There was an error in this gadget

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Carers and inspiration

Just before Xmas I attended the award ceremony for Carer of the Year run by Lambeth Council and Lambeth NHS (as the PCT is now named). I was there because in my work I had nominated someone for the award who was shortlisted and I was attending as the nominator. The Council, to its credit, laid on a nice do with the South London Jazz Orchestra in the Imperial War Museum's cinema. I sat next to a woman who was a carer and had also been shortlisted and who cared for both her disabled daughter and husband. Most of those shortlisted were nominated by social workers but others were nominated by family members or by the voluntary sector, such as by the managers of day care centres which they attend. I had no quibble at all with the money which was spent for this event as in the total sum of things it is a very small amount indeed, and as the Chair of NHS Lambeth said, without the work of these carers the local NHS and social care would collapse.

I found many of the stories inspirational and had to admire many of these people greatly. It showed the other side of the coin in a society which is often castigated for selfishness and greed. There is, of course, much of the latter, but there are also many people such as these carers in Lambeth doing fantastic things. There were cases of daughters caring for mothers with terminal illnesses, who had virtually put their whole life on hold to do so. There were husbands caring 24/7 for their ill or housebound wives and there were several examples of people who were just good neighbours looking after the person in the flat nearby and ensuring that they were ok. The person who won the 'Carer of the Year' award was a man with his own family who had actually moved into the house of his friend, who had suffered a serious illness, to offer him full round the clock emotional and psychological support. What also struck me was that many of these people came from poor, inner city parts of Lambeth, like much of Vauxhall, yet they have given up so much for the good of others. We all know the stats about how much the state saves because of the work of carers and the huge gap that they fill. The other noticeable fact was that most of them were women and indeed it is women who carry the main burden of caring.

In a decade and a year that has seen so much to be disconsolate about, it is people like these who offer hope for a real 'civil society' and a model of co-operation which goes against the grain of everything which the bankers and the 'wide boys' of the City represent. They also stand in stark contrast to most of our politicians who are not prepared to forego anything and who have in this country and elsewhere brought the political class into real and deserved disrepute. But the real communities which these people represent will be gravely threatened in the year ahead by those for whom their service represents nothing. Those whom Oscar Wilde once described as "knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing." It is the real tragedy of the last three decades that these bean counters and their allies in politics have been allowed to dominate everything. Even our NHS bodies and various quangos are infested with the captains of industry and their parasitical managerialist cronies.


The real fight ahead is a struggle between two visions - that of  a society based on sharing and social need, such as that represented by the carers in Lambeth and that of a society based on greed and the lowest common denominator, where we still hear the siren cry that "there is no alternative." There is an alternative and I saw it at that event two weeks ago and it is worth fighting for. So despite the gloom and doom - and we will hear much of it in the months ahead - the actions of dedicated people do provide inspiration and hope that all is not yet lost.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Greens ahead in Brighton


Who says that a Green vote is a wasted vote? News just in from Brighton demonstrates that Caroline Lucas is on course to make history and become the first Green MP. With a tired New Labour regime and a Tory party champing at the bit to carry out 'Thatcherism Mark II' the only progressive alternative vote is for the Greens in Brighton.


Caroline Lucas, Green Party leader, only candidate able to keep the Conservatives out in Brighton Pavilion constituency



- UK’s first Green MP now a serious prospect - ICM constituency poll


Greens take a 10 point lead over Labour and an 8 point lead over the Conservatives in their target constituency of Brighton Pavilion - ICM Research telephone opinion poll.

Headline results

1. The Greens have the greatest support with 35% of the constituency’s voters followed by the Conservatives on 27%, Labour on 25% and LibDems on 11%.1

2. Almost two thirds (63%) of Labour and Lib Dem voters in the sample said that they would be likely to switch their vote to the Greens if that party was best placed to stop a Conservative win. 37% said they were very likely and 26% said they were quite likely to switch their vote in that situation.2

______________

Green candidate Caroline Lucas has a significant lead over the other parties’ candidates in Brighton Pavilion constituency, according to the first publicly released standard-size constituency opinion poll of local voters.

If repeated at the general election with a similar turn out, the result would see the Greens winning their first parliamentary seat, taking the constituency from Labour with a majority of almost 3,500 over the Conservatives.3

The telephone poll of 533 voters adjusted to match the local electorate’s profile and undertaken by ICM Research’s Government and Social Unit between 16 – 21 December 2009, suggests the Greens enjoy a 10 point lead over Labour and an 8 point lead over the Conservatives in the constituency.1

Paul Steedman, National General Election Campaign Director for the Green Party, said, “Besides pointing to the prospect of electing the country’s first Green Party MP, this opinion poll supports what we have been hearing from voters when we’ve talked to them on the door steps.

“We only need a 7% swing from Labour to Greens to win the seat. This opinion poll suggests we are on target to achieve this.

“It gives tactical voters a clear message - only a vote for the Green Party can stop the Conservatives in Brighton Pavilion.

“The ICM poll shows that Labour are trailing in third place – behind the Greens by 10 points and the Conservatives by 2 points. The Tories are still behind the Greens by 8 points.

“Remember, this was a Labour seat in 2005. The significant shift demonstrates that where voters have the chance to see Greens in action, where they get elected and as local councillors and work hard for residents, as we do here in Brighton or in other parts of the country such as Lewisham and Norwich, they like what they get.

“The poll also suggests that almost two thirds of Labour and Lib Dem voters would be likely to back the Greens if we were in a position to stop a Tory win in this constituency. This isn’t surprising news to us either – we know the voters of Brighton to be as savvy as you’ll find anywhere in the country.

“Caroline has already shown her dedication to the people of Brighton as their representative in the European Parliament for over ten years. She will bring all her experience to stand up for them in Westminster.”

Candidate Caroline Lucas said, “Brighton is a special place and its voters are impatient for a fresh, independent voice to represent them in Westminster. I believe I am offering them that.

“Taken with the other indicators such as the bookies making the Greens favourites, this poll should help to reassure wavering Labour and Lib Dem supporters that a Green vote in Brighton Pavilion is the best way to stop the Tories.

“If elected, I promise to honour the trust that voters have placed in me and provide Brighton with the fresh, independent voice its people want and deserve.”

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

2010 - What lies ahead



I have been struck low by a chest infection over Xmas and have taken the precaution of staying mainly indoors. I have a long history of chest problems and know that once it gets its claws into me then I could be laid up for about two weeks. This has given me the opportunity to catch up with lots of films I have wanted to see and to read a lot of newspaper articles. There was a very interesting piece in The Independent on Xmas Eve predicting that the next decade would be the Asian decade with India and China increasingly running the world's affairs and with the USA and Europe having less and less influence. I think that this is certainly the case and will lead to mounting paranoia by the US in particular, which has run global affairs since the European powers engaged in an imperial contest called World War I, effectively bankrupting their economies and allowing the US to become the dominant power. The US century is now coming to an end and this will lead to a great deal of upheaval. The antagonism between China and the US was visible at Copenhagen and is increasingly obvious in the economic and political spheres, particularly in Africa.

