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Christian Aid responds to conflict in Nigeria that has displaced 50,000

Mon, 2014-07-07 18:34

Christian Aid partners are providing emergency support to some 50,000 people who have fled a conflict in the north central state of Benue in Nigeria.

Christian Aid partners are providing emergency support to some 50,000 people who have fled a conflict in the north central state of Benue in Nigeria. The violence is the latest outbreak of a long-running land dispute between local farmers and groups of nomadic Fulani cattle herders.

Clashes between Fulani and Jukun communities in neighbouring Taraba state have added to the number of displaced people (IDPs).

Neither the state government, nor the federal agency directly responsible for emergency management in the state, have established a camp for the IDPs.

As a result, the displaced are taking refuge wherever they can, with some moving into schools that are empty because of an on-going teachers’ strike.

Christian Aid partners, Jireh Doo Foundation (JDF) and Anglican Diocesan Development Services (ADDS) Makurdi are distributing food and non-food items such as water containers and purifiers, mosquito nets, sanitary towels and cooking utensils.

In addition, psychosocial counselling is being provided, and general health education on water and sanitation hygiene to help prevent the spread of disease.

JDF and ADDS Makurdi are working with other civil society organisations and media to put pressure on the government to respond adequately to the crisis.

Charles Usie, country manager for Christian Aid Nigeria said: “Farming is the primary occupation in Benue state and the main source of income for most households.

“As well as people losing their lives, violent attacks during this conflict have destroyed farmlands leaving people homeless and jobless. This is another example of the growing insecurity in the country but we must put pressure on the authorities - they cannot ignore the crisis in Benue”.


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WCC announces September Interfaith Summit on Climate Change

Mon, 2014-07-07 11:11

The World Council of Churches has announced it will hold an Interfaith Summit on Climate Change on September 21-22 in New York City.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has announced it will hold an Interfaith Summit on Climate Change on September 21-22 in New York City. At the summit, organised together with Religions for Peace, more than 30 religious leaders will take a united stand to encourage international and political leaders to address concretely the causes and consequences of climate change.

The interfaith summit is being held immediately before the United Nations (UN) Climate Summit, called by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to galvanise and catalyse climate action, bringing bold announcements and actions that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilise political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015.

WCC members said they hoped their united voice would be also heard at the upcoming Conferences of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima in December 2014 and in Paris in 2015.

“We will join our voices in the call for human rights and climate change to be addressed systematically,” said Daniel Murphy, campaigns assistant at the UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation. Murphy spoke to the WCC Central Committee, the governing body of the WCC which is meeting this week in Geneva.

The WCC has been addressing climate change issues for more than two decades, and now the effects of climate change on human rights has reached an urgent level, said Kirsten Auken, an advocacy advisor at DanChurchAid, a Danish nonprofit with the mission of supporting the world's poorest people. Auken said the main message of the interfaith summit will be that “political leaders need to act to close the gap between what is needed and the lack of action on a political level. We, as church-related and faith-based groups, have an important role to play in pushing our leaders to be brave.”

In this case, “pushing” means capturing the attention of political leaders who are in a position to make a difference within the UN. “This is a big power game and we have to admit that,” said Auken. “We have to be the moral voice in this.” At the same time that WCC members challenge political leaders, they also need to take the initiative in their own lives to care for the earth around them, said Metropolitan Serafim Kykkotis, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. “We must unite through our common action to save the planet and give our children a better future,” he said.

The 30 participants at the summit will represent groups made up of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Indigenous Peoples, and others, said Dr Guillermo Kerber, coordinator of the WCC programme on Care for Creation and Climate Justice. “The relevance is unprecedented because of the crucial moment we are living today. We have called for years to have a fair, ambitious and binding treaty on climate change.”

Kerber and the other summit organisers agreed that the USA is first among the nations that must lead the effort to take climate action, based on science, that can help protect the basic human rights of individuals in this generation and in future ones. US-based pastors and churches are adding their voices to the calls for action, said the Rev Everdith Landrau, who serves with the Presbyterian Church (USA). “There are conscious programmes that have been trickling down to our local churches,” she said. “Those seeds are being planted.”


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NHS could lose at least £25bn of funding a year by end of decade, say unions

Mon, 2014-07-07 10:47

The government’s decision to end real terms spending increases on the health service could mean that the NHS will be losing out on £25.5 billion a year by the end of the decade, the TUC has warned.

The government’s decision to end real terms spending increases on the health service could mean that the NHS will be losing out on £25.5 billion a year by the end of the decade, the Trades Unuin Congress' (TUC) All Together for the NHS campaign has warned.

The TUC calculation is based on NHS England’s own projections of zero real terms increases in government spending until the end of the decade.

The analysis was released on by the union campaign on the 66th anniversary of the creation of the NHS (5 July), and at the end of the week that saw health workers from across England lobby MPs in Westminster and their constituencies about pay and the chronic underfunding of the health service.

The analysis considers forecast spending on the NHS over the next Parliament (from 2015-2020) compared to the position the health service would have been in at the end of the decade had health spending resumed growth at the same pace as during the last Parliament (2005-2010) when there was a 21 per cent increase in spending in real terms.

