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Over 160 groups urgeTheresa May not to scrap Human Rights Act

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 20:40:42 +0000

A letter asking the Prime Minister to abandon plans to scrap the Human Rights Act has been signed by 164 organisations

A letter asking the Prime Minister to abandon plans to scrap the Human Rights Act has been signed by 164 organisations, including those working with new mothers, children, patients, carers, people with learning disabilities and mental ill-health, women experiencing violence, migrants and older people, and groups campaigning for LGBT rights, fair trials, access to justice, decent housing and against racial discrimination.

The British Institute for Human Rights (BIHR) published the letter today (10 December 2016), Human Rights Day, to show the breadth of support for the Human Rights Act across the UK. Amnesty International UK, Liberty and Human Rights Watch as well as trade unions and law firms have signed the letter.  

Stephen Bowen, Director of BIHR, said: "I hope the Prime Minister will listen to so many respected organisations, all with first-hand knowledge of how the Human Rights Act helps so many people in their everyday lives and why it isn’t something to scrap but something to cherish. These are uncertain times and Theresa May should not be adding to the legal confusion, risking further division, or signalling that the UK wants to walk away from international standards. Instead, she can give us all something to cheer by saving the Human Rights Act."

The letter reads: 

Dear Prime Minister,Today, on Human Rights Day, we will celebrate the difference the Human Rights Act makes to all our lives.

The Human Rights Act is something to cherish. It helps those delivering frontline services to make difficult ethical decisions and enables families to hold those in powerful positions to account. It is key to defending our free press and to protecting our democracy. It is the Bill of Rights we already have.

This year, huge uncertainty and upheaval began that will continue for years to come. It is not the time to add to the legal confusion, to risk further division or signal that the UK wants to walk away from international standards. Now is the time to champion, at home and abroad, the protection of hard-won human rights. For everyone.

The day you became Prime Minister you said your mission was to make Britain a country that works for everyone, including the disadvantaged. You said that when your government passes new laws you would listen to ordinary people and you would do everything you could to give them more control over their lives.

The Human Rights Act makes a much-valued difference to all our lives and for many people that difference is dramatic. Please, Prime Minister, drop the Government’s commitment to “scrap” the Human Rights Act. 

* British Institute for Human Rights https://www.bihr.org.uk/

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Boris Johnson 'must urge Gulf to end child death sentences'

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 22:35:00 +0000

The Foreign Secretary has been urged to use a visit to the Gulf today  to call for the release of juveniles and political dissidents sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The Foreign Secretary has been urged to use a visit to the Gulf today (9 December 2016) to call for the release of juveniles and political dissidents sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
 
Boris Johnson will travel to Bahrain today for meetings at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit. The trip follows a visit to the Gulf this week by the Prime Minister, Theresa May.
 
The international human rights organisation Reprieve had written to Mrs May urging her to press Saudi Arabia to release three juveniles – Ali al Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon, and Abdullah al Zaher – who face execution in Saudi Arabia on charges relating to protests; and a father of three, Mohammed Ramadan, who faces execution on similar charges in Bahrain. Earlier this week, Mr Ramadan's seven-year-old son Ahmed called on the Prime Minister to intervene for his father.
 
However, Downing Street would not confirm whether the Prime Minister had raised any individual cases – an apparent departure from previous statements. Mrs May’s predecessor, David Cameron, publicly called on the Saudi authorities not to execute the three juveniles, while the Foreign Office has confirmed that Boris Johnson has raised the cases in the past. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23617)

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have received substantial support and training from the UK for their prison and police services, despite concerns that both countries sentence people to death on political charges, often on the basis of ‘confessions’ signed under torture. This week, Mrs May said that the UK is “determined to continue to be your partner of choice as you embed international norms and see through the reforms which are so essential for all of your people.”    

Reprieve’s letter to the Prime Minister also warned that several more juveniles may have been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, and raised concerns over recently-announced plans in Kuwait to lower to 16 the age at which people can be sentenced to death.
     
Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: “Boris Johnson has a crucial opportunity this weekend to do what Theresa May failed to do, and seek to secure the release of juveniles and political dissidents who have been tortured and sentenced to death in the Gulf. The Prime Minister talked this week about helping the Gulf ‘embed international norms’ – surely this should include an end to such appalling abuses as police torture, forced ‘confessions’ and the death penalty for protesting. The Foreign Secretary must call clearly on Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to release juveniles like Ali al-Nimr, and innocent protestors like Mohammed Ramadan.”

* Reprieve http://www.reprieve.org.uk/

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Unions back JRF report on scandal of in-work poverty

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 16:39:20 +0000

The TUC has backed findings of a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report  which shows one in eight workers in the UK now live in poverty.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has backed findings of a Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report published this week, which shows one in eight workers in the UK now live in poverty.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:“A fair day’s work should mean a fair day’s pay. But wages are simply too low, and millions are struggling to afford the basics, even when they’re working hard.

“After the financial crisis, UK wages fell further than in any other developed country except Greece.

"It’s time for employers to give their staff fair pay and decent hours, while the government should lift the public sector pay cap and invest in our economy.

“And I’d encourage all working people to join a union. Unions can negotiate with employers to win better pay – union members in the private sector earn eight per cent more on average,” Ms O'Grady concluded.

The figure of eigt per cent higher pay for union members in the private sector is taken from the ONS Trade Union Statistical Bulletin 2015 (p14). Public sector union members earn 16 per cent more.

The figure on UK wage falls since the financial crisis is based on TUC analysis of OECD figures.

* Trades Union Congress

* JRF research reports




'Together we are stronger', says WCC chief in Bethlehem

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 10:10:19 +0000

Speaking in Bethlehem the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches has reflected on the light from the very first Christmas in the very same town, and what that light means in a global search for just peace. 

Speaking in Bethlehem, World Council of Churches General Secretary the Rev Dr Olav Fykse has Tveit reflected on the light from the very first Christmas in the very same town, and what that light means in a global search for just peace. 

“Our search for just peace is a response to the call to be the light of the world, a way to reflect the light of God, the light of faith, hope and love,” he said. “A just peace is needed all over the world.”

Tveit spoke at a conference marking the 7th anniversary of Kairos Palestine, a broadly ecumenical group of Palestinian Christian leaders calling for a strong commitment to participate fully in creative resistance to end Israeli occupation. The conference, titled “Faith, Sumoud, and Creative Resistance”, offered a forum for theological reflections on justice as well as practical discussions on current challenges to the Kairos Palestine movement.

Peace must be just to truly be peace not only in Bethlehem, Palestine and Israel but in Colombia, South Sudan, Korea, Ukraine and other places in the world, he said. “Such peace cannot be established with use of power, violence, occupation, walls, discrimination, violations of human rights. Peace must be just, and express what is right.”

Calling for peace is not just a vague idea, a certain interpretation of a holy text, or an historical interpretation, Tveit added. “It can be, and is, defined in international law and ratified in universal declarations of human rights, as a response to the enormous failures and tragedies of the last century,” he said. “We live in a time when many seem to ignore these standards and instruments for just peace between peoples and in communities, in marketplaces and in the whole of creation.”

If we are to be the light of the world, we must call for accountability to the common standards of international law that can help to establish justice and peace, Tveit urged.

“This means that there has to be an end to occupation. This means that there has to be an end to violence in all its forms, violence by individuals, and even more so structural violence and military violence. This means that each person’s dignity and rights must be protected and respected.”