Over Xmas my friends and relations in Ireland were in touch with me and all of them were complaining loudly about the savage budget just introduced in the Irish Republic. I recently heard a Tory frontbencher on 'Hard Talk' on BBC News 24 praising this budget and suggesting that this was what the UK needed to do. So for anyone interested in how many bitter lemons the Tories would ask us to suck on, I suggest having a look at the details of the Irish budget. Needless to say, the property speculators and bankers who created the mess in the Irish Republic have hardly been affected at all and the axe falls mainly on those on welfare on the public sector employees. Not surprising that there has already been one day of a national strike there and that more industrial unrest is forecast.

It is also the time of year when we get predictions about the year ahead - and this year about the decade ahead - as mentioned above. Larry Elliott in the Guardian, who is one of my favourite economic commentators, predicts the following for the UK economy in 2010:

"Whoever wins is going to face a tough economic challenge. It will be another year of wage restraint and job insecurity. Even if growth resumes it will be modest, barely visible to the naked eye. There will be little evidence of a feelgood factor.



A taste of the spending squeeze to come was provided last week by Lord Mandelson's decision to take the axe to university budgets. There will plenty more of this in all the other areas that have not been ringfenced from cuts. Housing and transport look particularly vulnerable. A broader question is whether the UK can survive the year without a strike in the bond market and/or a run on sterling. All the ingredients are certainly in place: a big budget deficit, an underperforming and unbalanced economy, political uncertainty. A hung parliament, which some psephologists are predicting, could be the final straw."

Larry Elliott predicts that a Tory victory is less than certain and that is certainly the view of a number of pundits.Labour are clearly out of favour but there is no great enthusiasm for Cameron's slash and burn regime.

Meanwhile the Chartered Institute of  Personnel and Development predicts rising unemployment in 2010 - according to their report issued today:

The report estimated that the number of people in work will fall by 250,000 between the third quarter of this year and the second three months of 2010.


The 2.8 million unemployment prediction is much lower than an earlier forecast by the CIPD of 3.2 million, with the report adding that the coming year will be better for jobs than 2009.

Dr John Philpott, the CIPD's chief economic adviser, forecast a continued squeeze on pay rises next year, adding: "This could be difficult to deliver following a recession during which many private sector employees have experienced pay freezes or pay cuts.

"A slower than expected recovery or stronger earnings growth would threaten to raise peak unemployment to at least three million.

"The impact on jobs of planned cuts in public spending and tax increases, especially the 1% hike in employers' National Insurance Contributions from April 2011, is expected to be felt after the peak in unemployment."

The last sentence is critical as it indicates the danger of the Tory policy. The only way forward is for more job creation, real sustainable apprenticeships, and improvement of infrastructure such as the rail network and millions of jobs in renewable energy and green jobs. The alternative is an earlier than expected visit by the Spirit of Christmas Future.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Population Trading



Derek Wall over at his blog http://another-green-world.blogspot.com/ reports on the latest plan to reduce population being put forward by one of the organisations I dislike the most, the Optimal Population Trust. Apparently they are proposing to offset carbon emissions by paying to persuade women in developing countriest to have less children. There is a satirical site here which really sums up my view about market based efforts to solve global emissions and carbon trading. Mr Porritt and OPT please take note!

http://cheatneutral.com/

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

War not to be over by Xmas

http://stopwar.org.uk/content/view/1669/186/

With the war still raging in Afghanistan and more bodies returning today and more deaths being announced, above is the Christmas song from Stop the War Coalition called appropriately 'Christmas in the trenches'. Like World War I, this war will last well beyond Christmas. We can only hope that 2010 will bring an end to this exercise in military folly.


In the interim, I wish all readers of this blog a happy and peaceful festive break and all the best for 2010.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Gay marriage legalised in Mexico City



http://www.france24.com/en/20091221-gay-marriage-approved-mexico-city-latin-america

More good news from Latin America - this time from the continent's largest city which has just legalised gay marriage. Latin America is now putting some European countries to shame in its progressive policies. This is a wonderful Xmas present for the city's large LGBT population. Feliz Ano Nuevo y Navidad!

No to the politics of hate and Barking

Last night I presented a motion to the regional Green Party, the London Federation of Green Parties, calling on Barking Greens not to stand a candidate in the general election in Barking, where Nick Griffin is standing for the BNP. The motion was seconded by London's Green MEP, Jean Lambert. We had a passionate and open debate and voted to call upon Barking not to stand a candidate. There were strong feelings on both sides and some wanted there to be an opportunity for Barking voters to be able to support a real progressive candidate from the Greens. But the majority of us agreed that the threat from the BNP there and the resulting media circus is just too dangerous for British politics, and that we must ensure that no door is left ajar to allow the BNP to enter parliament.

Their hate filled politics, which has already seen them enter the European Parliament and the London Assembly, would then infect the UK parliament also. There would be an immediate impact on hate crime and attacks on the black and etnic minority communities in London as well as on the LGBT community. We hold no candle for New Labour or for any of the other parties, but all efforts in Barking must be directed at working with anti-Fascist groups and ensuring that the BNP do not win there. As a result, Greens are prepared to look at the bigger picture and to put the danger of electing a BNP candidate to parliament before narrow party or sectarian interest. In this regard, Greens have acted in support of Barking's and London's progressive politics.

Green Left issued the following statement today:

“Green Left welcomes the decision of the London Federation of Green Parties to call for no Green Party candidate to stand in the forthcoming general election for the constituency of Barking, in order to maximise the anti-Fascist vote. We regard this as a decision in favour of all progressive groups campaigning against the BNP in Barking and we pledge our full support for all efforts to defeat Nick Griffin and the BNP there. Despite wishing to provide voters with a progressive alternative, under the circumstances we consider it the best strategic decision not to stand a candidate in this election. We call on all voters in Barking to vote against the politics of hate and the BNP”

Monday, 21 December 2009

Military Families Against the War at Downing St tonight

I will be at Downing St tonight to support the Military Families Against the War, together with other comrades from Green Left. We need to remember the terrible suffering of these families in 2009 and the many other families who will suffer in 2010 as this war continues. Also the suffering of thousands of Afghan civilians killed this year as part of 'collateral damage' in the war without end to prop up the corrupt Karzai administration.




Why we're asking for your support on Monday 21 December



Military Families Against the War go to Downing Street on Monday 21 December 2009 at 5.00pm, when they will deliver the Bring the Troops Home petition and demand to see Gordon Brown





--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By Joan Humphries, grandmother of Private Kevin Elliott, who was killed Afghanistan in 2009

and Graham Knight, father of Sergeant Ben Knight, who was killed in 2006



26 November 2009



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------





"Christmas is always a time of reflection for people who have suffered loss. But we don't have to suffer alone, and we don't have to suffer in silence. Instead, we want to remind the Government of the sacrifices our loved ones have made, and continue to make.



We will be travelling to 10 Downing Street on Monday, December 21, to demand to see Gordon Brown and present him with a petition signed by tens of thousands of people who are calling for the troops to be brought home.



We have suffered terrible personal loss in this war in Afghanistan and we don't want any more families to go through the same pain.



Everyone knows now this is a pointless war, deeply unpopular in Britain and Afghanistan. The most recent poll shows 71 percent of people in Britain want troops home within a year.



