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Judge walks out of Egypt mass trial

Wed, 2014-08-13 09:58

A judge in Egypt has walked out of a mass trial of hundreds of prisoners that includes an Irish teenager who was a juvenile when arrested.

A judge in Egypt has walked out of a mass trial of hundreds of prisoners that includes an Irish teenager who was a juvenile when arrested.

Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish citizen, has been held in a series of adult prisons in the capital without charge or trial since his arrest last August at the age of 17, in the turmoil that followed the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20723)

The Egyptian authorities have refused to accept proof that Mr Halawa was legally a juvenile at the time of his arrest, and have insisted on trying him as an adult. The charges against him remain unclear.

The hearing of over 480 adult prisoners began in a makeshift court at the notorious Tora prison complex yesterday (12 August). Mr Halawa’s family was denied entry, despite having been granted permission to attend.

After the names of some of the prisoners on trial were read out, the judge is reported to have announced he would no longer preside over the trial, and left the court, says the legal charity Reprieve.

Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Halawa, said: “Today’s events show this ‘trial’ for the farce it really is. We’re now likely to see further chaos and even more delays, but Ibrahim’s illegal detention has already gone on too long. The Irish government and the European Union need to take urgent action to secure his immediate release, while calling for a fair trial for the hundreds of people arrested alongside him.”

[Ekk/4]

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Joint Public Issues Team produces free resource on ethics of organ donation

Tue, 2014-08-12 15:08

The Joint Public Issues Team of the Methodist Church in Britain, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church has produced a free resource on the ethics of organ donation.

The Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) of the Methodist Church in Britain, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church has produced a free resource on the ethics of organ donation ahead of a change in the law in Wales. The resource is designed to help people think through questions around 'presumed consent', which will become legal in Wales from December 2015.

The free guide is entitled Sharing the gift of life? and is available to download from the JPIT website. It includes arguments, concerns and issues around organ donation, the rights and concerns of patients, personal experiences as well as a discussion on whether there is a distinctly Christian way of seeing the body. People are invited to use it for personal reflection or to support a group discussion.

James North, policy officer for the Methodist Church in Britain, said: "Presumed consent raises many questions, both for Christians and wider society. What do we understand by donating our organs or those of people we love? Will presumed consent increase or decrease organs available for donation? Who has the greater moral say - the family of the organ donor or the person needing the organs? The resource has been prepared to help people think through some of these questions before presumed consent comes into effect in Wales in 2015 or is discussed more widely through the rest of the UK."

In July 2013, the Welsh Assembly voted in favour of 'presumed consent' for organ transplantation. Under this legislation, unless people explicitly opt out, they are regarded as having given consent to their organs being available for transplantation. This is a change from an opt-in to an opt-out system of organ donation. Northern Ireland has already held a consultation on presumed consent and Scotland is currently consulting on it. It is possible that similar proposals will be debated in England and that Bills to introduce presumed consent will be introduced in the rest of the UK , following Wales' lead.

According to NHS Organ Donation statistics, from 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013, 1,160 lives were saved in the UK through a heart, lung, liver or combined heart/lungs, liver/kidney or liver/pancreas transplant. The statistics also showed that 3,052 patients' lives were improved by a kidney or pancreas transplant, and 3,697 people had their sight restored through a cornea transplant. Around 1,000 people a year (almost three a day) will die waiting as there are not enough organs available.

James North added: "The Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches are strongly in favour of organ donation but don't have a position on presumed consent. The debate in Wales has shown that many in our Churches find presumed consent an uneasy principle. Churches have an important role in supporting donors, recipients of organs, and their families, both pastorally and publically. "Sharing the gift of life" is intended to help Christians participate in the national discussion around presumed consent, so that the wonder of organ donation can be fulfilled in our society."

* Download Sharing the gift of life? here: http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Sharing-the-gift-...

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UNHCR appoints members to investigate purported Gaza violations

Tue, 2014-08-12 10:31

The UNHRC has appointed three members to its independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate purported violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in Israel Palestine.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has announced the appointment of three members to its independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate purported violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and particularly in the Gaza Strip since the conflict began on 13 June.

In a statement released on 11 August, the Council's President, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella (Gabon), announced that the human rights body appointed Amal Alamuddin (United Kingdom), Doudou Diène (Senegal) and William Schabas (Canada) to serve as members on the international Commission. Mr. Schabas will also serve as the Commission's Chair.

The Commission aims to establish the facts and circumstances of violations and crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible. It will also make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways to protect civilians against any further assaults.

At least 1,948 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict, along with 67 Israelis, according to figures cited by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In addition, some 425,000 people are seeking shelter either in UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) facilities, government shelters or with host families.

Around 11,855 housing units in Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli attacks, and another 36,000 have suffered damage, according to OCHA.

The Council had decided – by a vote of 29 countries in favour, with 17 abstentions and a sole negative vote by the United States – to launch the inquiry at its emergency meeting on 23 July.

The same resolution requested that the Commission present a written report to the Human Rights Council at its session in March 2015.

Amal Alamuddin is a London-based British-Lebanese lawyer, specialising in international law and human rights. She has worked at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and as legal adviser to the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Doudou Diène was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance from 2002 to 2008. He also served as Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Côte d'Ivoire from 2011 to 2014.

William Schabas is a professor of international criminal law and human rights and served on the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission until 2004. He was also a member of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in Human Rights.

