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Poverty in Scotland 'will worsen' as more UK cuts are announced

Mon, 2014-10-06 22:50

Charities and poverty experts have spoken out about the deeply damaging effect of UK government welfare policies on Scotland’s poorest families.

Charities and poverty experts have spoken out about the deeply damaging effect of UK government welfare policies on Scotland’s poorest families.

The intervention follows Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement at the Conservative Party conference that a further £3 billion is to be cut from the welfare bill, with benefits frozen for two years.

The Labour Party has already pledged to accept coalition spending plans, including up to £30 billion cuts hitting the most vulnerable. The Liberal Democrats, at their conference in Glasgow, are now criticising these policies, but have voted for them in government with the Conservatives.

The cuts are expected to hit one million families in Scotland as well as millions elsewhere in Britain. When Mr Osborne made this announcement it was met with cheers from Tory delegates.

A wide range of organisations including Shelter Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland, Shelter Scotland, the Child Poverty Action Group, SCVO, the Poverty Alliance, Positive Action in Housing, Barnardo’s in Scotland, the Poverty Truth Commission, the Big Issue and the Trussell Trust, have spoken out and raised their concerns about poverty in Scotland worsening.

Commenting on the situation, the Scottish National Party’s Welfare and Pensions Spokesperson, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, said: “The warnings of these respected experts on poverty and welfare issues must be heeded before increasingly damaging Tory policies drive more into poverty. 100,000 more children in Scotland already face being pushed into poverty as a result of the Tories’ sustained attack on hard working and vulnerable families. Reports that George Osborne’s benefits freeze will hit one million families in Scotland are deeply worrying.

“As their intervention shows this is no longer just a debate between politicians – now those people and organisations who work daily to help tackle poverty and deprivation are giving a stark warning which both Westminster and the wider Scottish society must heed.

“Westminster has proven time and time again it cannot be trusted when it comes to welfare. It is time for the Scottish Parliament to have the powers we need to make Scotland a fairer, more equal country and address the causes of inequality", she concluded.

Scottish Greens have also attacked the Westminster parties over poverty and inequality. Britain is now the fourth most unequal country in the developed world and is heading to being the third or even second most unequal country in the next decade as tax cuts benefit the rich and social security and public spending cuts hit the poor – while the main debt problem remains financial and private debt.

* Scottish charities speak out on policies that drive poverty: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20911


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Aid agencies warn of famine in South Sudan

Mon, 2014-10-06 09:48

A group of leading aid agencies warn that parts of South Sudan could fall into famine early next year if the nine-month long conflict escalates as expected.

A group of leading aid agencies warn today (6 October) that parts of South Sudan – already the world’s worse food crisis – could fall into famine early next year if the nine-month long conflict escalates as expected.

The agencies fear that efforts this year to prevent the crisis from deteriorating will falter as rival sides are regrouping ready to resume violence once the rainy seasons ends this month. The number of people facing dangerous levels of hunger is expected to increase by 1 million between January and March next year.

In a report launched today, From Crisis to Catastrophe the aid agencies call for neighbouring governments and the wider international community to redouble diplomatic efforts to put real pressure on the parties to the conflict to end the fighting, including an arms embargo. They say that so far, the international community’s ‘softly-softly’ approach to the peace talks has failed to secure a meaningful cease-fire.

They also add that there needs to be an increase in both the quantity and quality of the aid effort.

Tariq Reibl, head of Oxfam programme in South Sudan said: “If famine comes to South Sudan it will come through the barrel of a gun. This is a man-made crisis not one caused by the vagaries of the weather and though humanitarian aid is vital, it cannot fix a political problem. The international community is much better at saving lives than it is at helping solve the political problems that put lives in peril. Nine months of the softly-softly approach to peace negotiations has failed. If the international community really wants to avert a famine then it has to make bold diplomatic efforts to bring both sides to end the fighting.”

The aid agencies said that a mixture of significant aid, a lull in the fighting due to the wet season and the ability of the South Sudanese to cope with hardship, has managed to stave off a famine for the moment. However they warned that now that the wet season is over, an upsurge in fighting is likely, setting back any gains made in the last few months and potentially pushing areas into famine by March 2015.

