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UN chief calls for 'immediate and unconditional' Israel-Palestinian ceasefire

Tue, 2014-07-29 11:37

The UN Secretary-General has urged Israelis and Palestinians to stop fighting now, “in the name of humanity” and agree a ceasefire, allowing delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.

Urging Israelis and Palestinians to stop the fighting now, “in the name of humanity”, the United Nations Secretary-General has again joined the Security Council in calling on the parties to agree on an “immediate and unconditional” ceasefire, allowing for the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.

“Gaza is in a critical condition. Israeli missiles have pummelled Gaza. Hamas rockets have randomly struck Israel,” said Mr Ban, briefing the press yesterday (28 July) on his return from a six-day mission to the region, where he pressed both sides to heed the rising humanitarian toll of the crisis, stop the fighting and return to a comprehensive dialogue that would address and prevent the seemingly endless cycle of violence.

While stressing that no country would accept the threat of rockets from above and tunnels from below, The Secretary-General said that at the same time, “all occupying powers have an international legal obligation to protect civilians.”

“I was deeply disappointed that dangerous hostilities resumed on Sunday – but since Sunday evening a relative and very fragile calm on the ground has been established, said the UN chief, adding that while the temporary weekend pause in fighting brought a “brief respite” to war-weary civilians, it had also revealed “how much the massive Israeli assault has devastated the lives of the people of Gaza.”

Telling reporters that people on the ground have described the breadth of the destruction – which has reduced entire neighbourhoods to rubble and flattened apartment buildings throughout the tiny enclave – as a “man-made hurricane, Mr Ban said: “The people of Gaza have nowhere to run. Every home, every school, every refuge has become a target.”

The casualties and massive damage also raise serious questions of proportionality, continued the Secretary-General, adding that as of now, more than 173,000 Gazans – nearly 10 per cent of the population – are seeking protection at facilities managed by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

“I repeat my call on Israel and all the parties to do vastly more to ensure the safety of these UN sites and the security of the people who have sought sanctuary there,” he said.

Mr Ban’s comments to the press came hours after an early morning emergency session of the UN Security Council, which also called for an immediate ceasefire.

In a presidential statement approved just after midnight, the 15-member body expressed strong support for the calls by international partners and the Secretary-General for such a ceasefire, and urged all parties to accept and fully implement it into the Eid period marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and beyond.

“The Security Council also calls on parties to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected ceasefire, based on the Egyptian initiative,” the statement added.

In this regard, the Council welcomed the efforts of international partners and the convening of the international meeting to support the ceasefire held in Paris on 26 July and urged all concerned regional and international parties to vigorously support efforts to consolidate an agreement between the parties.

The Israeli military offensive in Gaza, which is home to 1.8 million people, has left hundreds dead and thousands injured. Over 170,000 people have been uprooted from their homes and have sought shelter in UN-run facilities.

The Council expressed “grave concern” regarding the deterioration in the situation as a result of the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties.

In a statement issued earlier by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban welcomed the Security Council’s “strong support” for his call for a humanitarian ceasefire.

He called on all parties to prolong the suspension of fighting for an additional extendable period of 24-hours to allow vital humanitarian efforts to continue, and reiterated his demand for a durable ceasefire that could set the ground for the start of comprehensive negotiations.

“As people around the world mark Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan and a time for overcoming differences, the Secretary-General calls on parties to build on the current calm,” according to the statement.

Mr Ban underscored that both Israelis and Palestinians have a responsibility beyond ceasing the ongoing hostilities to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict.

“That means an end to the blockade of Gaza and ultimately to the nearly half century of occupation,” he said, adding that it equally means security for Israel."

Mr Ban added that he "urges the parties to heed his call and that of the international community for the sake of present and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis.”


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Third sector and TUC agreement on future of children’s services commissioning

Tue, 2014-07-29 10:19

Children England, along with many of their member organisations and the TUC have published a new joint agreement on the future of children’s services commissioning.

Children England, along with many of their member organisations and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) have published a new joint agreement on the future of children’s services commissioning.

The agreement – Declaration of Interdependence in Children’s Services – has been reached following concerns that the government’s narrow market-led approach to provision is having a detrimental impact on both the quality of services for children and employment conditions for staff. The signatory organisations are using the agreement to lead debate on the future of children’s services, targeting local and national government.

Principles included in the agreement:

- procurement to be based on quality, not price
funding settlements for children’s services to be long-term and sustainable
- exploration of alternatives to competitive tendering, such as grants
- maximum transparency and accountability when services are outsourced
- an end to exploitative employment practices such as zero-hour contracts, and a commitment to paying the Living Wage.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “For many years, local councils have formed innovative partnerships with voluntary organisations, which are well placed to engage with and empower children and young people in the communities they serve. But their positive impact on children’s lives is now being undermined by destructive spending cuts and a market free-for-all that forces price-based competition on them.

“Our new model of collaboration between local councils and community and voluntary organisations is an opportunity for local and national government to move on from outdated and discredited free-market dogma. Children’s rights can be crowded out by market ideology, but they are at the heart of our new shared vision. It also prioritises the quality of children’s services and high employment standards for those who work with and care for are children, both of which are at risk of a race to the bottom if they have to play second fiddle to price-based competition.”

Kathy Evans, Chief Executive of Children England, said: “Charities and public services have a long history of working together out of their shared commitments and missions for children. Every year children’s charities ease the strain on public spending on children’s services by raising and spending millions in voluntary income to support children, young people and families, and by marshalling the time and skills of millions of volunteers. On both public and voluntary sides of that relationship, however, price-driven competition is eating away at the funds that reach the front line of support for vulnerable children, and risk a damaging ‘chase to the bottom’ that is whittling away at the quality, capacity and morale of children's services.

“If we could put fluorescent markers on every taxpayer and charity pound being spent purely on the processes of competing for contracts then we might all be able to see more clearly the sheer scale of resources being drawn away from the ‘front line’ of children’s services. Yet there is surprisingly scant research evidence or data to justify this contracting merry-go-round.

“With no realistic prospect of the financial pressures on local authorities and charities being alleviated in the near future, whatever may happen at the next general election, spending this amount of money, time and energy on competing is increasingly wasteful.

