News from Ekklesia

  • UN marks 25th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica

    This commemoration underscores the importance of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and reminds us of its fragility., said Michelle Bachelet.

    The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet released the following statement to mark the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica 11 July 2020:

    "This year we mark the 25th anniversary of an immense human tragedy. We also mark the 25-year long journey to obtain recognition, justice and reparation for the victims of the Srebrenica genocide and other crimes against humanity recognised by international tribunals.

    This commemoration underscores the importance of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and reminds us of its fragility. Main architects of some of the worst atrocities have faced justice --  a process that continues. But more remains to be done to ensure accountability, provide remedies to victims, and promote healing and reconciliation. The United Nations and Member States have a critical role to ensure that international human rights standards are upheld.

    Challenges persist. The scars are deep. The memories are still painful. A new national narrative is needed going forward, based on empathy, mutual respect and support for victims and survivors, as well as the need for all to confront their own responsibilities.  Dealing with the past requires addressing the present and is the only way of building a better future.

    Genocide denial, the glorification of convicted war criminals and other revisionist narratives that deny truth and history are forms of hate speech, and should be treated as such by legislators.

    The peoples of the Western Balkans have suffered unbearably from conflicts generated by the stoking of hatred for political gain. Reconciliation must be tangible pursued with concrete action and  renewed urgency. All those who suffered, were killed or lost loved ones in Srebrenica and in the Balkan conflicts deserve no less." 

    * Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


  • Call for independent investigation into death of schoolgirl shot dead during Troubles

    Majella O’Hare was 12 years old when she was shot in the back by a soldier using a machine gun as she walked to church.

    Michael O’Hare, supported by Amnesty International UK, is calling for an independent investigation into the death of his 12-year-old sister, killed by the Army during the Troubles in August 1976.  A letter has been sent to the Legacy Investigation Branch of the PSNI requesting the Chief Constable ensure a prompt and independent investigation into her death.

    On 14 August 1976, Majella O’Hare was on her way to church with a group of friends in the Armagh village of Whitecross. They walked past an army patrol and, when she was about 20 or 30 yards beyond it, shots were fired from a general-purpose machine gun.

    Three shells were found on the ground - two of the bullets had hit Majella in the back. Majella was airlifted to Daisy Hill hospital in Newry alongside her father and Alice Campbell, a neighbour and nurse who gave her medical attention, but she was confirmed dead on arrival.

    An investigation by the Royal Military Police (RMP) which lacked the necessary independence followed. The soldier claimed he fired in response to an IRA sniper attack and was charged with manslaughter in 1977. The judge in the case, sitting alone with no jury, accepted the soldier’s testimony and acquitted him.

    A report from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) outlined the respective failures of the initial investigation, and the steps that were not taken at the time, or since then. Most importantly, the HET noted the absence of an independent investigation in its entirety.

    Despite a letter of apology from the Ministry of Defence in 2011, no independent investigation has ever taken place, and no one has been held accountable for Majella’s killing.

    Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaign Manager, said: “This tragic story should be a matter of national shame for the UK. It is utterly appalling that the family have been left without justice for nearly 44 years.

    “Majella O’Hare was a young girl of 12 when she was cruelly robbed of her life when she was shot in the back by a soldier with a machine gun. The loss had a devastating impact on her family and the grossly inadequate investigation at the time only added to the trauma.

    “Decades later, her brother Michael has been left fighting for the independent investigation to which they are entitled. 

    “The apology from the Ministry of Defence should have been swiftly followed by action and accountability. No one, including members of the Armed Forces, is above the law.”

    Michael O’Hare, brother of Majella O’Hare, said: “I fight for justice for Majella, if it weren’t for the actions of the soldier, she would still be with us.

    “We live with the pain that we will never know the potential of her life. The apology acknowledged the wrongdoing, but neither this nor the historical enquiries report which prompted it provided us with the full truth of what happened. It didn’t give us the justice and accountability we are entitled to. I hope this will now come and give my family and I the peace we seek”.

    The call for the investigation sits against a backdrop of the UK Government reneging on its commitments made in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019 and the New Decade New Approach Agreement in January 2020 to legislate for the Stormont House Agreement and its mechanisms which, with some further work, would meet the UK Government’s human rights obligations and bring an end to the piecemeal approach to dealing with the past.

