New package of support for humanitarian crises in the coming year, after UK aid delivered life-saving support to millions of people around the world in 2017.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt today announced a new package of support for humanitarian crises in the coming year, after UK aid delivered life-saving support to millions of people around the world and averted two famines in 2017.
In early 2017 the United Nations warned that the world was facing its worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. Ms Mordaunt says today that 2018 could be even worse with ongoing famines and conflicts in Yemen, South Sudan and Burma.
The new UK aid package will give a £21 million boost to the United Nations’ Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) so agencies can respond even more quickly to under-funded emergencies around the world in 2018.
It will help to provide critical health services to 20 million people, plus clean water and sanitation to 13 million people and food to 9 million people.
The UK package is part of a wider international relief effort. Globally, the United Nations estimates that in 2018 some 136 million people in 25 countries will be in need of humanitarian assistance.
The UK is ready to deliver life-saving aid to those that need it most.
During 2017, UK aid has helped prevented famines in Nigeria and Somalia, as well as alleviating untold suffering in South Sudan and Yemen. We achieved this by providing:
In addition, this year UK aid delivered 827 tonnes of supplies in response to hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean. It also provided emergency shelter to 130,000 people affected by the Rohingya crisis and medical support for more than 1 million people in Syria.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said:
While 2017 was a year of harrowing humanitarian crises, the truth is 2018 could be even bleaker.
When we see suffering, we instinctively want to help. Britons are big-hearted, open-minded and far-sighted – qualities that define a great nation.
This year, through UK aid and further public donations, we helped avert famines in Nigeria and Somalia, gave emergency help to the survivors of the Caribbean hurricanes and provided a vital life-line to people suffering from conflict in Syria and Yemen.
Britain is giving life saving aid, but also hope, to millions of people around the world. In the challenges 2018 brings Britain will continue to be at the forefront of the global humanitarian response.
Ms Mordaunt also announced ¬ongoing support for people driven from their homes as a result of the conflict in Syria, which is in its seventh year. The UK aid package will give money directly to Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, so they can decide how best to look after their families.
The programme, delivered by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), will help stamp out child labour by providing more than 10,0000 families with an allowance so that they can buy essential food, shelter, household supplies and medical assistance.
Published on Reliefweb on December 31, 2017
By Kate Lyons
Six months after he arrived in the UK, Hassan’s calls to his family started going unanswered. He would send WhatsApp messages to his wife and children, but the blue double tick sign for message read did not appear. From April 2016 until January 2017, nothing.
“No answer, I have stress,” says Hassan in the fledgling English he has been learning since his arrival in the country two years ago.
Hassan and Mariam (not their real names) fled Yemen with their four children in September 2015 when Houthi rebels tried to abduct their 17-year-old son and force him to fight for them.
They spent everything they had to pay a smuggler to get Hassan to safety. The plan was for the rest of the family to join him later. But after he arrived in the UK, he lost contact with them.
Enter the Red Cross. Hassan contacted its international family tracing (IFT) unit in Birmingham. He gave a detailed statement, including information about the camp in Djibouti where his family had stayed and rumours he had heard about where they might have moved to.
Four days later, Hassan’s Red Cross caseworker, James Simmonds – “Mr James, I love this man,” says Hassan – contacted him with good news.
“I was excited, crying,” Hassan recalls. “[Simmonds] says: ‘I found your family in Marrakech, here is a contact number.’ He gives me his phone. I call my wife: ‘Hello, you are Mariam? Yes, this is your husband.’ My wife is crying, my children are crying, it’s happy.”
As he hung up that first call, Hassan says he wept and kissed Simmonds’ phone again and again.
Hassan’s case is unusual for its swift and happy resolution. The separation of families due to conflict and migration is common. Without any idea where their relatives are, or the ability to search for them themselves, people around the world turn to Red Cross’s IFT teams for help.
In the first nine months of 2017, the British Red Cross had 2,157 such inquiries and its IFT teams took on 867 cases.
The IFT units fielded 50% more inquiries in 2015 (2,874) than in 2014 (1,865). This year, 53% of the inquiries came from unaccompanied or separated children.
