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Pakistan ‘may limit’ death penalty, amid fears for mentally ill prisoner

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 09:30:12 +0000

Pakistan says it is seeking ways to limit the scope of the death penalty, amid fears for a mentally ill prisoner who faces hanging as early as next week.

Pakistan says it is seeking ways to limit the scope of the death penalty, amid fears for a mentally ill prisoner who faces hanging as early as next week.

Speaking on Monday at an event at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the First Secretary of Pakistan’s Permanent Mission to the UN said the government was examining the country’s penal code to determine whether the death penalty could be “narrowed”, saying: “We are looking at the option of enhancing the duration of life sentence instead of awarding death sentences.” She added: “Pakistan remains fully committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of all our citizens.”

Pakistan has executed some 419 people since the lifting of a moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014, making it one of the world’s most prolific executing states. Research last year by Reuters and human rights organisation Reprieve found that  – despite a claim by the Pakistani government to be targeting ‘terrorists’  – fewer than one in six of those prisoners who had been hanged could be linked to militancy.

Among those currently facing execution is Imdad Ali, a former electrician who is severely mentally ill. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23434) On September 27 2016,  Pakistan’s Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Mr Ali to stop his hanging, which had been scheduled to take place last week. Ruling that the execution could go ahead, the Court said that a large proportion of prisoners in Pakistan suffer from mental illness and that they “cannot let everyone go.” He could now be hanged as early as next week, despite a prison medical report from earlier this month describing him as “insane.”

The execution of mentally ill people is prohibited under Pakistani and international law. Yesterday, several UN human rights experts urged Pakistan to halt Mr Ali’s execution, while Amnesty International and the Asian Human Rights Commission have also called for the hanging to be stopped.

Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:“While it’s encouraging to hear that Pakistan’s government may finally be turning away from its recent shameful spree of executions, the authorities must act now to prevent another illegal hanging. Imdad Ali could be executed within days, despite the government’s own doctors having declared him ‘insane’ – his hanging would be a grave breach of Pakistani and international law. If Pakistan’s leaders are serious about scaling back the death penalty, they must start right away, and call off Imdad’s execution.”

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

[Ekk/4]




‘Ministers let us down’ child abuse victims tell Northern Ireland Assembly

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 09:16:25 +0000

Victims of child abuse have told a Northern Ireland Assembly committee that The Executive Office has failed to prepare for the establishment of a compensation scheme following the conclusion of the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry. Victims of child abuse have told a Northern Ireland Assembly committee that The Executive Office has failed to prepare for the establishment of a compensation scheme following the conclusion of the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry. The representatives of a range of child abuse survivor groups told the Committee for The Executive Office that despite a November 2015 announcement by Sir Anthony Hart, chair of the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry, that he will recommend a financial compensation scheme for victims when he reports in January 2017, Ministers have made no preparations to set up such a scheme and some have repeatedly refused to meet with victims. Victims from four different survivor groups have come together with experts from Amnesty International, Ulster University and other organisations to establish a Panel of Experts on Redress which has now produced two reports setting out proposals for a compensation scheme. But despite repeated requests over a period of nine months, the groups say that neither the First Minister nor successive DUP Junior Ministers have agreed to meet with victims to discuss the way ahead. Victims say that Sinn Féin Junior Ministers have met the group in their capacity as MLAs on several occasions and that the deputy First Minister has agreed to meet them in the near future. Victims' campaigners want The Executive Office to consult with abuse survivors about the establishment of a compensation scheme. They want Ministers to set up a negotiation process to agree the details of the scheme and the financial contribution to be made by religious orders and other organisations which ran many of the children's homes where abuse took place. Margaret McGuckin of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA) said: "It is the responsibility of The Executive Office to set up a redress scheme for victims of institutional abuse. But as far as we can tell, they have done next to nothing to prepare for the establishment of such a fund despite the end of the public inquiry and the imminent delivery of Sir Anthony Hart's report. "We have been extremely disappointed that Ministers have repeatedly failed to respond to our requests for meetings. It has been left to victims themselves to do the work of government by consulting with abuse survivors across Northern Ireland, studying similar schemes in other jurisdictions and making detailed recommendations to Ministers. In return, there has only been official silence. We feel let down by the First Minister and her Junior Ministers." Jon McCourt of Survivors North West, said: "The commitment of Chairman of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry to the establishment of a financial compensation scheme for victims has been a welcome move, and has naturally built expectations among abuse survivors. Rather than continually excuse lack of forward movement by 'not being seen to predetermine or prejudice the outcome of the Inquiry', we had hoped that The Executive Office would have followed Sir Anthony Hart's lead and progressed discussions with the relevant institutions, aimed at scoping potential resources and services to meet the needs of victims and survivors in preparation for the forthcoming report. "Victims and survivors are a very vulnerable group – some of them are very elderly and have health problems. It should be realised that additional stress, an undetermined outcome and the apparent lack of movement by The Executive Office, just add to their concern and vulnerability. "It is up to The Executive Office to take steps to set up the Redress Scheme and to consult and communicate their plans fully with Victims and Survivors Groups. So far they are failing on both counts." Margaret McG[...]



