The UN commissions human rights experts called Special Rapporteurs to investigate how countries comply with their human rights obligations. Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, has been in the UK for a week.
Having met government officials, human rights organisations and those concerned with protest, yesterday he presented his preliminary findings, pending a full report in May.
He reserved his strongest words for the undercover police scandal - both the infiltration and the subsequent efforts by those responsible to avoid accountability and smother justice.
Speaking of the "trail of victims and survivors in its wake", and making a sideswipe at the judgement last week that took guidance from James Bond, he said
This is not a James Bond-type movie issue. I therefore call on the authorities to undertake a judge-led public inquiry into the Mark Kennedy matter, and other related cases, with a view to giving voice to victims, especially women, who were deliberately deceived by their own Government, and paving the way for reparations.
Kiai, a global expert on human rights, spoke unequivocally about the breaches involved.
It is a clear violation of basic rights protected under the Human Rights Act, and more generally under international law, such as the right to privacy.
But he is clear that this is not just about those directly affected. It is a grave matter of justice.
This is a national issue and I think it's important to the United Kingdom. Because of the trauma, because of the chilling effect that this has on association and freedom of assembly, that this be done publicly, in a public judge-led enquiry.
The state has, instead, been setting up a raft of tiny limited enquiries where the police pick one small aspect of the affair and investigate themselves. It is an approach widely derided by the victims, as activist/researcher Eveline Lubbers made plain in her open letter response to the police this week. Kiai is clear that such tactics are a whitewash and are an insult to those who want the truth, most especially those directly targeted.
There's been absolutely no regard, no attention given for the victims of this, and the victims are a lot of people. People have formed relationships, friendships, and I think that when the state is perpetuating that it's a public matter. I think that we should remember that there are victims in this, it is not a victimless issue... children were born, relationships happened. The British government has to take on their responsibilities.
The Home Office limply responded with their standard line.
The use of undercover officers remains an important investigative tool for the police in preventing and detecting serious and violent crime.
"Serious and violent crime"? Kiai's prepared statement did make the curious - well, clearly untrue - assertion that
The case of Mark Kennedy and other undercover officers is shocking as the groups in question were not engaged in criminal activities.
But answering questions at the press conference he clarified
Every police force needs a way of gathering intelligence, however that is reserved, and should be reserved, for serious criminal activities such as drug trafficking, anti-terror work. When you target a group that are involved in peaceful actions, many of which are lawful, and you do it as Mark Kennedy did, then there's a problem, as potentially the state is paying to infiltrate you for simply doing what you should be doing.
He pointed out that the government decided the phone hacking scandal warranted a full public inquiry, yet refuses to consider doing the same for this scandal that is of - at least - similar proportions. It is, as Jonathan Freedland said this week, the hacking of people's lives.
Kiai then moved on to compare the police's approach to dealing with other organisations that contain some criminal plotters.
Civil society exercising their rights must not be treated differently simply for doing so. Marks and Spencer or BAE don't have police spies sent in to look for white-collar crimes.
The police he met had engaged in open and frank discussions on all issues except this one, where he said he was confronted with "a wall of silence". He is plainly outraged at the reaction, and continued
You simply can't go ahead and pay people to go off and have relationships and families with people and then disappear. That to me is unacceptable - completely. That is what you see in a banana republic.
One case doesn't define the character of a nation's ruling culture. But given that the same tactics have been used to undermine a wide variety of campaigns, unions and pressure groups for decades, allied to the even wider response of state obstruction of justice familiar to us from Hillsborough, phone hacking, Stephen Lawrence and any other number of scandals, it doesn't feel like an exaggeration. Though in northern Europe we might more bioregionally be defined as a turnip republic.
AND ANOTHER THING
The "indiscriminate and disproportionate nature" of kettling was singled out as an assault on the right to protest, and despite the UK courts finding the practice is legal, on this too he was unequivocal.
I think there's absolutely no justification for kettling. If you need to keep people away, there are ways in which you can put people aside and move them out. Holding people for as long as we've seen here is wrong, and I think is a contravention of human rights law.
Kiai also - on the day the No Dash For Gas protesters who occupied a power station were charged with it - singled out the crime of Aggravated Trespass as "very problematic", criticised the use of anti-stalking injunctions being used by corporations to prevent protest, and attacked not just the practice of union blacklisting but the paltry sentences given to its perpetrators. A construction industry blacklister was given a £5000 fine whilst the clients - including most of the major firms - were let off with a warning.
I was appalled to hear about the existence of a blacklist of union members in the construction industry, with no sanctions allegedly taken against those who benefited from the list. It is crucial that strong actions be taken against the making and using of such lists as a deterrence.
His full report is due out in May. It will be interesting to see not only what it contains, but how the state defends itself against so august a critic.