News Briefing and Comment


04/20/2018 11:37 AM
High Court rules two child limit 'in part unlawful'

The High Court has ruled that one of the Government’s key welfare reform policies, the two-child rule for tax credits and universal credit, is in part unlawful.

The High Court has today (20 April 2018) ruled that one of the Government’s key welfare reform policies, the two-child rule for tax credits and universal credit, is in part unlawful.

Mr Justice Ouseley accepted the claim brought by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) on behalf of one claimant household that the exception to the two-child rule for cared-for children was perverse because it was only available where the cared-for child was the third or subsequent child.  As the judge identified: "…the purpose of the exception is to encourage, or at least avoid discouraging, a family from looking after a child who would otherwise be in local authority care, with the disadvantages to the child over family care which that can entail and the public expenditure it can require."  Only making the exception available if the cared-for child was not the first or second child was, according to the judge, "…not rationally connected with the purposes of the legislation and indeed it is in conflict with them."

The ruling means that all children looked after by family members  claiming tax credits or universal credit will not be taken into account for the purposes of the two-child limit.

Commenting on the ruling, CPAG’s solicitor, Carla Clarke, said, ‘This is an important in-road into a flagship welfare reform policy.  The irrationality of limiting the exception for children cared for in kinship arrangements to third or subsequent children  has been raised on numerous occasions by various bodies, yet rather than accepting such legitimate criticisms and removing the restriction, it has required taking the DWP to court for the unlawfulness to be properly recognised.’

CPAG’s wider challenge to the lawfulness of the two-child rule as breaching fundamental human rights to private and family life and to non-discrimination was not accepted by the Court.  CPAG intends to appeal that aspect of the ruling.

Ms Clarke said, ‘This is a policy which is not simply about what level of benefits predominantly working families are entitled to.  Rather, it is a policy which necessarily encroaches upon very personal and intimate decisions about family size and planning and treats some children as less deserving of a benefit intended to meet their basic needs purely because of their birth order. We do not agree with the judge’s findings on the various human rights arguments and will look to appeal this case further’.

The ‘two-child limit’ for child tax credit and universal credit came into force on 6 April 2017.  Families who claim tax credits or universal credit, which have a third or subsequent child born after 6 April 2017, will no longer be able to claim a child element for this child or any future children. The child element is worth up to £2,780 per year (£232 per month) and until the policy came into effect was payable for all children in low-income families to help protect them from poverty. Families who make a new claim for universal credit from 1 February 2019 will only receive the child element for two children per family, even if the children were born before April 2017.

CPAG was acting for three claimant households.  All three of them challenged the overall policy on human rights grounds.  Additionally, one of the households challenged the lawfulness of the ordering issue to the exception for kinship care children.

Analysis  by CPAG and IPPR has found that once universal credit is fully rolled out, the two- child limit will result in up to 200,000 additional children in poverty.

The ordering or sequencing issue applies to the kinship care/cared-for children exception, and also to the adoption and non-consensual conception exception. As well as NGOs, the independent Social Security Advisory Committee raised concerns over the ordering issue in correspondence with the former Minister of State for Employment and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised the matter with the DWP.

Last month 60 Bishops from the Church of England and senior representatives from other Christian, Jewish and Muslim organisations wrote to The Times urging the Government to rethink the two-child policy.  The Church of England and End Child Poverty Coalition’s report on the policy is here

* More information on the case and a link to thje judgement here

* Child Poverty Action Group http://www.cpag.org.uk

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04/20/2018 09:42 AM
Child murder and temple desecration in today’s India

Child murder and temple desecration in today’s India

read more


04/20/2018 07:41 AM
IFAD and Ant Financial join in exploring ways to develop rural economies

The International Fund for Agricultural Development and Ant Financial Services Group have signed a Joint Declaration of Intent to explore ways to contribute to economic development in rural areas and the reduction of rural poverty in China and other developing countries.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Ant Financial Services Group have signed a Joint Declaration of Intent to explore ways to contribute to economic development in rural areas and the reduction of rural poverty in China and other developing countries. 

IFAD, a specialised agency of the United Nations dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries, and Ant Financial, a leading technology company which provides digital inclusive financial services, share a common vision to develop rural areas and improve the living standards of rural people.

Charlotte Salford, IFAD’s Associate Vice President, External Relations and Governance Department, and Peng Bo, General Manager, Ant Financial Rural Finance Department signed the declaration.

“Partnerships with private sector entities, like Ant Financial, are vital to reach our objective of eradicating rural poverty”,  said Salford. “Using our complementary expertise, together we can improve the lives and livelihoods of rural people.”

“We are pleased to be partnering with IFAD. By combining Ant Financial's commitment to promoting digital inclusive finance and IFAD's vision of every rural family living in dignity, we hope to leverage the power of technology and innovation to improve rural people's livelihoods”, said Bo.

Areas of proposed collaboration include improving market access for rural producers through e-commerce platforms and value-chain financing for promising rural agribusinesses. 

Since 1981, IFAD has supported 29 rural development projects in China, investing over US$862 million and reaching approximately 4.4 million rural households. IFAD-supported projects focus on enhancing income opportunities through improving rural people’s access to markets, strengthening value chains and promoting more inclusive financial services.