“We believe that these reforms could unlock a far more creative and collaborative pooling of charity and state resources for children than competitive contracting could ever allow.”

Javed Kahn, Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, said: “The restructuring of the commissioning and funding relationships between the public and voluntary sectors is long overdue. Waters have been muddied over recent years, it is collaboration rather than rivalry that will ensure the needs of the child are the first and foremost priority for all parties. These reforms must result in the creation of an arena where charity and state resources can complement each other, rather than compete.

“As a provider Barnardo’s has seen the profound impact of short term contracts on children’s services. Vision and commitment are needed to achieve a step change in outcomes for vulnerable children.

“Public contracts in transport, for example, can be 15 years long. Notwithstanding the differences between the two, many contracts in children’s services are commissioned and re-commissioned every one to two years. This causes unnecessary instability, waste and disruption. It reduces the potential benefits to children and is a time-consuming and costly process that neither children nor the country can afford.

“The Declaration of Interdependence comes at a critical time. Services are under great pressure and Barnardo’s believes wider debate surrounding their future is needed.”

* The full agreement document Declaration of Interdependence in Children’s Services can be found here: www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Declaration_Of_Interdependence_2014_T...


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Faith groups set out their role in Scotland’s future

Mon, 2014-07-28 11:32

Representatives of Scotland’s religious communities have come together to consider the role they wish to play in Scottish society.

Representatives of Scotland’s religious communities have come together to consider the role they wish to play in Scottish society. At an Interfaith conference convened by the Church of Scotland a joint statement was agreed affirming the important contribution churches and faith groups make to modern Scotland and their continued commitment to serving the communities of which they are a part.

The two day event was held at the Conforti Institute in Coatbridge, in collaboration with Action of Churches Together in Scotland and Interfaith Scotland. It followed a meeting earlier this year which identified the need for Scotland’s religious communities to respond together to the place of faith in the Scottish Government’s consultation on a proposed future written constitution.

Responding to issues raised in the debate on Scotland’s future, delegates agreed the role of faith goes beyond the outcome of September’s referendum. Discussions centred on the rights of religious freedom and diversity, as well as education, social justice, and the voice of religious communities in Scotland’s civic society.

The convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, praised the event for addressing the responsibilities as well as the rights of religious groups. Speaking on behalf of those present, she said

“This was an opportunity for representatives of Scotland’s religious communities, including those from the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh traditions, to discuss the role they believe faith has to play in a modern Scotland. The agreed statement is a distillation of their gathered thoughts, and while not a policy document, it is nonetheless a contribution that those present deem to be important and which they hope will be included in discussions concerning the future of Scotland regardless of the outcome of the referendum. We believe that the statement paints a picture that is bigger than the binary 'yes' or 'no' of the referendum debate; and 'yes' or 'no' , we feel Scotland’s religious communities have a valuable role to play in the public square of a future Scotland.”

*Read the interfaith statement on the role of religious communities in society here: http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/21805/Int...


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'Primitive' deprivation of citizenship powers come into force

Mon, 2014-07-28 11:06

New powers have come into force this week allowing the Home Secretary Theresa May to deprive naturalised Britons of their citizenship, even where doing so would render them stateless.

New powers have come into force this week allowing the Home Secretary Theresa May to deprive naturalised Britons of their citizenship, even where doing so would render them stateless.

The new powers, which fall under section 40 of the 1981 British Nationality Act, were passed in the Commons earlier this year, having been brought forward at the last minute.

The Home Secretary may deprive a person of their citizenship if she is “satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good.” The decision to deprive is taken in secret and solely by the Home Secretary, while victims of the order are not allowed a hearing.

Deprivation of citizenship has been described by the US Supreme Court as “a form of punishment more primitive than torture”. The UK government has often made deprivation orders when victims are abroad, making it impossible for them to appeal. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20477)

Kat Craig, Legal Director of the human rights and legal charity Reprieve, said: “Today is a dark day for the rule of law and for British democracy. The powers that Theresa May assumes today are espoused by the likes of the French far right. The prohibition on statelessness was the only tangible check on the Home Secretary’s considerable power; its removal raises the worrying prospect that Brits could be made stateless as a prelude to illegal rendition or, worse, a drone strike.”


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UN renews appeal for humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza leading to political talks

Sun, 2014-07-27 18:49

Welcoming the broadly observed 12-hour humanitarian pause in the Gaza conflict, the UN Secretary-General has renewed his appeal for a week-long ceasefire as a prelude to restarting political negotiations.

Welcoming the broadly observed 12-hour humanitarian pause in the Gaza conflict, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has renewed his appeal to all parties to declare a week-long ceasefire as a prelude to restarting political negotiations.

A statement issued yesterday (26 July) by Mr. Ban's spokesperson noted that there were countless images of Gazans trying to return to their daily lives while taking care of their wounded and attending to their dead during the pause, which ended on Saturday.

“These images make it clear that we owe to the people of both Israel and Gaza our renewed effort to consolidate this pause in fighting into a more sustainable ceasefire,” said the statement.

“The Secretary-General therefore urgently appeals once again to all parties to declare a seven-day humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza as a prelude to renewing a political process as the only way of achieving a durable peace,” it said, adding that he strongly urged the parties, at the very minimum, to extend the humanitarian pause.

On Friday, Mr. Ban wrapped up a six-day mission to the region by stressing that it is time for the parties to stop fighting and start talking. “There is no military solution to addressing the grievances and all parties must find a way to dialogue,” he told reporters in Cairo.

He added that the ongoing fighting emphasises the need to finally end the 47-year-old occupation and the “chokehold” on Gaza, ensure security based on mutual recognition, and achieve a viable two-State solution by which Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, side by side.

In yesterday's statement, Mr. Ban reiterated that any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than “set the stage for the next cycle of violence.”

According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the latest Israeli military offensive in Gaza, which is home to 1.8 million people, has left hundreds dead and thousands injured. Over 170,000 people have sought shelter in UNRWA schools, “facing uncertainty, anguish and risks to their lives,” the Agency said in a news release.

“The situation in Gaza has been extreme for so many years, to the point of becoming completely unsustainable,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl. “This conflict has been a terrible added blow. It is taking a staggering toll on Gaza's civilians, and will leave a lasting mark for years to come – particularly on children.”

