News Briefing and Comment


10/21/2017 07:56 AM
Amnesty urges international action on armed drones

Amnesty International has launched a new briefing at the UN General Assembly, setting out measures to bring the use and transfer of armed drones in line with international human rights and humanitarian law.

Amnesty International has launched a new briefing at the UN General Assembly, setting out measures to bring the use and transfer of armed drones in line with international human rights and humanitarian law.

The briefing, Key principles on the use and transfer of armed drones, has been developed in response to the rapid proliferation of armed drones, and their use in extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings around the world.

“The past few years have seen an alarming growth in the use of armed drones by states including the USA and the UK, yet the circumstances in which they are deployed remain shrouded in secrecy”, said Rasha Abdul Rahim, Arms Control Campaigner at Amnesty International.

“What we do know is that their use has created a situation in which the whole world can be treated as a battlefield, and virtually anyone can count as collateral damage. Armed drones have been used to carry out unlawful killings with minimal oversight and accountability, and with devastating consequences for civilians in countries like Yemen and Afghanistan.

“We are calling on all states to bring their use of armed drones in line with international human rights and humanitarian law – unlawful use must not become the norm.”

The principles outlined in Amnesty International’s briefing provide a basis on which UN member states can develop binding policies that will ensure accountability, protect the right to life and prevent future violations and abuses.

Amnesty International is calling on all UN member states to:

  • Ensure that their use of armed drones complies with international law, including international human rights law
  •   Publicly disclose the legal and policy standards and criteria they apply to the use of armed drones
  •  Ensure effective investigations into all cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that drone strikes have resulted in unlawful killings and/or any civilian casualties
  • Establish rigorous controls on transfers of armed drones, and on assistance to operations of other states using armed drones
  • Enable meaningful oversight and remedies

* Read Key principles on the use and transfer of armed drones here

* Amnesty International USA https://www.amnestyusa.org/

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10/21/2017 07:29 AM
Lobbying Act reform: debate required, say charities

Three organisations representing thousands of charities have asked the Electoral Commission to explain its opposition to reform of the Lobbying Act.

Three organisations representing thousands of charities have asked the Electoral Commission to explain its opposition to reform of the Lobbying Act, which contributed to the government dropping plans to make any changes.

In a letter sent on 16 October 2017 to Claire Bassett, chief executive of the commission, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), and Bond, the UK network for organisations working in international development, have asked for a detailed explanation of why the Commission opposed reform.

The proposed changes were contained in Lord Hodgson’s 2016 report into reform of the non-party campaigning rules in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Act. The Conservative peer had been appointed by government to lead an independent review of the legislation.

Hodgson’s proposed reforms, which the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities subsequently recommended should be fully adopted, included a reduction in the regulated campaign period to four months before an election, changes to the rules on joint campaigning and a reduction in the scope of the Act to include only activity intended to influence how members of the public vote. These would reduce the burden of regulation for charities while still preserving integrity in elections.

The government was still considering the Hodgson recommendations when, in the lead-up to the general election in June, many charities complained that a lack of clarity about the rules on campaigning meant that they felt unable to raise issues.

However, despite the mounting calls to implement the Hodgson recommendations, the government announced in September that it would not enact them. It cited a lack of space in the legislative programme to pass the necessary law and that the Electoral Commission was not content with some technical aspects of the proposed changes.

NCVO, which has 13,000 charities as members, ACEVO, which represents chief executives of charities, and Bond, which represents voluntary organisations working in international development, want the commission to clarify which proposed changes to the rules it objects to and on what grounds.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said, "We are extremely disappointed by the commission’s position. What’s needed is an open conversation about how the rules on non-party campaigning can be changed so they meet their objective of ensuring fair elections.

"There is consistent evidence that the law has a detrimental impact on the ability and willingness of the voluntary sector to speak out. We need prompt answers from the Electoral Commission so that we can get that discussion underway."

Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO, said, "The concerns raised by the Electoral Commission were a key factor in the Cabinet Office’s decision to reject Lord Hodgson’s reforms of the Lobbying Act. But it is not evident what these concerns are. The cross-party Lords Select Committee on Charities is clear on why it supports the reforms. We need to know why the Commission does not."

Tamsyn Barton, chief executive of Bond, said, "The Lobbying Act has silenced the charity sector and the impact of this cannot be solved by the Electoral Commission simply attempting to clarify the rules.

"The rules are not only confusing, they are unworkable. The only way to address this deplorable situation is to allow charities to be able to continue the important campaigning work they do on issues that affect the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society, both here and globally.

"This means implementing Lord Hodgson’s recommendations."

