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Hungary told to end 'unprecedented crackdown' on NGOs

Mon, 2015-02-02 23:33

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been called upon to ask the Hungarian authorities to stop their attack on NGOs.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been called upon to ask the Hungarian authorities to stop their "unprecedented crackdown" on NGOs, as she embarks on her visit to the country this week.

The call comes in a new report published by globally recognised human rights organisation Amnesty International.

The report, entitled Their backs to the wall: civil society under pressure in Hungary, details the orchestrated attack on NGOs by the Hungarian authorities over the past year.

This has included public smearing, criminal investigations, office raids and the seizure of equipment, and a politically motivated audit which could eventually lead to the closure of organisations.

“The Hungarian authorities’ ongoing assault on NGOs has all the hallmarks of a witch-hunt. EU leaders should be extremely alarmed that practices coined in Russia are gaining currency in an EU member state. Angela Merkel must not miss the opportunity to challenge these practices this week,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty.

In May 2014, government officials started accusing a number of NGOs of being “paid political activists” who were “attempting to enforce foreign interests” in Hungary – echoing Russia’s hardline stance against critical foreign-funded organisations into the European Union.

Amid this stigmatising rhetoric by politicians and hostile media reports attempting to discredit organisations in the eyes of the public, the government then ordered an audit of 59 NGOs distributing and receiving grants from Norwegian government backed funding.

“This was a politically motivated audit preceded by statements by the Prime Minister and other government officials asserting the ‘guilt’ of the implicated organisations without any substantial evidence of criminal wrong-doing or financial irregularities”, says Mr Dalhuisen.

Following unspecified criminal allegations by the auditors, police launched investigations into alleged crimes in connection with NGO funding and then raided the offices of two organisations and the home of an employee of one of them, seizing computers, servers and documents.

On 23 January 2015, the Central District Court in Buda declared the search and seizures unlawful on the grounds of a failure to establish suspicion of offence before they were carried out.

Four NGOs are now facing separate legal proceedings which could lead to them losing their tax registration numbers and effectively being shut down.

“The Hungarian government’s NGO witch-hunt has sent a chilling message to everyone who speaks out against human rights abuses, corruption and homophobia. The Hungarian authorities must stop this campaign against independent critical voices and Angela Merkel and other EU leaders must urgently insist that they do so,” says Amnesty International.

* Their backs to the wall: civil society under pressure in Hungary - read the full report (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document) here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR27/001/2015/en/caa924b2-e655-...

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Faith leaders join call on PM to take in more Syrian refugees

Mon, 2015-02-02 23:01

The PM is being asked to increase the number of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK in response to a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

Senior British faith leaders are calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to increase the number of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK in response to "one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of our time".

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, Bishop Declan Lang, chair of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales’ Conference Department of International Affairs, joined the Anglican Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan, Head of the Jewish Reform Movement Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain and Co-Chair of the Christian Muslim Forum, to express his support for a joint call from CAFOD (the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales), Amnesty International, the Refugee Council, JCore and Islamic Relief for the UK to do more to help Syria’s refugees find safety here.

The letter coincided with the first anniversary (Thursday 29 January 2015) of the UK government’s announcement of a special resettlement scheme for the most vulnerable refugees from the Syrian conflict. A year on, Home Office figures show that only 90 people have been offered asylum here.

Nearly four years into the conflict, 10 million people have been forced to leave their homes, nearly 4 million of whom have fled the country. The vast majority are living in precarious circumstances in Syria’s neighbouring countries, and many are struggling to survive in freezing temperatures.

The faith leaders say that the conflict in Syria is one of the "greatest humanitarian catastrophes of our time" and that neighbouring countries are at the point of collapse from the sheer numbers of refugees they are hosting.

They say in their letter:

Many refugees have experienced persecution, torture or sexual violence, sometimes because of their religion or ethnicity, or have disabilities or other urgent medical needs which make them particularly vulnerable. Some will not survive the winter.

We are proud of the way in which the UK has led the world in its humanitarian aid contribution to the Syria crisis. However, our help cannot end with aid. We urge you to show the same leadership on resettlement so that more of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees can find sanctuary here in the UK.

We welcomed the announcement, a year ago, of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme but we are disappointed that only 90 refugees have so far been offered a safe haven here in the UK via this route. One year on, we urge you to take this opportunity to commit to offering resettlement places to thousands, not hundreds, of refugees from Syria.

In the face of a desperate and growing need, we believe that Great Britain has a moral responsibility to continue our noble tradition as a compassionate and welcoming safe haven for those in need of protection. As Prime Minister, you have the power to offer hope to people whose suffering is almost unimaginable to us. We ask you to do this [now].

Church and development agencies are calling on rich countries around the world to resettle five per cent of Syria’s refugees by the end of this year and a further five per cent by the end of 2016. The UK government has agreed to resettle only several hundred people over three years.

Other countries, including Germany and the USA, have promised to resettle thousands.

Excluding Germany, the rest of the European Union (EU) has pledged to take in a paltry 0.17 per cent of refugees from the main host countries.

In early January 2015, Canada announced it would open its doors to 10,000 Syrian refugees.

Alan Thomlinson, CAFOD’s Emergency Manager for the Syria Crisis, commented: “The number of Syrian refugees accepted into Britain so far is woefully inadequate compared to the scale of the need. Britain has a proud tradition of helping those in need, and – with no end in sight to the war – we need to show solidarity with the countries and communities that are bearing the brunt of this appalling crisis.”

Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren added: “A year ago the British Government made a promise to some of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees. We promised them safety. We promised them hope. We promised them a future. If David Cameron fails to significantly increase the scale of Britain’s resettlement scheme he will have broken that promise.”

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: “The UK government's relief efforts in the region are to be commended but it is clear that so much more needs to be done to protect people fleeing the Syrian conflict, including those at risk of persecution due to their religion or ethnicity. A year on from agreeing to resettle hundreds of refugees, the UK should take this opportunity to up their game and resettle thousands of Syria's most vulnerable. The UK has done this in response to other conflicts, what is stopping this government from doing the same?"

Edie Freedman, Executive Director of The Jewish Council for Racial Equality, continued: “We in the Jewish community know only too well the perils of being refugees and the indifference which too often meets their desperate plight to find sanctuary. Syrians now make up the largest refugee group in the world. We appreciate that this is not a job for Britain alone, but we must do our fair share.”

* CAFOD Syria Crisis Appeal: http://www.cafod.org.uk/Give/Donate-to-Emergencies/Syria-Crisis-appeal

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Gender and poverty teaching pack launched by Christian Aid

Sun, 2015-02-01 00:09

An interactive action pack for schools is aimed at teaching pupils about challenges faced by women and girls living in extreme poverty worldwide.

UK-based churches' global development agency Christian Aid has launched an interactive action pack for schools as part of a new initiative to teach pupils about the challenges faced by women and girls living in extreme poverty worldwide.

The ‘Mooove Over Poverty’ pack features an assembly plan, a children’s film and a series of engaging activities that tell the story of a pastoralist community in east Africa where females are marginalised due to lack of access to the main livestock, cows.

The educational resource takes children on a journey to a rural village in Ethiopia, where Christian Aid is tackling gender discrimination by giving cows to poor women.

A cow enables women to earn an income by starting a business selling milk and butter; but just as importantly, in a community where owning cattle gives you status, the cow also gives women a voice in community decision making.

‘Mooove Over Poverty’ uses the cow theme to help pupils engage with a global issue and understand the impact of inequality. It features a ‘ready-to-run’ assembly on the theme of gender, equality and participation, providing teachers with a step-by-step assembly guide to hosting an interactive simulation activity for pupils.

Teachers are being asked to screen a short online film, The Difference a Cow Makes, during the assembly. Produced by Christian Aid especially for young viewers, the film focuses on an Ethiopian woman, Adi, whose life was transformed after she received a cow.

The pack also invites to schools to take up the challenge to raise £150 – the cost of a cow in Ethiopia – for Christian Aid Week. It offers a range of ideas for hosting cow-themed fundraising activities, such as a milkshake bar or a ‘dress-as-a-cow day’.

An online ‘action planner’ has been created to help pupils and their school councils organise their fundraising events and submit money raised by the school.

Christian Aid’s Church Youth Manager, Pippa Durn, said: “We hope the ‘Mooove Over Poverty’ resource will bring to life the reality of gender inequality and will show pupils why, for Ethiopian women, owning a cow is the difference between going hungry or having food to eat, and the difference between being sidelined or being heard.

"The resource has been developed to coincide with Christian Aid Week 2015, which runs from 10-16 May. Primary and secondary schools never fail to amaze us with their ingenuity and enthusiasm, so we hope this pack will fire their imaginations.

"We hope it will also encourage them to take action on behalf of the world’s poorest people, while gaining a little bit of understanding about how traditions and cultures around the world can make it difficult for some women and girls to be treated as equals to men and boys.”

Primary and secondary versions of the ‘Mooove Over Poverty’ resource are free to order online, alongside other Christian Aid Week materials for young people, including a youth fundraising pack and a children’s activity sheet. The action pack is being sent out to 20,000 primary and secondary schools this month.

* To order the resources, call 020 7523 2165, email schools@christian-aid.org-aid.org or visit www.christianaid.org.uk/cows

*To find out more about Christian Aid Week 2015, visit www.caweek.org

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WEA announces Philippine bishop as next Secretary General

Sun, 2015-02-01 00:06

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has announced a unanimous vote to appoint Bishop Efraim Tendero its next Secretary General.

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has announced a unanimous vote to appoint Bishop Efraim Tendero its next Secretary General.

The appointment was made by the WEA International Council (IC). Bishop Tendero currently serves as the National Director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.

"We are not only pleased, but confident that Efraim is the right person to take WEA into the future which promises to be great,” said the Rev Ndaba Mazabane, Chair of the IC and Acting Secretary-General of the WEA.

“His understanding of our global vision and his experience as a national Alliance leader will certainly help him connect with our constituency for greater global impact.”

Bishop Tendero succeeds Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe who announced early i 2014 that he would not be seeking a third term after leading the WEA for the past ten years.

Bishop Tendero will begin his five year tenure on 1 March 2015.

Bishop Efraim Tendero, widely known as Bishop Ef, has served as National Director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) for more than 20 years. PCEC is WEA’s national Alliance member that represents some 30,000 evangelical churches in the Philippines. He is also President of the Philippine Relief and Development Services (PHILRADS), the relief and development arm of PCEC that works hand in hand with local churches in holistic ministries "to serve the poor and needy".

Tendero also serves as International Facilitator for South East Asia of the Asia Evangelical Alliance, was appointed Lausanne Senior Associate for Integrity and Anti-Corruption and is the chair of the board Back to the Bible Broadcast, Evangelism Explosion (EE) 3 Philippines, Global Filipino Movement, and the Philippine Missions Association. He is also the Executive Editor of Evangelicals Today, the longest running Christian magazine in the Philippines.