Mr. Krähenbühl was in Amman today where he met with Queen Rania Al Abdullah to discuss the crisis and express the Agency's gratitude for Jordan's continued support in facilitating the flow of humanitarian supplies through the Kingdom.

Queen Rania noted that Gaza was suffering the third round of conflict in less than six years, and stressed the need for the donor community to provide urgently-needed funds so that UNRWA can continue its life-saving assistance.

“Gaza is a protracted humanitarian disaster; its people have been trapped in a vicious cycle of bloodshed and blockade for too long. Failure to meet the desperate needs of Gaza's innocent civilians today would be a fundamental failure in our humanity,” she said.

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UK must end policy of 'arms control by embarrassment', say campaigners

Sat, 2014-07-26 17:49

Campaign Against Arms Trade has called on the UK government to stop promoting arms sales to oppressive regimes and end its policy of "arms control by embarrassment."

Following the release of the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) annual report, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has called on the UK government to stop promoting arms sales to oppressive regimes and end its policy of "arms control by embarrassment."

As the report itself acknowledges “the Government's arms export policy is essentially one of reacting to events and not taking sufficient account of the nature of the regimes concerned at the point when the decision is made to approve the export licence or not.” [para 167]

The UK government actively promotes arms sales to repressive regimes through its sponsorship and facilitation of events such as Farnborough Airshow. The event was opened last week by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and was attended by Russian state arms company Rosoboronexport, the same company that has been widely condemned for selling weapons to the Assad regime in Syria.

The UK follows a 'case by case' approach to arms exports rather than an embargo on all arms sales to regimes which abuse human rights. Even if exports are restricted to a particular state during times of tension, it will already be in possession of arms that were previously exported, and will be eligible for more licences once flashpoints die down.

UK weapons have been used for internal repression in places such as Libya, where UK weapons were used on Libyan citizens, Bahrain, where BAE Systems military vehicles were used against pro democracy protesters and Egypt, where UK produced gas canisters were used to suppress dissent.

Andrew Smith, a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: "For far too long the UK foreign policy has been one of arms control by embarrassment. Why should it take a humanitarian crisis before the government stops promoting and supporting arms sales to tyrants? Time and again we see the same tired excuses from government: we urgently need a fundamental revaluation of the UK's approach to arms sales."

On 20th July, the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said of Russian support for separatists in Ukraine: “They have been supplying them, they have been supporting them, they have been providing them with succour. They cannot deny their responsibility for the acts that these people are carrying out.”

Yet the UK continues to promote and supply weapons to regimes with a well-documented record of human rights abuses and repression. The UK's 2014/15 priority markets for arms exports include Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait. Oman, Qatar, Turkey and UAE. The UK's largest 'buyer' is Saudi Arabia, which the government licensed £1.6 billion worth of military licences to in 2013 alone, says CAAT.

Andrew continued:

"How can the UK claim to promote human rights and democracy when its own priority markets include some of the most oppressive governments in the world? These are the regimes that the government will be actively targeting and trying to do business with, despite their appalling human rights records", said Andrew Smith.

Every year the UK government releases a list of 'countries of concern' in relation to human rights and democracy, the most recent report included 28 countries. In the last 12 months the government has licensed arms sales to 18 of them.

The UK claims to have some of the most "rigorous" and "robust" arms control policies in the world, but this is clearly not the case, says Campaign Against Arms Trade. The campaigning group says it has proved this point by highlighting the various occasions on which the UK has used this line to excuse arming tyrants.

The results can be seen here on the Rigorous Repetition tumblr. http://rigorousrepetition.tumblr.com/


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Middle East solidarity

Sat, 2014-07-26 10:25
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Spending cuts threaten safety, says Action for Rail

Fri, 2014-07-25 09:38

Government cuts to Network Rail’s funding are putting the lives of rail passengers and maintenance workers at risk, according to a report published today by the TUC’s Action for Rail campaign.

Government cuts to Network Rail’s funding are putting the lives of both rail passengers and maintenance workers at risk, according to a report published today (25 July) by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Action for Rail campaign.

The research carried out on behalf of the four unions behind the campaign – ASLEF, RMT, TSSA and Unite – by the Working Lives Institute at London Metropolitan University is based on the findings of focus groups conducted with railway workers.

The overriding concern of the employees who took part in the study are fears that safety is being compromised as a result of budget cuts, which have in turn led to staff shortages, less frequent inspections and the increasing use of workers employed on zero-hours contracts.

The research – The Impact of Efficiency Savings on Network Rail Staff, Performance and Safety – voices workers’ concerns that a major accident could happen as a result of the culture that has developed in rail maintenance where safety is threatened because of a lack of resources.

The participating workers said that financial constraints meant that staff have had to take on multiple roles, which they feel affects their ability to deliver a safe and efficient service. They also believe that safety has been relegated into third place – behind the need to comply with budgets and hit performance targets.

Rail employees in the focus groups said that when safety concerns are raised, they are rarely acted upon, and as a result workers are much less likely to raise potential safety issues.

Workers reported an endemic culture of long-hours working within railway maintenance, with many staff employed by private contractors having to travel huge distances to get to jobs, where they might have to work on unfamiliar sections of track at night, with only a map to guide them.

The increasing use of private contractors by Network Rail has also led to a growing number of workers being employed on zero-hours contracts, says the research. Rail staff in the focus groups said this meant that colleagues employed in this way often feel under pressure to accept work they may be too tired to carry out safely, simply because if they turn down jobs they may not be asked back.

Maintenance staff also said that funding cuts have meant that teams working on renewing the tracks are smaller and jobs need to be completed in a shorter time. Workers are also now expected to work alongside moving trains, sometimes without adequate safety measures in place, says the report.

Budget cuts have also affected inspection services, says the report, meaning that potential safety breaches are less likely to be spotted, and equipment less likely to be checked.

Commenting on the report, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “When track workers – who see with their own eyes when safety corners are being cut and where crucial maintenance jobs are delayed – warn that a major accident could be just around the corner, it’s surely time for ministers to wake up and act.

“Government spending cuts have meant a significant reduction in the funding available to Network Rail for it to carry out vital maintenance work and essential safety inspections. The situation will get worse as resources continue to be squeezed.