UN expert raises alarm as Brazilian Indians fight 'genocide'

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 07:52:19 +0000

A UN expert has warned that the Brazilian government is failing to recognise the rights of the country’s indigenous peoples after seeing first hand their shocking conditions. Many tribes around the country are subjected to genocidal violence by outsiders intent on stealing their lands and resources. A UN expert has warned that the Brazilian government is failing to recognise the rights of the country’s indigenous peoples after seeing first hand their shocking conditions. Many tribes around the country are subjected to genocidal violence by outsiders intent on stealing their lands and resources. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN expert on indigenous peoples, highlighted the “regression in the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights” in Brazil, noting: “Despite the hardships [Brazilian Indians] have endured, they remain unwavering in their resolution to preserve their lands… and to determine their own futures.” Survival International, the global mevement for tribal peoples' rights say many tribes suffer from disease and malnutrition, communities are attacked and leaders are killed. According to a new report by the Brazilian NGO CIMI, 137 Brazilian Indians were killed in 2015. Several indigenous leaders traveled to Geneva last week, to participate in a meeting at which Tauli-Corpuz presented her findings. Eliseu Lopes, a Guarani leader, told the UN: “We have no water or proper food. We are human beings, but they spray pesticides as if we were pests… Despite the killing of our leaders and the massacre of our people, we will keep fighting for our ‘tekoha’ (ancestral land).” Survival International reports that the Guarani are forced to live in appalling conditions on roadsides and in overcrowded camps following the theft of their land for large scale plantations. The Guarani and dozens of other tribes are campaigning against ‘PEC 215,’ a proposed change to the constitution which would drastically weaken their land rights, making a return to their land almost impossible. The indigenous delegation called for their lands to be protected as a matter of urgency. Their futures are at stake as anti-indigenous politicians are gaining ground in Congress. President Temer has threatened further cuts to the budget of Brazil’s indigenous affairs department, FUNAI, to levels which would prevent it from doing its job and leave indigenous territories at the mercy of invaders. Survival and its supporters around the globe are calling for PEC 215 to be scrapped and for indigenous land rights to be upheld. Without their land, tribal peoples face catastrophe. In her report, Tauli-Corpuz also emphasised that indigenous peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world. But in many cases they are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of conservation. Tauli-Corpuz noted that conservation attempts have been “associated with human rights violations against indigenous peoples in many parts of the world” and called for “States and conservation organisations to actively promote the rights of indigenous peoples.” * Read Victoria Tauli-Corpuz's report here * Survival International http://www.survivalinternational.org/ [Ekk/4] [...]



