TUC calls on statistics watchdog to investigate minister over benefit claims

The TUC has called on the UK Statistics Authority to investigate Iain Duncan Smith for"misusing"official statistics to justify the government's benefits cap.The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has today (15 April) written to the UK Statistics Authority, calling on it to investigate Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith for"misusing"official statistics to justify the government's benefits cap.Mr Duncan Smith hailed figures published on Friday - which showed that the number to be affected by the £26,000 cap on benefits had fallen by 16,000 - as proof that his welfare reforms were driving people to find work.However, the government analysis upon which Mr Duncan Smith based his claims explicitly states there is no evidence of people changing their behaviour as result of the cap. It says the main reason behind the fall is because ministers have changed the rules over eligibility.The TUC says this is not the first time that Mr Duncan Smith has found himself in trouble for misrepresenting statistics.In January 2012 the UK Statistics Authority rebuked him for his handling of figures on benefits claimed by immigrants. And in 2010 he was criticised by the watchdog's former head, Sir Michael Scholar, for"serious deficiencies"in his use of statistics during a debate on housing reform.TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said:"It was wrong for Iain Duncan Smith to claim that the impending benefits cap has spurred people into finding jobs."The government's own analysts say that 16,000 fewer people will be affected because ministers have changed the rules about who is eligible, not because of any change in behaviour."The Department for Work and Pensions is a serial offender for misusing statistics. Perhaps ministers should be subject to a three strikes and you're out rule. If you need to make the supporting evidence up, then you must have a pretty weak argument."She concluded:"It is essential that the UK Statistics Authority investigates Mr Duncan Smith's use of official figures."[Ekk/4]

G8 commit to takling sexual violence in conflict

A Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence In Conflict has been agreed by the G8 countries.A Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence In Conflict has been agreed by the G8 countries, declaring that rape and other serious sexual violence amount to war crimes and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions constitutes an emphatic reminder that states are required to investigate and prosecute conflict-related sexual violence wherever it occurs.Amnesty International UK, REDRESS and TRIAL welcomed the landmark Declaration but called on states to enact comprehensive laws that enable them to do so and to take steps to ensure the G8 Declaration results in more trials of alleged perpetrators.Every state is obliged to exercise universal jurisdiction over “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, defined as certain war crimes that occur in international armed conflict. The Declaration means that the G8 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US– now reaffirm and support the view that all states have an obligation to search for and prosecute (or hand over for trial) any individual alleged to have committed or ordered rape and other serious sexual violence regardless of the nationality of the suspect or victim or where the crime occurred, said the rights groups.A milestone to end impunity for rape in war?It has long been recognised by the International Committee of the Red Cross and others that rape and other serious forms of sexual violence amount to grave breaches, but the G8 Declaration demonstrates that these countries now have the political will to act on their obligation to pursue alleged perpetrators.“This Declaration is a major political milestone in the struggle to end impunity for rape in war,” said Philip Grant, TRIAL Director.“But not enough states have opened their doors to prosecuting grave breaches wherever they occur despite what international law has long said. The human rights community will now be watching and waiting to see if governments follow through on the G8’s pledge by bringing their laws and practices into line with their international obligations.”The rights groups hailed the Declaration as recognition by states that they have a shared responsibility to tackle impunity for sexual violence in conflict and that such crimes cannot be left only for international courts to address.Lingering gapsThe Declaration only applies to sexual violence that occurs in international armed conflicts and amounts to torture, inhuman treatment or willfully causing great suffering. But if states show real political will, it could pave the way for prosecution of alleged perpetrators of rape in international armed conflicts from the Balkans to the DRC by foreign courts, said the rights groups.“This Declaration must not become yet another piece of paper. G8 states must use it as impetus to renew their commitment to ending impunity for sexual violence in conflict, whether committed in internal or international armed conflicts and whether against men, women or children. States must prosecute these crimes in their national courts or extradite suspects to face justice in another country exercising universal jurisdiction,” said Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK.“In this way, the Declaration should galvanise efforts to ensure that there is truly no safe haven for alleged perpetrators of sexual violence crimes committed in armed conflict of all kinds.”As holder of the G8 presidency, the UK proposed the move as part of its Preventing Sexual violence in Conflict Initiative , a multi-million pound programme launched in May 2012 that also saw the formation of a UK team of experts which has provided technical assistance in Bosnia and Herzegovina and on the Syrian border to strengthen investigation and prosecution of sexual violence in conflict.“This Declaration is a useful tool for the UK’s global initiative to combat sexual violence in armed conflict,” said Dadimos Haile, Interim Director of REDRESS.“Now the UK must fulfill its commitment by prosecuting suspected perpetrators of sexual violence amounting to international crimes – wherever they have been committed – who are present within its jurisdiction. Part of its obligation also includes ensuring victims’ access to adequate reparation.”Amnesty International UK, REDRESS and TRIAL called on states to remove all obstacles to the investigation and prosecution of all crimes under international law, including sexual violence, noting that states should establish specialised units to handle such investigations and prosecutions in fair trials without the death penalty.Read the declaration here:https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...[Ekk/4]