Young lives are being sacrificed so that politicians can save face.



Britain is supporting the US just to keep up the so-called special relationship. Meanwhile the death toll is mounting. It is high time the troops came home.



We will hold a vigil at Downing Street for those who have been killed in Afghanistan and in Iraq. We will be joined by other families who have lost loved ones or whose loved ones are still in Afghanistan. We have also invited former soldiers.



Please join us at Downing Street on Monday December 21 at 5pm and help make sure the Prime Minister listens."



Joan Humphries

Graham Knight

Copenhagen Blues


I have been out meeting friends pre Xmas and managed to see the 3D version of 'Nightmare before Christmas' today at the NFT/BFI on the South Bank. However, this has helped to stave off the deep, deep sense of depression I have felt following the Copenhagen conference and the real sense of disillusionment and anger which I have felt about it. I have read the pathetic attempts at spin put out by John Prescott and others which are complete rubbish. I cannot do any better than say that I agree with everything which Joss Garman the eco activist has written in this piece for the Independent. As a historian, I have a terrible sense of having witnessed a second Versailles conference where all the mistakes have been made and the consequences for history ignored.


A real opportunity has been lost.

Friday, 18 December 2009

The Climate Circus

Find out what the positions of world and EU leaders really mean, see the latest updates on http://www.climatecircus.com/


An imaginative and distrubing presentation of the positon of various countries on climate change from the European Greens. Just shows how far there is to go! Also gives the lie to Gordon Brown's green credentials. Vote Brown - get brown!

Second wave of flu pandemic coming to an end

With the freezing weather outside and the bookies offering good odds on a white Christmas, it is worth considering another aspect of this time of year and to be grateful that we have escaped a real disaster in the shape of the H1N1 flu pandemic. Latest reports suggest that the second wave is coming to an end, although the number of hospitalisations and deaths during this wave have been higher than in the first wave. This is the classicpattern.News here on the BBC flu blog.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/ferguswalsh/2009/12/swine_flu_cases_continue_to_fall.html

However, as Fergus Walsh says, we would do well to remember that there will be many families this Christmas who will have lost a loved one to this virus. I was vaccinated several weeks ago against the virus and I see that many children are now being vaccinated also. I think this is a very wise precaution and have read heart rending accounts by mothers whose children have died, wishing that they had been vaccinated. Of course, there is often a third wave in a flu pandemic and we need to be on our guard - the danger is not yet past.

As Vice Chair of the London Ambulance Service Patients Forum I attended many meetings with health officials over the last few months on this issue, including a meeting with the Flu Tsar for London. People were genuinely worried and acted as quickly and responsibly as possible to put safeguards for public health in place. For those who criticise the measures taken, I would say this, that it was far better to follow the precautionary principle and to act responsibly than to have ignored the danger and suffered a possible disaster. The NHS and the Primary Care Trusts acted quickly and took the necessary measures for a pandemic. Flu is a very unpredictable illness and, of course, there is still the issue of seasonal flu, which carries off thousands of people each winter, especially the elderly. It is important that those people and health workers continue to get seasonal flu vaccinations.


I would like to put on record my thanks and appreciation to all of those people working in the NHS who have been dealing with this crisis, from the GPs to those doctors and nurses treating those with complications in hospital. An event like this flags up the significance of our health service and it is vitally important that this lesson is not forgotten by politicians. In the coming months we will hear a lot of rhetoric about cuts. It is vital that the health service and the NHS is protected from cuts and that the health of the nation is placed far above other policy concepts, such as the abomination which is Trident. As this pandemic has showed us, health spending and resources are literally a matter of life and death. And I would like to wish all those working in frontline health services, who often have to work over the Xmas period, a happy festive season and all the best for 2010.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Peter Tatchell stands down



Very sad to see my Green Party colleague and hero Peter Tatchell being forced to stand down as a general election candidate because of injuries. I went to the fundraising party for Peter's institute last year and was amazed at his level of energy and the fact that he answers literlly hundreds of emails every day. He also, because of his tireless campaiging, gets very little sleep and I have often wondered at his energy levels. He is a hero not only for the LGBT community and the Greens, but also for all those fighting for human rights across the globe. He has always spoken truth to power and often paid the price of doing so. I wish him good health and am sure that much of his campaiging will continue. For those who wish to help Peter with his work please contribute to the Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund http://www.tatchellrightsfund.org/

The LGBT community in Vauxhall and London owe Peter a debt of gratitude.



Brain injuries from Mugabe and Moscow bashings thwart bid to be Oxford East MP




"It is with great regret and reluctance that I am standing down as the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East. My brain injuries from the Mugabe and Moscow bashings mean that I would not be able to campaign effectively in the general election or do the duties required of an MP, if I was elected," human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell announced today.



"It would not be right for me to seek election if I could not do the job of an MP to the high standards that I want and that Oxford East voters have a right to expect.



"If I was elected, I could manage the parliamentary duties or the constituency work. But my health is not strong enough for me to do both.



"This is huge disappointment and frustration. Oxford East is a target Green seat. In the county elections in June, the Greens were neck-and-neck with the Liberal Democrats as the main challenger to Labour. The European elections saw the Greens win in Oxford East, well ahead of Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories.



"The brain damage caused by Mugabe's thugs in Brussels in 2001 and by neo-Nazis in Moscow in 2007 has been compounded by head injuries in an accident while I was campaigning in Devon in July. A bus on which I was travelling swerved and braked sharply. I was thrown forward, hitting my head on a metal handrail.



"The injuries don't stop me from campaigning but I am slower, make more mistakes, get tired easily and take longer to do things. My memory, concentration, balance and coordination have been adversley affected. I can't campaign at the pace I used to.



"I was selected as the Green Party candidate for Oxford East in April 2007. A month later, I was badly beaten around the head by neo-Nazis during an attempted Gay Pride parade in Moscow.



See here:



http://www.petertatchell.net/international/moscowgayarrests.htm



"This exacerbated the brain damage caused when I was bashed unconscious by President Mugabe's bodyguards in Brussels in 2001, after attempting to make a citizen's arrest of the Zimbabwean leader on charges of torture.



See here:



http://www.petertatchell.net/international/mugabearrest.htm



"Following the Moscow assault, I never rested and recuperated. I carried on campaigning, with a very heavy schedule of commitments in Oxford East. After several months, I was severely exhausted. This stress and exhaustion probably intensified the damage and thwarted my recovery.



"I have postponed making this announcement for several months, in the hope that I might get better and be able to carry on as the Green candidate. Unfortunately, my condition has not improved. If anything, it is worse.



"There is, however, a glimmer of hope for the future. The medical advice is that if I slow down and reduce my workload my condition may improve in a year or so. On the downside, I am unlikely to ever recover fully. Some of the damage is probably permanent.



"I don't regret a thing. Getting a thrashing and brain injuries was not what I had expected or wanted. But I was aware of the risks. Taking risks is sometimes necessary, in order to challenge injustice. My beatings had the positive effect of helping draw international attention to the violent, repressive nature of the Russian and Zimbabwean regimes. I'm glad of that.