Andrea Wood is one of the service managers of the IFT office in London, where 10 staff and volunteers are buzzing about on a Tuesday morning logging enquiries, filing reports with Red Cross services around the world and interviewing clients. Wood says it is often only the very hardest cases that make it through their doors.
“What many of the people will have done is tried many other ways themselves with community groups or other people they know,” says Wood.
There are a few ways the Red Cross can help people: reaching out to UNHCR or Red Cross teams in various countries, consulting European-wide databases of missing people, or even getting people to draw maps of the last place they saw a family member, so that a local Red Cross team can go out and try to get a message to them.
Success rates are not high. In 2016, British Red Cross IFT teams were able to resolve 213 cases. In 151 cases, people were traced and contact reestablished. In 32 cases they provided the news of a death. In 17 cases partial information was provided, and in 13 cases no contact was wanted by the person found.
The number of successful cases drops even further when there is no obvious place to start a search for someone, for instance if people were separated during a journey.
In these cases, the Red Cross takes a photograph of the person searching for their family, which is then uploaded to a website, Trace the Face. The site is publicly available and makes for depressing viewing, featuring more than 3,000 photographs of people with captions such as “I’m looking for my father”, “I’m looking for my wife”, “I’m looking for my family”.
Since 2013, Trace the Face has yielded just nine successful reconnections for the British Red Cross.
Wood says managing expectations is one of the most difficult parts of the work in family tracing. “Searching for lost people is not quick. It can be – occasionally it completely astounds us all and we think: how can that possibly have happened? But it can take an incredibly long time.”
In the meantime, the waiting is often torturous, as people suffer from “ambiguous loss”, similar to that experienced by people whose loved ones go missing or into a coma. Wood says these ambiguous losses can be “absolutely catastrophic” and are often more difficult to deal with than a death.
“However much you’re trying to get on with your life, which is hard enough anyway, battling through the asylum system, there’s that emotional paralysis of ‘how can I engage here in my life when all of my feelings are there?’” she says.
This is certainly the experience of Taliya Frouza Savaheli, who after two years of searching, much of which has been supported by the Red Cross in London and Athens, still does not know what happened to her younger brother Reza.
Savaheli, who lives in London, last saw her brother in 2015, on a family holiday in Turkey. At that time, Reza, then 34, was living in Iran and was desperate to leave. He told his sister he was going to travel from Turkey to Greece with a friend.
A month later, Reza’s friend arrived back in Iran, but there was no sign of Reza. The friend said they had become separated trying to cross a river. No one has heard from him since.
“Whatever it takes for me to find him, I’ll do,” Savaheli says.
The first thing she did, the day after she heard Reza was missing, was book an appointment with the British Red Cross’s IFT team in London.
Since then she has travelled to meet the Red Cross team in Athens, tried to get more of the story from the friend in Iran and, on the advice of the IFT unit, visited the Iranian foreign ministry. She intends to travel to the small Turkish town where he was last seen.
“I think maybe he changed his looks, maybe he changed his name, maybe he met someone. I tell myself these things to keep myself going,” she says. “We need something, we need to find a piece of him.”
Hassan is still waiting to see his family again. As a refugee, he is entitled to bring his wife and dependent children to the UK, and he is waiting to see if they will be granted visas.
He is particularly nervous about his eldest son, who is 19. It is not straightforward to bring in children over the age of 18 under family reunion provisions.
While he waits, Hassan is making the most of his renewed contact with the family.
“Now I talk with them on WhatsApp and Imo every night, in the morning, two times, three times, every day. I don’t sleep because I am talking with them [for] three, four hours.”
Published on The Guardian on December 25, 2017
By INGRID BURRINGTON
It’s almost quaint to think that just five years ago, Mark Zuckerberg cheerfully took credit for major pro-democracy movements during Facebook’s IPO launch. Contradicting his previous dismissal of the connection between social media and the Arab Spring, Zuckerberg’s letter to investors spoke not just about the platform’s business potential but also its capacity to increase “direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials, and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time.” 2012 Facebook promised a rise of new leaders “who are pro-internet and fight for the rights of their people, including the right to share what they want and the right to access all information that people want to share with them.” Technically, that promise came true, though probably not how Zuckerberg imagined.
