Jean welcomes Amnesty vote to back decriminalisation of sex work

Candles and messages commemorating dead sex workers: "Annette Nicholls, 29 years old, Murdered 2006, Ipswich, UK," "Fight violence, not sex workers."Jean Urquhart has congratulated Amnesty International delegates on their vote to support decriminalisation of sex work, in order to protect the rights and safety of sex workers.

Delegates at the campaign’s International Council Meeting in Dublin today approved the resolution calling for a new “Policy on state obligations to respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of sex workers,” which includes support for decriminalisation of sex work. The result of the vote was announced just after 5pm UK time.

The new policy will bring Amnesty International into agreement with Human Rights Watch, UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation, as well as almost all organisations representing sex workers themselves, in calling for the decriminalisation of sex work.

Jean said:

“This is an excellent and thoughtful decision by the Amnesty movement, and a huge victory for sex workers who are fighting for their rights and their safety.

“The vote took place in a context of loud but mostly ill-informed attacks from opponents as varied as religious groups and Hollywood actors. Amnesty’s delegates should be congratulated for listening to the evidence and to the voices of those most affected – sex workers themselves.

“Around the world, sex workers are routinely marginalised, stigmatised, and denied the most basic human and labour rights. Sex workers themselves are very clear these abuses are exacerbated, or in many cases even created, by the criminalisation of sex workers or their clients.

“Both the hard evidence and sex workers’ own testimony tell us that fully decriminalising sex work, as in New Zealand, is the best way to protect sex workers and their communities. This would allow co-operation instead of conflict with the authorities, improve the health and safety of sex workers, and create the best possible environment for the eradication of coercion, trafficking and underage sex work.

“Amnesty’s backing is a massive boost to this urgent campaign. I’m looking forward to working with Amnesty in Scotland to secure the rights and safety of sex workers here and internationally.”

In Amnesty’s statement on the vote, Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

“Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse. Our global movement paved the way for adopting a policy for the protection of the human rights of sex workers which will help shape Amnesty International’s future work on this important issue.”

Free Chelsea Manning

Amnesty Write for Rights Chelsea Manning letter

Jean has written to President Barack Obama, requesting the release of Private Chelsea Manning, the US Army intelligence analyst that has been imprisoned for leaking information about the conduct of America’s wars, including the shocking and infamous ‘Collateral Murder’ video.

Jean's letter asking Barack Obama to free Pvt Chelsea Manning.  Click to enlarge.
Jean’s letter asking Barack Obama to free Chelsea Manning.
Click to enlarge.
Jean was writing as part of Amnesty International’s annual Write For Rights campaign, which asks supporters to appeal to governments on behalf of twelve victims of human rights abuse, and to send Christmas cards or other messages of solidarity to the victims themselves.

You can support the call to free Pvt Manning by signing the petition on the Amnesty website, or by writing your own letter to:

President Barack Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20500, USA.

You can send messages of support to:

Chelsea E Manning 89289, 1400 North Warehouse Road, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 66027-2304, USA.

Jean’s letter reads:

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to ask that you grant clemency, and immediate release, to Pvt Chelsea Manning.

Pvt Manning has, courageously in my view, taken full responsibility for her actions. However, the court’s understanding of those actions has been skewed by the decision barring evidence that she acted in the public interest from being presented in her defence.

I am appalled by the conditions that Pvt Manning experienced in her imprisonment prior to trial. You will be aware that this treatment was described by senior military officials, including the judge in her trial, as being in breach of military standards, and that it was condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture as “at a minimum” cruel, inhuman and degrading.

In your election campaign, you promised to protect whistleblowers, describing the disclosure of material that reveals abuse in government as “acts of courage and patriotism” which can save lives. The severity of the treatment received by Pvt Manning not only conflicts with this pledge, it discourages other potential whistleblowers from coming forward; it is good news for corrupt officials and bad news for public confidence in government. You were right to make that promise; I urge you now to fulfil it.

Given these shortcomings in terms of due process and human rights displayed during Pvt Manning’s pre-trial detention and trial, and your election promise, I urge you to commute her sentence to the four-and-a-half years she has already served and release her immediately.

In Scotland, as in countries around the world, there is horror and anger at the human rights violations exposed by Pvt Manning, and in the recently-published Senate Intelligence Committee report. We feel particularly close to these abuses because they were committed in the prosecution of wars in which our servicemen fought alongside Americans, and because the CIA’s rendition programme appears to have used Scottish airports.

