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Inequality, scapegoating and misdirection

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 18:32:18 +0000

Inequality, scapegoating and misdirection

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Bahrain executions a 'dark day for human rights' in the country

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 10:45:58 +0000

Amnesty International has responded  to the execution yesterday of three men accused of killing three police officers in Bahrain.

Amnesty International has responded  to the execution yesterday (15 January 2017) of three men – Ali Abdulshaheed al-Sankis, Sami Mirza Mshaima' and Abbas Jamil Taher Mhammad al-Samea – accused of killing three police officers in Bahrain.

Amnesty's Campaigns Deputy Director Samah Hadid, said: "This is a dark day for human rights in Bahrain. These executions – the first to be carried out since 2010 – are a deeply regressive step for a country whose authorities' have repeatedly trumpeted their commitment to human rights.

"The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and the fact that this execution was carried out after an unfair trial and despite claims from the men that they were tortured in custody makes this news even more shocking.

"Instead of stepping up executions, the Bahraini authorities should establish an immediate moratorium on executions and work on abolishing the death penalty once and for all."

On 9 January, Bahrain's Court of Cassation upheld death sentences for the three men. It also upheld life sentences against seven others and the revocation of the nationality of eight of them. All ten men were convicted following an unfair trial in relation to the March 2014 killing of the three policemen, says Amnesty.

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

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Quakers receive award for pay transparency

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 10:32:22 +0000

Quakers in Britain have become the first major religious body to be awarded the Pay Compare Mark.The mark is awarded to employers who disclose the gap between their highest and lower paid workers on the Pay Compare website.

Quakers in Britain have become the first major religious body to be awarded the Pay Compare Mark.The mark is awarded to employers who disclose the gap between their highest and lower paid workers on the Pay Compare website.

A submission from Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) for Quakers in Britain, shows there are two pay scales, for those based in London and those outside it, both with a maximum of 1:4 ratio between the highest and lowest paid member of staff. This results in an overall ratio for BYM employees of 1:4.7 (one to four point seven). This covers all staff employed by the central body of the organisation, those of its commercial hospitality business and those employed regionally, for instance at the historic Swarthmoor Hall, in Cumbria.

The Quakers' award for transparency comes amid increasing concern over high levels of inequality in Britain. Media reports of the chief executives of the UK's leading companies now typically earning 129 times more than their average employee have prompted calls for organisations to be more transparent about the gaps between the highest and lowest paid within their workforce.

“Our vision of equality springs from our profound sense of the worth of every human being," said Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain. “Every person's life is sacred and in this we are all equal. Neither money nor status can serve as a true measure of the value of any individual or group."

“Publishing our pay ratio is an important part of our faith-led commitment to work for a more equal Britain," he said. “Quakers have been calling on the government to do more to tackle economic inequality. So it's only right that we are transparent about how we share financial rewards within our own organisation."

Some studies show that organisations with lower pay ratios experience greater loyalty, lower absenteeism and lower turnover among their staff.

Paul Grey agrees. He is the head of the Quakers' commercial hospitality company that welcomes around 320,000 customers a year to Swarthmoor Hall and to Friends House, the central offices and conference centre in London.

“Our pay ratio policy is an important factor behind our success as an ethical commercial business," he said. “Being transparent about how we reward staff has helped us to build a stronger staff community. Our customers can see we are putting into practice our values-based commitments."

Stuart Hill, Executive Director and founder of Pay Compare, described Quakers' award as a very exciting development and a real trailblazer. The Pay Compare website at was set up to make it easier for consumers, investors and others to support fairer employers

* Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends. Around 23,000 people attend 478 Quaker meetings in Britain. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.

