking urgent action to repeal Article 353.

UN Oral Intervention: Remove Sudan from State Sponsors of Terrorism List

The following has been submitted in the format of an Oral Statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Right’s Council, and was prepared by Next Century Foundation UN Liaison Officer, Katya Cox-Kruger.

The Next Century Foundation calls for the removal of the Republic of Sudan from the United States of America’s “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. A sufficient level of democratization has been reached and now there is an urgent need for Sudan to access humanitarian financial aid. Resolution 2508, declared a consensus view by the UN Security Council that Sudan’s sanctions had served their purpose and Resolution 2429 reminded the world that numbers of those in need of humanitarian assistance in Sudan have increased from 5.5 to 7.1 million.

The new government under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is committed to seeing a more progressive and humanitarian Sudanese nation, installing a civilian cabinet and holding a democratic election in 2022. Recent progress in human rights includes the outlawing of female genital mutilation, the repeal of apostasy laws, and abolishing flogging. Sudan has also made strides in media freedom, releasing imprisoned journalists and promising an end to censorship.

Sudan has signed an agreement with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to open a main office in Khartoum with field offices in Darfur, Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, and East Sudan. The Next Century Foundation backs the swift opening of the offices in the hope that they will help to monitor the situation on the ground.

For Sudan to continue making progressive reforms, the economy needs to revive, an action that is only possible through foreign investment and funding. The Next Century Foundation suggests the monitoring of aid through an annual review of Sudan’s progress.

The Next Century Foundation, in supporting Sudan’s removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, is concerned with alleviating the suffering of the Sudanese, and facilitating a process by which peace and greater economic stability can be encouraged.

What Does “Defund the Police” Really Mean?

While the international community watches, the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States continues to dominate the news cycle as people march the streets in protest. What began as a protest regarding the brutal killing of George Floyd, an African-American man who was killed on the street in Minneapolis after a policeman kneeled on his throat for nine minutes and cut off his breathing, has turned into a movement for the restructuring and perhaps even de-funding of the entire police structure. His death was not just an individual event, rather a symbol of the deep racial tensions that still run through the veins of the country.

This is not the first of these kinds of protests, the previous well-known ones being the Race Riots of the 1960s. Beginning in 1967, an uprising swept through more than 150 cities across the US, provoked by police brutality and social inequalities such as in housing and education. Lyndon B. Johnson was the president at the time and had recently pushed through the Civil Rights Act and The Great Society legislation that he believed would help alleviate the inequality that caused these racial tensions. Despite this, the protests continued as cities burned in what Time magazine referred to as “the bloodiest uprising in half a century”. To determine the causes, a special commission was appointed in which interviews were conducted across the country to better understand the concerns and anger of the people.

The report concluded that there were deep cultural divisions in the country and that the United States was on track for two different societies: black and white. The commission suggested a thirty billion dollar infusion of support for the educational and social services of black communities, to provide more opportunities and therefore lessen inequalities. The report also had suggestions for the police which included higher standards, more professionalization, extra training, standardized educational standards, and community relations programs that allow citizens a voice in local policing. However, the high price tag, defensive nature of the police departments, and Johnson’s personal anger that his previous work was not recognized, combined to block any implementation of the recommendations. The finding of the report, which for the first time, identified “white racism”as a factor in the repression that the black community was protesting, proved to be a step too far for many politicians, and the report’s findings were tabled. Indeed, the report would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the findings being leaked to the press, published, and becoming a bestseller. Despite that, no meaningful changes were implemented.

Less than sixty years later, the United States is facing similar issues. Once again, racial inequalities and increasing cases of police brutality have brought these long-simmering issues to public scrutiny. The police are highly militarized and unionized, and while crime rates continue to drop, police brutality rates continue to increase. For comparison, “since 2000 the police in Great Britain have killed a total of 42 people. In March 2016 alone, US police killed 100 people”. The End of Policing, is a powerful account of the current crisis, authored by Alex S Vitale, a professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and essayist whose work has crossed the pages of newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian. He explains the current policing situation and the actions that need to be taken in order for sustainable change to occur. He posits that police today exhibit a “warrior mentality” where they believe that they are in a constant battle with a disorderly public. This is further exacerbated by their training, in which they watch training videos of everyday encounters such as traffic stops turning violent. An ethos of keeping officers safe becomes harmful when they assume danger in the most mundane interactions with the public, this is demonstrably true when police are interacting with members of minority groups. This is associated with their inclination to use force that can quickly escalate into violent scenarios.

