News Briefing and Comment


08/18/2017 08:35 AM
Christian Aid launches appeal for Sierra Leone mudslide survivors

Christian Aid has launched a public appeal for emergency funds to support its relief operation for families devastated by the flooding and mudslide disaster in Sierra Leone.

Christian Aid has launched a public appeal for emergency funds to support its relief operation for families devastated by the flooding and mudslide disaster in Sierra Leone.

Some 3,000 people lost their homes after seasonal rains caused a landslide that submerged entire communities in Regent and its environs – a mountainous area on the outskirts of the capital city, Freetown.

To date, nearly 350 people are known to have died, including more than 120 children. A further 600 individuals remain unaccounted for, while over 100 people are severely injured. The number of fatalities is expected to rise as the rescue efforts continue.

Using emergency funds, Christian Aid will work through its local partners in Freetown to reach 1,000 survivors of the disaster. They will distribute relief items such as food, clean drinking water, clothing, mosquito nets, kitchen utensils and hygiene supplies – including sanitary kits for women and girls.

Speaking from Freetown, Christian Aid’s country manager for Sierra Leone, Jeanne Kamara, said: “Early on Monday morning a heavy downpour in Freetown triggered a deluge of devastation, as rocks, earth and mud fell on houses and buried several communities: it was like a mini volcano.

“We Sierra Leoneans are resilient people and this week our resilience has been cruelly tested, yet again. As a resident of Freetown, it breaks my heart that another tragedy is unfolding here, while we’re still recovering from the deep-rooted impacts of the Ebola epidemic. We are going from emergency to emergency, and this is wreaking untold emotional, physical and psychological damage.

“The mood here this week is sombre and sober, and as I speak the rains are threatening again. Communities, faith groups, aid agencies and government agencies are working hard, but there are still a lot of gaps: a lot of people are using inappropriate make-shift shelters. 

“We sent out a team to assess the situation and register those who need help: what we’ve seen are lots of people who are homeless, who are confused, distressed and traumatised, and who will need lots of psycho-social support."

Mrs Kamara continued: “I spoke to a group of women who said they and their surviving family members have no clothes, no underwear, no sanitary kits: everything that they owned has gone. People have nothing, not even a pair of slippers on their feet to make their way to some of the local registration centres.

“They are now extremely vulnerable, especially women and children. School resumes in about a month’s time and many surviving children have lost all their uniforms and school materials. That’s why we are working around the clock, with our partners here in Freetown, to make sure help gets to those who need it most.

"In our initial response, our partners here will be distributing food and other essential items, such as malaria nets and basic household items. Our partners will, as always, work alongside community leaders, faith leaders and traditional leaders, so we can capitalise on their local knowledge and experience of their communities.”

Homeless families are currently sheltering in schools, community halls, churches, mosques and other public buildings. The government is expected to announce long-term plans to house displaced families.

Christian Aid’s relief programme will focus on locations in Freetown that are expected to receive less support from state bodies and aid organisations. In addition to launching today’s appeal, it has also applied for funds from other donors such as the START Network. It hopes to use this additional funding to, among other things, help displaced women and girls at risk of violence.

* Donate to Christian Aid’s emergency appeal here

* START Network https://startnetwork.org/

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

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08/18/2017 08:16 AM
More than half self-employed not earning decent living, says NEF

More than half of all self-employed people are failing to earn a decent living, according to new research by the New Economics Foundation.

More than half of all self-employed people are failing to earn a decent living, according to new research by the New Economics Foundation.

The research, based on data from the ONS Labour Force Survey and the DWP Family Resources Survey, shows that two in every five people employed in the UK last year were in ‘bad jobs,’ defined as jobs which do not provide a secure, living wage. That figure rises to 54 per cent for the self-employed.

In 2011, 63 per cent of the labour force were in ‘good jobs.’ But by 2016, that figure had dropped to 61 per cent – suggesting that the quality of jobs in the UK labour market is flatlining or getting worse over time.

Whilst the latest unemployment figures are likely to be the lowest seen in decades, the reality is less optimistic. Employment figures are being propped up by increasing numbers of self-employed people. While many choose self-employment in order to benefit from flexibility and independent working conditions, this research shows how many fail to earn a decent living. This is combined with record numbers of people on zero hours contracts – which have increased fivefold since 2011.

Hanna Wheatley, Researcher at the New Economics Foundation, said: “The overall unemployment figures paint a far more rosy picture of the labour market than what we know to be the reality – an underpaid and insecure workforce stretched to the limits.