Claiming back Scottish football for the people

There are many important issues in public life right now, but for a large number of people in Scotland the future of football, the national game, is no small matter, says Simon Barrow. It is not just about sport, it is also about people, communities, hopes and dreams, culture and values. Put bluntly, who does (and who should) own a sport loved by hundreds of thousands? Whose interests are being served by the way it is presently being run?There are many important issues in public life right now, but for a large number of people here in Scotland the future of football, our national game, is no small matter. It's not just about sport, it's also about people, communities, hopes and dreams, culture and values. Put bluntly, who does (and who should) own a sport loved by hundreds of thousands? Whose interests are being served by the way it is presently being run?Next week we will get to see those questions in action. The Scottish Premier League (SPL), the elite division (though'elite'may be a relative term when one looks at the multi-millionaires down south!) will be voting on a range of resolutions concerning the achievement of a new league structure, unified governance and the distribution of income. Then the Scottish Football League (SFL), comprising the 30 teams below the top tier, will have to pick up what comes down to them. Already, this pattern begins to tell the story of how Scottish football governance is shaped and why it needs to change.An unequal gameFor years, thinking and decision-making in football north of the border has been massively over-determined by the dominance of two teams, Celtic and Rangers (the so-called ‘Old Firm’), who account for around half of all its followers as well as the lions'share of its resources. The other senior clubs, let alone the juniors (non-league), are different varieties of minnow by comparison.The huge, growing economic disparity this situation has created has been solidified and worsened by absurd inflationary pressure from high fees and wages in England, the hegemony of uni-directional television money, the damaging impact of the SPL breakaway on the rest of senior football, and lack of investment in youth and development. It has contributed to a situation where the sport in Scotland continues to be in decline.Rising prices, the stunting of genuine competition, the boredom of playing the same teams all the time, lack of publicity for the SFL (whose teams get virtually no mainstream TV coverage), stagnation of on-field standards, and an ingrained culture of pessimism fed from the top: these are among the factors that have led to a continued decline in attendances at live games.Getting back to the people's gameAt present Scotland still retains one of the highest per capita football attendance levels in Europe, and fans passing through the turnstiles continue to stump up around 60 per cent of the game's income. But with a population of 5 million and football clubs who find themselves part of an inflationary industry trying to negotiate a recessionary climate, it is vital that things start to move in a positive direction once more. The inheritance that has kept the game’s head above water in recent years is being rapidly eroded.Quite simply, Scottish football needs to get ordinary people back in the stands and into the boardrooms. It needs to re-engage youth, to raise the profile of the sport, to push for much more supporter / community ownership, and to boost the morale of what is and should be “the people's game” – not the part-time plaything of flighty private investors, TV moguls, inbred governing interests, and leaders who are too remote from the grassroots.Combine those challenges with the recommendations in the McLeish report [1] commissioned by the Scottish Football Association, the results of the National Football Survey [2], and the growth in fan involvement and consciousness (Annan Athletic, Clyde, East Stirling, Stirling Albion and Dundee are all fan owned senior sides; Clydebank, Gretna 2008 and Clachnacuddin are non-senior fan owned; Motherwell and St Mirren are working towards fan ownership) and you have a significant agenda for change.To achieve this we need a ‘Claim of Right’ for Scottish football [3]; a declaration of the sovereignty of ordinary supporters and communities over the game they created and (despite it all) continue to love. What we have instead is a lot of infighting, short-termism, austerity thinking and politicking within governing bodies where those popular interests go unrepresented and only fitfully'consulted'. Which brings us back to next week’s decisions.Reform and reconstructionThe most contentious issue on the table – or, at least, the one drawing most comment – pertains to league structure. It sounds arcane, but in some ways it is axial. Fans want larger divisions, because they offer greater sporting interest, variety and opportunity to progress. Every single supporter survey, including one sponsored recently by the governing bodies themselves, has demonstrated this. It is hardly a matter of debate. But it is routinely ignored. Yet the supporters, let us not forget, are those who provide the funding basis for the entire game, directly and indirectly. What other business could possibly hope to flourish by systematically ignoring its customers? But that is what happens in the