If America wishes to be seen even as part of the ‘free world’, it is essential that you urgently investigate the human rights abuses revealed by Pvt Manning and by the Senate report, and that you treat these not simply as historical events from which to move on, but as crimes to be prosecuted.

Yours sincerely,

Jean Urquhart MSP

Stop Torture – Jean backs new Amnesty campaign


Jean has called on a Nigerian governor to investigate allegations of torture, as part of Amnesty International’s Stop Torture campaign, which launched last week.

Jean has written to Emmanuel Uduaghan, the governor of Nigeria’s Delta State, urging him to take action in the case of Moses Akatugba. In 2005, aged just 16, Moses was arrested by the Nigerian Army and charged with stealing mobile phones. He says he was shot in the hand, beaten, and had finger- and toenails pulled out with pliers. Convicted on the ‘confession’ extracted under this duress, he is now sentenced to death.

Jean said:

“Torture is never, ever acceptable. That’s a truth publicly accepted by most countries and yet around the world those same countries continue to let it happen. I’ve been a long-time Amnesty supporter and am proud to back the Stop Torture campaign.

“As part of Amnesty’s campaign, I have written to the Governor of Delta State to request that he commute the death sentence passed against Moses Akatugba. Mr Akatugba was arrested by the military aged just 16 and condemned to death on the strength of ‘confessions’ he says were extracted by torture. I have asked the Governor to launch an independent investigation into the allegations of torture.”

Siobhan Reardon, Amnesty Scotland’s Programme Director, said:

“Thirty years ago 151 countries signed up to the UN Convention Against Torture, but since then we have seen a steady decline in almost every one of those countries and today torture is flourishing. Governments hold up the convention in one hand whilst sanctioning horrendous acts of brutality against their own people, with the other.

“Torture has been used against people in the name of national security. It has been used to silence dissidents and political rivals. It has even been used against schoolchildren. In some countries, torture is routine, while in others cases of abuse are isolated and exceptional. However, just one case of torture or ill-treatment is not only prohibited by international law, it is completely unacceptable.

“Amnesty International has been at the forefront of the campaign to eradicate torture for fifty years and although achieving the Convention Against Torture in 1984 was an important milestone, we need a global campaign to end torture more than ever.

“Today is the Stop Torture Global Day of Action and we are asking everyone in Scotland to speak out on behalf of all those who have been tortured – and are being tortured right now. Torture is never justifiable and should never be used by any government for any reason.”

Amnesty International launched its global Stop Torture campaign ahead of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June. The human rights organisation says torture is flourishing, despite a 30-year global ban.

In the last five years, Amnesty has recorded torture and other forms of ill-treatment in at least 141 countries from every region of the world but the secretive nature of torture means the true number is likely to be even higher.

Amnesty’s 30-page briefing, Torture in 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises details a shocking variety of torture techniques with at least 27 different kinds of torture and other cruel treatment recorded during 2013-14.

These include beatings with fists, rifle butts, wooden clubs and other objects; needles being forced underneath a victim’s fingernails; prisoner having their joints drilled; boiling water being poured onto the body; the administering of electric shocks; the stubbing out of cigarettes on the body; water torture/partial suffocation; and the use of stress positions and sustained sleep deprivation.

Torture or other ill-treatment reported in 141 countries in past five years, and in at least 79 already in 2014, with 27 different types of torture during 2013-14

Since 1984, 155 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture – a milestone convention that Amnesty campaigned hard for in the 1970s and 1980s – yet Amnesty is now accusing governments around the world of betraying their commitments to stamp out torture.

While measures such as the criminalisation of torture in national legislation, the independent monitoring of detention centres and the video recording of interrogations have led to a decrease in the use of torture in some countries, Amnesty is calling for the wide implementation of rigorous protective mechanisms such as proper medical examinations, prompt access to lawyers, independent and effective investigations of torture allegations, and the prosecution of suspects and proper redress for victims.