* More on the China- IFAD partnership here

* The International Fund for Agricultural Development https://www.ifad.org/

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04/20/2018 07:35 AM
Christian Aid calls on UK and Canada to eradicate energy poverty in Commonwealth

Christian Aid has called on the UK and Canada to prove their commitment to the poorest people in the ‘family of nations’ and eradicate energy poverty.

As leaders wrap up the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London this week, Christian Aid has called on the UK and Canada to prove their commitment to the poorest people in the ‘family of nations’ and eradicate energy poverty.

The two countries that launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance have the potential to bring clean power to those without it, ensuring poor countries do not turn to coal to meet their energy needs.

According to new research by Christian Aid which assessed pledges to the Paris Agreement, the two countries are currently not doing their fair share of the global effort to reduce climate pollution. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/25651) Because of their historic emissions and capacity to act, they need to help displace emissions abroad as well as cutting them at home.

To meet their fair share the UK and Canada need to displace 700 and 620 metric tonnes of C02 by 2030 respectively, which equates to 1,730 and 1,530 terawatt hours of electricity.  Combined this more than meets the needed 2,050 terawatt hours needed to wipe out energy poverty in Commonwealth countries.

Christian Aid’s International Climate Lead, Mohamed Adow, who wrote the report Climate inequality in the Commonwealth, said: “The UK and Canada have done great work growing the number of countries promising to end burning coal.  But that is only half the equation. If they really care about the poor they need to help replace this coal power with clean power. 

“Many poor Commonwealth countries have an abundance of potential renewable energy from the wind and sun, but they lack the investment needed to harness it.

“The UK and Canada claim to be climate leaders and yet they are currently shirking their responsibilities. They can reverse this by investing in renewable energy projects which is the best way to ensure their Powering Past Coal Alliance is a success.”

Action on climate change would also have a particular benefit to Commonwealth countries who are the most in danger. The top five most impacted countries in Germanwatch’s latest Climate Risk Index 2017 are all Commonwealth nations: Mozambique, Dominica, Malawi, India and Vanuatu. 

CHOGM was due to be held in Vanuatu but had to be relocated to London because of the damage caused by Cyclone Pam in 2015.

The report shows that while the UK and Canada are underperforming their fair share, poor countries in the Commonwealth are over achieving. Bangladesh, Kenya and Zambia are all in credit, as too are vulnerable island states like Kiribati and Tuvalu.

Mr Adow said: “How can the UK and Canada claim to stand shoulder to shoulder with Pacific islanders when those people face the prospect of being up to their waste in seawater due in part to UK and Canadian carbon emissions?  In fact, the UK burns more carbon dioxide per person than 18 Commonwealth countries combined, and Canada the equivalent of 27.”

* Read Climate inequality in the Commonwealth  A call for urgent action here

* Christian Aid https://mediacentre.christianaid.org.uk/

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04/20/2018 07:21 AM
Indian journalist charged over allegedly blasphemous cartoon

A journalist in India has been charged with blasphemy and is receiving death threats after drawing a cartoon of two Hindu gods.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Indian authorities to respect press freedom and to protect Swathi Vadlamudi, a journalist who is charged with blasphemy and the target of a campaign of violent online harassment and death threats, over a cartoon she drew of two Hindu gods.

Swathi Vadlamudi, who works at the bureau of The Hindu newspaper in Hyderabad, the capital of the southern state of Telangana, is facing a possible three-year jail sentence as a result of an accusation of hurting religious sentiments under section 295 (a) of the criminal code, that was brought against her on 16 April 2018.

Vadlamudi's cartoon, posted on Twitter on 10 April 2018, alluded to recent far-right Hindu demonstrations which called for the release of Hindu activists and a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), held on suspicion of involvement in the rape of a minor and the gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from a Muslim nomadic community.

The cartoon shows the goddess Sita holding a newspaper with headlines about these sex crimes and saying to her husband, the god Ram: "I'm so glad I was kidnapped by Ravan and not by your bhakts." Her comment refers to the ancient epic poem Ramayana about her abduction by a demon, and to Hindu activists known as bhakts who support Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP.

"Instead of aggravating the disgraceful online harassment with judicial proceedings, the Telangana authorities should be doing everything possible to ensure that Swathi Vadlamudi is protected," said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk.

"Amid all the current outrage about the tragedies that were the subject of this cartoon, a public debate is essential, including by means of cartoons. At the national level, with a year to go to parliamentary elections, BJP leaders and activists must demonstrate that they are ready to respect the freedom of expression of journalists who do not necessarily share their opinions."

The threats against Vadlamudi on social networks have mixed extreme misogyny and vulgarity, with overtones of hatred towards Muslims. Indian journalists are often the targets of death threats when their reporting or views annoy the followers of Hindutva, the ideology behind Hindu extremism.

At least 13 Indian journalists have been murdered in connection with their work since the start of 2015. India is ranked 136th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

* Reporters Without Borders https://rsf.org/en

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04/20/2018 07:12 AM
Positive step for refugee children in Lebanon

A new regulation allowing some Syrian teenagers to get temporary legal status in Lebanon more easily is a positive and long-awaited step, says Human Rights Watch.