*Quakers in Britain http://www.quaker.org.uk/

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Demagogues threaten human rights says new report

Sun, 15 Jan 2017 18:40:32 +0000

 The rise of populist leaders in the United States and Europe poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections while encouraging abuse by autocrats around the world, Human Rights Watch said  in launching its World Report 2017  The rise of populist leaders in the United States and Europe poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections while encouraging abuse by autocrats around the world, Human Rights Watch said  in launching its World Report 2017. Donald Trump’s election as US president after a campaign fomenting hatred and intolerance, and the rising influence of political parties in Europe that reject universal rights, have put the postwar human rights system at risk. Meanwhile, strongman leaders in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and China have substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security. These converging trends, bolstered by propaganda operations that denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis, directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality, Human Rights Watch said. In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights not as an essential check on official power but as an impediment to the majority will. “The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights,” Roth said. “Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism. They all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. In fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.” Roth cited Trump’s presidential campaign in the US as a vivid illustration of the politics of intolerance. He said that Trump responded to those discontented with their economic situation and an increasingly multicultural society with rhetoric that rejected basic principles of dignity and equality. His campaign floated proposals that would harm millions of people, including plans to engage in massive deportations of immigrants, to curtail women’s rights and media freedoms, and to use torture. Unless Trump repudiates these proposals, his administration risks committing massive rights violations in the US and shirking a longstanding, bipartisan belief, however imperfectly applied, in a rights-based foreign policy agenda. In Europe, a similar populism sought to blame economic dislocation on migration. The campaign for Brexit was perhaps the most prominent illustration, Roth said. Instead of scapegoating those fleeing persecution, torture, and war, governments should invest to help immigrant communities integrate and fully participate in society, Roth said. Public officials also have a duty to reject the hatred and intolerance of the populists while supporting independent and impartial courts as a bulwark against the targeting of vulnerable minorities, he said. The populist-fuelled passions of the moment tend to obscure the longer-term dangers to a society of strongman rule, Roth said. In Russia, Vladimir Putin responded to popular discontent in 2011 with a repressive agenda, including draconian restrictions on free speech and assembly, unprecedented sanctions for online dissent, and laws severely restricting independent groups. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, concerned about the slowdown in economic growth, has embarked on the most intense crackdown on dissent since the Tiananmen era. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, has honed a war-crime strat[...]



MPs warn 'long way to go' to meet Syrian refugee resettlement target

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 09:15:01 +0000

An influential group of MPs has warned there is a "long way to go" if the Government is to successfully meet its target of resettling 20,000 refugees from Syria by 2020. An influential group of MPs has warned there is a "long way to go" if the Government is to successfully meet its target of resettling 20,000 refugees from Syria by 2020. Although the Government says it has secured enough indicative pledges from local authorities to meet its target, in a report released today the Public Accounts Committee says success of the programme is dependent on pledges of offers of support from local authorities turning into firm places The Committee criticised confusion surrounding the scheme, and said both local councils volunteering to host refugees and the refugees themselves were not entirely sure what was expected of them. Some local councils are resettling refugees for the first time and are having to learn quickly about what’s required. The Refugee Council has been working in partnership with local authorities across the country for decades and is currently offering expert support to councils across Yorkshire and Hertfordshire as they resettle Syrian refugees. According to the latest statistics, 4,414 refugees have been resettled so far across the country. Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier MP said: "Syrians now make up the largest refugee population in the world and the UK is playing its part in helping people who are truly desperate. "While the programme team was right to take a fresh look at the programme last year, more work is needed to make it sustainable in the longer term. "This is a voluntary programme, but one with significant ambition, and it is vital councils’ initial pledges of help translate into firm offers of accommodation, support and services for refugees." Unlike refugees who are recognised through the asylum system, refugees who are resettled in the UK receive a programme of tailored integration support to help them settle into their new lives. However in their report, MPs highlighted that survivors of torture or violence, who make up the majority of those resettled in the UK, are still unable to access the specialist support they need. MPs also echoed the Refugee Council’s concern that humanitarian protection, the special type of leave to remain being given to resettled Syrians, is different to that granted to most other refugees and could prevent people from accessing certain public services such as higher education because of restrictions on student finance. The Refugee Council says all refugees, no matter how they arrived in the country, should be able to access help to rebuild their lives. Responding to the report, Refugee Council Director of Advocacy Dr. Lisa Doyle said:  "The Government’s target of resettling 20,000 people is more than achievable and local communities and charities like the Refugee Council are standing ready to help. "What’s needed now is an acknowledgement that the global refugee crisis isn’t going away anytime soon and that a longer term strategy for refugee resettlement is needed which clearly outlines roles, responsibilities, resources and an ambitious plan for welcoming refugees beyond 2020." * Refugee Council http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/ [Ekk/4] [...]