With spending on the NHS projected to increase only in line with inflation, this real terms freeze in funding means that although the economy is growing again, health spending is not – meaning that the health service is likely to miss out to the tune of billions of pounds a year by 2020, says the TUC.

Health workers are angry that funding shortfalls have already meant massive cuts in services, a four-year pay freeze across the NHS and the loss of thousands of posts.

They want the government to honour the recommendations of the independent NHS pay review body which said that all health workers in England should receive a one per cent cost of living pay rise. Health unions are unhappy that ministers have chosen to ignore this advice and only plan to give a one per cent increase to those NHS workers at the top of their pay scales.

Commenting on behalf of the All Together for the NHS campaign, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The economy might be growing again, but the government continues to deny the NHS the funding increases it so desperately needs to run a health service fit for the 21st century.

“Health workers are upset that having accepted a pay freeze during the dark days of the recession, ministers are set on holding down NHS pay, even though the economy is now picking up.

“It may be NHS staff taking the hit in their pay packets now, but if the health service is going to be losing out on funding to the tune of a cool £25.5 billion by the end of the decade, it will soon be patients paying the price.

“Morale is at a low ebb, and as health service employees feel increasingly like they are being taken for granted, it will make it harder for the NHS to recruit and retain skilled staff. This is bound to affect the quality of care at a time when patients are already facing increased waiting times and a reduction in staffing.”


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Guantanamo detainees demand same religious rights as US craft store chain

Sat, 2014-07-05 12:33

Hunger-striking Guantánamo detainees have asked a US court to count them as ‘persons’ with free exercise of religious rights, following a Supreme Court decision extending those rights to a US craft store chain.

Two hunger-striking Guantánamo Bay detainees have asked a US court to count them as ‘persons’ with free exercise of religious rights, in the wake of a new Supreme Court decision extending those rights to US craft store chain Hobby Lobby.

The prisoners – Emad Hassan of Yemen and Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan, both detained at the prison without charge or trial since 2002 – have this asked the DC District Court to intervene after the prison's military authorities prevented them from praying communally during Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims.

The landmark religious rights decision by the Supreme Court decided that Hobby Lobby, a privately-held chain of craft-supply stores said to be run on “Biblical principles,” counted as a ‘person’, and enjoyed the right to ‘free exercise’ of religion under US law.

The banning of communal prayers at Guantánamo is one of a series of recent measures against detainees on hunger strike. Two weeks ago, it emerged that prison guards had taken away the wheelchair of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a disabled prisoner, and had been 'FCE-ing' (a Forcible Cell Extraction, in which a team of armed guards storm the cell to 'subdue' the detainee) him to and from the force-feeding chair. The authorities have also recently taken hunger-strikers to isolation, and subjected them to repeated genital searches.

In separate litigation, several prisoners – including Hassan, Rabbani and Dhiab – are asking the court to order a halt to abusive force-feeding practices at the prison. A full hearing on the merits of Mr. Dhiab’s case is expected before Labor Day (1 September) (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20505)

Cori Crider, attorney for the detainees and a director at the human rights non-profit organisation Reprieve, said: “Religious freedom is one of the main reasons the Founding Fathers threw off British rule, and it’s as central to our life as Americans in 2014 as it was in 1776 – so why are the authorities at Guantánamo Bay seeking to punish detainees for hunger striking by curtailing their right to pray? If, under our law, Hobby Lobby is a ‘person’ with a right to religious freedom, surely Gitmo detainees are people too.”


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Amazon Indians join forces to reject ‘devastating’ mining

Fri, 2014-07-04 22:02

Amazon Indians have released a series of desperate statements calling on their governments to put a stop to mining which is destroying their land and threatening their existence.

Amazon Indians have released a series of desperate statements calling on their governments to put a stop to mining which is destroying their land and threatening their existence.

COIAM – the Coalition of Indigenous Organisations of the Venezuelan Amazon – has expressed “extreme concern about the growing levels of illegal mining” and called on the Venezuelan government to review its mining policy which they see as a “clear contradiction of [Venezuela’s] aim to save the planet and the human race”, as stated in the Plan de la Patria (Country Plan for 2013-2019).

The government created a Presidential Commission in March to develop mining in the region, without consulting indigenous peoples who have warned of the “serious environmental damage” it will bring to their forest.

The Indians are calling for a moratorium on mining in the southern Orinoco region and the immediate recognition of their land ownership rights, which are guaranteed in the constitution.

The indigenous organisation Kuyujani said in a recent statement that “it is a question… of exercising autonomy and the right to self determination.”

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples' rights, say the Yanomami and the Yekuana tribes continue to see their rivers polluted with the miners’ mercury which contaminates drinking water and fish, and that many communities have been devastated by diseases and prostitution introduced by the miners.

Research by Venezuelan scientists in 2013 showed that 92 per cent of indigenous women in the region had levels of mercury contamination that exceeded the internationally accepted limit.

The uncontacted Yanomami, some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, stand to lose the most. Contact with the miners could wipe them out, says Survival.