Bishop Tendero has a BA in Theology from Febias College of Bible and a Master of Divinity with focus on pastoral counselling from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He received two honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees from Asian Theological Seminary and Febias College of Bible, and a Doctor of Leadership degree from International Graduate School of Leadership.

* WEA: http://www.worldea.org/

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Government urged to invest in jobs and wages

Sat, 2015-01-31 13:11

Trade unions are urging the UK Government to invest in jobs and wages to achieve a genuine economic turnaround.

Trade unions are urging the UK Government to invest in jobs and wages to achieve a genuine economic turnaround, as evidence grows that supposed recovery is partly, one-sided and fragile.

The comments came in response to the earnings chapter published on 30 January 2015 from the forthcoming Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) Green Budget document.

Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The biggest living standards squeeze since records began is nothing to celebrate, with everyone a loser from falling pay.

“At the wealthier end, losses have been offset by rising property values. But everyone else has been hit by a triple whammy of falling pay, cuts to in-work support like tax credits, and cuts to the services they depend on. And the future cuts in George Osborne’s plans mean years more pain to come.

“We must do far more than hope for a lucky run of low inflation figures to restore wages. We need much stronger wage settlements and more investment in high skilled jobs and a high productivity economy.”

IFS research shows that average earnings remain well below their 2008 pre-crisis levels.

The declared goal of the Institute for Fiscal Studies is "to promote effective economic and social policies by better understanding how policies affect individuals, families, businesses and the government's finances."

* TUC: http://www.tuc.org.uk/

* IFS: http://www.ifs.org.uk

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Urgent calls to protect church leaders in Colombia

Sat, 2015-01-31 12:57

Serious death threats to human rights defenders, many of them church leaders, have been made by a paramilitary group in Colombia.

Serious death threats to human rights defenders, many of them church leaders, have been made by a paramilitary group in Colombia. The World Council of Churches (WCC), among other international organisations, has called on the Colombian government to protect their lives.

On 14 January 2015, the WCC’s Commission on International Affairs office received a message from the church leaders in Colombia regarding death threats hurled at them by a paramilitary group.

The message said that on 11 January, 39 human rights activists, renowned for their long time commitment and work on rights, land restitution and promotion of the peace process, were individually named in a list issued by the Aguilas Negras, a paramilitary organisation, and was posted online, later reported by the Columbian newspaper El Heraldo.

The paramilitary group explicitly stated that those individuals are considered military targets, declaring their intention to eliminate them.

Among the human rights activists mentioned, are also a number of prominent Colombian church leaders, such as Agustin Jimenez from the Mennonite Church Teusaquillo; Fr Fernando Sanchez from the Anglican Church in the Caribbean Coast; Jairo Barriga, German Zarate, the Rev Milton Mejia of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia and Fr Fernando Gary Martinez from the Catholic Church.

“The Church representatives appearing in this list are highly respected members of the international ecumenical movement with whom WCC member churches have worked over the years,” said WCC’s acting General Secretary Georges Lemopoulos, in a letter addressed to the Colombian President Dr Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, issued on 29 January.

“They are known for their outstanding Christian commitment and courageous witness in the struggle for life, peace, justice and human dignity in Colombia,” said Lemopoulos.

He described as “very disturbing” the fact that church leaders and activists engaged in the promotion of human rights and peace have themselves become targets of violence. He also raised concern that such threats would impede the work of human rights defenders by creating “a widespread climate of fear.”

The WCC, in solidarity with the churches and civil society in Colombia, has called on the Colombian government “to take all necessary measures to effectively protect the life and physical integrity of the Church leaders mentioned above as well as of all other human rights defenders under threat; to carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the authors of these threats with due trial and appropriate penalties; to be mindful of its obligations with respect to the security and protection of those working for the defence of human rights, and in the light of this, to take the immediate and effective measures necessary to ensure that these Church leaders and human rights advocates can continue their work of defending human rights and human dignity, without danger and stigmatisation.”

Over a number of years, the WCC has been accompanying churches and people in Colombia in their struggle to end the armed conflict. The Council has organised solidarity visits in the country, and its governing bodies have issued public statements denouncing the human rights violations, calling for an end to the armed conflict and applauding steps toward peace talks.

* WCC: http://www.oikoumene.org/

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Network TV election debates will change more

Fri, 2015-01-30 07:30
Body: 

Commenting on the latest statement from the BBC and ITV about the 2015 General Election leaders' debates, Simon Barrow, co-director of the politics and beliefs think-tank Ekklesia, which proposed multi-party debates and a civil society one on network TV, said:

"Thinking is clearly shifting within the major network broadcasters about the changing nature of politics across the nations of Britain and Ireland, the issue of a more participatory approach to democracy, the question of parties or leaders as the focus, and the facilitative role of network broadcasters in a multi-platform media environment.

"However you vote, it is helpful that the iron grip of so-galled 'major parties', buttressed by an non-proprtional voting system for Westminster, is being loosened, But there is still a long way to go.

"Whatever network television debates occur in 2015, it is surely a staging post to further reform and change.

"Politics needs to be about people, not vested interests, and a plural media - and not least a public service broadcaster - needs to reflect that, so that the spectrum of beliefs, policies and values are heard."

* Ekklesia's position: Broadening the General Election television debates: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21296

* More on 2015 General Election issues and discussion from Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

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Election debates could go ahead without PM, say broadcasters

Fri, 2015-01-30 07:21

BBC and ITV have "reiterated" that their election TV debates will go ahead even if any of the invited leaders decline to participate.

The BBC and ITV have "reiterated" that the network General Election TV debates will go ahead even if any of the invited leaders decline to participate.