Tax a 'vital weapon against poverty' and UK should use it better

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 07:27:23 +0000

The UK’s aid watchdog has highlighted how the Department for International Development could more effectively help poor countries to tackle the tax avoidance and evasion that rob them of billions, in a new report welcomed by Christian Aid. The UK’s aid watchdog has highlighted how the Department for International Development could more effectively help poor countries to tackle the tax avoidance and evasion that rob them of billions, in a new report welcomed by Christian Aid. “Helping poor countries collect the taxes they are due is just the kind of smart aid that Priti Patel should be championing: stronger tax systems deliver an immediate impact and help developing countries stand on their own two feet,” said Toby Quantrill, Christian Aid’s Principal Adviser on Economic Justice. “But the UK’s independent aid watchdog confirms today that the global tax system is fundamentally unfair to developing countries - and that UK support for tax collectors in developing countries is being undermined by its defence of outdated tax rules.” He added: “The UK Government should rethink this two-faced approach and expand its support beyond training poor countries’ tax officials, to help ensure that global rules are better suited to the situation of poor countries. “It should also help ensure citizens know how their taxes are spent, that governments receive the information they need to collect tax and that they are being held account to ensure they collect sufficient taxes from those that can most afford it.” Commenting on the report released on 23 September 2016 by the UK’s Independent Commission For Aid Impact (ICAI), Mr Quantrill said: “This report echoes our own experience and the experience of our colleagues in developing countries. We hope it will persuade DFID to pay more attention to the power and politics of taxation, rather than focusing purely on the technical side of tax collection. “As ICAI makes clear, doing good work to help developing countries strengthen their tax collection departments is not enough, on its own, to help them catch up with the wealthy individuals and multinational corporations robbing them of billions. “For that to happen, developing countries need global rules that work for them, and need access to the information they urgently need to track down those moving and hiding money ‘offshore’, in tax havens including those controlled by the UK. “The governments of poor countries must be involved in a genuinely inclusive process of global rule-making on tax. Also, and just as critically, their citizens and civil society organisations in poor countries should be provided with the information, expertise and support they need to engage in global debates and to hold their own governments to account more effectively.” Mr Quantrill added: “ICAI is also right to say that it is disappointing that the UK has not been better at ensuring that its good work in poor countries is not undermined by its own tax policies and practices. “There are many things that could be done by the UK government to ensure that poor countries’ governments have a better chance of collecting taxes from the UK-based companies operating in their countries and from rich individuals who chose to hide their money in UK controlled tax havens.”  Read the ICAI  report here http://icai.independent.gov.uk/html-report/uk-aids-contribution-to-tackl... * ICAI http://icai.independent.gov.uk/ * Chrisian Aid http://www.christianaid.org.uk/ [Ekk/4] [...]



