Ministers’ language, occupied territories and international law: your letters to the editor

Ministers must mind their language

In 2018, Priti Patel came under heavy criticism for suggesting that Britain should use the threat of food shortages to force Ireland to change its approach to Brexit.


Her comments demonstrated either a very high degree of callousness or ignorance of the historic relations between the two countries.


Two years on, Patel, now home secretary, may once again be in need of a history lesson from Ireland. On 17 January 1989, Home Office minister Douglas Hogg claimed in the Commons that Belfast criminal defence lawyer Pat Finucane was ‘unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA’. Irish state papers released under the 30-year-rule confirm that Hogg’s comments reflected ‘a precise official briefing’ and did not constitute a ‘spontaneous outburst on his part’.  


Three weeks later, Finucane was shot dead while having a Sunday meal with his family. The men who pulled the triggers belonged to a loyalist paramilitary group, but the target was chosen by agents of the British state in an act of collusion David Cameron would be forced to apologise for, over a decade later.


The British government’s demonisation of Finucane for simply doing his job was instrumental in creating the hostile environment in which his murder was made possible. It has now emerged that four days after Patel’s tirade last month against ‘activist lawyers’ frustrating the removal of asylum seekers, a knifeman carrying a confederate flag allegedly carried out an attack in an immigration law firm. Despite Patel being made aware of the alleged incident, both she and the prime minister have continued their attacks on ‘lefty-lawyers’ and ‘do-gooders’.


Patel has previously been forced to resign as international development secretary for breaching the Ministerial Code. She has already been the subject of a bullying inquiry this year. That she has continued her attacks on lawyers for doing their job while aware of the very serious consequences of her words, makes her position untenable. Or will it take the tragic loss of life before this government begins to behave responsibly?


Fahad Ansari

Riverway Law, Morden


Occupied territories and international law

The world has been alarmed by the recent flare-up of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. It stems from the 1988-94 Armenian-Azerbaijan war, when ethnic Armenian separatists gained control of the area.


These and adjoining appropriated lands are recognised under international law as being within Azerbaijan’s borders. Not a single UN member state legally recognises these lands as anything other than an integral part of Azerbaijan. The Council of Europe, the EU, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe all adopt the same position. Even Armenia itself has stopped short of recognition, well aware that to do so would contradict established international law.


The separatists claim it is a case of a people seeking to rule themselves, to protect their culture and rights. This may make for fine-sounding ‘moral’ argument – but it is unfounded when held against both international law and historical and modern-day fact.


It is true that the occupied territories are today largely ethnically Armenian. But this came about by force – almost one million Azerbaijanis were ejected from their homes and now live as internally displaced persons across Azerbaijan. And then, after the separatists had taken control, further Armenians were resettled there from Armenia itself. A decisive ethnic majority, especially one secured through war, is not a justification for statehood.


Neither is there any requirement under international law for the occupied territories to be recognised as an independent state, in order to protect ethnicity, heritage and religion. Such protections exist under the national laws of Azerbaijan and its international human rights obligations including the European Convention on Human Rights. There is no legal basis for creating a second Armenian state within Azerbaijan.


The lasting solution would be for those Azerbaijanis who were displaced between 1988 and 1994 during the Armenian-Azerbaijan war to be allowed to return to their homes, as is their lawful right, and, together with ethnic Armenians, to find a way to live there together as part of the territory of Azerbaijan.


Essential for doing this will be to strip away the distortions that surround the ‘territorial integrity versus self-determination’ debate, and to understand both the applicable international law and the factual realities. This may be hard to achieve but it is vital for upholding international law and for an enduring peace.


Rodney Dixon QC

Temple Garden Chambers, London and The Hague


Punishment too light

I am deeply ashamed to be part of a profession that takes infringements against women so lightly (‘Solicitor fined £17,500 after sexual assault conviction’, 5 October). This was a ‘persistent’ assault on a stranger at a taxi rank late at night. The victim was only 18 and was extremely distressed. Part of the mitigation seems to be that Mr Khosla was drunk. He is apparently a criminal defence lawyer and as such should know that committing an offence due to drink is actually an aggravating rather than a mitigating factor.


If the defendant had committed a racist assault in similar circumstances, would the SDT have been so eager to take into account this being so out of character? When will the SDT start to take infringements and discrimination against women as seriously as those against other sections of society?


Robert Moussalli

Burton Copeland, Manchester