This comment came buried in the detail of a longer joint statement from the broadcasters about the Northern Ireland parties, and particularly the claim of the Democratic Unionist Party to participate alongside the Conservatives, the Green Party of England and Wales, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and UKIP.

The remark seems to be a reference particularly to Prime Minister David Cameron's continued questioning about whether and how he will take part.

First the PM said he would not participate without the Greens, knowing that this would cause difficulty for Labour in the same way as his party is concerned about UKIP.

Then he said that the debates should be early rather than late, and seemed to indicate that he was not fully committed to taking part.

Now, two of the 'big three' network television companies, along with Sky, whose own position seems less clear, have indicated that they will not be put off from going ahead by the Prime Minister.

This is a clear attempt to be seen to be independent of government and the two largest parties, whose position, wealth and power is bolstered by a non-proportional voting system.

The BBC and ITV say that the proposed structure of the debates, to be finalised on 5 February 2015, is fair to all voters, letting everyone see the leaders of the major parties they can vote for.

In the network debates all voters in England, Wales and Scotland will be able to see all the main choices available to them on election day.

In the Northern Ireland debates all voters in Northern Ireland will be able to see all the main and different choices available to them on election day.

Their press release then added the key paragraph: "The broadcasters today reiterated that the network debates will go ahead even if any of the invited leaders decline to participate."

Meanwhile, a Conservative Party commentator, Nic Connor, writing on the influential Conservative Home site, has called for the DUP to be included in the debates, while dismissing them as "rubbish".

The thinktank on changing politics and beliefs, Ekklesia, says that the 2015 network television debates, however they eventually go ahead, are transitional to a larger change in thinking among broadcasters about the shifting nature of politics and representation, and the altered media landscape of a multi-platform environment.

"Politics needs to be about people, not vested interests, and a plural media – and not least a public service broadcaster – needs to reflect that, so that the spectrum of beliefs, policies and values are heard", commented Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

The BBC and ITV also said: “We are proposing that the debates should happen within the campaign period at a time when the parties will be setting out policies in their manifestos and when the audience is fully engaged with the election. The 2015 campaign will be nearly six weeks long and there is plenty of time for three debates to be held without overshadowing the rest of the campaign.”

“The proposed dates for the network debates are 2, 16 and 30 April [2015]. The order of the debates is to be discussed with the parties. In the event that any of the invited party leaders decline to participate, debates will take place with the party leaders who accept the invitation.”

* Ekklesia's position: Broadening the General Election television debates: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21296

* Ekklesia comment: Network TV election debates will change more: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21398

* Joint BBC and ITV press release: http://www.itv.com/presscentre/press-releases/televised-leaders-election...

* BBC and ITV refuse to allow DUP into network leaders' election debates: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21396

* Nic Conner: Let the Democratic Unionists into the debates (Conservative Home website): http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2015/01/nic-conner-let-the-demo...

* 'BBC and ITV look set to expand party leader debates', Ekklesia, 23 January: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21352

* More on 2015 General Election issues and discussion from Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

[Ekk/3]

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BBC and ITV refuse to allow DUP into network leaders' election debates

Fri, 2015-01-30 06:53

The BBC and ITV, two of the three 'big broadcasters' in the UK, have issued a joint statement regarding Northern Ireland parties.

The BBC and ITV, two of the three 'big broadcasters' in the UK, along with Sky, have issued a joint statement regarding Northern Ireland parties.

The two organisations have responded to the Democratic Unionist Party's request to be included in the network leaders' election debates.

In separate letters, ITV and the BBC have written to DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson to set out the reasons why, they say, they will not be including the DUP in either network debate.

Both the BBC and UTV plan dedicated debates in Northern Ireland involving all the larger Northern Ireland parties.

After widespread public protest, the broadcasters will now include the Green Party of England and Wales, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru in the debates in some shape or form – alongside UKIP, the Liberal Democrats and the 'big two', the Conservative Party and the Labour Party.

That led the DUP to protest about their own exclusion, as a party with eight seats in the House of Commons, and to threaten legal action.

The BBC’s Director General, Tony Hall, now says: “We would not be fulfilling our obligations of impartiality to the voters of Northern Ireland if we were to invite one of the Northern Ireland parties but not all the others, which also have substantial support in Northern Ireland.”

An ITV spokesperson said: “We take the view that these proposals best meet the objective of delivering a series of relevant and valuable political debates for viewers across the UK. We are satisfied that it is in the public interest to proceed with these proposals as they now stand.”

The broadcasters point out that voters who live in Northern Ireland have a different set of choices from voters elsewhere. The five major parties in Northern Ireland are all different from those in the rest of the UK. In Northern Ireland the main parties are the DUP, Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP and the Alliance Party. BBC Northern Ireland and UTV plan debates involving those parties and all viewers in Northern Ireland will be able to see them.

If the DUP were included in the network debates it would be necessary to include all the other major Northern Ireland parties too, they claim.

"Including only one, or some, of the Northern Ireland parties would be unfair and discriminatory to the rest. Including all the major Northern Ireland parties in the network programmes would mean having twelve participants - and 97 per cent of viewers, in the rest of the UK, would not be able to vote for at least five of those twelve parties. The broadcasters say that such an arrangement would be disproportionate and not in the wider interests of viewers throughout the UK."

The BBC and ITV say that the proposed structure of the debates, to be finalised on 5 February 2015, is fair to all voters, letting everyone see the leaders of the major parties they can vote for.

In the network debates, all voters in England, Wales and Scotland will be able to see all the main choices available to them on election day.