"One in three people on zero hours contracts say they don’t have enough hours to provide for themselves.And while some benefit from the flexibility of being self-employed, many don’t. The rise in self-employment is hardly a cause for celebration when over half don’t earn enough to live a decent life.

"It seems that good jobs were the sacrifice made to avoid the worst effects of unemployment during the recession. But the situation for many is reaching crisis point.

"At the New Economics Foundation we are supporting people to take control of their working lives. It is vital that the voices of workers are at the forefront of the debate about the future of work.”

Good jobs are defined by NEF as secure jobs that pay at least the Living Wage. A secure job provides either a permanent employment contract, or a temporary employment contract where the reason for having a temporary contract is cited as ‘did not want a permanent contract.’ Because there is no measure of whether self-employed people feel secure in their work, we assume all self-employed are in secure work. The number of self-employed not meeting the ‘good job’ standard is therefore likely to be far greater than indicated here.

The Living Wage is independently calculated each year by the Living Wage Foundation, based on what employees and their families need to live.

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

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08/17/2017 07:51 AM
Kalahari Bushmen appeal to Dalai Lama

The Bushmen of Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve have written a moving appeal to the Dalai Lama, who is scheduled to visit Botswana this month, criticising their country’s government for its brutal policies and urging him to speak out.

The Bushmen of Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve have written a moving appeal to the Dalai Lama, who is scheduled to visit Botswana this month, criticising their country’s government for its brutal policies and urging him to speak out.

In the letter, Bushman spokesman Jumanda Gakelebone said: “We still cannot live on our lands freely. The government makes it so that children must apply for permits to visit their parents when they become adults. We worry what the government will do when those parents pass away.

“The government still forbids us from hunting and has introduced a shoot-on-sight policy against poachers. Last year a group of Bushmen out hunting were shot at from a police helicopter. Some of them were stripped naked and beaten.

“People praise President Khama [Botswana’s President] as a conservation hero when he ignores our struggle and our country’s own courts. Yet his government is happy for mining to take place on our ancestral land.

“We are the first people of the Kalahari. We are the ones who have protected this land and the animals that live there. Why has 'conservation' brought us so much suffering?”

Hundreds of Bushmen families were illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of conservation and moved into government eviction camps between 1997 and 2002, following the discovery of diamonds in the Kalahari.

Although the Bushmen won the right to return to the reserve in a historic court case in 2006, the country still has not respected its own high court’s ruling. Most Bushmen are denied access to their land by a brutal permit scheme. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19117)

They are also accused of poaching because they hunt to feed their families, facing arrest and beatings, torture and death under a nationwide hunting ban.

Survival International, the movement for the rights of tribal people, led the global campaign for Bushmen rights and is urging the Botswana government to allow them to determine their own futures.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said: “Botswana’s President has been violating his country’s High Court ruling and trampling on Bushmen rights for over a decade now. No independent observer believes the Bushmen pose any kind of risk to the country’s wildlife, but they’re still prevented from hunting, and still being forced to get permits just to see their relatives. It’s a terrible stain on the country’s reputation that won’t be erased until they’re treated humanely, and with respect.”

* Read the Bushmen's letter to the Dalai Lama here

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

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08/17/2017 07:31 AM
Employment boom improving job quality but not pay

A tightening UK labour market, with employment at a new record high of 75.1 per cent and a significant slow down in the growth of EU workers, is raising job quality but not pay packets, the Resolution Foundation said in response to yesterday’s Labour Market data release.

A tightening UK labour market, with employment at a new record high of 75.1 per cent and a significant slow down in the growth of EU workers, is raising job quality but not pay packets, the Resolution Foundation said in response to yesterday’s Labour Market data release (16 August 2017).

With unemployment at 4.4 per cent, the lowest since 1975, and the annual growth in EU workers falling to just two per cent, the lowest since 2010 and contrasting with growth of 14 per cent last year, the UK labour market is tightening.

The Foundation notes that this jobs boom is seeing some improvements in job security as employers compete to attract workers. Today’s figures show:

  • Though still high overall, the number of workers on a zero-hours contract fell by 20,000 (two per cent), compared to a growth of 100,000 (10 per cent) last year.
  • Self-employment grew by less than one per cent over the past year, compared to six per cent the year before.
  • All of the net growth in employment over the past year came from full time work, with part time work falling.

But this good news on the nature of work is failing to feed through into higher pay. Real growth pay fell by 0.5 per cent. Pay growth is now also negative in 80 per cent of sectors.