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Irish teenager among prisoners set for mass trial in Egypt

Mon, 2014-08-11 16:58

A mass trial in Egypt tomorrow (12 August) could see death sentences handed down to hundreds of prisoners, including an Irish teenager who was a juvenile at the time of his arrest.

A mass trial in Egypt tomorrow (12 August) could see death sentences handed down to hundreds of prisoners, including an Irish teenager who was a juvenile at the time of his arrest.

Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish citizen, was 17 when he was arrested last August along with his three older sisters, now released, after being caught up in protests in Cairo in the turmoil that followed the ousting of former President Mohammed Morsi. He has since been held in a series of adult prisons in the capital without charge or trial, in contravention of international law and the country’s own Child Laws.

The Egyptian authorities have refused to consider proof of Mr Halawa's age and nationality, provided by his family, lawyers, and consular officials, and instead insist he is an adult. Tomorrow’s mass trial, to be held in a makeshift court in the notorious Tora prison complex, will see him appearing alongside over 480 adults.

In conversations with the legal charity Reprieve, which is assisting him, Mr Halawa’s family say he has reported torture during his detention; including being stripped, beaten with chains and whips, forced to drink from the toilet, and subject to racist taunts by guards for being Irish. He is reported to be permanently disfigured after being shot in the hand and denied medical treatment.

Maya Foa, head of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “That the Egyptian government has arrested and tortured children, in contravention of its own and international law, is horrifying enough; that it is now seeking to hand down summary death sentences for hundreds of prisoners at a time, including Ibrahim and other juveniles, is an utter disgrace. Other governments should take all steps necessary to prevent this travesty of justice and ensure no lives are lost in the process.”

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Further evidence on rendition 'should certainly come out', says David Miliband

Mon, 2014-08-11 11:24

David Miliband, who as UK Foreign Secretary was forced to admit that the CIA had used British territory for ‘rendition’ flights, has left open the possibility that further evidence of involvement could emerge.

David Miliband, who as UK Foreign Secretary was forced to admit that the CIA had used British territory for ‘rendition’ flights, has left open the possibility that further evidence of such involvement could emerge.

In an interview with yesterday’s (10 August) Observer newspaper, Mr Miliband said that "We were told absolutely [by the US that] there had only been two [rendition] flights that went through Diego Garcia," but added that, "if that's not the case, it should certainly come out."

Mr Miliband was responding to questions over the UK’s support for secretive CIA flights which were used to transfer prisoners to countries where they could be subjected to torture, as part of its ‘rendition’ programme – which is now the subject of a major report by a US Senate Committee.

Earlier this month, it emerged that the British Government has been “making representations” to the US regarding the content of the report, leading to concerns that it has been attempting to censor aspects relating to the UK’s role in the rendition programme.

Extra weight has been given to these concerns by leaks to the media earlier this year which indicated that new information concerning the role of Diego Garcia – a British-owned island in the Indian Ocean – would emerge in the report compiled by the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20400)

Commenting, Donald Campbell from the legal charity Reprieve said: “When a former Foreign Secretary who was so closely involved with issues around rendition leaves open the possibility that we have not been told the whole truth, alarm bells should ring. We already know that the UK has been attempting to censor the Senate’s report on CIA torture, in an attempt to keep Britain’s role out of the public domain. Mr Miliband’s suggestion that there may be more revelations to come only reinforces these concerns. The UK Government must stop trying to sweep its role in CIA renditions under the carpet.”

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Quakers issue Epistle of 2014 Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering

Sun, 2014-08-10 17:50

As Yearly Meeting Gathering, held at the University of Bath 2 – 9 August closes, Quakers in Britain have issued their customary Epistle 'To all Friends everywhere'.

As their Yearly Meeting Gathering, held at the University of Bath 2 – 9 August closes, Quakers in Britain have issued this Epistle:

To all Friends everywhere,

We send our loving greetings from Yearly Meeting Gathering. Over 2,000 of us have come together as a community of all ages, “to see one another’s faces and open our hearts one to another”.

Our theme of ‘Commitment and Belonging’ was the culmination of a three-year process of exploring what it means to be a Quaker today. It led us to look inwards at the meaning of membership and outwards to our service in the world.

Coming into membership of the Religious Society of Friends is not simply arrival at a comfortable place, it is also a point of departure: a commitment to the Quaker community and to a life-long process of learning, together with others. What matters most in this community is the quality of our relationships.

When we are faithful to our discipline and trust in the Spirit, we may be led in unexpected ways. In his Swarthmore Lecture Ben Pink Dandelion urged us to be open to the possibility of transformation – to “seeing and feeling the world in a new way.” He reminded us that our core insights, of encounter with the divine, discernment, worship and testimony, are all inherently collective. We should rekindle a strong sense of our Quaker identity, our clarity about who we are, and we should reclaim the spiritual. Our ‘love in action’ is not an alternative to the spiritual life; we need to be both Martha and Mary.

Through the week we followed ‘Journeys’, of faith, witness, governance, and much more. In particular we have expressed our outrage at the deep hurts inflicted by economic injustice, and our passionate concern that we should uphold the most vulnerable and those supporting them. What would our world look like if we truly lived out our testimonies?

An inspiring report and film from our Trustees celebrated our centrally managed work. We have welcomed the outcome of the work on same-sex marriage begun at YMG in 2009. Our divestment from the fossil fuel industry arose from the commitment to sustainability made at Canterbury in 2011. While many share our concerns about the future of our planet, and all its inhabitants, there are things that we, as Quakers, are called to do. The Canterbury Commitment is about all our testimonies, and we can do most as a community working together. We are enjoined to pray, talk, think, share and act. Whatever you are called to do, be faithful to your calling. God has no hands but ours.