* World Council of Churches




Most overcrowded prisons twice as likely to be failing

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 10:13:13 +0000

The 30 most overcrowded prisons in England and Wales are twice as likely to be rated as failing by the prison service compared with prisons overall, a new analysis published with the latest annual edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, supported by the Bromley Trust, reveals. The 30 most overcrowded prisons in England and Wales are twice as likely to be rated as failing by the prison service compared with prisons overall, a new analysis published with the latest annual edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, supported by the Bromley Trust, reveals. The new analysis of Ministry of Justice prison population and prison performance ratings by the Prison Reform Trust suggests that overcrowding is undermining the resilience of establishments and their ability to maintain safety and decency in the face of steep cuts to staffing and resources. It also shows that the top three most overcrowded prisons are all rated as “of concern” while five of the six prisons rated “of serious concern” by the prison service are overcrowded.  At the end of October 2016, 77 of the 117 prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded. Overcrowded prisons hold 10,442 more people than for which they were designed. Because people have to double up in cells to accommodate additional numbers, this means that over 20,000 people – nearly one quarter of the prison population – still share cells designed for fewer occupants, often eating their meals in the same space as the toilet they share. The prison system as a whole has been overcrowded in every year since 1994, largely driven by a rising prison population which has nearly doubled in the past two decades and now stands at 85,000. The government’s white paper on prison safety and reform holds out the ambition for a “less crowded” estate but contains little by way of concrete proposals to achieve that aim. In his evidence to the Justice Committee last week, the chief executive of the prison service, Michael Spurr, said that overcrowding would not be resolved in this, or the next Parliament. The Prison Reform Trust’s analysis shows a correlation between levels of overcrowding and prison performance. In the past three years, the proportion of prisons rated “of concern” or “of serious concern” by the prison service has doubled and the number now stands at 31 establishments. The number of prisons rated “exceptional” has plummeted from 43 in 2011–12 to only eight in 2015–16. The Prison Reform Trust’s analysis reveals that: The 30 most overcrowded prisons are twice as likely to be failing compared with prisons overall. Half (15) of the top 30 most overcrowded prisons are rated “of concern” or “of serious concern”. This compares to just over one quarter (31) of the 117 prisons in England and Wales. The top three most overcrowded prisons are all rated as “of concern”. The most overcrowded prison in England and Wales is Leeds. Designed to hold 669 men, it now holds 1,145. Second is Swansea (built to hold 268 men, it holds 456) and third is Wandsworth (built for 943, it holds 1,564). All are rated as “of concern”. Five of the six prisons rated “of serious concern” by the prison service are overcrowded. The six prisons rated as “of serious concern” are Doncaster, Bristol, Isis, Hewell, Wormwood Scrubs and Liverpool. Only Liverpool is currently operating below uncrowded capacity. Only one of the eight prisons –Whatton – rated as having “exceptional performance” is overcrowded. Overcrowding can affect the performance of prisons in a number of ways. It can impact on whether activities, staff and other resources are available to reduce the risk of reoffending. Inspections regularly find a third or more of prisoners unoccupied during the working da[...]



Indian authorities used 'excessive force' against protesters

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:39:25 +0000

A new report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) show that fromJuly 2016 up to early autumn, at least 87 people have been killed and more than 9,000 injured in clashes between Indian authorities and protesters across the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. A new report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) show that fromJuly 2016 up to early autumn, at least 87 people have been killed and more than 9,000 injured in clashes between Indian authorities and protesters across the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. PHR  reports that these fatalities and injuries were a result of Indian authorities using indiscriminate and excessive force – and demonstrated that security forces routinely blocked access to needed urgent care. The report – Blind to Justice: Excessive Use of Force and Attacks on Health Care in Jammu and Kashmir, India – found that police used 12-gauge shotguns loaded with metal pellets that directly caused an estimated 5,200 injuries and at least a dozen fatalities. Hundreds of injuries have resulted in permanent disability for protesters, including blindness. PHR concluded that security forces were indifferent to the harm they caused and consistently failed to adhere to international standards and principles guiding the use of force against both peaceful and sometimes violent protesters. “State police and Central Reserve Police Forces used what are essentially shotguns that can easily cause permanent injury and even death,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programmes. “As a result, thousands of protesters were hurt and some were blinded by weapons that, when fired at close range, can lead to devastating injuries and, in some cases, death. There is nothing ‘less than lethal’ about how these weapons were used.” PHR researchers interviewed doctors and bystanders to the protests – sparked in July by the killing of prominent militant leader Burhan Wani by Indian security forces – and reviewed hospital records from across the region. PHR’s study found that police routinely used these dangerous crowd-control weapons, including shotguns that fire cartridges containing more than 600 metal pellets. When fired, the pellets release from the cartridge and disperse, making the ammunition inherently indiscriminate and inaccurate. While Indian authorities claimed that the use of such weapons was meant to reduce the potential for injuries or fatalities, PHR found that their use actually caused serious injury and death. PHR forensic and medical analysts today said shotguns loaded with metal pellets should never be used to disperse demonstrators. “Calling these weapons pellet guns is a dangerous misnomer; these weapons use lead balls and are propelled with explosive gunpowder, making them incredibly lethal,” said PHR medical advisor Dr. Rohini Haar, who contributed her medical expertise to the report. “At close range, such weapons have the force of live ammunition. And at a distance, the pellets disperse and can take an unpredictable trajectory, meaning they can indiscriminately inflict severe injury on nonviolent protestors or bystanders, particularly when those pellets strike the head, neck, face, or eyes. Such weapons should never be used to disperse protestors, and India will see the long-term costs of these actions on the public health of the entire community.” In interviews with medical professionals in the region, PHR also found that Indian authorities routinely blocked access to urgent medical care for injured protesters by firing on ambulances, holding up emergency vehicles at roadblocks, and interfering with medical care inside hospitals. PHR today said such delays in care increased the likelihood of permanent injury and death of protesters. “Such delays in care are violations of the longstanding protections afforded medical workers and faci[...]