"My physical inconveniences are nothing by comparison to the far worse beatings inflicted on human rights defenders in countries like Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Columbia, Sudan and Burma. These heroic activists often end up jailed or dead. I count myself lucky.



"The Oxford Green Party expects to select a new parliamentary candidate in January. That person will have my wholehearted support. I intend to campaign with them during the general election.



"I would like to thank members of Oxford Green Party for their immense kindness, support, and generosity during my two and a half years as their candidate. It has been a pleasure working with the Oxford Greens and I wish them future success," said Mr Tatchell.



Caroline Lucas MEP, the leader of the Green Party, said today: "Peter is one of those truly inspiring people. It has been a great pleasure and privilege to work with him. I'm sure I can speak for all Greens in sending Peter our thanks and congratulations for his tremendous work as a Green Party candidate, and our very best wishes for his recovery."

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Freedom Pass Cull in London - Impact on disabled Londoners

Reports are coming in from all across London that local authorities are culling the number of Freedom Passes issued to disabled people. This because of a massive cut in the subsidy given to London councils by the government, which effectively leaves each London borough facing a shortfall of around £1 million in the cost of Freedom Passes. London Councils, the umbrealla body for London local authorities, gave an undertaking that the number of Freedom Passes would not be reduced, but individual local authorities are not doing this. Today there is a meeting in Islington to discuss the situation there and in Haringey there have been numerous reports in the local press about disabled people being put through humiliating tests. Lambeth has long been very ungenerous in issuing Freedom Passes for people with mental health problems and this will now intensify. The problem is that the Transport Act 2000 is very restrictive in the definition of 'disability' which entitles a person to a Pass. Formerly many disabled people in London were issued Passes on a discretionary basis but it looks lik this is coming to an end. Thousands of disabled Londoners are being called in for interviews and tests.


Transport for All, the pan London disability charity, is mounting a campaign against this and has asked people to sign a petition against this huge attack on the rights of disabled Londoners. Details are here


As they say on their website: "The Freedom Pass provides just that, Freedom, for disabled and older Londoners. It allows us to travel for free on the bus, tube and rail networks within London. Without this vital benefit, many of us would not be able to afford essential travel to hospitals, community centres, to local shops or engage in our social lives. This would severely affect the quality of our lives. With the steep increase in bus and tube fares coming into force in January, the Freedom pass becomes even more essential. "

This attack on disabled Londoners while bankers line up for New Year bonuses is unacceptable. I will also be asking Jenny Jones, Green Party London Assembly Member, who sits on the Transport Committee of the London Assembly, to look into this.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The human rights election



The mother of parliaments has turned out to be swimming in a pool of corruption, the postal voting system is denounced by judges as "a fraudsters charter" and the voting system itself is roundly denounced by many as a totally unrepresentative - leading to a proposal that a referendum be held on reforming it in 2011. Now the European Court rules that the next UK elections in May or June could involve a total infringement of human rights by being the only country in Europe to refuse prisoners the right to vote.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/dec/08/ban-prisoner-votes-human-rights

This in a country with the highest prisoner population in Europe and just behind the USA in terms of per capita prison population also. Going to prison can involve a range of offences and should not be a justification for deprival of the democratic right to vote. It is a disgrace that the UK government despite being told this five years ago by the European Court has still done nothing to remedy the situation. As the Prison Reform Trust says in today's Guardian: "Had the government accepted the European court ruling over five years ago, that the blanket ban on prisoners' voting is unlawful, it would not now be in the ludicrous position of heading for a non-compliant general election," said the trust's director, Juliet Lyon. "Governments, like the rest of us, cannot simply pick and choose the laws they like."

It is not surprsing then that President Karzai laughs at Gordon Brown's and David Milliband's strictures about the actions of his government when the UK government has a pick and mix approach to human rights and the system of democratic elections. Time to get the house in order and to stop being the sick man of Europe in terms of both ignoring human rights and protecting democratic systems of election. Wonder what Polly Toynbee thinks of this?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

100th soldier dead but generals carry on



Well the day has arrived which we all feared would, the day when the 100th British soldier would die in Afghanistan. Another family mourns, and bang on cue, Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, is rolled out to assure the public that things are going well and progress is being made in Afghanistan. The Guardian reports the following comments from the head of the army:


General Sir David Richards, head of the army, paid tribute to the latest victim, adding: "The temptation to judge this essential campaign by casualties alone undervalues the tremendous efforts of our forces and our allies, and the progress they are making".



Richards said there were "real grounds for optimism". "We have made substantial progress in Helmand and throughout Afghanistan. Political resolve is firm; the necessary resources and manpower will be flowing into Afghanistan to allow us to do the job."

Political resolve may be firm but whose political resolve? That of the Labour government and the Tory opposition? That of the generals? Or that of the Lib Dems whose leader is quoted in today's Guardian:

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, said: "Everyone now hopes that the new strategy will succeed so that British soldiers can come back home with their heads held high and in the knowledge that their sacrifices have not been in vain."

Certainly not the political resolve of the British people who have shown in poll after poll that they do not support this war. A war to uphold the Karzai government, which itself is despised by most of the Afghan people as a corrupt set of warlords and drug dealers. Well at least they are not telling us that it will all be over by Christmas, which is what the generals told the public in 1914. No, it will all be over by 2011, according to Obama. Anyone who believes that needs to contact their local mental health organisation.

This war goes on and the casualty lists mount. Lambeth Stop the War are meeting at the South Bank on Sunday at 3.30pm to demonstrate against its futility, with candles and placards. That is where we should be demonstrating political resolve against the war.

The history of British involvement in Afghanistan should be a grim warning. It was the Duke of Wellington, possibly Britain's greatest military tactician who commented: “It is easy to get into Afghanistan. The problem is getting out again.” The generals and the politicians are leading us on a grim dance of death in Afghanistan and there is no exit strategy.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Protest against proposed execution of gays in Uganda on Human Rights Day

Protest Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill


Thursday 10th December 2009

12pm- 2pm

Ugandan High Commission

58-59 Trafalger Square, Charing Cross
London, WC2N 5DX



To coincide with International Human Rights Day, this Thursday 10 December, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has called for worldwide protests against the draconian Anti-Homsexuality Bill currently being debated by the Ugandan parliament.



Under this proposed new law, gay Ugandans will face execution for certain homosexual acts.



See details of the legislation here:



http://www.ukgaynews.org.uk/Archive/09/Nov/Bill-No-18-Anti-Homosexuality-Bill-2009_Uganda.pdf



If you can’t attend Thursday’s protest, please lobby your MP and MEP.

Ask them to write to the Ugandan High Commissioner, Joan Rwabyomere, urging that the legislation is dropped. You can email your MP and MEP

here: www.writetothem.com



You can also email the Ugandan High Commissioner, Joan Rwabyomere, yourself:



info@ugandahighcommission.co.uk



“The new Anti-Homosexuality Bill, if passed, proposes the death penalty for ‘aggravated’ and ‘serial’ homosexual acts and extends the existing penalty of life imprisonment for anal sex to all other same-sex behaviour, including the mere touching of another person with the intent to have gay relations. Life imprisonment is also the penalty for contracting a same-sex mariage,” said Peter Tatchell of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights group OutRage!.