    Grainne Teggart added: “This Government’s failure to legislate for the Stormont House Agreement, as promised, is just the latest betrayal of victims who remain determined to seek the truth, justice and accountability to which they are entitled.

    “We urge the Government to abandon the written ministerial statement made in March and revert to its plans to deliver mechanisms capable of vindicating the rights of victims”.

    * Amnesty International


  • Independent food banks report 177% increase in need for emergency food aid

    A growing number of people cannot afford to buy food, say food aid organisations in a letter to the Prime Minister.

    Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, independent food banks have seen a large increase in need for emergency food parcels. The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) has analysed data contributed by 100 organisations operating 191 independent food banks across 80 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. The number of three-day emergency food parcels distributed has increased by 177 per cent when comparing figures from May 2019 and May 2020.

    Compared to February 2020, the number of food parcels distributed was 46 per cent higher in March, 126 per cent higher in April, and 148 per cent higher in May. The number of people accessing independent food banks has risen by 135 per cent comparing May 2019 and May 2020.

    IFAN member food aid organisations have written to the Prime Minister calling on him “to take immediate and urgent action to reduce the rapidly growing number of people needing our support because they are unable to afford to buy food.”

    They say “Many of our teams have been running beyond capacity for months as we have responded to the immediate crisis in extremely challenging circumstances - but the lifting of lockdown does not signal a reprieve for us.”

    They end their letter “Food banks and thousands of other food aid organisations provide vital support in communities across the UK but they should not be relied on to continue to pick up the pieces.”

    Mary McGinley of the Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank, Agyll and Bute said: "We must ensure that those who are already finding it impossible to meet their current living costs due to low incomes or benefits are not left short of food or heating as the cost of living rises. They together with the large number of new unemployed should not have to rely on charity to feed themselves or their families. The voluntary sector should not be expected to be the safety net for those finding themselves without employment due to the impact of COVID-19."

    Sam Gilchrist of the West Northumberland Foodbank, Hexham said: “Every week people who have never had to use a food bank before are coming to us for help as a direct result of the COVID-19 lockdown and the toll it has taken on people’s jobs and livelihoods. At this point I can only see a rise in demand on our voluntary services and we are bracing ourselves for further job losses and yet another a rise in poverty.”

    James Quayle of the North Paddington Foodbank, London said: “More and more people are in need of our help and we can’t see an end in sight. What will make all the difference is to prevent the need from happening. Our clients need enough money to get by and to be able to afford to buy food.”

    Joyce Leggate of Kirkcaldy Foodbank, Fife said: “April’s increase in demand has not diminished with many households finding themselves relying on the benefit system for the first time. So many households who have been barely coping in the past were plunged into poverty and there is little prospect of employment in the near future as the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy is realised.”

    Jacquie Alsop, from Hereford Food Bank said: "We've been seeing unprecedented demand for emergency food parcels over recent months. But we're also very aware of the immeasurable numbers of people who don't seek our help because they are new to poverty and are perhaps ashamed to ask for support or can't access support as a result of their rural location. The lack of transport and in some cases no access to internet services isolates those in poverty even further. Food banks have been normalised and are becoming an acceptable part of how those experiencing poverty are supposed to survive. This shouldn’t be the case."

    Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation said: “These data show the food insecurity crisis has not peaked. Far from it. Yet many of the emergency measures put in place to address it are coming to an end. We urgently need a long-term fix.”

    Dr Rachel Loopstra, King’s College London said: "Rising food bank use since the COVID-19 lockdown mirrors rises in food insecurity observed in nationwide data – more and more people are not managing to afford and access food and other basic essentials. These trends are very worrying given all signs point to further rises in unemployment. People access food banks as a last resort and their need to do so points to gaps in the social safety net."

    Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network said: “Food bank teams have provided incredible and vital support during the COVID-19 crisis but it’s clearer than ever that short-term fixes are not the answer. Food banks should not be relied on to fill the ever-growing gap. Now is the time to focus on what’s causing people to fall into and become trapped in poverty and to address the policies driving food bank use in the first place. The Chancellor’s concessions are welcome but they do not go anywhere near far enough to tackle the desperate crisis that is unfolding.”

    The Independent Food Aid Network connects, supports and advocates on behalf of a range of frontline food aid providers, and envisions a society without the need for food banks. The network’s membership includes 368 independent food banks regularly distributing emergency food parcels at least once a week.

