Category Archives: Human Rights

How do they rise up, rise up, rise up?

Abortion Rights ScotlandScotland is a pro-choice country.

About four-fifths of the population of Scotland would agree – this crosses gender-lines, voting-intention, religious belief, class/wealth, or locale – that abortion in Scotland should remain freely available on the NHS.

Only a minority think that pregnant patients who need access to abortion should have that access decreased. That minority can be loud and can be unkind – the ones who think it’s a good idea picketing clinics to hand anti-abortion leaflets to patients are particularly cruel – but they are, everywhere, only a minority.

Abortion Act 1967 - Happy 51st BirthdayOn 28th April this year in Edinburgh we held our annual celebration of the day the 1967 Abortion Act became law. (On the other side of the road are the sad people who think abortion in the UK should have remained illegal and dangerous.)

We asked people who stopped by our stall to have cake and sign our open letter:

“We stand with the people of Ireland who will be voting to repeal the Eighth Amendment on 25th May 2018: for healthcare in pregnancy to be freely and fully available for all patients. Abortion denial is lethal.”

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Ireland and Brexit

EU's chief Brexit negotiator Barnier and Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Davis attend a meeting in BrusselsThe UK’s Brexit negotiation team has been so fecklessly incompetent that their EU-27 counterparts thought this was a pretence and must be a trap.

The July photograph of the British team (on the right) sitting at the negotiation table without any briefing papers in front of them, while the EU team (on the left) all have a stack of paperwork, looks emblematic of the UK government’s lack of preparation. (According to British diplomats, David Davis’s papers were still in his bag at the time the photo was taken.)

The recent confirmation that the UK government will be paying the EU fifty billion or so, pretty much what the EU initially said the UK would have to pay to finalise the UK’s liabilities before Brexit, had Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage squealing loudly that this was too much, that Theresa May and David Davis should have taken a harder line and refused to pay anything.

But with regard to the fifty billion bill, the only difference between a competent team of Brexit negotiators and the current crowd, is that a competent team would have realised last year that the UK had no choice about discharging our liabilities to the EU if the Brexit date was set before the end of the 2014-2020 budget period: would have taken that into consideration when deciding just when to invoke Article 50: and would have come to the table in Brussels prepared to dicker over exact amounts, not wasting time arguing that nothing at all should be paid. As far as we can tell, Theresa May and David Davis did none of these things.

Of course, a competent Prime Minister with a solid if small majority, wouldn’t have called a General Election after invoking Article 50, thus wasting three months of negotiation time – and losing her majority to be dependent on the DUP.

As a reminder: after June 2017, the Tories have 315 seats and are the largest single party: because Sinn Féin (7 seats) don’t sit in the Commons, and the Speaker doesn’t vote, an effective majority for the government is 322 and a formal majority is 325: the DUP have 10 seats. If all MPs of all other parties vote together, they muster 311 votes. So the DUP, the unionist and Brexiteer party in Northern Ireland, literally hold the balance of power in Parliament.

The issue about paying the EU billions to discharge the UK’s budget liabilities wasn’t even worth arguing about: the UK’s only leverage was to refuse to pay it and suffer hard Brexit, which would be catastrophic for the UK but only moderately damaging for EU-27.

Hugh Orde, former Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, on the Irish Border and BrexitThough some news reports described the problem of the Irish border as “unexpected”, the Irish border and the end of the Good Friday Agreement, was always going to be hugely difficult, and with the DUP in a confidence-and-supply arrangement to prop up the Tories, has probably become unresolvable by the current government.

I had initially here written a few hundred words summarising the history of Ireland in relationship to Britain, but Waterford Whispers points out that the UK public would most likely only believe it if it was written on the side of a bus. That’s probably true.

So, while it’s tempting to outline how the government of Confederate Ireland (1642-1649) was bloodily smashed by Oliver Cromwell and estates owned by Irish Catholics were then confiscated and redistributed to Protestant incomers, how the Penal Laws, enacted by the Protestant-dominated Parliament of Ireland that resulted from the land confiscations, ensured that Irish Catholics should become poor, be uneducated, banned from public office, and denied the right to serve in the army (a potential career path for even the poorest/most uneducated of men), and how “Irish jokes” which portray Irish people as stupid and ignorant, arise from the need of the English and the Irish Protestants to believe that it was okay to keep Irish Catholics poor and uneducated because they were naturally stupid: how after the Parliaments of Ireland and Britain were merged in 1801, while people in Ireland were starving during the Great Famine (1845-1852) in Westminster MPs debated on whether it would be right to provide food to the starving. But that would make this a very long blog post.

Even dealing with the 20th century only, there is the rebellion put down in 1916, two wars immediately after WWI ended and Sinn Féin won the general election in Ireland by a landslide and proclaimed the Irish Declaration of Independence in January 1919: the treaty accepted by the majority of the Dáil for the Partition of Ireland: and the formation of the Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland, and the separation of the six counties of Northern Ireland, which in 1922 and thereafter is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Although the Troubles are dated in British history as beginning 5th October 1968, the cause was systematic gerrymandering for decades to ensure that Catholics in Northern Ireland were cooped ip in slums so that in local authority areas where Catholics were numerically in the majority, Protestants had a majority on the local government councils.

