To be first of earthly things;
That the Thinker and the Worker
Are Manhood's only Kings.
The PSNI was forced to watch impotently from the sidelines earlier today [Saturday] as éirígí held a well-attended anti-British Armed Forces Day picket at Belfast City Hall.
Last June, PSNI riot squads hemmed peaceful protestors into the Castle Street area when they attempted to make their way to City Hall to oppose the triumphalist celebration. However, this year, the best efforts of dozens of PSNI landrovers and scores of political police, as well as attempted intimidation by unionist elements, could not prevent around 100 republicans coming from across Belfast to the éirígí-organised demonstration.
Once at City Hall, the republicans, among them many young people, former political prisoners and victims of state violence, were addressed by John McCusker, the chairperson of éirígí’s ciorcal in west Belfast.
McCusker pointed out that, while the British government has now designated June 26 as ‘Armed Forces Day’, families across the Six Counties and beyond are living with the fact that nobody has ever been held to account for the state killings of their loved ones.
He also stated that what we are seeing is just the beginning of éirígí’s campaign for a British withdrawal.
Afterwards, éirígí chairperson Brian Leeson said: “Today, the inability of the PSNI to permanently prevent the right to protest was witnessed. All those who made their way to Belfast City Hall are to be commended for upholding this fundamental right in the face of a major attempt at mass intimidation.
“The British government and its agencies of occupation should take note that significant numbers of nationalists and republicans are once again prepared to defy their thugs in uniform in pursuance of the national independence struggle. These numbers will only grow in the time ahead.”
According to Cowen there was now no obstacle in the way of Queen Elizabeth coming to Ireland. He also said that he wanted to see that happen before 26-county President Mary McAleese leaves office. McAleeses' term of office ends in November of next year.
Media reports have also suggested that she will visit Classiebawn Castle in Mullaghmore, Co.Sligo, which was the home of her cousin Louis Mountbatten before he was killed by the IRA in 1979.
Reacting to these comments éirígí Sligeach activist Gerry Casey said that any state visit to Sligo or any other part of Ireland by the commander in chief of Britain’s armed forces Elizabeth Windsor will be vigorously opposed.
Casey said: “Contrary to Cowen's suggestion that are 'no obstacles' in the way of a visit by Windsor, there are in fact 5000 'obstacles'. Thats the number of British troops that remain in our country. Their record here is one of repression, torture and murder. The British army still occupy the six-counties, and alongside the PSNI and MI5, continue to engage in repression against those opposed to the continuing occupation.”
He added: “This suggestion by Cowen to invite the Commander in Chief of the British armed forces on an official state visit to this country is truly appalling. It is a deliberate insult to the families of the victims of the British army here in Ireland and indeed the victims of their continued brutal occupation of Afghanistan.”
“The bottom line is that any attempt to bring this apologist for state terrorism to our country will be vigorously opposed. It has been suggested in the media that Windsor may visit Classiebawn Castle in Mullaghmore Co Sligo during such a visit. If they attempt to arrange any such visit éirígí will organise and ensure stiff opposition and demonstrations against it. She is the head of a foreign occupying army and as such is not welcome here.”
Casey concluded: “Just like Britains Armed Forces Day tomorrow (June 26), such a visit is another attempt by Britain and the political establishment in the 26-counties to legitimise the British occupation and to 'normalise' the partition of our country. But éirígí has no intention of allowing that to happen under any circumstances. Until there is a complete withdrawal by Britain from Ireland there cannot and will not be any 'normalisation' of British-Irish relations.”
If we were to believe the official Armed Forces Day website, the day is “an annual opportunity for the nation to Show Your Support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community”.
Indeed earlier this week British Prime Minister David Cameron was also urging people to support Armed Forces Day and wave the union jack. Cameron claimed that “there is huge respect for the Armed Forces community out there, and I want that expressed more loudly and more proudly. As someone once said, silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone – so next Saturday I hope we see an explosion of red, white and blue all over the country.”
Contrary to Cameron's suggestion, the Irish people do not have 'huge respect' for the British army. Contempt would be a more apt description of Irish peoples views of a military force responsible for Bloody Sunday and many other massacres in Ireland and around the world.
Cameron also needs to be reminded also that the six counties are not his country. They are an integral part of our national terroritory. They are not now and never will be a part of Britain.