Stephen Clarke, Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “It’s good news that employers are having to up the security of the jobs they are offering, and that workers can be more picky in turning down insecure work than they could have been a few years ago thanks to a tightening labour market.

“But there is no sign of the jobs boom feeding through into badly needed pay rises. Real pay is now falling across 80 per cent of the sectors of our economy squeezing living standards right across the country.”

* Resolution Foundation http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/

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08/16/2017 09:13 AM
Five million people want more or better work in UK cities

Over five million people in UK cities are missing out because they can't get work or are trapped in low paid insecure jobs.

Over five million people want to work, want more hours, or are trapped in low paid and insecure work across the UK’s 12 biggest cities, according to a new report. The report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) comes as new metro mayors, elected in May, complete their 100th day in office and the monthly employment figures are published.

Although the employment rate is the highest on record, the analysis of official statistics shows the scale of the challenge facing city leaders and national government to ensure everyone has the opportunity to get a good job.

In total, the analysis shows there are 5.3 million people missing out because of a ‘more and better jobs gap’ across the UK’s 12 major city region areas.

The gap is the number of people who are unemployed, underemployed or inactive because of barriers such as caring or disability, but who would want to work if jobs were available (the more jobs gap); and workers earning less than the living wage and those on insecure contracts who would prefer permanent contracts (the better jobs gap).

The report found:

  • In Manchester and Birmingham, where metro mayors were elected in May, more than half a million people are seeking more and better paid work.
  • In Birmingham, 356,000 people are either not working but want to work, or are working but want more hours.
  • In Manchester, one in five people who are in the workforce – 291,000 – are in low pay or insecure work.
  • In Liverpool and Sheffield, two fifths of the workforce are not working but would like to, want more hours, or are trapped in low pay or insecure work. This amounts to 303,000 people in Liverpool and 391,000 people in Sheffield.

JRF is calling on city leaders to work with the Government on devising local industrial strategies that prioritise creating more and better jobs. The Government’s forthcoming report to Parliament on its progress to full employment should consider the disparities in employment rates between places and the quality of jobs on offer.

Dave Innes, economist at JRF, said, “Britain has enjoyed a jobs miracle and the national picture on jobs is good – more people are in work than ever before. But these figures show millions of people across our big cities are missing out on this success and there is still a long way to go.

“The priority for city leaders and the government is to use the industrial strategy to create the conditions for more and better jobs, and ensure people who have been left behind can find work.”

* Download the report, Job creation for inclusive growth in cities here 

* Joseph Rowntree Foundation https://www.jrf.org.uk/

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08/16/2017 08:28 AM
Charlottesville churches unite to show the power of love over hate

On Saturday, 12 August 2917 in Charlottesville, Virginia, one woman died and 19 others were injured when a man who, after rallying with white supremacist groups, rammed his car into a crowd. Earlier in the day, two law enforcement officers lost their lives when their helicopter crashed as they patrolled the gathering crowds.

On Saturday, 12 August 2917 in Charlottesville, Virginia, one woman died and 19 others were injured when a man who, after rallying with white supremacist groups, rammed his car into a crowd. Earlier in the day, two law enforcement officers lost their lives when their helicopter crashed as they patrolled the gathering crowds.

On Friday, the movement 'Congregate Charlottesville' gathered pastors in a direct, nonviolent action, stating, “Charlottesville has recently become a hotspot for national white supremacist organisations and demonstrations.” Religious leaders have united across faith lines, states and nations with clear message: they will not ignore racist extremism. They will not do nothing.

The disagreement, in the most simple terms, was sparked over the planned removal of a controversial statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. But many regard Charlottesville as a testing point of how the nation will – or will not – confront white supremacy, a history of racism, and the growing inability to participate in civil discourse.

World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, expressed his condolences to people who are grieving, and called for an end to violence. “Terror and violence against peaceful people seeking justice in Charlottesville must be condemned by all”, he said. “We are proud of moral leadership by clergy and lay people standing against this promotion of racism and white supremacy”. Tveit added “We stand in solidarity with those who continue to use nonviolent means to work against racism and extremism.”

On Saturday night, the Rev Brenda Brown-Grooms was praying: “My heart aches for those who lost their lives and their families who grieve them; for those traumatised at the scene of the hit and run. I am praying for the runaway teen whose family travelled to Charlottesville, hoping to find him among the radicalised alt-right, and persuade him to come home.”

Brown-Grooms, pastor at the New Beginnings Christian Community in Charlottesville, says she comes from people who were enslaved in the state of Virginia. “In order to survive, God gave those who did not succumb to total, utter despair, the ability to see more than their eyes saw; to hear more than their ears heard; and hearts to hope past all hope.”