Since the current round of conflict began in South Sudan in December 2013, the country has been pushed to the brink of disaster. However the international aid effort has saved thousands of lives, much of it generously funded by the US, the UK and the EU who have given 60 per cent of the total funding. The UN Mission in South Sudan has opened its compounds to around 100,000 civilians, saving them from ethnic violence, and peace negotiations led by South Sudan’s neighbours have come close to brokering a deal.

Looking back over 2014, Aimee Ansari head of CARE in South Sudan said: “South Sudan only just missed falling into famine this year. Partly this was due to the aid effort but much of it is due to the strength, resilience and generosity of the South Sudanese people themselves.

“But they are now at the end of their tether. You can only sell all your livestock once. Eating seeds meant for planning keeps the gnawing hunger away for the moment, but it is mortgaging the future to meet the desperate needs of the present. The people of South Sudan did what they could to survive this year – but that means they will be vulnerable next year. They need to see an end to the fighting so normal life can resume.”

Many of the 1.4 million people displaced from their homes are facing an uncertain future. The fighting has disrupted markets and pushed up food prices. Fishermen have been barred from rivers, cattle herders have had their cattle stolen, or been forced to sell them off cheaply. The expected upsurge in fighting once the rains have ended in October will tip many over the edge.

The aid agencies called for donor governments to fully support the UN’s appeals for humanitarian work in South Sudan and the refugee crisis in neighbouring countries. They also said that the quality of aid needs to be improved. It needs to be delivered where people are, rather than where it is easier to reach. And it needs to build on the way people cope with the crisis and enable them to face any future crisis better prepared.

The aid agencies also called on all the government of South Sudan, the opposition and other armed groups to immediately stop fighting and work towards a long-term, sustainable peace deal. All their forces need to stop attacks against civilians, end the use of child soldiers and allow humanitarian workers safe access to people needing their help.

* The aid agencies concerned are: Oxfam, CARE International, Cafod, International Rescue Committee, Food for the Hungry, MAG (Mines Advisory Group), Trócaire, Mercy Corps, Caritas Switzerland, Concern Worldwide, Relief International, Tearfund, World Vision.

* More on From Crisis to Catastrophe here: http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/bn-from-crisis-...


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The Hennings horror: are we all responsible for ISIL?

Mon, 2014-10-06 00:00

The West has a lot to answer for in terms of its colonial past, influence over the region and propping up of dictators. But this also means that it should have learned much over the years. So can it exercise some humility and apply those lessons intelligently? Ekklesia associate and MENA region expert Dr Harry Hagopian looks behind the horrific killing of Alan Hennings to ask what sustains IS/ISIL and what can be done to marginalise them.

I do not know Alan Henning any more than all those viewers who saw his picture on our television screens. But I know where he comes from since Eccles, Salford and Manchester were my stomping grounds for many years when I was studying for my law degree and then spent some time between lectures and post-graduate courses.

So I was deeply saddened to learn that Alan was murdered by a vile group discarding the fact that this man was generously helping many of those Syrians who have been trying for over three years to liberate themselves from the yoke of one-party suppression. I pray for Alan, I pray for those murdered before him, and I grieve with their kith and kin too.

But this latest death also makes me realise that we in the West still do not always get it when it comes to this motley bunch of modern-day primitives and I fear that our tactical responses lack any strategic depth and remain inadequate.

Let me get away from the customary sound bites of our politicians and take ‘jihadism’ a few steps back to an earlier era.

The execrable and gratuitous violence that we witness today (or else that we try banning from social media with hashtags such as #ISISmediaBlackout) traces its roots in two less brutal but equally radical earlier waves. The first one was led by disciples of Sayyed Qutb - a radical Egyptian Islamist viewed as the master theoretician of modern jihadism - and it targeted the 'near enemy' in the form of pro-Western secular Arab regimes.

However, following the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1980, this Islamist insurgency had gradually dissipated by the 1990’s but it had cost some 2,000 lives and saw large numbers of militants heading to Afghanistan to do battle with the USSR as their new arch-foe.

The Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union, however, was midwife to a second wave that had as its target the 'far enemy'. This was the USA and – perhaps less so – Europe. It was spearheaded by Osama Bin Laden who went to great lengths to rationalise al-Qaeda’s attack on the US on 9/11. He mislabelled it ‘defensive jihad’ and misconceived it feloniously as retaliation against a perceived US domination of Muslim societies.

However, those challenges to society are almost obviated today by the radicalised savagery that ISIS deploys as part of its arsenal – relying on the fear or shock factors and on its irreligious bigotry. So we now focus on this new global threat.

I have often suggested that ISIL is not a state despite its lofty claims. Rather, it is an idea – a sadistic idea – that needs to be fought differently.

While aerial attacks against targets in Iraq and Syria might slow down the physical spread of ISIL ideology, it could nonetheless also ironically fuel its propagation in some Muslim minds. After all, is it not basing much of its campaign on recreating a 7th century Wahhabi Salafism that is unsullied by the West? Besides, does it not claim that it is defending all those marginalised Sunni men and women of the Arab World?

It is therefore at times hard for some of those same Sunni Muslims to condemn their ‘warriors’ who are fighting against what they perceive as the injustices heaped upon them by a dictator in Syria, a Shi’i sectarian prime minister in Iraq or civic rulers and religious hierarchs in the Middle East and North Africa who are at times more interested in the ostentation of power than in the welfare of their citizens.

Hence, the key challenge facing us all today is to resist our testosterone-driven instincts of bombing empty buildings and in so doing feel vindicated that we are physically acting against an evil ogre. Rather, it requires winning the ideological battle of minds (before hearts) against such thugs. This could happen if we discredit their methods and – here comes the crunch – challenge their backers.

After all, a lot of ink has been spilt on whether the Gulf States are subsidising ISIL or other jihadist radical movements such as Jabhat Al-Nusra. While that might well be untrue directly, do we not have the means to ensure that some of those countries proscribe their own wealthy citizens from bankrolling such terror movements, too?

Omar Saif Ghobash, UAE Ambassador to Russia, was recently interviewed by the University of Pennsylvania. He suggested that we should combat ISIL in the realm of ideas by countering their propaganda and addressing the ills of modernity. He was right, as is also Professor Fawaz Gerges, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who argued on BBC Radio 4 last Sunday that such radical movements are inflated by desperation.

Indeed, roughly 40 per cent of the 300 million residents of the Arab world are in abject poverty today. In addition, the region suffers from high unemployment levels and a breakdown of trust in rulers or governmental institutions.

So I would suggest that these are some of the causal factors we should take into consideration when we embark upon our generational struggle against such forms of insidious and creeping jihadism. By helping alleviate those factors, we also avoid grafting the virtual wombs that procreate desperation and gestate radicalism.

Let me go back to my initial question: are we all responsible for ISIL? I would argue that we in the West have a lot to answer for in terms of our colonial past, influence over the region and even propping up of dictators. But this also means that we have learned much over the years. So can we exercise some humility and apply those lessons intelligently?

Also on Ekklesia:

* IS/ISIS in the wider context of Palestine and the Middle East: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20891

* News, comment and analysis on IS / ISIS /ISIL: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/isis


© 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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Churches' chief welcomes trenchant Muslim critique of IS

Sun, 2014-10-05 23:06

The WCC General Secretary has welcomed publication of an open letter by a group of 126 Muslim scholars to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of IS.

World Council of Churches General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has welcomed publication of an open letter by a group of 126 Muslim scholars to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (IS) and his followers.

The letter, issued late last month, condemns actions of the IS from an Islamic religious perspective.

“The meticulous, detailed and scholarly rebuttal of the claims of the IS to represent authentic Islam offered by this letter will be an important resource for Muslim leaders who seek to enable people of all religions to live together with dignity, respecting our common humanity.”

“I am especially concerned at present for the safety and flourishing of Christian communities in the Middle East, as well as in other continents. This document is a significant contribution to how we together as people and leaders from our faith perspective and address threats to our one humanity,” Tveit said.