“Thankfully British railways still have one of the best safety records in Europe, although only this week the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said that the number of track workers injured was at a seven-year high. It also urged Network Rail to get better at eliminating potential safety risks on the tracks it maintains.

“Budget cuts are creating the conditions where many rail employees fear a major accident is just waiting to happen. The warnings of those who work on the tracks on a daily basis can no longer be ignored.”

RMT Acting General Secretary Mick Cash, a track worker with over 30 years experience, said: “This report reinforces what every single rail worker will tell you, that corners are being cut and essential maintenance work delayed as the obsession with meeting cuts and targets overrides the delivery of safe and efficient services.

“The responsibility for this lies fair and square with the government and the ORR who are following the path of austerity, slashing budgets and axing safety-critical jobs.

“With surging rail demand RMT has warned repeatedly that maintenance cuts on the tracks are on course to drag us back to the days of Railtrack, Hatfield and Potters Bar if the government and the authorities don’t wake up pretty sharpish.

“But instead, more cuts under the government’s McNulty Review are in the pipeline and the lethal consequences are being ignored, despite the warnings sounded once again in today’s important study.”

Unite national officer Tony Murphy said: “Safety for passengers and those that maintain the railways should not be sacrificed on the all-too-familiar altar of cost cutting and a lack of resources.

“The government’s cuts to Network Rail’s funding are to be strongly deplored, especially when passenger numbers using the railways are soaring. There can be no compromising on safety – and we need to eradicate the long-hours work culture and the increasing reliance on workers on zero-hours contracts.

“This important report underlines, yet again, the need for the UK’s rail system to be taken back into public ownership, so we can have a uniformed network for the benefit of all, with safety at the top of the agenda.”

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Last year the board of Network Rail described the tragic death of track worker Scott Dobson in December 2012 as ‘a watershed’ for them and their workforce.

“We need a lot more than warm words to end the curse of zero- hours contracts and corner-cutting by the sub-contractors who employ some 100,000 workers on maintaining and renewing our railways.

“We need firm action to ensure that track workers who leave home in the morning are sure of getting home safely every night.”

ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said: “Rail safety is a priority issue for government for a couple of media-filled days after a tragedy like Ladbroke Grove or Potters Bar. Front pages are held for outrage and everyone from the Prime Minister to the station cat insists that safety is the overwhelming priority. Cost is insignificant compared with rail safety.

“Today’s report shows these to be weasel words, empty mouthings made in the publicity glare of a tragedy. We owe it to everyone who has died or been injured on UK railways to ensure that rail safety is a reality, not a spin doctor’s catch-phrase.

“The government must fund Network Rail to the level that enables it to guarantee not just to maintain, but to improve, the rail service’s safety record. The time to act is now. It would – quite literally – be criminal to wait until the next rail disaster.”

The Impact of Efficiency Savings on Network Rail staff, Performance and Safety makes a number of recommendations including:

• an investigation into the long-term impact of budget cuts and reductions in staffing upon the safety of the rail network
• private contractors should not be permitted to employ staff doing safety-critical work on zero-hours contracts
• the rail industry needs to address with a degree of urgency the under-reporting of safety concerns across the network, and demonstrate that safety is its overriding concern.

* The Impact of Efficiency Savings on Network Rail staff, Performance and Safety is available at www.tuc.org.uk/networkrailefficiency


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'Deeply unfair' that civil partners denied marriage ceremonies, say Quakers

Fri, 2014-07-25 09:26

News that the conversion of civil partnerships to marriage will entail an appointment at a register office and not a marriage ceremony has outraged and disappointed Quaker couples.

News that the conversion of civil partnerships to marriage will entail an appointment at a register office and not a marriage ceremony has outraged and disappointed Quaker couples.

Quakers in Britain welcomed the law passed last year enabling same-sex couples in England and Wales to marry and they eagerly anticipated the day when all Quaker marriages, of same-sex or opposite-sex couples, could be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, recorded, recognised as legally valid and reported to the state in exactly the same way.

When the law came into force in March, the process of drafting secondary legislation left those already in civil partnerships out of the celebrations. Quakers took up their case with government ministers.

“This is more than a formality for those in civil partnerships,” said Quakers Recording Clerk, Paul Parker. “It is deeply unfair that Quaker couples are denied their opportunity to celebrate their long-term loving relationships in their worshipping community.” Instead, from 10 December 2014 there will be a civil process and they will be issued a “certificate of conversion” rather than a marriage certificate.

Draft government regulations laid in Parliament earlier this month will be debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday 29 July as The Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Conversion of Civil Partnership) Regulations 2014 Statutory Instrument, introduced by Baroness Northover.


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Anger, sadness and stupidity: the Gaza tragedy

Thu, 2014-07-24 13:41

Operation Protective Edge: here is a new military initiative that has fired up many Israelis, infuriated many Palestinians, left the Arab leaders once more in tatters of nonchalance or fragmentation and challenged the moral fibre of the West in terms of its support or opposition to this campaign. Middle East expert Dr Harry Hagopian looks behind the horror and the headlines from Gaza.

I am both angry and deeply sad about what is happening in Gaza: infuriated by all the deaths, injuries, human and physical rubble, as well as fear and trauma that have together permeated the psyches of Palestinians and Israelis alike. And within all my primitive feelings, I would highlight Albert Einstein's focus on stupidity that is one basis for most human actions.

Operation Protective Edge: here is a new military initiative that has fired up many Israelis, infuriated many Palestinians, left the Arab leaders once more in tatters of nonchalance or fragmentation and challenged the moral fibre of the West in terms of its support or opposition to this campaign. It seems to me that the popular streets alone have been clear in their reactions with huge demonstrations worldwide. But is it, as Einstein posits, fear or stupidity?

Writers, analysts, intellectuals and journalists alike have been expressing their opinions about the pros and cons of the Israeli punitive attacks on Gaza. Is it because of the abduction and murder of the three teenagers although we still have no clue of the culprits? Is it because of the rockets that flew over many Israeli cities and caused panic and a rush to shelters? Or could it be those labyrinthine tunnels that have been the economic backbone of the Gazan elites?

