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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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New right to request flexible working

Mon, 2014-06-30 16:12

From today (30 June), every employee has the statutory right to request flexible working after 26 weeks employment service.

From today (30 June), every employee has the statutory right to request flexible working after 26 weeks employment service. Previously the right only applied to parents of children under the age of 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) and to some carers.

Although employees with less than 26 weeks service do not have a statutory right to request flexible working, some employers may allow all staff to make a request.

To make a request for flexible working employees must:

- Make their request in writing, state the date the request is made, the change to working conditions they are seeking, and the date they would like the change to take effect
- State whether they have made a previous application for flexible work and the date of that application
- What change to working conditions they are seeking and how they think this may affect the business e.g. cost saving to the business
- if they are making their request in relation to the Equality Act 2010, for example, as a reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) says employers should considered requests "in a reasonable manner" and can only refuse them if there is are business reasons for doing so This must be one of the following:

- the burden of additional costs
- an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
- an inability to recruit additional staff
- a detrimental impact on quality
- a detrimental impact on performance
- a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
- insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
- planned structural changes to the business

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has welcomed the change but has expressed the concern that that it is still too easy for employers to refuse requests

The TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s not just parents and carers who can benefit from flexible working. This sensible and modern approach to work is something that can improve the lives of everyone.

“Now, thanks to this long overdue change in the law, employees of all ages will be able to ask their boss to alter the way they work, regardless of whether they have dependents or caring responsibilities.

“If they have an employer who gets why flexible working makes sense, workers who want to take time out to train, volunteer in a local community project, or simply avoid travelling at rush hour will now be able to transform their lives.

“But those with old-fashioned bosses who expect all staff to stick to the same rigid hours day in day out and always be in the office won’t be so lucky. Employers will still find it all too easy to block any requests for greater flexibility.

“Unfortunately the right to request is only the right to ask nicely. There is nothing to stop employers saying no. Of course not everyone in every company or organisation is able to work flexibly – some requests will always need to be turned down. But without the right to challenge employers, many workers will continue to lose out.”

* The ACAS guide to the right to request flexible working: http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/1/a/The-right-to-request-flexible-worki...

* The ACAS code of practice on handling requests for flexible working: http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/f/e/Code-of-Practice-on-handling-in-a-r...

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UN chief voices 'grave concern' at deepening crisis in Iraq

Mon, 2014-06-30 13:59

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed his grave concern at the deepening crisis in Iraq and the rising number of civilian deaths and injuries.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday (29 June) expressed his grave concern at the deepening crisis in Iraq and the rising number of civilian deaths and injuries, with over one million Iraqis having fled their homes due to the fighting.

Mr. Ban “is deeply troubled by persistent reports of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law taking place in Iraq,” a United Nations spokesperson said in a statement.

These include summary execution of captured soldiers and detainees, indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, and the abduction and murder of members of ethnic and religious communities.

In a recently released report, the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMI) and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) cited alleged abuses by both the Iraqi Security Forces and the armed group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS). The militants have purportedly posted more than a dozen videos showing beheadings and shootings of hors combat soldiers and police officers, as well as apparent targeting of people based on their religion or ethnicity, including Shia and minority groups such as Turcomans, Shabak, Christians, and Yezidis.

Ban Ki-moon also urged authorities to hold accountable any members of the Iraqi Security Forces or local militias who may have committed violations of international humanitarian or human rights law.

“The Secretary-General calls on all parties to the conflict ensure that persecution of civilians based on their religion or ethnic background cease immediately,” his spokesperson said.

Ban added that all parties to the conflict – whether armed groups, ISIL, local militias or Iraqi Security Forces – have the legal obligation and moral responsibility to avoid and prevent violence against civilians and ensure that their humanitarian needs are addressed.

Overall, at least 1,300 people were killed in Iraq, and another 1,250 injured since 5 June in fighting in Nineveh, Salah al-Din and Diyala alone, according to UNAMI and OHCHR. At least 900 of the people killed were civilians.

In addition, an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced by fighting, including from Anbar and Ninewa governorates, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The Secretary-General commended UNAMI's continued efforts to assist in the settlement of the current conflict in Iraq, to monitor and report on human rights violations, and to support national and international humanitarian partners in providing assistance to those in need.