    * Read the new report here

    * Read IFAN's letter to the Prime Minister here

    * Independent Food Aid Network


  • Wildlife campaigners launch legal case to challenge humaneness of the badger cull

    The group fears that an unacceptably high proportion of badgers could be left to an inhumane death. 

    The wildlife campaign group Wild Justice has launched a legal case challenging Natural England’s failure to ensure that badgers are being killed humanely as part of the annual cull to help prevent the spread of bovine TB.

    Natural England published 10 licences for supplementary badger control on 15 May 2020. Further licences are expected to follow in Autumn 2020. Condition 21 of the licences states that all reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that badgers shot under the licence are dispatched “swiftly and humanely”.
    Wild Justice, led by Chris Packham CBE, Dr Mark Avery and Dr Ruth Tingay, claims that in order to work out whether steps being taken are reasonable, Natural England must have some idea what is meant by 'humanely' – but it would appear to have no basis for measuring what that means. 
    The group has applied for a Judicial Review of Natural England’s failure to clarify how it sets a benchmark for humaneness and argues that a lack of clarity means that an unacceptably high proportion of badgers could be left to an inhumane death. 
    Wild Justice is represented by Leigh Day, which sent Natural England a  Pre-Action Protocol letter calling on the Government’s advisers to explain what measure for humaneness it was using after it had chosen not to apply the approach to humaneness agreed in 2014 by an Independent Expert Panel (IEP) established by Defra to report on pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire. 
    The Panel considered that for the controlled shooting of badgers in the field, the percentage of animals surviving for more than five minutes after being shot, and the percentage being wounded but not retrieved (the “non-retrieval rate”), should not together exceed five per cent. i.e. at least 95 per cent of badgers that are shot at should die within five minutes.
    The Government accepted that steps should be taken to improve shooting accuracy in its response to the IEP report but, despite efforts to improve the overall quality of marksmanship, Natural England’s annual reports demonstrate that the non-retrieval rate alone has consistently remained above 10 per cent since 2014, i.e. double the level recommended by the IEP.
    The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 requires that Natural England be satisfied that licence applicants “are able to deliver the cull as safely and humanely as possible” and only permits two culling methods: cage trapping followed by shooting and/or controlled shooting of free-ranging badgers.

    In the Judicial Review application Wild Justice argues that Natural England is acting unlawfully because it has imposed a condition which is entirely vague and unenforceable. It therefore provides none of the necessary certainties to ensure that reasonable steps are being taken to ensure the culling of badgers is humane.  Wild Justice will ask the court to quash the licences and declare them unlawful.

    In a statement, Mark Avery, Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham said: "We're very grateful to over 1,100 individual donors who have funded our legal challenge. Badgers are wonderful creatures and they need all the friends they can get these days. We believe Gandhi was right to say that you can judge the greatness of a nation by the way it treats its animals, and by that measure this government, DEFRA and Natural England are doing a very poor job.”
    Wild Justice is represented by Carol Day and Partner Tessa Gregory. Solicitor Carol Day said: “The Government set up the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) to look at issues arising from the pilot badger culls, including humaneness. If Natural England has chosen not to use the IEP threshold, it must have some other basis for determining what constitutes 'swiftly and humanely'. Since Natural England has not clarified what measure it is using to ensure that contractors are dispatching badgers swiftly and humanely, our client believes it has no alternative but to apply for Judicial Review to ensure the licence conditions are complied with.”

    * Wild Justice

    * Leigh Day


  • New data indicates over $1tn corporate profit smuggled into tax havens

    Multinational firms operating around the world are shifting over $1 trillion in profits every year to corporate tax havens.

    Analysis of new OECD data published on 8 July 2020, on the basis of a reporting standard developed by the Tax Justice Network, has tracked for the first time $467 billion worth of corporate profit shifted by multinational firms into corporate tax havens, with associated corporate tax losses of $117 billion.

    The data from 15 countries provides only a partial picture into global corporate tax abuse and confirms previous estimates by the Tax Justice Network that governments lose $500 billion in corporate tax to tax havens every year. The UK, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (known as the 'axis of tax avoidance') – together are responsible for 72 per cent of the corporate tax losses the world suffers.

    The underlying data published by the OECD marks a major policy success for the Tax Justice Network and global efforts to tackle corporate tax abuse. The data was collected under the OECD’s country by country reporting standard, which is based on an 2003 proposal from the Tax Justice Network that was originally dismissed as unrealistic and utopian. The data consists of aggregate information on the country by country reporting of multinationals from 26 countries. However, due to inconsistencies in data format and quality, the Tax Justice Network analysis data comes from only 15 countries.