Motion S4M-09059: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea

Today, I lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament marking the publication of the most recent UN Report on the situation in North Korea. The parliamentary lexicon can make it difficult to fully describe the litany of horrors that ordinary citizens in North Korea (officially and perversely titled the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) face on a daily basis. The use of sexual assault as a weapon of control by the state; the strict and long-lasting stratification of North Korean society, where a grandson or granddaughter can live out their life in a prison camp for no reason other than the identity of a grandparent; the arbitrary “justice” meted out to citizens for “crimes” such as using a newspaper with a picture of Kim Jong-il to mop up a spilt drink, or forcing new mothers, who gave birth with no medical assistance, to kill their own babies, and the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people in massive, sprawling prison camps akin to those used to such devastating and evil effect by Nazi Germany are just some of the crimes against humanity detailed in the report. It is a damning condemnation of a regime without legitimacy or any semblance of humanity, and an urgent call to action to the international community, who must act to bring the perpetrators of this Hell on Earth before the International Criminal Court. The report can be accessed here and is a chilling but essential read to understand why the work of human rights organisations worldwide must continue. Amnesty International have done further research into the prison camp system in the police state of North Korea which can be accessed via this link.

My motion is below- please encourage your MSPs to sign it if they haven’t already done so. Although one motion in the Scottish Parliament will not on its own achieve change, it can add to the growing international consensus that something must be done to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people.

Motion Number: S4M-09059
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 18/02/2014

Title: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea

Motion Text:
That the Parliament notes the publication of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by the UN Human Rights Council; understands that among the issues investigated by the commission of inquiry were violations of freedom of the press, expression, religion, movement and to the right to life and the country’s use of political prison camps, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances; considers that the findings, which suggest evidence of forcing mothers to commit infanticide, the widespread use of rape, sexual abuse and torture by the state and its officials and the use of intergenerational punishment. demonstrate the depravity of the North Korean regime and what it sees as that country’s blatant disregard for humanity and human rights; believes that the absolute control of the North Korean state over the lives of its citizens, the deliberate blocking of aid for ideological reasons, the cult of personality surrounding its three leaders since the Korean War and the use of political prison camps with little or no due process for prisoners plumb the depths of what human beings are capable of; supports the report’s belief that “the gravity, scale and nature” of its findings “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”; considers comparisons with Nazi Germany and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to be apposite, and calls on the international community to take action to release the North Korean people from what it sees as their nightmarish existence and to bring to justice those responsible for these crimes against humanity.

Jean backs Amnesty ‘Write for Rights’ Campaign

The following is a press release on Jean’s support for the Amnesty International ‘Write for Rights’ Campaign:

“MEDIA RELEASE – Jean Urquhart MSP

For immediate use, Wednesday 11th December 2013


On international Human Rights Day (10th December), Independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands Jean Urquhart has given her backing to Amnesty International’s Write For Rights Campaign 2013. Taking part in the campaign, Ms Urquhart has written in support of the people of the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, who are routinely fired on by the Israeli military during their weekly peaceful protests against the Israeli occupation.

Amnesty’s annual global campaign runs from 1 November to 31 December and highlights human rights abuses taking place around the world while others are celebrating the holiday season. Ordinary people everywhere are asked to send a message of solidarity and hope, or to appeal directly to the relevant government in the country where the abuse is taking place.

Amnesty are asking Scots to write in support of one of 13 priority cases of human rights abuse around the world. Jean, who is Co-Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Palestine, has written to Israeli Minster of Defence Moshe Ya’alon to urge him to stop the use of violence against peaceful demonstrations in the Palestinan village of Nabi Saleh.

Much of the agricultural land and water supplies of Nabi Saleh have been seized for for use by the illegal Israeli occupation settlement of Halamish. The armed forces of Israel have responded to these demonstrations by firing tear gas canisters, stun grenades, rubber-covered steel bullets and live ammunition. The security forces’ violence has wounded hundreds including women and children, and killed two young men, Mustafa Tamimi and Rushdi Tamimi.

Speaking in support of the Write For Rights campaign, Jean Urquhart said:

“I am proud to back Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign to help them highlight these appalling human rights violations.

“On the day we commemorate Neslon Mandela’s successful fight against apartheid in South Africa, it feels right to be joining Amnesty International in speaking out against another human rights abuse on a grand scale – the violent subjugation of Palestine.

“The people of Nabi Saleh have been denied their livelihood, their land and water stolen by the occupying Israeli forces. But when they try to protest, exercise their human rights to assembly and expression, they are shot at by one of the most heavily-armed militaries in the world.