world of fantasy football – which is, in fact, the world of actual football in terms of the way it is organised and owned right now.Nor is it true that ‘there is no alternative’. A 16-team top division, 10-team intermediate division and 16-team third division model (with a viable pyramid below that) was finally proposed by the SFL some weeks ago. While not perfect, this meets the basic wishes of most supporters. In fact it is quite similar to the detailed fans'plan first put out by Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS) earlier last year, and then developed and published [4] by FansFirst Scotland. This plan set out how a 16-16-10 structure could be made to work both practically and financially in the longer term. Yet this and other alternatives were pushed off the table of the governing bodies, on grounds that critics believe to be far too narrow and unimaginative in their assumptions – including the extraordinary notion that games with less pressure where it is possible to experiment, try out young players and go for attractive, attacking football are"meaningless".The only option being considered right now is a 12-12-18 setup with a Heath-Robinson'three leagues of eight split'delivery system for the first two divisions, which many know to be profoundly flawed, and which may give way to further fracture below if rumours about Rangers’ demands prove true. The supporters'trust at my own club, Dumbarton, are now promoting an Open Letter [5] explaining why, from a supporters'perspective, the present proposal is the wrong move, and how going for reconstruction in 2014/15 rather than next season would aid a better-informed, better-resourced decision.There are other vital issues under consideration, too. If a sensibly unified league governing body can be achieved, that would be a positive step forward – provided it does not simply end up being a takeover of the SFL by the SPL in another guise. In this respect, the voting rights and constitution agreed next week will be crucial. There are grounds for concern about what may emerge from the 11-1 SPL voting structure and a three-year lock-down on change in the rules (among other problems). Those with the largest interests seem not to recognise that their long-term health actually depends upon the health of the whole game, and are therefore keen to keep the chips on their side of the table irrespective of wider considerations.Likewise with the financial settlement. A through-distribution model for resource-sharing is what is needed for Scottish football overall, it is now widely accepted. That is a very important gain. But a much more radical financial redistribution is required to revive genuine sporting competitiveness. While we should not spurn steps in the right direction, a critical eye towards the way the cake is being cut is always needed.Rethinking the bigger pictureIn the larger picture, the Scottish game needs to learn to live within its means – which may mean more, not fewer, clubs going part-time in the first instance. Resources have to be maintained and developed – principally by achieving a more varied, competitive and reasonably-priced matchday experience to attract attendance related income (and tempt broadcasters to a wider palette). The measure of success has to be the sustainability of clubs that represent an achievable scale of operation and performance in a small, enterprising country – rather than considering the billionaire-driven English Premier League the benchmark. Above all, the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers, as long as they remain part of the Scottish football, need to be treated as a ‘bonus’ rather than as the unconditional basis for the game’s overall business model.At present this is not the way the leading determinants of the game in Scotland are looking at things at all. To change the climate of thinking and bring real renovation to football in this country, proper supporter representation at all levels of the sport is needed, together with a large expansion of community ownership and engagement. Indeed, what Scotland and the other nations of these islands need is the 51% supporter ownership rule from Germany.Meanwhile, it is likely that what is arrived at in the coming weeks remains well short of the mark. If that is so, the crisis facing football in Scotland is likely to continue to gnaw away at its roots and branches. Only a widespread outbreak of democracy, accountability, transparency, creativity, participation and new economic / governance thinking can change that. Otherwise we will end up dealing with a (probably messy) process of managed decline.What fans, supporter groups and community organisations needs to realise is that the alternative is not someone or somewhere else – it's us and our allies.References:[1] Scottish Football Association:The McLeish Report.[2] SFA, SFL, SPL, Supporters Direct Scotland:The National Football Survey.[3] FansFirst Scotland:A Claim of Right for Scottish Football.[4] FansFirst Scotland:The FansFirst Plan.[5] Dumbarton Supporters Trust:An Open Letter on Scottish League Reconstruction.----------©Simon Barrowis co-director of Ekklesia. He is also an associate of the policy and campaign group,FansFirst Scotland, and a board member of theSonstrust, the not-for-profit supporters’ provident society at Dumbarton FC, itself part ofSupporters Direct Scotland.