In an all-age, reflective commemoration of the outbreak of WW1, we reclaimed the white feather as a symbol of peace and created with our feathers a dove of peace. In our epilogue vigil the lights around the circle were extinguished in mourning, and re-lit in hope. But one hundred years after the ‘war to end all wars’ we are anguished at continuing wars, particularly in Israel/Palestine. We support the work being done on our behalf by Quaker Peace & Social Witness and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel and have endorsed the public statement from Quaker Peace & Social Witness to be issued shortly.

Our community has included almost 300 children and young people. Their joyful sense of belonging here has been rooted in their exploration of the Yearly Meeting themes, through playing, sharing, working and worshipping, as part of the whole Gathering. The Young People have thought about commitment and belonging and the diversity of Quakers in the world. Junior Yearly Meeting affirms the spiritual basis of ‘being Quaker’ but for them ‘community’ may be more important than ‘membership’. We are reminded that children and young people are an equal part of our Quaker community and should be treated as such. Further thought will be given to how we support children and families in our Meetings.

In the face of our distress at the darkening of the world, we are renewed in the hope and love that is also part of our faith, and this Gathering has been an occasion of joy. We have seen on film the faces of local Friends, telling us their stories of how they live out their ministry, and Friends from around the world telling us of their beliefs. In all-age worship we have looked into our neighbours’ faces and seen love. This week has given us time and space for worship, ministry, decision, creativity, art expression and chance encounter - ‘doing different things together’. We leave to the university a Legacy Garden, created during the week as a tangible expression of our hope for future generations.

The more we listen carefully to one another the closer we come to an intimate connection with the greater whole. We are challenged to become beacons for change in the world and to have the courage to ‘hope beyond imagination’.

Signed in and on behalf of Britain Yearly Meeting,

Chris Skidmore, Clerk.

* Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends.

*Around 23,000 people attend nearly 475 Quaker meetings in Britain. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.

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7-mile scarf unfurled between nuke factories in latest Trident protest

Sat, 2014-08-09 20:23

A seven-mile scarf knitted by over 5,000 people has been rolled out between the Atomic Weapons Establishment sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire.

A seven-mile scarf knitted by over 5,000 people from around Britain and beyond has been rolled out between the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire.

The knitters are calling on Parliament not to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system when the decision comes up in 2016.

The event is the latest demonstration against Trident at the AWE, the site of increasingly frequent protests as the general election approaches in May 2015.

The campaigners described the action as a major step in increased public protest over Trident.

The protest was one of two major peace demonstrations in Britain today (9 August), the other being a 20,000-strong march against the Israeli government's attack on Gaza.

The sections of the scarf, which have been displayed individually in towns around the UK, were linked together for the seven mile stretch at 1pm today. The date was chosen as the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945.

Activists holding up the scarf along the seven miles route observed two minutes' silence for the victims of nuclear weapons.

The knitters include people from all parts of the UK, as well as Kenya, South Africa, France, Austria, parts of South America and elsewhere.

The Wool Against Weapons initiative is organised by Action AWE and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). It is the brainchild of Angie Zelter, of Knighton in Powys, and Jaine Rose, of Stroud in Gloucestershire.

"This is just the start of people's mobilisation", said Zelter after the scarf had been unfurled.

She explained, "People have to act because the government won't disarm without people in their thousands taking to the streets. Many who have been knitting this scarf are now preparing to join the month of action at AWE in March, weeks before a general election that could determine the future of Trident."

CND's Kate Hudson said that actions such as today's protest are becoming more frequent.

She added, "It is a disgrace that this government is prepared to squander over £100bn on a monstrous Cold War weapons system, while it slashes funding for health, education and other public services.

She pointed out that opinion polls consistently show a majority of the British public to be opposed to Trident renewal, and insisted that the protests are "representing the majority of the British public who reject this phenomenal and immoral waste of taxpayers' money".

Hudson insisted, "The British public is increasingly fed up with being told there's no money left while exorbitant sums are earmarked for nuclear weapons."

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Nearly £7 million donated by new Lords appointees

Sat, 2014-08-09 09:42

The 22 new peers appointed yesterday (8 August) have donated nearly £7 million to political parties, says the Electoral
Reform Society (ERS)

The 22 new peers appointed yesterday (8 August) have donated nearly £7 million to political parties, says the Electoral Reform Society (ERS)

The vast majority of the £6,912,841 comes from one donor, Michael Farmer. But another five of the new peers are also party donors or closely associated with party donors. And 16 of the 22 new peers have previously held political positions (either elected or employed). This exposes the myth that the House of the Lords is a chamber full of independent experts. Instead it appears to be a way for partypolitcal people to achieve high office without submitting themselves to elections, says the ERS.

Commenting on the new peerages, Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “These appointments further cement the impression that to get into the House of Lords, all you have to do is write a fat cheque to a political party or be a party hack. The second chamber is a crucial part of our political system, with real legislative power. It cannot be right that people are effectively able to buy a seat at the highest level of politics.

“It is the founding principle of democracy that we should be able to choose those who govern us.

"Until we have an elected second chamber, as opposed to one full to the brim with favoured sons and daughters, we will not be getting the democracy we deserve.”

