News in brief


What’s been happening with the Colombian peace process since November 2016?

PN used to track the Nepali peace process, and the state of play in Colombia has some similarities to what happened in Nepal.

Disarmament of the guerrillas and the political side of the peace process have made big strides but social reforms, the integration of former fighters and ‘transitional justice’ have moved more slowly.

Eight former guerrilla leaders of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) took seats in parliament in July. Their disarmed political party was renamed the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force in 2017 (keeping the acronym FARC).

Meanwhile, over 80 former guerrillas have been killed in separate incidents. ‘This problem joins the murder of social leaders and we have to make efforts to overcome those difficulties,’ the head of the UN verification mission in Colombia, Raul Rosende, said on 22 November. 226 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed in 2018 so far.

The tribunals investigating wartime crimes are slow-moving – though they are investigating army war crimes as well as FARC atrocities. Between 2002 and 2008, army brigades murdered more than 3,000 civilians and recorded them as enemies killed in combat, in ‘false positive’ killings.

Police Spies out of Lives

On 3 October, in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), the police failed to close down Kate Wilson’s human rights claim about secret political policing.

Kate Wilson is a social and environmental justice campaigner who had a two-year intimate sexual relationship with undercover police officer Mark Kennedy.

The IPT panel ordered the police to provide a fully-pleaded defence, supported by witness evidence, within three months.

These rulings were a response to statements provided by Kate Wilson and her legal team following sight of a 200-page sample of the 10,000 pages of police documents containing her name. Revelations include the following:

1) Ms Wilson was a named target of the undercover operation.

2) Mr Kennedy did not feel the need to hide the nature of their relationship, suggesting it was approved. He recorded in incredible detail their life together, such as shared theatre trips, and a week long holiday in the Lake District.

3) The recorded surveillance of Ms Wilson’s life was hugely disproportionate and intrusive – from recording details of her and Mark attending a charity carol singing concert organised by her mother, to details of her mother’s bad back.

4) Mr Kennedy’s managers took active steps, spending public money, to increase the emotional bond, for example gifting Ms Wilson a bike in order to ‘facilitate ease of travel around and also maintain contact’.

5) The police were directly manipulating Ms Wilson’s political activity and breaching her human rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression in ways that go far beyond Mark’s sexual conduct. These include authorising Mr Kennedy to lend her money to attend political events in order to ‘raise UCO’s standing with her and allow her to socialise during visit thereby affording UCO more opportunities to develop new contacts’. (A ‘UCO’ is an undercover police officer.)

Scottish spycops

On 21 November, Scotland’s supreme civil court, the court of session, ruled that the UK and Scottish governments acted correctly in not extending the Undercover Policing Inquiry north of the border.

The judicial review was brought by Tilly Gifford, an activist who was herself targeted by the police for surveillance.

She said: ‘This is a massively disappointing decision by the court. Our evidence is clear and sound – there has been undercover policing in Scotland, and it needs to be investigated by an independent transparent public inquiry, not just for my sake but for the blacklisted builders, the campaigns, political parties and organisations striving for social justice who have been spied upon.

24,000 not 2

Since Palestinians began their largely nonviolent Great March of Return protests at the Gaza-Israel border fence in March, Israeli security forces have shot dead over 180 Palestinians, and injured 24,000, said the World Health Organisation on 16 November. 5,800 demonstrators have been injured by live gunfire.

According to a survey by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem of 406 Palestinians injured by live fire, most were over 30 feet from the fence when they were shot.

On the other side, one Israeli soldier was ‘moderately injured’ by a grenade thrown over the fence by a Palestinian on 13 July, and one was shot dead at the Gaza border by a Palestinian sniper on 20 July.

That seems to be the sum total of Israeli injuries connected with the Great March of Return protests.

The health system in Gaza is at ‘breaking point’, UN human rights experts said in June, because of the illegal 11-year Israeli blockade.

Medicines and electricity are in short supply and few patients are allowed to transfer to the West Bank or to other countries for medical attention.

In early November, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, with participants from 10 national solidarity campaigns, met in Rivas, Spain, to begin planning its next mission to break the illegal blockade of Gaza.There will be an international week of action in October 2019.

A ceasefire between the Israeli government and Hamas, the Palestinian group ruling the Gaza Strip, was announced on 13 November after a major outbreak of violence including an Israeli raid into Gaza.

It’s reported that the ceasefire is intended to lead to a relaxation of the Israeli siege, reconstruction, and reunification of Gaza politically with the West Bank.

Hamas has long indicated its willingness to agree a long-term ceasefire with Israel (see PN 2506, 2552–2553)

Despite the most recent ceasefire, 14 Palestinians were injured by Israeli live fire at a Great March of Return demonstration on 23 November.

60,000 not 6,000

Not a single national newspaper reported the National Unity Demonstration Against Racism and Fascism in central London on 17 November (though many did cover the Extinction Rebellion civil disobedience that day).

60,000 people gathered from around the country, particularly trade union branches and local Labour parties.

Speakers included Labour MP Catherine West, Labour MEP Claude Moraes, Len McCluskey of Unite the Union, and Mark Serwotka, the new president of the Trades Union Council (TUC).

On 24 November, 2,000 marched in the Scottish TUC annual St Andrew’s Day march in Glasgow, which was themed ‘No Racism: Educate, Agitate, Organise’.

Western Sahara

More than 7,000 people marched for a free Western Sahara in an annual march in Madrid on 17 November.

While Western Sahara continues to be illegally occupied by neighbouring Morocco, it is illegal to extract resources from the territory (because there cannot be consent from the Saharawi people).

Irish/UK oil company San Leon Energy, registered on the Alternative Investment Market in London, is the only company to have drilled onshore for oil in Western Sahara during 43 years of Moroccan occupation.

On 24 October, Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), an Irish NGO, formally complained to the OECD, a body of 34 rich nations, that San Leon had violated OECD guidelines on conflict minerals.

Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) reports that GLAN’s complaint is supported by Polisario Front – the international representative of the Saharawi people – as well as three civil society organisations in Western Sahara.

l On 22 November, WSRW made a freedom of information request to the EU council, asking for the council’s legal opinions on proposed trade and fisheries agreements with Morocco which include Saharawi resources.

A 2006 EU legal opinion on the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement was later found to be invalid by the European court of justice.