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UKIP, saviour of the establishment

Fri, 2014-10-10 10:16
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Legal action begins against BIS over UK arms sales to Israel

Fri, 2014-10-10 09:41

Campaign Against Arms Trade has instructed law firm Leigh Day to pursue an application for judicial review over the UK government's refusal to revoke arms export licences to Israel.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has instructed law firm Leigh Day to pursue an application for judicial review to challenge the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) decision not to suspend or revoke 12 existing licences for the export of arms/components to Israel.

The decision followed a review which was overseen by Vince Cable MP and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) which identified 12 licences for components that could be part of equipment used by the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza. However, BIS decided that it would not even suspend these licences unless "significant hostilities" resumed.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has indicated that grave breaches of international humanitarian law and other serious breaches of international law may have occurred during ‘Operation Protective Edge’, which was launched on 8 July 2014 against the population of Gaza, killing over 1900 people.

The wider legal basis for the legal action is outlined in the letter to BIS. All the correspondence between CAAT and BIS is available on the CAAT website.

Andrew Smith from CAAT, said: "The UK government's response to the bombardment of Gaza was unacceptable. Vince Cable himself oversaw a review that identified 12 licences for arms that he accepted were likely to have been used in Gaza. He refused to even suspend them at the time, saying that he would only do so if the violence continued.

"The violence continued, more people died, and yet he failed to follow through on his word. This wasn't the first time UK weapons have been used against Gaza, so the licences should never have been granted in the first place.

"This is yet another example of the UK government doing everything in its power to promote and facilitate arms sales despite terrible ramifications for human rights. Arms sales don't just provide military support to the recipient, they imply a strong level of political support too."

Rosa Curling, from the law firm Leigh Day, who represents CAAT, said: "The decision by BIS not to suspend or revoke the twelve existing licences is unlawful. The review that was conducted by the department was flawed as it envisaged considering whether weapons 'have been’ used at the point at which 'significant hostilities' resume. This is too late.

"The licensing criteria are very clear, that licences should be revoked if there is a 'clear risk' that equipment ‘might' be used in violation of international humanitarian law or internal repression. This must be assessed at the time the licensing decision is made.

"The Government must now look at this with urgency and comply with the law on arms export to ensure that UK arms are not responsible for breaches of international law."

Since 2010 the UK government has licensed £42 million worth of military licences to Israel, including targeting systems and drone components.

* Correspondence between CAAT and BIS http://www.caat.org.uk/resources/countries/israel/legal/


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Ecumenical Day of Reflection on Mining

Thu, 2014-10-09 09:44

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the Methodist Conference hosted an Ecumenical Day of Reflection on Mining at Lambeth Palace on 7 October.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the Methodist Conference hosted an Ecumenical Day of Reflection on Mining at Lambeth Palace on 7 October with representatives of leading mining companies, as well as representatives from non-governmental and other faith-based organisations

Work towards the day began late last year, when senior representatives of a group of mining companies contacted first the Methodist Church and then the Church of England to ask for Christian ethical input to their conversations about the future of their industry. For mining companies, this is an on-going process, starting from the recognition that there needs to be a change in the way mining companies see themselves and how they operate, and that such a transformation can only happen with communities taking an active role in the process.

Those involved in this Day of Reflection hold diverse views regarding the contribution of mining to society. The day provided an opportunity to explore those different perspectives, find common ground and build a shared understanding of what mining's role could and should be.

In September 2013, the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace hosted a Day of Reflection at the Vatican, attended by senior mining company executives, led by the CEO of Anglo American, along with church and religious civil society representatives. The 2014 Day of Reflection on Mining will build a further strand in that conversation and seeks in particular to consider how mining can contribute to the Common Good in the years to come.

In preparation for the day, theologians and representatives of the Methodist Church, the Church of England, and their investing bodies made visits to mines in Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ghana and South Africa.

The Rev Kenneth Howcroft, President of the Methodist Conference of Great Britain, challenged participants, saying: "We are looking for new insights, and a new vision, and something that we can take into the future."