British troops have no right to be here in any part of our country. For Irish republicans and nationalists, Armed Forces Day is a deliberate insult to those who suffered at the hands of the British army throughout their occupation which continues to this day. It is an insult to all the families of those who were murdered directly by the British army or by loyalist death squads acting in collusion with the British army.
Sligo éirígí activist Gerry Casey described the 'celebrations' as obscene and an attempt to normalise the continued occupation of our country.
Casey said: “There most definitely is nothing to 'celebrate' about one of the world's most murderous military forces.”
“The British army record in Ireland has been a lengthy, shameful and bloody one. Their occupation, which continues to this day, has been one of intimidation, political repression, assault, torture, collusion and murder. More than 5000 troops remain in the six counties with the Special Reconaissance Regiment (SRR), effectively an undercover British army death squad, back on the streets of the six-counties once more.”
He added: “To 'celebrate' and 'glorify' a force with such an appalling human rights record and a propensity for mass murder is truly obscene. It is nothing short of trampling over the graves of their victims, especially coming less than two weeks after the publication of the Saville Report which was a damning indictment of the British army massacre of civil rights marchers on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday 1972.”
“It is also a blatant attempt by the British Government to attempt to normalise the six counties and the continued occupation. However, just like previous attempts at 'normalisation' by successive British governments, republican opposition will ensure that this attempt is doomed to failure also.”
Casey concluded: “Like the British army, éirígí will be marking Armed Forces Day. Unlike the British army, we will not be celebrating their murderous deeds. éirígí will be holding a demonstration to oppose these events taking place in our country outside City Hall in Belfast at 12 midday. Oppose British imperialism and the continued occupation of the six counties and Afghanistan. Bigí linn.”
This move by Israel was agreed between their Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his role as envoy for the quartet of mideast so-called “peacemakers” which comprises the European Union (EU), the US, Russia and the United Nations (UN).
Blair has hailed it as a “sensible policy" despite the fact that Israel will continue with what will remain an inhumane and completely illegal siege, and will continue to decide who or what gets in or out of Gaza. Himself a serial violator of International law during his tenure as British Prime Minster and responsible for countless war crimes committed by British troops during their occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, Blair went on to effectively back Israel's continued naval blockade by stating that “there is no need to bring things directly into the seaport in Gaza."
The shameful acquiesance and support shown by Blair and the quartet should come as no surprise. Despite the pretence of being “neutral mediators”, the quartet has colluded with Israel in maintaining their barbaric siege and in the continued repression of the Palestinian people in general.
They have consistently refused to take any action against Israel in spite of their countless human rights abuses and war crimes. This includes their murderous month long assault on Gaza last year that resulted in the slaughter of more than 1400 Palestinians, amongst them hundreds of children, or their murder of those aboard the Mavi Marmara at the start of this month.
Their continued theft of Palestinian lands and resources by Israel, their construction of their apartheid wall and ongoing building of illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank has been met with no sanction whatsoever by the quartet.
While they refuse to recognise or directly talk with the democratically elected representatives of Gaza, they have no hesitation in meeting and trading with Israel despite their atrocities and contempt for international law. While Blair and the quartet have consistently raised the issue of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier currently held by Hamas, they have refused to raise the issue of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including children and elected representatives, held in appalling conditions in Israeli jails.
Israel's siege continues to impose real hardship and poverty on the civilian population of Gaza. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than 10% of children are suffering from chronic malnutrition. Referring to the psychological effect the siege was having on children, the UN's John Ging expressed grave concern over mental health statistics which he said showed that “most of the children living in Gaza are traumatised”.
There is virtually no commercial activity within Gaza as a result of Israel's deliberate policies. The naval blockade and the occupation by Israeli troops, of the so-called “buffer zone”, in which two thirds of Gaza's farmland is situated, has all but destroyed the fishing and agricultural industries within the strip.
There is close on 50% unemployment with up on 80% of the population living in poverty. According to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, 95 per cent of Gaza's factories have closed, 93 per cent of Gaza's water is polluted and 98 per cent of residents suffer from blackouts .
However, not everyone has swallowed Blair's line in relation to Israel's latest move as the UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) have made clear that only a complete ending of the siege will satisy them.
UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness said the situation on the ground was “grim”. He said it was “a humanitarian catastrophe in every sphere of life. So we need to get this illegal blockade lifted".