Indigenous organisations from Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana met in May to discuss their concerns about their governments’ current drive to encourage mining and the construction of hydroelectric dams in the border region known as the Guyana Shield.

They called for a mobilisation against mining and dams in Amazonia and for the three governments to uphold and apply the international law on tribal and indigenous peoples’ rights.


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Egypt 'failing at every level' in terms of human rights, say Amnesty

Fri, 2014-07-04 10:01

A surge in arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and deaths in police custody show a sharp deterioration in human rights in Egypt since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted, says Amnesty.

A surge in arbitrary arrests, detentions and harrowing incidents of torture and deaths in police custody show a sharp deterioration in human rights in Egypt in the year since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted, says Amnesty International.

Thousands of people have been detained, reports of torture and enforced disappearances in police and military detention are widespread, 1,247 death sentences have been handed down so far this year, and 80 people have reportedly died in custody since Morsi was deposed on 3 July 2013.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said: “Egypt’s notorious state security forces are back and operating at full capacity, employing the same methods of torture and other ill-treatment used during the darkest hours of the Mubarak era.

“On every level Egypt is failing in terms of human rights. It is up to the new government led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to turn the tide by launching independent, impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations and send a strong message that flouting human rights will not be tolerated and will no longer go unpunished.”

Amnesty has gathered damning evidence indicating that torture is routine in police stations and unofficial places of detention, with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters particularly targeted. Torture has been carried out by both the Egyptian military and police, including in premises belonging to the National Security Agency, in many cases with the objective of obtaining confessions or to force detainees to implicate others.

Among the torture methods are techniques previously used during Mubarak’s rule, including the use of electric shocks, rape, and handcuffing detainees and suspending them from open doors. Another suspension method, known as 'the grill', involves handcuffing the detainee’s hands and legs to an iron rod and suspending the rod between two opposite chairs until the detainee’s legs go numb. Security forces then start using electric shocks on the person’s legs.

One of the most shocking cases documented by Amnesty was that of M.R.S., 23, a student arrested in February near Nasr City in Cairo. He said he was held for 47 days and was tortured and raped during his interrogation. He is currently out of prison but the case is still pending. He said: “They cut my shirt, blindfolded me with it and handcuffed me from behind … they beat me with batons all over my body, particularly on the chest, back and face … Then they put two wires in my left and right little fingers and gave me electric shocks four or five times. The national security officer caught my testicle and started to squeeze it … I was screaming from the pain and bent my legs to protect my testicles then he inserted his fingers in my anus… he was wearing something plastic on his fingers … he repeated this five times.”

M.R.S. also reported being beaten on his penis with a stick, and was then raped repeatedly by one or more security guards before being forced to sing a song in support of the Egyptian army “Teslam Al Ayadi”.

In another case, 18-year-old student Mahmoud Mohamed Ahmed Hussein was arrested on his way home on the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising in El Mareg, Cairo at noon. He believes he was singled out because he was wearing a shirt bearing a “25 January Revolution” logo and a scarf with a slogan of the “Nation without Torture” campaign. He was blindfolded and forced to “confess” to possessing explosives and belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood after hours of beatings and electric shocks. He remains in prison.

According to WikiThawra, an initiative run by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social rights, at least 80 people have died in custody over the past year.

Ahmed Ibrahim was among four people who have died in Mattereya Police Station since April. He had been due for early release after serving most of a three-year prison term. After his transfer to Mattereya in preparation for his release, he repeatedly complained about his poor detention conditions and said he was having difficulty breathing due to poor ventilation in his overcrowded police cell. He was denied medical care. In a phone call to his father at 1am on 15 June he pleaded for help, saying: “I am dying, father”. By the time his father arrived at the police station to ask about his son later that morning, he was told he had died. His father found bruises on the upper parts of Ahmed’s body and cuts on the neck suggesting he may have been tortured. The report of an initial post-mortem medical examination seen by Amnesty stated there were bruises and cuts found on the body. Forensic doctors told Amnesty that the reason for his death is still not clear.

Amnesty has spoken to dozens of former detainees and the families of detainees who were arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully held in complete deprivation of their rights. In many cases people were rounded up from the street or arrested after security forces entered their homes by force. Many were beaten upon arrest, unlawfully held for extended periods without charge or without the opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. Some have been held without charge or trial for nearly a year.

One detainee interviewed by Amnesty said he had been detained for 96 days at Al Galaaa military camp in Al-Azouly Prison after security forces burst into his home to arrest him. He was not allowed to contact lawyers or his family to inform them about his whereabouts. Previously, this person was arbitrarily held in administrative detention for 11 years during Mubarak’s rule. He told Amnesty: “Mubarak’s security forces at least knew who they were targeting but now they arrest people randomly.”

Hatem Mohie Eldin, a 17-year-old student in Alexandria, was arrested by the police on 27 May as he returned home from school. Security forces beat him and held him for five days in an unknown location. He was not allowed to contact his family or lawyers and was not referred to the prosecution or a court during his detention. Hatem was released on 1 June after the security forces found he was not involved in violence or riots, he told Amnesty.

