Customs union U-turn by May could provoke Brexiter cabinet revolt

Treasury committee chair Nicky Morgan calls for pacify and tells sabre-rattling is unhelpful

Theresa May could face a cabinet uprising on a customs union as peers prepare to inflict more defeats on the governmental forces over the EU withdrawal bill in a key week for the future of the UK’s relations with Europe.

Amid Brexiter threats of a leadership challenge, the former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury committee, told party rebels should be careful what they wished for.

” This sabre-rattling is not coming from the section of the party that I represent. It is coming from the pro-Brexit segment of the party and is deeply unhelpful ,” she told.

Government hopes of avoiding a hard border in Ireland either through technological innovation or regulatory alignment have been put off after they were rejected during preliminary negotiations in Brussels.

Q& A

Brexit phrasebook: what is the customs union?

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EU members( plus Turkey, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino) trade without customs duties, taxes or tariffs between themselves, and charge the same tariffs on importations from outside the EU. Customs union members cannot negotiate their own trade bargains outside the EU, which is why leaving it- while hopefully negotiating a bespoke arranging- has been one of the government’s Brexit goals. See our full Brexit phrasebook .

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That has led to speculation that May is preparing to concede on a customs union, which has been a red line since the prime minister’s conference speech in October 2016.

Reports over the weekend suggested a “wargaming” exercising into the consequences of a concession showed that not even resulting Brexiters such as Michael Gove, the environment secretary, or Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, would resign.

But a source close to Gove reiterated his opponent:” Michael believes regarding the referendum result means taking back control of trade policy. He fully supports the prime minister’s position that this entails leaving the customs union .”

Nicky Morgan said hysteria and leadership supposition were not in Britain’s interest. Photograph: David Mirzoeff/ PA

Although the loss of other pledges in negotiations have been reluctantly accepted, such as the promise to reclaim control over fishing quotas from March 2019, accepting continued membership of a customs union would be of a different and much larger scale.

Downing Street sources dismissed the idea.” The stance remains very clear: we don’t think staying in a customs union is the right thing to do and it isn’t government policy to do so ,” a spokesperson said.

Any customs union makes it effectively impossible to negotiate free trade deals with other countries- one of the government’s key ambitions and a central justification for leaving the EU.

But a meaningful vote on remaining in the customs union is likely over the next several months. At least 10 Tory backbenchers have signed an amendment to the trade and customs bill supporting continued membership.

Morgan is one of the 12 select committee chairs who are backing that policy in a potentially difficult debate in the Commons on Thursday on customs union membership. She said it would be an opportunity for a calm debate about current realities of leaving the customs union based on the evidence that select committees were hearing as they investigated its potential impact.

” If every time we debate these issues or pass suggested amendment all we end up with is this hysteria and leadership speculation, that is not in Britain’s interest ,” she said.

” The majority of the party would not entertain a leadership contest at the moment and those who want to … should think very carefully if they actually want to intervene in the negotiations in the way a leadership tournament would .”

In the House of Lords, the government is braced for more defeats as peers begin a second week of elections on the EU withdrawal bill on Monday. Last week, 24 Tory peers backed the customs union amendment.

The most difficult vote on Monday is likely to be on the EU charter of fundamental rights. The government virtually lost a vote in the Commons on a similar amendment, which seeks to incorporate the charter into the legislation. It is one of the few major aspects of EU law that has been left out.

The government argues that the rights it protects are already covered by UK law, but it also says the charter offer improved protection than is needed. Campaigners fear that means the government will seek to dilute the rights.

Peter Goldsmith, who as Tony Blair’s us attorney general was involved in drafting the charter, said it was only be exempted from the withdrawal bill because of an ideologically driven hatred of the EU.

The government is vulnerable on such issues, with Tory rebels such as the former attorney general Dominic Grieve merely falling their opposition when the bill passed its earlier stages after ministers pledged to publish a review for the human rights conferred by the charter and set about their view.

The published review eventually amounted to an extended criticism of the EU charter.

In remarks that indicate Grieve may yet result a rebellion in the Commons, he said it would be unacceptable for rights to be left unprotected while waiting for the government to come forward with new legislation to make up for the loss of EU law.

” I want to see how the governmental forces reacts ,” he told.” I understand that in the longer term we need a new system, but it’s a mistake not to leave the protections intact for now .”

The equalities and human rights commission insists the charter is essential to safeguard individual rights effectively and adapt to changing circumstances. The charter includes a general right to non-discrimination, protection of a child’s best interests and the right to human dignity , none of which are properly protected by existing UK law.

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World Bank recommends fewer regulations protecting workers

Unions alarmed by suggestion that deep structural reforms are required to adjust to changing nature of work

The World Bank is proposing lower minimum wages and greater the recruitment and firing powers for employers as part of a wide-ranging deregulation of labour markets deemed necessary to prepare countries for the changing nature of work.