In the Northern Ireland debates, all voters in Northern Ireland will be able to see all the main and different choices available to them on election day.

The DUP is likely to argue with the broadcasters' assessment, arguing that Sinn Fein takes no part in UK governance, that the Alliance has one seat but has not asked to be included, that the SDLP has three seats but traditionally aligns with Labour, and that the Ulster Unionists have no Westminster representation.

Meanwhile, a Conservative Party commentator has called for the DUP to be included in the debates, while dismissing them as "rubbish".

Nic Conner is the Home and Social Affairs Research Fellow for the Bow Group, a generally liberal lobby group within the Conservative Party, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

However, notwithstanding further disagreement, it is now likely that the debates will take place on network TV in the general way the BBC and ITV have set out. Sky's position is less clear at present.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the politics and beliefs think-tank Ekklesia, which proposed multi-party debates and a civil society one on network TV, commented: "Thinking is clearly shifting within the major network broadcasters about the changing nature of politics across the nations of Britain and Ireland, the issue of a more participatory approach to democracy, the question of parties or leaders as the focus, and the facilitative role of network broadcasters in a multi-platform media environment.

""However you vote, it is helpful that the iron grip of so-galled 'major parties', buttressed by an non-proprtional voting system for Westminster, is being loosened. But there is still a long way to go. Whatever network television debates occur in 2015, it is surely a staging post to further reform. Politics needs to be about people, not vested interests, and a plural media – and not least a public service broadcaster – needs to reflect that, so that the spectrum of beliefs, policies and values are heard."

* Ekklesia's position: Broadening the General Election television debates: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21296

* Ekklesia comment: Network TV election debates will change more: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21398

* Joint BBC and ITV press release: http://www.itv.com/presscentre/press-releases/televised-leaders-election...

* Nic Conner: Let the Democratic Unionists into the debates (Conservative Home website): http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2015/01/nic-conner-let-the-demo...

* 'BBC and ITV look set to expand party leader debates', Ekklesia, 23 January: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21352

* More on 2015 General Election issues and discussion from Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

[Ekk/3]

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UK government lacks robust data on food poverty, says new report

Fri, 2015-01-30 06:22

The government has been asked by a cross-party group of MPs.
to commission fresh research into why people use food banks.

The government has been asked by a cross-party group of MPs.to commission fresh research into why people use food banks

They also recommend more work on measuring the scale and extent of food poverty in the UK.

The move follows pressure from churches, anti-poverty groups and charities on the alarming growth of food banks across the country.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, in its latest report entitled (Food security: demand, consumption and waste), has pointed out that that despite a growing number of people relying on emergency food aid, government ministers – who have denied this has anything to do with its welfare cuts and restrictions hitting the poorest and most vulnerable – collect no robust data on what is happening and why.

Lord Freud, the welfare minister, declared only a few months ago that, "It is very hard to know why people go to them [foodbanks]."

The report, made available last week, says: "We recommend that DEFRA commission further research into why more people are using foodbanks to provide an evidence base to inform and enhance policy responses. We recommend that the Government collect objective and statistically robust data on the scale of household food insecurity, including through the use of questions in the food costs sections of the UKs living costs and food survey. It should also monitor trends over time so that the effectiveness of policies can be accurately gauged and any necessary changes made in response to evidence of need."

The report concludes: "Whilst approaches must be based on local requirements and driven by local communities, Defra should set up a task force to co-ordinate national work by charities, local authorities, retailers, food producers and manufacturers to establish an effective food redistribution network across the country. This should be a key remit of a Food Security Co-ordinator, who should also ensure that food and waste policies inter-link effectively."

While some government politicians have described foodbanks as a 'lifestyle choice', Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is among those who have highlighted the reality of hunger and malnutrition in unequal Britain.

"Hunger stalks large parts of our country", said the head of the Church of England, commenting on a report and UK parliamentary discussion in December 2014.

During Lent last year, many Christians, church leaders, people of faith and those of no religious conviction but strong moral purpose took part in the End Hunger Fast campaign pushed into the public arena by Ekklesia associate the Rev Keith Hebden and others.

* Food security: demand, consumption and waste: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmenvfru/703/...

* More on foodbanks and food poverty from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/foodbanks

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Former archbishop deplores 'inhuman' language about Higher Education

Fri, 2015-01-30 06:01

Dr Rowan Williams has criticised the technocratic, "inhuman" and "corrupting" language of much higher education policy in the UK.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has criticised the technocratic, "inhuman" and "corrupting" language of much Higher Education policy in the UK.

The terminology used by government in relation to higher education and the Research Excellence Framework (REF) separates academics from “the language of actual human beings” and also risks isolating universities and HE institutions from wider society, Dr Williams declared in a recent speech reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES).

Dr Williams, now master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, was addressing the Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU) on 19 January in giving its annual lecture 2015.

A noted academic, theologian and former Oxford professor, Dr Williams said that the use of language demanded by the REF, which talks in terms of “outputs”, was “corrupting” of true scholarly and educational intent.

As part of his lecture, entitled 'Have we homogenised knowledge?', Dr Williams set out the case for a “diversity of intellectual enterprise” in universities. He deplored “government consultation documents on higher education” for their “barbarity and incoherence”.

Such documents made a “tidy segmentation of the desired output of academic activity”, dividing it into “improvement of the economic performance of our society” and “what are endearingly referred to as quality-of-life benefits”, the THES reports him as saying.

The former archbishop said that the rise of a “new barbarity” puts “academic work… on the wrong side of the divide between self-serving jargon and the language of actual human beings”.