The new appointments bring the total number of peers in the House of Lords to 850. The Electoral Reform Society says that with the possibility of more rounds of appointments after the general election to reflect any changes in political balance, the House of Lords is becoming increasingly over- subscribed.

Commenting on the ‘super-sized’ House of Lords, Katie Ghose added: “At this rate it won’t be long before we have twice as many unelected Lords as we do elected MPs.

"That’s clearly an affront to democracy, but it also raises all sorts of practical problems. There simply isn’t enough room for them all. In fact, the only reason the Lords is still able to function at all is because so many don’t show up for work."

She concluded: "The sheer size of the second chamber makes it completely unworkable. And that means reform is coming back on the agenda whether party leaders like it or not. The challenge for them is to address this blight on our democracy once and for all, and not just tinker at the edges."

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Quakers urge recognition of Palestine

Sat, 2014-08-09 09:12

Quakers in Britain have called on the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a nation state; for a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides and an end to the blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestine.

Amid faltering ceasefires and talks, Quakers in Britain are calling for urgent action on Gaza. They urge the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a nation state; they call for a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides in the conflict and for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestine.

The calls for action come in a statement made by the decision making body of Quakers in Britain, the Yearly Meeting, attended by 2,000 Quakers in Bath. As part of their commitment to peacemaking, Quakers continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

The Yearly Meeting heard essential steps towards full and fair negotiations:

- Palestine to be recognised as a nation state
- An end to indiscriminate fire by all sides
- A comprehensive arms embargo
- An end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and blockade of Gaza
- Freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners
- The use of international law to hold all parties to account for their actions.

The Yearly Meeting heard this week that Quakers were invited to meet Foreign Office ministers on the crisis. Teresa Parker, programme manager for Israel and Palestine for Quakers in Britain, was among representatives from faith and secular agencies who went to share views and experience of the region.

A key motivation for Yearly Meeting is valuing all life. The Yearly Meeting statement says:

“As we among other Nobel Peace Laureates have said, ‘The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis will only be resolved when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended and the inherent equality, worth, and dignity of all is realised.’ Peacebuilding is a long and demanding path to take… We long for – and will work for – a time when the fear experienced on all sides is replaced by a sense of security.”

The Yearly Meeting statement in full reads:

A statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made by Quakers in Britain at their Yearly Meeting in Bath, 8 August 2014

At this time of sombre anniversaries, as we observe the centenary of the outbreak of World War I and the anniversaries of nuclear bombs dropped on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we find our Quaker testimonies to peace and equality again compel us to speak out.

The hostilities in Gaza are the latest eruption of the deep and long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Root causes of this conflict, including the structural violence of occupation, must be addressed. Such violence damages all the people of the region. The present time, with its faltering ceasefires and talks, is a time of both crisis and opportunity.

From our long-standing Quaker experience of working on this issue in Palestine, Israel and Britain, and from listening to the testimony of Quakers in Ramallah, we are convinced that the UK Government has a real role to play. A starting place would be for the UK to recognise Palestine as a nation state on the same basis as it recognises Israel. We note that 134 states have already recognised the State of Palestine. The UK Government should also play its part in creating a real opportunity for peace by drawing groups such as Hamas into the political process and thus away from violent resistance to the occupation. We have seen around the world how those once labelled as terrorists can come to be recognised for their statesmanship. It is our view that freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners would help Palestine to develop as a flourishing economic, political and civil society.

The international community remains complicit in the conflict for as long as it fails to make full use of the mechanisms provided by international law, to hold all parties to account for their actions. Under international law, at all times, all parties should distinguish between civilians and combatants, though as Quakers we place equal value on every human life. The Israeli Government's ongoing blockade of Gaza and its apparent collective punishment of the people must end, as must indiscriminate fire by all sides.

Amid the present crisis, we are reminded that the people of the West Bank, living under Israeli occupation face restrictions on movement; loss of land and water; demolitions; the continuing building of settlements; detention without trial and violence by settlers and the Israeli military. Such suffering often sows seeds of future violence.

The anniversary of World War I reminds us how easily militarised societies can slide into armed conflict and become blind to the alternatives to war. At such times, the international community has a responsibility to avoid fuelling the conflict. We join others in asking for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and armed Palestinian groups. Quakers in Britain ask the UK Government to take a lead on this by halting arms exports to Israel.

As we, among other Nobel Peace Laureates, have said, 'The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis will only be resolved when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended and the inherent equality, worth, and dignity of all is realised’. Peacebuilding is a long and demanding path to take, but an essential one.

Quakers in Britain feel called to act alongside others to address the roots of violence. We continue to uphold Quakers in the region and those working nonviolently for peace and human rights within Israel and Palestine. Quakers will continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as we oppose all forms of prejudice. We long for – and will work for – a time when the deep fear experienced on all sides is replaced by security and a just peace.

Signed

Chris Skidmore

Clerk of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain

Quakers in Britain send human rights monitors to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, but not Gaza. On behalf of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and other Christian agencies Quakers in Britain runs the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Ecumenical accompaniers focus global attention on Israeli and Palestinian peace and human rights groups. EAPPI uses the standards of human rights and international law to work for an end to the occupation and for a just peace with security and dignity for all.

* Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends.

* Around 23,000 people attend 478 Quaker meetings in Britain. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.