* NCVO https://www.ncvo.org.uk/

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10/21/2017 07:10 AM
Jury finds prison failings 'causative' of prisoner's death

An inquest jury found that the failures of Serco and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust to deal with bullying, violence and substance abuse at HMP Doncaster were causative of the death of 43 year old Gerard Scahill.

Following a five day inquest at Doncaster Coroner’s Court, a jury found that the failures of Serco and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust to deal with bullying, violence and substance abuse at HMP Doncaster were causative of the death of Gerard Scahill on 22 April 2016.

Gerry was a vulnerable man with a long history of mental health issues and substance abuse, who was serving a nine year sentence at HMP Doncaster.

On his entry to HMP Doncaster in October 2015, prison and healthcare staff were made aware of threats to Gerard Scahill by prison gangs, and during his stay became aware of his use of ‘spice’ and his history of mental health issues.

During his stay, Scahill  raised concerns about his welfare to prison staff. On three occasions, in the period leading to his death, he reported to the prison staff that he was under threat and scared for his safety. On one occasion, he had to be returned to his wing under prison escort and he subsequently refused to leave his cell for two days. Notwithstanding his reports, there was no record that prison staff conducted any investigation, or put in place any safeguards for him.

The jury heard new psychoactive substances (NPS) known as ‘spice’ are currently rife in prison. Studies suggest that ‘spice’ and other NPS exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and can lead to self-harm, and debt. On 23 March 2016 staff found Scahill under the influence of ‘spice’. He also reported to healthcare staff that he was taking NPS on most days, and as much as he could “get hold of”. Despite this, he was never referred to the substance misuse team, who were able to offer psychotherapy treatment for NPS use.

On 22 April 2016, Gerard Scahill was found hanged in his cell. Though both Prison Officers and paramedics attempted to revive him they were unsuccessful.

In a narrative conclusion critical of the prison, the jury found, that:

  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust did not adequately and effectively manage Gerard Scahill's use of ‘spice’ and this was causative of his death.
  • Serco prison staff did not adequately and effectively manage the threats and bullying that Scahill reported, and this was also causative of death.
  • Non causative failures regarding training on the unlock procedure.
  • The jury could not be certain that Scahill intended to kill himself.

Gerard Scahill's family are understandably devastated by his death but are pleased that the jury identified the failings that led to hid death. They hope that HMP Doncaster, private prison providers and contractors, and the wide prison service will now implement changes to ensure that incidents like this are not repeated.

Jenny Fraser, solicitor for the family, said, “Sadly this is yet another death at a private prison, and it’s welcome that the jury have clearly identified the significant failings of both Serco and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust towards the people in their custody”.

* Inquest http://www.inquest.org.uk/index.php/

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10/20/2017 02:00 PM
Egypt frees Irish student after four-year ordeal

The Egyptian authorities have released an Irish citizen who was arrested at a protest at the age of 17, and who had been facing a death sentence.

The Egyptian authorities have released an Irish citizen who was arrested at a protest at the age of 17, and who had been facing a death sentence.

Ibrahim Halawa, from Dublin, was 17 when he was arrested with hundreds of other people in 2013, as part of a crackdown on protests in Egypt. He was held in pre-trial detention for over four years, and reported being regularly tortured.(http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23399)

Ibrahim was tried as an adult alongside 493 other people, despite having been a juvenile at the time of his arrest. The mass trial – one of several to have taken place since 2013 – was frequently postponed. Hearings of the trial were criticised for failing to meet basic standards.

Maya Foa, Director of the human rights organisation Reprieve – which has been assisting Ibrahim Halawa  – said: “It is fantastic news, and long overdue, that Ibrahim is finally free. He and his family have been through an unimaginable ordeal, even though Ibrahim’s only ‘crime’ was to attend a protest. He must now be given time and space to recover with his family. Meanwhile, Egypt’s allies – including the UK and the US – must strongly urge Sisi to end the brutal repression that continues in the country, including mass trials and hundreds of unlawful death sentences.”

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

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10/20/2017 08:09 AM
UN migration chief urges more support for Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar

The United Nations migration agency and its partners are supporting Bangladesh in coordinating assistance for the influx of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, including with clean water and sanitation, shelter, food and psychosocial care for the most vulnerable.

The United Nations migration agency and its partners are supporting Bangladesh in coordinating assistance for the influx of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, including with clean water and sanitation, shelter, food and psychosocial care for the most vulnerable.

“The world has rarely witnessed a refugee crisis of such speed, with more than half a million crossing into Bangladesh in just over a month,” said William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), on Wednesday (18 October 2017), as he completed a three-day visit to Bangladesh.

“The arc of misery that exists between Northern Rakhine state and Cox's Bazar is deeply upsetting – too many people suffering desperately with too little support,” he said, adding that just two days ago, some 1,500 more Rohingya refugees waded through a river as monsoon rains drenched the country.