A working draft of the bank’s flagship World Development Report- which will recommend policy action from governments when it comes out in the autumn- says less “burdensome” regulations are needed so that firms can hire employees at lower cost. The controversial recommendations, which are aimed principally at developing countries, have alarmed groups representing labor, which say they have so far been frozen out of the Bank’s consultation process.

Peter Bakvis, Washington representative for the International Trade Union Confederation, said the proposals were harmful, retrograde and out of synch with the shared-prosperity agenda is moving forward by the bank’s chairperson Jim Yong Kim.

He added that the WDR’s vision of the future world of work would find firms relieved of the burden of helping to social security, have the flexibility to pay wages as low as they wanted, and to fire at will. Unions would have a diminished role in new arrangements for” expanding workers’ voices “.

The paper” almost completely ignores workers’ rights, asymmetric power in the labour market and phenomena such as declining labour share in national income ,” Bakvis said.

The International Labour Organisation has also expressed alarm following the proposal, which include the right for employers to opt out of paying minimum wagesif they introduce profit-sharing strategies for their workers.

The WDR draft tells:” High minimum wages, undue restrictions on the recruitment and firing, strict contract forms, all induce workers more expensive vis-a-vis technology .”

Five years ago, the World Bank’s 2013 World Development Reportconcluded that labour regulations had little or no impact on employment levels, but the draft for the 2019 WDR says that if workers are expensive to reject, fewer will be hired.” Burdensome regulations also make it more expensive for firms to rearrange their workforce to accommodate changing technologies .”

The report is being prepared amid growing speculation about the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on employment and wages in future decades.

” Rapid changes to the nature of work set a premium on flexible for firms to adjust their workforce, but also for those workers who benefit from more dynamic labor markets ,” the draft says.

Bakvis said the draft” puts forward a policy its own programme of extensive labour market deregulation, including lower minimum wages, flexible dismissal procedures and UK-style zero-hours contracts. The resulting decline of workers’ incomes would be compensated in part by a basic level of social insurance to be financed largely by regressive intake taxes .”

The paper says that labour regulations” protect the few who hold formal jobs while leaving out most workers” and the sort of social protection schemes that began with the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the late 19 th century were not appropriate because they covered only a third of developing country populations.

Bakvis said the draft did not” analyse options for incentivising the formalisation of work, despite the considerable efforts the ILO has made toward that goal and the real progress that has taken place in some developing countries to deliver the benefits of formalisation: legal protection of workers’ rights, including their right to safe workplaces, and access to social security.

” Instead, the WDR takes informality as an unavoidable country and, worse, implies that it should even be promoted. Nor does it examine how the undermining of labour market organizations through deliberate corporate strategies such as outsourcing and cloaked working relations[ for example, classifying Uber driversas independent contractors] can be countered by providing legal protections for these categories of workers.

” Workers in the platform economy who have engaged in campaigns for recognition of their rights have encountered fierce resistance from their companies .”

Bakvis added that the report insinuated support for companies such as Uber by agreeing that their workers were not employees but were” emerging as a separate labour category “.

A World Bank spokesman told:” To stimulate debate and draw attention to critical issues, the report will present a range of ideas for how governments can create the conditions for workers to benefit from huge shiftings in technology, demographics, urbanisation and other factors.

” To objective poverty and boost shared prosperity, it’s vital that we consider new initiatives to meet the disruption that will surely come from these structural changes. We encourage and look forward to comments and an evidence-driven discussion on this important topic .”

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‘Attacks and killings’: human rights activists at growing risk, study claims

Research proves 34% rise in attacks against campaigners defending land, surrounding and labour rights in the face of corporate activity

Human rights defenders who challenge big corporations are being killed, assaulted, harassed and squelched in growing numbers, researchers have claimed.

A survey by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center recorded a 34% global rise in attacks against human rights activists last year, including 120 alleged murders and hundreds of other cases involving menaces, assaults and intimidation. The number of incidents were found to have risen sharply, with 388 attacks recorded in 2017 compared with 290 the previous year.

The research focused on attacks against activists involved in protests against corporate activities. Victims included unionists, protests, whistleblowers and indigenous communities.

Land rights defenders and activists linked to the mining, agribusiness and renewable energy sectors were found to be in greatest hazard. The researchers also highlighted an increased risk to lawyers, and to members of human rights and environmental civil society organisations working for corporate accountability.

In 42% of harassment instances, judicial intimidation was used in an attempt to suppress protests against record-keeping activities. This included arbitrary detention, criminalisation and aggressive lawsuits.

The Business and Human Rights Center found that companies involved in mining, agriculture, energy and construction- particularly those headquartered in the UK, US, China, Canada and France- were the most likely to use legal means in an attempt to prevent human rights protests.