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, raised the difficulties of understanding why "the natural resources curse undermines even responsible companies' best efforts, even in highly developed countries," and why the "large majority of resource-rich regions have not benefited from those resources in the long term ".

Mark Cutifani, CEO of Anglo American, said: "The mining industry is about people and relationships. This Second Day of Reflection in mining has been a time for introspection and sharing ideas in which we deliberated what we as an industry contribute, and what we could contribute if create real partnerships were created. If we do not reach out and collaborate our industry is not sustainable."


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'Stop destroying the Earth’s lungs', Amazon Indians plead in Europe

Thu, 2014-10-09 09:29

Two Amazon Indian leaders have completed a unique trip to Europe, where they urged the global population to “stop destroying the Earth’s lungs”.

Amazon Indian leaders Davi Yanomami and Mauricio Yekuana have completed a unique trip to Europe, where they urged the global population to “stop destroying the Earth’s lungs”.

Davi, a Yanomami shaman who has been called the 'Dalai Lama of the Rainforest', spoke of the illegal mining, ranching and deforestation which pose a serious threat to his tribe and many others across Brazil.

He warned that the destruction of the Amazon is a danger for all humanity, and that if it is not stopped urgently, “the world will die and we will all die with it”.

Davi and Mauricio’s engagements included a meeting with the King of Norway, a sold-out talk to hundreds of people in London, and a tour of the UK to engage hundreds more in their campaign.

Davi also launched his groundbreaking new book The Falling Sky in the UK, signing and selling dozens of copies.

Several major news outlets, including BBC Brasil and the BBC World Service interviewed him about his life, land and shamanism.

Davi is internationally renowned for his tireless work to protect his tribe’s forest. He is President of the Yanomami Association, Hutukara, and together with Survival International and the NGO Pro Yanomami Commission, led the international campaign for the protection of the Yanomami land after an influx of illegal miners in the 1980s decimated the tribe. The government finally recognised the Yanomami land as an indigenous territory in 1992, but illegal mining continues today.

Mauricio, spokesman of the Yekuana tribe which lives alongside the Yanomami in northern Brazil and southern Venezuela, is Vice-President of Hutukara.

Their visit was coordinated by the Rainforest Foundation Norway, CAFOD and Survival International.

* The Falling Sky, written in collaboration with anthropologist Bruce Albert, is the first ever book written by a Yanomami Indian and was listed among the top 10 science books of 2013 by New Scientist magazine. Using evocative language, it discusses Davi’s life story, and the importance of shamanism to the Yanomami’s way of life.

* Watch a film clip of Davi speaking about his tribe’s life and land, shamanism and his new book http://www.survivalinternational.org/films/yanomami


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Scotland after the referendum: as things stand

Wed, 2014-10-08 22:18

All over Scotland, people are still trying to work out what exactly just happened in the referendum on 18 September 2014. Tam McTurk looks beneath the timbers of the vote and raises constructive questions about the future of the Yes movement for social change and the rush to join pro-independence political parties.

All over the nation, people are still trying to work out what exactly just happened in the referendum on 18 September 2014. We were asked a very simple question: Should Scotland be an independent country?

The one conclusion that can be drawn from the result is that when people were casting their vote many of them were actually answering all sorts of other, different questions.

Some were answering questions such as: do you fear losing the fourth lowest pension in Europe, do you fear being deported, do you fear a wave of terrorist attacks if we don’t have Trident to defend us, do you fear economic Armageddon if your country keeps its own oil revenues?

Others were answering questions like, do you believe the claims of a backbench opposition MP that federalism is not only just around the corner but is ‘guaranteed’ by the three party leaders from London? Still others were answering the pressing question of how much it was that they hated Alex Salmond.

The essence of all of the No side’s scare stories was and remains a very simple concept – unlike any other country in the world, the pro-dependency parties think Scotland is incapable of running its own affairs and needs help from its neighbours to do so. Again, you reap what you sow. A nation where more than half of the people believe such a fallacy is not a confident, happy place.