The Bangladesh Government has confirmed that it will move an estimated 15,000 people currently stranded in a so-called “no man's land” near the Anjuman Para border crossing point in Cox's Bazar's Ukhia District, into more appropriate settlement areas.

Director General Swing began his visit with a day-long tour of the makeshift settlements in Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts, where an estimated 800,000 refugees are now living, to observe the scale of the crisis and the sheer enormity of needs.

“I saw women carrying small babies, only a few days old, sometimes born while their young mothers were fleeing deadly violence in torrential rains. I saw young children, who had lost not just their parents, but any remnants of hope”, Mr Swing said.

He called for global commitment to these women and children, who are among the most vulnerable in the world, to do everything possible to ensure that their suffering stops here. “If adequate resources are not mobilised by the international community, we cannot make that commitment. Thousands will suffer without food, shelter, health care and protection”, he emphasised.

Based on the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State established by Myanmar's Office of the State Counsellor and the Kofi Annan Foundation, the Director General highlighted the critical importance of a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

“Humanitarian aid alone is not a solution. The root causes of this crisis are in Myanmar and there can be no lasting peace in Rakhine without inclusive development,” he said, pointing to the recommendations as a roadmap to peaceful co-existence and welcoming the Myanmar Government's commitment to implementing the Commission's findings.

“The first step in that implementation process will be to urgently allow UN agencies to resume their work in Rakhine state”, Mr Swing said.

Since late August, IOM has scaled up quickly, providing: shelter to 379,000 people; health consultations to 47,000 individuals; over 11,000 dignity kits; 678,000 litres of water; and 200 staff to assist the Health Ministry in vaccinating 679,000 people against cholera. IOM staffing has also been boosted with 443 staff and in-country volunteers.

* United Nations http://www.un.org/en/index.html

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10/20/2017 07:50 AM
Activist fined under Russia's 'homosexual propaganda law' for Facebook posts

A Russian court has imposed a fine on activist Evdokia Romanova for posting links to LGBTI-related stories on Facebook, inclusing stories from the Guardian and BuzzFeed.

The Russian authorities must abolish their draconian "homosexual propaganda law" and end the persecution of human rights activists, said Amnesty International, after a court in the Russian city of Samara imposed a fine on activist Evdokia Romanova, for posting links to LGBTI-related stories on Facebook.

Ms Romanova was found guilty of the administrative offence of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors using the internet” and fined 50,000 roubles (£660). The case relates to her having posted a number of links on social media in 2015 and 2016, including a Guardian story on Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum and a BuzzFeed article about an LGBTI exhibition in St Petersburg. 

Romanova is a member of the local branch of the LGBTI movement Avers and an active member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. On 26 July 2017, she was called into her local police station on the pretext of having to act as a witness in a case she had never heard of. Instead, she was informed that she was facing legal proceedings for “homosexual propaganda”.

For weeks, Romanova and her lawyer were refused access to any details about the exact grounds on which the proceedings against her had been instigated. They were finally granted access to her case file on 5 September, only days before the trial. 

As part of the legal proceedings against Romanova, the Police Centre for the Prevention of Extremism had ordered an “expert” examination of a link she posted to the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights’ website which called for youth activists to campaign for LGBTI rights. The 'experts' concluded that it contained “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”, that it was aimed at “forming non-traditional sexual orientation”, and that it was responsible for “creating an appealing image of non-traditional sexual orientation”.

Evdokia Romanova told Amnesty International, “I have lost the feeling of security in this country. I have been receiving threats from people I don’t know. This law has caused the rise of hate crimes towards LGBT people all over the country. It prevents LGBT organisations from providing legal and psychological support to young LGBT people, who remain marginalised and unprotected.”

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director, said, “Even the simple freedom to share an online story with friends is now proscribed by legislation that is blatantly discriminatory and homophobic.

“The accusations against Evdokia Romanova and her trial were absurd. They are a sad illustration of the desperate circumstances currently faced by activists working on LGBTI issues in Russia. 

“The homosexual propaganda law is not only being exploited to target individuals like Evdokia Romanova. It is also being used as an instrument to spread fear and uncertainty among LGBTI activists across the country. We reiterate our call on the Russian authorities to repeal this legislation and respect every person’s right to freedom of expression.”

The law prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” - also known as the ‘homosexual propaganda law’ - was passed in Russia in June 2013. It introduced Article 6.21 into the Russian Code of Administrative Offences allowing for large fines for those who, according to the authorities, promote “non-traditional sexual relations”. Amnesty believes the law violates freedom of expression and has been campaigning for its abolition. In June, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the law was discriminatory. 

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

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10/20/2017 07:41 AM
Local Government Association responds to latest childhood obesity figures

The Chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board has responded to the latest childhood obesity figures published by NHS Digital showing that obesity prevalence has continued to increase in the last year.

The Chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board has responded to the latest childhood obesity figures published by NHS Digital showing that obesity prevalence has continued to increase in the last year.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, said: “These figures are a stark reminder of the urgent childhood obesity crisis that we face as a nation, and the need for decisive, radical action.

“The LGA has long called for fundamental reforms to tackle childhood obesity, such as for councils to be given a say in how and where the soft drinks levy is spent, better labelling on food and drink products, and for councils to be given powers to ban junk food advertising near schools.

“Today's obese children will be tomorrow's obese adults, and with this comes a range of costly and debilitating major health conditions that could bankrupt adult social care and NHS services.

“Successfully tackling obesity involves both individuals taking responsibility for their own decisions and government supporting them to do so. But a year on since the Government launched its childhood obesity plan, there has to be more visible progress on how we tackle this issue.

“Cuts to the public health grant undermine councils’ ability to tackle childhood obesity, which is why we are calling on the Government in the Autumn Budget to cancel future reductions and return funding that was cut since April 2015.”

The public health grant to councils has been cut by £531 million (nearly 10 per cent of the total budget) from 2015/16 to 2019/20.

* Download the NHS Digital figures here

* Local Government Association https://www.local.gov.uk/

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10/20/2017 07:19 AM
Impact of 'Visiting Mum' scheme for women prisoners

A film and a report by the University of Cardiff show the impact of a scheme to make it easier for women prisoners to maintain contact with their children.

A report by the University of Cardiff highlights the positive impact of the work of the Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT) in supporting mothers in Eastwood Park Prison.

The study examined the impact of the Visiting Mum scheme, a Big Lottery Wales funded initiative which for the past three years has provided assistance to Welsh children visiting their mothers in prison at HMP Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire.

The Visiting Mum scheme, developed and run by PACT in partnership with Sova, a volunteering charity, was established as a three year proof of concept innovation, to test out a new approach to meeting the needs of mothers in custody. Many mothers were not receiving visits by their children. The scheme involved the following elements:

  • Volunteers in the community supported children and caregivers to visit
  • Support was provided with transport
  • Visits were held in a family room rather than in a large visits hall
  • Mothers were provided with one-to-one family casework support
  • Parenting and relationship education classes were provided to improve the skills and confidence of mothers in prison to prepare for release.


Key findings from the study include evidence that:

  • Self-harm and adjudications are reduced for mothers in custody who access Visiting Mum
  • Children feel less anxious and less intimidated by the prison environment when supported by volunteers and when the visits are held in more family-friendly settings
  • Women feel less anxious about the welfare of their children and most have a minimum of monthly visits and regular telephone contact
  • Women feel that their mental health is improved by accessing Visiting Mum services
  • Women feel that the scheme will help them to integrate back into family and community life upon release
  • The carers for the children believe that the Visiting Mum scheme helps to relieve the emotional and financial pressures on them, where little other support is available.

PACT has also made a film, Not Just a Prisoner: Voices of Mothers in Prison. PACT collaborated with a group of six mothers currently serving prison sentences to create the film, in which you can hear the women's own voices, telling their experiences of arrest, sentencing, their first days in prison and how their imprisonment has impacted their relationships with their children and families. They also discuss their hopes for the future and the impact that PACT's support has had on their lives, their roles as mothers and their relationships with their children.

The film will be used to raise awareness of the challenges facing mothers in prison, the importance of maintaining family contact, and will enable PACT to train other professionals to support women in similar situations.

Watch the film Not Just a Prisoner here

Read the University of Cardiff report here

* Prison Advice and Care Trust https://www.prisonadvice.org.uk/

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10/20/2017 07:02 AM
Concerns raised about UK banks' activities in South Africa

Lord Peter Hain has raised serious concerns about banks suspected of handling 'dirty cash' in South Africa.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has called on UK regulators and law enforcement to review concerns raised by Lord Peter Hain that HSBC and Standard Chartered banks may “have been conduits for the corrupt proceeds of money". Lord Hain spoke about his concerns in a speech in the House of Lords, and also wrote to the Chancellor.

The claims are related to a corruption inquiry into alleged links between the Gupta family and South African President Jacob Zuma, which has already had a significant impact on major UK firms including the public relations firm Bell Pottinger and KPMG.

Responding to the news, Murray Worthy, Senior Campaigner on Banks and Corruption at Global Witness said, "It's no surprise that HSBC and Standard Chartered are yet again suspected of handling dirty cash. The UK government admits that hundreds of billions of pounds are laundered through UK banks and their subsidiaries every year, yet usually the worst they face is a slap on the wrist and a small fine. 