“We look forward to continuing to collaborate with our key Muslim friends and partners, a number of whom are signatories of this letter, to work together with them for peace and justice throughout the Middle East and in other parts of the world,” Tveit concluded.

* The full Muslim Scholars' letter: http://lettertobaghdadi.com

Also on Ekklesia:

* IS/ISIS in the wider context of Palestine and the Middle East, by Dr Harry Hagopian: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20891

* News, comment and analysis on IS / ISIS /ISIL: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/isis


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Anglicans and others sign 'love letter' to gay bishops

Sun, 2014-10-05 21:09

Over 300 Anglicans and members of other churches have signed an open letter to bishops who are secretly gay, encouraging them to 'come out' about their sexuality.

Over 300 Anglican clergy and laity and members of other churches have signed an open 'love letter' to bishops in the Church of England who are secretly gay. encouraging them to 'come out' about their sexuality.

The signatories pledge to “welcome and embrace” those bishops who decide to go public but emphasise their strong opposition to any threat to 'out' a bishop against their will.

The letter, which was organised by Ekklesia associate the Rev Dr Keith Hebden, will be formally submitted to the House of Bishops and is given below:

We are lay and ordained Anglicans in the Church of England and other Provinces, who publicly affirm the episcopal ministry in its purpose and diversity.

We recognise that there is a cost to those who respond to the call to be a bishop. This is especially true for those who are not heterosexual and have kept their sexual orientation private. There is growing pressure on gay bishops to come out publicly. The signatories to this letter do not advocate the involuntary outing of bishops.

We write to assure those bishops who may choose openly to acknowledge their sexual orientation as gay or bisexual that you will receive our support, prayer, and encouragement.

Sadly, we live at a time when those who are honest about being LGBTI and Christian are treated with hostility by a vocal minority within and outside the Church.

We have no doubt that the vast majority of Anglicans will welcome and embrace those of you who are gay or bisexual for your courage and conviction if you come out: weeping with you for past hurts and rejoicing in God’s call as witnesses to Christ’s transforming love and compassion.

If you stand out we will stand beside you.

The official stance of the Church of England is that any sexual relationship outside traditional heterosexual marriage is “less than God’s ideal.” But Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has pledged to clamp down on homophobia in the Church of England and Anglican clergy are permitted to be in same-sex civil partnerships. However, they must claim to be celibate if they are to become bishops.


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Saint Francis, a saint for our times.

Sat, 2014-10-04 11:08
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British Muslims condemn 'despicable' murder of Alan Hemmings

Sat, 2014-10-04 09:57

Muslim leaders in Britain and across the world have condemned as 'despicable' the apparent murder of aid worker Alan Hemmings.

Muslim leaders in Britain and across the world have condemned as 'despicable' the apparent murder of aid worker Alan Hemmings.

On hundred prominent Muslim leaders were among those across the world who appealed for the release of Mr Hemmings by IS/ISIS.

A video has been released which appears to show his beheading by the renegade group in Syria.

The Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Dr Shuja Shafi, declared today: "This reported murder is a despicable and offensive act, coming as it does on the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha.

"It is quite clear that the murderers of Alan Henning have no regard for Islam, or for the Muslims around the world who pleaded for his life.

"Alan was a friend of Muslims, and he will be mourned by Muslims.

"In this period of Hajj and this festival of Eid, Muslims remember the mercy of God and the emphasis God places on human life.

"Alan Henning's murderers have clearly gone against that spirit of Islam. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, called Mr Henning "a hero" and added that the "barbaric killing is an attack against all decent people around the world".

Earlier this week Mr Henning's distraught wife, Barbara, made a desperate plea to IS/ISIS to release him after he was shown in a video.

She said: "Some say wrong time, wrong place. Alan was volunteering with his Muslim friends to help the people of Syria. He was in the right place doing the right thing."

* Analysis and response to IS on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/isis


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Hong Kong police fail to protect peaceful protesters, says Amnesty

Sat, 2014-10-04 08:52

Hong Kong’s police failed in their duty to protect peaceful pro-democracy protesters from attacks by counter demonstrators yesterday, says Amnesty International.

Hong Kong’s police failed in their duty to protect hundreds of peaceful pro-democracy protesters from attacks by counter demonstrators yesterday evening (3 October), says Amnesty International.