” Our research highlights that companies do play a significant role in assaults on human rights defenders- the first time that this data has were consistently collected ,” said Ana Zbona from the Business and Human Rights Resource Center.

The researchers found that human rights defenders creating concerns about business operations are often criminalised on fabricated charges. Documented suits include activists accused of being involved in assassinations in Guatemala, arson attacks in Chile, and fraud and tax evasion in Turkmenistan, Russia and Azerbaijan.

” Judicial harassment deters communities, workers and activists from speaking out against corporate abuse. Legal harassment often forms part of a broader campaign which are able to include physical attacks and killings ,” said Zbona.

” Impunity from the nation and the declining strength of unions has a big role to play, as well as a growing competition for natural resources that is only gaining pace .”

Although assaults occurred in every region across the world, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala and the Philippines- which collectively accounted for 212 of all incidents- were identified as the countries where attacks were most probable.

Last week, the International Council on Mining and Metals acknowledged that attacks on human rights defenders were on the increase and called on relevant government authorities to take action.

” Defenders continue to face harassment and dread for their safety when they speak out ,” members of the council said in a statement.” This is deeply concerning for companies that are committed to human rights, openness and transparency. While we may not always agree with postures taken by human rights defenders, ICMM recognises freedom of expression and assembly as fundamental human rights .”

Last month, a report by Frontline Defenders said that in 2017 there was a” well resourced and coordinated strategy of libel, criminalisation and violence deployed to intimidate, marginalise and stillnes human rights defenders “.

The group received reports on the murder of 312 rights defenders in 27 countries.

” In 2017 the alarming rise in attacks is just a continuation of what has become a very open and very aggressive attack on civil society and anyone who advocates against or challenges corporate power ,” said Katie Redford, director of EarthRights International, a civil society group that provides legal assistance to human and environmental rights activists.

Case studies

On 24 January 2018, Quintin Salgado, a labour activist and leader of the Los Mineros employees union, was attacked and killed by unknown assailants. Salgado had been working with striking miners at the Media Luna mine in Guerrero, Mexico, owned by Canadian mining company Torex Gold. Employees have been striking since November 2017 in an effort to secure better working conditions and the right to freedom of association. Salgado, a former worker at the mine, was the third person involved in the ten-strikes to be killed. In a statement following the murder, Torex Gold said:” The Company has no way of knowing who was behind the killed. It is our understanding that Mr Salgado was well known to authorities and that the investigation continues. It is genuinely sad that Los Mineros and their supporting unions have chosen to exploit these human tragedies to further their political agendas .”

On 9 January, Ronald David Barillas, a member of the Xinca indigenous parliament, was killed in Santa Rosa, Guatemala. Barillas, a vocal critic of the sugar agroindustry, had opposed the Escobal mining project, owned by Canadian firm Tahoe Resources. In a statement, the mining company said:” As an open, transparent and statute biding company, we will cooperate with authorities as requested. We are committed to the search for truth, strengthening the rule of law, and the fight against impunity in Guatemala … We recognise human rights activists are particularly vulnerable to violence and persecution. We denounce any tries by others to threaten, frighten, or attack each member of community activism groups or human rights organization .”

Attorneys in Cambodia are seeking criminal charges and pre-trial detention for three prominent human rights defenders, Moeun Tola, Pa Nguon Teang and Buddhist monk Venerable But Buntenh. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison.

Last month, palm oil company Socfinand its Cameroonian subsidiary Socapalm began defamation proceedings in Paris against two NGOs, Sherpa and ReAct, and French media outlets Mediapart, L’Obs and Le Point, over reporting of protests by farmers living near plantations run by the two companies. Socfin is part-owned by French conglomerate Bollore, one of the world’s largest companies. Sherpa claims that, collectively, Socfin and Bollore have launched more than 20 libel suits against 40 journalists, NGOs and media organisations since 2009.

An open letter to President Erdoan from 38 Nobel laureates | JM Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Svetlana Alexievich and others

Until Turkey frees detained writers and returns to the rule of law, it cannot claim to be a member of the free world, writes JM Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Svetlana Alexievich and others

Dear President Erdogan,

We wish to draw your attention to the damage being done to the Republic of Turkey, to its reputation and the dignity and wellbeing of its citizens, through what leading authorities on freedom of expression deem to be the unlawful detention and wrongful conviction of writers and thinkers.

In a Memorandum on the Freedom of Expression in Turkey( 2017 ), Nils Muiznieks, then Council of Europe commissioner for Human Rights, warned 😛 TAGEND

” The space for democratic debate in Turkey has shrunk alarmingly following increased judicial harassment of large strata of society, including journalists, members of parliament, academics and ordinary citizens, and government action which has reduced pluralism and led to self-censorship. This deterioration came about in a so difficult context, but neither the attempted takeover , nor other terrorist threats faced by Turkey, can justify measures that contravene media freedom and disavow the rule of law to such an extent.