A new regulation allowing some Syrian teenagers to get temporary legal status in Lebanon more easily is a positive and long-awaited step, Human Rights Watch says. Lebanese authorities should ensure that all children can maintain legal status, a key factor in fulfilling their right to an education.

Lebanon’s General Security agency, in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency in Lebanon, issued the regulation effective 31 March 2018. It allows Syrian children who turned ages 15 to 18 after entering Lebanon and who do not have a Syrian passport or national identity card, to obtain temporary residency by presenting their Syrian individual status record, so long as it is not over two years old. General Security told Human Rights Watch that the regulation excludes refugees who have already turned 19. Authorities should ensure that refugees who turned 15 to 18 after entering Lebanon but are now over 18 can benefit from this change. They should also accept additional forms of documentation such as United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) registration or family booklets in cases in which these refugees do not have other identification.

“This is a positive and much needed step to ensure that Syrian children in Lebanon can attend school safely and without risking arrest for lack of legal status,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Children should not be forced into legal limbo simply because they didn’t have certain documents when fleeing to Lebanon.”

Most Syrian refugees have not been able to meet the requirements of harsh residency regulations that Lebanon imposed in January 2015. An estimated 74 per cent of the nearly one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon now lack legal status, with consequences for nearly every aspect of their lives. In a 2018 survey of 129 Syrians ages 15 to 18, the Norwegian Refugee Council found that 90 per cent did not have legal residency.

Lack of residency limits refugees’ freedom of movement; leaves them vulnerable to arrest, abuse, and exploitation; hinders access to education and health care and exacerbates child labour and early marriage. It can mean that any interaction with authorities is a risk.

Previously, children under 15 were covered by their parents’ residency status, but upon turning 15, they had to apply for their own residency using either a Syrian national ID or passport. However, many children fled to Lebanon before obtaining those documents. According to a Norwegian Refugee Council briefing document, 78 per cent of children surveyed had a Syrian civil extract, also known as an individual status record, as compared with six per cent with a passport. However, many of the individual status records will have been issued more than two years ago. General Security should amend the new regulation to accept these older personal status records.         

Legal status is key to ensuring that children can continue their education, Human Rights Watch said. According to the UN Refugee Agency, only 3,902 “non-Lebanese children” are enrolled in formal secondary education, just five per cent of the nearly 80,000 registered Syrian refugees ages 15 to 18. More than 200,000 registered Syrian children are still out of school in Lebanon, seven years into the refugee crisis.

A 2016 survey by the University of Saint Joseph found that refugee children ages 15 to 17 without residency were more likely to be out of school than children in that age group with valid residency.

Older Syrian children face increasing restrictions on their freedom of movement precisely when they may need to travel longer distances and cross more checkpoints to attend secondary school. And although young children can usually cross checkpoints without incident, older children are more likely to be stopped.

Human Rights Watch previously found that General Security offices have applied residency policies inconsistently, including requiring refugees registered with UNHCR to obtain a Lebanese sponsor and requiring Syrians to sign a pledge not to work, even after this requirement was dropped in 2016. When General Security waived the annual US$200 residency fee for some refugees in 2017, it also imposed a daily quota of applications that limited the effect of the waiver, humanitarian organisations told Human Rights Watch. Lebanese authorities should ensure that the latest decision is applied consistently by all General Security offices in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said.

The State Consultative Council found in February that the 2015 residency and entry regulations were invalid because it was the role of the government, not security agencies, to set these regulations. However, the regulations remain in force.

The Friends of Syria Group meeting in Brussels on 24 and 25 April should adopt policies and provide sufficient funding to address key obstacles to education, including harsh residency policies that restrict access to schools and contribute to poverty and child labour, Human Rights Watch said. Ensuring access to secondary education should be a core part of the education response.

Human Rights Watch has also urged candidates for Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on 6 May to support easing restrictions on temporary legal status for Syrians in Lebanon, until it is safe for them to return to Syria.

“The new decision is a step in the right direction, but should be expanded to ensure that people aren’t falling through the cracks”, Fakih said. “Children who turned 15 in Lebanon and lost legal status should not be excluded from this decision simply because they have already turned 18.”

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

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04/20/2018 06:48 AM
Mental Health Foundation responds to research findings on depression

Mental Health Foundation Scotland has welcomed scientific research, but says equal significance and resources should be given to addressing the psychological and social causes of depression, which are often rooted in inequalities, trauma and stigma.

Lee Knifton, Head of The Mental Health Foundation Scotland has responded to new research which identified areas of DNA that could be linked to depression. Scientists led by the University of Edinburgh analysed data from UK Biobank – a research resource containing health and genetic information for half a million people.

Lee Knifton, head of  MHF Scotland said, "We welcome new research that can help to inform our understanding of biological dimensions that contribute towards the development or perpetuation of depression, particularly where this can lead to creating more effective treatments and support to alleviate suffering.

"However it is important that we give equal significance and resources to funding and addressing the psychological and social causes of depression, which are often rooted in inequalities, trauma and stigma.

"There's no escaping from the fact that in Scotland, people in the most deprived areas are four times more likely to report symptoms of depression than those in the least deprived areas. Our immediate environment, such as financial circumstances, family, relationships, housing and welfare will have the biggest impact on our mental health."