Or is it another bold – in my lexicon, perilous – attempt by PM Netanyahu's government to try and quash Hamas once and for all? Perhaps Hamas itself wishes to re-inflame the situation in an attempt to regain its shattered credibility and coerce Egypt to re-open the Rafah crossing as a necessary lifeline?

Even a majority of the Israeli 'Left' such as David Grossman, Tom Segev, Amos Oz or Avraham B Yehoshua have spoken out one way or another in favour of attacking Hamas. Mind you, there have also been consistent voices like Ilan Pappé, Shlomo Sand, Norman Finklestein and – in another higher world I am sure – the late philosopher Yeshayahou Leibowitz arguing against this war.

But let me be clear that the answer does not lie in another military strike against Gaza that kills hundreds of civilians on beaches and in hospitals as much as in hideaways and on the battleground, wreaks havoc, puts paid to all arguments about proportionality as I understand them from my law years, and then concludes balefully with a ceasefire that is not unlike previous documents. Human beings will die painfully, anger will create more radicalism and extreme positions will become more entrenched on all sides, with treachery or confusion abounding – until the next round.

The core problem is not, stricto sensu, one of tunnels, rockets or abducted teenagers. It is one of occupation under International law and the illegal acquisition of land. Until such time as Israel renounces its messianic, let alone expansionist, tendencies and decides to return the occupied Palestinian territories, there can be no peace. In fact, there will be no peace no matter the palliative solutions, soothing compromises, frequent flyer miles – or even Tony Blair's omnipresence. The Palestinian being cannot be unmade to disappear: so will Israel give the land back to its owners according to well-established parameters that are in most diplomatic drawers and stop hiding behind illegal settlements and millennia-old biblical exegeses to justify oppressing and colonising another people?

I have often argued – fervidly and not without reproach or ridicule at times – for a two-state solution that provides both Israel and Palestine with equal sovereignty, equal security and equal rights. I have also stated ad nauseum that the Palestinian identity and cause remain ineradicable despite the conglomeration of other bloody conflicts and uprisings. To my mind, this conflict constitutes one central hub for the Arab political pulse no matter the wishes of many politicians. So can we develop Gaza and the West Bank rather than destroy them, grant Palestinians the lawful right to self-determination rather than rule over them and in so doing disprove one of Einstein's statements?

I acknowledge that the Palestinian conflict is battered by many internecine disagreements, rabid opposition from the Egyptian authorities and extreme bias from parts of its media, a flaccid approach by the US Administration or the EU and a sense of fatigue by the UN and its international constituency. The anti-Palestinian animus has become so deep-rooted that some Egyptians are suggesting that Palestinians are selling their lands and so why bother with a state – allegations that Sherif Younis, history professor at Helwan University and the editor of the political monthly Al-Busla, has rebutted pointedly and statistically. However much we all might applaud the disengagement of 2005, let us also remember that Gazans remain under total siege and there is only so long that one can keep human beings in concrete cages.

So can the international community go the extra mile and re-visit Gaza honestly? And can it also re-visit the overall Palestinian conflict justly so that this painful flare-up becomes at least a catalyst for a more credible solution than a mere ceasefire whose terms will not witness any implementation again? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?


© Harry Hagopian is an international lawyer, ecumenist and EU political consultant. He also acts as a Middle East and inter-faith advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and as Middle East consultant to ACEP (Christians in Politics) in Paris. He is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/HarryHagopian). Formerly an Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee and Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches, he is now an international fellow, Sorbonne III University, Paris, consultant to the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (UK), Ecumenical consultant to the Primate of Armenian Church in UK & Ireland, and author of The Armenian Church in the Holy Land. Dr Hagopian’s own website is www.epektasis.net Follow him on Twitter here: @harryhagopian

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Moving the church from military complicity to the mission of peace

Thu, 2014-07-24 13:29

It is is over a month and a half since the last RUSI conference at Church House, focusing as it did on land warfare, and they have been back for more with a focus this time on the “future of air warfare”: Drones, in other words. The Rev Dr Keith Hebden explores the entanglement of the Church of England is military industries and warfare, highlighting the contradictions between this and the mission of Christian peacemaking.

It is is over a month and a half since the last RUSI conference at Church House, focusing as it did on land warfare, [1] and they have been back for more with a focus this time on the “future of air warfare”: Drones to you and me.

On 9 July 2014, Church House hosted an event sponsored by the arms industry to discuss drone warfare. Church House is the administrative headquarters of the Church of England and so plays both a real and symbolic role in representing what the Church of England is about. So how come, when the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) says that it is not appropriate to profit from arms firms, [2] Church House is such a repeat offender? The day conference held at Church House was sponsored by six major arms manufacturers working on the more legally and ethically controversial armed Drones.

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), founded in 1831 by no less than the Duke of Wellington, is a think-tank. And the patron of RUSI is no less than the lay head of the Church of England: her Majesty the Queen. These days however, RUSI is an expression of the existential crisis facing British elites who find they lead what the Chinese state paper calls a “petty” and “declining” nation in June 2014 [3]. Its website makes the claim that it is an “Independent” think-tank which of course it is not. General Sir David Richards, Ministry of Defence (MoD) Chief of Staff, describes RUSI as “Defence’s conscience”. RUSI brings together those who study war, academically, those who make decisions about war in practice, and those who profit from war consistently.

In their three-yearly review conducted in 2013, the Church of England’s EIAG reminded us that, “The Church of England is also mindful of the need to avoid undermining the credibility, effectiveness and unity of the Church’s witness by profiting from, or providing capital to, activities that are materially inconsistent with Christian values.” [4] Which is why the Church of England does not invest in companies whose profits from war make up more than 10 per cent of its turnover. All six of the sponsors of the recent RUSI gathering are primarily arms companies and it is they who footed the bill for Church House.

Archbishop Emeritus, Rowan Williams has criticised the dependence of the UK economy on the arms industry when he rallied to the defence of peaceful protestors arrested at the bi-annual Arms Fair Expo in London last year (the protestors were later acquitted). [5] Pope Francis too has denounced the arms trade as the “main reason for war”. [6] Is it not odd, then, that Church House does not seem to have ‘got the memo’?