Leading NGOs call for May to show 'bold leadership' on Syria

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:16:45 +0000

As a humanitarian catastrophe worsens by the day in East Aleppo with tens of thousands of people at risk of starvation in what the UN has described as a "kill zone", eight CEOs of leading humanitarian organisations have written to Theresa May to urge her to work with European partners and the G7 to take bold steps to protect Syria's civilians. As a humanitarian catastrophe worsens by the day in East Aleppo with tens of thousands of people at risk of starvation in what the UN has described as a "kill zone", eight CEOs of leading humanitarian organisations have written to Theresa May to urge her to work with European partners and the G7 to take bold steps to protect Syria's civilians. The signatories, including Save the Children, Oxfam, CARE International, Christian Aid and Doctors of the World, said as a first step the Prime Minister should take immediate action to secure international agreement for air bridges to the million people living in besieged areas in Syria, including in East Aleppo, and to ensure that monitors are in place to guarantee any evacuation of civilians complies with international law. Air bridges entail helicopters carrying aid workers landing in besieged areas to deliver and distribute relief supplies. This is the first time many of the NGOs have called for air bridges in Syria, highlighting how desperate the situation has become. The letter comes as Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution yesterday on aid access in Syria for the sixth time, and as US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet today to discuss the evacuation of armed groups and civilians from Aleppo. Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children said: “There are still tens of thousands of children trapped in East Aleppo living through unimaginable horror and hardship. The world has utterly failed to protect them during months of siege and bombardment, but as the conflict intensifies and with the last UN food rations in the city exhausted, we could see hundreds more children killed before we can reach them through conventional routes. Air bridges are a last resort, and we have now reached that point in Aleppo. We can and must do this now.” The letter reminds the Prime Minister that the UK government has repeatedly stated that airdrops would be considered as a last resort if it is not possible to get trucks in – and that no food has been delivered to eastern Aleppo for over seven months and food supplies ran out on 10 November. The NGOs stress that delivery of aid via air is not a sustainable solution, but it would bring immediate and life-saving aid to families and send a clear signal that the starvation of civilians as a tactic of war is unacceptable. Laurie Lee, CEO of CARE International said: “Almost 70 years ago, CARE packages airlifted into West Berlin by British and American forces became a symbol of hope for Berliners facing a blockade. With worsening blockages in the Security Council, another air bridge can ensure that CARE packages from the world can once again be a sign of hope for besieged populations. We need to show the people of Eastern Aleppo that they are not alone and will not be forgotten.  We welcome the cross-party support of UK politicians on this issue. Now is the time to put it into action as this proud outward looking nation did once before.” The letter adds to the growing chorus of voices calling for urgent action to address the atrocities in Syria, joining over 200 MPs who are urging the UK to authorise airdrops of aid to besieged area. Almost 15,000 people have also signed a UK Parliament petition and a statement from 13 faith leaders has called for the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid to Aleppo. Eight organisations working on the ground in Syria have signed the letter to the PM. The full[...]