* At the Yearly Meeting Gathering, 2,000 Quakers, including 300 young people, have been at the University of Bath campus for a mixture of worship, business, interest groups, and significant lectures, exploring ‘What it means to be a Quaker today’. Junior Yearly Meeting, for 14 to 18 year olds, has run alongside YMG.

* The Nobel Peace Laureates’ statement is here: http://www.quaker.org.uk/news/nobel-peace-laureates-call-real-peace-betw...

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Homeless families in London ‘stuck’ in hostels for two years, says Shelter

Fri, 2014-08-08 10:36

Thousands of families across London are stuck in housing limbo for years on end, an investigtion by the housing and homelessness charity Shelter has revealed.

Thousands of families across London are stuck in housing limbo for years on end, an investigtion by the housing and homelessness charity Shelter revealed yesterday (7 August).

Figures gathered from freedom of information requests show that over half of homeless families in participating boroughs have been in temporary accommodation for more than a year. Over 4,000, or 41 per cent, have been there for two years or more.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s appalling that in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, there are forgotten homeless children, hidden from view in temporary accommodation that offers them no stability and can be unsafe and in poor condition. And sadly, with more people struggling to make ends meet, we’re bracing ourselves for an increase in demand from families who desperately need our help.”

Bed and breakfast or hostel accommodation is only supposed to be used by councils in the very short term, when a permanent home cannot be found. However, an investigation by Labour in 2013 found that the borough of Westminster spent almost £85,000 a week housing families in 10 hotels, at a cost of almost £4.5 million a year. It also found the use of bed and breakfast accommodation to house homeless families for more than the legal limit of six weeks had risen by 800 per cent under the Coalition government.

Research from the Ministry of Justice, also released yesterday, shows a significant rise in evictions across the country, with possession claims from landlords rising almost 10 per cent. Shelter says this means even more families risk being forgotten in temporary housing.

The housing minister, Brandon Lewis said: “The numbers of households in temporary accommodation is well below the peak reached under the previous administration, which hit 101,000 in 2004. Households now spend on average eight months less in temporary accommodation than at the start of 2010.”

However, the Government's figures are based on records of people leaving temporary accommodation whereas those issued by Shelter show the numbers who have not been able to leave.

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Five week wait for benefit harms chances of a quick return to work, says TUC

Fri, 2014-08-08 09:39

New analysis published by the TUC shows that the majority of claimants who will be hit by the new five-week wait welfare reform are short-term claimants who only claim benefit for a few weeks.

New analysis published yesterday (7 August) by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) shows that the majority of claimants who will be hit by the government’s new five-week wait welfare reform are short-term claimants who only claim the benefit for a few weeks.

Currently most workers who lose their job have to wait two weeks before they get their first benefit payment. But under new Universal Credit rules for assessing unemployment claims, most people will face a wait of more than five weeks before they get any money. This could mean going two months into rent arrears before any cash support arrives. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20654)

The new TUC analysis shows that most newly unemployed benefit claimants are currently back off the benefit within three months, and that only one in ten are still on the benefit after a year.

The most recent data indicate that:

- 56 per cent of claimants leave within three months
- 77 per cent of claimants leave within six months
- 86 per cent of claimants leave within nine months
- 91 per cent leave within 12 months
- 93 per cent leave within 15 months.

Further TUC analysis shows that close to 300,000 people across the UK will be hit by the five-week wait each month. The London and North West England UK regions will have the most people affected, with around 40,000 hit in each of those regions every month.

The TUC warns that the five-week wait for safety net support will push many claimants into financial problems that distract them from focusing on finding a new job. A recent report by the debt charity Step Change found that 13 million people do not have enough savings to last a month, with six million people already having to use credit to make it through to payday. In the Universal Credit pathfinder areas, interim evaluation published by DWP in November 2013 showed that 34 per cent of Universal Credit claimants had borrowed money, compared to 19 per cent for a control group receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Despite the enormous numbers of people who will be affected, recent polling by YouGov for the TUC has revealed that fewer than one in seven people (13 per cent) say they have heard of the plans. Seven out of ten people (70 per cent) say that they would be worried when asked to imagine losing their job and not being entitled to receive any benefit payments for five weeks. More than half (52 per cent) say it makes them think less favourably of the government’s welfare reforms.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government is sneaking through changes that will make newly unemployed claimants wait at least five weeks before they get any cash support. It’s a debt trap that will hit hundreds of thousands of people each month.

“It’s right to deal with people who abuse the system, but the five-week wait is a collective punishment for anyone who loses their job. People need to focus on finding new work, instead of being stressed out about how they will pay the rent, feed the kids and keep the heating on.

“The government is out of touch and ministers simply don’t understand the anxiety many people feel not knowing if they’ll still have work next month. If your job goes, the five-week wait puts you at greater risk of a downward spiral where you’re trapped in debt, lose your home, become ill from the stress and fall too far to climb back again.

“We are launching the Saving Our Safety Net campaign to expose government welfare plans for what they are – cuts to the National Insurance safety net we’ve all paid into on the understanding that it will be there when we need it.”

* The full data analysis of benefit claim lengths undertaken for the TUC by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion can be found at http://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Benefit%20flows%20and%20durati...

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UN-backed tribunal sentences Khmer Rouge leaders to life in prison

Fri, 2014-08-08 09:22

A United Nations-backed court has found the two most senior surviving leaders of Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced them to life in prison.