Out Rage! is backing the London protest, which is being coordinated by the Gay Activists Alliance International, with the support of Gay Uganda and Ugandan LGBT exiles. Mr Tatchell will speak at the rally, together with Davis Mac-Iyalla (Nigeria and co-founder of GAAI) and Skye Chirape (Zimbabwe)



“Membership of LGBT organisations and funding for them, advocacy of LGBT human rights and the provision of condoms or safer sex advice to LGBT people will result in a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of seven years for “promoting” homosexuality. A person in authority who fails to report violators to the police within 24 hours will incur three years behind bars,” added Mr Tatchell.



“Astonishingly, the new legislation has an extra-territorial jusridiction. It will also apply to Ugandans who commit these ‘crimes’

while living abroad, in countries where such behaviour is not a criminal offence. Violators overseas will be subjected to extradition, trial and punishment in Uganda,” he said.



According to Dennis Hambridge, GAAI global coordinator:



“The bill is likely to be detrimental to the fight against HIV/AIDS by denying gay and bisexual men access to condoms and safer sex advice and driving countless numbers of them further underground. It will create even more stigma, discrimination and oppression



“Activists in Uganda have reported to GAAI that there are eight gay people currently awaiting trial or sentencing in Uganda.



“With immense pressure being put on the Ugandan Government to drop the bill, by human rights groups, governments and religious groups worldwide, we call on our people in the UK to support this protest,”

he said.







GAAI are also hoping that gay Ugandan John Bosco Nyombi will be able to attend Thursday’s protest. Earlier thsi year, the British courts ordered the return of John Bosco Nyombi to the UK after he was illegally and forcibly returned to Uganda while seeking asylum in the UK.



The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill violates the equality and non-discrimination provisions of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Uganda is a signatory. These breaches of international humanitarian commitments undermine the right to privacy and individual liberty and thereby set a dangerous legal precedent which threatens the human rights of all Ugandans. They are part of a wider drift towards an authoritarian state. President Museveni is fast turning into another Robert Mugabe.



http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/z1afchar.htm



http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm




The Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists and the World AIDS Campaign.



It violates the Commonwealth principles of human rights and human dignity. You can email the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, here:



secretary-general@commonwealth.int





Climate March and Political Disconnect

I was at the rally on Saturday in London organised by the Campaign Against Climate Change where Caroline Lucas MEP gave a stomping speech about the need for "more militancy" and for an end to half measures. Caroline also called for people to think about electing different politicians as well. Caroline's last point was well made and timely with the announcement this morning, along with an editorial in 56 global newspapers calling for active decisions at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, that the House of Commons Transport Committee has backed an extra runway at Heathrow http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/07/mps-third-runway-heathrow-report

Are these MPs living in the same world as everyone else? Is there a total political and logical disconnect here? It seems that on Saturday we have huge global protests and one of the largest ever in the UK about climate change and on Monday morning it is back to business as usual! On Saturday we were treated on television to a scene of Ed Milliband, the Secretary of State with responsibility for climate change, out on the streets with the demonstrators, assuring reporterst that this government would be battling hard at Copenhagen for decisive measures against climate change and on Saturday night, there were scenes all over the media of Gordon Brown sitting down with some of the demonstrators to assure them that Uncle Gordo shared their concerns and would be fighting all the way at Copenhagen to get a deal. And what does the Labour dominated Transport Committee do on Monday - decide that more flights and more noise and more carbon emissions over London are good for business.


So now we see another reason why so much of politics in this country has fallen into disrepute. Lack of joined up thinking and basic honesty! For a start, a suggestion to groups such as Plane Stupid and others - the constituencies of the MPs who backed this report should be targeted - that is if they are not retiring already. Hopefully good Green Party candidates are standing for election in all of them.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Too late for procrastination on climate change - Protest tomorrow!



Tomorrow I will be with Green Left and the Green Party at the Climate Emergency Rally. Several trade unions are taking part and Caroline Lucas MEP from the Green Party is also speaking. It is vital that as many people as possible support the rally and march and continue to put pressure on the UK government and the world leaders to deliver a meaningful agreement at Copenhagen next week. This really is the last chance saloon and the indications from Copenhagen are not looking good. Maximum public pressure has got to be brought to bear.

The recent events in Cumbria and in Ireland indicate what could lie ahead in terms of climate destruction if we do not act soon. Time is of the essence and the rich world must share with the poor world and stop delaying and trying to obfuscate issues. There is no alternative and the developed world has to make resources available to Africa, Asia and Latin America to deal with climate change and fundamentally, must reduce its own emissions, and stop trying to cover them up with carbon trading.



CLIMATE EMERGENCY RALLY, Saturday 5th December



Challenge the government to take emergency action on climate!






Come to the Climate Emergency Rally at Speakers Corner, Hyde Park at 12.00 noon


(nearest tube Marble Arch)






Speakers will include Michael Meacher MP (Lab), Simon Hughes MP (Lib Dem), John McDonnell MP (Lab), Caroline Lucas MEP (Green), Maria Souverin (Bolivian ambassador), John Stewart (HACAN - campaign against Heathrow 3rd runway), Chris Baugh (PCS - Public and Commercial Services Union) and Ellie Hopkins from the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC).



The Rally will be a chance for demonstrators to put concrete demands to government for emergency action on climate (see below), many of which formed part of the radical EDM 2057. Speakers will include MPs who have signed this including John McDonnell MP (Lab) and Lynn Jones MP (Lab)



Musical interludes will be provided by Seize the Day.



This day, Saturday 5th December will see the biggest UK demonstration on climate so far with greater commitment than ever before from a wide range of NGOs, brought together by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition for the main event, called “The Wave” which will leave Grosvenor Square at about 1.00 pm to surround parliament for the ‘wave event' at about 3.00 pm. The Climate Emergency Rally will precede “The Wave” and rally-goers will feed into it as it leaves Grosvenor Square.



We are holding the Rally because we want to make sure there is no chance that the Government will ‘spin’ the climate demo as simply in support of their position at the Copenhagen Talks – whilst we support all the 'Wave' demands for a fair and effective international agreement we also want to demand much more action on climate from the UK government, here at home. We believe that in any case there is no chance of an effective agreement until the North wins the trust of the South and it will only do that if Northern countries like the UK match words with action and take radical emission-reducing measures at home.



And we mean real concrete 'emergency'; measures. We will demand:



Declaration of a Climate Emergency

10% cuts by end 2010

A million green jobs by end 2010

Ban domestic flights

55 mph speed limit – scrap the roads program

End Agrofuel use



Most of these demands (and more) are in Early Day Motion 2057, now (re-tabled as EDM 189). signed by 45 MPs . See more here. There is a growing movement for emergency climate action in the UK. Lets make sure it continues to build! Join us at the Climate Emergency Rally!



For the “Million Green Jobs” demand see the new pamphlet from the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group. More info here.