Theresa May fails to raise child executions at Gulf summit

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 20:43:57 +0000

Theresa May has apparently declined to raise the issue of the death penalty for juveniles and political protestors in Saudi Arabia, despite emphasising in a speech today that the UK is the Gulf’s “partner” in reform and of the “embedding” of international norms. Theresa May has apparently declined to raise the issue of the death penalty for juveniles and political protestors in Saudi Arabia, despite emphasising in a speech today (7 December 2016) that the UK is the Gulf’s “partner” in reform and of the “embedding” of international norms. Theresa May met yesterday with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman during her three-day visit to the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Bahrain. According to reports today, Downing Street could not confirm whether “specific cases of imprisoned or exiled dissidents” had been raised during the meeting. The comment appears to mark a change in stance from previous statements; as recently as September, the Foreign Office confirmed that Boris Johnson had raised with his Saudi counterparts the cases of three juveniles facing execution in the Kingdom. Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon and Abdullah al Zaher were arrested in relation to protests at the ages of 17, 17 and 15, and tortured into false ‘confessions.’ The Saudi authorities have executed several juveniles this year, and the international human rights organisation Reprieve has written to Theresa May, asking her to use this week’s Gulf visit to press for the release of the three. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23610) Reprieve has warned the Prime Minister of evidence that more juveniles have recently been sentenced to death. The Prime Minister’s predecessor, David Cameron, said last year that he would attempt to raise the cases with Saudi Arabia. Reprieve has also asked the Prime Minister to ask Kuwait to drop its plans to lower to 16 the age at which people can be executed; and to urge Bahrain to release prisoners who were tortured and sentenced to death for attendance at protests, such as father of three Mohammed Ramadan. The Prime Minister is due to meet with the King of Bahrain today. Yesterday Mr Ramadan’s wife, Zainab Ebrahim, appealed to Mrs May to secure his release. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have received substantial support and training from the UK for their prison and police services, and this morning, Mrs May said that the UK is “determined to continue to be your partner of choice as you embed international norms and see through the reforms which are so essential for all of your people.” However, Reprieve has raised concerns over both countries’ continued use of the death penalty and torture to extract false ‘confessions’. During 2016, Freedom of Information requests by Reprieve have revealed that: A Foreign Office project has seen hundreds of Bahraini prison guards in Bahrain’s death row jail; British Police have trained their Saudi counterparts in investigation techniques that could lead to the arrest, torture and sentencing to death of protesters; These projects have been undertaken without the safeguards that are supposed to be put in place under the Government’s flagship guidance on the death penalty and torture overseas – known as the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) guidance.(http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23452) Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: “Theresa May’s bid to be the Gulf’s ‘partner of choice’ sounds more like a sales pitch than a much-needed call for reform. Despite years of substantial UK support apparently intended to improve the human rights situation in the Gulf, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia continue to torture and sentence to death juveniles and political dissidents – an appalling breach of the ‘international norms’ that Mrs May says she wants [...]



Work, poverty, and Christianity

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 14:45:56 +0000

Work, poverty, and Christianity

read more




Israeli action on WCC leadership 'unjust, discriminatory and misinformed'

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 09:50:21 +0000

In a statement following Israeli authorities’ detention, interrogation and deportation of the World Council of Churches Associate General Secretary Prof Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri upon arrival in Tel Aviv, the WCC ”deeply regrets the Israeli antagonism against the WCC’s initiatives for peace with justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

In a statement issued on 6 December 2016, following Israeli authorities’ detention, interrogation and deportation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Associate General Secretary Prof Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri upon arrival in Tel Aviv, the WCC ”deeply regrets the Israeli antagonism against the WCC’s initiatives for peace with justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Phiri was travelling to attend consultations with church leaders in Jerusalem on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), one of the many programmes and activities supported by the WCC globally.

Noting that Phiri was the only African member of the WCC staff delegation, the only one denied entry, and that the reason given for her deportation was “Prevention of illegal immigration considerations”, the WCC has instructed its legal representatives to immediately lodge an appeal against “this patently unjust and discriminatory action against Phiri.”

“The accusations made against the WCC and the EAPPI programme in the interrogation of Dr Phiri and published in the media today are completely false” said WCC General Secretary the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. “I am very surprised and dismayed that the Israeli Ministry of Interior is apparently basing its decisions on incorrect and unreliable sources.”

Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI )is a concrete response to an appeal to the World Council of Churches from church leaders in Jerusalem in 2002. They wrote in a letter: “We would respectfully request protection of all people in order to assist the re-establishment of mutual trust and security for Israelis and Palestinians. Further, we would call on all peace-loving people from around the world to come and join us in a manifestation for just peace”.

Over 70 churches, ecumenical bodies and specialised ministries in 22 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America actively participate in the programme. Almost 1,800 accompaniers have participated.

* The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.

* World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/en

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New report shows in-work poverty at record high

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 09:35:11 +0000

An annual state of the nation report, Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion, written for the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation by the New Policy Institute, has found that 13.5 million people, 21 per cent of the  2016, UK’s population, are living in poverty. An annual state of the nation report, Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion, written for the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation by the New Policy Institute, has found that 13.5 million people, 21 per cent of the  2016, UK’s population, are living in poverty. The economic recovery has helped to stop poverty rates from rising higher, with overall poverty levels remaining flat compared to 2010. But the new report finds that there is growing insecurity underneath positive economic headlines. Since 2010/11, when the economic recovery began, in-work poverty has increased by 1.1 million people. The rise is being driven by the UK’s housing crisis, particularly high costs and insecurity in the private rented sector (PRS). The report finds that: The number of people in living in poverty in the PRS has doubled in a decade, from 2.2 million people in 2004/5 to 4.5 million people today. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of people in the bottom fifth of the income distribution and living in the PRS pay more than a third of their income in rent. This is compared to 28 per cent of owner occupiers and 50 per cent of social renters with similar income levels. Half of children living in rented homes (46 per cent in the PRS and 52 per cent in the social rented sector) live in poverty. There are 3.8 million workers living in poverty in the UK today, one million more than a decade ago. This is equivalent to 12 per cent of all workers in 2014-15. Once account is taken of the higher costs faced by those who are disabled, half of people living in poverty are either themselves disabled or are living with a disabled person in their household. Insecurity for renters has risen since 2010, with the number of evictions by a landlord rising from 23,000 in 2010/11 to 37,000 in 2015/16. Over the same period, mortgage repossessions have fallen from 23,000 to 3,300. The report highlights the difference in poverty levels across different regions of the UK. More than half of people in poverty in England live in London and southern England (the East, the South East and the South West), and the capital has the highest poverty rate at 27 per cent, six per cent above the UK average. There is a full breakdown of regional poverty statistics, including information on in-work poverty, regional income levels and poverty among people living in the PRS in the notes to editors. Positive news on economic growth and employment may have helped to avoid poverty rates rising higher overall. The report finds: The 16-64 employment rate is at the highest level ever, at 74.5 per cent, and the number of unemployed people has fallen to 1.6 million people, the lowest since 2007. The number of children living in a workless household has continued to fall and is now at 1.4 million, the lowest figure on record. 62 per cent of people in employment in 2016 are in full-time employee jobs, the same percentage as in 2010. Underemployment has fallen for the fourth consecutive year to five million. Helen Barnard, Head of Analysis at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “The UK economy is not working for low-income families. The economy has been growing since 2010 but during this time high rents, low wages and cuts to working-age benefits mean that many families, including working households, have actually seen their risk of poverty grow. “As it negotiates Brexit, it is vital that the Government does not allow its focus to slip from[...]



Northern Ireland First Minister urged to raise human rights during China visit

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 10:11:02 +0000

Amnesty International has called on Northern Ireland's First Minister, Arlene Foster, to use her visit to China this week to raise concerns about human rights abuses in China – including the country's widespread jailing of lawyers and its extensive use of the death penalty.

Amnesty International has called on Northern Ireland's First Minister, Arlene Foster, to use her visit to China this week to raise concerns about human rights abuses in China – including the country's widespread jailing of lawyers and its extensive use of the death penalty.

The First Minister is due to meet senior Chinese political and industry figures including Liu Yandong, the Chinese vice-premier, during the trip which started on 5 December 2016.

Patrick Corrigan, Programme Director for Amnesty International in Northern Ireland, said: "This is an opportunity for Northern Ireland's First Minister to raise the importance of human rights as a vital part of a fair society and a cornerstone of good international relations.