“Mustafa Tamimi, 28, was killed by a tear gas canister shot from a grenade launcher into his face at close range. Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot in the back after a commander ordered his unit to fire live ammunition just because they’d run out of tear gas.

“Even though the Clearances were 200 years ago, we in the Highlands still carry a deep and painful understanding of what it means when land and livelihood is ripped away from the people. In Palestine, far worse human rights abuses still happen every day. I would encourage everyone to join me in opposing the violence against Nabi Saleh, or any one of the other 12 equally appalling cases of human rights violations that are highlighted by the Write For Rights campaign.

“This is a time of year for friendship and solidarity around the world, when we should all take a little time to help others – together we have the potential to make a huge difference.”

Amnesty International Scotland’s Programme Director Richard Hamer said:

“I would like to thank Jean for taking part in our Write for Rights Campaign and helping raise awareness of the cases we have chosen of ordinary men and women who are having their human rights taken from them in the most appalling ways.

“It is a sad fact that the thirteen cases we have chosen to highlight this year, are only a very small sample of some of the individual cases that Amnesty International is dealing with. However, we know the power people have when they come together to make a stand and put pressure on governments involved to help those we have identified.”

Readers can take part in the Amnesty International Write For Rights campaign 2013 by visiting


1.Jean Urquhart’s letter to Minster of Defence Moshe Ya’alon can be downloaded at (PDF).

2. Amnesty International video on Nabi Saleh:

3. Jean Urquhart has signed a motion by colleague John Finnie, the Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Human Rights, backing the Write For Rights campaign:

Motion S4M-08130: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 31/10/2013 R

Write for Rights Campaign

That the Parliament notes that 1 November 2013 marks the start of Amnesty International’s annual worldwide greetings card and letter-writing campaign, Write for Rights; commends the campaign, which aims to send messages of hope and solidarity to people who experience human rights abuses; believes that the campaign can have a positive impact on their circumstances, especially when authorities see that people worldwide are watching their actions, and encourages elected representatives and people from across Scotland to take part and exercise their freedom of expression in defence of human rights across the world.

4.  Amnesty International has selected thirteen instances of human rights abuses around the world that people can choose to support:

1. Eskinder Nega – being held in prison by the Ethiopian authorities for speaking out about the Ethiopian Government’s use of anti-terror laws and speculating the Arab Spring could extend to Ethiopia

2. Yorm Bopha – a Cambodian activist, wife and mother, who peacefully but vocally challenged local authorities and developers who were tearing her community apart.  She is now imprisoned, convicted on false charges

3. Jabeur Mejri – imprisoned in Algeria for seven and a half years for posting a picture of Mohammed on his own Facebook page.

4. Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre – This group of pioneering women’s rights activists set up the first ever shelter in Afghanistan for women escaping violence. Today there are around 20 shelters, a network that has helped 1389 women, girls and dependents.

5. The Bolotnaya Three – Vladimir Akimenkov, Artiom Saviolov and Mikhail Kosenko were detained during protests against Vladimir Putin’s rule in Moscow, in May 2012. Initially released, the trio were arrested again the following month and charged with participating in a ‘mass riot’.  Since then the men have been held in custody, which is taking a toll on their health.  All three firmly deny the charges and video footage supports their claims.

6. COFADEH – one of the Honduras’ main human rights organisations, seeking justice for human rights abuses by security forces and ‘disappearances’ in the 1980s.  Since 2011 the number and severity of incidents against CPOFADEH staff has intensified, with death threats, harassment and attacks. Female members have also been threatened with sexual violence.

7. Ihar Tsikhanyuk – a LGBTI rights activist, who unsuccessfully attempted to register Human Rights Centre Lambda, with the Belarus authorities. He was subsequently questioned by police, who subjected him to physical and verbal abuse because of his sexuality.

8. Kalpana Chakma – the organising secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation, which campaigns for the rights of indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. On 12 June 1996, she was abducted from her home by plain-clothed security officers. Aged 23 at the time of her abduction, she has never been found since.

9. Laísa Santos Sampaio – a member of a group that promotes sustainable development in Nova Ipixuna municipality in Pará state, Brazil, she has been the target of persistent death threats since 2011.