In some cases, the security forces seized family members or friends at random if the wanted person was not present. The friends and families have faced trumped-up charges or accusations. The family of Salah and Adel, two brothers, told Amnesty they were beaten and arrested last August by security forces who were looking for the third brother of the men.

Egypt’s criminal justice system has suffered huge setbacks over the past year with several politically-motivated verdicts. A series of mass death sentences after grossly unfair trials against detainees accused of violence last August have exposed deep flaws in the criminal justice system. In many cases defendants were not brought to their trials and lawyers have repeatedly been barred from presenting their defence, or questioning witnesses.

Courts have also sentenced boys under the age of 18 to death in violation of Egypt’s obligations under domestic and international law. In other instances, defendants were sentenced to death after only one hearing and without giving lawyers an opportunity to present their defence or to examine witnesses.

According to information gathered by Amnesty, since January Egypt’s criminal justice system has recommended the death penalty for 1,247 people, pending the Grand Mufti’s religious opinion, and upheld death sentences against 247 individuals. Death sentences came after grossly unfair trials.

Defence lawyers have told Amnesty of instances where they were not allowed to attend investigations by prosecutors and 'confessions' obtained under torture had been used in court.


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New green technology could create thousands of jobs in northern England

Fri, 2014-07-04 09:47

Carbon Capture Storage could create thousands of jobs across Yorkshire, the Humber and the Tees Valley, the TUC and Carbon Capture Storage Association will say at a regional event in Leeds later today (Friday).

Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) could create thousands of jobs across Yorkshire, the Humber and the Tees Valley, the trades Union Congress (TUC) and Carbon Capture Storage Association (CCSA) will say at a regional CCS event in Leeds later today (Friday).

The TUC and CCSA will argue that the concentration of coal and gas-fired power stations, energy intensive industries and proximity to a significant carbon dioxide storage capacity located deep under the North Sea makes the area well placed to benefit from CCS technology. CCS would enable both power stations and heavy industry to reduce their carbon emissions and could also help maintain the UK’s coal industry.

A report published by the TUC and CCSA earlier this year showed that CCS technology could create 6,000 jobs across Yorkshire – adding £245m to the regional economy – as well as help to secure the future of jobs in energy intensive industries such as the Tata steel works in Scunthorpe. The long-term economic benefits to the region could be as high as £26 billion by 2050.

The report also shows that a CCS project in the Tees Valley could create over 1,000 jobs and secure the future of many thousands more – especially the 30,000 manufacturing jobs across the region.

TUC Assistant General Secretary Paul Nowak, who is speaking at the event, said: “CCS technology can reduce our carbon emissions, bring down energy bills and create thousands of high quality, skilled jobs across Yorkshire, the Humber and the Tees Valley.

“This is exactly the kind of technology needed to rebalance our economy and generate strong and sustainable growth outside London and the South East.

“Despite the clear benefits of CCS technology, it has yet to be fully embraced by the government. It’s important that unions, industry and local business champions work together to persuade ministers to get these CCS projects off the ground and helping industry before it’s too late.”

Chief Executive of the CCSA Dr Luke Warren said: “The UK is very fortunate in that we have some of the best regions in the world to develop CCS – including Yorkshire, the Humber and Teesside. We are already forging ahead with the White Rose project in Yorkshire as well as the Peterhead project in Scotland and plans are advancing to develop an industrial CCS hub in Teesside – providing the only option to significantly reduce the region’s industrial emissions.

“It is now vital that the government puts in place an enduring policy to bring forward additional power and industrial CCS projects in these regions and across the UK, if we are to maximise the opportunity to create an industry that could deliver potentially 10,000s of jobs and tens of billions of pounds by 2030.”


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Methodist Conference elects President and Vice-President Designates

Thu, 2014-07-03 10:23

The Methodist Conference has elected the Rev Steve Wild to be President of the Conference in 2015/16, and Dr Jill Barber to be Vice-President.

The Methodist Conference has elected the Rev Steve Wild to be President of the Conference in 2015/16, and Dr Jill Barber to be Vice-President. Both will start their year of office when the Conference meets in Southport on 27 June 2015. They will succeed the current President and Vice-President, the Rev Kenneth Howcroft and Mrs Gill Dascombe, as the first item of the Conference's business.

Steve Wild has served fifteen years in circuit ministry. In 1998, he became Cornwall District Evangelism Enabler and the Connexional Evangelism Enabler Co-ordinator, as well as working part time with West Country TV presenting programmes about Christianity in the South West. From 2004 he worked at Cliff College as Director of Evangelism and tutor. He returned to Cornwall in 2008 to become Chair of the Cornwall District.

He said: "I am overwhelmed by this news. It will be a privilege to be President of the Conference, and a deep honour. I hope and pray that I can give something worthwhile to the Church during my year in office."