Ban Ki-moon pledges UN support to historic Colombian peace deal

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 08:42:57 +0000

The UN Secretary-General has welcomed the signing by the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC-EP) of a peace deal ending more than 50 years of conflict. Colombians are “bidding farewell to decades of flames and sending up a bright flare of hope that illuminates the world,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday (26 September 2016) in Cartagena, welcoming the signing by the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC-EP) of a peace deal ending more than 50 years of conflict. Deeply moved to see thousands of Colombians at the signing ceremony, Mr Ban said he was honored to celebrate the achievement of the parties “and that of countless Colombians who never lost hope in peace.” Since 2012, parties have been in talks hosted in Havana, Cuba. Throughout, negotiators have reached agreements on key issues such as political participation, land rights, illicit drugs and victims' rights and transitional justice. Among other developments, the Government and the FARC-EP announced in May an agreement to release and reintegrate child soldiers from the opposition force. The parties also announced the establishment of a gender sub-commission to bolster the voice of women in the peace process. In his remarks, the Secretary-General recalled when that when he first visited Colombia five years ago, the adoption of the Victims’ Law had begun to build the foundations for peace. “You had the vision to bring the victims to the forefront. What they have lost can never be restored. Yet victims have been among the most forceful voices for peace and reconciliation, and against bitterness and hatred. Their example should be an inspiration to all”, he said. Commending the parties for the first steps they have taken to acknowledge responsibility for tragic events of the conflict, the UN chief encourages them to continue on this path and, welcoming the commitments made to ensure truth, justice and reparations for all victims, he said: “This is how healing begins.” With a ceasefire now in effect and violence in the country reduced significantly, the Secretary-General said that lives have already been saved. Moreover, the initial release of minors is a welcome beginning, he noted, commending the negotiating teams that worked tirelessly in Havana who had shown the courage that will be needed in the crucial period ahead. The agreements promise not only to stop the armed conflict, but to create the conditions for lasting peace based on equitable development, human rights and inclusion. They envision a peace that values and ensures the participation of women, and a future in which there is room in politics for all, “but no room in politics for violence” he said. And while the divisions and distrust from decades of conflict run deep, “I hope that the Colombian people can overcome the pain, join together and make this a truly national project.” He also emphasised that the peace process has been led by Colombians “every step of the way.” With the peace accord reached, the parties have now entrusted important responsibilities to the UN, which the Security Council has unanimously endorsed. In that regard, he said the UN Mission in Colombia, tasked with the verification of the ceasefire and the laying down of arms, is already deployed throughout the country. “Its verification mandate is activated with the signing of this agreement. I thank the countries from within and beyond the region that are providing observers,” explained the UN chief. Further, the United Nations system in Colombia will also be there to help implement the agreements, building on many years of engagement on peacebuilding and its work with victims and communities. “We will continue to offer our support to address the human rights and humanitarian chal[...]



Lack of housing for women prisoners on release

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 08:08:23 +0000

Six in 10 women do not have homes to go to on release from prison, a  new report published  by the Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison has found. Six in 10 women do not have homes to go to on release from prison, a  new report published  by the Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison has found. Home truths: housing for women in the criminal justice system, says that the failure to solve a chronic shortage of suitable housing options for women who offend leads to more crime, more victims and more unnecessary and expensive imprisonment. 6,700 women were released from prison in England and Wales in the year to March 2016. Without stable housing, it is harder for women to engage in employment and training, access support services, re-establish contact with children and families, and integrate successfully into the community. Inadequate provision of appropriate and safe accommodation increases the risk of reoffending. Ministry of Justice figures show that 45 per cent of women are reconvicted within one year of leaving prison. This rises to 58 per cent for those on sentences of less than 12 months. The report reveals a lack of clarity and consistency about responsibility for the housing of women offenders. It found limited suitable accommodation options for women, especially those with additional vulnerabilities such as substance misuse, mental health problems, and domestic abuse. Research suggests that women are more likely than men to lose their accommodation whilst in custody with around a third of women in prison losing their homes. The report found that women in prison were not being given enough advice and support to keep their tenancies. The report echoes concerns raised by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in a recent inspection of HMP Bronzefield, as well as the Communities and Local Government select committee inquiry into homelessness. At Bronzefield, inspectors found staff were providing women with tents and sleeping bags due to a lack of suitable accommodation for them to go to on release. A support worker quoted in the report from the charity Women in Prison said: “We are aware of a woman who had been imprisoned for theft, subsequently released homeless, was recalled for breach of Anti-Social Behaviour Order for sleeping in a park and then later released homeless again.” Women in trouble with the law may find themselves declared intentionally homeless by local authorities, deemed ineligible for housing, or cut off from housing benefit and evicted for rent arrears whilst in custody.  Women are imprisoned further from their homes than men on average, and can experience greater difficulty in establishing a local connection to an area – often a precondition for local authority housing. While the statutory and policy frameworks differ in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, housing for women in the criminal justice system is a major problem across the UK. In Northern Ireland, for instance, an estimated 60 per cent of women prisoners have no home to go to on their release. The report says action is needed to ensure women in prison receive timely advice and information about their housing options and support to apply for housing and to sustain tenancies.  Effective interagency communication and partnership between housing providers, women’s prisons, probation services and local authorities is essential. Commenting, Jenny Earle, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce women’s imprisonment said:  “A tent and a sleeping bag are no answer to meeting the housing needs of women on release. Safe, secure accommodation is crucial in breaking that cycle of crime, and all the harm it causes to our communities, to victims, to the women involved and to their families. This report highlights the links between poor ho[...]