In Baghdad, Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, urged the new Parliament to immediately engage in addressing the political, security, social and humanitarian concerns of all communities in Iraq.

“Faced with a national crisis, the political leaders of Iraq should put the interests of the country and its people before everything else,” Mr. Mladenov said ahead of Tuesday, when the newly elected Council of Representatives is expected to convene its first meeting.

“The first and most important step is the election of a Speaker,” Mr. Mladenov said in a statement.

He added that once this is done, the Parliament should promptly elect a President and approve a new Government, as stipulated in the Constitution.

“Any delay in the process, caused by a lack of quorum or unwillingness to show compromise will be detrimental to the country's future,” Mr. Mladenov cautioned.

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Occupy Westminster Abbey

Sun, 2014-06-29 13:04
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Risk of new Argentinian debt default after vulture fund verdict

Sat, 2014-06-28 06:14

The United States Supreme Court has decided not to hear Argentina’s appeal against a $1.3 billion award to two US-based vulture funds.

The United States Supreme Court has decided not to hear Argentina’s appeal against a $1.3 billion award to two US-based vulture funds.

Argentina’s next payment on its restructured bonds is due on 30 June. The Supreme Court decisicion was handed down on 16 June, giving the country two weeks to decide whether to make payments to the vulture funds at the same time, as ordered by US courts, or halt payments on all its debts. Last month, a leaked memo from Argentina’s lawyers indicated that the country’s best option in the event of an appeal loss would be to default on its restructured bonds and re-route them beyond the reach of US courts.

The restructured bonds are held by the more than 90 per cent of Argentina’s private sector creditors who agreed to take losses after the country's 2001 default. Thousands of campaigners have supported calls from social movements in Argentina for a public audit of the debts, many of which date back to the country’sl military junta under whose rule 30,000 people were ‘disappeared’ and widespread abuses of human rights were committed.

Sarah-Jayne Clifton, Director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said:
“The Supreme Court’s decision places profits for financial speculators ahead of justice and risks forcing Argentina into a second debt crisis. The vulture funds never lent Argentina any money, they just speculated on its debt when the country was on its knees and they’re now seeking profits of over 1,000 per cent.”

“The decision confirms that the system for dealing with sovereign debts is fatally flawed – a system where irresponsible lenders are now actively discouraged from taking losses when a debt burden becomes unsustainable. If Argentina now chooses to default rather than cave in to extortion, as any democratic nation is fully justified in doing, people of conscience around the world will support them.”

She concluded: “This decision could also have major implications for other heavily indebted countries like Greece, Ireland and Jamaica. It points to the urgent need for a fair and transparent workout mechanism for international debt, as well as for countries like the US and UK to bring forward legislation to stop predatory vulture funds profiteering from the misery of countries in debt crisis.”

Last month, over 100 British MPs signed an Early Day Motion supporting action to prevent vulture funds profiteering from Argentina and forcing the country into default. The motion, signed by 106 MPs, “notes that vulture funds are trying to force Argentina to default on its debt through a legal case in New York”. It “urges the Government to share its experience of legislating on vulture funds with the US administration" and to "bring forward legislative proposals to prevent vulture funds ignoring international agreed debt restructuring for Argentina and Greece in UK courts and support the creation of a fair, independent and transparent arbitration mechanism for sovereign debt."

Daniel Ozarow of the Argentina Research Network in the United Kingdom, which also promoted the petition, said: “It is astonishing that under the international debt system’s existing rules, collective punishment can potentially be imposed upon millions of Argentines for the benefit of a handful of billionaire speculators. This is just the latest in a series of ideological assaults by global capitalism’s institutions upon those less powerful states that have dared to introduce economic models that deviate from neoliberalism’s hegemony.”

In addition, a petition signed-by more than 2,000 British people was handed to the Argentine Embassy in London, supporting Argentina’s right to refuse to pay vulture funds.

In 2010, the UK Parliament passed legislation to prevent vulture funds from seeking unfair profits in UK courts in cases against 40 so-called ‘Heavily Indebted Poor Countries’, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa.

* Read the Early Day Motion here: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/666

[Ekk/4]

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Quaker report opposes increasing militarisation

Fri, 2014-06-27 09:29

A new report from Quaker Peace & Social Witness describes Armed Forces Day as one strand in a government strategy to reverse falling recruitment and declining public support for military interventions.