* More on the research from the University of Edinburgh here

* Mental Health Foundation https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

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04/20/2018 06:45 AM
Welsh Government 'cannot allow UK Government to plunge more Welsh children into poverty'

Welsh Minsters say they cannot be silent as UK Government’s tax and welfare reforms threaten to plunge 50,000 more Welsh children into poverty and increase levels of deprivation for the most vulnerable families.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recently published its findings on the potential cumulative impact of implemented and proposed UK Government tax and welfare reforms on people sharing different protected characteristics. 

The report analyses policy changes made between May 2010 and January 2018, which will have been implemented by the financial year 2021-22. It finds nearly half of all households in Wales will lose out from the reforms, and that the largest impact will be felt by people on the lowest incomes. 

The report also shows:

  • relative child poverty in Wales will increase substantially – by 50,000 children (or eight percentage points) by 2021/22 as a result of the tax and welfare reforms analysed
  • large families will be particularly hard hit by the reforms with those families that have three or more children losing around £5,600 a year
  • the child poverty rate for those in lone parent households in Great Britain is forecast to increase from 37 per cent to over 62 per cent, with lone parents losing an average of £5,250 a year, almost one-fifth of their annual income. 

In a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Minister for Children and Social Care, Huw Irranca-Davies, Leader of the House with responsibility for equalities, Julie James and Minister for Housing and Regeneration, Rebecca Evans, have called on the UK Government to reconsider its tax and welfare reform policies, because of the negative financial impacts they will have on the most disadvantaged.

Minister for Children, Huw Irranca-Davies said, "The Welsh Government’s efforts to tackle child poverty and improve the lives of low income families are being damaged by the UK Government’s package of tax and welfare reforms – in particular by changes to the benefit system such as the freeze in working-age benefit rates, changes to disability benefits and reductions in Universal Credit rates.

“It is entirely unacceptable in a civilised nation to ignore the impacts of these reforms on equality of opportunity. It cannot be right, proper or moral for the incomes of protected groups to be impacted in such a disproportionate way. 

“As a government, we cannot and will not be silent as the UK Government’s damaging tax and welfare reforms threaten to plunge 50,000 more Welsh children into poverty and increase levels of deprivation for our most vulnerable families.

“We have called on the UK Government to take urgent action in relation to these policies, which will result in profound hardship. It is essential that these policies are revisited as a matter of priority and rigorous equality impact assessments are undertaken in order to safeguard the well-being of those who are most vulnerable.”

* Welsh Government http://gov.wales/?lang=en

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04/20/2018 06:16 AM
Faith leaders urge Scottish Parliament to pass ambitious new Climate Change Bill

The Moderator of the Church of Scotland has joined faith leaders from across Scotland to call for the passing of a “strong and ambitious” new Climate Change Bill.

The Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Dr Derek Browning joined faith leaders from across Scotland on 18 April 2018 to call for the passing of a “strong and ambitious” new Climate Change Bill.

“We share the earth, our common home gifted to us, with seven billion others whose descendants depend on getting our response to climate change right,” he said. “We have faith that this is possible.”

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 originally set a world-leading target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The Scottish Government now intends to introduce a new Bill which increases the target to a 90 per cent emissions reduction.

However, faith leaders are calling for “a net target of 100%” to be introduced, saying that it “might appear very difficult to achieve but with rapid decarbonisation of the economy envisaged in the draft Scottish Energy Strategy there is no reason to dismiss it.”

The Moderator, Bishop Joseph Toal and Mr Ameed Versace were among the faith leaders speaking at a special event held at the Dynamic Earth centre in Edinburgh, hosted by Claire Baker MSP and coordinated by Christian Aid, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, Tearfund and Islamic Relief.

Dr Browning supported the call on MSPs to join faith leaders in making this commitment, saying “I welcome this opportunity to join faith leaders to call for Scotland to assert its leading role in responding to climate change.”

Addressing the delegation on the strength and influence of faith leaders working together in tackling climate change, he added: “Faith leaders around the world are calling for climate justice. We know from Christiana Figueres, UN Secretary to the Paris climate summit, that faith groups played a vital role at the summit in December 2015 in helping governments have the confidence to reach an agreement. This role is not new but it is becoming more important for a number of reasons.

“First, churches and other faith groups have a vital role in bringing messages and stories from those most affected by climate change to audiences and political leaders in Scotland and elsewhere.

“While it is important to get the facts and figures about tonnes of carbon and percentages and targets right it is the human stories that change hearts and minds and faith groups understand this.

“Last November the Church of Scotland helped bring together representatives from churches in the Pacific, from Tuvalu and Fiji to meet the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, when she visited the UN climate conference in Bonn. Their stories about the catastrophic impact of climate change on Pacific islands, and the stories that partners here today bring from around the world to Scottish audience make clear the message we need to understand here and elsewhere: climate change is changing lives.

“We are proud that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government have shown leadership in promoting climate action in the past and now have the opportunity to assert once again that Scotland has a leading role to play.”

Dr Browning also strongly believes that faith groups hold the key to reaching out and engaging with communities across Scotlan on climate justice.

“We recognise that this is a tremendous challenge and here is a second reason why faith groups are important and can play a growing role.