Despite three hundred years of the assimilation project and three years of the most amazing barrage of propaganda, a total of 1.6 million people took the time to ponder the actual question.

So what motivated the No voters?

Speculation is that a proportion (the unreachables) think their own country already has too much power over its own affairs. Another group (the unreached) are said to think their own country already has enough power over its own affairs. A third group (the nervous Nos) is thought to have believed Gordon Brown could guarantee unspecified greater powers.

Claims abound about various different age gaps too. The polls vary but it seems that over 65s were the most pro-dependency. Hardly surprising given the constant dog whistling about pensions.

The class divide was impossible to mistake. As the ballot boxes opened, working class areas were solidly Yes. But the No majorities in comfortable and affluent areas were huge, as was the turnout. Did Scotland just witness a class mobilisation on a massive scale?

Where and what now Scotland?

Right now, the people of Scotland should be engaged in a mass public debate about dividing up assets and liabilities with the rUK. We should be debating the written constitution, the bill of rights and whatever else the people demanded of their new nation.

Instead we have a Lord appointed by the UK Prime Minister running a commission. What could possibly go wrong? Make your submissions by all means – well not you Colin Fox and the SSP – just don’t expect any more powers than Westminster has already decided it is willing to grant.

Instead of our media following every dot and comma of the independence negotiations, we are treated to wall-to-wall coverage of the UK party conferences. The Labour leader told us about all the cuts he hopes to impose. Cameron and Boris pandered to the far right, pledging new pain for the poor to try and shore up the Tory vote before the next few bye-elections. The Liberal Democrats griped about their coalition partners.

As for the promised new powers – three weeks on and we still don’t have a definition of what 'The Vow' actually entails, never mind how and when it will be implemented and by whom. The three Unionist parties, so united the week before the referendum, seem less keen on sticking to the same line now that the UK balance of payments, its petrol currency and the repayments on its 1.5 trillion debt have been secured.

A political party isn’t just for Xmas

One of the outcomes of the 18 September result has been a rush to join the three Yes parties. It’s a bit of a surprising turn after the most invigorating, dynamic and creative political campaign anybody in the country can remember. Let’s face it, political parties aren’t renowned for being fun and imaginative.

Are the highly disciplined Scottish National Party (SNP) members of the last decade ready for a party that has trebled in size? Will the surge in Green and Scottish Socialist Party membership be reflected at the polls in 2015 and 2016? What will the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) do, once it finds a conference hall large enough to cope with its conference? Will the Common Weal ‘think and do tank’ make as good a job of the doing as it has until now of the thinking? Where will all of the non-party activists who poured heart and soul into the Yes campaign invest their time, energy and intellect?

There is no blueprint for where Scotland is now or where we are going. This is uncharted territory. How do we try to find out what the pro-dependency parties were actually proposing and then force them reluctantly to deliver? How does the Yes movement persuade the nervous Nos that The Vow in the Daily Record was just a last gasp sham by a panic-stricken establishment? How does it persuade the unreached that the status quo is not serving them or the nation?

A start would be to maintain the local grassroots diversity, campaigning fun and unity that came so close to winning last month. Join a party if you like but remember that Scottish parties rarely attract the support 1.6 million of the electorate, let alone the two million that has to be the minimum next target for the Yes movement.

* This article is excerpted, with permission, from: https://tammcturk.jux.com/3996948

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


© Tam McTurk is a non-party activist in the Yes Scotland campaign, based in Leith. His website can be found at https://tammcturk.jux.com/ He is director of Citadel Translations Ltd.

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NHS supplier 'risking complicity' in nine US executions

Wed, 2014-10-08 11:56

A major NHS supplier is at risk of becoming involved in American executions, after Alabama altered its lethal injection ‘cocktail’.

A major supplier to the NHS is at risk of becoming involved in American executions, after Alabama altered its lethal injection ‘cocktail’ to include a drug for which they are the only US supplier yet to put in place sufficient distribution controls.