    The Tax Justice Network, which previously warned governments they “cannot build back better on top of a tax haven trap door”, is calling on governments to tackle the problem by requiring firms to publish their individual country by country reports each year, and then taxing them according to where the reports show profits are generated before they are shifted into tax havens. But for now, yesterday’s OECD publication represents the biggest single step taken towards international corporate tax transparency. 

    The scale of corporate tax abuse

    The analysis reveals that instead of declaring profits in the countries where they were generated, multinational firms operating around the world are shifting over $1 trillion in profits every year to corporate tax havens, where corporate tax rates in practice are far lower or non-existent, in order to under-report their profits where they operate, and consequently pay billions less in tax each year.

    The partial picture provided by data from the 15 countries that report at a sufficiently high degree of granularity allows the Tax Justice Network to identify $467 billion worth of profit shifted across the world and $117 billion in corporate tax lost around the world annually. With higher quality US data for 2017 for comparison, the Tax Justice Network estimates that actual profit shifting is approximately 50 per cent higher than reported by the 15 countries, around $840 billion, with direct corporate tax losses of $203 billion.

    Extrapolating to the global picture indicates total profit shifting of $1.3 trillion each year, and direct corporate tax losses of $330 billion. Coupled with indirect effects from the race to the bottom in corporate income tax rates, the overall annual losses imposed by multinational companies' use of tax havens is likely in line with, or in excess of, the Tax Justice Network’s estimate of $500 billion, based on a methodology created by researchers at the International Monetary Fund.

    Of the $467 billion in shifted profited reported by the 15 countries, most profit was shifted to the Netherlands ($95 billion), followed by the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda ($44 billion), US Territory Puerto Rico ($36 billion), Hong Kong ($33 billion) and Luxembourg ($32 billion). The corporate tax havens most responsible for the reported $117 billion in corporate tax lost by governments around the world were the Netherlands ($24 billion), followed by the British Overseas Territory Bermuda ($10.9 billion), US Territory Puerto Rico ($9 billion), Luxembourg ($8 billion) and Ireland ($7.9 billion).

    In 2019, the Tax Justice Network’s Corporate Tax Haven Index estimated, based on deep analysis of countries tax laws, financial systems and economies, that the UK, Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg are together responsible for half of the world’s corporate tax avoidance risks. Analysis of the new OECD data finds that the axis of avoidance are responsible for 72 per cent of the corporate tax loss revealed in the data.

    The data highlights the highly wasteful nature of the corporate tax haven model. In return for costing other governments at total of $117 billion in lost corporate tax a year, corporate tax havens collected just $14.8 billion in additional corporate tax a year. For every $1 dollar in corporate tax collected by tax havens from the shifted profits of multinational firms, the world lost $6 in corporate tax from those firms.

    The degree of wastefulness varies among corporate tax havens. The most wasteful tax havens were British Overseas Territories. In return for costing governments around the world about $5 billion in lost corporate tax a year, the British Virgin Islands collected just $0.02 billion in additional corporate tax a year. For each additional $1 the British Virgin Islands collected from multinational firms shifting profit into its jurisdiction, the world lost $314. British Overseas Territory Cayman collected an additional $0.07 billion in return for costing the world $7 billion ($112 in corporate tax lost by the world for each $1 collected by British Overseas Territory Cayman). British Overseas Territory Bermuda collected an additional $0.4 billion in return for costing the world countries $10.9 billion ($24 in corporate tax lost by the world for each $1 collected by British Overseas Territory Bermuda). Luxembourg collected an additional $0.4 billion in return for costing government around the world $8 billion (almost $20 lost for each $1 collected). US Territory Puerto Rico collected an additional $0.5 billion in return for costing the world $8 billion ($16 lost for each $1 collected).

    Country by country data published by OECD is a 'landmark moment'

    The data published by the OECD is the first time countries’ aggregated country by country reporting data has been made public, with the exception of the US’s aggregated country by country reporting data published earlier this spring. By requiring multinational firms to publish the profits and costs they incur in each country they operate in instead of publishing all of their profits and costs as a global sum, country by country reporting exposes profit shifting, helping government detect and deter corporate tax abuse.