Jill Barber, a local preacher in the Cheshire South Circuit, is currently Director of the Heritage for Mission Project at Englesea Brook Chapel and Museum of Primitive Methodism. As a trained teacher and librarian, with a PhD in Archives, she has worked in Cambridge, Aberystwyth and London. Until taking up her present role in 2011, she was Head of Heritage Services for Hertfordshire County Council. She is passionate about the potential of using our heritage to challenge and inspire as we explore what it means to be the church today.

She said: "I feel both humbled and excited as I look forward to sharing experiences and working with Methodist people across the Connexion, and face the huge responsibilities that come with this role."

The role of President of the Conference is reserved for Presbyters, and Vice-President for lay people or Deacons.


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‘Death penalty has no place in 21st century,’ says UN chief

Thu, 2014-07-03 09:47

The death penalty has no place in the 21st century, says UN chief Ban Ki-moon, calling on all States to take concrete steps towards abolishing or no longer practicing this form of punishment.

The death penalty has no place in the 21st century, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared yesterday (2 July), calling on all States take to concrete steps towards abolishing or no longer practicing this form of punishment.

“Together, we can finally end this cruel and inhumane practice everywhere around the world,” said Mr. Ban in opening remarks to the special event “Best practices and challenges in implementing a moratorium on the death penalty,” co-organised at UN Headquarters by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN.

The special event is being held, according to a concept note on the proceedings, “in the spirit” of the aims of the annual resolution of the UN General Assembly on 'Moratorium on the use of the death penalty', first adopted in 2007. That broad and inclusive text does not impose the abolition of the death penalty but rather proposes a moratorium on executions – de jure or de facto – with a view to abolishing the death penalty in the future.

At yesterday's event, which was moderated by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonovic, Mr. Ban noted that the Assembly will soon take up the resolution again. The efforts generated by the text have won a progressively broader margin of support from Member States, representing a variety of legal systems, traditions, cultures and religious backgrounds.

“[Yet], I remain very concerned, however, about shortcomings with respect to international human rights standards in countries that still apply the death penalty,” he said, adding that he is particularly troubled by the application of the death penalty for offences that do not meet the threshold under international human rights law of ‘most serious crimes,’ including drug-related offences, consensual sexual acts and apostasy.

The UN chief went on to express concern about legislation in 14 States that permits the death penalty on children as well as the new phenomenon of sentencing large groups of individuals to death in mass trials.

Against such a backdrop, he said that over the past two years, OHCHR has convened a series of important global panel events on the death penalty, focusing on wrongful convictions, deterrence and public opinion, and discrimination. Specifically, discriminatory practices in the imposition of the death penalty further reinforce the calls for its universal abolition.

Looking ahead to the next session of the General Assembly, he therefore called on all States to take action in three critical areas: ratify the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty; support the resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty; and take concrete steps towards abolishing or no longer practicing this form of punishment.


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Quakers reject recommendations of Trident Commission

Wed, 2014-07-02 12:13

Quakers in Britain have expressed strong disagreement with the conclusion of the report published by the Trident Commission on 1 July which says the UK should retain its nuclear deterrent.

Quakers in Britain have expressed strong disagreement with the conclusion of the report published by the Trident Commission on 1 July which says the UK should retain its nuclear deterrent.

Quakers say that Trident is a relic of the Cold War and that the Trident Commission has failed to consider the legal obligations of the UK under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to negotiate in good faith for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The independent cross-party Trident Commission, set up by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) published their final report on 1 July. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20611)

Quakers in Britain strongly disagree with the conclusion that Trident is necessary and urge the Commission to rethink its recommendations.

Welcoming deeper debate around Trident, Helen Drewery, General Secretary of Quaker Peace & Social Witness said: “The Trident Commission has failed to properly consider alternatives to Trident. These are weapons of mass destruction which can never be used and have proved to be a poor deterrent against acts of terror or against recent political events. Trident is a relic of the Cold War.”

Quakers in Britain are disappointed that the report is not expected to address the legal and moral obligations of the UK under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to negotiate in good faith for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Helen Drewery added: “In 1955 Quakers said ‘To rely on the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent is faithless; to use them is a sin’. Quakers in Britain hold fast to that statement. We reject the notion that war is inevitable and advocate putting resources into nonviolent ways of solving conflict. Genuine security comes from the recognition of the inherent worth of every person in a society free from the threat of violence.”

* Quakers in Britain briefing on Trident here: www.quaker.org.uk/dont-replace-trident


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South American tribe sues over historic genocide

Wed, 2014-07-02 11:59

The survivors of a South American tribe which was decimated during the 1950s and 60s are taking Paraguay’s government to court over the genocide they suffered.

The survivors of a South American tribe which was decimated during the 1950s and 60s are taking Paraguay’s government to court over the genocide they suffered.

The case of the hunter-gatherer Aché tribe, who roamed the hilly forests of eastern Paraguay until being brutally forced out, became notorious in the 1970s.

As the agricultural expansion into eastern Paraguay gathered pace from the 1950s, the Aché found themselves forced to defend their land from an ever-increasing colonist population. These colonists soon started to mount raiding parties to kill the male Aché: women and children were usually captured and sold as slaves.