“The stirring music, smart uniforms and synchronised marching that characterise Armed Forces Day are a glossy front behind which sits a deliberate strategy to manipulate the public,” says Quaker Sam Walton as a new report on the growing militarisation in Britain today is launched.

In the revealing report The new tide of militarisation produced by Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW), Armed Forces Day is described as one strand in a government strategy to reverse falling recruitment and declining public support for military interventions.

The report highlights how in the light of a waning appetite for public spending on war, the government target the public at their most susceptible. Through emphasising the risks that military personnel take, and their bravery, the need to support military personnel is confused with the need to support war.

Quakers believe in proper care and support for Armed Forces personnel, and all victims of war. Indeed, in 1947 Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their relief work. However this deliberate conflation of the need to support the personnel, with the need to support war, stifles democratic debate about the use of our armed forces in increasingly messy and controversial interventions abroad.

The report shows how initiatives such as Armed Forces day, the increasing presence of the military at other emotive national events, and efforts to increase the role of the military in education, such as the Troops to Teachers programme, and expansion of the Cadet Forces, are all part of a deliberate government strategy to increase militarisation in our society.

The report shows how the emphasis of Remembrance Day has shifted away from its original purpose of remembering the horror of war and the promise of 'Never Again' made to those in WW1, to ‘support our troops’.

The new tide of militarisation bases the evidence for its findings on three government papers; Future Reserves 2012, National Recognition of our Armed Forces and Defence Youth Engagement Review. It is available online at: http://www.quaker.org.uk/militarism and in hard copy for free from Timmon Wallis, QPSW, Friends House, Euston Road NW1 2BJ.

Quakers reject the notion that war is inevitable and advocate putting resources into nonviolent ways of solving conflicts and averting wars.

* 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.

[Ekk/4]

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Brazilian officials warn of ‘imminent’ death of uncontacted Indians

Fri, 2014-06-27 09:13

Brazilian officials have warned that uncontacted Indians face imminent “tragedy” and "death" after a dramatic increase in the number of sightings in the Amazon rainforest near the Peru border.

Brazilian officials have warned that uncontacted Indians face imminent “tragedy” and "death" after a dramatic increase in the number of sightings in the Amazon rainforest near the Peru border.

Experts believe that the Indians have fled over the border from Peru in a bid to escape waves of illegal loggers invading their territory. They are now entering the territory of other isolated Indian groups already living on the Brazil side – and some settled communities.

Ashaninka Indians in Acre state, Brazil, for example, say they recently encountered dozens of uncontacted Indians close to their community, and recent government investigations have revealed more frequent sightings of footprints, temporary camps and food remains left behind by the Indians.

These incidents are raising fears of violent clashes between the various groups, and decimation by contagious diseases to which the uncontacted Indians have no immunity.

José Carlos Meirelles, who monitored this region for the Brazilian government’s Indian Affairs Department FUNAI for over 20 years, said, “Something serious must have happened. It is not normal for such a large group of uncontacted Indians to approach in this way. This is a completely new and worrying situation and we currently do not know what has caused it.”

The Indians were spotted in the same region where uncontacted Indians were famously photographed and filmed from the air four years ago. But the area lacks protection since a government post was abandoned after it was overrun by drug smugglers and illegal loggers in 2011.

The uncontacted Indians are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Although they appeared healthy, they have no immunity to common diseases such as flu and measles which have wiped out entire tribes in the past.

FUNAI investigated the Ashaninka’s alarming reports two weeks ago. It warned that “contact is imminent” and demanded that health teams must be sent to the area as a matter of urgency or “they risk catching diseases… which could kill them all.”

Prominent Amazon Indian leader Raoni Metuktire, who has led the fight for the Kayapó tribe’s land and against the destruction of the Amazon, said during his recent visit to Europe, “Where will the uncontacted Indians go? Without their lands protected, they will die.”

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, is calling on the Brazilian and Peruvian governments to protect all land inhabited by uncontacted tribes and to honour their promise to improve cross-border coordination to safeguard their welfare.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, “International borders don’t exist for uncontacted tribes, which is why Peru and Brazil must work together to prevent lives being lost. Throughout history, uncontacted peoples have been destroyed when their land is invaded, and so it’s vital that these Indians’ territory is properly protected. Both governments must act now if their uncontacted citizens are to survive.”