” The authorities should urgently change course by overhauling criminal legislation and practice, redevelop judicial freedom and reaffirm their commitment to protect free speech .”

There is no clearer example of the commissioner’s concern that the detention in September 2016of Ahmet Altan, a bestselling novelist and columnist; Mehmet Altan, two brothers, professor of economics and essayist; and Nazli Ilicak, a prominent journalist- all as part of a wave of apprehends following the failed July 2016 coup. These writers were charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through violence or force. The prosecutors originally wanted to charge them with dedicating” subliminal messages” to coup supporters while appearing on a television panel show. The ensuing tide of public ridicule stimulated them change that accusation to using rhetoric” evocative of a takeover “. Indeed, Turkey’s official Anatolia News Agency called the occurrence” The Coup Evocation Trial “.

As noted in the commissioner’s report, the evidence considered by the judge in Ahmet Altan’s case was limited to a narrative dating from 2010 in Taraf newspaper( of which Ahmet Altan had been the editor-in-chief until 2012 ), three of his op-ed columns and a TV appearance. The proof against the other defendants was equally insubstantial. All these novelists had spent their careers opposing coups and militarism of any kind, and yet were charged with aiding an armed terrorist organisation and staging a coup.

The commissioner ensure the detainees and prosecution of Altan brothers as part of a broader pattern of repression in Turkey against those expressing dissent or criticism of the authorities concerned. He considered such detentions and prosecutions to have contravened the rights and undermined the rule of law. David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expres, concurred and dubbed the legal proceedings a” display trial “.

Turkey’s own constitutional court concurred with this criticism. On 11 January this year, it ruled that Mehmet Altan and fellow journalist Sahin Alpay’s rights were being violated by pre-trial detention, and that they should be released. Yet the first-degree tribunals refused to implement the higher constitutional court’s decision, thus placing the justice system in criminal violation of the constitution. Mr President, you must surely be concerned that the lower criminal court’s defiance and this non-legal decision was backed by the spokesperson of your government.

On 16 February 2018, the Altan brothers and Ilicak were sentenced to aggravated life sentences, foreclosing them from any prospect of a future amnesty.

President Erdogan, we the undersigned share the following sentiment of David Kaye:” The tribunal decision condemning journalists to aggravated life in prison for the performance of their duties, without presenting substantial proof of their involvement in the takeover endeavor or ensuring a fair trial, critically threatens journalism and with it the remnants of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey “.

In April 1998, you yourself were stripped of your position as mayor of Istanbul, banned from political office, and sentenced to prison for 10 months, for reciting a poem during a public speech in December 1997 through the same article 312 of the penal code. This was unjust, unlawful and cruel. Many human rights organisations- which defended you then- are appalled at the violations now occurring in your country. Amnesty International, PEN International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Article 19, and Reporters Without Perimeters are among those who resist the recent tribunal decision.

During a rite in honor of Cetin Altan, on 2 February 2009, you proclaimed publicly that” Turkey is no longer the same old Turkey who used to sentence its great writers to prison- this epoch is run for ever .” Among the audience were Cetin Altan’s two sons: Ahmet and Mehmet. Then nine years later, they are sentenced to life; isn’t that a fundamental contradiction?

Under these circumstances, we voice the fears of many inside Turkey itself, of its friends and of the multilateral organisations of which it is a member. We call for the abrogation of the state of emergency, a quick return to the rule of law and for full freedom of speech and expres. Such a move would result in the speedy acquittal on appeal of Ms Ilicak and the Altan friends, and the immediate release of others wrongfully incarcerated. Better still, it would attain Turkey again a proud is part of the free world.

* Full list of Nobel laureate signatories 😛 TAGEND

Svetlana Alexievich, Philip W Anderson, Aaron Ciechanover, JM Coetzee, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Elias J Corey, Gerhard Ertl, Albert Fert, Edmond H Fischer, Andrew Z Fire, Andre Geim, Sheldon Glashow, Serge Haroche, Leland H Hartwell, Oliver Hart, Richard Henderson, Dudley Herschbach, Avram Hershko, Roald Hoffmann, Robert Huber, Tim Hunt, Kazuo Ishiguro, Elfriede Jelinek, Eric S Maskin, Hartmut Michel, Herta Muller, VS Naipaul, William D Phillips, John C Polanyi, Richard J Roberts, Randy W Schekman, Wole Soyinka, Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas C Sudhof, Jack W Szostak, Mario Vargas Llosa, J Robin Warren, Eric F Wieschaus

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Mass protests force Ethiopia to free opposition leader

Bekele Gerba and seven other political figures suddenly cleared of charges and let out of jail after being arrested in 2015

Chechen leader’s Instagram closure ‘led to revenge attacks’ on NGO

Memorial says Ramzan Kadyrov blames them for US sanctions that led to account deactivation

Trump-style populism gives ‘murderous leaders’ free rein, says rights group

Human Rights Watch report accuses western politicians of driving global misrule by feeding off public anxiety and discontent

UN tells China to release human rights activists and pay them compensation

Exclusive Document given to the Guardian repudiates Chinese government claims that activists voluntarily confessed to their crimes at trials

The United Nation has demanded that China should immediately release prominent human rights activists from detainees and pay them compensation, according to an unreleased document obtained by the Guardian.