    The Tax Justice Network is welcoming the OECD commitment to publishing the data as a “landmark moment” in the fight against corporate tax abuse. Developed by the Tax Justice Network in 2003, country by country reporting eventually gained backing from the G20 in 2013 and was formalised by the OECD in 2015, making it a requirement for OECD members to collect country by country reporting data with a later commitment to publish the data in aggregated format in 2019 – subsequently delayed to 2020.

    The Tax Justice Network analysed the US’s country by country reporting data in April to reveal that US firms alone were shifting $115 billion in profit into the UK, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, costing the EU over $27 billion in lost corporate tax. Using the new country by country reporting data from 15 countries provides a bigger picture of corporate tax abuse, but comprehensive data is needed to reveal the complete picture.

    Global pandemic recovery jeopardised by corporate tax havens

    The Tax Justice Network’s analysis confirms that measures taken recently by EU countries to stop COVID-19 bailouts from ending up in tax havens will be largely ineffective at tackling profit shifting. Recognising that measures to tackle the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic are undermined by corporate tax havens, several EU countries banned companies registered in tax havens from receiving bailouts in the spring. However, the ban only extended to countries blacklisted on the EU’s list of non-cooperative jurisdictions, which leaves out almost all of the world’s most dangerous tax havens. The Tax Justice Network had previously warned that the EU’s tax haven blacklist covers just seven per cent of financial secrecy risks posed by tax havens, leaving the door wide open to tax abuse. Analysis of the new OECD data confirms that jurisdictions on the EU tax haven black list are responsible for at least seven per cent of the profit shifting revealed, with British Territory Cayman the only significant player on the list, accounting for 98 per cent of that.

    While a number of EU countries put forward legislation requiring multinational firms to publish country by country reporting as a condition to receive COVID-19 bailouts, as the Tax Justice Network proposed in April, no government passed the requirement. Revelations made possible today by the country by reporting data published by the OECD demonstrate the large volume of corporate tax abuse country by country reporting requirements can detect and deter. The Tax Justice Network is calling on the EU to show global leadership by acting as a bloc to require public country by country  – this would encompass most reporting multinationals in the world, and thus deliver a major public good to the world.

    UK reneges on commitment, blocks OECD from publishing UK data

    The UK has blocked the OECD from publishing its aggregated country by country data, reneging on its 2016 commitment to do so. Under then-Chancellor George Osborne, who lobbied the EU to commit to publishing country by country reporting, the UK Treasury was among the first to commit to publishing country by country reporting data both at a national level and at an international level as part of a multilateral process. However, in May 2020, the UK Treasury confirmed to parliament its reversal on the commitments, prompting the Tax Justice Network to raise the alarm on the UK’s regression into tax havenry.

    Under the Finance Act 2016, the UK government has had the power to require multinational firms based in the UK to publish their country by country reporting data; however, the UK government has yet to exercise the power. While the UK has collected the data since 2016, the UK Treasury said in May 2020 that it would not publish the data as doing so would be in violation of the OECD process – the same process under which the OECD has now published aggregate data, but in which the UK refused to participate.

    By not exercising the power to require individual firms to publish their country by country reporting under the Finance Act 2016, the UK is estimated to have missed out on at least £2.5 billion in corporate tax a year, amounting to at least £10 billion today. An extra £10 billion is exactly how much NHS England Chief Simon Stevens has recently said is needed to prepare the country’s National Health Service for a potential second coronavirus wave.

    Failures to disclose data

    A striking feature of the OECD data release is just how many countries have failed to disclose to the agreed template for aggregate reporting. Many OECD members failed to allow any data at all to be published, like the UK. Many others restricted the disaggregation to the extent that their data is effectively useless to understand the profit shifting patterns of multinational firms headquartered in their jurisdictions.

    Campaigners call on governments to publish details on multinational firms

    The data published by the OECD aggregates the country by country reporting data collected by each country from the multinational firms based within their borders. The process of aggregating the data anonymises multinational firms’ individual data. For country by country reporting to be truly effective, the Tax Justice Network is calling on governments to require multinational firms to publicly disclose their country by country reporting data.

    A number of corporate groups have already committed to voluntarily publishing their country by country reporting data, with Vodafone being among the first to do so in 2018. Global standard-setter GRI launched the GRI Tax Standard in December 2019, establishing the most comprehensive standard for multinationals to publish their country by country reporting data under. GRI standards are practiced by 74 per cent of the world’s 250 largest corporations.

