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News in Brief
On 4 December, three US peace activists, including an 82-year old nun, sister Megan Rice, were charged with injuring national defence premises, a crime under the US Sabotage Act with a maximum sentence of 20 years.
In July 2012, sister Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli (the ‘Transform Now Plowshares’) entered a uranium storage facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and splashed blood and spray-painted messages of peace on the walls.
The three acknowledge their actions, but argue that it is the US government that is committing crimes by building and maintaining nuclear weapons.
The Sabotage Act charges were imposed after the three refused a plea bargain with the US Attorney.
The Huffington Post reported sister Megan as saying: ‘There’s nothing to negotiate. Our ultimate purpose is the ending of nuclear weapons.’
On 25 January, Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, was finally sentenced to pay compensation for planting spies inside the Swiss campaigning group, ATTAC Switzerland. The civil court of Lausanne, which heard the case against Nestlé a year earlier, in January last year, has apparently ordered Nestlé to pay €3,000 per person for ‘moral damages’.
The two exposed spies were infiltrated into ATTAC with false names in 2003 and then in 2008.
On 19 November dozens of protestors formed a human chain to stop heavy machinery moving around the path of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline through Texas. Four locked themselves to machinery and three suspended themselves from 50-foot pine trees with lifelines anchored to construction equipment.
Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies were reported to have used ‘pain compliance’ measures, including pepper spray, to remove the locked-on protestors, who were dragged away ‘very aggressively and painfully’ and arrested.
Two activists were arrested when they tried to block a cherry-picker removing protestors from the trees. There were 12 arrests altogether.
Protests continue in Tamil Nadu, India, against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant (see PN 2550) which has still not yet gone online.
On 10 December, more than 100 fishing boats marked international Human Rights Day with a ‘sea siege’ of the plant.
On 21 January, there was another protest by the National Fishermen Forum. The NFF secretary, T Peter, said: ‘If the plant starts its operation, the lives of thousands of fishermen will come to a standstill…. Today, on the behalf of NFF, fishermen from 10 cities have come here to protest against the plant.’
The slow-motion train-wreck that is the Nepali peace process tumbled further out of control in January, with new levels of inter-party hostility and deepening cracks within the Maoist camp.
The two main opposition parties, the Nepali Congress and the United Marxist-Leninists (UML), have stopped trying to reach an agreement with the ruling Maoist party (UCPN-M).
On 26 January, Congress and UML supporters attempted to blockade the prime minister Baburam Bhattarai and other Maoist leaders as they tried to make their way to the UCPN-Maoist annual conference in Bhaktapur.
Congress and the UML have demanded Bhattarai resign as the price of forming a national unity government to oversee parliamentary elections expected in May.
Meanwhile the breakaway CPN-Maoist party is gaining recruits.
In early January, in a single week, nearly 3,500 UCPN-M members defected to CPN-M, which declared a policy of unarmed ‘people’s revolt’, while holding out the possibility of at any time re-launching the ‘people’s war’.
Fighting charges of corruption, the governing UCPN-Maoists hit back at the breakaway group, saying its leaders were ‘immoral, mysterious and most non-transparent in their personal and family lives and financial activities’.
Meanwhile, the issue of human rights violations during the Nepali civil war rose up the political agenda after the arrest in Britain of a Nepali colonel accused of torturing two men in separate incidents in 2005.
In Nepal, Maoist prime minister Babaram Bhattarai told journalists on 12 January that it would not benefit any party to pursue human rights violations from the civil war: ‘If investigations are conducted not even the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML would come clean.’
On 1 February, Morocco was due to finally put on trial 23 Sahrawis arrested when Moroccan security forces destroyed the Gadaym Izik protest camp (the forerunner to the more celebrated Arab Spring uprisings) in November 2010.
The 23 Sahrawis have carried out four hunger strikes to bring attention to the brutal treatment they have received in prison, and to the fact that despite being civilians they are facing trial in a military court.
Western Sahara has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975.
Danish NGO Africa Contact is attempting to put pressure on Conservative MEP Charles Tannock to speak out for Sahrawi human rights in his new role as ‘special rapporteur of the European parliament for human rights in Western Sahara’.
In mid-January, a NATO rocket strike killed 14 villagers in Hasan Khel in Wardak province, Afghanistan, according to a report in the Sunday Times, quoting an Afghan army officer, second lieutenant Mohammad Jawed, who lost his father, two brothers and an unborn child in the attack.
Villagers believe they heard a rocket-like whooshing sound, indicating a drone strike.
On 19 December, the Daily Telegraph reported that British Tornado fighter-bombers and armed Reaper drones could continue to fly after the official British ‘withdrawal’ from Afghanistan in 2014.
British military sources told the paper that it would be easy to overfly Afghanistan with aircraft and drones based in the Gulf states or elsewhere in the region.
British-supplied Tornado aircraft are being used by the Saudi air force to attack southern Yemen.
On 4 January, Yemeni tribal people protested in the town of Radaa, in south Yemen, against the latest attack in the air campaign being waged by US drones and Saudi jets.
Hundreds of mourners threatened to take the bodies of the three latest victims to the president’s house in the capital, Sana’a, but were blocked by the Yemeni military.
On 11 January, a member of Maya Evans’ legal team revealed in the Guardian that they had been able to discover secret evidence that was not revealed to her, under the ‘closed material procedures’ used in her case in 2010, when she challenged the complicity of British officials in the torture of a prisoner held in Afghanistan.
The concealed evidence indicated that ‘UK officials facilitated the torture of a UK-held prisoner at the hands of a foreign state – potentially criminal conduct’.
Lawyer Daniel Carey noted that the issues were ‘remarkably similar to the revelations that nearly brought down the Canadian government’.
There are credible reports of 81 Afghans ‘disappearing’ from police custody in Kandahar over the last year, according to a report by the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in January.
Over half of those interviewed by UNAMA had experienced torture or ill-treatment, including children as young as 14.
UNAMA also found an increase in the use of electric shocks and stress positions as methods of torture over the last year. Other methods also continue to be used.