One might argue that, since Church House is autonomous, it isn’t obliged to follow the instructions of the EIAG. Technically, that is true. In fact a local Parochial Church Council can, if they want, invest money in arms companies with absolute legal impunity. Holy Trinity Brompton, home of the Alpha Course, has an annual Leadership conference which regularly showcases CEOs of the arms industry, including a nuclear weapons manufacturer. [7] It is only the Church Commissioners, the state regulators of the state church’s central finances, who cannot do this. It is also true to say that Church House is not investing in arms companies, merely profiting from their sponsorship. But both of these arguments miss the point that the witness and mission of the Church as set out by the EIAG is grossly flouted by this consistent ‘getting into bed’ with arms companies and the Ministry of Defence by Church House. The ‘arms length’ financial approach merely disguises this.

Moreover, in case anyone has bought into the idea that this country like it or not, is dependent on arms exports to hold up our ever-precarious GDP, it is worth taking some time to do the maths. Military exports are heavily subsidised by the UK government in a dozen different ways. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) estimates that UK arms exports receive a subsidy of around £890 million per year. Given the 65,000 employees estimated to be working on military exports the subsidy amounts to over £13,000 for each job each year [8].

I live about an hours drive from RAF Waddington where UK Drones in Afghanistan are piloted from. In 2013 I went with five friends to the air base, with legal papers from the Public Interest Lawyers group that demonstrate that UK use of Drones is illegal under both national and international law. We were arrested on site as I planted a vine and fig tree, confessed my own complicity in the arms industry, and prayed for peace.

As the MOD plans its withdrawal from Afghanistan, it faces a dilemma: you cannot sell a weapon you are not using and they have no reason to use the Drones. The answer, if we continue to sleepwalk into more carnage, is to shift our Drones to Africa. That is the conversation that was being had at Church House: can we get away with keeping our Drones in the air post-Afghanistan?

The Hebrew prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when “swords are beaten into ploughshares” and "they shall not study war anymore”. The mission of the churches is not to keep war machines on the road but to tread a new path on its knees: asking forgiveness and building a new world in the shell of the old.


1. http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2012/26-october/news/uk/drones-cas...
2. http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1891510/statement%20of%20ethical%20...
3. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10908008/Britain-a-...
4. http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1891510/statement%20of%20ethical%20...
5. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20046
6. http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/05/24/francis-denounces-arms-t...
7. http://www.apinchofsalt.org/2013/05/the-htb-show-all-about-bling.html
8. http://www.caat.org.uk/resources/publications/economics/subsidies-factsh...


© Keith Hebden is author of Seeking Justice: The Radical Compassion of Jesus. He is a writer, activist, and associate of the think-tank Ekklesia. Keith is also an Anglican parish priest and 'Seeking Justice' adviser to the Mansfield Deanery in Southwell and Nottingham.

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UN Rights Council agrees probe into ‘war crimes’ in Occupied Palestinian Territories

Thu, 2014-07-24 10:23

The UN Human Rights Council has decided to launch an independent inquiry into purported violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday (23 July) decided to launch an independent inquiry into purported violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

Meeting in an emergency session today, the Council adopted a resolution agreeing to send the investigative team by a vote of 29 countries in favour, with 17 abstentions and a sole negative vote by the United States, in which it strongly condemned the failure of Israel to end its prolonged occupation of the area.

The Council condemned in the strongest terms the “widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms” arising from the Israeli military operations since 13 June, and called for an immediate ceasefire.

“The Council further condemned all violence against civilians wherever it occurred, including the killing of two Israeli civilians as a result of rocket fire,” according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

In the resolution, the Council also demanded that Israel immediately reopen the occupied Gaza Strip and called upon the international community to provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance and services to the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

Navi Pillay, who opened the special session, said that the current is the third serious escalation of hostilities in the area during the six years that she has been the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. As in 2009 and 2012 “children, women, the elderly and persons with disabilities” suffer the most.


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Arizona prisoner takes two hours to die in execution using experimental drugs

Thu, 2014-07-24 09:55

The state of Arizona yesterday took almost two hours to kill a prisoner using the same combination of drugs used in a botched execution in Ohio earlier this year.

The state of Arizona yesterday (23 July) took one hour and 57 minutes to kill a prisoner in a botched execution, which was carried out using the same combination of drugs as those used in the botched execution of an Ohio prisoner earlier this year.

Joseph Wood was eventually pronounced dead at 3.49pm local time after he had been seen "gasping and snorting" over an hour into his execution, according to an emergency stay filed mid-execution by his lawyers as they saw what was happening.

Wood was executed using the drugs Midazolam and Hydromorphone, a combination that has been used only once before in an execution that also went badly wrong in Ohio in January. Dennis McGuire was seen struggling and gasping for breath during an execution that took over 25 minutes. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19953)

The botched execution of Wood follows that of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in April. Both states insisted on conducting the executions behind a veil of secrecy, refusing to name the manufacturers of the drugs or provide critical details which could have helped assure their quality.

Like Lockett, Wood had received a stay just moments prior to the execution so that the court could consider the issue of the experimental drugs. However that stay was then lifted and Wood’s execution began at 1.52pm local time.

There are just a handful of manufacturers of both Midazolam and Hydromorphone which do not yet have comprehensive distribution controls in place to ensure their medicines are used to improve and save the lives of patients, and are not sold to prisons to end the lives of prisoners in potentially torturous executions. The international human rights NGO Reprieve has worked extensively with pharmaceutical companies, the majority of which have taken steps to protect their medicines from abuse in executions like this one. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16462)

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, said: “The State of Arizona had every reason to believe that this procedure would not go smoothly; the experimental execution ‘cocktail’ had only been used once before, and that execution too was terribly botched. Despite the evidence, the state pushed ahead, jettisoning due process and cloaking the procedure in secrecy. The result was an exercise in torture. No one in the medical profession or industry wants anything to do with executions. Manufacturers and medics have long protested the abuse of medicines (which are designed to save lives) in executions designed to end them. How many more botched executions must we witness before states finally take heed?”


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Liberty represents MPs in legal challenge to government surveillance law

Wed, 2014-07-23 15:24

Liberty has announced it will seek a Judicial Review of the Government’s “emergency” surveillance law on behalf of MPs David Davis and Tom Watson

Liberty, the cross-party organisation for fundamental tights and freedoms in the UK, has announced it will seek a Judicial Review of the Government’s “emergency” surveillance law on behalf of MPs David Davis and Tom Watson. The announcement comes days after the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIP) was rushed through Parliament onto the statute book.