Mylan pharmaceuticals, which describes itself as a “leading developer and supplier of generic medicines [to] wholesalers and throughout the National Health Service,” is a US Government-approved manufacturer of rocuronium bromide, a paralysing agent which Alabama now plans to use as the second part of a three-stage lethal injection process.

The paralysing agent is a particularly concerning element of the process, as it leaves the prisoner unable to speak or move, and therefore can mask the effects of a botched execution, in which the anaesthetic has failed.

Mylan is the only US-approved maker of the drug which has not responded to calls from stakeholders to put in place distribution controls to prevent its use in executions, making it the easiest source from which Alabama will be able to obtain it. As a result, the legal charity Reprieve has warned Mylan that it may only be a matter of time before the state obtains their product, and uses it to kill. The state’s Attorney General’s office is already seeking to set execution dates for nine people, in the wake of the adoption of Alabama’s new lethal injection ‘protocol.’

Despite being notified of the issue in October of last year, Mylan has failed to establish controls which would ensure that their products can still reach legitimate, medical users, but not executioners – a model which has been successfully established by many other major pharmaceutical companies.

In a letter sent to Mylan on September 30th, Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty team warns the company that it is “is the only FDA-approved manufacturer of rocuronium bromide which has no controls in place to prevent it being sold and used in executions in the USA,” and explains that there is therefore “a very real risk that Mylan may soon become the go-to provider of execution drugs for States across the country.”

However, she also explains that “there are simple and effective controls that a company like Mylan can put in place to ensure its medicines are sold for legitimate medical purposes, and not sold to prisons for use in lethal injection executions,” adding that “Over a dozen manufacturers have put such controls in place.”

Commenting, Maya Foa said: “Mylan is the only company we have worked with which has so far failed to take any concrete steps to prevent its medicines from being used to end the lives of prisoners in the USA. The NHS should think carefully about supporting a company which is apparently happy to see its medicines used in brutal executions.”


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Hunter-gatherers in Ethiopia killed by settlers

Wed, 2014-10-08 09:16

Members of a hunter-gatherer tribe are reportedly being hunted down and killed by settlers who are invading their lands in southwest Ethiopia.

Members of a hunter-gatherer tribe are reportedly being hunted down and killed by settlers who are invading their lands in southwest Ethiopia.

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, says the Chabu, who number just 1,500, are some of Africa’s last hunter-gatherers. They live in a remote part of Ethiopia’s forest highlands, to the northwest of the Lower Omo Valley.

Settlers from other regions in Ethiopia have been penetrating into the Chabu’s ancestral home. This has led to heightened tensions and conflicts over land.

Violence has escalated to such an extent that independent experts are calling the situation one of “emerging genocide.”

At least 24 Chabu have reportedly been killed by settlers in the past month, and many more have been forced to flee their homes.

In one incident, a Chabu mother was reportedly killed while caring for her young son, as he lay dying following an attack.

Although the government has sent army units to the area, they have done little to stop the violence, and one important Chabu regional representative has been arrested.

The Chabu have been fighting to be recognised as a distinct people or nation within Ethiopia, a status that affords them greater protection under the country’s constitution.

Settlers and local government officials, who wish to steal the Chabu’s land, have thwarted these efforts, says Survival.


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UK working-age benefits freeze 'will hit millions'

Tue, 2014-10-07 14:15

The UK Chancellor’s announcement about freezing working-age benefits from 2016, hailed at the recent Conservative Party conference, is a 'blow to millions'.

The UK Chancellor’s announcement about freezing working-age benefits from 2016, hailed at the recent Conservative Party conference, is a 'blow to millions'. That is the verdict of Britain's leading children's charity.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, commented: "This proposal will impact millions of families already hit hard by repeated cuts to critical support. The majority of those affected would be the children of working parents who would see further real-term cuts to their child benefit and child tax credits."

He continued: "This comes just hours after the Government announced a further cap on welfare and a scheme that will bar childless 18 to 21-year-olds from housing benefit.

"Far too many families in this country are already struggling to provide a basic standard of living for their children because of the three-year one per cent annual cap in benefit rises put in place at the start of last year.