The report, which has not been made public, from the UN’s human rights council says the trio had their rights infringed and calls China’s statutes incompatible with international norms.

Christian church leader Hu Shigen and lawyers Zhou Shifeng and Xie Yang were detained and tried as part of an unprecedented nationwide crackdown on human rights attorneys and activists that began in July 2015. The operation insured nearly 250 people detained and questioned by police.

Hu was jailed for seven and a half years and Zhou was sentenced to seven years on subversion charges, while Xie is awaiting a verdict.

” The appropriate redres would be to release Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifeng and Xie Yang immediately, and accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations ,” said the UNreport assured by the Guardian, adding that China should take action within six months.

The UN’s working group on arbitrary detention, which reviewed the case, repudiated Chinese government asserts the three men voluntarily confessed to their crimes at their trials and said their detentions were” attained in total or partial non-observance of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial “.

The group is a panel of five experts that falls under the UN’s human rights council, of which China is a member. While its judgements are not legally binding, it investigates claims of rights violations and indicates remedies.

China promised to cooperate with the group when it work for a seat on the human rights council in August 2016, when it also pledged to induce” unremitting endeavours” to promote human rights.

The group’s report on the Chinese activists said the trio were subjected to a host of rights violations, including being denied access to legal counsel, being held in “incommunicado detention” and their families” were not informed of their whereabouts for several months “.

Their detentions were due to” their activities to promote and protect human rights”, the UN saw, while the sentiment also promoted China to amend its laws to conform with international standards protecting human rights.

Although Xie was released on bail after a trial in May, his wife, Chen Guiqiu said her husband was far from a free man.

State security agents rented a flat across the dormitory from his and Xie has 12 guards stationed 24 -hours a day outside his building, Chen said. Police follow him whenever he goes out and despite the constant surveillance, he has to prepare reports for state security agents every four hours on what he has done and who he has spoken to.

But Chen greeted the UN’s report and said she felt vindicated.

” Of course, he didn’t commit any crime, his arrest was completely illegal and I’m glad the UN, a very objective party that represents the international community, can see that ,” said Chen, who fled to the US earlier this year.” I hope this will put pressure on China and attain them think twice the next time they consider apprehending people on political charges .”

” Paying compensation would indicate the governmental forces acknowledges they harmed our family, that they were wrong to subject us to more than two years of continuous damage ,” she added.

During his detention, Xie was beaten and forced into stress positions, his legal team said, with one interrogator telling him:” We’ll torture you to demise just like an ant .”

Ambassadors from countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, wrote to China’s minister of public security in February, voicing fears over the torment claims and calling for an independent investigation.

” The working group’s opinion cuts straight through the government’s lies and shows that the arrests were always about reprisal against lawyers for protecting human rights ,” said Frances Eve, a researcher at the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders.” The government set enormous resources into their propaganda campaign to smear human rights lawyers as’ offenders ‘, deploying country media, police, prosecutors and the courts .”

During the course of the panel’s investigation, the Chinese government said the men were jailed not because” they defend the legitimate rights of others” but rather they have” long been engaged in criminal activities, aimed at subverting the basic national system established by the China’s[ sic] constitution “. The UN rejected this claim.

Critics say Hu was arrested for leading an underground church, which works outside the government-sanctioned system. He previously expended 16 years in prison for distributing leaflets on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent bloody crackdown.

Zhou is a prominent human rights attorney who founded the Fengrui law firm that was at the centre of the 2015 government” war on law “. His firm represented dissident artist Ai Weiwei, members of the banned spiritual motion Falun Gong and a journalist arrested for supported protests in Hong Kong.

The UN’s working group on arbitrary detention previously told China to release Liu Xia, the wife of the Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in detention in July. Liu Xia has been under house arrest since 2010, when her husband won the award, despite never being charged with a crime.

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Rohingya crisis: UN ‘suppressed’ report predicting its shortcomings in Myanmar

Insiders claim strategy review warned against imminent crisis in Rakhine state and recommending immediate action was stifled by the official who commissioned it

The UN commissioned and then “suppressed” a report that criticised its strategy in Myanmar and advised it was ill-prepared to deal with the impending Rohingya crisis, sources have told the Guardian.