Today, the company has to reckon with its role in passively enabling human-rights abuses. While concerns about propaganda and misinformation on the platform reached a fever pitch in places like the United States in the past year, its presence in Myanmar has become the subject of global attention. During the past few months, the company was accused of censoring activists and journalists documenting incidents of and posting about what the State Department has called ethnic cleansing of the country’s Rohingya minority. Because misinformation and propaganda against the Rohingya apparently avoided the community-standards scrutiny afforded activist speech, and because of the News Feed’s tendency to promote already-popular content, posts with misinformation aiming to incite violence have easily gone viral. Experts describe Facebook’s role in the country as the de facto internet, which gives all of their actions and inactions on content even greater influence on politics and public knowledge.
Platform entanglement in human-rights abuses isn’t unique to Facebook. Earlier this year, YouTube deployed a content-moderation algorithm intended to remove terrorist content, inadvertently deleting archives of footage that Syrian activists had been collecting as war-crimes evidence. Some have made similar criticisms of American platforms operating abroad, including Twitter’s compliance with Turkish government requests for censorship, and similar acts by platforms in China.
The 2016 election has given platform regulation new traction in American policy circles, bringing debate in the United States closer to Europe’s. But beyond Western electoral politics, there remain hard legal questions with far more human lives at stake. While the violence in Myanmar predates Facebook’s presence in the country and absolutely can’t be fully laid at their feet, the platform is a central source of online information, and in Myanmar propaganda legitimizing crimes against humanity can have massive reach and influence. Dissident voices posting poems about the crisis have been declared in violation of vaguely defined community standards (and, while those decisions have sometimes been reversed, it’s usually after receiving media attention, which not all incidents are likely to receive). There’s been coverage and documentation of hate speech on the platform in Myanmar since 2014, which is to say Facebook has been aware of the issue for quite some time.
When asked about what resources the company has allocated to address misinformation and hate speech, Facebook spokesperson Ruchika Budhraja responded via email that “we have steadily increased our investment over the years in the resources and teams that assist in ensuring our services are used by people in Myanmar to connect in a meaningful and safe way.” Projects like illustrated print copies of their community standards translated into Burmese comics in 2015, partnerships with civil-society groups, and a Facebook safety page for Myanmar with PDFs of the illustrated community standards and safety guide are among the digital-literacy campaigns that, Budhraja wrote, “have reached millions of people, and we listen to local community groups so that we can continue to refine the way in which we implement and promote awareness of our policies to help keep our community safe.”
This is encouraging, though Facebook still has no full-time staff on the ground in Myanmar. Regardless of past and ongoing good-faith efforts from Facebook to try to address what’s happening now, the damage has been and continues to be done.
While advocates and journalists made compelling moral and ethical arguments for Facebook to take action this past fall, legal liability remained conspicuously absent. There’s no agreed-upon point at which a platform’s automated actions at scale rise to a potentially illegal level of complicity in crimes against humanity, and seemingly little agreement about what is to be done after that point is reached.
That’s partly because it’s extremely unlikely that Facebook (or the other big platforms) will ever be deemed legally liable or legally compelled to accountability for playing a significant role in human-rights abuses around the world. Even posing the question of a platform’s legal culpability for human-rights abuses seems a quixotic pursuit, based on the reaction when I’ve brought it up with attorneys and human-rights advocates. The apparent absurdity of pursuing legal accountability seems to have less to do with the innocence or guilt of platforms and more to do with the realities of human-rights law, which has a poor track record with regard to corporations in general and which is uniquely challenged and complicated by tech platforms in particular.