UK fails to check whether Saudi police training led to torture

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 09:24:51 +0000

The UK has failed to check whether training it has provided to Saudi police has contributed to abuses including torture and the death penalty, new research by human rights organisation Reprieve has revealed. The UK has failed to check whether training it has provided to Saudi police has contributed to abuses including torture and the death penalty, new research by human rights organisation Reprieve has revealed. Since 2009, the British College of Policing has provided training to officers from the Saudi Ministry of the Interior, which oversees policing, prisons, and executions in the country. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23142)  Reprieve has discovered that the College has carried out no checks that would establish whether human rights abuses, such as torture, have resulted from the training. Documents obtained by Reprieve through Freedom of Information requests show that the College has never evaluated whether the project has contributed to abuses – despite admitting that there is a risk that the skills taught could “be used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured or subjected to other human rights abuses.” The FCO and the College have previously said that they would reconsider the training “if [it] is shown that any skills that have been provided have been used in human rights violations.” However, the new documents obtained by Reprieve show that the only evaluation carried out by College since 2009 is a feedback form filled out by Saudi police officers. In the documents, the College says it is “not possible” to evaluate whether the training has had a positive impact on – for example – the behaviour of Saudi officers, because the UK has not been “asked to do so by the customer [the Saudi Ministry of the Interior].” The failure to carry out such assessments appears to be at odds with the College’s usual procedure, which – according to the documents – requires “all [UK] projects relating to the training of overseas law enforcement” to be subjected to an in-depth evaluation of their impact. Police torture is widespread in Saudi Arabia, including the use of forced ‘confessions’ to convict alleged political protestors and juveniles. Three juveniles – Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher – are facing beheading after they were arrested in the wake of protests in 2012. All three were tortured by police into ‘confessions’ which were used to sentence them to death in secretive trials, in a court overseen by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior. The FCO has told Reprieve and MPs – most recently, earlier this month – that it has received assurances from Saudi Arabia that the three juveniles will not be executed. However, Reprieve has expressed concerns that at least one other juvenile, Ali al-Ribh, has been executed this year, after being arrested and tortured in similar circumstances. Reprieve has called on the FCO to demand that the Saudi authorities vacate the death sentences handed to Ali, Dawood and Abdullah, and release them. The latest revelations about the College of Policing’s work follow the Home Affairs Select Committee’s recent raising of strong concerns about the Saudi training. In a report released in June, the Committee concluded that, in light of the Saudi project, the government’s system for assessing the human rights risks of foreign assistance programmes – the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) guidelines – may be “not fit for purpose”.  Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “It’s a scandal that the Foreign Office and the College of Policing have never checked whether their Saudi police training has resulted in rights abuses such as torture. Make no mistake – we’re talking about a country[...]



Pension enrolment up, but adequacy still needs addressing urgently

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 04:43:12 +0000

New statistics show a record high membership in occupational pensions in Britain. But that is only part of the story, say observers.

New statistics show a record high membership in occupational pensions in Britain since the data was first published in 2008. But that is only part of the story, say observers and analysts.

Commenting on new figures published on Thursday 22 September 2016 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Frances O'Grady. General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress said: “Automatic enrolment has made a good start by bringing millions more people into workplace pensions.

“But it is a job half done. Too many women and lower-income workers still miss out, for example.

“We should be very concerned about plunging pension contributions. Millions who are doing the right thing by paying into a pension remain at risk of falling into hardship in old age.

“Next year’s review of automatic enrolment must be used by the government to provide a long-term plan for how workplace pensions will provide a decent retirement income for low and middle-earners,” she added. 

ONS data shows that, for private sector defined contribution schemes (DC), the average contribution rate in 2010 was 2.7 per cent for members and 6.2 per cent for employers.