"While the people of South Africa, a country struggling with vast inequality, are losing out, the senior bankers who should be responsible for preventing their banks handling corrupt cash are never held to account. Until senior executives are held personally responsible and banks face serious fines, they will continue to not take the corruption risks of the cash they handle seriously enough."

Global Witness’ 2015 report Banks and Dirty Money showed how major banks handled dirty money and why senior executives need to be held personally responsible when banks break the rules. 

*Read the report Banks and DIrty Money here

* Global Witness https://www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/

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10/19/2017 08:31 PM
Why I launched the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project

Why I launched the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project

read more


10/19/2017 02:34 PM
Disability Wales calls for restoration of disabled people’s rights

Following the recent UN condemnation of UK Government policy on the lives of disabled people as ‘a human catastrophe’, Disability Wales is hosting a national conference calling for full restoration of disabled people’s rights.

Following the recent UN condemnation of UK Government policy on the lives of disabled people as ‘a human catastrophe’, Disability Wales is hosting a national conference today (19 October 2017) in Merthyr Tydfil calling for full restoration of disabled people’s rights.

Rhian Davies, Chief Executive Disability Wales says, “UK Government’s austerity measures have left thousands of disabled people in poverty, vilified in the media and tragically all too many deaths from suicide. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities condemned UK Government’s ‘grave and systematic violations’ of Convention rights regarding independent living, employment and adequate standard of living. Even so their findings and recommendations were dismissed by the Government.” (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/24268)

Wales has the UK’s highest rate of disability, and some of the highest levels of poverty and numbers of benefit claimants. Research shows that people living in deprived areas and working in routine occupations are more likely to be disabled. The disability employment gap in Wales is 36 per cent compared with 32 per cent across the UK.

Much of the responsibility for fulfilling disabled people’s rights under the UN Convention is devolved to the Welsh Government. Over the last year, Disability Wales has been actively involved in Welsh Government’s review of the Framework for Action on Independent Living (2013).

The outcome from engagement with disabled people across Wales regarding both the Independent Living Review and the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People Examination confirmed increased poverty following UKG’s welfare reforms and that considerably more progress is required regarding access to information and advice, personal support, housing, the built environment, transport, education, skills and employment opportunities.

Disability Wales’s Annual Conference Defending our Rights: Challenging Attitudes provides a platform to consider the evidence and identify actions, tools and opportunities to adopt a more progressive approach to tackling barriers to independent living and achieving disabled people’s human rights.

The keynote address will be delivered by Carl Sargeant AM, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children whose portfolio includes Equality, UN Conventions and responsibility for the Framework for Action on Independent Living.

Conference delegates will also hear from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on their approach to tackling the discrimination faced by disabled people.  Ruth Coombs, EHRC’s Head of Wales says, “Our ‘Being Disabled in Britain’ report shows that disabled people in Wales and across Britain are being left behind. The evidence can no longer be ignored. There must be a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are needed.

“The changes that we need to see include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people, ensuring that essential services such as housing, health and transport meet the needs of disabled people,  and increasing the number of disabled people in public appointments and politics.”

Tara Flood, Director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education and prominent disabled activist will share her vast experience of campaigning for the rights of disabled children and young people.

The event will be chaired and facilitated by Rhian Davies, Chief Executive of Disability Wales. Questions to the panel and round-table discussions will provide an opportunity for lively debate.

The audience includes disabled people and their allies, representatives of Disabled People’s Organisations, third sector and both local and national government bodies.

* Disability Wales http://www.disabilitywales.org/

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10/19/2017 08:10 AM
Letter to Amber Rudd on Brook House Immigration Removal Centre

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has written to the Home Secretary about the concerns over Brook House Immigration Removal Centre raised by a recent BBC Panorama programme. 

The Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Rebecca Hilsenrath, has written to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, about the concerns over Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) raised by a recent BBC Panorama programme. The letter has now been published on the Commission's website.

"I am writing to you in relation to the significant concerns raised by the BBC Panorama programme Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets , which aired on 4 September 2017. The programme featured undercover footage of detainee custody officers at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), which is managed by G4S. These officers were seen humiliating and abusing immigration detainees, including apparently perpetrating a serious physical assault witnessed, but not reported, by a member of healthcare staff.

"As you know, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is Great Britain’s national equality body and has been awarded an ‘A’ status as a National Human Rights Institution by the United Nations. We are an independent statutory body, with the mandate to encourage equality and diversity, eliminate unlawful discrimination, and protect and promote the human rights of everyone in Britain. Under the provisions of the Equality Act 2006, the Commission has a range of powers at its disposal to discharge its statutory responsibilities, from the provision of advice and information (under section 13 of the Act) to taking legal enforcement action (using one or more of the powers contained in sections 20 to 33 of the Act). The Commission has power under section 30 of the Act to institute legal proceedings including by way of judicial review in relation to any of its functions, and need not be a victim of the unlawful act (or failure to act) to which Human Rights Act proceedings relate.