A United Nations-backed court has found the two most senior surviving leaders of Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced them to life in prison.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a hybrid war crimes tribunal established in 2006, convicted Nuon Chea, 88, and Khieu Samphan, 83, of murder, extermination and other charges of crimes against humanity for their roles in the Pol Pot regime which ruled from 1975-1979.

Nearly 2 million people are thought to have died during that period of forced labour, starvation, torture and execution.

The verdict was heralded by both Cambodia’s Government and the UN as a “historic moment in international criminal justice.”

“It is also a momentous day for the people of Cambodia. Since the Khmer Rouge regime was overthrown on 7 January 1979, just over 35 years ago, the Cambodian people have struggled to rebuild their society,” said Sok An, Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Stephen Mathias, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs in a joint statement released today.

The Trial Chamber found that, together with other Khmer Rouge leaders, both Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan participated in a criminal enterprise to achieve a rapid socialist revolution through a “great leap forward” by whatever means necessary including through the mass evacuation of urban centres to establish an agrarian utopia. According to the court, both had implemented policies that forcibly displaced people.

In April 1975, during the first phase of the movement of the population at least two million people were forcibly transferred from Phnom Penh by Khmer Rouge soldiers often at gunpoint, and in terrifying and violent circumstances. The population was forced to march to rural areas during the hottest time of the year and without adequate food, water or medical care.

According to the Tribunal, there were numerous instances of Khmer Rouge soldiers shooting and killing civilians during the course of the evacuation, while many others died of exhaustion, malnutrition or disease. There was another phase of the movement of the population between September 1975 and December 1977, where scores more were displaced.

Over the trial period, the UN deployed international judges, prosecutors and staff to the ECCC through the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials. The substantive hearings began in 2011 and concluded with closing statements on 31 October 2013. During the 222 days of trial, the Chamber heard testimonies from 92 individuals. An unprecedented 100,000 people visited the court to see the trial, while millions more followed it through live television, radio broadcasts and the internet.

While the war crimes tribunal found only Nuon Chea to be responsible as a superior for all crimes committed, both Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan have the right to appeal their convictions and sentence imposed.

Later in the day, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took note of the ECCC decision calling it a "momentous day for the people of Cambodia and for international criminal justice."

Meanwhile, he also welcomed the National Assembly of Cambodia's holding sessions from 8 August with all members, including opposition parliamentarians. Welcoming the reopening of Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, he encouraged the two main parties in Cambodia to continue their efforts toward reform and strengthening of democratic institutions "in a spirit of cooperation for the benefit of all Cambodians."

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UAE torture allegations taken 'extremely seriously' by UK, says Prime MInister

Thu, 2014-08-07 11:06

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the UK will continue to raise with UAE authorities the case of a British student who was tortured by police into signing a confession to drugs offences.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the UK will continue to raise with United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities the case of a British student who was tortured by police into signing a confession to drugs offences.

Ahmad Zeidan, from Berkshire, was arrested by local police in Sharjah, near Dubai, in December 2013 and held incommunicado for over a week, during which time he was hooded, beaten, and threatened with sexual assault. Mr Zeidan was also forced to sign documents in Arabic – a language he cannot read – which were subsequently used by prosecutors as a central piece of ‘evidence’ at his trial. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20450)

In a letter responding to concerns raised by legal charity Reprieve, which is supporting Mr Zeidan, David Cameron has written that the Government takes such allegations “extremely seriously,” and that they “should be independently and transparently investigated.”

In June this year, Mr Zeidan was sentenced to nine years in Sharjah’s prison, having initially faced a potential death sentence. At an appeal hearing today (7 August), the public prosecution will request an even harsher sentence.

In his letter, received by Reprieve in July, Mr Cameron states that “[British] officials have recently made clear the importance of expediting the investigation into the allegations of mistreatment and asked the UAE to bring these to a conclusion before the appeal hearing”.

However, there has been no indication that this has taken place, and no information regarding the investigation has been provided to Mr Zeidan, his lawyers, or Reprieve.

In a phone interview on 5 August, Mr Zeidan told BBC 5 Live how he was beaten by Sharjah police who then “forcefully made me take off all my clothes… [and said] if you don’t confess to possessing the narcotics, we will rape you”.

Commenting, Maya Foa said: “The Prime Minister’s comments regarding how seriously Britain takes the issue of police torture in the UAE are welcome, but it is crucial that the UK continues to raise the case of Mr Zeidan at the highest possible level. Police torture in the UAE has reached epidemic levels, with numerous Brits and people of all nationalities facing brutal treatment in order to extract bogus ‘confessions.’ The UAE must release Mr Zeidan, and put a stop to the brutal police practices to which he and so many others have been subjected.”

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Seven-mile peace scarf protest against Trident replacement

Thu, 2014-08-07 10:48

This Saturday, a giant peace scarf measuring seven miles will be stretched between the UK’s two nuclear bomb factories in protest at plans to spend £100bn replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system.

This Saturday (9 August) a giant peace scarf measuring seven miles (11km) will be stretched between the UK’s two nuclear bomb factories to protest against plans to spend £100 billion replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system.

The Wool Against Weapons campaign has been almost two years in the making, and has received contributions from over 5,000 knitters from around the UK and as far as Africa, the Middle East, and South America.

The campaign has received media attention across the country, with knitters taking their peace scarves to local landmarks including Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and the Angel of the North.

This Saturday, the scarf will be joined together to stretch between the Atomic Weapons Establishment sites of Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire.

After the demonstration, the scarves will be remade into blankets for use in areas of humanitarian need.