"With international law” he added “you're either violating or you're not. And this blockade is a violation. So if Israel wants to stop being in violation of international law it has to end the blockade, not ease it."
Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa, also slammed Israel's move. According to Smart, "this announcement makes it clear that Israel is not intending to end its collective punishment of Gaza's civilian population, but only ease it. This is not enough ... Israel must now comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade.”
Writing in the Irish Times on Monday (June 21) Trócaire Director Justin Kilcullen said that Israel’s move to 'ease'' wont improve peoples lives. “The port will still be closed. The airport will still be closed, and now it seems Palestinians will only be allowed to leave by land through the border crossing at Rafah with Egypt. This collective punishment of civilians is in violation of people’s human rights and of international law.”
Sligo éirígí activist Gerry Casey also dismissed Israel's claims of “easing” their siege of Gaza as nothing more than a Public Relations (PR) stunt.
Echoing those calls for a complete and immediate end to the blockade Casey said:
“The Palestinian people as a whole continue to be denied their freedom and the right to a sovereign and independent Palestinian state. In particular the people of Gaza are suffering unimaginable hardship and horror as Israel continue to impose their inhumane and illegal blockade. The 1.4 million residents of Gaza, which includes in the region of 750,000 children, are victims of collective punishment by Israel.”
He added: “Israel's claims of an “easing” of the blockade is merely a PR exercise designed to deflect attention away from their war crimes, their massacre of humanitarian aid activists on the Gaza aid flotilla and their continuing siege of Gaza in defiance of international law.”
Casey concluded: “Israel has no right to decide who or what gets in or out of Gaza. The blockade must be ended completely and immediately and those responsible for implementing this illegal and barbaric siege must be swiftly brought to justice.”
Dozens of riot clad members of the political police decamped from their vehicles and conducted a politically-motivated operation during which they raided the home of a republican activist. A search operation was also carried out in the surrounding area which lasted for most of the day.
Throughout the day, heavily armed PSNI personnel stopped vehicles entering and leaving Derrybeg, which caused widespread disruption for residents in the area, including parents collecting their children from the nearby school.
Several other homes across the city were also targeted in Wednesday’s raids.
éirígí’s rúnaí ginearálta Breandán Mac Cionnaith condemned the raids: “At a time when the great and the good are proclaiming a new beginning for policing in the Six Counties, the PSNI is proving, by its own actions, that it is business as usual as far as its treatment of nationalist communities is concerned.
“Is this the new beginning to policing we were promised? This is not normal policing, this is not civic policing. This is the same repressive policing that we have been subjected to for decades. Nothing has changed with this paramilitary force except their name and badge.”
Mac Cionnaith continued: “Despite the change of name, the primary aim of the PSNI is exactly the same as the primary aim of the RUC – to protect the British occupation of the Six Counties. Ironically, the actions of the PSNI last week proved that point. The type of political policing is exactly the type of thing the RUC were infamous for.”
The Derrybeg estate has a proud history of opposing the British occupation, whether it comes in the form of the British army or British policing. No doubt, republican activists from the area will continue their work despite this upsurge in Crown Forces harassment.
Serious concern has also been expressed by éirígí as newly published figures show that politically-motivated stop and search legislation has been used on almost 35,000 occasions in the Six Counties within a 12 month period.
Amongst those being harassed with this legislation are éirígí activists engaged in peaceful protests and other political activity.
Mac Cionnaith concluded: “While constitutional nationalist politicians might try to claim that there has been a sea-change in policing in the Six Counties, the reality of ongoing repressive tactics on the ground belies the harsh truth that little has changed. People in working-class communities across the North are only too aware of that fact.”
Referring to their human rights record, De Gucht went on to claim that “the situation has been steadily improving in recent years”.
His comments however, while not surprising from an EU official, are completely untrue. In fact the complete opposite is the case. As a result the EU has come under pressure from human rights campaigners and Trade Union organisations both in Europe and Colombia itself not to ratify this or any similar deals with Colombia while these abuses continue.
In direct contradiction to De Gucht's claims, Justice for Colombia (JLC) in a submission opposing this agreement revealed “that assassinations of trade unionists, extrajudicial executions, forced displacement, torture and forced disappearances have all recently increased”.
Over recent years, Colombia has already received preferential trading status with the EU through a scheme entitled the General System of Preferences plus (GSP+). This scheme and the special benefits that apply, was intended solely for countries that respect certain basic human rights and the rights of workers.