"We have a statutory role to advise government on the compatibility of policy and legislation with equality and human rights law, and to encourage compliance with Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998  in the exercise of public functions.

"When carrying out public functions, public authorities must comply with their non-discrimination obligations under the Equality Act 2010, the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), the Human Rights Act 1998, and international human rights treaties, which are binding under international law, including the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT). These obligations cannot be delegated, and it remains the state’s responsibility to ensure compliance with human rights law and the PSED where public functions are outsourced to private contractors.

"In light of these obligations, we set out below our concerns in relation to the evidence of abuse aired by Panorama, and advise on the steps we consider are now required to ensure compliance with the investigative duty under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

"The Commission considers that the Panorama footage contains evidence of arguable breaches of the Article 3 rights of immigration detainees. In reaching this conclusion, we consider the following facts are particularly significant:

  • the footage shows deliberate acts of humiliation and abuse, including a ‘choking’ incident that appears to amount to an unlawful physical assault
  • the people being mistreated are in detention and the perpetrators are state agents charged with their care
  • many of the detainees appear to be mentally unwell and vulnerable, and include a child

"This gives rise to an investigative obligation which can be discharged in a number of ways. In order to comply with that obligation however the investigation must be prompt, effective, independent, subject to public scrutiny, and enable victims to participate. It appears in this instance that those conditions can only be met by holding an independent inquiry.

"To ensure lessons are learnt and action taken to prevent future violations of immigration detainees’ Article 3 rights, the inquiry should be broad enough to take into consideration not only the actions of the officers directly involved in incidents featured in the Panorama programme, but also the surrounding circumstances that enabled these incidents to occur without immediate consequences or sanctions. The abuse – even if confined to a small portion of staff – was seemingly perpetrated openly within the IRC, without being detected and/or addressed by G4S senior management or the Home Office.

"There is also evidence that the behaviour caught on camera may be indicative of a wider, systemic problem with human rights compliance at Brook House IRC and IRCs generally. For example, the Commission applied to intervene in the case of R (HA) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 979 (Admin), in which a court held that treatment of a detainee at Brook House and other IRCs amounted to a breach of Article 3.

"The Commission believes this raises concerns about the adequacy of government systems to ensure human rights compliance in the outsourcing of contracts for Home Office functions, where the need to ensure human rights are respected is paramount. We recommend that the terms of reference for the inquiry should be broad enough to enable it to make findings and recommendations that will enhance human rights and equality protections generally in this field of public procurement.

"Accordingly, the Commission considers that the inquiry should investigate Home Office outsourcing arrangements for IRC’s, contractual compliance and oversight arrangements, and the efficacy of the regulatory system.

"Finally, the Commission notes that the Panorama footage presents stark evidence of the harmful impact of indefinite detention on detainees’ mental health. We repeat our previous calls for the Government to use immigration detention only as a last resort, and to introduce a statutory time limit of 28 days for immigration detention. The UK is the only country in the European Union without a statutory time limit for immigration detention, and continued use of indefinite detention in the UK has been criticised by UN Human Rights Council members  and the all-party Parliamentary groups on refugees and migration .

"We consider that the inquiry will present an opportunity for the Government to consider the impact of the use of indefinite detention on detainees’ mental health, and the extent to which this may amount to, or may contribute to conditions that amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. The Commission recommends that this question is included within the inquiry’s scope.

"In light of the requirement for an Article 3 compliant investigation to be promptly held, we ask you to confirm within 14 days whether the Government will institute such an inquiry, and if not by what means it considers that the investigative duty will be met. Your response will enable the Commission to consider further whether it should exercise any of its statutory powers in relation to this matter. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with officials from your department to provide further advice on both the form and terms of reference for the inquiry to comply with Article 3.

"I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Rebecca Hilsenrath"

*The Panorama programme Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets is on the BBC i-player here

*Section 6 of the Human Rights Act is here

* Equality and Human Rights Commission https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en

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10/19/2017 07:53 AM
Trafficked children need specialist foster placements, says Barnardo’s

Trafficked children need specialist foster care placements to reduce the risk of them going missing or being retrafficked, says Barnardo’s.

Child victims of trafficking need specialist foster carers who have the skills and knowledge to help them overcome their trauma and keep them safe from traffickers, says Barnardo's.

The UK’s largest children’s charity, which runs the national Counter Trafficking Service, also says it is vital that professionals working with children can spot the signs of trafficking in order to keep children safe.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said, "Trafficked children are threatened, manipulated and controlled by their traffickers who feed them a web of lies leading them to fear authorities. It is well known that there is a greater risk of trafficked children going missing from care but too often processes are not put in place to protect children.