As seen in the mostly peaceful protests across the US, the police have responded to disturbance and blocking the streets with the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, a threatening show of force. In Buffalo, New York, a 75-year-old man was shoved to the ground by two officers, left unconscious and bleeding as the rest of the force police marched past him. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, cameras caught police officers shooting a young woman with rubber bullets, fracturing her eye socket. In Kansas City, Missouri, police officers walked up onto a sidewalk to spray pepper spray at protestors. This violent response has only exacerbated the calls from the public for the end of police brutality. When the public itself gets violent, the police are well within their bounds to get involved in a calm and efficient manner as they are meant to be the guardians of public safety. Their training should not only prepare them for these scenarios, but they should be educated in proper de-escalation techniques rather than a war in the streets with civilians.

Alongside the violence, the subject of racism has once again become the center of the debate. Racism is undoubtedly present in the US and this includes police forces where black teens are up to twenty-one times more likely than white teens to be killed by police. Black communities are stuck in a never-ending loop where as inequality increases, despair and public disorder do as well. The policy, known as “broken windows”, which became popular in the ’90s, encourages police to crack down on small infractions in the hopes that it will prevent bigger crimes from being committed. While it was well-intended, it has resulted in the police, which are supposed to be the peacekeepers of the streets, becoming the enemies of many minority communities. Now, protesters are marching the streets chanting “defund the police”. 

So what does “Defund the Police” actually mean?

Despite the provocative title, the policy does not call for the eradication of police. It is a multi-step process that includes changing the role that police play in the community, and greater accountability for officers, as well as transferring some responsibilities that currently fall on the police to other, more qualified professionals, such as social workers or mental health professionals. This, of course, would result in the reallocation of funds in order to commit those monies to more specialized agencies.  

Greater relations with the public not only decrease violence but also brings more accountability to the police department. Rather than funds for local government coming from the number of tickets and fines, police should be focusing on supporting their communities. Former Police Chief Scott Thomson of Camden, New Jersey, initiated the successful overhaul of their police department, heralded by activists as a success. He said that by stopping the reward system for arrests made, police officers were able to connect with people more. Thomson also implemented a program in which he dropped his officers off on corners and instructed them that “I don’t want you to write tickets, I don’t want you to lock anybody up. I’m dropping you off on this corner that has crime rates greater than that of Juárez, Mexico, and for the next twelve hours I don’t want you to make an arrest unless it’s for an extremely vile offense.” “Don’t call us—we’re not coming back to get you until the end of your shift, so if you got to go to the bathroom, you need to make a friend out here. You want to get something to eat? You better find who the good cook is”. They also implemented a police outreach program where citizens are called every couple of months for a check-in of their safety and and the state of their neighborhoods. The police in Camden have taken it a step even farther and now host block parties, cooking for and mingling among their citizens, manufacturing relationships and trust while becoming part of the communities they are served to protect. The relationship established between civilians and the police help both sides feel safer in their environments and the police are seen as guardians of the peace for the people rather than “thugs with badges”

Enhanced accountability is important in every field, but especially with the police because we provide them with absolute authority and with weapons. Oversight is critically important and beneficial. When police misconduct occurs, it is essential that police cooperate with investigators so that the wrongdoings are exposed. While body and dash cams can be helpful in this regard, it is often the case that other police officers are the only witnesses. In Seattle and Oakland, they have created civilian police commissions to enforce police accountability and allow openness with their communities. Civilians on police commissions provide a community perspective on police matters, ensuring much-needed oversight as well as standardized consequences for misconduct. With their involvement, citizens feel that their voices are heard and that the investigations conducted are more legitimate, compared to internal investigations. When civilians and police work together, not only are the police more effective, but they have greater accountability and authority within their communities. 