Thank you for your attention: let us move on to the present day.
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Filed under Brexit, Economics, EU referendum, European politics, Human Rights, Poverty, Religion

Let this be the last: we can’t let this go on

Just over two years ago, David Cameron lost a vote on the UK taking part in bombing raids and other military action on Syria.

The plan then was for the UK to send military help to the opponents of Assad’s government. Since then (BBC, 12th March 2015):

Capitalising on the chaos in the region, Islamic State (IS) – the extremist group that grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq – has taken control of huge swathes of territory across northern and eastern Syria, as well as neighbouring Iraq. Its many foreign fighters in Syria are now involved in a “war within a war”, battling rebels and jihadists from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, who object to their tactics, as well as Kurdish and government forces.
In September 2014, a US-led coalition launched air strikes inside Syria in an effort to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS, ultimately helping the Kurds repel a major assault on the northern town of Kobane.

Unnoticed in the timeline of the war, in 2012 a family fled from Damascus to survive: Abdullah, Rihan, Galip, and Aylan Shenu reached Turkey, where they were called “Kurdi” because of their ethnic background.
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We can’t let this go on: Aylan Kurdi

Petition the UK government to accept more refugeesA few days ago when I signed this petition the number of signatures was at less than 10,000 – as you see, the signatories have blasted past 120,000, and if David Cameron upholds his own policy on petitions (as he failed to do in the past over the NHS) Parliament now needs to consider this for a debate.

Aylan Kurdi is the small child who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea and whose photograph, dead, is on so many newspaper front pages today. Aylan was three: Galip, his five-year-old brother, and Rihan, his mother, also drowned. The only survivor was his father, Abdullah.

I hope Abdullah’s permission was obtained by each of the newspapers who chose to highlight the refugee crisis with the body of his dead child. I cannot imagine, I cannot begin to conceive, the hell of suffering and loss Abdullah Kurdi is in, to lose your children and your partner in a desperate effort to escape with them to a safe refuge.
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Filed under Children, Human Rights, In The Media

Sex work and Amnesty

Amnesty International: In Solidarity, Uphold Human RightsOne of the commonest distortions of the resolution Amnesty International voted on this August is that Amnesty want to make sex work a human right.

What Amnesty International resolved to do

develop a policy that supports the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work. The policy will also call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.

I’d say this distortion from “protect the human rights of sex workers” to “sex work is a human right” was bizarre, except that I have seen similar distortions before, when Amnesty finally agreed that in a very limited set of circumstances (such as pregnancy caused by rape, especially in a war zone) they would treat access to abortion as a human right, and that they would treat healthcare – medical support of a girl or a woman who’s had an illegal abortion and needs treatment – as a human right. That got distorted too.

So, Amnesty International are taking the position that sex work should be decriminalised, in order to protect the human rights of sex workers.
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We can’t let this go on: Rukhsan Muhammed

On 29th November 2013, a photojournalist on a rescue boat in the Aegean Sea took the photograph below of Rukhsan Muhammed struggling to keep her child Mirwan alive. Later, the photographer sold the image to Anadolu Agency (a state-run press agency in Turkey) which licenced it to Getty Images:

Rukhsan Muhammed, one of the passengers of the boat carrying Syrian refugees to Greek Islands fights for her life after the boat sinks at Aegean Sea near the coastal city of Balikesir, in Turkey on November 29, 2013. Rukhsan Muhammed told a new aspect of her family’s dramatic escape, to Turkish authorities during her appearance in court this week. She explained that following the accident she used her suitcase as a means of life preserver to keep her 1,5 years-old child, Mirwan Muhammed, from drowning. But despite of all her efforts her son fell off the suitcase and got lost amongst the waves.

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Filed under Human Rights, In The Media, War

Project Truth: SPUC off

Is going swimming in natural water (that is, in a river or a lake or the sea, not a swimming-pool) a particularly dangerous thing to do? Between 2008-2010, 160 people died of drowning in natural water.

We don’t think of pregnancy as being a particularly dangerous undertaking in the UK. But between 2008-2010 147 people died of their pregnancy and/or childbirth.

(Between 2006-2008, 261 people died of “causes directly or indirectly related to their pregnancies”: the mortality rate for pregnancy in the UK 2006-2008 was 11.39 per 100,000 maternities and still declining.)

Pregnancy may be regarded as about as dangerous as going for a swim in open water. Most healthy adults who go for a swim in natural water survive the experience – even if they accidentally fall in. Nothing would justify pushing someone into deep water without knowing or caring if they could swim: not even if they survived. Anyone offered the experience of a swim in natural water should have a right to say “no thanks”, or to change their mind and go back to shore. Any organised swim across open water ought to include rescue boats to pull people aboard if they change their minds, for any reason or none.

Most people in Scotland agree: the same applies to pregnancy. Even if most healthy adults could survive a forced pregnancy, nothing would justify pushing a girl or a woman to have a baby against her will, her conscience, or her judgement. And anyone can decide for herself that her pregnancy needs to be terminated: no one should be denied rescue from an unwanted or unsafe pregnancy.
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