The review, written by a consultant and submitted in May, offered a highly critical analysis of the UN’s approach and said there should be” no stillnes on human rights “.

The report, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, accurately predicted a “serious deterioration” in the six months following its submission and advised the UN to undertake” serious contingency planning “.

” It is recommended that, as a matter of urgency, UN headquarters identifies ways to improve overall coherence in the UN’s system approach ,” wrote independent analyst Richard Horsey, the report’s author.

Security forces-out would be” heavy-handed and indiscriminate” in dealing with the Rohingya, said Horsey- a prediction that echo true when Rohingya militants attacked dozens of outposts on 25 August, inspiring a massive military crackdown.

In little more than a month, more than half a million Rohingya have fled over the border to Bangladesh amid allegations of carnages by Myanmar’s armed forces and Rohingya rebels. On Thursday Bangladesh announced that it would build one of the world’s biggest refugee camps to house all those who have sought asylum.

The UN report, entitled The Role of the United Nation in Rakhine state, was commissioned by Renata Lok-Dessallien, the UN resident coordinator and the organisation’s most senior figure in Myanmar. It built 16 recommendations. Horsey outlined the necessity of achieving new staff positions and “frank” the consultations with government, and called for the report to be widely distributed among aid agencies.

The UN was urged to ensure that the human rights up front initiative, a strategy introduced by former secretary general Ban Ki-moon to prevent mass cruelties, was fully implemented. Horsey said the initiative should” be at the core of how the UN operates “, adding that there should be” no silence on human rights and protection concerns “.

However, sources within the UN and humanitarian community claimed the recommendations were ignored and the report was suppressed.

A source close to events, who asked not to be named, said the paper was ” spiked” and not circulated among UN and aid agencies” because Renata[ Lok-Dessallien] didn’t like the analysis “.

” It was given to Renata and she didn’t distribute it further because she wasn’t happy with it ,” said another well-placed source.

The 28 -page document said its writer would be expected to provide feedback to the UN’s humanitarian country team, a group consisting of UN agencies such as the World Food Programme and the UN refugee agency as well as other aid groups such as Save the Children. The Guardian understands this meeting never took place.

A media representative for the office of the resident coordinator in Myanmar said a briefing meeting on the initial findings, open to all UN bureaux, took place in April.

” The UN agreed with the document’s outline of some of the challenges of peace, humanitarian and development assistance in Rakhine state, and the risk of farther outbreaks of violence.

” In fact, the UN in Myanmar was already putting in place some of the changes suggested in the document prior to its release ,” said the representative, adding that this included the “crucial” human rights up front mechanism.

The final report was ” shared with some senior officials”, said the representative, who declined to identify the individuals concerned. Sources in Myanmar said the report was ” mentioned under sessions on two occasions” before it” disappeared off the orders of the day “. No one was able to access the document subsequently.

A senior aid officer said the final report was ” kept very low-key “.

” Criticisms, constructive ones, are rarely taken as learning opportunities but are received as personal attacks and provoked defensive responses ,” the source added.

Meanwhile, Lok-Dessallien faces fresh charges that she undermined attempts to publicly promote the rights of the Rohingya, the stateless Muslim minority. Aid employees said the UN prioritised good relations with the Myanmar government over humanitarian and human rights advocacy.

A spokesperson for the UN secretary general denied the allegations.” The resident coordinator has been a tireless proponent for human rights ,” said the spokesperson.” Human rights stand at the centre of everything the UN does .”

The Guardian approached Horsey, the author of research reports, for comment.” The UN knew, or “shouldve known”, that the status quo in Rakhine was likely to evolve into a major crisis ,” he said in an emailed response.

However, he added that the severity of the criticism directed at Lok-Dessallien was unwarranted.

” It may be true that the resident coordinator could have done some things differently or better,[ but] primary responsibility for any UN fails lies with its headquarters over the last several years ,” wrote Horsey.

” They did not have a coherent or well-coordinated approach to Myanmar, and especially Rakhine, and did not offer the required political supporting and guidance to their in-country squad .”

His report said senior UN figures in New York had sent” mixed messages” and there was no replacing special adviser to the secretary general, a high-level UN official with” diplomatic clout “, leaving the resident coordinator in an impossible position.

The study quoth a” widely-held perception” that there had been” trade-offs between advocacy and access that have in practice de-prioritised the rights and humanitarian action, which are seen as complicating and undermining relations with government “.

A UN official in Yangon said:” Human rights up front isn’t being implemented. It just isn’t. They can say that they are ticking some boxes but in terms of actions that lead to results we’re insuring nothing .”

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said:” It’s not been human rights up front, it’s been human rights down in back.