This change of role and dispersion of responsibilities does, inevitably, result in a reallocation of funds in order to commit resources to other departments. It does not mean “stripping a department entirely of its budget, or abolishing it altogether”. We do need police to promote a peaceful society. Instead, it is “about scaling police budgets back and reallocating those resources to other agencies”, explains Lynda Garcia, a policing campaign director at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Police should not be the first responders in many situations, especially non-violent ones. Dallas Police chief David Brown said in 2016, that police were expected to do too much and “every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it… Here in Dallas, we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops… That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems”. Mental health departments have been underfunded for too long and police are often called in as responders to these situations for which they are not trained. According to a study from the Treatment Advocacy Center, a person with an untreated mental health issue is 16 times more likely to be killed by police than other members of the community. Examples include the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, reportedly behaving erratically and Jason Harris, said to have been exhibiting “bizarre behavior. These non-violent offenses should not be handled by the police. That money and resources should be committed to providing services by trained mental health workers.  Other social ills such as homelessness and drug addiction have also fallen on the shoulders of police officers. These are societal problems that need to be dealt with and not just handed off to armed police officers. 

The history of this movement displays a blatant truth: if permanent and lasting change is not enacted, these issues will continue to plague society. By understanding the role that police play in civilian lives and how that role can evolve and change to fit modern society, police can truly serve the public as guardians. Accountability for officers increases the legitimacy of the department and of individual officers as trust is raised in the community. In addition, delegating appropriate responsibilities to more qualified professionals allows the police to focus on their policing. These changes will be a meaningful attempt at creating a more peaceful and equal society for all races. To conclude with a remark from Martin Luther King Jr the day before he was shot dead, “If something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the coloured peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.”

 

Lubov Chernukhin backs the Tories

Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Russian ex-finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin, recently became the biggest female donor to any political party in the United Kingdom. Her total contributions amount to over £1.9 million in the last six years.

Lubov herself is now a British citizen and has every right and entitlement to donate to a British political party. Russian state interference in the British political landscape, on the other hand, is understandably concerning. This concern was reflected by the UK government itself with a report conducted in 2019 into possible Russian interference. The failure of the British government to release this report, since its publication in October, has led many individuals both inside and outside the government to question the findings and the reason for its non-release. One can only presume that it confirms suspicions that Russia intervened in the UK referendum on Brexit and the government therefore wants to avoid its release, in case that the Brexit issue is brought back to centre stage.

Transparency is vital in politics, both in order to fully understand the possible influence and sway that money exerts on politicians and the political agenda, as well as acknowledge what possible external pressures have been placed on the electorate.  Britain has a greater degree of transparency regarding the source of donations to political parties than most countries. However, Britain lacks transparency with regard to outside interference in the political process. 

Lubov Chernukhin becoming Britain’s largest ever female political donor is quite an accolade. Attempting to research and understand Lubov Chernukhin’s past is difficult. Of Russian heritage, she attained British citizenship alongside her husband, Vladimir Chernukhin. Mr. Chernukhin held the role of deputy finance minister from 2000 to 2002, in which “he had ‘regular meetings’ with Putin“. During his career, Mr. Chernukhin became a close ally of Kremlin critic Mikhail Kasyanov, who was removed as prime minister in 2004 by Putin’s government.  After an alleged falling out, Putin stripped Mr. Chernukhin of his role, prompting Mr. Chernukin’s move to the UK to escape the possibility of arrest

Lubov Chernukhin’s career path is more difficult to explore. By profession, she is presumably a banker and consultant. She is currently the director of a property firm called Capital Construction And Development Ltd. Under her maiden name, Golubeva, she had previously acted in the role of director for five other companies, all of which have been dissolved.

The couple’s primary residence is an eight million pound mansion overlooking London’s Regent Park, reportedly owned by an offshore trust. During a court case in which Mr. Chernukhin was involved, Justice Teare commented that it was obvious “that Mr. Chernukhin had prospered in Russia after the collapse of the USSR”. 

As Ms. Chernukhin tends to avoid publicity and does not give interviews, it is challenging to determine her current stance on Russia. Her husband, Mr. Chernukhin was indeed removed by Putin, and fearing arrest has not returned since, prompting the belief that he might be Anti-Russia. Regardless, he remains influential in his home country.  Luke Harding, a Guardian journalist, tweeted that in a recent legal battle, when asked if Vladimir Chernukhin “still had relationships with ‘prominent members of [Russia’s] establishment’ who were still in favour with the Kremlin”, his wife, Lubov Chernukhin, replied, “‘Today he still does, yes”‘. The legal battle was between Mr. Chernukhin and Mr. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who has remained in Russia,  regarding a dispute over property in Russia. If Ms. Chernukhin were not so reluctant to step into the media spotlight, we might better understand her motives which, one can only speculate, may be to ensure that the UK remains independent of the influence of a mother country from which, presumably, herself and her husband are now exiles.