“Working with Eco-Congregation Scotland we can reach out to over 400 eco-congregations across Scotland to help give them the confidence to make changes in their lives and in their communities to respond to this challenge.”

The full list of faith representatives who joined Dr Browning in advocating for a revised Climate Change Bill were:

  • Joseph Toal, Bishop of Motherwell and Bishop President of SCIAF
  • John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley
  • Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh
  • Board of Interfaith Scotland
  • Gordon Hudson, Chief Executive, Eco-congregations Scotland
  • Most Rev Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church
  • The Rev Alan Donaldson, General Director of the Baptist Union of Scotland
  • Ravinder Kaur Nijjar-Sikh Representative on Scottish Religious Leaders Forum and Chair of Religions for Peace UK Women of Faith Network
  • The Rev Professor Kenneth Ross, Chair of Scotland Malawi Partnership
  • Shabir Beg, Chairman, Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society
  • Ameed Versace, Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society.

* Read the full text of the Moderator's address here

* Church of Scotland http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/home

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04/20/2018 06:05 AM
Call for full public inquiry into UK involvement in US drone attacks

Amnesty is calling for a full public inquiry into the UK’s role in the US drones programme, including how it supplies intelligence material to the USA potentially used in drone attacks.

As the Trump administration prepares to expand the USA’s lethal drone programme, increasing the risk of civilian casualties and unlawful killings, Amnesty International is calling on the UK and three other European countries to urgently overhaul the operational and intelligence assistance they provide to the programme.

Amnesty is also calling for a full public inquiry into the UK’s role in the US drones programme, including how it supplies intelligence material to the USA potentially used in drone attacks.  

Amnesty and others have documented cases under successive US administrations where US drone strikes have killed people not directly participating in hostilities or those who posed no imminent threat to life, including children.

In a new 86-page report, Deadly Assistance: The role of European states in US Drone Strikes, Amnesty shows how the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy assist the US drone programme. Amnesty’s report highlights how a climate of secrecy makes it difficult to establish what safeguards - if any - these countries have in place to ensure they’re not assisting in unlawful drone strikes.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, US drone strikes have killed as many as 1,551 civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen since 2004. Drone attacks have already increased dramatically under Donald Trump’s presidency. The Council on Foreign Relations, a US-based thinktank, estimated that President Trump approved at least 36 drone strikes or special operations raids in his first 45 days in office. According to media reports, Mr Trump has also rolled back limited Obama-era protections on the drone programme. A new - still-secret - policy reportedly allows the targeting of a much larger number of individuals even if they are not clearly identified, and relaxes the requirement for “near certainty” that a lawful target is present.

Amnesty has raised particular concerns about the reliability of “signals intelligence”, which the USA often gathers from foreign partners to target individuals. According to an investigation by The Intercept, leaked Pentagon documents show that during one five-month period in 2013, 90% of those killed by US drone strikes in Operation Haymaker (US special operations in north-east Afghanistan) were unintended targets. It is unclear whether the US has since implemented safeguards around its use of signals intelligence.

While Amnesty does not oppose the use of armed drones, it has repeatedly called on the USA to ensure its use of these weapons complies with its obligations under international law.

Gathering together information available from official sources, in revelations from the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, and from the work of several journalistic investigations, Amnesty’s reports shows how at:

RAF Menwith Hill in Yorkshire - hundreds of US military personnel and contractors work alongside several hundred UK staff, including from GCHQ, reportedly helping to target individuals across the Middle East and North Africa in US “capture-kill operations”. Data from more than 300 million emails and phone calls per day is reportedly being sifted in this operation. Individuals in internet café’s in Yemen have reportedly been identified as “targets” as a result.

RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire - the US European Command’s Joint Analysis Centre carries out military intelligence analysis, which apparently involves data analysis for US drone strikes. In 2016, Molesworth produced job advertisements for “full motion video analysts” to study footage taken by drones and other surveillance aircraft in order to identify potential targets.

RAF Digby in Lincolnshire - is used as a signals interception base, hosting US National Security Agency personnel who, according to Edward Snowden, work closely with UK staff “to produce critical intelligence on an amazing variety of targets”. This reportedly includes analysis of geolocation data gathered from mobile phone signals via surveillance equipment attached to drones. Digby works closely with its US counterparts at Fort Gordon in Georgia and the Alaska Mission Operations Center.
 
RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire - approximately a third of all US military communications in Europe pass through this base, which has a direct link through a fibre-optic communications system to a US military base in Djibouti (Camp Lemonnier), from where most US drone strikes on Yemen and Somalia are carried out.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said, “Civilians are dying at the press of a button from a drone operator sitting behind a screen thousands of miles away from the locations targeted in these attacks.

“We already know that GCHQ is feeding information to the USA used to launch deadly spy in the sky operations in the Middle East and Africa.

“What we don’t know is - how often is British intelligence being weaponised by the USA’s secretive drones programme, what are the rules, and is the legality of the strikes ever questioned?

“We need a full public inquiry into the UK’s shadowy role in drone attacks by the USA.”

The wider European picture

Amnesty’s report also shows how the UK is just one of the key European players in the US drones programme. 