As pastors came to the pulpit on Sunday, she believed they would allow God to remind God’s people, that "weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

The pilgrimage of justice and peace takes courage: As the chaos unfolded, the Rev Alvin J. Horton, senior pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, found himself in a role of emergency responder.

“First United Methodist Church opened its doors and hearts to those who sought refuge from the mayhem, offering prayers, water, bandages, and counselling to more than a few terrified people who simply wanted to stand up to those who seek to divide”, he said.

“Clergy from many faith traditions were united in their opposition to the violence and hatred that were being visited upon our community. Their fearless response to the intimidation of flag-waving, baseball bat-wielding hate-mongers is a strong witness to the fact that love will not yield to hate.”

What sparks hope? Perhaps more important, what keeps that hope moving, travelling along a path with people who believe in a pilgrimage of justice and peace, whether in a small city, whole nation, or entire world?

The Rev Elaine Ellis Thomas, associate director at St. Paul's Memorial Church in Charlottesville and part of the leadership team of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, believes the answer to these questions lies in the power of love to change minds and turn hearts.

“We are united in our commitment to stand on the side of justice and equity for all people”, she said. “We do not lose hope because of the support and encouragement we have received from around the globe; because so many have come together in these last days; and we know that the power behind us is far greater than the evil that confronts us.”

As world headlines reported on the events of one small city, those who lost loved ones, those who are traumatised, and those who have failed to turn away from hate, are in the prayers of many.

Feelings of sadness still permeated the city on Monday. “I can only say that our hearts are broken at the violence and hatred”, said the Rev Liz Emrey, a colleague of the Rev Brown-Grooms at the New Beginning Christian Community in Charlottesville. “This is the time for us to mourn for city and for our country. This is the time for us to reach out and take the hands of everyone around, Including those who came to the rally wanting to stand up for the statue.”

Emrey believes people need to reach out in love to one another. “Anger and hatred have a no place in Charlottesville”, she said. “As part of the faith community, we need to offer a way for everyone to heal. None of us believes that a statue is worth dying for, or killing for.”

“Things have just gotten out of hand,” she said. “We need to have a time to talk together."

* Read a statement from he National Council of Churches (NCCUSA) in the USA here

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

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

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08/16/2017 08:09 AM
Equality Commission calls for reduction of pay gaps in Scotland

All jobs should be advertised as available for flexible working, and greater effort placed on ending bias in recruitment, promotion and reward in a shake-up of culture and working practices to reduce pay gaps, the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland said yesterday.

All jobs should be advertised as available for flexible working, and greater effort placed on ending bias in recruitment, promotion and reward in a shake-up of culture and working practices to reduce pay gaps, the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland said yesterday.( 15 August 2017)

The call comes as the Commission releases a comprehensive strategy for tackling gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps is released.

Fair opportunities for all: a strategy to reduce pay gaps in Britain makes six recommendations outlining the action needed by government, in society and in our businesses to improve equality in earnings for women, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

Dr Lesley Sawers, Scotland Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “The pay gaps issue sits right at the heart of our society and is a symbol of what needs to be done to achieve equality for all. Subject choices and stereotypes in education can send children on set paths which often reflect the limited expectations of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

"These stereotypes are then reinforced in recruitment, pay and progression practices leading to a 'that’s just the way it is' attitude. It isn’t – all it reflects is how we value people and peoples work. "For this to change, we need to overhaul our culture and make flexible working the norm; looking beyond women as the primary carers and having tough conversations about the bias that is rife in our society.”

Pay gaps today remain stark:

  • women are paid on average 15 per cent less than men in Scotland
  • ethnic minorities are paid 5.7 per cent less than white people
  • disabled people are paid 13.6 per cent less than non-disabled people

The strategy is supported by the most detailed and comprehensive analysis to date of pay gap data and the drivers behind them. It highlights the complex causes of pay gaps, often missed out of debates that focus only on the headline figures.