” The UN is going to have to acknowledge their significant share of blame in letting this situation descend this far, this fast .”

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Ai Weiwei: Without the prison, the beatings, what would Ibe?’

His combats with the Chinese nation stimulated him an artist. Now a rootless exile who rarely leaves his studio in Berlin, he explains why his new documentary about the global predicament of migrants will haunt him for the rest of his life

Human Flow, the debut feature from the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, is a bold documentary about the refugee crisis. The film bounds from the cardboard the two cities of Europe to the burning oilfields of Mosul and from the unmarked graves of Turkey to the Texas-Mexico border. It plays out across 23 different countries. It contains a cast of thousands. In 2010, the artist packed Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with 100m hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds that broke up underfoot and filled the air with dust. Here, he crams an entire global tragedy into 140 fraught minutes.

If there’s a unifying thread in all this teeming human traffic, it’s the shambling figure of Ai himself. There he is, a burly, beetle-browed human of 60, handing out hot tea on the beaches at Lesbos, comforting a traumatised girl inside a makeshift studio and cooking kebabs on a barbecue at a dusty refugee camp. He says that he never wanted to appear on-screen as a tourist. His mission was always to find common ground.” I am a refugee, every bit ,” he says.” Those people are me. That’s my identity .”

Human Flow premiered in competitor at this year’s Venice film festival. Ai says he’s astounded; he never imagined this happening. So now he sits in the vestibule of a five-star hotel, gulping from a glass of iced-water and sporadically get up to shake hands with well-wishers. His sky-blue T-shirt is matted with sweat and his bristling beard seems as though it has expended the night in hard frost. But if you’re going to identify as the status of refugees, there are worse places to shelter. Ai has seen them and been there, and survived to tell the tale.

Even those who would struggle to name one of Ai’s installations are familiar with the man’s history. He’s the dissident artist, at odds with his homeland; jailed for 81 days back in 2011 and now, for all practical purposes, living in exile in Berlin. ArtReview magazine once called him ” the most powerful artist in the world “~ ATAGEND, a visionary who has taken a lifetime of social activism and conjured it into a kind of continuous performance piece. His critics view him rather differently: as a petroleum provocateur, trading in stereotypes and bankrolled by the west. His presence in Venice is hardly going to assuage their concerns.

Ai shakes his head; he knows this line of assault.” All day long, the media ask me if I have shown the movie to the refugees:’ When are the refugees going to see the cinema ?’ But that’s the wrong topic. The intent is to show it to people of influence; people who are in a position to help and who have a responsibility to assistance. The refugees who need help- they don’t need to see the movie. They require dry shoes. They require soup .”

The artist in a refugee camp in Macedonia last year. Photograph: Valdrin Xhemaj/ EPA

It helps, of course, that the cinema is such an extraordinary feat- a sweeping humanitarian epic with its feet on the ground and grime under its nails. In one memorable shoot, taken by a droning over a camp in Iraq, the beige tents are arranged like some vast abstract canvas. Then it drops by degrees to show us all the people who live there. Ai puts faces to statistics, tells individual stories and shrewdly decides not to spare his own blushes. At one stage, he playfully swaps passports with Mahmoud, the status of refugees fleeing Syria. Mahmoud, for his part, is happy to do so. He adds they should probably swap homes as well: a nice Berlin studio in return for a hot, crowded tent. The director laughter gamely, but won’t take him up on the offer. It’s a moment that exposes the gulf between them.

Ai winces at the memory.” Yeah, that was the worst feeling. That actually got me. Because[ if] you’re passionate, you think you mean what you say. You tell these people that you’re the same as them. But you are lying because you are not the same. Your situation is different; you must leave them. And that’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life .”

He was raised in the teeth of the Cultural Revolution, the son of a poet who fell contaminate of the party. The family home, then, was in exile, first in Manchuria and then a labour camp on the edge of the Gobi desert. His father was put to work cleaning toilets; he attempted suicide several times. Witnessing that helped shape Ai’s worldview.” My father went through an unthinkable journey ,” he says.” But it was one small segment of a wider human conflict. There’s no end to that fight. It’s the reality we deal with. We all have a short life. We have just been a moment to speak out or to present what little skills we have. And if everybody does that, perhaps the temperature changes .”

The Human Flow trailer.

Back in Beijing in his late teens, Ai enrolled at the cinema academy. Cinema, alongside poetry, was likely his first love. He adored the work of Fellini, Taxi Driver and the Godfather movies, yet now feels the heyday of narrative cinema has passed.” If you watch the news, you realise that movie has lost its advantage in indicating daily reality ,” he says.” So it’s over, it has gone, it has already happened. We have too many images on the internet every second. Spend half an hour on social media and you get much more information than you could ever get into a cinema .”