Refugees in Serbia experiencing 'life-threatening conditions'

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 08:55:26 +0000

Refugees in Serbia are experiencing life-threatening conditions as temperatures in the south of the country have plummeted to -30?C

Refugees in Serbia are experiencing life-threatening conditions as temperatures in the south of the country have plummeted to -30?C.

Marija Vranesevic, Programme Manager at Philanthropy – Christian Aid’s partner in Serbia, commented: "Refugees are being exposed to life-threatening conditions because of the extremely cold weather we are currently experiencing. They are also at risk of disease, as well as a flu epidemic.

"While most refugees are now staying in heated buildings, some are still outside of the camps. These people are particularly vulnerable. Every day we are seeing more and more refugees arrive. We are witnessing a visible increase in levels of anxiety and depression among the refugee population.

"The provision of food is becoming a major challenge for agencies. In this cold weather, people need access to hot, nutritious food, as well as adequate shelter and heating."

Yesterday (12 January 2017) it was reported that two Iraqi men died in Bulgaria after walking through the snow for 48 hours without access to food or water. In Greece, where temperatures have reached -14?C, an Afghan refugee has also died.

Tom Viita, Head of Advocacy at Christian Aid, said: "It’s wholly unacceptable that refugees are freezing to death, while European leaders turn a blind eye to the suffering of people on their doorsteps.

"European countries last year pledged to relocate 66,000 refugees from Greece. Yet almost a year on, only twenty per cent of them have been relocated. Across Europe the political will to act is falling desperately short of the human need.People need immediate protection. Governments and agencies need to pull together to stop people needlessly dying, and work to find effective longer-term solutions that honour everybody’s human dignity, regardless of origin."

Christian Aid partners in Serbia and Greece are currently providing hot meals, water and sanitation facilities, and cash assistance to refugee communities. In the sites in which the partners work, refugees have been moved into heated buildings.

In addition,  partners are providing legal protection services to unaccompanied children, and families, on the Greek mainland, and housing support to some of the most vulnerable refugees awaiting relocation to other countries in Europe. Christian Aid and its partners continue to provide support to refugees and displaced people in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, South Sudan, and many other countries throughout the world.

* Christian Aid http://www.christianaid.org.uk/

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'Final plea' to Obama to close Guantánamo

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 10:13:37 +0000

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of the first detainees arriving at the detention facility at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, Amnesty International warned that the fate of the remaining detainees must not be left in the hands of the incoming president, Donald Trump.

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of the first detainees arriving at the detention facility at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, Amnesty International warned that the fate of the remaining detainees must not be left in the hands of the incoming president, Donald Trump.

There are 55 people still held at Guantánamo, 45 of them detained without charge or trial. The ten others have faced or are facing military commission proceedings that fail to meet international fair trial standards binding on the USA, and six are currently facing the possibility of the death penalty after such unlawful trials.

Amnesty has published an open letter making a "final plea" to President Obama to close down the camp.

Although Mr Obama's administration has blamed the US Congress for blocking the closure of Guantánamo, under international law domestic legislation or politics are not legitimate excuses for a country's failure to meet its treaty obligations.

Meanwhile, President-elect Trump indicated before the US election that he would keep the Guantánamo detention facility open would "load it up with some bad dudes".

Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA said: "Eight years ago, President Obama began his presidency by pledging to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. He should end his presidency by fulfilling that promise.

"Today, it remains a living symbol of US human rights abuses. The vast majority of the people who remain there have never been charged with, let alone tried for, any crime.