The research reports some startling figures and surprising differences within groups, including:

  • Half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani men earn less than the living wage compared to less than a fifth of white men
  • Men who experience depression have a 30 per cent pay gap compared to their non-disabled peers, and men with epilepsy have a 40 per cent pay gap
  • The gender pay gap in Greater Glasgow is 18p an hour less than in the rest of Scotland

Dr Sawers continued: "The Scottish Parliament's recent enquiry into equal pay in Scotland, 'No small change', echoes many of the findings we have released today and we share the Committee's concerns about the low value placed on our care staff. We also fully endorse the Committee's recommendation that public bodies use procurement to reqire bidders to submit their pay gap as part of the bidding process in the same way the Government has used it to require them to pay the living wage"

"We have been talking about equal pay for years but the pace of change is glacial. Pay practices need to catch up with modern Scottish life – women, ethnic minorities and disabled people simply shouldn’t have to accept second class pay. What message does this send to young Scots – that no matter how hard you try, your gender, race, or disability defines your worth?"

"With pay gap reporting becoming mandatory for large employers next year, many companies know they can manipulate their figures

* Read Fair opportunities for all: a strategy to reduce pay gaps in Britain here

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

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08/15/2017 09:38 AM
New research suggests pesticides risk bumblebee extinction

Calls for Michael Gove to support a ban as new research suggests that use of neonicotinoid pesticides could lead to the extinction of bumblebees. 

There are renewed calls for the government  to permanently ban neonicotinoid pesticides, as new research suggests their use poses a risk of bumblebee extinction.

Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London and the University of Guelph found that exposure to thiamethoxam, a common pesticide, reduced the chances of a bumblebee queen starting a new colony by 26 per cent. "Modelling the impacts of a 26 per cent reduction in colony founding on population dynamics dramatically increased the likelihood of population extinction." The research was published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution yesterday (14 August 2017).

Friends of the Earth is urging the UK government to back moves in the EU to permanently extend current neonicotinoid restrictions to all crops – and commit to keeping any ban post-Brexit. They cite previous research which has shown the threat posed to bees by these pesticides.

In June 2017 a pan-European field study was published providing evidence that neonicotinoids harm honeybees and wild bees. Covering a crop area equivalent to 3,000 football pitches, it was the biggest real-world study of these pesticides to date. Undertaken in the UK, Germany and Hungary, the experiment found : Increasing levels of neonicotinoid residues in the nests of wild bee species was linked with lower reproductive success across all three countries; Exposure to treated crops reduced overwintering success of honeybee colonies – a key measure of year-to-year viability – in the UK and Hungary.  

Another study this year, carried out on corn farms in Canada, found crops were not the main source of neonicotinoids to which bees were exposed. Instead, the contaminated pollen came from wildflowers, as has also been shown in the UK. Nadia Tsvetkov, at York University in Canada who led the research said that, “This indicates that neonicotinoids, which are water soluble, spill over from fields into the surrounding environment, where they are taken up by other plants that are very attractive to bees”.

Responding to the latest research, Sandra Bell, Friends of the Earth nature campaigner, said, “It is clear that use of these chemicals on any crop poses a risk to bees and other wildlife. The Government has repeatedly said it will follow the science – how much more science does it need before it acts to protect our precious bees?

“Michael Gove must put his support behind a comprehensive ban on neonicotinoid pesticides across the EU and continue the ban in the UK post-Brexit”

Read the new research Pesticide reduces bumblebee colony initiation and increases probability of population extinction here  

* Friends of the Earth https://www.foe.co.uk/

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08/15/2017 08:28 AM
'Unprecedented' famine crisis puts 20 million at risk, warns UN

Twenty million people risk dying of hunger in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and the north-east of Nigeria, including 1.4 million children suffering from severe malnutrition, the United Nations food relief agency said yesterday, spotlighting its worldwide campaign to fight famine.

Twenty million people risk dying of hunger in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and the north-east of Nigeria, including 1.4 million children suffering from severe malnutrition, the United Nations food relief agency said yesterday (14 August 2017), spotlighting its worldwide campaign to fight famine.

“Famine is declared when there is evidence of extreme conditions regarding food access, child malnutrition and an increase in the death rate,” stated the UN World Food Programme (WFP), while launching in Spain a global Fighting Famine campaign in Spain to warn about this unprecedented food crisis.

Commending “the intense response mounted by the humanitarian community,” WFP said the famine declared in two counties of South Sudan in February had been overcome and, to date, Somalia, Yemen and northeast Nigeria have averted it.

“Nonetheless,” the agency cautioned, “the situation is still critical.”

WFP pointed out that apart from Yemen, the other three countries are entering the lean season – the time of year when the previous season's harvest has run out and food stocks are at their lowest. Also, the rains are making access by land difficult, and even impossible. While air transportation may sometimes be possible, it costs up to seven times more.

The severe food crisis in Yemen is caused by the consequences of armed conflict devastating the country, according to the UN agency.