[Ekk/4]

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Global Christian leaders call on G20 to tackle tax evasion

Thu, 2014-06-26 23:00

Christian leaders representing over 1 billion people from 170 nations have sent an Open Letter to heads of the G20, calling for urgent action on corruption and tax evasion.

Christian leaders representing over 1 billion people from 170 nations have sent an Open Letter to heads of the G20, calling for urgent action on corruption and tax evasion.

This historic anti-corruption initiative by the global Church comes at a decisive political moment as finance ministers meet in Australia ahead of the G20 summit in November.

The letter was handed in to Australia’s Treasury as part of a lobbying event in Canberra that saw over 200 advocates meet with 100 MPs. Participants also gathered near Parliament shining symbolic giant lights on the darkness of corrupt deals.

Australia holds the presidency of the G20 this year and plays a crucial role in setting the priorities for the meeting in Brisbane. The letter represents the hopes of millions around the world looking to Australia to take the lead on financial transparency.

Corruption “robs US$850 billion each year from developing nations through illicit financial flows” and another “$160bn a year is lost through tax evasion”, according to the letter, organised by EXPOSED, a campaign to encourage greater transparency by multinationals and governments for the benefit of the poorest families and communities. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, endorsed the campaign in April, tweeting, "Jesus said he came to bring abundant life. Corruption steals from the poor, challenge it… with the EXPOSED Campaign.”

According to Rev Joel Edwards, who heads up the campaign, “This is the first-ever global stand Christians have taken against greed, secret deals and abuse of public influence. We know corruption is everywhere – from football deals to corporate boardrooms. We want more integrity in public life – it makes economic sense and moral sense. And if we fail to take this opportunity we are letting down the poor.”

The letter urges that funds released by tackling corrupt practices be used for crucial basic services such as healthcare: “The lives of 230 little children could be saved every day if corruption issues were addressed.”

Signed by more than 75 leaders across the ecumenical spectrum of the Church, the letter recognises that no country is exempt from this issue, and that the Church should renounce any of its own practices which rob from the poor.

The letter is released just as civil society groups from G20 nations meet in Australia for the C20. A key theme was governance. Chair of the C20 and CEO of World Vision Australia, Tim Costello, a signee of the Open Letter, told delegates in his welcome address, “Good governance includes transparency and accountability to citizens.”

G20 nations, which control 85 per cent of the world’s economic activity, have already begun to cut corporate bribes, profit shifting and tax evasion. Brisbane’s meeting is a crucial time to press on for more concrete action. The EXPOSED campaign urges leaders to act not only in their own interests but on behalf of small and poor communities by providing clear open information and funding so that developing nations can access and use data from multinationals and governments.

[Ekk/4]

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Amnesty condemns secret execution of death row prisonerin Japan

Thu, 2014-06-26 10:21

The Japanese authorities' continued practice of secret executions despite growing concerns on the country's use of the death penalty is a scar on the justice system, says Amnesty International.

The Japanese authorities' determination to continue with secret executions despite growing concerns on the use of the death penalty in the country is a scar on the justice system, says Amnesty International.

Masanori Kawasaki, who was convicted in 2008 of the murder of three relatives, was hanged early this morning (26 June) at Osaka detention centre.

The execution is the first since a court ordered the immediate release in March of Hakamada Iwao, who spent more than four decades on death row after an unfair trial. Prosecutors have appealed the decision to grant Hakamada a retrial, despite the court stating police were likely to have fabricated evidence.

The execution – the first in 2014 – is the ninth since Prime Minister Abe's government took office in December 2012. In February, a group of former lay judges urged the Minister of Justice to halt executions until there is greater transparency in the use of capital punishment. In Japan, the Justice Minister must authorise executions before they can be carried out. A total of 128 people remain on death row in the country.

Amnesty International East Asia Research Director Roseann Rife said: "It is deplorable that not long after fundamental flaws in Japan's criminal justice system were so blatantly exposed, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki has chosen to sign another death warrant.

"Death row inmates live under the constant fear of execution, never knowing from one day or the next if they are going to be put to death. This is adds psychological torture to an already cruel and inhumane punishment.