"The first few weeks after a child has been identified as a potential trafficking victim are often the most crucial time to prevent them being re-trafficked and we need better support for these children. They need specialist foster care placements where carers understand the risks and can work closely with other agencies to keep children safe."

Trafficked children are some of the most vulnerable in this country. Many children Barnardo’s has supported have been sexually abused, forced to work in nail bars or car washes, or forced to commit crimes, such as cultivating cannabis. Many trafficked children go missing from care.They often go back to their traffickers out of fear for their families or themselves or because they are the only people they know. Sometimes children will not realise they are being exploited or have been trafficked and want to return to their traffickers.

Traffickers use emotional and physical abuse to control children. They might lure children in with false promises and once in their power, threaten them or their families with violence or death. They do not care about the age of children; Barnardo’s specialist services have supported children and young people aged from 0-21.

Barnardo’s National Counter Trafficking Service provides specialist support workers who are the go-to people for trafficked children. They help children understand what is happening with social care services, the police and immigration in ways they understand and give them tools to stay safe.

Barnardo’s also says that professionals working with children have different levels of understanding about trafficking, with some not knowing what the signs are and therefore are not always able to keep them safe. It isimportant they get specialist training to understand the issues, says the charity.

* Barnardo's http://www.barnardos.org.uk/index.htm

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10/19/2017 07:24 AM
Call for China to abolish secret detention but ensure rights protections

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge to abolish the abusive shuanggui internal party disciplinary system will only be meaningful if its replacement ensures rights protections for detainees, says Human Rights Watch.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge to abolish the abusive shuanggui internal party disciplinary system will only be meaningful if its replacement ensures rights protections for detainees, says Human Rights Watch. In his opening remarks to the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing on October 18, 2017, President Xi said shuanggui will be replaced by liuzhi, a new detention system, as part of broader reforms to the legal system.

“If President Xi’s proposal means that detainees are not ill-treated, get to choose their lawyers, and otherwise have their rights respected, then this will indeed be a significant step forward”, said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “But if he is just proposing to replace one abusive detention system with another, it will be another setback for legal reform in China.”

Shuanggui is a detention system run by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) that can be imposed on any of its 88 million Party members.

In December 2016, Human Rights Watch published a report on shuanggui, detailing the use of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance, and calling for its abolition. Around the same time, CCDI head Wang Qishan pledged to curb shuanggui abuses with steps such as videotaping interrogations, but it is not clear whether those protections have been implemented.

The liuzhi system mentioned by Xi is a new detention power of the soon to be created 'super' anti-graft agency, the National Supervision Commission, which is slated to start work in March 2018. The agency will also consolidate graft-fighting powers currently vested in various government departments. It is also empowered to investigate anyone exercising public authority – including officials, managers in state-owned companies, and public school managers. The agency will share space and personnel with the CCDI.

Official articles suggest liuzhi will offer improvements: the system will be codified in law and subjected to stricter internal procedures; detainees will be given adequate food and rest; detentions will have time limits – three months, and, upon approval, another three months.

However, similar measures by the CCDI since the 1990s have not deterred abuses in the shuanggui system, Human Rights Watch said. There is no indication that those held under liuzhi will enjoy access to lawyers or redress mechanisms – two problems Human Rights Watch identified as facilitating serious rights violations in shuanggui. The draft State Supervision Law establishing the National Supervision Commission has not been made public; what little is known has raised concerns among Chinese human rights lawyers.

At the beginning of his presidency, President Xi promised to “put power in a cage” and to rule China according to law. While his government previously abolished the abusive 're-education through labour' system, this positive development was undermined and overshadowed by his using the legal system as a weapon against perceived threats to Communist Party rule, notably defence lawyers, petitioners, dissidents, rights activists, and anyone critical of the government. Under his leadership, the government has promulgated many laws that, in the name of protecting 'national security', further restrict freedoms of expression and association while expanding surveillance.

“China’s top legislature should ensure that basic rights protections for detainees are included in the new legislation regulating liuzhi,” Richardson said. “Otherwise liuzhi may simply be the legal, but no less abusive, twin of shuanggui – and no more likely to succeed in deterring corruption.”

* Read the report on shuanggui here

* Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/

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10/19/2017 07:01 AM
Delays in getting home care up by 209% in six years, says Age UK

Four million hospital bed days have been lost since 2011 due to problems securing social care, says Age UK.

Since 2011, almost four million hospital bed days have been lost to the NHS due to problems securing social care. In 2016/17 alone, nearly one million hospital bed days were lost, due to an inability to access social care, with an excess cost of £173 million excluding equipment and adaptations.