Women and girls were among those targeted, including incidents of sexual assault, harassment and intimidation, as counter-demonstrators clashed with pro-democracy protesters in the Mongkok and Causeway Bay areas of Hong Kong on Friday evening.

Mabel Au, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said: "The police inaction tonight is shameful. The authorities have failed in their duty to protect peaceful protesters who came under attack.

"There has been a heavy police presence during the past week, but their failure tonight risks fuelling an increasingly volatile situation.”

Amnesty has gathered first-hand witness accounts of women being physically attacked and threatened, while police stood by and did nothing.

One woman at the demonstration in Mongkok told Amnesty how a man grabbed her breasts while she was standing with other protesters at around 4pm. She also witnessed the same man assault two other women by touching their groins. Several police officers witnessed this but failed to take any action against the man. Fellow protesters then intervened to prevent the man attacking any more women.

Police reinforcements appeared only hours after the atmosphere became violent, but the police still struggled to maintain control.

It is unclear whether the police simply underestimated the risk posed by counter-demonstrators, or whether they deliberately decided not to intervene.

The authorities have an obligation to protect peaceful protesters from violent attacks. Demonstrators must be allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Under international standards, a peaceful assembly does not become illegal because some counter-demonstrators act in an unruly or even violent way.

Since the late afternoon, the situation has become increasingly tense, and police seemed to have had difficulty maintaining control. Observers reported that police forces were not sufficient for several hours, despite widespread reports of an urgently deteriorating situation.

The police have made some arrests, but this seems to have made no effect on the counter-demonstrators.

Amnesty International's human rights experts in Hong Kong continue to monitor the authorities' response to protests around the clock.


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UN Security Council condemns murder of British aid worker

Sat, 2014-10-04 08:37

The UN Security Council has strongly condemned the killing of British humanitarian aid worker Alan Henning by the group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned the killing of British humanitarian aid worker Alan Henning by the group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as “heinous and cowardly.”

Video purportedly showing an ISIL fighter beheading Mr. Henning surfaced yesterday (4 October), spurring the Security Council to issue a late evening statement.

“This crime is a tragic reminder of the increasing dangers volunteer humanitarian personnel face every day in Syria,” said Ambassador María Cristina Perceval of Argentina, whose country holds the Security Council Presidency for the month of October.

She added that the killing “once again demonstrates the brutality” of the group, which is responsible for thousands of abuses against the Syrian and Iraqi people.

The 15-members of the Council again stressed that ISIL “must be defeated and that the intolerance, violence and hatred it espouses must be stamped out.”

“The members of the Council further emphasised that such continued acts of barbarism perpetrated by ISIL do not intimidate them, but rather stiffen their resolve” that Member States and institutions, including those in the region, must come together to counter such terrorist groups.

Ms Perceval, reading the statement on behalf of the Council, also demanded the immediate, safe and unconditional release of all held hostage by ISIL, Al-Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaida.

She called for those responsible for “these reprehensible acts of terrorism” to be brought to justice.

The Council “stressed that those responsible for the killing of Alan Henning shall be held accountable,” and urged Member States to cooperate with the United Kingdom and all relevant authorities in this regard.


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Hong Kong students resist violent assault peacefully

Fri, 2014-10-03 19:27

Students protesting for democracy in Hong Kong raised their hands and refused to fight when attacked by pro-China activists today.

Students protesting for democracy in Hong Kong raised their hands and refused to fight when attacked by pro-China activists today (3 October 2014).

"Im angry, but I'm peaceful" said one student when questioned by a news journalist as his comrades tried to stop a demonstrator's tent from being destroyed in a central area of the Special Administrative District.

Meanwhile, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the Hong Kong authorities should avoid excessive force as pro-democracy protests continue.

Officials should immediately free anyone still detained for peacefully participating in demonstrations between 27 and 29 September 2014, HRW declared.

Police use of riot gear, pepper spray, tear gas, and police batons and the detention of peaceful protesters in recent days raise serious concerns about how the Hong Kong and Chinese governments will react to ongoing demonstrations in the territory, it emphasised.

“Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has to show the kind of tolerance for peaceful protest for which Hong Kong is known, not the intolerance that we see for it in the mainland,” said Sophie Richardson, China director of the NGO.

“Hong Kong is known for respecting the rule of law and individual freedoms, and those rights cannot be sacrificed at times of political uncertainty.”

Human Rights Watch says it is concerned about police use of force given that the protesters appeared to pose no clear or imminent threat to public safety or property, nor have there been any reported instances of protesters threatening police. Some protesters shook police barriers and threw empty plastic bottles, but the protest otherwise remained entirely peaceful.

Some video footage showed disturbing uses of pepper spray. One clip showed police tapping a protester on the shoulder, then sending pepper spray into his eyes at close range. Another showed police using pepper spray on a radio journalist who had displayed a journalist ID.

It is also unclear whether police took all the steps necessary before using force, or whether they gave protesters adequate warning or time to disperse before releasing pepper spray or tear gas. Some protesters told Human Rights Watch that they did not see or hear any warning before being hit with tear gas or pepper spray.

Others said they saw the warning flags, but that the flags appeared only seconds before the police took action. In these instances, protesters panicked and moved backward. Protesters said they feared a stampede in the area crowded with other protesters. About three dozen protesters and police officers have suffered minor injuries.

In the past, Hong Kong police have handled far larger protests without using force. The escalation of force in response to peaceful protests brings into question Hong Kong police’s independence, as well as how the Hong Kong and Chinese governments will react to future protests.

Large numbers of protesters remain in major thoroughfares. On the morning of 29 September, the Hong Kong government announced it would withdraw riot police and urged the protesters to leave.

While some protester action may warrant the use of action by police, international human rights standards limit the use of force to situations in which it is strictly necessary, says Human Rights Watch.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provide that law enforcement officials may only use force if other means remain ineffective or have no promise of achieving the intended result. When using force, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and to the legitimate objective to be achieved. Hong Kong authorities should allow an independent review of police conduct in the demonstrations, and use maximum restraint in response to protests.

Police have arrested dozens of protesters, including 17-year-old student protest leader Joshua Wong, on suspicion of taking part in an “illegal assembly” and “forcible entry into government buildings,” among other charges. Police denied bail to Wong and held him for 40 hours until a judge ordered him released, stating that Wong was held for an “unreasonably long” time and that the extended detention was “unlawful.”

While Wong was being held, police searched his home and took away his computer. Although most protesters have been released, the detentions appear designed to discourage involvement in the protests. Police similarly detained and released protesters after demonstrations in June and July.

The pro-democracy protests between 26 and 28 September did not conform to Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance, which requires organisers to notify police of demonstrations involving more than 30 people seven days in advance, and for organisers to get a 'notice of no objection' from the government before proceeding. Yet this standard creates tension with international law.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, an international treaty body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has repeatedly expressed concerns that the ordinance “may facilitate excessive restriction” to the right to freedom of assembly.

“The protests in Hong Kong should show authorities that a harsh, uncompromising attitude on the issue of democracy provokes a serious backlash,” HRW's Richardson said. “The best way to restore order and popular confidence is to tolerate peaceful protest, and to take meaningful steps towards genuine democracy, as promised."

* Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org


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Who would Jesus shoot? A debate

Fri, 2014-10-03 16:48
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Pax Christi hold Downing Street vigil as bombing goes ahead

Fri, 2014-10-03 12:56

The Catholic peace organisation Pax Christi has held a vigil outside Downing Street in London to pray and fast for peace in the Middle East.

The Catholic peace organisation Pax Christi has held a vigil outside Downing Street in London to pray and fast for peace in the Middle East.

It was timed to coincide with the 2 October 2014 International Day of Nonviolence, but also took place on the same day that UK forces were in action bombing IS/ISIS targets for the first time.

Pax Christi members undertook the fast "to offer prayerful encouragement to the many peace talks and negotiations that are taking place at this time and as a small act of solidarity with those whose lives are destroyed by war", the NGO said in a press statement.

In a letter sent to UK Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday, Pax Christi said that it was necessary to "invest resources and personnel in peace building and diplomatic work to help support a regional security plan for the people of the Middle East."

