G8 Comes to Sheffield

So its not had the publicity attached to the big G8 event in Gleneagles, Scotland, next month, but it is now just two weeks until the justice and home affairs ministers of the G8 countries gather in Sheffield to swap notes and make plans.

I had heard that it would be just the G7 ministers (i.e. excluding Russia) coming along. If true this might let Russia off the hook, given today’s news that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a trenchent critic of Putin and the Kremlin, has been jailed for nine years. (Independent, Mosnews Interview) With minimal knowledge of the case I can’t help feeling deeply ambivalent. I’m all for billionaire oil tycoons who are convicted of fraud and tax evasion being locked up. I’d like to see more of it. Though the concern on everybody’s minds is, of course, that it was his funding of opposition political parties that really got him in trouble.

So, what’s on the agenda? The public information suggests that on the agenda for the Sheffield meeting is work on transnational organised crime and counter-terror measures. A sceptical glance at the thin details available publicly are as follows.

First up is counter-narcotics work in Afghanistan. The UK is supposed to be the lead nation here, but only last week was the subject of criticism by both the US and Hamid Karzai that it simply wasn’t doing its job properly.(Guardian)

Next, the curbing of immigration crime, focussing particularly on documentation. I can’t help suspecting that a focus on documentation is either a red herring, to stop us worrying about the 1,800 people currently locked up without trial or time limit in detention centres in the UK (with plans in progress for another 4,000 places). (Barbed Wire Britain) The alternative is, of course, that what they’ll actually be talking about is making everybody’s documentation less forgable, which suggests biometric data for all.

The final note is a mixed bag, “international law enforcement co-operation, focussing on child protection, the expanded use of DNA and the international illegal trade in firearms”. As I’m in skeptical mood I’ll just ask, why only firearms? The illegal trade in all grades of weapons continues apace, with London as the international centre for arms trading. (Noted in passing in today’s Independent, much more in relation to DSEIDisarm DSEI!.)

What’s not on the agenda? Well perhaps the major thing that’s missing is what plans the G8 ‘justice’ ministers have for the burgeoning network of torture centres they are maintaining in countries with less ‘respectable’ records on human rights. Are they going to talk about it? Work out who’s footing the bills? Who’s providing the soldiers? Worry about the reliability of the ‘evidence’ they are disclosing?

As I said, a skeptical look, and it is quite possible that they’ll come up with some valuable initiatives. However, with the quality of information publicly available, what they’ll actually be discussing is anybody’s guess. A couple of catchphrases and bureaucratic buzzwords is all we’re offered. The main criticism aimed at the actions of the G8 is currently a complete lack of transparency. And as yet, despite a smooth looking website and a charming picture of the PM, the UK presidency of the G8 does not look likely to open it up to any significant degree.

Further Information on the G8 in Sheffield

Some relevant national organisations