10. Miriam López – Abducted after dropping her children off at school in February 201, Miriam was raped and tortured for a week until she signed a statement falsely implicating herself in drug offences. She was imprisoned and released seven months later. No-one has been brought to justice for the torture and sexual violence she suffered.

11. Dr Tun Aung – a community leader in Burma who has been sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment after an unfair trial, in which he was accused of inciting riots in 2012 despite independent eyewitnesses confirming that he actively tried to calm the crowds and played no part in the violence.

12. Nabi Saleh – a village in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, whose 550 residents face frequent violent repression from the Israeli army for holding weekly peaceful protests against the Israeli’s military occupation and illegal settlement of Halamish, which has taken over most of their farmland.

13. WOZA – Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) stands up for the social, economic and human rights of women in Zimbabwe, but since their formation in 2003 their members have been arrested, harassed and severely beaten by the police simply for exercising their right to peaceful protest.”

Speech: Arms Trade Treaty (June 21st)

I was pleased to sign Jamie Hepburn’s motion and I congratulate him on bringing the debate to the chamber. As I am interested in the work of the cross-party group on human rights, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the urgent need for a practical yet far-reaching arms trade treaty.

The panoply of statistics that my colleague Jamie Hepburn cited in his motion and his speech is truly harrowing. When we consider that my home town, Ullapool, has fewer inhabitants than the number of people who die every day from armed violence, one gets a sense of the enormity of this human crisis.

There is little regulation of the arms trade. It is ludicrous that weapons as devastating as grenade launchers and serious assault rifles are subject to lax control at best, while the trade in harmless commodities—such as the aforementioned bananas—is strictly regulated globally. That is madness. Those weapons are not used only by countries that are officially at war, but are in many cases used to suppress human rights within countries, with two out of every three people who are killed by armed violence dying in countries that are not at war.

That cycle of violence has obvious human costs, but what must also be borne in mind is the social cost of such needless conflict. Nations at war with themselves, whether it be over territory, resources or another struggle, will never be able to heal and to develop. An unregulated arms trade perpetuates endemic poverty across the world, harms democratic debate and tears apart communities.

For many issues, the treatment can be worse than the disease, but Amnesty’s proposals for an effective arms trade treaty are plausible. Instead of imposing a punitive weapons ban, it proposes a weapons transfer system that would prohibit the sale of weapons that are likely to be used for violations of human rights or international law. It defies belief that any nation could oppose a treaty with such laudable aims that, despite preconceptions, clearly does not call for an outright ban. The support of the UK Government and the defence community, one of the world’s major arms exporters, for such a treaty shows the impact that the lobbying of MSPs and others across civil society can have on this issue.

I urge everybody in the chamber to continue to press the UK Government to hold firm to its line on this first step towards minimising the human cost of armed conflict. This is not some esoteric debate, but a subject on which lives and communities depend, and we must never lose sight of that.


That the Parliament understands that, in July 2012, the UN will begin negotiations on a treaty to better regulate the arms trade; notes that the process toward this was instigated in December 2006 when the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 61/89, Towards an Arms Trade Treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms; understands that, although the trade in arms is not illegal, campaigning organisations, such as Amnesty International and Oxfam, have expressed concerns that such weapons are often used to violate human rights; considers that this view was echoed by Sergio de Queiroz Duarte who, in December 2010, in his then capacity as the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told the Arms Trade Treaty Preparatory Committee that, “in all parts of the world, the ready availability of conventional weapons and ammunition has led to human suffering, repression, crime and terror among civilian populations”; notes that Amnesty International has estimated that more than 1,500 people die every day from armed violence and 85% of all of the killings it documents involve guns; further notes that Amnesty International claims that two out of three people killed as a result of armed violence die in countries that are not at war and 60% of all of the human rights abuses it reports involve the use of arms; notes what it understands to be the concerns of many Scots, including those in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, regarding the impact of such human rights breaches; welcomes the support that has been shown by many member states of the UN, such as the UK, France and Germany, to the concept of an arms trade treaty, but understands that these three countries are among the world‟s biggest arms exporters; further welcomes the change in stance of the US Government, under President Obama, indicating that it is now in favour of a treaty; would welcome a strong arms trade treaty that all member states of the UN can ratify, which restricts the trade of arms to regimes that are likely to use them to violate human rights, and believes that such a treaty is necessary to achieve a more human rights-centric international arms trade.