    Alex Cobham, chief executive at the Tax Justice Network, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the grave costs of an international tax system programmed to prioritise the interest of corporate giants over the needs of people. This new data confirms that corporate tax havens like the UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have been fuelling a race to the bottom for years, allowing the biggest corporations to syphon wealth and power away from the nurses, public services and local businesses we’re all relying on today. This is the greatest, longest running robbery of our times, but the good news is we’ve now got one of the best alarm systems in place – we just need governments to switch it on.

    “Now more than ever, governments must reprogramme their tax systems to prioritise people’s wellbeing over the interests of the biggest corporations. That starts with transparency. The new data published by the OECD is a landmark moment in bringing transparency to the tax affairs of the world’s largest multinational firms in aggregate. To truly tackle the billions in corporate tax abuse committed each year, governments must require firms to publish their individual country by country reports each year – and then tax them according to where they actually make profit, not where they pretend to.”

    Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (the global union federation for public sector trade unions), said: “These data confirm the scale of profit shifting by multinational companies, and the cost to public revenues. This is a direct contributing factor to the shocking underfunding of our public services, which the COVID-19 pandemic has fully exposed. Policymakers must act urgently to stem these losses and support public services – we can’t afford to wait.”

    Dereje Alemayehu, executive coordinator of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, said: “The irony of the OECD – the club of rich countries – publishing data that shows the tax abuse of their members’ largest multinational companies should be lost on no one. This is an organisation that has illegitimately usurped the role of reforming international tax rules and unsurprisingly failed to deliver on its promise to reform the tax rules that are responsible, and all the while it is non-member countries from the Global South and their citizens who suffer the worst effects. It could not be clearer that the responsibility for international tax rules must shift to the UN – just as quickly as profits are shifted to tax havens including leading OECD member states.”

    * Read the OECD Corporate Tax Statistics report here

    * Tax Justice Network


  • Chancellor's plans fail to tackle harm to children, says The Children's Society

    Without urgent action to protect children their life chances could be seriously damaged, which will cause enormous harm not only to them, but also to the economy in the long-run, says the Children's Society.

    Responding to the Chancellor's summer statement, Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society said: “We recognise the unprecedented times we are in, and we warmly welcome the Chancellor’s plans to support young people into work. We need to see the detail and it’s important that they include additional support for vulnerable groups like care leavers.

    “However, it was deeply disappointing to see so little in the Chancellor’s plans to address the deep scars lockdown and school closures have inflicted on children’s happiness and mental health.

    “This crisis has left many children at greater risk, with abuse and sexual and criminal exploitation more likely to be hidden from view, while others have struggled with isolation and been left at greater risk of the ravages of poverty with some parents sadly losing work. Jobs and protecting the economy are of course important, but so is protecting our children and helping them to flourish and shockingly, two-thirds of children living in poverty now have at least one parent in work. The measures announced today will do nothing to address this.

    “What was needed was a comprehensive package to help children and young people. That means restoring vital funding to enable struggling councils to better help and protect vulnerable children, more open-access mental health support in the community and more help for families struggling financially. Without urgent action to protect children, help them through these tough times and support them to re-engage in education, their life chances could be seriously damaged. This will cause enormous harm not only to them, but also our economy in the long-run.”

    Among the measures The Children’s Society is calling for are:

    Child poverty

    • No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF): Suspension of this condition affecting the ability of migrant families in the UK to access benefits like Universal Credit during the Covid crisis. Many of those subject to NRPF are working in frontline roles during the CV-19 crisis – as NHS cleaners, in social care or food preparation
    • Benefits: An extra £10 a week for child benefit, an end to the five-week wait for Universal Credit, the two-child limit and the benefit cap.
    • Local Welfare Assistance: More long-term funding for Local Welfare Assistance Schemes run by councils which have suffered big cuts over the last decade. These schemes offer support for struggling families which can include cash grants and vouchers.

    Children at risk

    • More funding for struggling council children’s services departments: Even before the pandemic, council children’s services departments were struggling to cope with funding available having fallen by £2.2 billion over the last decade - meaning they had to cut back on early help services to focus resources on statutory help for those children already at crisis point. Many councils were having to use their reserves to cope but these have been depleted by emergency use due to the pandemic. There is an urgent need for the Government to give children’s social care the money it needs to address the funding shortfall and ensure councils can support all children and families who need help.