  • Germany and the Netherlands also share intelligence which allows the USA to locate potential targets for drone strikes;
  • Germany and Italy allow the USA to operate on bases on their territory, which provide communications and intelligence infrastructure, enabling the transmission of information between operators in the USA and armed drones carrying out lethal strikes across the globe;
  • Germany and the Netherlands provide metadata (information about communications such as time and location of phone calls) that could be used to target people in attacks;
  • Italy allows the USA to launch armed drones from a US base in Sicily.

These arrangements are likely to be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complex and sophisticated network of European support for US drone strikes, and Amnesty is calling on the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy to refrain from assisting in US drone strikes that may violate international human rights law - which applies to the use of armed drones by the USA at all times - or international humanitarian law, which applies to drone strikes carried out as part of an actual armed conflict.

Amnesty is also calling on these four countries to initiate full public inquiries into their involvement in US drone use, with independent and impartial investigations into all cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe they have provided assistance to a US drone strike resulting in unlawful killings. They must also provide urgent public clarification on any existing safeguards to ensure they are not aiding and assisting in potentially unlawful US drone attacks. Meanwhile, Amnesty is urging the USA to publicly disclose its new rules governing the use of lethal force abroad, including rules on targeting for lethal operations.

Government responses

Amnesty sent summaries of its findings and concerns to the governments of the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. At the time of publication, only the Netherlands and Germany had responded.

The Netherlands said it does not cooperate with unlawful targeted killings. It also stated that the Minister of Defence had adopted and implemented a series of recommendations made by the Dutch Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services regarding safeguards to prevent the sharing of intelligence which could be used for the unlawful use of force by other states. However, the response confirmed that the Netherlands has no specific policy governing the provision of assistance to US lethal operations, including its drone programme. Instead, it applies a general framework to data exchange under which various factors are assessed before sharing data, including respect for international humanitarian law and the human rights policy of country in question, under which cooperation is reassessed in certain circumstances.

The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it can only share information pertaining to the intelligence services with the relevant parliamentary control committees whose communication is secret. The German Foreign Ministry said it was unable to answer some of the questions raised in Amnesty’s letter due to ongoing litigation regarding Germany’s role in US drone strikes.

No accountability over civilian deaths 

The lack of transparency over US drones has greatly impeded accountability and access to justice for victims and their families. An Amnesty report in 2013 documented how multiple drone strikes in Pakistan had resulted in the deaths of 18 labourers, including a 14-year-old-boy and a 68-year-old woman. The USA has never publicly committed to investigating the cases of potentially unlawful killings that Amnesty documented, or even provided its own account of what occurred.

Where connections have been made between European assistance and potentially unlawful strikes under the US drone programme, there has often been a similar refusal by the governments involved to investigate or respond. For example, in 2015 GCHQ documents provided to the Guardian newspaper by Edward Snowden showed how a surveillance programme located in the UK had facilitated a drone strike in Yemen in 2012 that targeted and killed two men described as members of al-Qa’ida. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the strike also killed a civilian (a 60-year-old man) and injured between six and nine other civilians, including six children. GCHQ declined to comment.

Rasha Abdul Rahim, Amnesty International’s Arms Control, Security Trade and Human Rights Researcher, said, “The UK, German, Dutch and Italian governments have been assisting in the USA’s secret global killing programme for years, providing vital intelligence and infrastructure despite mounting civilian casualties and allegations of unlawful killings, including war crimes.

“With Trump at the helm the threat to civilians is greater than ever and there is an urgent need for more transparency.”

All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones inquiry

Rasha Abdul-Rahim will present the findings of the report at a parliamentary event (Committee Room 4, House of Lords, 4.30-5.45pm) on Monday 23 April, part of a broader discussion centred on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drone’s ongoing inquiry.

* Read Deadly Assistance: The role of European states in US Drone Strikes here

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

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04/19/2018 10:38 PM
Protests as Narendra Modi visits London

Protestors in central London have voiced anger about the role of Indian leaders in religious, gender and caste-based violence. Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, was attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting but also met the Queen, Prince Charles and Theresa May.

Protestors in central London voiced anger on 18 April 2018  about the role of Indian leaders in religious, gender and caste-based violence. Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister, was attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting but also met the Queen, Prince Charles and UK Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Hundreds gathered opposite the entrance to Downing Street under a banner urging ‘Justice for Asifa’ and ‘Modi not welcome!’ This referred to the rape of murder of eight-year-old Asifa Bano, a girl from a nomadic Muslim community, in Jammu-Kashmir.

Attacks on Muslims are not uncommon and two politicians from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rallied in support of the alleged perpetrators. Christians and Dalits have also been victimised in today’s India.

South Asia Solidarity Group took a leading role in the protest, alongside Castewatch UK. Other groups taking part included Southall Black Sisters. There were separate demonstrations nearby by those seeking independence for Kashmir and Khalistan.

Messages on banners included "Stop religious persecution in India", "Stop Modi’s upper caste thugs killing Dalits", ‘”Hindu' extremism disgraces India" and "PM Modi your hatred and bigotry is tearing India apart".

Other slogans drew attention to the rape of a 16-year-old, allegedly by a BJP politician, and the  death of her father in suspicious circumstances; and to Gauri Lankesh, a journalist shot dead in 2017, for which a far right activist has been arrested.