"President-elect Trump has indicated that, instead of closing Guantánamo, he would like to add to the population or attempt a return to large-scale, systematic torture. The urgency is clear: President Obama must not leave Guantánamo to Trump."

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: "Successive UK governments have publicly supported the closure of Guantánamo and this must continue under Donald Trump.

"There should be no question of the UK accepting the 'normalisation' of Guantánamo under President Trump. If there are detainees still behind bars at Guantánamo on 20 January, we'd want to see UK minsters firmly and unequivocally calling for Guantánamo's closure and for all remaining detainees to be either properly tried in civilian courts or released."

About half of the detainees still at Guantánamo were, before being transferred to the base, held in the CIA's secret detention programme, and Guantánamo itself was used as a CIA 'black site' during 2003 and 2004. Enforced disappearance and other forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were widely used within the CIA programme. There has been almost no accountability for the numerous human rights violations committed as part of this programme, says Amnesty.

* Read Amnesty International's letter to President Obama here

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

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Liberty launches crowdfunded legal challenge to mass surveillance powers

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 09:43:02 +0000

The civil liberties and human rights organisation Liberty is launching a landmark legal challenge to the extreme mass surveillance powers in the Government’s new Investigatory Powers Act The civil liberties and human rights organisation Liberty is launching a landmark legal challenge to the extreme mass surveillance powers in the Government's new Investigatory Powers Act – which allows the state to monitor everyone's web history and email, text and phone records, and hack computers, phones and tablets. Liberty is seeking a High Court judicial review of the core bulk powers in the so-called Snoopers' Charter – and calling on the public to help it take on the challenge by donating via crowdfunding platform CrowdJustice Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: "Last year, this Government exploited fear and distraction to quietly create the most extreme surveillance regime of any democracy in history. Hundreds of thousands of people have since called for this Act's repeal because they see it for what it is – an unprecedented, unjustified assault on our freedom. "We hope anybody with an interest in defending our democracy, privacy, press freedom, fair trials, protest rights, free speech and the safety and cybersecurity of everyone in the UK will support this crowdfunded challenge, and make 2017 the year we reclaim our rights." The Investigatory Powers Act passed in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition last year, despite the Government failing to provide any evidence that such indiscriminate powers were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime. A petition calling for its repeal has since attracted more than 200,000 signatures. Liberty will seek to challenge the lawfulness of the following powers, which it believes breach the public's rights: ·Bulk hacking – the Act lets police and agencies access, control and alter electronic devices such as computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, regardless of whether their owners are suspected of involvement in crime – leaving them vulnerable to further attack by hackers. · Bulk interception – the Act allows the state to read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on calls en masse, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity. · Bulk acquisition of everybody's communications data and internet history – the Act forces communications companies and service providers to hand over records of everybody's emails, phone calls and texts and entire web browsing history to state agencies to store, data-mine and profile at its will. This provides a goldmine of valuable personal information for criminal hackers and foreign spies. · 'Bulk personal datasets' – the Act lets agencies acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. These contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems, potentially on the entire population – and are ripe for abuse and discrimination. Liberty is launching this challenge just weeks after a landmark ruling from the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) rendered core parts of the Investigatory Powers Act effectively unlawful. In a challenge to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) by MP Tom Watson, represented by Liberty, the CJEU ruled the UK Government was breaking the law by indiscriminately collecting and accessing the nation's internet activity and phone records. DRIPA forced communications companies to store records of everyone's emails, texts, phone calls and internet communications and let hundreds of public bodies grant themselves access with no suspicion of serious crime or independent sign-off. Judges ruled the regime breached British people's rights because it: · Allowed indiscriminate retention of all communications data. · Did not[...]