Cyclists will want to join the CLIMATE EMERGENCY BIKE RIDE assembling at 10.00 am at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It will finish at the Climate Emergency Rally, around 12.00 noon. See more here.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

World Aids Day - not just a title


Today is World Aids Day and is a day that I always mark as important and one which many organisations dealing with health and social care also mark, as well as those organisations working with those communities particularly affected by the disease - LGBT people, the African community and drug users. First the good news - the numbers affected by HIV/AIDS in the UK are going down after a number of years when the UK had one of the highest rates of infection in the EU. But the disease continues to rage in Africa and Eastern Europe in particular and many of those affected still do not have recourse to treatment because of the non-availability of cheap generic drugs and medical care.

But I want to be particularly personal now about this illness and how it is affecting many people who have been living with HIV for many years here in the UK. Tonight I am meeting a friend who is a gay man who has been living with the virus for 24 years. He has been very ill in the past and thanks to a support network of organisations such as the Positive Place in South London (where I was a trustee from 1998 to 2001) and which tragically closed down recently, he has managed to keep going. He is in receipt of DLA (Disability Living Allowance) and suffered scarring of his brain as a result of the illness.

Over a year ago the DWP in its wisdom decided to review the cases of hundreds of people who were HIV+ and who had been given 6 months to live in the 90s when the disease was untreatable. Many of these people had lost everything - homes, life insurance policies, jobs etc when they were ill and their only lifeline was DLA. They also suffered incredible psychological stress believing that they were going to die. The new drugs only came online in the mid 90s and it was uncertain for several years as to how effective they would be. Many of them had terrible side effects - hallucinations, paranoia, incontinence, dizziness etc and many patients were forced to change drug regimes many times.

Suddenly last year the DWP decided to review all of these people's cases - some were in their 60s and 70s. Many had their DLA reduced or removed. On what basis was this done? HIV is not curable and many of these people had no other income. Are they able to return to work with variable states of health and having been out of the labour market for years. None of this was of concern to the bureaucrats of the DWP and many have been plunged into poverty, including my friend. The latest development is that he is being called to an interview by his local council (Lewisham) about his Freedom Pass, which allows him some measure of mobility in using public transport. The reason, of course, is that because his DLA has been reduced this has given the green light to the Council money savers to try and remove his pass as well.

So for many of these people living long term with HIV and with all of the former social networks gone (work, HIV support groups etc) they are expected to disappear from the scene, to be housebound and to live in penury. This is their reward for having lived beyond their 'sell by date' and for struggling for years against illness and depression. It is not surprising that some of the survivors I have known have committed suicide or had breakdowns. This caring sharing country regards them as being excess to requirments and a burden on the system. Not much different really to what the survivors of World War 1 discovered when they returned to a country which they had bene promised would be "a land fit for heroes". What they found instead was poverty, disabiliy and neglect.

So when today the gliterati and celebrities at some of the large organisations and elsewhere are marking World Aids Day, spare a thought for the long term survivors here who have been through all of it, seen friends and lovers die and are now just an afterthought. For them World Aids Day leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. We should remember them and campaign to give them better treatment that what many of them are currently receiving at the hands of local and national government.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Climate Scepticism and Liars

With the unbelievable news over the weekend that Nick Griffin of the BNP who spoke out against climate change last week in the European Parliament is being sent to the Copenhagen Summit as a representative of the EU - the meeting below is very timely. Fresh from claiming that the BNP are the defenders of the planet they are now the vanguard of a new movement challenging the orthodoxies of climate change. Well hardly surprising that someone who once denied the holocaust now denies climate change will lead to the extinction of thousands of species and the possible deaths of many millions of people in a world ravaged by drought and famine.







INDEX ON CENSORSHIP EVENT






FREE SPEECH & COPENHAGEN SUMMIT


"Saying the unsayable: is climate scepticism the new Holocaust denial?"







3 Dec, 6.30 - 8pm, Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road.



RSVP to: bookings@freewordonline.com







The Copenhagen Summit will debate one of the most important public issues of

the past thirty years. Many scientists and advocates predict climate change

will kill potentially hundreds of millions of people worldwide over the

coming decades. This begs the question: is there a special responsibility

for the media to exercise restraint in reporting climate change? Or are we

witnessing the rise of an unchallengeable orthodoxy?







On our panel debating "Saying the unsayable: is climate scepticism the new

Holocaust denial?" are:







George Monbiot







George Monbiot is one of the UK's leading environmental campaigners and the

author of the bestselling books The Age of Consent, A Manifesto for a New

World Order and Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, as well as

the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No

Man's Land. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian. His website is:

www.monbiot.com







James Delingpole







James Delingpole is a libertarian conservative journalist, broadcaster and

author of Welcome To Obamaland, I've Seen Your Future And It Doesn't Work,

How To Be Right, and the Coward series of WWII adventure novels. His website

is: www.jamesdelingpole.com/







Further reading







James Delingpole, "Climategate reminds us of the liberal-left's visceral

loathing of open debate", Daily Telegraph, 24 Nov 2009







http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100017760/climategate-reminds-us-of-the-liberal-lefts-visceral-loathing-of-open-debate/







George Monbiot, "The threat is from those who accept climate change, not

those who deny it", The Guardian, 21 Sep 2006.







http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/sep/21/comment.georgemonbiot

Value for money?

On Saturday I attended the event on employment rights and the impact of the European Court of Justice cases organised by IER (Institute of Employment Rights) and SERTUC (South East Region TUC). It was a well attended conference and there was a wide range of unions represented (including someone from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions) and a number of pensioner groups and former trade unionists.

The first speaker, Professor Keith Ewing, an expert on employment law, posed the question to the conference on why the vast amounts of funding being paid into the Labour Party by the trade union movement was not leading to any improvement in the situation concerning employment and labour law in the UK. He suggested that instead of subsidising Labour, the primary aim of the trade union movement should be to pay for legal challenges in the courts concerning employment law and that money remaining should go to the Labour Party. His point is a very valid one, as John Hendy QC, also an expert on labour law, compared trade union rights in the UK to those of Russia and Turkey and unlike anywhere else in the EU. He outlined one recent industrial dispute where a strike involving workers at Metrobus was ruled illegal because the ballot was held on a Friday and the information sent back to the trade union officials at 5pm, which is when they had left work. The ballot result was sent over the national union HQ on the Monday morning and then registered in accordance with the employment law and returned to the local union officials, and the employer was given the result on the Tuesday morning. This resulted in no material loss to the employer, yet the courts ruled that the union had acted contrary to the employment laws of the UK.

It was quite clear from the conference that British trade unions are working under a handicap which does not apply to workers and unions in the rest of the EU. Indeed there was strong evidence from the discussions that the main drive against workers rights is coming from the British government and not the EU and that within the EU, it is the UK which is pushing for faster and deeper implementation of laws detrimental to trade union rights. Another speaker was John Monks from the ETUC (European TUC) who argued that he was glad that a French commissioner had been appointed as Commissioner with responsibility for financial dealings as he would be much more prepared to use regulatory controls than a UK one. John Monks also called on the TUC and the UK unions to support a European workers action day in March, to ensure that workers across the EU were not called upon to pay the price for the greed and rapaciousness of bankers and the financial institutions.