Qualifying countries were obliged to not just ratify a number of international conventions on labour rights and human rights. More importantly, they were obliged to “effectively implement” these international conventions. Among the rights enshrined in these conventions are the right to protection to organise and collective bargaining, as well as the right to freedom of association.
While Colombia have ratified the necessary conventions, they quite clearly failed to implement them as successive reports from human rights organisations revealed. The Colombia regime consistently violated and continue to breach these and other International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions on a daily basis.
However, as in Israels case also, the EU have chosen to deliberately ignore their own conditions and responsibilities relating to human rights compliance imposed as part of their dealings with Colombia.
Furthermore, he added that “the threshold for unilateral suspension is, significantly lower since - in this case - there is no requirement of a qualified violation of an essential element, but a simple violation would suffice”.
Fine words, words that taken at face value would make many believe that Colombia would face sanction and suspension from their agreements with the EU in the event of any human rights violations.
The reality however is that, in the face of the overwhelming evidence of Colombia's ongoing human rights violations, the EU have turned a blind eye to these flagrant abuses and have refused to implement the conditions of their own current agreements which would result in the suspension of Colombia from these deals.
As with the EU's relationship with Israel, the EU continue to shamefully overlook and ignore the vast scale of human rights abuses, including political repression, arbitary arrest, displacement, torture and murder committed by the Colombian regime against its political, social and trade union opponents.
Again, just as with Israel, it is Colombia's close political and military relationship with the United States, that lies behind the EU's decision to forge closer ties with Colombia and to grant them special trading status denied to many countries with better human rights records.
Colombia continues to remain the most dangerous country on the planet to be a Trade Unionist. Last year (2009) there were more than 500 attacks on Trade Unionists, resulting in 48 of then being murdered.
Already this year, more than 30 union activists have been murdered. According to the International Trade Union Confederation's (ITUC) 2010 Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights (click here to read it) released earlier this month, for the past 23 years “trade unionists in Colombia have been killed at the rate of one every three days”.
ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder said that “Colombia was yet again the country where standing up for fundamental rights of workers is more likely than anywhere else to mean a death sentence, despite the Colombian government’s public relations campaign to the contrary”.
Almost all were killed by either the military or their allies in the right wing death squads. Highlighting these attacks on Trade Unionists, JFC's submission outlined how “impunity remains the norm in the vast majority of cases of human rights violations”.
This is backed up by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights who expressed their alarm last month at the continuing murders of trade unionists who they said remained “victims of various forms of threats and violence”. The Committee also highlighted the impunity with which those carrying out attacks on trade unionists operate, pointing out how only “a small number of acts of violence against trade-unionists were investigated”.
In its report published at the end of 2008 entitled “LEAVE US IN PEACE - TARGETING CIVILIANS IN COLOMBIA’S INTERNAL ARMED CONFLICT” Amnesty International said that “Over the last 20 years, paramilitary groups – acting in co-ordination with, or with the acquiescence of, the security forces – have been responsible for the largest number of killings of civilians. However, especially since the start of the paramilitary demobilization process in 2003, there has been an increase in reports of extrajudicial executions carried out directly by the security forces. Around 330 extrajudicial executions33 by the security forces were reported in 2007, compared to some 220 a year in 2004-2006, 130 in 2003, and around 100 in 2002. Most victims have been either campesinos or community leaders who the security forces have falsely claimed were guerrillas killed in combat”.
Earlier this year the United Nations Committee against Torture confirmed these continuing human rights abuses by the right wing death squads and their Colombian military allies. According to its latest report on Colombia it said that“paramilitary groups continue to operate and to commit serious human rights violations .... and continue to be able to count on the support or acquiescence of sectors of the security forces”.
Despite all of this overwhelming evidence, the European Commission pressed ahead with the Agreement.
Concluding his speech back in March, De Gucht stated that “he was determined to leverage this agreement to the maximum possible extent to promote and ensure respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”
There is nothing new in these words. The EU regularly pay lip service to the notion of upholding human rights. But actions speak louder than words.
To date the EU have failed to sanction Colombia or suspend their special trade status under the GPS+ scheme. They have proceeded to sign this latest trade agreement with them this year despite the regime's ongoing violations of their obligations under this and previous deals.