In 2015 the average total contribution rate for DC schemes was 4.0 per cent of pensionable earnings: 1.5 per cent for members and 2.5 per cent for employers.

* The full ONS release can be found here

* More from the TUC here

[Ekk/3]




'Two-faced' World Bank bottom of class on climate change scorecard

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 04:33:26 +0000

The World Bank has been given an ‘F’ in a new scorecard by Christian Aid, grading the climate impact of the world’s multilateral investment banks. The World Bank has been given an ‘F’ in a new scorecard by development charity Christian Aid, grading the climate impact of the world’s multilateral investment banks. Coming in last place, the World Bank was criticised for spending more on fossil fuels than clean energy, for its continued funding for exploration of yet more fossil fuels and its lack of a clear strategy to transform its investments to support the UN Paris Agreement. This is despite the fact that it makes very strong public pronouncements on the urgency of climate change as a global problem. The scorecard is published in the report, Financing our Future, which also grades the Inter-American Bank (D), the Asia Development Bank (E) and the African Development Bank (E). Jointly, the four development banks have financed $17.5 billion of clean energy in the past five years, but they also spent $18 billion on fossil fuels in the same period. The report author, Dr Alison Doig, Christian Aid’s Principal Climate Change Advisor, said: “The historic Paris Agreement showed world leaders are waking up to dangers of climate change and have committed to do something about it. The World Bank should be at the forefront of this global transition to a low-carbon world, yet its investments give a confused and contradictory picture. “With one hand they finance some innovative clean energy access projects and warn of the dangers of climate change, yet with the other they spend millions on fossil fuel exploration and development which have little impact on poverty reduction. This is despite the International Energy Agency warning that no more than a third of proven reserves can be consumed prior to 2050 if we are to keep global temperature rise under two degrees. “It’s clear that all these development banks need to clean up their act and to do it quickly, especially the World Bank, which is currently bottom of the class. “If World Bank President Jim Yong Kim wants to be taken seriously as a champion of global development he must overhaul this two-faced investment policy and get serious about ensuring clean energy access in poor countries.” She added: “Climate change is the greatest threat to development, so to have development banks investing in fossil fuels is deluded. Instead these banks need to play a catalytic role so that people living in poverty can access sustainable energy that meets their needs.” The report shows that all the investment banks have good examples of backing renewable energy projects in the developing world, yet they all score disappointingly low on the clean energy scorecard. This assesses total spend on renewables verses fossil fuels, their policies on fossil fuel phase out, how supportive they are for clean energy access and the transparency on the carbon footprint of their investment and strategy to reduce it. Dr Doig added that the UK Government had a key role to play in reforming the banks and encouraging them to get their act together. She said: “The Department for International Development has taken positive steps, including its Energy Africa campaign which aims to extend the use of solar powered electricity to light up African homes and businesses.  This 21st century energy supply is sustainable, affordable and reliable. It is exactly this kind of energy access initiative we need to see more of. “We need the UK to knock heads together in the development community and ensure policies and investments which will deliver the Paris Agreement.” The report concludes with three recommendations that would help make the development banks fit for purpose.[...]