The conundrum of how to work with a British Labour government which has done nothing to weaken Thatcher's anti-union laws and attempted to privatise the Royal Mail, was addressed by Billy Hayes, the General Secretary of the CWU (Communication Workers Union). Hayes argued that it was only by working with allies within the Labour Party that the privatisation of Royal Mail had been prevented and quoted Tariq Ali saying: "The only difference between the Tories and Labour is 5%. But it is within that 5% that we must operate." Hayes also went on to compare the situation with postal services in other EU states and gave the example that the UK system is so open to privatisation that the Irish Post Office (An Post) can bid for contracts in Northern Ireland by paying a fee of £1,000 whereas the Royal Mail cannot bid for the postal services in any other EU state, including the Irish Republic. Hayes also pointed to France, where Sarkozy had just given considerable subsidies to the nationalised postal service, stating that the privatisiation of the French postal service would not be in the French national interest. For Hayes it was clear who was responsible - the Labour government. Yet his union is one of their biggest sponsors! Many in the audience pointed out that it is only electoral calculations which have prevented Mandelson from privatising the Royal Mail this time and that if New Labour are returned they will try again, as indeed will the Tories.

Keith Ewing had pointed out that it was only necessary for the UK government to register services as being protected by national pay and conditions clauses and it would have the impact of making all employment in those services 'protected' . This would not mean protectionism but that all EU workers working in that field in the UK or working for subcontractors based in another EU state, would have to be paid under the same terms and conditions as workers in the UK. This had already been done by many other EU states. Again, it was a failure of political will on the part of the Labour government which meant that this had not been done. So in the "race to the bottom" and the removal of workers rights and terms and conditions, it is not the EU which is primarily responsible, but the Labour government of the UK which wants its economic space to be the most deregulated in Europe as before it boasted that its financial services were also.


There is a grim lesson here for the British trade unions, which so far has only been learnt by the RMT, PCS, and one or two others. You are paying your oppressors. Even Billy Hayes had to admit that the conditions of neither of the two Warwick Agreements with the trade unions have been met - one of those conditions in Wawick 1 was a commitment to a state run Royal Mail - this government has tried to end that. The Green Party is committed to trade union rights and national control of public services and would implement many of the rights which UK workers are losing rapidly under the excuse that it is the EU which is implementing this. Time for trade unionists to wake up before the general election and to smell the coffee.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Benefits and Rights for workers and disabled people




Disability benefits and the cost of social care have been in the news a lot recently with the consultation on the Social Care Green Paper etc and the threat to remove Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance for those over 65. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the concept of the European Union is supposedly to support the free movement of labour and of peoples. This seems not to be happening when it comes to disabled people. Many benefits and pensions are portable, i.e. they can be taken and used in other countries of the EU when the person goes there to live or work. This applies to DLA. However, it would seem that the DWP does not like this nor does it like the fact that the European Court of Justice ruled that DLA claimants whose benefits were removed by the DWP are trying to have them restored. So it has set up a tribunal which is taking ages to hear cases and is also trying to wriggle out of reasons for restoring the benefits. The excellent Green MEP, Caroline Lucas, has written to the Minister to complain about this miscarriage of justice and the letter below is on her website. Just another example of how Greens are fighting for workers rights and the rights of disabled people also.

http://www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk/2009/11/27/correspondence-about-workers-rights/

Tomorrow I am attending a conference organised by the Institute of Employemnt Rights about how EU law is impacting on workers rights. This is a huge subject area and many of the recent European Court of Justice rulings are affecting this. The conference at the TUC, Congress House in London will be addressed by a number of leading employment law academics and trade unionists. It is vitally important that as trade unionists and as citizens we engage fully and are knowledgeable about what is happening in the EU, both in terms of rights being extended by the European courts and in terms of limitations being placed on those rights as workers and citizens. The recent court rulings in these cases could lead to "a drive to the bottom" and remove whole elements of bargaining rights and protection for UK workers. Greens are opposed to this and stand fully behind the European trade union movement and its call for stronge rights for workers and against social dumping.

European Court of Justice cases:


Developing a strategy for trade unionists


A full-day conference


SATURDAY 28th NOVEMBER


TUC Congress House, Great Russell Street,


London WC1B 3LS

Organised by The Institute of Employment Rights inassociation with SERTUC.

Confirmed speakers include: Prof Keith Ewing, John Hendy

QC, John Monks (ETUC). Chairs: Carolyn Jones, IER and

Megan Dobney, SERTUC

For the past two years trade unions throughout Europe have been coming to terms with the implications of fouR decisions from the European Court of Justice. The Viking, Laval, Rüffert and Luxembourg cases sent shock waves through the labour movement, threatening not only trade union collective action but also democratic decisions of governments. As we reach the 2nd anniversary of the first two cases, this FREE event aims to combine informed legal and academic opinion with practical experiences from different sectors of the labour market.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Banker's Prayer or Moloch's Hymn


This was inspired by the CEO of Goldman Sachs saying that the bank was doing "God's work".


The Banker's Prayer


Our chairman who art at Goldman


Blankfein be thy name

Thy rally’s come, God’s work be done

In the Dow as it is in the Nasdaq

Give us this day our daily gain

And forgive us our frontruning, as we punish those who frontrun against us

And bring us not under indictment

But deliver us from regulators

For thine is the cashflow, and the power, and the bonuses, forever and ever.



Amen

Mike Shedlock

Palestinian campaigner against the Wall arrested on his return from Norway

Mohammed Othman needs your help. He was returning from a tour of Norway where he was speaking about the wall which Israel has built along the West Bank to divide the Palestinian and Israeli communities. Mohammed was told: “his human rights work would not be helpful as he is now in the hands of the State of Israel”. This is chilling. Mohammed is a campaigner with the organisation "Stop the Wall Campaign." Details below from the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders





The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing arbitrary detention of Mr. Mohammad Othman, a volunteer with the “Palestinian Grassroots Stop the Wall Campaign”[1], who remains held in administrative detention since September 22, 2009, without charges or being able to know the reason for his arrest.


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

According to the information received, the next hearing in Mr. Mohammad Othman’s case will take place on Sunday November 8, 2009.

It is feared that Mr. Othman be placed under indefinite administrative detention, without charge or trial, for a renewable period of one to six months[2]. Another hearing will also take place on the same day on the fact that Mr. Othman is not allowed any more to see his lawyer since his recent transfer to Beersheva prison, where he is no longer detained in solitary confinement.

On September 22, 2009, Mr. Mohammad Othman was arrested at the Allenby Bridge border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank as he was on his way back to Ramallah from an advocacy tour in Norway, during which he was engaged in a number of speaking events and meetings with Government officials.

On September 24, 2009, Mr. Othman was transferred from Huwwara provisional detention centre to Kishon (Jalameh) interrogation centre, located near Haifa in northern Israel. He was subsequently placed in solitary confinement.

On September 27, 2009, Mr. Othman was interrogated for the first time. During the interrogation session, he was questioned about his friends and family and was asked to provide their telephone numbers along with his personal e-mail address. In addition, the interrogators asked him broad questions about his work.