It added that "military actions do not solve political problems – they are harmful short-term responses", and asked the government to "take a lead in stopping arms sales and deliveries to the Middle East. The region is awash with weapons and we have played a terrible part in this trade over the past twenty years."

Pax Christi also called on the PM to "support those on the ground who are undertaking humanitarian work and provide safe places for those displaced by war and violence."

The event was part of a 30 day programme of prayer and fasting that Pax Christi members have participated in since 8 September 2014.

They have organised times of prayer, holy-hours and similar in Catholic parishes and schools around the country.

Prayers used outside Downing Street included readings from Gandhi and from Pope Francis.

* More on Pax Christi: http://paxchristi.org.uk

* More on the International Day of Nonviolence: http://www.un.org/en/events/nonviolenceday/background.shtml


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How not to understand IS/ISIS

Fri, 2014-10-03 12:30
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Cameron's 'localism' policies have reduced local power, say researchers

Fri, 2014-10-03 12:21

As the UK Prime Minister promises greater devolved powers within Britain, researchers have warned that Mr Cameron's track record makes such promises difficult to beileve.

As UK Prime Minister David Cameron promises greater devolved powers within England and Scotland, researchers have warned that his track record on local government and the voluntary sector makes his promises in this area difficult to beileve.

A new research project, Localism Watch, examines the impact of the coalition government's 'localism' initiatives, which they say have helped to privatise local services, weaken local government and force voluntary groups to pick up the pieces.

Localism Watch has been launched by the National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA), a network of voluntary sector workers and researchers. The project is hosted online by Open Democracy.

The editor of Localism Watch, Laird Ryan, warns that 'devolution' could go the same way as 'localism' – and be used to promote outcomes that contradict its original meaning. Ryan, a co-director of NCIA, has held several senior roles in government, academia and the voluntary sector.

During his ongoing research, Ryan has found that many local councillors, charity organisers, community groups and trades unions have a limited and confused idea of what new powers they have gained or lost from recent laws that supposedly promote localism.

Officially, the Localism Act 2011 will "shift power from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils", through new community rights and planning powers.

But Ryan says that to date, few communities have successfully claimed them, due to complex and expensive bureaucracy. According to NCIA, the bigger picture under Cameron has been one in which more freedoms have been taken away than handed over.

“True localism goes against the grain of Britain’s ruling culture", argued Laird Ryan. "Whether left or right-leaning, national policies are more likely to benefit people at the centre than people at the grassroots."

Ryan and NCIA point to last year's Growth and Infrastructure Act, which curtails citizens' rights to have a say in major planning proposals such as HS2 and allows larger home extensions without planning consent.

The Infrastructure Bill, now before Parliament, will repeal long-standing laws to extinguish public rights of way and permit drilling under property without the owners' consent for fracking or oil extraction.

Ryan said, "The coalition has a pernicious tendency to manipulate the basis of the English language, using 'localism' to describe policies that centralise power and maximise corporate profits. Will 'devolution' now be used in the same way?“

He added, "Under Cameron, local communities can challenge councils to run public services, but they have lost their right to challenge proposals for nuclear proliferation, fracking or HS2. Localism Watch is aiming to do what the government can’t and won’t – reclaim localism for the people.”

The National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA) is a network of individuals and groups acting to promote the independence of the voluntary sector and civil society.

* Localism Watch is hosted by Open Democracy and can be found at https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/collections/localismwatch


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Global church prayers for peace in Palestine and Israel

Fri, 2014-10-03 12:08

Biblical reflections marked the end of the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel (WWPPI) in a service at the Ecumenical Centre chapel in Geneva.

Biblical reflections marked the end of the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel (WWPPI) in a service on 29 September at the Ecumenical Centre chapel in Geneva, Switzerland.

Prayers for justice and peace in Palestine, Israel and the Middle East, as well as the plight of prisoners unjustly detained in Israeli jails were the focus of the service.

The WWPPI is an initiative of the World Council of Churches (WCC) inviting its member churches, faith-based communities and civil society to join in advocacy and action to end the illegal occupation of Palestine, calling for a “just peace” for all in Palestine and Israel.