Faith and resistance to the 'war on terror' - book NOW

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 04:20:22 +0000

Faith and resistance to the 'war on terror' - book NOW

read more




Scottish spotlight on better standards for renters

Sat, 24 Sep 2016 09:17:25 +0000

The impact of new and existing laws on private renting in Scotland is the main theme of a high-level conference taking place in Edinburgh. The impact of new and existing laws on private renting in Scotland is the main theme of a high-level conference taking place in Edinburgh this month (September 2016). ‘Putting it into Practice’, brings together local authority housing professionals, third sector organisations, landlords, letting agents and tenants to discuss the implications of new legislation such as the new private residential tenancy, new and existing powers for local authorities to tackle poor conditions as well as the roll-out of universal credit. It is estimated that around 700,000 people in Scotland are directly affected by the changes. There is a particular concern about practical interventions to improve standards – including a showcase of a new Shelter Scotland private rented sector project and its work with landlords. The conference is also hearing how one Scottish local authority used Trading Standards as a tool to drive up standards in the private rented sector by sharing their experience of taking legal action against private landlords. Speakers include Kevin Stewart MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Local Government and Housing; Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland; John Blackwood, chief Executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL) and Mike Bruce, chief executive of Weslo Housing Management. Graeme Brown from Shelter Scotland explained: “The growing importance of private renting in Scotland and the many changes in legislation which profoundly impact how the sector is run, make this conference a must for housing professionals, landlords, letting agents and tenants. “Far reaching changes to the shape of Scotland’s private tenancy regime which will fundamentally rebalance the relationship between landlords and tenants and due to be implemented next year will be of particular interest to delegates.” Brown added: “Private renting in Scotland has doubled over the last ten years with more than 330,000 households now in the sector - 85,000 with children.  Many of the changes to be discussed at conference have been introduced with the aim of greater protection and increased security and fairness for tenants.  It is vital that landlords and letting agents in particular get to grip with and address the changes they are required to make by law.” Scottish Government Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “We are committed to modernising the private rented sector and doing all we can to ensure it is an attractive and affordable place for people to live. “Shelter Scotland’s conference is an opportunity to reflect on the wide ranging regulatory powers that have been introduced for the private rented sector over the last few years and how these can be used to improve the physical standards of housing and the way that these properties are managed. “Legislation like the Private Tenancies Act, registration of letting agents and the new housing tribunal services is providing security and stability for the 700,000 people who live in private rented housing and improving their access to housing disputes. “Our actions are also putting safeguards in place for landlords, lenders and investors.” Mike Bruce, chief executive of Weslo Housing Management, added: “We are delighted to be sponsoring this important event. It is essential to ensure that everyone operating in the sector understands the new and existing regulation to meet the cross-sector ambition of creating a better and more professional private rented sector.” * Shelter Scotland: http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/ * Ekklesia's book Foxes have h[...]



Expert focus on religious freedom, literacy and diplomacy

Sat, 24 Sep 2016 08:59:32 +0000

Advancement of religious literacy and religious literacy in international diplomacy is increasingly needed, an expert panel on religious freedom and international diplomacy declared this week. Advancement of religious literacy and religious literacy in international diplomacy is increasingly needed, an expert panel on religious freedom and international diplomacy declared this week in Geneva. A panel discussion 'Religion and Religious Freedom in International Diplomacy' was organised on 23 September 2016, during the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council by the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, the delegation of the European Union to the UN in Geneva and the World Council of Churches (WCC). The meeting was moderated by Ahmed Shaheed, professor of human rights at the University of Essex’s School of Law and its Human Rights Centre. Participants of the meeting, including representatives of diplomatic missions in Geneva, international and faith-based organisations and non-government organisations (NGOs), were welcomed by Ambassador Peter Sørensen, Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to the UN in Geneva. "The EU defends and promotes the principled position that freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right to which everyone is entitled, everywhere," stated Ambassador Sørensen in his opening remarks. Baroness Elizabeth Berridge, member of Britain’s upper parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords, addressed the meeting, describing the work of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief, an informal network of parliamentarians and legislators from around the world committed to advancing freedom of religion or belief and combatting religious persecution. The panel also featured Lord Indarjit Singh, Baron Singh of Wimbledon, who raised concern that in foreign diplomacy, greed and economic interests should not trump human rights: "There will be no peace in the world unless we are even-handed in human rights. God is not interested in our different labels. He is interested in how we behave." Peter Prove, director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches, stated that the WCC has never seen religion as being purely a matter for the private realm – but rather as a reference point and basis for public advocacy for justice, peace, human dignity and care for creation. Respect for freedom of religion is a fundamental prerequisite for democratic and peaceful progress of human society. "The difficult situation of religious minorities in many parts of the world has increasingly become a concern for the WCC – especially in the Middle East region. Religious diversity and religious minorities are crucial for healthy and sustainable societies. Our concern is to bring the situation of religious minority communities to the centre of international affairs, acknowledging the equal rights of all." Heiner Bielefeldt, UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, noted that we need to understand the secularity as an open space, not an empty space. "Religion should be visible and audible in public space, rather than silenced or pushed out of it. Therefore international diplomacy should not move away from the secularity paradigm." Referring to human rights, Bielefeldt said: "I do believe in human dignity, but human rights are not a religion, and must not be turned into religion. Because the function of human rights is to provide equal rights for members of all religions and beliefs." The CCIA, an advisory body of the WCC providing a platform for joint advocacy and support initiatives for peace-m[...]