Liberty is arguing on behalf of Mr Davis and Mr Watson that the new legislation is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to respect for private and family life, and Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, respect for private and family life and protection of personal data.

Since 2009, communications data has been retained by public communications services and network providers under a 2009 EU Data Retention Directive. But in April the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the Directive was invalid because it was so sweeping in its interference with individual privacy rights. The judgment made clear that existing UK legislation, including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), required urgent review.

However, on 10 July 2014, DRIP was introduced by Ministers claiming that “emergency” legislation was necessary. The Bill was privately agreed following discussions between the three main party leaders. It became law within just three days – rendering proper parliamentary scrutiny, amendment and even debate impossible.

James Welch, Legal Director for Liberty, said: “It’s as ridiculous as it is offensive to introduce an “emergency” law in response to an essay crisis. The court ruling that blanket data retention breached the privacy of every man, woman and child in the UK was more than three months ago. The Government has shown contempt for both the rule of law and Parliamentary Sovereignty, and this private cross party stitch-up, railroaded onto the statute book inside three days, is ripe for challenge in the Courts.”

David Davis, Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said: “This Act of Parliament was driven through the House of Commons with ridiculous and unnecessary haste to meet a completely artificial emergency. As a result, Members of Parliament had no opportunity to either research it, consider it or debate it properly and the aim of this legal action is to make the Government give the House the opportunity to do what it should have been allowed in the first place. Proper, considered and effective law making. The overall aim is to create law which both protects the security of our citizens without unnecessarily invading their privacy.”

Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, said: “The three party leaders struck a private deal to railroad through a controversial Bill in a week. You cannot make good laws behind closed doors. The new Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act does not answer the concerns of many that the blanket retention of personal data is a breach of fundamental rights to privacy.”


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WCC expresses concern over exodus of Christian community from Mosul

Wed, 2014-07-23 15:00

The General Secrestary of the World Council of Churches has expressed deep concern over the exodus of the Christian community from the Iraqi city of Mosul following threats from ISIS.

In an official statement issued on 21 July, the World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, expressed deep concern over the exodus of the Christian community from the Iraqi city of Mosul occurring due to threats from the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Tveit called these developments a “tragedy” for both Christians and Muslims.

According to local reports, Christians have been told by those in control of Mosul to either convert to Islam, pay the Jizya (poll tax for non-Muslims) or leave the city. If they fail to take these steps, Christians are faced with threats of execution. Due to this situation, the Shia community in Mosul is also feeling compelled to depart. Currently a number of Christians have taken refuge in neighbouring monasteries and villages, as well as in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

“It is with great sorrow that we see the apparent ending of a Christian presence in Mosul, present there since the earliest centuries of Christianity,” Tveit said.

Tveit invoked prayers “for all the people of Iraq at this time, and in particular those from minority communities, both Christian and Muslim, who have been forced to leave their homes”.

In the statement, Tveit also mentioned an appeal from Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch of Baghdad, who called the current developments in Iraq “disturbing” and “tragic”.

Tveit reiterated the stance of the WCC Central Committee in a statement earlier this month urging “initiation of an inclusive political process to strengthen fundamental human rights, in particular with regards to religious freedom, to urgently establish the rule of law and to ensure equal rights for all citizens.”

The Central Committee statement assures the ecumenical community’s support for the churches in Iraq, appreciating their commitment to “engage in constructive dialogue with other religious and ethnic communities so that the pluralistic heritage of their societies is protected and secured”.


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Christian Aid welcomes UK carbon budget pledge ahead of key climate summit

Wed, 2014-07-23 14:43

Christian Aid has welcomed the UK government's decision to leave its fourth carbon budget unchanged and called for increased global leadership ahead of a crunch period for climate talks.

Christian Aid has welcomed the UK government's decision to leave its fourth carbon budget unchanged and called for increased global leadership ahead of a crunch period for climate talks.

Alison Doig, Christian Aid's Senior Climate Change Adviser, said the decision showed the UK keeping its commitments under the climate change act.

She said: "With climate change increasingly on the global agenda keeping our commitments on carbon emissions is a very welcome step. This is just the kind of climate leadership Britain needs to be showing on the world stage. We look forward to the Prime Minister joining the US and Chinese Presidents in providing global leadership at the UN climate summit in New York in September. The meeting, hosted by UN General Secretary Ban-ki Moon, will lay the ground work for a global climate change deal next year.

"The UK's Climate Change Act, which has cross party support, shows just what can be achieved when parties work together which is the kind of positive collaboration we need to see in the lead up to next year's General Election."

The decision has already been welcomed by people in the developing world. Srinivas Krishnaswamy, CEO of Christian Aid partner organisation, The Vasudha Foundation which promotes environmental sustainability in India, said: "It is good to know that the UK Government is keeping to its commitment of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 per cent by 2050 to 1990 levels and with this announcement, it seems that they are sticking to their milestone of achieving a 50 per cent reduction in emissions to 1990 levels by 2025.

"We do hope that they are able to achieve this target and even exceed it. This would build confidence among developing countries that, economic growth can be achieved even without an increase in emissions."


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The NHS and the Scottish referendum

Tue, 2014-07-22 20:05

The consequences of a No vote in September’s independence referendum can be envisaged no more sharply than through the lens of the NHS in Scotland, says Dr Willie Wilson, setting out the reasons why a Yes vote in the 18 September 2014 referendum is vital for the sake of its 158,000 workers and for the benefit of everyone in Scotland who needs or will need health services free at the point of need.

The consequences of a No vote in September’s independence referendum can be envisaged no more sharply than through the lens of the NHS in Scotland.

Our health service is devolved and over the last twenty years it has diverged markedly from the its equivalent south of the border. The privatisation process in England started under Thatcher, accelerated under Blair and is now proceeding on an industrial scale, after stumbling through three series of very expensive reforms. The recent report of companies chasing contracts worth £689 million for cancer care and £535 million for end-of-life care gives an idea of what is happening to the English NHS.