"These further cuts will make it harder for families to put food on the table and pay the rent to keep a roof over their head.

"This cap would extend the period of the one per cent squeeze on families to half a decade – a typical family could lose as much as £1300 per year by 2018 as a result. Losses in support with rents will come on top of this."

The Children’s Society is supporting the first-ever Children’s Commission on Poverty. The commissioners want the government to draw on children’s actual experience – and not just the statistics – when developing measures to tackle child poverty.

The Children’s Commission on Poverty is being supported by The Children’s Society and led by a panel of 16 children and teenagers from across England, ranging in age from 12 to 19. They are leading an 18-month investigation into child poverty in the UK. It provides a crucial platform for children to speak out about what poverty is really like and reveal, through their own eyes, the day-to-day challenges they face and what needs to be done.

Facts about poverty:

* 3.7 million children in the UK are living in poverty today: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/households-below-average-income...

* Six in 10 children living in poverty are in low-income working families: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/households-below-average-income...

* By 2020, an estimated three quarters of a million more children will be living in poverty than today, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.ifs.org.uk/comms/r78.pdf


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New legislation 'a step closer to justice' for Pinochet victims

Tue, 2014-10-07 10:34

New legislation to overturn a law shielding perpetrators of human rights violations would bring justice a step closer to the victims of General Pinochet, says Amnesty.

New legislation to overturn a law that has been shielding perpetrators of human rights violations would bring justice a step closer to the victims of General Augusto Pinochet says Amnesty International.

Plans to overturn the law were announced last month to mark the 41st anniversary of the military coup that installed Pinochet in power. The bill to reverse the legislation is currently before parliament.

Amnesty International’s Americas Deputy Director Guadalupe Marengo said: “For many years this law acted as a shield, hiding those responsible for serious human rights abuses from justice. Victims have been forced to live knowing those that tortured and killed were walking freely, unpunished.

“Overturning this law would be an historic moment for Chile and would bring the country one step closer to addressing the crimes of the Pinochet regime, as well as sending a clear message that Chile does not protect those responsible for human rights violations.”

Passed in 1978, the Amnesty Decree Law exempts all individuals who committed human rights violations between 11 September 1973 and 10 March 1978 from criminal responsibility.

More than 3,000 people were disappeared or extra-judicially killed in Chile between 1973 and 1990, according to official figures.

In recent years, some judicial decisions have circumvented application of the law. However, its continued existence is incompatible with Chile’s international human rights obligations and represents an affront to the thousands of victims of Pinochet’s regime and their relatives, says Amnesty.

Guadalupe Marengo added: “This law has been a deplorable legacy of the military regime. Its existence is a source of enduring pain for the country. By declaring the Amnesty Decree Law null and void Chile will have the opportunity to redress the victims and their families.

“Nearly 25 years after the end of the military regime Chile is finally moving towards righting the wrongs of the past; this is an opportunity that cannot be missed.”

Last month, in the context of the 41st anniversary of the 1973 Pinochet military coup, the Chilean government announced its intention to speed up (suma urgencia) the annulment of the Amnesty Decree Law on the basis of a bill introduced in 2006. This was done on 23 September. On 30 September the urgency was lowered (urgencia simple). The bill is currently under discussion in the Congress.

Two other important bills to fight impunity for past crimes which were tabled before Congress in 2006 and 1994 have also been reactivated.

One of the bills is intended to reform article 93 of the Penal Procedural Code (Codigo Procesal Penal) to ensure that war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are not subject to amnesty, pardon or statute of limitations. The other bill is seeking Chile's adherence to the 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity.

Amnesty International has welcomed the decision to make these bills a priority and has urged Chile to ensure that no reservation or declaration amounting to reservation is passed when adhering to the Convention.


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Judge orders release of Guantánamo force-feeding footage

Tue, 2014-10-07 09:14

US federal judge Gladys Kessler has ordered that videotapes of Abu Wa'el Dhiab being force-fed in Guantánamo Bay are to be made public.