He took his first flight from China in 1981, when he boarded a plane for New York, intending to shake off his shackles and start a new life in the west. He still recollects his descent into JFK.” It was just a sci-fi movie; like being dropped on to an alien planet. All the language, the knowledge- they just didn’t work any more. I appeared out of the window and watched the city below. The inundate of light- that entirely absorbed me. Because I grew up without light- not even candles- merely this very low-quality gas; the fumes would construct your mouth black. And then, all of a sudden, to watch those suns. All that energy; that surreal monster city. I felt like a moth. I wanted to die in those illuminates .”

At the time he referred to himself as an artist. These days he says that wasn’t really the instance. He worked on house sites and as a gardener; very occasionally as a sidewalk caricaturist. Fairly much everything that he painted he flung in the bin. New York was an education, but it never became home. It was merely back in China, in the early 90 s, that he finally began to find his range.

Ai’s work is rooted in conceptual art and dadaism; mercurial Marcel Duchamp remains a vital touchstone. So he found objects and then set about them, often with subversive intent. He smashed an antique Chinese pot for his photo triptych Falling a Han Dynasty Urn; doused others in industrial paint for the exhibit Coloured Vases. And as he gained in confidence, his activism crept into the art to the point where the two elements became indistinguishable from each other.” All creative activism, if it works well, is a work of art ,” he tells me.” The same way that every good work of art, if it concerns itself with reality and politics, is a form of activism. Sometimes, yes, they are separate. But maybe not for me. I was born into all that. I am are applied to it now .”

His run-ins with the authorities are not just a biographical footnote. One might better claim that they are central to his art. First, he outraged the government with a political blog. Then he hounded them over their listless response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, documenting the names of every student who perished and mounting a huge installation of 9,000 children’s backpacks. For his trouble, he has been thrown into jail and punched by police. When the blow was revealed to have caused a bleed on his brain, he filmed his medical treatment and posted the picture on Twitter. In this way, perhaps, even the plastic bag of his blood has become a Ai Weiwei work of art.

A scene from Human Flow.

He describes his present base in Berlin as a dormitory existence. He says that he doesn’t speak German and rarely leaves his studio. He works through the weekend and says he never takes vacations. And all this is OK; the work keeps him occupied.” Also, it’s still very dangerous for me to go back to China. Twelve of my lawyers are still serving sentences. One for five years, another for 10. I call my mum on the phone; she’s well over 80. And she always tells me,’ Don’t ever come back .'”

I ask what he believes of China’s current prospects. To a western eye, his homeland seems to be in the dominance. It is well placed to profit from the actions of a wayward, bellicose US administration; poised to become the undisputed global superpower.

But Ai pulls a disgusted face. He thinks I’m missing the phase.” Can China be a global power? I don’t think so. It can gain an advantage, that’s true. But it doesn’t have soul. It doesn’t have heart. It doesn’t trust its own people. So it has no self-identity in the sense that it has never accepted human rights as common values. No freedom of speech , no independent judicial system. If those don’t exist, how can you have imagination? How can you be a country? So keep forgetting China. China is an illusion. It’s there, it’s big. But nobody can tell you what it is .”

The way Ai tells it, he exists in a perpetual state of flux; rootless to the core. He likens himself to a leaf on a stream, carried this route and that, never knowing where he is going to wind up next. Up to a point, this stimulates perfect sense. But it strikes me that there’s another way of framing the man’s narrative; one in which he is a far more active agent. In this version, Ai has expended their own lives in opposition to his homeland- in a perpetual country of friction , not flux. If anything has defined him, it is his relationship with China. Without China, I suggest, he wouldn’t be an artist at all.

” Yeah, precisely ,” says Ai. The notion pricks his interest.” I would be what ?” he asks.” Without all the scream, without the prison, the beatings, just what would I be? Probably right now I’d be walking down Broadway, just like all the other immigrants. Trying to find the next task, pay next month’s rent. Or I’d be back in China, running a restaurant. Or in a suit, in an office, another Chinese citizen .” He reaches for his water.” But maybe not, even then, because my father was a poet. He brought me up on Whitman, Neruda and Rimbaud. All that induced “i m feeling” there was another prospect, and that struggle means freedom. That, I believe, is the revenge of life .”

Does he ever wish that it could have been different? Imagine for a moment there had been no banishment to the desert. No humbled father , no prison , no Berlin. He might have led what passes for an ordinary existence. Wouldn’t he sometimes prefer to be running a restaurant in Beijing?

” Good topic ,” he says.” Of course you are human – you sometimes wonder these things. But I still think I would choose exactly the same route, even though the steps that I have taken have been very hard. It has been so ugly, so painful, but it has also brought so much elation. I guess I’m a person who detects exhilaration through difficulty .” He barks a short chuckle.” No difficulty , no pleasure .”

Human Flow is released in the US on 13 October

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