Day of action calls for military spending to be redirected

Campaigners from 39 UK organisations will call for a shift in government spending on 15 April, the Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS)"The UK spends £39 billion a year on the military and arms, while vital services in health, education, welfare and renewable energy are cut or under threat."This is the message that campaigners from 39 UK organisations will highlight on Monday 15 April, the Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS).UK military spending is currently the fourth highest in the world. Campaigners are calling for an immediate shift in government policy and spending priorities, away from military spending and arms trade exports towards public services and sustainable energy.The key demands include:- redirect military spending and shift spending to meet social and environmental needs- no replacement of Trident, the UK’s nuclear weapons system- end the annual £700 million government subsidy of arms exports and redirect the funds towards renewable energy and energy-saving measures- develop a clear programme of government action for spending, research and investment to build sustainable, common security at national and international levels.Anne-Marie O'Reilly of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), said:"While our public services face drastic cuts, the government cannot continue to spend more than almost every other country in the world on weapons and war. The UK's military spending each year is enough to stop the cuts to the NHS twice over. Ordinary people know what our priorities are. Now it's time for the government to listen."[Ekk/4]

Poll shows 8 million people'one paycheque'away from losing their home

One in three people could not pay their rent or mortgage for more than a month if they lost their job, new figures from Shelter have revealed.One in three people could not pay their rent or mortgage for more than a month if they lost their job, new figures from the housing and homelessness charity Shelter have revealed.Of those questioned in the YouGov survey published yesterday (11 April):- 35 per cent, equivalent to 8.6 million people, could not pay their rent or mortgage from their savings for more than a month.- 18 per cent, equivalent to 4.4 million people, would not be able to pay their rent or mortgage at all if they were unable to secure a new job immediately.The research reveals families with children are in the most precarious situation: 43 per cent could not pay for their home for more than a month, and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) could not meet their payments at all.Unemployment in the UK rose by 7,000, to 2.52 million in the three months before January 2013, according to the Office for National Statistics.In total, 3.9 million British families may be just one paycheque away from losing their family home.As Government cuts take effect and the squeeze on family budgets means saving becomes ever harder, Shelter says it is is bracing itself for a surge in demand from people at risk of becoming homeless.Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter said:"These figures paint an alarming picture of a nation where the buffer between having a home and potentially becoming homeless is a single paycheque."Millions are living on the edge of a crisis, only secure in their homes for a matter of weeks. At the same time, support for people who have lost their homes is being stripped away - it’s easy to see why every fifteen minutes, another family in England finds themselves homeless."[Ekk/4]

Drone strikes illegal, says senior Pakistani judge

The Chief Justice of Peshawar’s High Court had said that drone strikes in north west Pakistan violate the country’s sovereignty and are illegal.The Chief Justice of Peshawar’s High Court said yesterday (11 April) that drone strikes in north west Pakistan violate the country’s sovereignty and are illegal, regardless of whether they were consented to by members of the government.Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan was presiding over a suit brought against the Pakistani government by victims of a 17 March 2011 drone strike, which killed upwards of 50 civilians who had met to resolve a chromite mining dispute.He observed today that since there is no armed conflict in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where the strikes are taking place, they are in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. As such, international human rights law applies and everyone killed by US drone strikes are civilians.He also addressed claims that Pervez Musharaf, during his time as Head of State, may have secretly consented to the strikes, stating that a political leader or a dictator cannot consent to drone strikes against its people by a foreign power and that any such consent was therefore both illegal and unconstitutional.The parties to the suit are asking the court to hand down a writ ordering the government to protect the people of FATA through any means necessary. The Petitioner is also seeking remedies in form of compensation for the victims of drone strikes.The Chief Justice is expected to hand down an order in the case soon. During the hearing, he considered a number of options, including whether American diplomats could be held personally responsible, or CIA staff be criminally liable for murder.Reprieve Legal Fellow, Shahzad Akbar, who represents the victims in this case, welcomed the judge’s comments: “The judge’s observations reaffirm that under international law, a political leader cannot consent to the killing of his people. Such consent is illegal and prohibited by the Pakistani constitution. We are hopeful that the Peshawar High Court will soon provide justice for these civilian victims and bring an end to the drone’s daily terror.”[Ekk/4]

ChinaAid, Seven Other Rights Groups Urge Secretary of State Kerry to Prominently Raise Human Rights in Upcoming China Visit

Contact: Bob Fu, President, Bob@ChinaAid.org; Mark Shan, News Analyst, 888-889-7757, 267-205-5210 cell, Mark@ChinaAid.org; Eddie Romero, LA Office, 323-521-6777, ChinaAid.LA@gmail.com; all with China Aid Association; www.ChinaAid.org, www.MonitorChina.org WASHINGTON, April 11, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- In advance of Secretary of State John Kerry's first trip to China, ChinaAid and seven other human rights groups have advised him his visit is a"unique opportunity"for the Source: China Aid Association, Inc.

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