He added that this language ewas “de-humanising the academic” and “isolating” academics from wider society by “putting them on the side of those who speak in that particular kind of language: control, closure and somewhat crudely crafted measurement”.

If universities “are not to be exclusive, specialist factories, turning out highly processed information for quality-of-life benefits… they need space,” he declared.

Answering questions from the audience, the THES also reported Dr Williams as saying: “When we think about what the ‘strategy’ of our institution is, we know perfectly well the pressures that will be upon us to produce in a certain way.

“I know, too, that people cope with REF exercises by…composing submissions from the appropriate language. I think the word ‘corrupting’ was used earlier. That’s one of the ways in which it happens.”

Dr Rowan Williams took up the mastership of Magdalene College, Cambridge, on 1 January 2013. In addition to his well known clerical career, he was educated at Dynevor Secondary Grammar School in Swansea, and went to Christ's College in 1968. He studied for his doctorate at Christ Church and Wadham College Oxford, working on the Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky. His career began as a lecturer at Mirfield (1975-1977). He came back to Cambridge as Tutor and Director of Studies at Westcott House.

Following a University lectureship in Divinity and priestly appointment, Dr Williams was elected a Fellow and Dean of Clare College in 1984, and then was back to Oxford as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity for six years. In 1990 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. After a bishopric and two archbishoprics, he returned to academic life.

* Council for the Defence of British Universities: http://cdbu.org.uk

* Times Higher Education Supplement (THES): http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/

* About Rowan Williams: http://www.magd.cam.ac.uk/dr-rowan-williams/

* 'Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the changing face of academia', by Jonathan Tuckett, Critical Religion / Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17885

* 'Creativity, academia, REF and Critical Religion', by Ekklesia associate Dr Michael Marten: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17649

* CRA: http://criticalreligion.org

* More on issues in university education from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/universities

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Faith groups assess COP20 climate talks en route to Paris

Fri, 2015-01-30 00:06

Intergovernmental and civic climate change action has been explored by a faith communities' panel hosted by the World Council of Churches.

Outcomes and disappointments, as well as encouraging signs from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 20) and the Peoples Summit held late last year in Lima, Peru, were discussed at length by representatives of faith communities in a panel hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The event on 27 January in Geneva, Switzerland, featured, among others, panellists Valeriane Bernard of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, Curtis Doebbler, an academic and lawyer from International-Lawyers.org, Budi Tjahjono, advocacy officer for the Franciscans International and Guillermo Kerber, WCC programme executive for Care for Creation and Climate Justice.

The speakers, invited by the Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment and Human Rights shared experiences, best practices, strategies and lessons learned concerning how they may rejuvenate efforts for global climate justice ahead of the COP 21 to be held end of this year in Paris.

The panel was moderated by Beatriz Schulthess from Costa Rica, co-president of Religions for Peace and president of the Indigenous Peoples Ancestral Spiritual Council. In her remarks at the session, she highlighted the work done by Religions for Peace in Lima, including a joint side event held by the organisation in cooperation with the WCC.

Speaking about the outcomes of COP 20 in Lima, Guillermo Kerber said that despite certain disappointments with the outcome reflected in the “Lima call for climate action,” there are still “signs of hope” triggered by civil society and religious organisations who are calling for concrete actions towards an effective and binding climate agreement to be approved at COP 21 in Paris.

Kerber highlighted commitments made by the European Union, China and the United States to reduce carbon emissions, contributions towards the Green Climate Fund, and the relevance of loss and damage associated with countries vulnerable to the impact of climate change, as well as calls by UN Special Procedures and civil society to include a clear reference to human rights in the draft for Paris.

Kerber also expressed appreciation for the role of youth, especially the Latin American and Caribbean Secretariat of the World Student Christian Federation, the Methodist and other local churches, as well as the Inter-Religious Council of Peru. These organisations, he said, hosted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, including a one-day conference at the Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, with a round table on eco-theology and interfaith cooperation, and an interfaith celebration in front of the Saint Francis Basilica in Lima.

Valeriane Bernard emphasised the side events organised by faith based organisations and the interfaith coordination at COP 20, trying to bring various faith based initiatives together, including the Fast for the Climate campaign.

Curtis Doebbler made a detailed analysis of the “Lima call for climate action,” citing both its positive and negative contents. He also stressed the hard work to be done by ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action), part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process. The group will meet in Geneva in two weeks’ time. Doebbler also encouraged participants to be engaged in the Sustainable Development Goals discussions, where Goal 13 reads, “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”.

Budi Tjahjono stressed the place of climate change at the Human Rights Council, where, for instance, at its next session in March a whole day of high level panels will address the relationship between human rights and climate change.

Participants, including mainly representatives of Geneva based diplomatic missions, NGOs and faith based organisations, emphasised the relevance of having a closer look at the process and further engagement in the preparations for COP 21 in Paris.

* WCC: http://www.oikoumene.org

* More on climate change from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/climatechange

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Scottish advice agency 'bewildered' over limited devolved powers

Thu, 2015-01-29 23:04

A leading advice agency in Scotland has expressed disappointment at the failure of proposed devolved powers to Scotland on welfare.

The head of the leading advice agency in Scotland has expressed 'disappointment and bewilderment' at the failure of proposed devolved powers to Scotland to allow the Scottish Government real power over welfare and social security.

Commenting on the publication of ‘Scotland in the United Kingdom: An enduring settlement’ by the UK Government, following the Smith Commission recommendations, Citizens Advice Scotland’s Chief Executive Margaret Lynch said: “It was clear that following the referendum that all parties recognised the need for change, and despite the short timescales, organisation and individuals were energised about the chance they had to take part in the Smith Commission - as was seen by the huge number of submissions received.