To assume one might hold a company legally responsible for human-rights abuses also assumes there’s a jurisdiction that can hear the case. The International Criminal Court isn’t really set up to try companies—and, even if it were, it can only bring cases against nations whose governments are signatories to the Rome Statute (the treaty that established the ICC). The United States signed but never ratified the treaty and formally withdrew its signature in 2002. The ICC technically can bring cases on behalf of member countries (as ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda argued this year when requesting to investigate the United States on behalf of member state Afghanistan), but Myanmar isn’t a member.
Filing a case in the country where human-rights abuses take place is difficult, because an oppressive regime’s court system is unlikely to actually offer a fair trial to victims. In the United States, noncitizens can file civil suits against American companies that have violated international treaties under the somewhat obscure 1789 Alien Tort Statute. But case law isn’t exactly in the victim’s favor with the statute. Companies tend to have more success, particularly in light of 2013’s Supreme Court case Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which ruled that the statute technically doesn’t apply to actions taken outside the United States (though, seeing as Facebook has no full-time employees in Myanmar and the News Feed is worked on by engineers in the United States, there might still be an argument here). Given the overhead and exhaustion of legal battles with well-lawyered companies, and given companies’ preference to make bad PR quietly disappear, at best victims might settle out of court.
Assuming one settles the thorny jurisdiction question, it’s difficult to identify what crime Facebook has committed. Lack of foresight isn’t actually a crime against humanity. Furthermore, “the persecution and discrimination against the Rohingya has been going on for quite some time, and it would be happening if Facebook was not there at all,” pointed out Cynthia Wong, a senior researcher on internet and human rights at Human Rights Watch.
Read the full article here.
By Peter Beaumont
The United Nations general assembly has delivered a stinging rebuke to Donald Trump, voting by a huge majority to reject his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The vote came after a redoubling of threats by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, who said that Washington would remember which countries “disrespected” America by voting against it.
Despite the warning, 128 members voted on Thursday in favour of the resolution supporting the longstanding international consensus that the status of Jerusalem – which is claimed as a capital by both Israel and the Palestinians – can only be settled as an agreed final issue in a peace deal. Countries which voted for the resolution included major recipients of US aid such as Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Although largely symbolic, the vote in emergency session of the world body had been the focus of days of furious diplomacy by both the Trump administration and Israel, including Trump’s threat to cut US funding to countries that did not back the US recognition.
But only nine states – including the United States and Israel –voted against the resolution. The other countries which supported Washington were Togo, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Guatemala and Honduras.
Twenty-two of the 28 EU countries voted for the resolution, including the UK and France. Germany – which in the past has abstained on measures relating to Israel – also voted in favour.
Thirty-five countries abstained, including five EU states, and other US allies including Australia, Canada, Colombia and Mexico. Ambassadors from several abstaining countries, including Mexico, used their time on the podium to criticise Trump’s unilateral move.
Another 21 delegations were absent from the vote, suggesting the Trump’s warning over funding cuts and Israel’s lobbying may have had some effect.
While support for the resolution was somewhat less than Palestinian officials had hoped, the meagre tally of just nine votes in support of the US and Israeli position was a serious diplomatic blow for Trump.
Immediately after the vote the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, described the result as a “victory for Palestine”. The Palestinians’ UN envoy, Riyad Mansour, described the result as a “massive setback” for the US.
“They made it about them,” Mansour told AFP. “They did not make it about Jerusalem, so when you make it about them and to only be able to get nine votes to say ‘no’ to it, I think it was a complete failure for their campaign.”
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the UN vote out of hand.
“Israel thanks President Trump for his unequivocal position in favour of Jerusalem and thanks the countries that voted together with Israel, together with the truth,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office.
Speaking to the assembly before the vote, Haley – who earlier in the week told members that the US “would be taking names” – returned to the offensive.
“I must also say today: when we make generous contributions to the UN, we also have expectation that we will be respected,” she said. “What’s more, we are being asked to pay for the dubious privileges of being disrespected.”
Haley added: “If our investment fails, we have an obligation to spend our investment in other ways … The United States will remember this day.”
In his own speech Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said UN members who backed the resolution were being manipulated. “You are like puppets pulled by your Palestinian masters,” he told the session.