NHS for Yes is one of the big sectoral groups of the Referendum campaign. It was launched only a few weeks ago and has already more than 200 members from among those working at all levels, both within and around NHS Scotland. I think I can safely say that every one of them realises that a No vote will carry a very high risk that privatisation would rapidly creep into NHS Scotland. The private sector has been used to catch up with some of the waiting lists that had accumulated a few years ago but there is absolute determination by the Scottish Government to keep private health provision in Scotland to a very minimum (well under one per cent of total expenditure). However, political devolution is not enough to guarantee that NHS Scotland will survive in its present form.

Indeed, if we do not claim our independence in September 2014, Scotland will very likely be forced down the route of privatisation and commercialisation, as is happening right now in England and Wales. Seven in 10 of the recent contracts awarded there (totalling billions of pounds) have gone to private healthcare companies such as Atos, Capita, G4S, Shire and Virgin. In a few years, NHS will just be a brand name in England and Wales. Since Scotland's block grant is proportional (on a population basis) to state funding of public services in England, by virtue of the Barnett formula, privatisation would happen largely for economic reasons, if we fail to vote for independence.

Our NHS takes up 40 per cent of our block grant, so the further huge austerity cuts promised by Chancellor Osborne after 2015 (and supported by London Labour) will mean we'll be forced to privatise NHS Scotland. The Scottish Government has so far protected our NHS from the cutbacks which have been imposed over the last four years by saving in other areas of expenditure. However, we are told that the austerity cuts still to come will be greater than those endured so far, so there will be little further flexibility in the Scottish budget after 2015.

Expenditure on health by its very nature demands greater-than-inflation increases each year, in order that new technology and treatments can be introduced. Thus the major cuts we are faced with will devastate our NHS and leave little alternative to opening the doors and letting the commercial wolves in. The recent publicity about the TTIP agreement being negotiated between the EU and USA should ring further alarm bells since it would give US healthcare companies the right to sue the Government if they are not allowed to compete for all contracts in the UK, including Scotland.

Privatisation in England has not been a success so far, according to its retiring head, Sir David Nicholson. His replacement has come from a large American private healthcare company, clearly indicating that the Westminster Government is determined to continue the process anyway. Prescription charges keep increasing every year and “self-funding” (for those who can afford to jump the queue) is encouraged. The Health and Social Care Act of 2012 has made competition and commercialisation mandatory. The process involves the NHS at all levels: a recent report spoke of 96 GP surgeries which are threatened with closure because they were “losing money”.

While in a sense this should be of no concern to us in Scotland, we do become involved if England in due course saves money by privatising their NHS since this would further reduce our block grant. In addition to these economic factors, there are political reasons to fear that our NHS will go down the privatisation route. The Westminster Coalition easily passed the Health and Social Care Act – a very clear example of how far Scottish and English politics have diverged. The passage of the Act was no doubt aided by the fact that well over 200 MPs and Lords held directorships, consultancies or shares in healthcare companies.

Scotland need not pray for a Labour victory in 2015 to protect our NHS. Andy Burnham, Labour's Westminster Health spokesman, has stated he wants NHS policies throughout the UK to be “consistent”.

NHS for Yes will continue to campaign to protect our national treasure, both for the sake of its 158,000 workers and for the benefit of everyone in Scotland who needs or will need health services free at the point of need.

This is the full submitted text of an article published in edited form in The Sunday Times.

* More on Scottish independence from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/scottishindependence


© Willie Wilson is co-founder of NHS for YES, the pro-Scottish independence group. He taught pharmacology at the medical and dental schools of Glasgow University until retirement. He remains owner/partner of a community pharmacy business in Glasgow.

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‘Violent attacks’ in Peru caused uncontacted Indians to emerge

Tue, 2014-07-22 12:56

Highly vulnerable uncontacted Indians who recently emerged in the Brazil-Peru border region have said that they were fleeing violent attacks in Peru.

Highly vulnerable uncontacted Indians who recently emerged in the Brazil-Peru border region have said that they were fleeing violent attacks in Peru.

FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, has announced that the group of uncontacted Indians has returned once more to their forest home. Seven Indians made peaceful contact with a settled indigenous Ashaninka community near the Envira River in the western Acre state, Brazil, three weeks ago.

A government health team was dispatched and has treated seven Indians for flu. FUNAI has announced it will reopen a monitoring post on the Envira River which it closed in 2011 when it was overrun by drug traffickers.

The emerging news has been condemned as “extremely worrying” by Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, as epidemics of flu, to which uncontacted Indians lack immunity, have wiped out entire tribes in the past.

Brazilian experts believe that the Indians, who belong to the Panoan linguistic group, crossed over the border from Peru into Brazil due to pressures from illegal loggers and drug traffickers on their land. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20601)

Nixiwaka Yawanawá, an Indian from Acre state, said, “This news proves that my uncontacted relatives are threatened by violence and infectious diseases. We already know what can happen if the authorities don’t take action to protect them, they will simply disappear. They need time and space to decide when they want to make contact and their choices must be respected. They are heroes!”

Uncontacted Indians in Peru suffer multiple threats to their survival as the government has carved up 70 per cent of the Amazon rainforest for oil and gas exploration, including the lands of uncontacted tribes, says Survival.

Plans to expand the notorious Camisea gas project, located in the heart of the Nahua-Nanti reserve for uncontacted Indians, recently received the government’s go-ahead, and Canadian-Colombian oil giant Pacific Rubiales is carrying out exploration on land inhabited by the Matsés tribe and their uncontacted neighbors.

Both projects will bring hundreds of oil and gas workers into the lands of uncontacted tribes, introducing the risk of deadly diseases and violent encounters, and scaring away the animals the Indians hunt for their survival.

Survival has launched an urgent petition to the Brazilian and Peruvian governments to protect the land of uncontacted Indians, and called on the authorities to honor their commitments of cross-border cooperation.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, “This news could hardly be more worrying – not only have these people confirmed they suffered violent attacks from outsiders in Peru, but they have apparently already caught flu. The nightmare scenario is that they return to their former villages carrying flu with them. It’s a real test of Brazil’s ability to protect these vulnerable groups. Unless a proper and sustained medical program is immediately put in place, the result could be a humanitarian catastrophe.”


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