"We urge Mrs Foster to raise fundamental concerns about human rights violations in China, including the use of torture, the vast number of executions and the authorities' brutal repression of dissent. In particular, we'd like Ms Foster, as a lawyer herself, to raise concerns about the ongoing suppression of Chinese human rights lawyers and activists, and the case of the jailed Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.

"As the Northern Ireland Executive continues to grow its economic relationship with China, we must ensure it doesn't do so at the expense of human rights and the lives of people in China."

Freedom of expression is severely restricted in China, says Amnesty,  and anyone who speaks out against the authorities faces harassment, arrest and detention. Torture is widespread across the country and unfair trials are common.

China remains the world's top executioner – the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is considered a state secret, but it is estimated that thousands of executions are carried out annually in China, more than all countries still using capital punishment put together.

Hundreds of lawyers and activists have been targeted and branded as a "criminal gang" by the Chinese authorities in a widespread crackdown that started in July 2015 and continues to this day.

Freedom of religion continues to be systematically stifled. The government has recently been demolishing churches and taking down Christian crosses in the country's Zhejiang province.

* Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org.uk/

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Security Council resolution calling for ceasefire in Aleppo fails

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 09:56:30 +0000

The UN Security Council yesterday failed to adopt a resolution calling for a seven-day ceasefire in Aleppo that would allow humanitarian aid to reach people trapped in the war-ravaged Syrian city. The United Nations Security Council yesterday (5 December 2016) failed to adopt a resolution calling for a seven-day ceasefire in Aleppo that would allow humanitarian aid to reach people trapped in the war-ravaged Syrian city. The draft resolution proposed by Egypt, New Zealand and Spain was rejected because it received negative votes by permanent members Russia and China. Any negative vote, known as veto, from the Council’s five permanent members means a failed resolution. The text received 11 in favour, to three against (China, Russian Federation and Venezuela), with Angola abstaining. This outcome followed the Council’s unsuccessful attempts on 8 October to act on ending the bloodshed in besieged eastern Aleppo. That day, the Council voted on two resolutions, the one proposed by France and Spain and the other tabled by Russia. The draft resolution tabled today would have had the Council “decide that all parties to the Syrian conflict shall cease, 24 hours after the adoption of this resolution, any and all attacks in the city of Aleppo, including with any weapons, including rockets, mortars, and anti-tank guided missiles, and including shelling and airstrikes, to allow urgent humanitarian needs to be addressed for a period of seven days.” It would also have had the Council “expresses its intention to consider further extensions for seven-day periods on a recurring basis, and demands that all parties allow and facilitate immediate, safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all of Aleppo by the United Nations and its implementing partners.” According to the 5 December situation report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): Hostilities continued over the last 48 hours, but no additional displacement was reported on 3 and 4 December. An estimated 31,500 people from eastern Aleppo remained displaced within the entire city throughout the last six days. On 5 December, three NGOs in eastern Aleppo suspended all their health and nutrition activities. This decision follows the killing of one humanitarian staff and the attack on an NGO warehouse. In western Aleppo, poor living conditions in the cotton factory shelter have prompted the vast majority of 10,000 IDPs accommodated there to leave the shelter, and most of them now stay with family and acquaintances elsewhere in western Aleppo or in northern rural Aleppo. With the onset of winter, insufficient and inadequate shelter space is currently the biggest issue faced by IDPs. In addition, the need for more food distribution, particularly hot meals, and ready to eat meals, proper health care, especially for children, and increased protection requirements have been noted. With its plans to deliver assistance to besieged eastern Aleppo approved by the Government of Syria under the December convoy plan, the UN stands ready as soon as security and access guarantees can be obtained from all parties to the conflict. The UN will also provide humanitarian assistance to Kurdish-controlled Sheikh Maqsoud provided it receives authorisation to do so in the light of complex security and bureaucratic procedures. * Read the OCHA situation report here * United Nations http://www.un.org/en/index.html [Ekk/4] [...]



Six Brazilian Indians murdered as land conflict deepens

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 10:42:20 +0000

Six Amazonian Indians have been murdered in the latest wave of violence against Brazil’s indigenous population.

Six Amazonian Indians have been murdered in the latest wave of violence against Brazil’s indigenous population.