US federal judge Gladys Kessler has ordered that videotapes of Abu Wa'el Dhiab being force-fed in Guantánamo Bay are to be made public.

Around eleven hours of previously secret video is to be redacted for "all identifiers of individuals" other than Mr Dhiab, and then released to the public. The footage is known to show Mr Dhiab being hauled from his cell by Guantánamo's 'Forcible Cell Extraction' team - a group of military police in riot gear - and being force-fed.

The decision comes after 16 major US media organisations, including the New York Times, Washington Post, AP, and others, intervened in the litigation seeking to unseal the video tapes. Mr Dhiab supported the media's intervention and has specifically stated he wishes as many Americans as possible to see the reality of force-feeding at Guantánamo Bay.

Mr Dhiab said in a statement that is quoted in Judge Kessler's decision: "I want Americans to see what is going on at the prison today, so they will understand why we are hunger-striking, and why the prison should be closed. If the American people stand for freedom, they should watch these tapes. If they truly believe in human rights, they need to see these tapes."

Judge Kessler, in her decision, stated: "In short, it is our responsibility, as judges, as part of our obligation under the Constitution, to ensure that any efforts to limit our First Amendment protections are scrutinised with the greatest of care. That responsibility can not be ignored or abdicated."

She described the Government's justifications for keeping the video evidence sealed in its entirety as "unacceptably vague, speculative, lack[ing specificity, or... just plain implausible." She added: "It strains credulity to conclude that release of these videos has a substantial probability of causing the harm the Government predicts."

Judge Kessler also dismissed out of hand the Government's claim that release of the videos, because it would violate Mr. Dhiab's right not to be held up to "public curiosity", would violate the Geneva Conventions, stating: "The Government's claim, if accepted, would turn the Third Geneva Convention on its head. Rather than a source of rights to humane treatment, Article 13 would become a means to shield from public view treatment that Mr Dhiab (and undoubtedly other detainees) believe to be inhumane."

The Judge's order requires identifying individuals to be redacted, and orders the Government and Petitioner's counsel to work together to achieve this. The process is likely to take some days; while the redactions are made, Judge Kessler has ordered that the tapes shall remain under seal.

Mr. Dhiab has been waging a high-profile challenge to his abusive force-feeding at Guantánamo since June 2013, represented by attorneys at the human rights organisation Reprieve. His trial, which challenges the government's current force-feeding practices as cruel and unethical, began yesterday (6 October) in Washington, DC.

Cori Crider, Reprieve attorney for Mr Dhiab, said: "It is high time the bright light of the truth was shone on Guantánamo's force-feeding practices. It has always been the height of hypocrisy for the Guantánamo authorities to take media groups on 'show tours', while forbidding them from talking to prisoners or seeing evidence like this, which shows the grim reality of life at the prison. I look forward to the day when this evidence is made public, and I believe the outcry that results will hasten the close of Guantánamo Bay."

Jon Eisenberg, attorney for Mr Dhiab, said: “We firmly believe that once the veil of secrecy is lifted from the abusive treatment of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the abuse will end. This decision by Judge Kessler is a big step toward lifting that veil of secrecy.”

Alka Pradhan, Reprieve attorney to Mr Dhiab, said: “This may well be the most significant court decision on Guantanamo Bay in years. No longer does the American public have to rely on propaganda and misinformation, but can finally watch the videotapes and judge for themselves whether this terrible prison should continue to be the image America projects to the world, or whether we should reclaim our values and shut it down for good.”


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

Mon, 2014-10-06 21:50

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 08:48

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-...


Categories: News syndication

The Hennings horror: are we all responsible for ISIL?

Sun, 2014-10-05 23:00

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

Categories: News syndication

Churches' chief welcomes trenchant Muslim critique of IS

Sun, 2014-10-05 22:06

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


Categories: News syndication

Anglicans and others sign 'love letter' to gay bishops

Sun, 2014-10-05 20:09

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.


Categories: News syndication

Saint Francis, a saint for our times.

Sat, 2014-10-04 10:08
Categories: News syndication