UN chief makes case for new efforts to build and sustain peace

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 09:34:04 +0000

Delivering his first formal briefing to the Security Council, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres underlined the need for new, strengthened efforts to build and sustain peace ranging from prevention, conflict resolution and peacekeeping to peacebuilding and sustainable development. Delivering his first formal briefing to the Security Council, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres underlined the need for new, strengthened efforts to build and sustain peace ranging from prevention, conflict resolution and peacekeeping to peacebuilding and sustainable development. “We spend far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them. People are paying too high a price […] We need a whole new approach,” Mr Guterres emphasised at a Security Council debate on conflict prevention and sustaining peace. He added, however, that it has also been difficult to persuade decision-makers at national and international levels that prevention must be their priority. “Perhaps because successful prevention does not attract attention. The television cameras are not there when a crisis is avoided.” In his address, the UN chief, whose five-year term began on 1 January, noted that while most of the contemporary conflicts are essentially internal, their consequences become regional and even global. Noting that UN’s response to such challenges remains fragmented, Mr. Guterres highlighted that changes needed to be made to rebalance the approach to peace and security. “For decades, this has been dominated by responding to conflict. For the future, we need to do far more to prevent war and sustain peace”, he said. He also informed the Council members on reform initiatives within the UN Secretariat, in particular with regard to the decision-making process and strengthening the capacity to integrate all pillars of the UN – peace and security; human rights and development – and called on the Security Council as well as the 193-member General Assembly for their support. Further in his address, the Secretary-General called on all sections of the society for greater political, cultural and economic investments in inclusivity and cohesion, so that people appreciate the benefits of diversity rather than perceiving it as a threat. “All groups need to see that their individual identities are respected, while feeling that they belong as valued members of the community as a whole,” he stated, particularly emphasising the role of civil society in raising the alarm when this respect is threatened or lost. Urging the Council to make greater use of the options laid out in Chapter VI of the UN Charter, dealing with pacific settlement of disputes, Mr Guterres pledged the support of his "good offices", as well as his personal engagement. He also cautioned that many opportunities to prevent conflict have been lost due to UN Member States mistrusting each other’s motives and because of concerns over national sovereignty. Adding that while such concerns were understandable, in a world where power is unequal and principles have sometimes been applied selectively, he underlined that prevention should never be used to serve other political goals. “On the contrary, prevention is best served by strong sovereign States, acting for the good of their people.” Mr Guterres further underscored that prevention must consistently be seen as a value in itself. “It is an essential means of reducing human suffering and enabling people to reach their full potential”, he said, and added that international cooperation for prevention, and in particular translating early warning into early action depended on trust between Member States, and in their relations with the UN. “Disagreements about the pas[...]



High Court to consider legality of arms exports to Saudi Arabia

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 09:10:40 +0000

Between 7 and 9 of February 2017, the High Court in London will hear a judicial review into the legality of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in the ongoing bombing of Yemen. The review follows an application by Campaign Against Arms Trade

Between 7 and 9 of February 2017, the High Court in London will hear a judicial review into the legality of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in the ongoing bombing of Yemen. The review follows an application by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "This legal action will set an important precedent. UK arms have been central to the devastation of Yemen and the humanitarian crisis it has caused. The fact that UK aircraft and bombs are being used in the destruction is a terrible sign of how the UK government is putting arms company profits ahead of human lives."

As set out in the claim, a range of international organisations including a UN Panel of Experts, the European Parliament and many humanitarian NGOs, have condemned the ongoing Saudi air strikes against Yemen as unlawful. The violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) found by the bodies listed include:

  • A failure to take all precautions in attack as required by IHL
  • Attacks causing disproportionate harm to civilians and civilian objects.
  • A failure to adhere to the principle of distinction and/or the targeting of civilians and civilian objects and those not directly participating in hostilities.
  • The destruction of Cultural Property and/or a failure to adhere to the immunity to be afforded to such property during armed conflict.

UK arms export licensing criteria say that licences should not be granted if there is a clear risk that equipment might be used in violation of IHL. By any reasonable understanding this should end arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.

  • £2.2 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £1.1 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
  • £430,000 worth of ML6 licences (Armoured vehicles, tanks)

Andrew Smith continued: "If our action is successful then it will set a vitally important precedent. If UK arms export criteria means anything at all then the government must end its complicity and stop arming Saudi Arabia."