The men, of the Guajajara tribe in the north-eastern Amazon, were killed between September and November 2016. Their bodies were then brutally dismembered.

The six men are the latest victims of the land conflict which has engulfed the area. Several groups of Guajajara are at the forefront of efforts to evict illegal loggers from their forests, says Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples' rights.

The Brazilian NGO CIMI said of one of the men: “He was fighting to defend the indigenous territory against illegal logging, and he made those who live off this activity angry.”

The Guajajara have reported a constant stream of death threats from outsiders who are stealing their land and resources. A powerful and violent logging mafia operates in the region, supported by some local politicians.

Five Guajajara were murdered earlier this year. They were from Arariboia indigenous territory, where Indians known as the “Guajajara Guardians” are putting their lives on the line to expel loggers and save their uncontacted Awá neighbors from extinction.

Olimpio Guajajara, one of the Guardians, told Survival: “The Awá face genocide. Nobody has the right to take their land from them. Please help us protect it!”

Uncontacted tribes are the most vulnerable peoples on the planet and face catastrophe unless their land is protected.

Plans to drastically weaken indigenous land rights and cut and freeze funding to FUNAI, the body charged with protecting tribal lands, are currently being debated by Brazilian politicians. If approved, they would further worsen the plight of the Guajajara and tribes nationwide.

Brazilian Indians and their allies around the world are protesting against these dangerous proposals.

* Survival International http://www.survivalinternational.org/

[Ekk/4]




Theresa May urged to act on child death sentences at Gulf Summit

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 10:17:57 +0000

Theresa May is set to attend the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) this week, as a number of Gulf kingdoms continue to use the death penalty against children, or threaten to do so. Theresa May is set to attend the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) this week, as a number of Gulf kingdoms continue to use the death penalty against children, or threaten to do so. The international human rights organisation Reprieve has written to the Prime MInister, asking her to use the Summit to raise the cases of three prisoners sentenced to death as children in Saudi Arabia; and to call on Kuwait to reverse its plans to lower the age at which people become eligible for a death sentence to 16. Ms May is reportedly set to attend the GCC Summit in Manama, Bahrain  on 6-7 December as guest of honour.  The summit will be attended by a number of non-democratic kingdoms which have a record of using the death penalty against political opponents, protesters and children aged under 18. Saudi Arabia sentenced to death Abdullah al Zaher, Dawoud al Marhoon and Ali al Nimr for alleged involvement in protests in the kingdom, despite their being 15, 17 and 17 respectively at the time of their arrest.  All three remain imprisoned under sentence of death and could be executed at any time, without even their families being informed beforehand. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22380) According to Gulf News, the Kuwaiti Government recently announced that, from 2017, the age of eligibility for the death penalty would be lowered to 16.  The announcement was made by Bader Al Ghadhoori, the head of juvenile protection at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior, during a talk warning students about the use of social media and the internet. In Bahrain, Mohammed Ramadan is held under a sentence of death based on a ‘confession’ which was tortured out of him following his involvement in protests calling for reform in the country, says Reprieve. All three of these Gulf States enjoy a close relationship with the British Government, and many have received support and training from the UK for their prison and police services, despite their use of the death penalty and torture to extract false ‘confessions.’ During 2016, Freedom of Information requests by Reprieve have revealed that: British Police have trained their Saudi counterparts in investigation techniques that could lead to the arrest, torture and sentencing to death of protesters (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23142) An FCO project delivered by a Northern Irish government body has trained hundreds of Bahraini prison guards in the kingdom’s death row jail. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23493) These projects have been undertaken without the safeguards that are supposed to be put in place under the Government’s flagship guidance on the death penalty and torture overseas – known as the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) guidance. The letter, sent on 17 November by Reprieve director Maya Foa, asks that the Prime Minister …use [her] attendance at the GCC summit to: 1) Urge the Saudi authorities to commute the death sentences of Ali al Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon, and Abdullah al Zaher, and those of any other juveniles facing the death penalty in the country; 2) Call on the Bahraini Government to commute the death sentences handed to Mohammed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa, and to release the two men; 3) Request that Kuwait’s Government urgently call off its plans to lower to 16 the age at which individuals can receive the death pe[...]