While Thursday’s resolution was in support of existing UN resolutions on Jerusalem and the peace process, the clumsy intervention by Trump and Haley also made the vote a referendum on Trump’s often unilateral and abrasive foreign policy.
The debate and vote highlighted for a second time in a week the international isolation of the United States over the Jerusalem issue, following a similar vote in the security council on Tuesday in which it was outnumbered 14-1.
The threatening US posture, which had been denounced as both counter-productive and “bullying”, only seemed to have hardened the resolve of countries in opposing Trump’s 6 December move.
The resolution, co-sponsored by Turkey and Yemen, called Trump’s recognition “null and void” and reaffirmed 10 security council resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city’s final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
It also “demands that all states comply with security council resolutions regarding the holy city of Jerusalem, and not to recognise any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions”.
Earlier on Thursday, as it had become clear that the US and Israel would be heavily defeated, Netanyahu pre-emptively denounced the vote calling the UN a “house of lies”.
“The state of Israel rejects this vote outright,” Netanyahu said. “Jerusalem is our capital, we will continue to build there and additional embassies will move to Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, whether or not the UN recognises this. It took 70 years for the United States to formally recognise this, and it will take years for the UN to do the same.”
Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, called for Israel to cut its ties with the UN and expel the organisation from its Jerusalem offices.
“We must evict the UN from the scenic Governor’s House, where its bloated staff does nothing, and give this historic site to a school, a hospital or – best yet – a new US embassy.”
Published on December 21, 2017 on The Guardian
By Richard Angell
Owen Smith, the shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, has a plan. He says that if Northern Ireland is to have a sustained period of unwelcome direct rule, he favours putting marriage equality and abortion to referendums so that Westminster can feel empowered to make change happen.
The shadow Northern Ireland secretary is right to want to see progress on both these issues – it is appalling that the people of Northern Ireland do not have the same equal marriage laws or reproductive rights as their fellow citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom. For the avoidance of doubt, our preference would be for the institutions to get back up and running as soon as possible. It is a tragedy that the UK government isn’t working harder to achieve that because of the survival pact Theresa May has signed with the DUP. Direct rule is bad for Northern Ireland for a whole range of reasons.
Owen Smith is right to say that if the parties of Northern Ireland cannot get their act together and restore power-sharing government then direct rule, however undesirable, must be used to make progress on LGBT and reproductive rights.
But he is wrong to say that referendums are necessary to give a mandate for change. For one, thing they are not required. Unlike in the Republic of Ireland, where these were constitutional questions, a referendum is not needed to change the law for either marriage equality or abortion. They are the preserve of legislators. Some will look to Australia. But the reason for the “consultative ballot” in Australia was a total failure of leadership, and should neither be indulged nor repeated.
The people of Northern Ireland have already had their rights on equal marriage denied because of the Democratic Unionist party taking advantage of the makeup of the previous assembly to abuse parliamentary procedure. Every poll shows that there is clear majority support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland.
Therefore Westminster, and particularly Labour’s front bench, should not be saying that there needs to be another public vote to provide a mandate. Members of the UK parliament already know that if the Northern Ireland assembly was up and running, such legislation would get majority support and the voters would overwhelmingly welcome it.
So if the parties of Northern Ireland cannot sort themselves out and form a government then the UK parliament must act now without delay, without the division of a public vote unleashing the worst sort of politics.
In Australia the LGBT community opposed the postal ballot on their civil rights because you should not have to ask the permission of your neighbour to be equal.
As in Ireland, the campaigns against same-sex marriage indulged homophobia and exploited homophobic tropes about LGBT people seeking to “recruit” young people. Some insinuated that homosexuality was a gateway to paedophilia. Others did much more than insinuate. In Melbourne, Stop The Fags posters appeared and then went viral with images of children cowering under a rainbow-coloured hand. This is what referendums do. They divide cultures, generations and families. They force LGBT people to come out to gain basic civil rights, not at a time of their choosing. For some it was liberating – for others, the consequences continue.
I fear a referendum on abortion would undoubtedly descend quickly into a vicious debate.