Lubov Chernukhin’s political donation history is also a windy road. She attempted to give her first donation of £10,000 to the United Kingdom Conservative Party in 2012 which was initially blocked as she was declared as “an impermissible donor” by the Electoral Commission. Presumably, the reason for this was because she was not yet on the electoral roll. As a British citizen, however, she now has every right and freedom to make donations to political parties.  The Conservative party took advice about her donation and ultimately determined that there was no reason not to accept it. Since then, she has donated over £1.9 million, in 54 different cash payments, making her the biggest ever female donor to any political party in the United Kingdom. These donations have often provided her with face time with Conservative party leadership. Such occasions have included £160,000 for a tennis match with Boris Johnson and David Cameron in 2014, £135,000 in February 2019 for dinner with female cabinet members including Theresa May, and £45,000 for a tennis match with Boris Johnson in February 2020. The donations are all public record, the contents of their conversation are obviously not. But arguably, Ms. Chernukhin has potentially become one of the most significantly influential figures in British politics merely because of her donations. In the first three months of 2020, Lubov Chernukhin has donated an additional £335,000 to the Conservative party.

Regarding the quite separate issue of Russian state interference in British politics, after it was revealed that the Kremlin had interfered with both the 2016 United States election and the EU referendum, an investigation was ordered to look into possible Russian interference in the United Kingdom. It was finalised in March 2019, before being sent to Downing Street in October 2019. Conducted by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, it examined alleged Russian activity, including espionage, interference, and subversion, in the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election, citing evidence from intelligence services such as MI5 and MI6. Despite having the report since October of last year, Downing Street claimed that it could not be released before the December election as it could not go through the proper processes before parliament returned after the general election. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, confirmed that the report was cleared by early October and has not received a response despite “the longstanding agreement that the Prime Minister will endeavour to respond within ten days”, adding that in this case, there has been no response at all. It has still not been released as of June 2020. Calls are now being made by politicians for the release of the report and questioning the reason why it has not been published. Dominic Grieve has expressed concern that the results of the report would be pertinent to voters in the next election. 

The UK Freedom of Information Act of 2000 guarantees public access to any recorded information held by public authorities. Information that has been cleared and approved for the public eye should be readily available for those requesting it. No government can claim to be free from influence so it should be acknowledged and in order to be an open democracy, the responsibility for transparency falls on every member of the government. 

 

The Failure of the International Community to address the Russian Oil Spill

On the 29th of May, 20,000 tonnes of diesel were spilled into the Ambarnaya river near the city of Norsilk in Russia. The oil drifted 12 km and contaminated an estimated 350 square km of the surrounding ecosystem. While environmental organisations and news agencies were quick to report the spill, the international community has remained relatively quiet about this environmental catastrophe, inadvertently and mistakenly considering it a domestic issue.

Russia cited deteriorating ground subsidence due to melting permafrost as the reason for the collapse of the fuel tank, declaring a State of Emergency in an attempt to give the incident priority in necessary resources and attention. In addition, Russia’s chief prosecutor has ordered further checks in the hope of preventing future catastrophes. As 55% of Russia’s territory is covered in permafrost and home to most of its oil and gas fields, their lack of strategy mirrors the lack of international preparation in combatting climate change.

The Paris climate agreement was an unprecedented example of global cooperation to formulate an international response to climate change. Despite the agreement being ratified by 189 countries, Russia’s oil spill has not been addressed officially or through social media by any heads of state, with the exception of Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who offered the assistance and expertise of the United States. 

While the international community is preoccupied with tackling other issues such as coronavirus and protests, this is not just a Russian problem. It is estimated that ¼ of the Northern hemisphere is permafrost, a number which is quickly decreasing and this issue must be addressed. If the international community fails to learn from Russia’s incident and prepare an international response to the issue, this will not be the last of environmental disasters we see at the hands of an unprepared government.