There was drumming and chants (in Hindi) of "This time round, a rapist government will not do". This referred to a slogan used in the 2014 election campaign, "This time round, Modi’s government". The chief minister of Gujarat at the time, he had been widely criticised over the mass killings of Muslims in 2002.

Those taking part marched to Parliament Square, where earlier a pro-Modi rally had been held, with men in saffron and dancing women in colourful saris. The widely publicised attacks on girls and disappointment over the economy appear however to have affected some of his previous supporters.

Several Western governments are keen to promote trade and strategic links with India. But critics have pointed to the risks of overlooking violent extremism, especially in a nuclear power. Regional tensions and the rise of ‘Muslim’ fundamentalism in neighbouring Pakistan, also equipped with atomic weapons, add to the danger. It is not only human rights in India at stake.

Ekklesia Associate Savi Hensman, who was present at the protest, said: "Long after the noise of protests in Westminster has faded away, international controversy over Narendra Modi and the BJP will continue."

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04/19/2018 07:40 AM
Total pay has reached lowest monthly level in two years

The New Economics Foundation says a growing economy is failing to translate into higher wages for the majority of people.

Responding to the latest Labour Market statistics, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has commented on what lies behind the headline figures on wages and inflation.

Alfie Stirling, Head of Economics at the NEF, said, “While it is welcome news to see regular pay slightly higher at the beginning of 2018 in real terms than at the same time in 2017, the bigger picture makes for grim reading.

“Almost 10 years on from the financial crisis, growth in regular wages has stalled dramatically, with earnings growth broadly flat or worse since March 2016. The latest data also shows that when bonuses are included, total pay in February reached the lowest monthly level seen in two years.

“The bottom line is that Britain’s current economic model is broken. A growing economy is failing to translate into higher wages for the majority of people, with average earnings not expected to return to their pre-crisis peak until 2025.”

* New Economics Foundation http://neweconomics.org/

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04/19/2018 07:20 AM
Church Action for Tax Justice challenges government inactivity on reforms

Christian leaders have united in the House of Lords to challenge government inactivity on tax justice reforms and to demand immediate tough action.

Christian leaders united in the House of Lords on Tuesday 17 April 2018 to challenge government inactivity on tax justice reforms and to demand immediate tough action.

Launching 'Church Action for Tax Justice' (CAT), President-Designate of the Methodist Conference, the Rev Michaela A Youngson, joined Lords Rowan Williams and Richard Harries, Dame Margaret Hodge and Recording Clerk of Quakers in Britain, Paul Parker, to demand an end to corporate tax evasion, greater transparency and a change to the negative narrative around tax. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/25639)

In her speech to a packed committee room, the Rev Youngson said: “I hope we can shift the narrative around tax away from it being a dirty word, or a necessary evil, but rather a blessing and a means of all citizens having a stake in a generous society that cares for all.” Dr Rowan Williams talked about an “unquenchable thirst for more” in the corporate sector (referencing the name of the Christian Aid report), a “wilful blindness” amongst policy makers and how tax should not be “an us and them but a recognition of shared goals and mutuality”.

Opening the meeting, Dame Margaret Hodge, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Responsible Tax, congratulated the new initiative, saying: “there has never been a more important time than today to address issues of tax justice...this is not anti-business but pro fairness…Reforms are urgent, now is the time for tough action.”

CAT will seek to inspire all Churches about the urgency of creating fairer and more effective tax systems to fund healthier public services, both in the UK and internationally.

Dr Rowan Williams, the Chair of the Christian Aid Board, commenting in advance, said: “The creation of this new Church-wide movement is timely. Many of the world’s largest companies seem to have forgotten that they have moral duties, as well as legal ones. They must support human flourishing, not least by paying their fair share of taxes in all the countries where they do business - and being fully transparent about the relevant data.”

Ending financial secrecy in UK tax havens like the British Virgin Islands is one of the reforms CAT will pursue, along with changes to the way large multinational companies are taxed. In addition, the new campaign will call on Churches themselves to make more vigorous and vocal use of their power as investors in major companies.

CAT has developed out of the Methodist Tax Justice Network and seeks to be more ecumenical, embracing all Church denominations.

One recent sign of the success of the worldwide movement for tax justice has been the decision by Vodafone to publish its country-by-country reports from 2019 onwards. Christian Aid, the Tax Justice Network and others have long campaigned for major multinationals to publish such data, because it can throw up suspicious patterns that alert tax authorities and civil society to potential tax dodging. This, in turn, helps them to hold companies to account.

* The Methodist Church http://www.methodist.org.uk/

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04/19/2018 07:11 AM
Domestic abuse victims, elderly, and children 'at greater risk of becoming illegally resident after Brexit'

Substantial numbers of UK residents could be at risk of losing their legal status after Brexit, with particularly vulnerable groups including victims of domestic abuse, elderly people and children, finds a report from Migration Observatory.

Substantial numbers of UK residents could be at risk of losing their legal status after Brexit, with particularly vulnerable groups including victims of domestic abuse, elderly people and children, finds a report from Migration Observatory.