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples' rights, describes Manuel Jesús Pereira, a local landowner, as one of the most notorious hunters of the Aché . He was an employee of Paraguay’s Native Affairs Department, and his farm was turned into an Aché 'reservation', to which captured Aché were transported. Beatings and rape were common. Countless others died of respiratory diseases. The Director of the Native Affairs Department was a frequent visitor, and also sold Aché slaves himself.

This situation was denounced by several anthropologists in Paraguay, many of whom were deported, or lost their jobs, as a result. It was brought to international attention by German anthropologist Mark Münzel. His 1973 report Genocide in Paraguay, published by the Danish organisation IWGIA, documented many of the atrocities committed against the Aché.

Survival International publicised Münzel’s account, and sponsored an investigation by leading international lawyer Professor Richard Arens, who found the situation as bad as others had reported. Many other international organisations, academics and activists denounced the atrocities and called for Paraguay’s government to be held to account, which curbed some of the worst excesses.

However, Paraguay’s then-President, General Alfredo Stroessner, was viewed as a key Western ally in the region. The British, US and West German governments denied that genocide was taking place, and the US authorities sponsored the Harvard-based organisation Cultural Survival (CS) to “review the status of indigenous peoples in Paraguay”. Their report to the government was confidential, but a copy was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. CS then published an amended version.

Relying partly on the testimony of Peace Corps volunteer, Kim Hill, it denied that genocide had taken place, and criticised many of those, such as Münzel and Arens, who had brought the Aché’s plight to global attention. US aid to Stroessner’s brutal regime continued.

Now, the survivors of the genocide and their descendants are seeking redress. An Aché organisation, the National Aché Federation, has launched a court case in Argentina, with advice from leading human rights lawyer Baltasar Garzon. The Aché are using the legal principle of 'universal jurisdiction', under which the most serious crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity can be tried and punished in a different country to that in which they occurred, if the victims cannot secure justice in their own country.

Ceferino Kreigi, an Aché representative, said, “We’re asking for justice – there was torture, rape, beatings. We can no longer bear the pain we have suffered.”

The Aché’s lawyer, Juan Maira, said, “[The Aché] were hunted as though they were animals, because they wanted to confine them to a ghetto. Once in the reserve, they weren’t allowed to leave. They sold not only the children, but sometimes the women too, as slaves. Perhaps 60 per cent of the population could have been wiped out.”

The Aché’s population is now increasing once more, says Survival, though their forests have been stolen for cattle ranching and farming, and almost totally destroyed.


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Collective punishment will not bring justice for murdered Israelis, says Amnesty

Wed, 2014-07-02 11:39

Amnesty has called for those involved in the abduction and killing of three teenage Israelis to be brought to justice while condemning the Israeli authorities’ reaction as unlawful “collective punishment.”

Amnesty International has called for those involved in the abduction and killing of three teenage Israelis in the West Bank to be brought to justice, but has condemned the Israeli authorities’ actions in response as unlawful “collective punishment” of Palestinians.

Yesterday the bodies of three Israelis – Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16 – who had been abducted on 12 June, were found north of the city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with the Israeli authorities vowing revenge against the Palestinian armed group Hamas, alleging it was behind the abductions.

The apartments of the families of the two men that Israel says are suspects in the case - Marwan al-Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, both from Hebron - were demolished by the Israeli military overnight, causing significant damage to the larger family buildings in which they were located. The men’s whereabouts are unknown.

The Israeli authorities have not presented any evidence to support their assertion that Hamas or the two named suspects were responsible for the murders. Following a security cabinet meeting, Israel launched at least 34 air strikes on locations across Gaza this morning, with reports of Palestinian injuries. Militant groups in Gaza have also fired at least 18 rockets into southern Israel; so far no injuries have been reported.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Yousef Abu Zagha, 20, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers during an arrest raid in Jenin refugee camp this morning after he allegedly hurled a grenade at them. This brings to at least six the number of Palestinians - including at least one child – killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank since the beginning of the military operation to search for the Israeli teenagers.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said: “Nothing can justify these abductions and murders, which we again condemn. Those responsible must be brought to justice.

“But justice will not be served by Israel seeking revenge by imposing collective punishment, or committing other violations of Palestinians’ rights. Rather, the Israeli authorities must conduct a full, thorough and impartial investigation that leads to the prosecution and fair trials of those suspected of being responsible.

“The logic of tit-for-tat retaliation will only increase the likelihood for further human rights violations and abuses, and suffering by Palestinians and Israelis; it needs to stop immediately.”

The escalation of Israel’s military response comes amid continued practices which amount to collective punishment against civilians in the occupied Palestinian Territories, and the unlawful policy of settling civilians in the West Bank. These include arbitrary arrests and detention – with at least 364 Palestinians currently under administrative detention, the highest number in years – as well as an increased number of checkpoint closures and arbitrary restrictions on Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement.

Meanwhile, Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinians in the Hebron and Bethlehem areas, with a nine-year-old girl reportedly injured after a settler ran her over with his car. Settlers have also set up three new outposts in the West Bank since the Israeli teenagers' bodies were found.


