Archive for the ‘Education’ Category


Group members presented their Citizenship roadshow in Shaftesbury

citzenshipLast week, fresh from attending the Citizenship Conference at South Wilts, group members took the Amnesty presentation on the road to a new venue to us, St. Mary’s Girls School at Shaftesbury, as part of their series of talks by local and national organisations.  Despite an attendance of some 90 sixth-formers, it was possible to encourage interactivity, and the students proved very knowledgeable and interested in our work, and showed an encouraging level of social awareness.  Nearly all signed greetings cards for prisoners, and some stayed to continue conversations with us about Amnesty after the event.  Thanks are due to the school for an event we hope we can repeat in the future.


If any secondary school in the South Wiltshire area would like the team to do a presentation on the work of Amnesty and human rights, please get in touch via this site.

Note: St Mary’s School is in Wiltshire

 

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June 15 007

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International with David Davis MP, Peter Oborne the journalist, and Ed Probert of the Cathedral posing for a photo during the sixth form conference which took place at the Cathedral on 15 June.

Attendance was good with several hundred 6th formers from the local schools who listened to the speakers and then asked questions.

Kate also took part in another event in the Playhouse in which she was joined by Prof Guy Standing, author of The Precariat and A Precariat Charter and Ben Rawlence writer and researcher and author of Radio Congo.  Ben used to be a country representative with Human Rights Watch.

The event was called Magna Carta Now and was looking at the relevance of the Magna Carta in today’s world especially as it was the 800th anniversary of its sealing.  Edward Fox the actor read out sections of the charter and the panel debated their significance and relevance today.  Local member, Peter Curbishley was in the chair.  Around 140 people attended.

Playhouse event. L to R: Group members Fiona, Karen, Lesley, Kate Allen, Peter Curbishley, Ben Rawlence and Prof Guy Standing. Photo: Paul Donovan

Playhouse event.

Britain’s role in Afghanistan is coming to an after over a decade of bloodshed and war.  It is doubtful that the country is in a fit state to function effectively since the Taliban and the warlords are still very much in evidence and there are reports of ISIS being present in the country as well.  After all this time it is easy to forget some of the original aims which were defeating terrorism and the Taliban.  We can also forget that it was the CIA who helped establish, arm and train the Taliban in order to assist them in their fight with the Russians.

One of the major victims of the years of war is women.  It has turned thousand of Afghan women into refugees and widows – or both – and made it dangerous for them to seek schooling, go out to work, get healthcare or secure paid employment.  Before the arrival of the Taliban in 1996, women’s rights had steadily improved and indeed, there are many photographs from that era women and girls in schools and university with not a burqa or veil in sight.  Improving the rights of women became one of the additional aims of the invasion and it will be recalled that Cherie Blair – wife of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair – hosted an event in 10, Downing Street in 2001 with this aim in mind.  Kofi Annan said:

There cannot be true peace and recovery in Afghanistan without a restoration of the rights of women.

Similar sentiments were expressed by the then secretary of state Colin Powell:

The recovery of Afghanistan must entail a restoration of the rights of women, indeed it will not be possible without them.

Abdul Hakim Hashemi  Hademi

Abdul Hakim Hashemi Hademi

At the South West regional conference of Amnesty International it was heartening to hear from someone who has worked to improve the status of women through theatre and artistic groups in the countryside.  The speaker was Abdul Hakim Hashemi Hamidi who set up the Simorgh Film Association of Culture and Art, SFACA.  Unlike many aid programmes which tend to stay in Kabul or the main cities, SFACA goes out into the countryside and to the villages.

He has organised educational theatre workshops in prisons, juvenile correction centres, drug addiction rehabilitation centres, in schools and with the police.  He has produced films with an emphasis on human rights and the role of women.

Not all the problems faced by women are solely to do with the Taliban. Another factor is honour killings which are at a very high rate in the country.  57% are identified as the responsibility of a family member and 21% by the husband.  The perpetrator of 43% killings is unclear however.  A telling quote from the PowerPoint display was:

A problem with women [is] because men don’t accept women have rights

He went on to discuss the problems of human rights defenders in Afghanistan. These included difficulty in

Delegates at the South West Region conference

Delegates at the South West Region conference

travelling to some areas combined with a lack of government control in some parts of the country, traditional beliefs and illiteracy.  Religion was a main cause he said and human rights are seen as a western construct.  He urged that the UK government consider the role of human rights defenders in their discussions with the Afghans.