CND’s General Secretary Kate Hudson said: "People are fed up with the government saying there’s not enough money for vital public services while waving through the purchase of a £100 billion Cold War weapons system.

"Trident doesn’t keep us safe: because it encourages nuclear proliferation. We can’t afford it: at a time when we’re slashing public services. And its use would be illegal: because it kills indiscriminately.

"This colourful and vibrant protest is an innovative way of showing the scale of opposition to Trident replacement in the UK and abroad.

"Every single bit of scarf joined together between the UK’s nuclear bomb factories represents a voice calling for reason over dogma, for peace over war – a step towards real global security and a triumph over an outdated and dangerous Cold War mentality."

* More information about Wool against Weapons and protest assembly points here: http://www.cnduk.org/component/k2/item/1828

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Survival International reveals ‘five faces of genocide’ for UN Indigenous Day

Wed, 2014-08-06 14:15

To mark UN Indigenous Day on 9 August, Survival International reveals five tribal peoples who have been victims of genocide during the 20th century and warns of a potential genocide in the 21st.

To mark UN Indigenous Day on 9 August, Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, reveals five tribal peoples who have been victims of genocide during the 20th century – and warns of a potential genocide in the 21st.

Tribal peoples subjected to genocidal violence include:

- The Aché, Paraguay: in a landmark case launched in April 2014, the Aché tribe took Paraguay’s government to court over the genocide they suffered. The Aché were decimated after colonists launched killing raids, captured tribespeople and sold them as slaves during the 1950s and 60s.

- The Akuntsu, Brazil: in 1985, government investigators uncovered an entire communal house which had been bulldozed – evidence of a brutal massacre by gunmen that killed most of the Akuntsu tribe. The five survivors are the last witnesses of this silent genocide.

- The Jummas, Bangladesh: the Bangladesh military and a wave of settlers carried out a genocidal campaign of murder, rape, torture and the torching of Jumma villages. A peace deal in 1997 put an end to the worst atrocities, but killings, the burning of Jumma villages, the theft of their land and arrests remain rampant.

- The Yanomami, on the border of Brazil and Venezuela: in 1993, goldminers launched a brutal attack on the Yanomami village of Haximú, killing 16 Yanomami, including the elderly, women and children. In an unprecendented ruling, four of the culprits were subsequently convicted of genocide.

- The Awá, Brazil: Brazilian experts have described the violent invasion and destruction of the Awá’s rainforest by armed loggers as genocide. A Brazilian government representative said in 2011, “If rapid emergency measures are not taken, the future of this people is extinction.” In January 2014, the invaders were evicted from the key Awá territory, following Survival’s high-profile campaign.

Will history repeat itself?

In June 2014, a group of uncontacted Indians emerged in Brazil, having apparently crossed the border from Peru. They told interpreters that they had suffered a violent attack on their village in which most of the elderly were killed, and their homes burnt.

“So many people died that they couldn’t bury them all and their corpses were eaten by vultures.” Brazilian experts have warned of “another genocide” if their territory is not protected from the loggers and drug-traffickers suspected of carrying out this atrocity.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today (6 August), “Industrialised societies subject tribal peoples to genocidal violence, slavery and racism so they can steal their lands, resources and labour in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘civilisation’. Since the dawn of the Age of ‘Discovery’, tribal peoples have been the innocent victims of an aggressive colonisation of their land. By portraying them as backward and primitive, the invaders have justified a systematic and cruel annihilation, which continues to this day. It’s time the genocide stopped.”

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Israel's security cannot justify restrictions on Palestinians, says MPs' report

Wed, 2014-08-06 10:50

Excessive Israeli restrictions on Palestinian territories cannot be justified on the grounds they protect Israel's security, says a report from the International Development Committee.

Excessive Israeli restrictions on Palestinian territories cannot be justified on the grounds they protect Israel's security, a report from the Parliamentary International Development Committee said today (6 August).

The Committee's report says:"We challenge the assertion that restrictions which curtail economic development in the OPTs [Occupied Palestinian Territories] are based on Israel's security needs and can be justified on security grounds."

It adds that issues such as greater access to water and construction permits should be addressed, regardless of the current conflict, which has killed 1,875 Palestinians including 430 children, 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel.

The committee said it was "extremely concerned" that Israel could further expand settlements and urged Britain and other European countries to "stress to the Israeli authorities the unacceptability of the present situation."

The British government should also examine whether guidelines on the labelling of produce made in Israeli settlements to allow consumers to avoid buying them has been implemented by retailers, the report said.

Commenting on the report,William Bell, Christian Aid’s Advocacy Officer for the Palestinians and Israel, said: “The MPs’ report is extremely welcome because it puts the Gaza conflict into its wider context – one which has been all too often neglected in recent weeks but which must be understood and dealt with, if the violence is ever to be permanently halted.” (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20693)

He added: “It is disappointing that the report, while acknowledging the negative impact of settlements and Israeli policies in the OPT, does not mention one important way in which the UK could contribute to ending Palestinian poverty and the conflict. That is by banning the import to this country of produce produced in settlements on Palestinian territory.

“Settlements are illegal under international law, a major cause of poverty amongst Palestinians and an obstacle to peace.”

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Carr Review will make no recommendations on union law after 'politicisation'

Wed, 2014-08-06 10:25

An independent review of laws governing industrial disputes has been greatly scaled back after the QC in charge objected to recent ministerial announcements on the introduction of anti-strike laws.