Over this period there has been a trend towards more older people staying in the community through homecare rather than going into care homes and nursing homes, but the numbers of bed days lost – because older people are stuck in hospital waiting for homecare to be put in place – have continued to rocket: from 143,916 in 2011/12 to 341,837 in 2016/17 – 209 per cent.

Age UK says that the starkest increase was last year, between 2015/16 and 2016/17, when there was a 27.2 per cent rise in the number of bed days lost through an inability to have social care arrangements in place, from 695,037 days, to 954,799 days. And the latest available figures show that in the period between April and July 2017, there have been 13.2 per cent more days lost to social care than during the same period in 2016.

Whilst there is no age breakdown available for patients affected by delayed hospital discharge, they are typically older people.

Age UK is arguing that these figures represent huge numbers of older people unable to start their recovery out of hospital, putting them at risk of infections, loss of mobility and psychological distress. It is also a terrible waste of NHS resources and shows short sightedness from successive governments in not addressing the social care crisis as it has spiralled year-on-year. An excess bed day in the NHS costs between £2,089 and £2,532 a week for non-elective and elective inpatients, respectively, compared to about £519 for a place in residential care and less still for homecare.

The Charity is therefore calling on the Government to act on its pledge to bring forward proposals for putting social care back on track to meet 21st century expectations and the demands of an ageing population, once and for all.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK says," These delayed discharge figures show the disastrous impact of our failing social care system on the NHS, as well as on older people themselves. Increasing numbers are being marooned in their hospital beds, losing muscle tone and risking infection when they are medically fit enough to leave, often because of acute shortages of social care, especially of the home visiting kind. There is no doubt that some older people’s chances of a good recovery are being totally undermined as a result.

"To add insult to injury, this ridiculous and sometimes tragic situation cost the tax payer over £173 million last year alone, money that would have been much better spent giving older people the social care they need.

"This is why the Government must stand by its pledge to bring forward proposals soon for putting social care on a sustainable footing. In the medium and longer term we need new mechanisms so people can pool their risk of developing care needs, but with winter approaching the immediate imperative is an injection of resources into social care and fresh efforts to tackle the galloping delayed discharge crisis that is threatening to engulf our hospitals."

Professor David Oliver, clinical Vice President of the Royal College of Physicians and consultant in geriatrics and general internal medicine at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust said," The national audit office report on delayed transfers of care from hospital showed that the officially reported figures grossly underestimate the real numbers of stranded patients in hospital awaiting community services through no fault of their own. It also showed that delayed transfers of care bed days had increased by 32 per cent in just two years.

"Some of these delays are due to systematic cuts to social care budgets and provision. Others are due to a serious lack of capacity in community healthcare services – especially intermediate care step down rehabilitation.

"These delays have serious impacts on our already scare hospital bed base; leave patients marooned in acute ward settings they no longer need and at risk of harms of hospitalisation. And so far attempts to solve the problem through initiatives like the Better Care Fund or pressure from NHS England have failed"

Case studies

The stories below are representative of the calls received by Age UK's Information and Advice line, in relation to delayed discharges through a lack of social care provision. Names, gender and certain details and characteristics have been changed to preserve our callers’ confidentiality.

  • Carol’s mother, Lily is currently in hospital following a planned hip replacement. Lily has since been accused of ‘bed-blocking’, which Carol finds upsetting as the proposed care arrangements for her mother’s care are inappropriate and her family are no longer able to carry out the level of care required. Whilst the social worker has been supportive in getting Lily on the housing list, both the suggested areas are too far away from the rest of her family and would result in her feeling alone and lacking the ongoing family support she needs. Carol has been invited to a meeting with the hospital’s discharge coordinator but has concerns that they are going to provide an assessment that does not properly recognise the challenges that her mother faces.
  • Terry’s father Richard, 85, is in hospital following a stroke. He is ready for discharge and has been assessed as needing rehabilitative care through two home visits a day. However he was then told that there are no reablement services available in his area. Terry has been told to ‘get his father out of hospital’ and to look for and fund the care himself.
  • Michael’s sister-in-law, 95 is now fit to return home from hospital, but requires a social worker to be allocated to her. Having waited for some time, and with little indication about how to speed up the process, Michael is concerned that his sister-in-law’s health is deteriorating and that she is losing muscle tone.
  • Debra’s father, Arthur, is in hospital following a fall at home. As he also has dementia – which requires certain adjustments to be made to his home – Arthur is unable to return home, which means that a care home placement is needed, as per the advice of the hospital social worker. Sadly, Debra’s care home enquiries have been met with the suggestion of additional fees –or top-up fees - despite the fact that Arthur meets all of the requirements for his care to be funded by the local authority. Debra fears that her father will fall again and be back in hospital, possibly with a broken hip or worse next time.

* Age UK https://www.ageuk.org.uk/

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