"Instead of sending more people to the gallows, there needs to be urgent reform of a justice system that at present is not worthy of the name."

Executions are shrouded in secrecy in Japan with prisoners typically given only a few hours' notice, but some may be given no warning at all. Their families are usually notified about the execution only after it has taken place.

Japan is the only country other than the USA in the G8 group of countries to still use capital punishment. During 2013, only 22 countries worldwide carried out executions.

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the offender or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. It says "The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment."

[Ekk/4]

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In-work poverty can be slashed by 2020, says Living Wage Commission

Thu, 2014-06-26 10:09

More than million people can be lifted out of low pay by 2020 by pragmatic low-cost measures building on the economic recovery, says the final report of the independent Living Wage Commission.

The number of people in low pay in the UK can be slashed by over 1 million by 2020 with a series of pragmatic low-cost measures building on the economic recovery, according to the final report of the independent Living Wage Commission, chaired by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

The report follows the most comprehensive analysis to date of low pay, conducted over 12 months by leading figures from business, trades unions, academia and civil society. It concludes that:

- More than 1 million people can be lifted out of low pay by 2020, with research indicating this will have no adverse economic consequences
- The cost of increasing the pay of nearly 500,000 public sector employees to the Living Wage could be more than met by higher tax revenues and reduced in-work benefits from over 600,000 private sector employees also brought up to the Living Wage
- Professional service firms, like accountancy and consultancy companies, have nearly 300,000 low-wage staff who could be paid the Living Wage by 2020, and the banking and construction industries could pay the Living Wage to 75,000 employees with an increase to their wage bills of less than 0.5%
- This extension of the Living Wage depends on the government adopting an explicit goal to increase the voluntary take-up of the Living Wage to at least 1 million more employees by 2020
- The measures for the government to encourage such a transition include requiring all publicly listed companies to publish the number of people paid below a Living Wage.

The Commission warns that if the government does not support the voluntary extension of coverage of the Living Wage, some working families will continue to rely on emergency measures, such as food banks and unsustainable debt, to get by. Currently 5.2 million people earn less than the Living Wage and the majority of people in poverty are now in working households.

However, the Commission has not recommended the introduction of a compulsory Living Wage, warning that the increased wage bill would not be affordable for some firms in some sectors, such as retail and hospitality, and for many small firms.

According to the Commission, a Living Wage for the lowest-paid staff can lead to increased productivity, reduced staff turnover and improved morale.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, Chair of the Living Wage Commission, said: “Working, and still living in poverty, is a national scandal. For the first time, the majority of people in poverty in the UK are now in working households.

“The campaign for a Living Wage has been a beacon of hope for the millions of workers on low wages struggling to make ends meet. If the government now commits to making this hope a reality, we can take a major step towards ending the strain on all of our consciences. Low wages equals living in poverty.”

Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy and External Affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The return to economic growth means that many employers are now looking again at increasing levels of pay for their employees after a tough period for business.

“Many thousands of companies already pay their employees a Living Wage, and many more have an aspiration to do so. As the recovery gathers pace, they should be supported and encouraged to make this happen without facing compulsion or regulation, which could lead to job losses and difficulties particularly for younger people entering the labour market.

“Some businesses simply cannot afford to pay a Living Wage just yet – which is why the Commission rejected a compulsory Living Wage. The task now is to support as many employers as possible to make this transition, because paying the Living Wage can benefit employers as well as their staff.”

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said: “The economy might be growing again but workers – especially the lowest-paid – are struggling to get by as wages continue to lag behind the cost of living. Increasing the number of workers on the Living Wage would help ensure that ordinary people can start to share in the fruits of the economic recovery.

“But as it stands many families simply cannot make ends meet. They find it hard enough pulling together the money to pay for everyday essentials. Trying to come up with extra cash to cover the cost of expensive childcare when the schools are closed for the summer holidays or to replace a broken fridge either means getting by without or going further into debt.

“We now have the perfect opportunity to transform the lives of millions of people in low-paid households. The Living Wage allows families to afford the goods and services that those in better paid jobs take for granted. It means more jobs will pay enough to cover everyday essentials, and that surely is not too much to ask.”

[Ekk/4]

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