WFP has implemented emergency response mechanisms that include food airdrops in remote areas in South Sudan and trucking in supplies to areas where people have fled from Boko Haram in Nigeria.

In June, agency assisted 11.8 million people in the four famine-facing countries, underscoring that “almost half of them are in Yemen, where lack of funding has meant that WFP has been forced to make the difficult decision to reduce the amount of food each person in order to stretch resources further.”

To shine a spotlight on the unprecedented food crisis, WFP is taking part in a worldwide #FightingFamine campaign.

The UN agency noted that in Spain, Mastercard and MediaCom have donated resources and advertising space so that the initiative is channeled through press, online media, digital screens and street furniture.

WFP is funded entirely by voluntary contributions, and with this campaign, it urges “the private sector and individuals to take action to help prevent a looming humanitarian disaster.”

As WFP depends on the generosity of donor governments, supporters and partners to quickly deliver food to affected people in these four countries, it urgently needs $900 million to meet immediate needs and avoid the spread of famine for the period of August to January 2018.

* More about #FightingFamine here

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

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08/15/2017 08:08 AM
New play on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in running for Edinburgh Fringe award

Amnesty International has selected a new play about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a possible recipient of its International Freedom of Expression Award  at the Edinburgh Festival.

Amnesty International has selected a new play about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a possible recipient of its International Freedom of Expression Award  at the Edinburgh Festival.

The play - Looking for Mummy: Nazanin's Story, which is being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe during 20-27 August - tells the true story of the British charity worker's arrest while on a family holiday in Iran last year and her anguish at being sentenced to five years in jail after an unfair trial.

The innovative work, by playwright Emi Howell, uses Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's own words as well as those of her husband, Richard, who has staged a high-profile campaign calling for her release.

In particular, Looking for Mummy highlights the separation of Zaghari-Ratcliffe from her three-year-old daughter Gabriella. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a UK-Iranian dual national, saw her daughter taken away from her after her arrest and Gabriella is currently being looked after by her grandparents in Iran and only able to visit her mother in Evin Prison in Tehran twice a week.

Earlier this month, during a visit to Iran the Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt reportedly raised Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case alongside that of other UK-Iranian dual nationals detained in Iran, including Kamal Foroughi, a 77-year-old businessman. Amnesty has repeatedly called on the UK Government to insist on the immediate release of both Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Foroughi, though ministers have never publicly called for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release and have only rarely mentioned the need for Foroughi to be freed.

Richard Ratcliffe said: “Our story is the stuff of nightmares – a family holiday to visit relatives abruptly ending - in prison, isolation and crazy charges; the days become months with seemingly no way out. 

“Thank you to the cast and crew of Looking for Mummy for sharing so sensitively the story of Nazanin’s todays, and for putting on a performance that helps keep her tomorrows alive. Thank you to all of you who come to see it, and who help keep her in the light.”

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland Programme Director, said: “Nazanin’s story is truly horrific which is why we are campaigning throughout the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year to free her and fellow British-Iranian Kamal Foroughi, who is also imprisoned in Iran under very dubious circumstances. 

“We want to see Nazanin and Kamal reunited with their families and will continue to campaign until this is a reality. We are delighted that Looking For Mummy: Nazanin’s Story has been longlisted for this year’s Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 prior to boarding a plane back to Britain following a family visit to Iran. After being detained for over five months, initially in solitary confinement, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was subjected to an unfair trial and sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of “membership of an illegal group”. The charges appear to relate to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s employment at Thompson Reuters Foundation, a charity organisation, as well as her past work as an administrative assistant on a BBC Media Action project to train young journalists. Amnesty believes Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a prisoner of conscience and is calling on the Iranian authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally.

* Looking for Mummy at the Edinburgh Fringe on 20-27 August:
C Cubed, C Venues, Venue 50 - at 7.55pm
Tickets available at: www.cthefestival.com/2017/looking-for-mummy-nazanins-story 

* There will be a preview production in London on Thursday 17 August:
The Red Hedgehog, 255-257 Archway Road, Highgate, London - 7.30pm
Tickets available via: howellproductions1@gmail.com

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

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08/14/2017 09:16 AM
Black workers paid less despite qualifications, says TUC

Black workers get paid less than their white peers, and the pay gap increases for those with higher qualifications, says the TUC. 

The TUC has published an analysis of the latest ONS Labour Force Survey figures which shows that while more qualified workers get higher pay, the pay gap for black workers often increases with more qualifications.

Black workers with degrees face a 14 per cent pay gap (£2.63 less per hour), while those with higher education certificates and diplomas face a 20 per cent gap (£2.98 less per hour).