Philanthropists create groundbreaking fund to help cool planet

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 14:51:38 +0000

Christian Aid and other agencies have welcomed a new $53 million fund to help developing countries improve their energy efficiency.

Development and climate NGOs have welcomed an announcement from 19 philanthropic donors who have set up a new $53 million fund to help developing countries improve their energy efficiency and phase out the use of potent greenhouse gasses, known as HFCs.

In a rare example of philanthropists providing cash directly to nation states, the fund will help poor countries to replace the polluting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), used in air conditioning and refrigerators, and improve the energy efficiency of developing countries which will be increasing their energy use in coming years.

Combined with an upcoming amendment of the Montreal Protocol, which successfully phased out ozone depleting CFCs in the 1990s, the combined effect of these initiatives could reduce global temperature rise by a full degree Celsius.

Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Advisor, Mohamed Adow, said: “This commitment from these donors shows that developing countries have nothing to fear from phasing out HFCs. 

“HFCs were a clever human creation to replace CFCs which were punching a hole in the ozone layer.  But what we didn’t realise then was how much HFCs contributed to climate change – they are up to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“Thankfully climate friendly alternatives have now been developed and so can replace the old HFC spewing equipment.

“This is the first time I’ve seen philanthropists donating directly to country coffers like this; usually they use their money to leverage action with countries less directly. But this will be a fund these countries can call on directly to help with the transition away from HFCs.

“It’s a great boost ahead of next month’s meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, where plans will be agreed for a phase down of HFC use around the world with a deadline set for their elimination,” he concluded.

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

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New Labour leader to speak at church service

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 14:38:47 +0000

The 2016 Labour Party conference will begin in Liverpool this weekend with a church service on Sunday morning, at which the newly elected leader will speak.

The 2016 Labour Party conference will begin in Liverpool this weekend (24-25 September 2016) with a church service on Sunday morning, at which the newly elected leader will speak.

The service, which happens every year, brings together Members of Parliament, conference delegates and local worshippers.

With the result of the leadership election announced the previous day, the service will be one of the first engagements for the winning candidate. The Labour leader will address members of the congregation in a service which will focus on the plight of refugees and those who are persecuted.

The church service will be held at St James in the City, Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool at 9.15am. The preacher will be the Rev Malcolm Duncan, Chair of the Spring Harvest Christian conference. Other speakers will include Cat Smith MP, Zoe Smith (Open Doors), Paul Robinson (Reach International), and Christians on the Left Director Andy Flannagan.

For Christians on the Left, which runs the service on behalf of the Labour Party, the church service kicks off a week of meetings and fringe events at the Labour conference, examining issues such as tax, low pay, and homelessness.

Christians on the Left is also running a campaign against tax evasion which has been endorsed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Conference delegates are being asked to answer the question, under the Twitter hashtag #patriotspaytax, 'What are you proud that your taxes are spent on?'  

Current leader Jeremy Corbyn replied "To ensure everyone gets healthcare and every child gets education!"

* Full details of Christians on the Left conference events can be found here :

* Details of the tax campaign, including image of Jeremy Corbyn with his tax answer can be found here:

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Are disability benefits being cut covertly?

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 11:11:32 +0000

Are disability benefits being cut covertly?

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