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Methodists step up to the challenge of the Covenant

Wed, 2014-07-02 11:12

The Methodist Church, meeting in Birmingham for its annual, Conference, has made a commitment to taking a major step forward in its relationship with the Church of England.

The Methodist Church, meeting in Birmingham for its annual Conference, has made a commitment to taking a major step forward in its relationship with the Church of England.

The two Churches are committed to making their unity more visible through the Anglican-Methodist Covenant signed in 2003.

Yesterday (1 July), the Conference received a report, entitled The Challenge of the Covenant, which recommends that both Churches take action to enhance unity between them, with the work being fully embedded in Church structures.

Professor Peter Howdle, Co-Chair of the Joint Implementation Commission, which produced the report, said: "I think that now is an auspicious time in ecumenical relationships and that the Methodist Conference has taken a courageous and historic step in endorsing our recommendations. A similar bold step by the Church of England will completely change the relationship between our two Churches and make our joint mission much more credible and deepen our communion together."

The Conference directed that proposals for a form of Methodist episcopal ministry (such as a 'president bishop') be developed for consideration. It also urged local churches, circuits and districts to make the most of what Anglican and Methodist churches can already do together in joint worship and in serving their communities. One example of this is the creation of 'Covenanted Partnerships in Extended Areas', which allow an increase in shared ministry in local areas.

"Covenanted Partnerships in Extended Areas are a very welcome progression for us in Cumbria," said the Rev Richard Teal, Chair of the Cumbria Methodist District. "We hope the whole of the county will become one because they enable covenant partners to share ministry and develop strategies across the area. They also allow Methodist ministers to conduct baptisms and preside at holy communion in Anglican churches and Anglican clergy to do the same in Methodist churches."

The Church of England is expected to consider the same report at the meeting of the General Synod following the sessions in July. The report specifically challenges the Church of England to resolve the issues that stand in the way of the interchangeability of the ordained ministries of the two Churches.

In response to the publication of the report in May, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, together with the President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, issued a joint statement welcoming the report.

* Read The Challenge of the Covenant here: http://www.methodistconference.org.uk/media/223578/conf-2014-21-the-chal...


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Concluding report of Trident Commission 'a rehash of cold war thinking'

Tue, 2014-07-01 22:35

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) today (1 July) published a response to the Concluding Report of the Trident Commission, entitled Against the Tide.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) today (1 July) published a response to the Concluding Report of the Trident Commission, entitled Against the Tide,saying the Commission "has produced a rehash of Cold War thinking which fails to acknowledge that the world has moved on."

The Trident Commission, an independent, cross-party group of former ministers, diplomats and generals, had argued that it is in the UK's national interest to keep the Trident nuclear weapons system.

The Commission called on the UK to consider what it could do to further the cause of nuclear disarmament and to discourage proliferation.

While acknowledging the steps that had been taken since the end of the Cold War, it said the UK could consider a further reduction in missile and warhead numbers, enhanced verification procedures and commitments to control or decrease stocks of fissile materials.

"The commission would recommend that the Ministry of Defence study the steps down the nuclear ladder more thoroughly to give greater confidence to the international community that we are considering such steps seriously in preparation for multilateral disarmament negotiations," it said.

Against the Tide says the Commission has "done little to challenge the pro-Trident mindset which dominates government and the leadership of the main political parties."

The report makes the case for cancelling the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system, describing it as "pragmatic and realistic."

The case for cancelling the Trident replacement programme is set out under a number of themes, including security, humanitarian considerations, cost and legal obligations.

Kate Hudson, General Secretary of CND said: "The Trident Commission’s conclusion that the UK should retain and deploy a nuclear arsenal demonstrates Westminster's pro-Trident mindset and repeats the failings of the Liberal Democrats' Trident Alternatives Review, the Coalition's Strategic Defence and Security Review and the previous Labour Government's White Paper, all of which failed to articulate a convincing case for retaining a nuclear weapons capability.

"In contrast to proposals in the Trident Commission, only imaginative new steps can prevent us from further isolating ourselves from the rest of the world and potentially jeopardising the future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"Cancelling the programme to replace Trident nuclear weapons is a pragmatic and realistic alternative. Against the Tide makes this clear."

A final decision on whether to renew Trident will be taken in 2016. The decision has been put back until after the 2015 elections, following disagreements between Conservatives and Liberal Democrat coalition partners. David Cameron supports a like-for-like renewal of the UK's existing submarine-based ballistic missile system, but the Liberal Democrats say the number of submarines could be reduced from four to three to save money.

Vernon Coaker, the Shadow Defence Secretary, has welcomed the commission's recommendation that it is in the UK's national interest to retain a nuclear deterrent.

The SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson said the only way Scotland could get rid of Trident was to vote 'Yes' in the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September.

He said the SNP had not been involved in the cross-party talks. "We would certainly not have agreed to the conclusion of the commission", he said.

* Against the Tide can be found here: http://cnduk.org/information/briefings/trident-briefings/item/1946-again...

* Read the Trident Commission Concluding Report here: http://www.basicint.org/sites/default/files/trident_commission_finalrepo...