An independent review of laws governing industrial disputes has been greatly scaled back after the QC in charge objected to recent ministerial announcements on the introduction of anti-strike laws.

Employment Law specialist Bruce Carr QC was asked by the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and the business secretary Vince Cable, to examine union laws and to make recommendations to stop intimidation by activists. He has now decided not to make any recommendations following what he describes as the “politicisation” of the issue. He issued the following statement today (6 August):

“I have now considered the evidence and information received by the Review over the past few months and I would firstly like to thank those organisations and individuals who have contributed to the Review so far.

"However, I have become increasingly concerned about the quantity and breadth of evidence that the Review has been able to obtain from both employers and trade unions relevant to its terms of reference. In addition, I am also concerned about the ability of the Review to operate in a progressively politicised environment in the run up to the general election and in circumstances in which the main parties will wish to legitimately set out their respective manifesto commitments and have already started to do so. Operating in such an environment is also likely to impact on the ability of the Review to obtain evidence in addition to that which it has already received.

"That being so, I have reached the conclusion that it will simply not be possible for the Review to put together a substantial enough body of evidence from which to provide a sound basis for making recommendations for change and therefore to deliver fully against its terms of reference. Any recommendations which might be put forward without the necessary factual underpinning would be capable of being construed as the Review making a political rather than an evidence based judgment, whichever direction such recommendations might take.

"As such I have agreed with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Minister for the Cabinet Office that the Review will produce a scaled-down report which reflects on the process of attempting to obtain evidence and which sets out the story as best we are able to tell it from the limited evidence which we have gathered, but will not make recommendations for change.

"I still intend to produce this Report by the early Autumn, as set out in my Opening Statement."

Carr first raised his concern that the review had been severely compromised last month, after Francis Maude announced a package of new laws to curb the rights of unions to take industrial action. The plans required union leaders to prove that half their members supported action and that a large proportion had voted. A strike could otherwise be ruled illegal

The plans also suggested that a future Conservative government would introduce a new criminal offence to stop picketing and would strengthen the code of practice on picketing by giving it statutory force. It is understood that Bruce Carr told ministers that this announcement cut across his review.

Commenting on Bruce Carr's decision, the Trades Union Congress (TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Bruce Carr has been cynically used by the government in a party political stunt for the Conservative Party.

“He is right to recognise this “politicisation”, so I am not surprised at his decision not to make any recommendations and to simply review the few submissions sent to him.

“But the politicisation is not new, it was built in from the start. Contrary to Nick Clegg’s assurance, employer behaviour such as blacklisting was not even mentioned in the terms of reference for the review. And now Mr Carr has found his work entirely pre-empted by a Conservative Party press release."

She concluded: “The Conservative Party should now repay to the taxpayer the costs of the enquiry.”

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Christian Aid scales up emergency response to Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone

Tue, 2014-08-05 17:05

Christian Aid has scaled up its response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone to target 3.8 million people across the country with potentially life-saving advice.

Christian Aid has scaled up its response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone to target 3.8 million people across the country with potentially life-saving advice on how to avoid contracting the deadly disease.

The charity is working through five local partner organisations and 800 community volunteers, reaching out to communities in 10 of the country’s 14 districts through existing structures set up to deal with HIV and livelihoods.

The aim is to combat widespread community fear and distrust about the disease and its causes which has so far hampered efforts in Sierra Leone to curb the outbreak, and build the confidence of communities to support the Ministry of Health’s response.

Working through the Methodist Church of Sierra Leone (MCSL), Network of people living with HIV (NETHIPS), the SEND foundation, Rehabilitation and Development Agency (RADA) and Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJ), volunteers are alerting communities to basic preventative measures and encouraging them to use local health facilities for early diagnosis and treatment.

Increasing awareness about the signs and symptoms of Ebola, they stress the need for basic precautions such as hand washing with soap and water, and the importance of informing local health ministry officials when people are sick so they can transport them to the local primary health units.

In many remote areas, partners are putting up posters but in some places, where illiteracy is high, such as in Kailahun district where the first cases emerged, community radio is also being used to reach people.

However, while hand washing is key to good hygiene, in remote areas water is not always easily available which is a further problem.

Theresa Bagrey, Christian Aid senior programme officer for community health and HIV, explains: “There is a lot of panic in poor and remote communities. They have been confused by mixed messaging and there is a lot of mistrust in the health system, so the communities don’t always believe what the government is telling them. It’s vital, therefore, to speak to communities through their local and faith leaders, and our partners who are already trusted having worked with them on HIV education and livelihoods projects.”

Another problem is that of stigma, an already familiar obstacle in the fight against HIV. Once a member of a family is diagnosed with Ebola then the whole family is ostracised by the community. The disease is having a real impact on the culture of extended family in Sierra Leone, a culture that means people look after their sick relatives, making it difficult to advise people not to touch their family members who are ill and encourage them to inform the Ministry of Health immediately. Women are also at greater risk of infection as they are often the primary care givers within the family.

Ms Bagrey added: “This situation is very challenging for our partners as it is the first emergency response they have been involved in. The government of Sierra Leone is responding well, but with limited means. They are co-ordinating case management, Epidemiology and laboratory surveillance, prevention control communications and psychological support alongside organisations such as ourselves. There is a lot of commitment from the President and health workers are putting themselves at risk to treat patients.

“The majority of churches in Sierra Leone are taking the outbreak very seriously and seeing it as part of their responsibility to support the Ministry of Health to enforce preventative education."

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