The claim which will be considered calls on the Department of International Trade to suspend all extant licences and stop issuing further arms export licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen while it holds a full review into the compatibility of the exports with UK and EU legislation.

* Campaign Against Arms Trade https://www.caat.org.uk/

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Theresa May and mental health - first do no harm

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 12:15:32 +0000

Theresa May and mental health - first do no harm

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Howard League responds to Hewell prison inspection

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 10:16:46 +0000

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Hewell prison, published today.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Hewell prison, published today (10 January 2017).

Inspectors visited Hewell in August and September 2016 and, while noting some improvements, they found that it remained a prison with “many challenges and areas of serious concern”.

Levels of self-injury had risen, and four prisoners had taken their own lives since the previous inspection, which had been conducted in July 2014. Inspectors found that the prison “had not applied itself with sufficient determination” to implement recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following investigations into these tragedies.

The inspection found that first night arrangements for men arriving at the prison were chaotic, with staff overwhelmed and prisoners feeling unsafe.

Hewell’s segregation unit was found to be in a “terrible” state. Many cells around the prison were overcrowded or in a similarly poor condition. The inpatient facility in health care was adjudged to be very poor.

Inspectors found too many prisoners locked in their cells during the working day, but most had access to some learning and work opportunities.

Conditions were better at The Grange, an old country house linked to the main prison, which operates as an open prison holding 200 prisoners. Inspectors found that it was safe, respectful, and ensuring reasonably good regime and resettlement opportunities.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “No one should be so desperate while in the care of the state that they take their own life.

“Four men had lost their lives to suicide in Hewell in the two years between this inspection and the previous one, and it is alarming that recommendations made to prevent further tragedies have not been implemented with sufficient rigour.

“Today’s report is the latest in a long line of inspections that make clear the need for urgent reform of the prison system. Allowing the prison population to grow unchecked while cutting resources has created a toxic mix of violence, death and human misery.

“Solving the problems behind bars will require bold action to stop sending so many people to these failing institutions, where they are swept away into deeper currents of crime.”

* Download the report on HMP Hewell here

* Howard League for Penal Reform http://howardleague.org/

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TUC analysis shows unsecured household debt at new peak

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 09:57:10 +0000

New analysis by the TUC shows that household debt rose sharply over 2016, with unsecured debt reaching new highs.

New analysis published on 8 January 2016 by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) shows that household debt rose sharply over 2016, with unsecured debt (debt other than mortgages) reaching new highs.

The TUC says weak wage growth has left more families reliant on borrowing to support their living standards.

The analysis finds that:

  • Unsecured debt per household rose to £12,887 in the third quarter of 2016, which is up £1,117 on a year earlier – the highest annual increase since at least 1997.
  • Total unsecured debt rose to £349 billion in the third quarter of 2016 – a record high, and well above the £290 billion peak in 2008 ahead of the financial crisis
  • Unsecured debt as a share of household income is now 27.4 per cent – the highest it’s been for eight years.

The findings echo recent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) figures showing that households are saving less than ever, and Bank of England data showing consumer credit growing at its fastest rate for 11 years.

The TUC says that the growth of consumer credit should worry the government as a sign that fundamental problems with the economy, such as weak pay growth and low public investment, have not been fixed.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These increases in household debt are a warning that families are struggling to get by on their pay alone. Unless the government does more for working people, they could end the New Year poorer than they start it.

“Employment may have risen, but wages are still worth less today than nine years ago. The government is relying on debt-fuelled consumer spending to support the economy, with investment and trade in the doldrums since the financial crisis.

“There’s a lot the government could do to help. Public sector workers who have suffered severe cuts to their real pay since 2010 are long overdue a decent pay rise. The minimum wage needs to keep rising so the lowest paid workers can keep up with rising prices. And a major programme of public investment in rail, roads, new homes and clean energy could be targeted at communities where decent jobs are in short supply.”