    Children’s mental health and well-being

    • More community support: With high thresholds for accessing Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CAMHS), there is a need for more open-access mental health support in the community which can offer early help to children and young people struggling with their emotional health and well-being.
    • Measurement of children and young people’s well-being: It is difficult to know what more help children need if we don’t know how they are feeling. We are urging the Government to commit to national measurement of children and young people’s well-being – as it already does for older young people aged over 16 and adults.

    * The Children's Society


  • President of Nigerian Humanist Association held incommunicado

    Mubarak Bala, president of the Nigerian Humanist Association, has been detained incommunicado since 28 April, 2020. 

    Human Rights Watch says the Nigerian police should immediately disclose the whereabouts of Mubarak Bala, president of the Nigerian Humanist Association, who has been detained incommunicado since 28 April, 2020. 

    Bala was arrested at his home by police in Kaduna State in response to a complaint by lawyers accusing him of publicly insulting the Prophet Muhammad on his Facebook page. The police transferred him to Kano State around 2 May, but have since refused to provide details of his whereabouts and denied access to his wife and lawyers.

    “Regardless of the offense or the sensitivity of the case, the authorities may not withhold information on Bala’s whereabouts from people legally authorised to know”, said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are required to ensure that he has regular and adequate access to his legal counsel, and Bala’s family should be able to speak to him.”

    Nigerian law criminalises insult to religion. Islamic Sharia laws applicable in the country’s 12 northern states with a significant or majority Muslim population, including Kano, also criminalise blasphemy. People have been sentenced to death for blasphemy under Sharia law. Blasphemy allegations have also triggered violent riots and killings in Kano State. Nigeria’s constitution, however, protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

    Bala has been an outspoken religious critic in the conservative northern region, where open religious opposition is unusual. After renouncing Islam in 2014, he was forcibly committed to a psychiatric facility by his family in Kano. He was discharged and has continued to receive death threats for alleged blasphemy.

    The petition against Bala to the Kano State Police Command concerned his Facebook comment comparing Prophet Muhammad to a Nigerian Evangelical preacher who he suggested was better than the Prophet because he was not a terrorist. The lawyers contended that he had violated Nigeria’s cybercrimes law, which criminalises insult of people based on their religion. It also alleged that the posts were contrary to the Kano State penal code, which sets punishments of up to two years in prison for public insults or contempt of any religion likely to lead to a breach of peace.

    James Ibor, the lawyer heading Bala’s legal team, told Human Rights Watch that the authorities have yet to bring charges against him. He said that the Kano police filed a First Information Report on 4 May before a magistrate court, which under the criminal procedure code should evaluate whether to proceed with charges. The lawyer said the response has been slower than usual.

    Ibor also said that the magistrate had granted a police application to keep Bala in protective custody. Details of the order, made without the knowledge of Bala’s legal team, are yet to be made available to them.

    Leo Igwe, the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Association, told Human Rights Watch that he believes Bala’s arrest was an effort by the authorities to silence him and send a strong message that such views and ways of thinking will not be tolerated. “It is not clear why the authorities will transfer Bala to Kano State, which is prone to religious tensions, if they are concerned about his safety”, he said.

    Bala’s wife told Human Rights Watch that she had repeatedly called the Kano State Police Commissioner to ask about her husband’s whereabouts, but has not received a response. “I have sleepless nights worrying about Bala while struggling to care for our baby who was born a month before the arrest”, she said.

    Bala’s lawyers filed a case at the Federal High Court in Abuja in May, but the case has yet to be heard due to Covid-19-related delays in court processes. The case challenges Bala’s arrest and detention as a violation of his rights to liberty, fair trial, freedom of thought and expression, and freedom of movement, as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and international human rights law.

    The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, in principle violate freedom of expression. Authorities rejected the claims that access to Bala’s lawyers has been denied. Habu Ahmadu, the Kano state police commissioner, told Human Rights Watch in a phone interview on 4 July that Bala’s case was before the courts, where he is free to have legal representation. “The lawyers should be able to get access to him from the courts”, he said.

    On 29 June, the Magistrate Court in Kano granted an order mandating the police to allow Bala’s lawyers access to him after a formal application was made. The order has still not been processed by the chief magistrate and so cannot be enforced. The delay appears to be an effort to further impede access. 

    “The authorities should urgently allow Bala’s lawyers access to their client and preclude any further delay in the justice process”, Ewang said. “Immediate steps should be taken to charge him with an offence that does not violate his human rights, or release him unconditionally.”