Such actions expose the hypocrisy and double standards of the EU's supposed “commitment” to human rights. Their continued bankrolling of the Colombian regime also makes them complicit in the abuses and war crimes carried out by Colombia.
The publication of the Saville Report confirmed, more than 38 years after that massacre, what the people of Derry, the people of Ireland and indeed the vast majority of the people around the world already knew – that these victims were completely innocent and that the British army had spent the past four decades lying and trying to cover up the truth of that massacre.
Unable to hide the truth any longer, British Prime Minister David Cameron, was forced into acknowledging the innocence of the victims and that the murders were completely unjustifiable. He was also forced into apologising for the massacre.
The report found that:
No warning was issued to the thousands taking part in that day’s civil rights march when the British army opened fired on it in 1972.
The British army did not open fire in response to petrol bombers, stone throwers or gun attacks.
Many of the dead and injured were shot while attempting to aid the wounded and dying.
None of the casualties posed a threat or done anything that would “justify” their being shot.
The British army lied about its actions on January 30 1972.
Following publication of the report, éirígí Sligeach activist Gerry Casey praised the resiliance of the victims families.
“It has been their determination” Casey said “that has led, 38 years after the massacre, to a British Prime Minister being forced to apologise and admit to a British Parliament that British troops engaged in the mass murder of innocent Irish civilians on the streets of Derry."
“Despite the massive obstacles they faced over the decades, the families never gave up and insisted on ensuring that those victims of British state terror were exonerated and that the truth of that massacre be finally acknowledged publicly by, not just the army that carried it out, but also by their political masters.”
“This report is a damning indictment of the British army murder machine and its utter contempt for the lives of northern nationalist civilians and for truth and justice. For, contrary to the suggestion that this was somehow an “aberration” and that the British army had a “noble and honourable tradition” in Ireland, the reality is the complete opposite.”
He added: “The British army record in our country is a shameful and bloody one. It is one of intense repression, torture and murder against republicans and nationalists. They have been responsible for many similar type atrocities both before and after Bloody Sunday here in Ireland and in other countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan which they continue to occupy.”
“Indeed, only months before Bloody Sunday, in August 1971 the British army murdered 11 civilians, including a priest, in what is now known as the Ballymurphy massacre. Less than five months after Bloody Sunday, the British army once again carried out a massacre of 5 civilians in Springhill in West Belfast. Amonst those gunned down in cold blood were a priest and two children. Many more were injured.”
“In circumstances similar to what happened on Bloody Sunday, a number of those murdered in Springhill were shot as they attempted to assist others who were injured. To suggest that Bloody Sunday was an aberration or a rogue operation is to ignore the reality of British rule in Ireland and indeed elsewhere around the world”.
He concluded: "Bloody Sunday also has striking similarities with Israel's recent massacre of civilians on the Gaza aid flotilla. In both instances the military murdered unarmed civilians who posed no threat to them. In both instances, those murdered were engaged in campaigning for civil and human rights. In both instances the killers lied through their teeth, tried to cover up their crimes and attempted to blacken the names of those killed by making false accusations aginst them. In both instances the world has seen through their lies."
éirígí general secretary Breandán Mac Cionnaith echoed those sentiments.
He said: “Today is, first and foremost, a victory for the families of the 14 dead. Their steadfastness and determination in demanding that Britain face up to what it did to their families on Bloody Sunday has been an inspiration to everyone in Ireland who cares about truth and justice. Even during the darkest days of the last 38 years, they never gave up, never stopped believing that they and the people of Derry were worthy of justice.”
“Today, for the first time ever, a British prime minister was forced to stand in his own parliament and apologise for a crime his government committed in Ireland. The people of Derry and the families of the dead should be deeply proud that they have brought this about. éirígí salutes their courage and integrity.”
Mac Cionnaith continued: “If David Cameron is truly sorry about what happened on Bloody Sunday he can do a few things to right the wrongs. Firstly, he can take his troops out of this country and Afghanistan, ensuring that never again will British soldiers run amok in cities and towns where they are not welcome.”
“Secondly, he can remove the whole apparatus of the occupation from Ireland and recognise the Irish people’s right to unity and self-determination. He can do likewise in Afghanistan.”
“When David Cameron does these things, we will know he and his government are sincere about righting the wrongs of the past.”
The full Saville report can be read by clicking here