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

[Ekk/4]




Obama urged to close Guantanamo 'before it’s too late'

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 09:45:35 +0000

The international human rights organisation Reprieve, which represents detainees at Guantanamo Bay, has urged President Obama to take steps to close the prison ahead of the 15th anniversary of its opening on 11 January 2017.

The international human rights organisation Reprieve, which represents detainees at Guantanamo Bay, has urged President Obama to take steps to close the prison ahead of the 15th anniversary of its opening on 11 January 2017.

President-elect Donald Trump has announced his intention to keep Guantanamo open. Last week, he tweeted that “there should be no further releases” from the prison.

The Bush Administration opened the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay on 11 January 2002. Among the hundreds imprisoned there – without charge or trial – were children, journalists, victims of mistaken identity, and people who were tortured into false ‘confessions’.

On taking office in January 2009, President Obama signed an executive order to shut down the prison. However, his Administration has faced criticism over lengthy delays in releasing prisoners – many of whom were unanimously cleared by six US federal agencies, under a system set up by Obama himself.

Some 55 prisoners remain at the prison today. Among them are Haroon Gul – an Afghan refugee who was imprisoned in 2007, after US forces mistakenly identified him as a different man; and Khaled Qassim, who was caught up in a sweep of arrests in Afghanistan in the months following September 11th 2001. Local forces in the area were offered large sums of money at the time in exchange for Arab prisoners.

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis – a Reprieve lawyer for several Guantanamo prisoners – said: “It should disgust every American – Donald Trump included – that for 15 years and counting, the US has held scores of prisoners without charge or trial. The vast majority were not even captured on the battlefield and posed no threat whatsoever to the US or its allies. We have to hope that after January 20th, Trump will look at the facts and see that Gitmo’s continued existence is a shocking affront to the US Constitution. In the meantime, Obama must do everything in his power to close the prison – before it’s too late.”

* Read more about Haroon Gul here and Khalid Qassim here

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

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WCC chief calls for strengthened Middle East peace efforts

Mon, 09 Jan 2017 09:33:52 +0000

Repeated and new forms of violence in Middle East, notably in Jerusalem, Damascus and Baghdad, is strongly condemned, and calls for more prayer and strengthened peace efforts to halt extremists seeking to divide humanity, says the World Council of Churches’  General Secretary. Repeated and new forms of violence in Middle East, notably in Jerusalem, Damascus and Baghdad, is strongly condemned, and calls for more prayer and strengthened peace efforts to halt extremists seeking to divide humanity, says the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) General Secretary. “Once again, people going about their daily lives, in celebration of holidays, have suffered violent attacks”, said the WCC’s General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, in a statement on 8 January 2017 As three cities in Middle East suffered attacks on the same day, the WCC leader condemned any act of terror, including state terror, denouncing the violence, and mourning the loss of life, extending prayers for the victims and their families. “We must join together, not just to condemn these actions but to strengthen our pursuit of just peace, and our resolve not to allow extremist violence to separate us from each other”, said Tveit. He noted, “People in Jerusalem suffered a terrible incident today. Again a truck was used as mass-murder weapon. This is to be condemned by all. Every life is precious.” Four people were killed in Jerusalem by a Palestinian who rammed a lorry into a group of soldiers, three women and a man, all in their twenties, and at least 13 more were wounded, in what Israeli police said was a terrorist attack. In Damascus, at least five people were killed and 15 injured after a car bomb exploded in Syria's province of Damascus, outside the capital, new wire reports said, citing a source in the Syrian police. In Iraq, a car bomb struck a market in eastern Baghdad, killing at least 12 people and injuring dozens more. Tveit assured those in Jerusalem, Baghdad and Damascus and across the world that the WCC fellowship stands with them in prayer, mourning and steadfast hope. “We pray for the victims and their families”, he said, “and we seek God’s mercy, love and grace that we may be empowered with strength to continue our pilgrimage of justice and peace.” Tveit underlined "Now is the time to build national and joint international responsible leadership to find political solutions and joint efforts to establish peace with justice in this region of the world, which has been so militarised and ordinary citizens have become the victims." * 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 [Ekk/4] [...]