    * Human Rights Watch


  • Northern Ireland clerical abuse investigation needs rescuing, says Amnesty

    Amnesty says that a 'go-slow' approach to investigating serious allegations of clerical child abuse and abuse in Mother and Baby Homes is failing victims.

    Repeated failures in a Northern Ireland government process to probe allegations of abuse in Mother and Baby Homes and clerical child abuse have been criticised by Amnesty International.

    Amnesty says that a 'go-slow' approach to investigating serious allegations of clerical child abuse and abuse in Mother and Baby Homes is failing victims.

    The human rights organisation says that an Inter-Departmental Working Group (IDWG), which the NI Executive agreed to establish in February 2016 to lead work on the issues, has repeatedly failed to deliver for victims and has fallen badly behind schedule.

    According to Amnesty, the IDWG has still not commissioned any research on clerical child sex abuse, while a research report it commissioned on Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries, which was due for publication in September 2019, has still not been published.

    Amnesty is now seeking an urgent meeting with Judith Gillespie, whose appointment as the new chair of the IDWG, has just been announced. She is the third chairperson since the group was established.

    Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International, said: “Women from Mother and Baby homes in Northern Ireland have told Amnesty International that they suffered arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and the forced adoption and trafficking of their babies.

    “Countless child abuse victims have come forward to reveal their suffering at the hands of abusive clerics and gross failures by church and state authorities. Amnesty, alongside abuse victims, first called for a public inquiry into these serious allegations of human rights violations back in 2012. United Nations committees have supported those calls.

    “In February 2018, Amnesty branded the NI Executive’s working group process as shambolic and repeated our calls for a human rights-compliant investigation. The government told the public that there was nothing to worry about and everything was on schedule. Now, half-way through 2020, there is still no research on clerical abuse and yet more delays in the publication of research into Mother and Baby Homes – just more of the ‘go-slow’ approach which continues to fail victims.

    “We are seeking a meeting with Judith Gillespie, who urgently needs to rescue this process. Our message will be that such serious allegations of human rights abuses must be matched with investigations with the necessary hallmarks of independence, effectiveness and transparency. That is not what victims have seen to date, but must be the next step.”

    Despite calls from victims dating back to 2012, the Northern Ireland Executive has failed to establish independent investigations into historical clerical child sex abuse and allegations of abuses in more than a dozen Mother and Baby Home-type institutions.

    The UN Committee Against Torture and the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women have both previously recommended that the Northern Ireland Executive should establish an inquiry into abuses in Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries. The Executive so far has refused to commit to setting up such an inquiry.

    * Amnesty International


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  • UK government resumes licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia

    Campaign Against Arms Trade is considering all options for legal action to challenge the decision.

    The Government has announced it will resume the granting of new licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the coalition that is involved in the war in Yemen. 

    The decision, announced  on 7 July 2020 in a written statement by the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, has been condemned by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). CAAT is considering hte next legal steps.

    In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law. The Government undertook not to approve any new licences pending a reconsideration process, and was ordered by the Court to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner. This ruling did not stop arms from being transferred under extant licences. In the aftermath of the Court ruling, the Government has admitted multiple breaches of the ban of new licences.

    The announcement by Liz Truss means that further licences can be granted. CAAT is considering all legal options to challenge this decision.

    Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:

    • £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
    • £2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)

    In reality the figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.

    Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made have played a central role on the bombing. We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it.

    "The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of International humanitarian law (IHL) by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places. The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the Government to stop supplying the weaponry?

    "This exposes the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. Only yesterday the government was talking about the need to sanction human rights abusers, but now it has shown that it will do everything it can to continue arming and supporting one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world."

    Rosa Curling of Leigh Day Solicitors said: "Our client welcomes the Secretary of State's decision to finally accept the judgement handed down by the Court of Appeal and to agree that any decision concerning licence applications must include an assessment of whether IHL breaches have occurred.

    "But CAAT is also deeply alarmed by the decision that, despite her new procedure, the Secretary of State has decided licences can continue to be granted and that there is no clear risk the Saudi led coalition in Yemen might use such licensed military equipment in breach of IHL. My client's view is the evidence remains overwhelming that such a risk does in fact exist. We are considering her decision carefully with our client."

    * Read the written statement from Liz Truss here

    * Campaign Against Arms Trade