Having engaged in these debates on university campuses – places that pride themselves on being liberal-minded – I have witnessed first-hand how quickly they can sour, with accusations of “baby killers”, of women using abortion as contraception and other inflaming distortions.
In Northern Ireland, such a retrograde step is not necessary. Instead, we should work to build a majority in the assembly to legislate for the rights of women in Northern Ireland, impressing on the parties there that this is a human rights issue.
We need only look to Stella Creasy’s important victory earlier this year, enabling women from Northern Ireland to access abortions in England on the NHS, to see how cross-party parliamentary support can be won. It can – and must – now go further.
As it stands in Northern Ireland, women with the resources to travel to Britain to access an abortion can do so, while those who do not must carry on with an unwanted pregnancy or pursue an unsafe and unlawful procedure. Women in Northern Ireland should not have to cross the Irish Sea to access medical care that is their right.
The DUP have made clear their demands for a single UK regulatory framework: politically, economically and financially. Perhaps we can begin with social parity. That would ensure our citizens in Northern Ireland have the same reproductive rights and LGBT rights they deserve, the same as everyone else in Britain.
Published on The Guardian on December 19, 2017
By Christopher Knaus and Ben Doherty
The Australian government should introduce a modern slavery act, establish an anti-slavery commissioner, create a compensation scheme for victims and force big corporations to root out exploitation in their supply chains, an inquiry has found.
The inquiry into modern slavery in Australia delivered its final report on Thursday evening, providing a detailed blueprint for the creation of a modern slavery act in Australia.
Action on modern slavery has been spurred by a string of controversies, from the exploitation of migrant fruit pickers, Australian involvement in damaging orphanage tourism and the exploitation of cleaners.
The latest estimates suggest 40 million people around the world and 4,300 people in Australia are victims of modern slavery, including through human trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour and other slavery-like practices.
Crucially, the inquiry’s report, titled “Hidden in Plain Sight”, has called for the creation of an independent anti-slavery commissioner, mirroring a successful model in the UK.
The inquiry also wants to force big corporations with a revenue of $50m or more to prove they are not profiting or gaining a competitive advantage from slavery in their supply chains.
The recommended threshold is well below the $100m previously proposed by government, and would capture most large entities in Australia, the inquiry said.
It would force companies like Woolworths and Coles, for example, to show slavery is not occurring among its suppliers.
The inquiry also recommended vulnerable migrant workers should be better protected through changes to Australia’s visa system, while a community hotline should be created to report modern slavery and a national labour hire licensing scheme established.
The inquiry also called for measures to stamp out Australian support for orphanage tourism, which exploits fake orphans for profit from tourists, often putting them at significant risk of harm.
Orphanage tourism should be included in the definition of modern slavery and the Australian government has been urged to ensure foreign aid does not go to overseas orphanages.
The inquiry also called for aid funding to be diverted to keeping families together and caring for children through community-based care, rather than institutions.
The recommendations have been praised by leading orphanage tourism expert, Kate Van Doore, of Griffith University, who said it put Australia at the forefront of efforts tackle exploitation.
“These recommendations pave the way for Australia to continue to lead the world in combatting orphanage trafficking,” Van Doore told Guardian Australia. “They represent a huge step for child protection advocates who have worked tirelessly to have orphanage trafficking recognised in law.”
The inquiry also recommended a compensation scheme for victims of modern slavery in Australia should also be created, the inquiry said, which would be funded through proceeds of crime. The government should also give victims the right to sue for modern slavery.
The foreign affairs and aid sub-committee chair, Chris Crewther, described modern slavery as a “heinous” crime that must be stamped out.
“Modern slavery describes some of the greatest crimes of our time,” Crewther said. “The recommendations from this inquiry make a significant contribution to ensuring that, here in Australia, we are doing all we can to eradicate these crimes.”
The inquiry has also recommended further research on modern slavery be conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology and that defences be introduced to protect victims of modern slavery offences who are compelled to commit a crime.
The government released a plan in August to make large companies file annual reports on modern slavery.
Published on The Guardian on December 7, 2017