Black workers whose highest qualifications are A-levels earn 10 per cent less than their white peers – missing out on an average £1.20 per hour.

Black school leavers with GCSEs earn 12 per cent less (£1.30 less per hour), and those with no qualifications face a five per cent pay gap (45p less per hour).

Regardless of qualifications, black workers get paid 8.3 per cent less than white workers – costing them an average of £1.15 an hour.

Commenting on the findings, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Whether they have PhDs or GCSEs, black workers simply aren’t getting paid the same as white workers with similar qualifications.

“Students get their A-level results this week. The harsh reality is that race will still play a huge role in how much they get paid.

“It's time for the government to require employers to publish pay data broken down by ethnicity. Then we can see where the problems are and put pressure on bosses to close the pay gap."

The TUC is calling for on the government to:

  • Pass legislation requiring employers with more than 50 staff to analyse and publish ethnicity data on progression, employment type and pay;
  • Develop a comprehensive national race equality strategy;
  • Work with trade unions to establish targets and develop actions to address racial inequalities in the workforce.

* Trades Union Congress https://www.tuc.org.uk/

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08/14/2017 08:06 AM
Homelessness need not be endemic, says Church of Scotland

The Church of Scotland has issued a fresh call for collective action to end the “scandal of homelessness”.

The Church of Scotland has issued a fresh call for collective action to end the “scandal of homelessness”.

The Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council, said there was a “mountain to climb” but insisted the situation “need not be endemic”. He spoke out after a new report said homelessness in Scotland is predicted to rise by more than 53 per cent in the next 25 years.

New research by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh said the number of rough sleepers would double from 800 to 1,500 if current economic policies continue.

Academics also forecast the number of people in unsuitable temporary accommodation would rise by a third in the next decade.

The study was commissioned by the homelessness charity Crisis.

The report states there are currently 11,800 people across Scotland either sleeping rough, staying in hostels, living in unsuitable temporary accommodation, sofa-surfing, sleeping in cars or staying in squats or refuges.

The university research indicates this figure is expected to rise to 12,200 by 2021 before accelerating to 18,100 – a rise of 53 per cent on current levels - in 2041.

Dr Frazer said: "The findings of this report, tragically, come as no surprise.The evidence that the problem of homelessness is increasing is clear on our streets and in our communities.And it should shame and concern us all.

"In its early days one of the boldest decisions of the Scottish Parliament was to legislate to end homeless. Today’s figures not only suggest we are falling short of that goal, but that there is a mountain to climb."

Dr Frazer said society could not, in good conscience, continue to produce and implement economic policies that lead to such chronic suffering. "These figures should both challenge and spur us on; homelessness need not be endemic". he added.

He concluded "We need to rediscover the vision and boldness encapsulated in the Homelessness (Scotland) Act 2003, we need government at all levels and across all departments to work together to not only ensure that individuals have shelter but to create the context in which all might truly flourish. And we all need to play our part to end the scandal of homelessness.”

* Read the Crisis report here

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

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08/14/2017 07:50 AM
Investigative journalist jailed by Russian court

Investigative journalist Alexander Sokolov has been jailed for three and a half years by a Russian court. Sokolov has been convicted with involvement in a banned extremist group.The International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists have joined  the Russian Union of Journalists in condemning the ruling which is being used to silence and intimidate Sokolov and other journalists.

Investigative journalist Alexander Sokolov has been jailed for three and a half years by a Russian court. Sokolov has been convicted with involvement in a banned extremist group. The IFJ/EFJ (International Federation of Journalists /European Federation of Journalists) has joined its affiliate the Russian Union of Journalists in condemning the ruling which is being used to silence and intimidate Sokolov and other Russian journalists.  

“Sokolov’s conviction is a blatant attack by the authorities on transparency and the truth in Russia”, said the IFJ/EFJ. “We demand his immediate release”. 

Sokolov maintains his innocence, stating the actual intent behind the prosecution is in retaliation for a report he published two weeks prior to the charges detailing alleged government embezzlement of 93 billion rubles from the Vostochny Cosmodrome project. 

Sokolov has been charged with involvement in a group called 'For a Responsible Government' which campaigns for a referendum on legislation making government officials more transparent and accountable. The journalist had created and administered the group’s website, according to the news agency RBK. Prosecutors claimed 'For a Responsible Government' was a cover for a militant left wing group called the 'People’s Will Army', which advocates for the violent overthrow of the government and was banned for extremism in 2010. 