On September 29, 2009, the Military Court at Kishon interrogation centre extended Mr. Mohammad Othman’s detention period for ten days. On October 8, 2009, the Salem Military Court, in the northern West Bank, prolonged his detention for a further twelve days[3]. During neither of the two court hearings, the Israeli interrogation police did provide any charges against Mr. Othman, but contended that an extension of his detention period was necessary for further interrogation. The first time the military judge rejected the interrogators’ initial request to extend Mr. Othman’s detention period to twenty-three additional days, arguing that no clear allegations exist as only two short interrogation sessions had taken place during the previous eight days of his detention. The judge did agree, however, to a ten day extension period, based on “secret information” that was made available to him by representatives from the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). At the court hearing in Kishon, Mr. Othman’s lawyer questioned the ISA officers about the content of the undisclosed information and the reasons for Mohammad’s detention, but received no answer.

On October 19, 2009, the Salem Military Court extended Mr. Othman’s detention period for another eleven days and, on October 27, 2009, his detention was again extended for an additional 13 days. On November 1, the appeal against the extension of his detention was denied.

Mr. Othman was interrogated several times after his first court hearing, and at times the interrogation sessions lasted from 8:00 am until midnight. During one of the sessions, he was threatened that he could spend a total of 180 days in interrogation. He was also indirectly threatened with life imprisonment as the interrogator told him the story of a human rights activist from Nablus who received a life sentence. He was also threatened that “his human rights work would not be helpful as he is now in the hands of the State of Israel”. Mr. Othman has been repeatedly insulted and verbally assaulted during the interrogations. Mr. Othman would also been interrogated daily about his trips to Europe and contacts with European organisations, as well as on issues relating to his human rights activities as a volunteer with the “Stop the Wall Campaign”. He was also asked questions about other staff members of the campaign.

The Observatory calls upon the Israeli authorities to release Mr. Mohammad Othman immediately and unconditionally as his detention seems to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities, and therefore contravenes the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998.

Besides, the Observatory urges embassies of European Union member States in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to attend the hearing due to take place on November 8, 2009, in accordance with the Guidelines of the European Union on Human Rights Defenders, as well as to urge the Israeli authorities to comply with the relevant international norms and standards, including the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in order to create an environment where human rights defenders can operate freely.

Actions requested:


Please write to the authorities in Israel urging them to:


i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Mohammad Othman;


ii. Release Mr. Mohammad Othman immediately and unconditionally since his detention is arbitrary as it only aims at sanctioning his human rights activities;


iii. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Mr. Mohammad Othman and all human rights defenders in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their work without unjustified hindrances;


iv. Comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” and Article 12(2), which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the [...] Declaration”;


v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the country and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Israel, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Addresses:

* Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, 3 Kaplan Street, PO Box 187, Kiryat Ben-Gurion, Jerusalem 91919, Israel. Fax: + 972 2 651 2631 / 02-670-5475, E-mail: rohm@pmo.gov.il, pm_eng@pmo.gov.il * Mr. Ehud Barak, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Ministry of Defence, 37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya, Tel Aviv 61909, Israel. Fax: +972 3 691 6940, Email: minister@mod.gov.il. * Mr. Avigdor Lieberman, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 9 Yitzhak Rabin Boulevard, Kiryat Ben-Gurion, Jerusalem 91035, Israel. Fax: +972 2 628 7757 / +972 2 628 8618 / + 972-2-5303367. Email: sar@mfa.gov.il * Mr. Yaakov Ne’eman, Minister of Justice, Ministry of Justice, 29 Salah al-Din Street, Jerusalem 91010, Israel. Fax: + 972 2 628 7757 / + 972 2 628 8618 / + 972 2 530 3367. Email: sar@justice.gov.il / tifereth@justice.gov.il * Ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yaar, Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in Geneva, Avenue de la Paix 1-3, CH-1202, Geneva, Switzerland, E-mail: mission-israel@geneva.mfa.gov.il, Fax: +41 22 716 05 55 * Embassy of Israel in Brussels, 40 avenue de l’Observatoire, 1180 Uccle, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 373 56 17, Email: brussels@israel.org

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Israel in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Israel.

[1]

Notes :

[1] The Campaign voices opposition to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, Israel’s continuation of land confiscation as well as to Israel’s human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory, including those resulting from the construction of the Annexation Wall inside the West Bank.

[2] Based on Israeli military orders, a military judge can authorise the detention of Palestinian detainees for up to 90 days, which can be extended for another 90 days by the judge of the Military Appeal Court, if the detainees are deemed to “pose a threat to the security of the State”. The status of administrative detention denies all civil and political rights to the detainees. Therefore, the authorities do not have to charge the prisoner, nor to bring him to trial.

[3] The October 8 decision was appealed at the Military Court of Appeals in Ofer on October 14, when the judge declined the appeal.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Irish Police to join national strike

There have been discussions here about a 'winter of discontent' from the trade unions, with strikes brewing on the London Underground, buses etc. Yesterday saw the settlement of the Leeds bin workers strike, which lasted for 11 weeks, and where it seems from reports that the workers received a reasonable settlement, thanks to the unions.

But things are much worse in the Irish Republic. The budget next month is expected to be the most savage in decades and cuts in the public services are at the heart of it. This follows on from a decision by the government to prop up the banks and to create a 'toxic bank' in the shape of NAMA (National Asset Management Agency) and to pour millions of taxpayers Euros into it. According to some economists it could virtually bankrupt the nation for two generations. Now the Fianna Fail/Green government have decided to take on the public sector and the unions have declared a national strike today, with possibly another to follow next month. Schools, council services, public offices etc will be closed. Even the staff in the Irish parliament in Dublin are striking. For the first time in living memory, the Irish police, the Gardai, are joining in the strike, albeit those off duty. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/24/ireland

For many Conservatives the measures being taken against the public sector in Ireland are the blueprint for what they would like to do in the UK - and they are watching developments in Ireland with great interest. They are also quite content to take on the unions and, if possible, defeat them. Their plan is to considerably reduce inheritance tax and assist their friends in high paid positions, at the expense of the lower paid public sector workers. You can already hear this in the economic discourse. Of course, New Labour, after gratefully taking the unions money during the general election, might be planning something similar if Mandelson et al have their way. So the outcome of the strikes and the struggle of the unions in Ireland is important and we should hope that the public sector workers will prevail. The government in Dublin have had no hesitation in protecting the profits of thier cronies and speculator friends and now the public sector workers and those on welfare are being asked to take the blame. As a trade unionist and a radical Green, I send my full support to the Irish workers. It was the great Irish trade union leader Jim Larkin, leader of a major strike in Dublin in 1913, who said: "The employers cannot carry on industry nor accumulate profits if they have not got the good will of the workers or their acquiescence in carrying on such industry."

Protest against whitewash and debate over the war in Afghanistan



Blood on their hands protest today from 9.30 to 12.30 outside the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, Westminster



The inquiry into the Iraq war is currently underway and will be taking evidence in public from today. The chair of the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcott, claims that it will not be a whitewash but already it is beginning to look that way. Chilcott has already discounted the possibility of Tony Blair or any members of his government being charged for war crimes. The families of those killed in the war are outraged. Military Families Against the War will be joining the protest organised by Stop the War Coalition tomorrow.


And this evening, Bill Rammell, the Armed Forces Minister, will debate the war in Afghanistan with Lindsey German of Stop the War Coalition and Bruce Kent of CND at Friends Meeting House, Euston, just across the road from Euston station from 6.30pm.