It was an interesting and uplifting talk by someone who has taken risks to go into the Afghanistan countryside to promote the rights of women.  Abdul is a visiting fellow on the Protective Fellowship Scheme for Human Rights Defenders at York UniversityThere is a permanent link to the York University Centre for Applied Human Rights at the bottom of the main page.

Sources:

Watson Institute

Global Research

Amnesty International


The new South Wilts University Technical College in Salisbury is to be part-funded by arms companies and a number of people are concerned that young people will be corrupted by such firms.  The Salisbury group has campaigned in the past on the issue of arms as Salisbury is surprisingly rich in arms companies.  It is likely that because we are near to Salisbury Plain – where a number of regiments are based – and the garrison towns of Bulford and Tidworth, it is attractive to such firms to set up here.  We are also near Porton Down and to Boscombe Down.

Some years ago, we discovered that a firm based in Salisbury was supplying the Indonesians with armoured land rovers being used in the oppression of the East Timorese.  Chemring, which has a factory at a place called High Post near Salisbury, was also the subject of press interest recently for allegedly supplying CS gas to the Hong Kong police to help suppress demonstrations, and to Israel.  Chemring supplied CS gas which was used in Egypt.

So the activities of arms companies are a matter of interest to us.  It has to be said straight away that, unless you are a complete pacifist, there are aspects of the arms trade which are perfectly legitimate.  We need to defend ourselves and therefore have a need to make armaments.  We can also sell such arms to countries we trust or to whom we are allied.  The difficulty is when arms are supplied to regimes who have little interest in human rights.  This is why Amnesty among others has been promoting an arms trade treaty.  Another problem is the shadowy world of dealers and brokers who go on to supply anyone willing to pay.

Anyone interested in the arms trade, then a book to read is The Shadow World: inside the global arms trade by Andrew Feinstein (Hamish Hamilton, 2011).  This remorselessly describes the trade and the high degree of corruption involved in its activities.  The industry is over £1tn in size and money flows via tax havens and brokers around the world.

Look at almost any news broadcast and it doesn’t matter who is fighting whom, what is noticeable is that they all seem to be remarkably well armed.  The various belligerents drive around in military vehicles, and they seem to be guns and rocket launchers aplenty.  These arms don’t appear out of nowhere, they are supplied by the shadowy world of the arms dealer and are financed via various tax havens, many of which are Crown dependencies.

Feinstein expresses it well in his introduction:

In our twenty-first-century world the lethal combination of technological advances, terrorism, global crime, state sponsored violence and socio-economic inequality has raised instability and insecurity to alarming levels.  At the same time, the engine that has driven this escalation, the global arms trade, grows ever more sophisticated, complex and toxic in its effects.

It might therefore be thought essential that the world’s democratic nations should address this trade effectively and urgently.  If it must exist, then surely it should be coherently regulated, legitimately financed, effectively policed and transparent in its workings, and meet people’s need for safety and security?

Instead the trade in weapons is a parallel world of money, corruption, deceit and death.  It operates to its own rules, largely unscrutinized, bringing enormous benefits to the chosen few, and suffering and immiseration to millions.  The trade corrodes our democracies, weakens already fragile states and often undermines the very national security it porports to strengthen.  (p xxii, ibid)

Arms sales are promoted by the British government by the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO).  There has been a lot of publicity recently as various ministers – including the Prime Minister – visiting the Gulf states to sign arms deals.  Some of these countries arrest or harass oppositions, use torture regularly, execute people in public, mistreat their women and have corrupt judicial systems.  No matter it seems, there’s trade to be had.  The Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT held a meeting in Salisbury recently to publicise the financing of this college by four arms firms.  The firms involved include Chemring, QinetiQ, Esterline and Dstl.  Serco is also involved which has a dubious record.

Some of the questions to ask of this college are: will their young people be free to discuss the activities of this trade?  If it transpires that munitions supplied by one of these firms are used to suppress demonstrations or are used to kill unarmed people for example, will students be free to debate this?  Will the effects and practices of the arms trade be a topic of discussion in Citizenship activities?  Interesting questions …  CAAT allege that the firms will use the college as a means to promote their image.  It will be interesting to see how this UTC deals with the ethical and moral issues of the arms trade and adopts an appropriately impartial position when and if allegations of wrongdoing emerge.

The college is part of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust and none of its trustees has any local links.

Article in Salisbury JournalCAAT item discussing the college is here.

UPDATE

CAAT Newsletter item (p6)