“According to this decision, the idea itself of a referendum is seen as extremist”, said Sokolov. 

Prior to his conviction on 10 Auguat 2017, Sokolov had been in pre-trial detention for over two years. Nearly 300 journalists have signed a letter of support and solidarity for Sokolov. 

Sokolov had also previously written dissertations on corruption and budget theft in Russian state-owned companies and had worked for RBK since 2013. RBK is a well-known investigative media group now recently acquired by the owner of pro-Kremlin newspaper. 

Numerous human rights groups have called on the Russian government to review its anti-extremism laws, which according to Human Rights Watch are “vague and overly broad” and often misused to persecute critics.

* International Federation of Journalists http://www.ifj.org/

* European Federation of Journalists http://europeanjournalists.org/

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08/12/2017 08:30 AM
Almost 70,000 demand release of Liu Xiaobo's widow

Almost 70,000 people from around the world have urged the Chinese president to lift all restrictions against poet and artist Liu Xia, one month after the death of her husband, the Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Almost 70,000 people from around the world have urged the Chinese president to lift all restrictions against poet and artist Liu Xia, one month after the death of her husband, the Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Liu Xia has not been heard of since her husband's hastily-arranged funeral ceremony and sea burial on 15 July 2017. Liu Xiaobo, a prisoner of conscience, died of liver cancer in custody two days earlier.

In an open letter to President Xi Jinping, nearly 70,000 people are calling on the Chinese authorities to lift all arbitrary restrictions on Liu Xia and ensure she can travel freely.

Lisa Tassi, Amesty International's East Asia Director of Campaigns, said: "Liu Xia is being cruelly punished for never giving up on her wrongfully imprisoned late husband. Liu Xia's immeasurable loss is being callously compounded by the Chinese authorities' vindictive and illegal attempt to silence her. Our message to President Xi is clear: end the harassment and free Liu Xia now."

Liu Xia has been under illegal house arrest since Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. After her husband's funeral, Liu Xia was taken to the south-west province of Yunnan and then sent back to Beijing, where she lives. Her current whereabouts are unknown.

She has suffered from psychological stress, anxiety and depression as a result of her treatment at the hands of the government.

Since Liu Xiaobo's death, the authorities have detained or harassed activists who held memorials for him. Six activists in the coastal province of Guangdong have been detained on suspicion of "assembling a crowd to disturb social order" after they held a seaside memorial.

Lisa Tassi said: "All those detained for legitimately exercising their freedom of expression must be released immediately and unconditionally. Whatever deplorable tactics the authorities may try, they will never be able to erase Liu Xiaobo's legacy. Thanks to him, millions of people in China and across the world have been inspired to stand up for freedom and justice in the face of oppression."

Liu Xiaobo helped devise a call for political reform in China, known as Charter 08. As a result, he was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment in 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power".

The Nobel Peace laureate died in custody of liver cancer, and the authorities refused his and his family's last wish for him to travel abroad to receive treatment. He was recognised by Amnesty as a prisoner of conscience.

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

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08/12/2017 08:06 AM
Liberty intervenes in legal case for humanist weddings in Northern Ireland

The civil liberties and human rights organisation Liberty has intervened in the case of a couple fighting for humanist weddings to be legally recognised in Northern Ireland.

The civil liberties and human rights organisation Liberty has intervened in the case of a couple fighting for humanist weddings to be legally recognised in Northern Ireland.

Model Laura Lacole and her husband, Leeds United footballer Eunan O’Kane, married in June after winning the right to have their humanist wedding recognised by law.

Their victory in the High Court in Belfast put humanist ceremonies on an equal footing with religious and civil services.

But the Attorney General for Northern Ireland and the Department of Finance have appealed against the High Court’s decision.

In arguments submitted yesterday (11 August 2017), Liberty invited the Court to dismiss the appeal and uphold the High Court’s ruling.

Liberty disputes the Attorney General’s assertion that the case centres purely on the right to marry. Instead, it highlights that it is a clear issue of discrimination against humanist couples and a violation of their fundamental right to exercise their beliefs.

Refusing humanism the same status in law as religions and other belief systems fails to properly respect and protect the fundamental right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Human Rights Act protects everyone’s right to manifest his or her religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “This is a case of discrimination, plain and simple. All this couple is asking for is the chance for humanists to express their beliefs on one of the most important days of their life.

“The High Court’s ruling was a landmark in rights protection – to take a step backwards would be a sad day for progress and fairness.”

The hearing is scheduled for Monday 11 September 2017.

* Liberty https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/

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