“CAS went into this process excited about the chance to influence policy on behalf of our clients and to ensure some areas of policy and power had the opportunity to be more responsive, fair and equitable for the people of Scotland. We welcomed the Smith Commission recommendations and since they were published have looked to how the transfer and transition of power can be done in the best interests of the people of Scotland.

“There is much to be welcomed [in what has been proposed]. A transfer of powers over some benefits which I hope will mean the Scottish Government can set up new processes and practices that will deliver a more responsive and fair system of benefits for people. I also welcome the joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare to oversee the transition of these powers. Communication on these areas between the governments and with stakeholders will be critical in the months ahead. For these reasons the joint arrangements for the oversight of DWP development and delivery of Universal Credit between both governments is to be commended.

“However I am deeply disappointed that the paper states that the migration from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independent Payments (PIP) will continue under current timescales and process.

"As CAS has already outlined, we believe the migration for current claimants should be halted. This is not possible under this legislation. I have to question why the intransigence and why the door has not been left open for discussions on this important matter.

“To put up to 190,000 people in Scotland through two benefit upheavals is both uncaring and reckless. I am concerned that the real reasons behind the forced transition is to reduce the benefit pot before it is transferred to the Scottish Parliament – just as was done with the social fund previously.

“I’m also left bewildered that the Smith recommendations stated ‘The Scottish Parliament will have new powers to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility’ yet the draft legislation seems to have changed this to be within ‘areas of welfare responsibility that are devolved’[.

"Therefore the powers that are being made available to the Scottish Government are those already outlined as being transferred from the UK Government such as such as benefits for carers and disabled people, social fund payments, cold weather payments, and DHP. This effectively ensures that the Scottish Government can do little more than mirror the welfare provision determined by the UK Government.

“The Smith Commission led us to believe the Scottish Government could craft its own welfare system, outside of Universal Credit, taking into account the needs of Scotland. It seems now that offer has been withdrawn.”

* The CAS call for the migration of DLA to PIP can be found here: http://www.cas.org.uk/news/citizens-advice-scotland-calls-halt-introduct...

* Citizens Advice Scotland: http://www.cas.org.uk

* More on post-referendum issues in Scotland from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/scottishindependence

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Nigerian authorities 'repeatedly warned' of Boko Haram attacks

Thu, 2015-01-29 08:34

New evidence shows that the Nigerian authorities were clearly warned of impending Boko Haram attacks on Baga and Monguno.

New evidence shows that the Nigerian authorities were repeatedly warned of impending Boko Haram attacks on Baga and Monguno.

The attacks claimed hundreds if not thousands of lives, but the government failed to take adequate action to protect civilians, say critics.

According to a senior military source and other evidence gathered by the human rights NGO Amnesty International, commanders at the military base in Baga regularly informed military headquarters in November and December 2014 of the threat of a Boko Haram attack and repeatedly requested reinforcements.

Other sources and witnesses say that the military in Monguno had an advanced warning of the Boko Haram attack on 25 January 2015.

“It is clear from this evidence that Nigeria’s military leadership woefully and repeatedly failed in their duty to protect civilians of Baga and Monguno despite repeated warnings about an impending threat posed by Boko Haram,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty’s Africa director.

“These attacks are an urgent wake-up call for the Nigerian leadership, the African Union and the international community. It is essential to protect hundreds of thousands of civilians in north east Nigeria from Boko Haram’s continued onslaught.”

According to a senior military source, long before the attack on Baga, the Multinational Joint Task Force based in the town informed military headquarters in Abuja about sightings of Boko Haram patrols and build-ups of Boko Haram fighters. They also told headquarters ahead of the attacks, that civilians in surrounding towns and villages were fleeing the area in large numbers.

Speaking about the attack on Baga, Dogon Baga and surrounding towns and villages, one military source told Amnesty International: "This attack was expected because Boko Haram warned the inhabitants of Baga and surrounding villages almost two months ago that they would be coming to attack the troops and the civilian JTF [Joint Task Force]."

Sources told Amnesty International that after the Baga attack on 3 January, Boko Haram members informed locals that their “next target is Monguno,” and that these civilians informed the local military.

One Monguno resident told the NGO: “There was a warning. Everyone was aware. Boko Haram came on Wednesday last week [21 January] and asked the villagers [in nearby Ngurno] to leave because they are coming to attack the barracks. The villagers told the soldiers.”

Nigerian authorities have a responsibility to take all feasible measures to protect the civilian population, including by assisting with an evacuation of those who wished to flee and transporting them to safer areas. They also have a responsibility to inform civilians of risks and dangers. According to witnesses, the local military did not make an effort to do this.

On 29 January, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council is expected to discuss the deployment of a possible regional force against Boko Haram.

“If such a force were to be deployed it is vital that it has a clear mandate to protect civilians and that all parties engaging in military deployment comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” said Netsanet Belay.

The background to these developments is that on 25 January, Boko Haram captured Monguno and also attacked Maiduguri and Konduga. Until the attack on Maiduguri was repelled by security forces, Boko Haram had effectively cut off any routes that civilians could have used to flee Boko Haram controlled territory.

On 15 January human rights groups released satellite images providing indisputable and shocking evidence of the scale of the attack on the towns of Baga and Doron Baga by Boko Haram militants. The before and after images of two neighbouring towns, Baga (160 kilometres from Maiduguri) and Doron Baga (also known as Doro Gowon, 2.5 km from Baga), taken on 2 and 7 January showed the devastating effect of the attacks which left over 3,700 structures damaged or completely destroyed. Other nearby towns and villages were also attacked over this period.