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Ministry of Justice admits key legal aid cut may not save any money

Tue, 2014-07-01 10:22

An internal Ministry of Justice document has revealed that the Justice Secretary’s plans for a cut to legal aid – known as the ‘Residence Test’ – may not result in any savings.

An internal Ministry of Justice (MoJ) document has revealed that the Justice Secretary’s plans for a cut to legal aid – known as the ‘Residence Test’ – may not result in any savings.

An impact assessment produced by the MoJ states that not only are any savings resulting from the policy "N/Q [not quantified]," but may actually result in "an increase in costs" to the Legal Aid Agency.

The Residence Test would mean that anyone who is not resident in the UK at the time of applying for legal aid will be barred from receiving it. Concerns have been raised that this could hit important cases such as victims of rendition and torture in which the UK has been complicit, or those of the retired Gurkhas who were denied the right to settle in Britain.

MPs are this morning (1 July) considering the policy, in the wake of a warning from Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights that it will "lead to breaches by the United Kingdom of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) because it will in practice prevent children from being effectively represented in legal proceedings which affect them."

The impact assessment, unearthed by the legal charity Reprieve, appears to be at odds with the Justice Secretary's claim that his reforms will "reduce the cost of legal aid."

Commenting, Reprieve’s Executive Director Clare Algar said: "We already know that the 'Residence Test' will shut important cases out of the courts, leaving the Government effectively immune from legal challenge for wrongdoing overseas. Now we find that even the MoJ doesn't know whether it will produce any savings at all - and in fact thinks it will result in increased costs for parts of Government. It is hard to see what the point is of a reform which not only reduces state accountability, but may end up costing more than it saves."


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TUC welcomes governments’ call for retailers to pay into Rana Plaza fund

Tue, 2014-07-01 08:56

The TUC has welcomed a statement signed by ministers from the UK and six other European countries urging retailers to donate to the Rana Plaza fund for victims of the Bangladesh factory collapse in 2013

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has welcomed a statement signed by international development minister Alan Duncan, along with ministers from six other European countries, urging retailers to donate to the Rana Plaza fund which was set up for victims of the fatal factory collapse in Bangladesh last April.

The statement – issued at the Forum on Responsible Business at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – expresses concern that some companies either have not contributed at all or have not given enough to the fund.

More than one year on from the Rana Plaza collapse, just £11million has been raised for the fund, which is less than half the £24 million needed to pay compensation to the victims. Many of the UK high street stores who sold clothes made at the factory have still not contributed, says the TUC.

The TUC believes it is the responsibility of every company sourcing high-street fashion from Bangladesh to donate an appropriate sum so that the surviving workers and the families of those who died can start to rebuild their lives.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “More than 12 months on from the tragedy it’s disgraceful that stores who sourced clothes from the factory still haven’t paid a penny into the fund, while others have donated only a minimal amount.

“Millions of pounds more are needed so that victims of the collapse and their families can start to get on with their lives.

“It’s encouraging to see governments from across Europe joining unions and other campaigners to put pressure on those companies who still seem reluctant to contribute to the Rana Plaza fund.”


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Membership statistics challenge the Church, says Methodist General Secretary

Tue, 2014-07-01 08:44

The General Secretary of the Methodist Church has encouraged Methodists to rise to the challenge of falling membership figures.

The General Secretary of the Methodist Church has encouraged Methodists to rise to the challenge of falling membership figures.

Presenting his report to the Methodist Conference yesterday (30 June), the Rev Dr Martyn Atkins highlighted the Church's latest statistics, which indicate a significant drop in Church membership over the last ten years.

"However the Statistics for Mission report is understood and interpreted it does not make for easy or comfortable reading," said Dr Atkins. "If ever we needed any encouragement to continue to focus on those things that make for an ever better Church which is a discipleship movement shaped for mission today, then these statistics provide that."

In light of the figures, Dr Atkins urged Conference members to consider how the Church might best use its resources, especially its church buildings, saying, "There was – and remains still – a generally held view that we have too many church properties, not all in the best location or condition to enable us to engage as effectively in God's mission as we desire."

The Statistics for Mission report itself is due to be debated by the Conference on Wednesday 2 July. It shows that, although Methodist membership is in general decline, there are some areas of growth, particularly where churches are trying something new.

The New Song Network in Warrington became Methodism's newest church on Sunday 22 June, when more than 40 people became new members. What began as a small group of people meeting in a coffee shop in 2009 has now grown into a 170-strong monthly congregation meeting for cafe-style worship and praise.

"New Song Network is an example of what great things can happen when we listen to God's call and are willing to do things differently," added Dr Atkins.

"As I travel around the Church, I sense a growing desire to reclaim evangelism as a crucial part of God's mission. The main thing is not merely the survival of an institution, even a wonderful institution like our beloved Church. Rather we are realising afresh that the best thing that anyone can do, whoever they are, wherever they live, at whatever time and in whatever circumstances is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. And consequently seeking and finding apt, relevant, sensitive and effective ways of presenting Jesus Christ to the world in which we live with so many and so different others, is the critical task of the Church today."


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