The report – Unsettled Status? Which EU Citizens are at Risk of Failing to Secure their Rights after Brexit? – represents the most comprehensive effort to date to estimate the size of different groups who could struggle to secure settled status after Brexit. This includes vulnerable people who may find it difficult to complete an application and provide the necessary evidence, as well as EU citizens who may simply not realise that they are covered by the new regulations and need to apply for 'Settled Status' (SS).

To acquire SS, EU citizens will need to show that they started living in the UK before the cut-off date (which is currently scheduled to be December 31, 2020), and will need to complete five years of residence here. But despite efforts by the government to ensure that SS is as inclusive as possible, the report shows that several groups of EU citizens are nonetheless at risk.

This includes people who are already vulnerable for other reasons. For example, women who are victims of domestic abuse, especially if they are not working and rely on their partner for evidence that they have been living here (e.g. utility bills and leases). EU citizens are less likely to describe experiencing domestic abuse than UK or non-EU citizens, according to official data provided to the Migration Observatory. Nevertheless, the same data suggest that more than 50,000 EU citizen women experienced domestic abuse in the UK in 2016-2017. Other vulnerable groups of EU citizens in the UK include children in care and victims of trafficking, although there are no reliable data on these groups.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said, “The Home Office is clearly keen to create a system that is easy and straightforward to use, and most EU citizens should be able to sail through a simplified application process with little difficulty. But for a minority of people, the process will be more difficult. Many of these are already society’s most vulnerable – whether it is because they are socially isolated, have been victims of exploitation, or face personal barriers such as mental health or poverty.”

The report also identifies larger, if less vulnerable, groups of people who may simply not realise that they need to apply. (NB these groups are not mutually exclusive) Among them are :

  • More than 140,000 people who have lived in the UK more than 30 years
  • 56,000 elderly people (age 75+)
  • Over 145,000 people who have already been granted permanent residence, but will nevertheless need to apply for settled status.
  • Over 900,000 children of EU citizens living in the UK, whose status will depend on their parents knowing that they need to apply.

Available data suggest that there could be tens of thousands of children born in the UK whose EU citizen parents mistakenly believe that they are automatically UK nationals.

Sumption added: “Perhaps the biggest challenge if the government aims to include all EU citizens in the settled status process is awareness. It’s possible that many people simply won’t realise that they need to apply. We know from other government programmes like child benefit that people often don’t apply for something even when it’s really in their interests to do so. When the deadline arrives, people who haven’t applied lose their legal status. This means that one of the biggest policy questions is what will happen to people who were eligible but didn’t apply in time.”

The EU-UK agreement on citizens’ rights says that a ‘proportionate’ approach will be taken to people who do not apply within the deadline, where there is a ‘good reason’. What this means in practice has not been set out in detail, however.

* Based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. The Observatory’s analysis involves experts from a wide range of disciplines and departments at the University of Oxford. The Migration Observatory receives core funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

* Read the report Unsettled Status? Which EU Citizens are at Risk of Failing to Secure their Rights after Brexit? here

* Migration Observatory http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/

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04/19/2018 06:56 AM
HSBC faces protest for 'profiting from human rights abuses'

Protesters will be gather at HSBC's AGM to say 'Stop Arming Israel'.

HSBC is a major shareholder in companies which supply weapons and military equipment to Israel, which often uses lethal force against Palestinians, including the recent killing of unarmed protesters in Gaza.

Over 18,000 people around the UK have contacted HSBC Group Chief Executive John Flint, expressing their concerns on this issue, and HSBC branches in over 20 locations across the UK have been the focus of regular protests and pickets.

On Friday 20 April between 10am to 2pm, protesters outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre will be telling shareholders at HSBC’s annual general meeting to ‘Stop Arming Israel’.

British high street bank HSBC profits through investments and loans to companies which supply military equipment to Israel.  Israel’s security forces use such weapons for brutal and illegal violence against Palestinians, including extrajudicial executions, attacks on unarmed protesters, house demolitions using armoured equipment, mass arrests and the military blockade and large scale bombings on the Gaza Strip.

Ryvka Barnard, Senior Campaigner on Militarism and Security at War on Want, said, “HSBC holds millions of pounds worth of shares in companies like BAE Systems, Boeing, and Elbit Systems, whose weapons are used in Israeli military attacks on Palestinian civilians. As long as HSBC maintains business with companies arming Israel, its role in the oppression of Palestinians will continue to raise alarm and generate protest.”

Ben Jamal, Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “HSBC claims it has a commitment to upholding human rights. If this commitment is sincere, it must end its complicity in the arms trade with Israel. In recent weeks, the world has witnessed just how shamelessly Israel uses lethal force against Palestinian civilians. We join concerned citizens across the UK in telling HSBC to live up to its responsibilities and stop making a killing from Israel’s daily and systematic violence against Palestinians.” 

Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Programme Director at Defence for Children International -Palestine, said: “Israeli forces are using live ammunition for crowd control to disperse protesters in Gaza, ignoring their obligation under international law to only resort to intentional lethal force when a direct, mortal threat to life or of serious injury exists. The cost of systemic impunity is that wilful killing of civilians is now routine, putting Palestinian children at higher risk of death and critical injury.”

* War On Want  https://www.waronwant.org/

 

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