Since 2009, Boko Haram has deliberately targeted civilians through raids, abductions and bomb attacks with attacks increasing in frequency and severity. The effects on the civilian population have been devastating with thousands killed, hundreds abducted and hundreds of thousands forced to leave their homes.

There have been very few effective investigations and prosecutions of Boko Haram members for crimes under international law.

The Baga and Maiduguri attacks demonstrates how the conflict has dramatically escalated in the last 12 months. Research indicates that in 2014 at least 4,000 civilians were killed by Boko Haram, and that the actual number is likely to be higher.

* Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org/

* More on Boko Haram from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/bokoharam

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Tax dodging bill 'needed within 100 days' of a new government

Thu, 2015-01-29 05:24

Tougher tax legislation could bring in billions of extra revenue to fight poverty, says charities and church organisations across Britain.

Tougher tax legislation could bring in billions of extra revenue to fight poverty, says charities and church organisations across Britain.

Stopping multinational companies from dodging their taxes, which cheats societies out of billions of pounds of lost revenue, must be a top priority for the next government, of whatever political complexion, a new coalition of 17 non-party British NGOs has declared this week.

The Tax Dodging Bill campaign, whose members include ActionAid, Christian Aid, the Equality Trust, the National Union of Students and Oxfam, is calling for all political parties to pledge to introduce a new Bill in the first 100 days after the election to tackle corporate tax dodging and to make sure the additional revenue raised is used to fight poverty.

A policy paper launched by the coalition estimates that a well-crafted Tax Dodging Bill could bring in at least £3.6 billion a year to the UK treasury – the equivalent of £600 for every household living below the poverty line – as well as billions of pounds a year for developing countries – which could be spent on schools, hospitals and other essential services.

The organisations have proposed a Tax Dodging Bill which would make it harder for big companies to dodge UK taxes, stop them from getting unjustified tax breaks, make the UK tax regime more transparent and ensure UK tax rules don’t incentivise British companies to avoid tax in developing countries.

Christine Allen, of Policy and Public Affairs at Christian Aid said: "Tax dodging by multinationals operating in the UK costs billions of pounds a year in lost revenue, both in this country and in some of the world’s poorest nations. That money is desperately needed to tackle poverty. Tax avoidance is a fundamental moral problem running through our global economy."

The issue of companies neglecting to pay their fair share of taxes has caused widespread public outrage and has been the subject of various pledges by political parties, but campaigners say these moves don’t go far enough and farther reaching changes to tax rules are needed to outlaw this behaviour.

Jenny Ricks, Head of Campaigns at ActionAid added: "It’s clear the British public have had enough of tax dodging and aren’t convinced politicians are doing enough. The tax rules need to change so big companies, whether you’re Google, Amazon, or a UK company operating in poorer countries, pay their fair share. Making sure developing countries can raise their fair share of taxes offers a path out of poverty for billions of people."

Nick Bryer, Head of UK Campaigns at Oxfam declared: "The fact that some of the world’s biggest companies are dodging their taxes, whilst a nearly a billion people are still going hungry is scandalous. To fund the fight against poverty and to tackle increasingly extreme inequality, we need to make sure big companies are paying their fair share, here and in the world’s poorest countries."

A recent public opinion poll showed massive public support for tackling tax avoidance by large companies, with 85 per cent of British adults saying it is ‘morally wrong, even if it is legal’.

In the ComRes poll in November 2014, 78 per cent of respondents also said it was important to them that "large UK companies pay their fair share of tax in developing countries in which they operate."

Toni Pearce, NUS President, explained: "Corporate tax dodging sees those most able to contribute failing to properly do so, leaving the rest of society to pick up the bill. We are clear that we need action from government to ensure that loopholes are shut-down, so that everyone pays their fair share, which is why I want to see all parties committing to introduce a Tax Dodging Bill if they get elected in May."

The organisations launching the coalition are ActionAid, Christian Aid, Church Action on Poverty, Church Urban Fund, Equality Trust, Global Poverty Project, Health Poverty Action, High Pay Centre, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Methodist Tax Justice Network, NUS, Oxfam, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Restless Development, ShareAction, Tax Justice Network and War on Want.

The coalition includes organisations tackling domestic and global poverty, and represents some of the broad range of interests that support tackling tax dodging. Many others, including academics, economists, politicians and parts of the business community also want strong action to tackle tax dodging, although they are not formal members of this coalition.

Those include members and supporters of the Tax Justice Network, such as the Christian beliefs and politics think-tank Ekklesia, and former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.

Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow said: "While Ekklesia is not a formal member of the newly-launched Tax Dodging Bill coalition, we support the kind of changes it is advocating.

"As a Christian think-tank concerned with changing the agenda on politics and belief to benefit people and planet, and especially the poorest and most vulnerable or marginalised, we have been commenting, analysing, reporting and advocating on the need for just taxation policies actively since 2008.

"Fairer, more transparent and more effective policies to combat tax avoidance and evasion are part of a range of policies needed to rebalance global, regional, national and local economies in the direction of equality among peoples and environmental justice."

* More on tax justice from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/taxjustice

* Tax Dodging Bill campaign http://taxdodgingbill.org.uk

* Tax Dodging Bill: time for change (via Ekklesia): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21385

* Petition to support the Bill: http://www.taxdodgingbill.org.uk/#signup

* More on General Election 2015 issues from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

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