The WWPPI, observed from 21 to 27 September 2014, this year addressed the theme 'Let my people go!' drawing attention to the situation of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and of Palestinians living under military occupation seeking liberation and dignity.

Ralston Deffenbaugh, assistant General Secretary for international affairs and human rights at the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), offered the meditation at the service. He reflected on the WWPPI theme with several biblical references, especially from the Old Testament.

The Hebrew scriptures, Deffenbaugh said, “are a great sign of hope amidst the Israel Palestine conflict, because they are full of prophetic calls for justice.” He invited participants to continue praying for “peace in Palestine and Israel, justice for all the people, and for release of the captives and recovery of the sight of the blind.”

In his reflections, Deffenbaugh also referenced the text from Peace-ing Together Jerusalem - a WCC publication by Dr Clare Amos, WCC's programme executive for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.

Parts of the message from the WCC General Secretary the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit were shared at the service. “This year’s WWPPI focus on prisoners thus points us to one of the enduring aspects of Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestine: the detention, arrest, and imprisonment of so many Palestinians”, reads the message.

“This has been a terrible year for both Palestinians and Israelis. Fighting between the Israeli military and various Palestinian groups in Gaza filled global headlines for the month of August. The WCC had raised its voice, expressing grave concern that lack of success in negotiations would lead to both new settlement expansions in the West Bank and to escalations of violence”,Tveit said.

The service was attended by members of ecumenical organisations based in the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. The service was led by the Rev Rebecca Ruggaber of the LWF, while Marta Spangler from the LWF shared prayers from the WWPPI liturgical material.

* Liturgical material from the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel 2014 (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): https://pief.oikoumene.org/en/world-week-for-peace/invitation-to-partici...


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Bahraini activist detained for 'insulting' tweets

Fri, 2014-10-03 10:20

Amnesty International has called on the Bahraini authorities to release a human rights activist detained for posting tweets deemed insulting to the country’s Ministry of Interior.

The Bahraini authorities must immediately release a prominent human rights activist who has been detained for posting tweets deemed insulting to the country’s Ministry of Interior, Amnesty International says.

Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, could face up to three years in prison for comments he posted online about reports that members of Bahrain’s security forces had joined the Islamic State armed group in Iraq.

Rajab, who is also the Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, was summoned for questioning by Bahrain’s Criminal Investigations Directorate yesterday afternoon and remanded in custody overnight. Bahrain’s Public Prosecution today ordered his detention for seven days, pending investigation under an article of the country’s Penal Code that criminalises “offending government authorities, institutions and agencies”.

Rajab returned to Bahrain on Tuesday after a two-month advocacy tour to a number of European countries to highlight the human rights situation in Bahrain. He was released from prison in Bahrain in May after serving a two-year sentence on charges of participating in an “illegal gathering”, “disturbing public order” and “calling for and taking part in demonstrations” in the capital Manama “without prior notification”.

Amnesty has repeatedly called on the Bahraini authorities to repeal articles in its Penal Code that criminalise freedom of expression. Laws that prohibit insults or the disrespect of heads of state, public figures, the military, government institutions, flags or symbols are contrary to international law and standards.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Said Boumedouha said: “The detention of Nabeel Rajab is yet another serious blow to freedom of expression in Bahrain and entrenches growing attempts by the authorities to muzzle dissenters.

“He must be released immediately and these outrageous charges against him must be dropped.

“Such repressive laws create an environment where freedom of expression is permanently stifled. These laws should be abolished.”

Other activists in Bahrain have faced similar persecution:
Maryam Al-Khawaja is on trial on a charge of “assaulting police officers” at Bahrain International Airport. Amnesty believes she is being targeted for doggedly seeking to expose human rights violations taking place in Bahrain since 2011.

Nader Abdulemam is currently detained in Dry Dock Prison after comments he posted on Twitter were interpreted as derogatory towards Khalid bin al-Waleed, a companion of the prophet Muhammad. He is charged with “publicly insulting a religious figure of worship”.


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International Day of Non-Violence

Thu, 2014-10-02 15:33
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