Former British Soldier To Be Charged Over Bloody Sunday Shootings

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See this breaking news story on the landmark Bloody Sunday criminal investigation published for RightsInfo here: https://rightsinfo.org/bloody-sunday-solider-to-be-charged/

One former British soldier is to be charged with the murders of two men and the attempted murders of four others over the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry.

Soldier F will face prosecution for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.

There was insufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction for the other 16 former soldiers, the Public Prosecution Service said.

Families gathered outside The Museum of Free Derry, yards from where the killings took place 47 years ago, and marched together to the city centre to hear the decision.

A murder investigation was launched by police into the events of the fateful day in January 1972 when 13 civil rights activists were shot dead in Derry, Northern Ireland, and 15 others wounded.

Following the largest and most expensive ever public inquiry in the UK, the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland investigated charges of murder, attempted murder and grievous bodily injury with intent to endanger life.

One former soldier from Parachute Regiment’s 1stbattalion will now face charges of murder and attempted murder.Commemoration 35 years on from Bloody Sunday.

Twenty subjects were interviewed by police in the investigation including two former ‘Official IRA’ members, but one of the soldiers has since died.

For Michael McKinney, Jean Hegarty and John Kelly and so many others whose loved ones never returned home from Derry that afternoon, it is a day that marks years of searching for closure.

“I was with Michael when he was shot,” said Kelly, recalling the tragic day 47 years ago. “I went in the ambulance with him. I can still see him lying there after being shot. He was a young boy.”

Speaking to The Guardian, the 70-year-old continued: “His face turned grey and a sort of green colour. I was in the mortuary afterwards. There were nine or 10 bodies. It was pure carnage. My mother never got over the loss of her son.”

The outcome of the £195m inquiry which trawled through 668 witness statements and many visual and 125,000 pages of written documents, saw Lord Saville declare the killings “unjustified and unjustifiable”.

It brought into focus the right to life, and where the responsibilities of the state begin and end when investigating deaths.

Speaking following the conclusion in 2010 which brought some peace for the victims, Prime Minister David Cameron also gave the families a heartfelt apology.

But however much the events of that day are retold in grieving minds, official investigations into what happened have been mired in controversy.

The initial Widgery Tribunal “was veiled in secrecy, subject to political influence, and negligent in its failure to consider crucial eye-witness testimony,” Human Rights Watch said amid the launch of the landmark Lord Savile review in 1998.

The charity welcomed the decision of the British government to form a new review with full judicial weight, stating that “the relatives of victims have a right to know the truth about the events of Bloody Sunday.”

But it is not just the inquiries which have raised ill feeling. Northern Ireland legislation currently limits sentences committed after 1973 to a maximum of two years.

Speaking to The Guardian, Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry explained: “From 1970 on, soldiers had a de facto amnesty in Northern Ireland.

“Documents from the National Archives show there were discussions between the attorney general and the chiefs of staff where they made it quite clear they would do everything in their power to protect soldiers from prosecution.”

Featured Image: Bloody Sunday mural in Derry. Credit: Suzanne Mischyshyn

Universal Credit Should Reward Job Hunters Putting In ‘Maximum Effort’, Says Thinktank

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Universal Credit claimants seen to be putting in the “maximum effort” to find work should be rewarded with a financial “prize”, a conservative think tank has suggested.

In an effort to make Universal Credit, the government’s controversial streamlined welfare system, seem more attractive in the public eye, think tank Bright Blue recommends a supplement be integrated into benefit payments for those “meeting the most demanding conditions around job seeking”.

Another option would be to reward a biannual £1,000 cash prize to claimants.

The report also calls for compensation payments if a jobcentre fails to pay benefits on time or cancels promised skills courses.

The money could total hundreds or thousands of pounds, and would be viewed as respite to the many benefit seekers who have been let down or turned away by job centres since the rollout of the new benefit, which unites six benefits including disability and housing support under one umbrella.

Unfairness That Must Change

Addressing one of many controversies around how just the reforms really are, Bright Blue branded it unfair that benefits sanctions are placed on claimants for missing appointments and yet job centre officials can get away without a penalty for their errors.

Another thinktank last month revealed new figures showing a rise in income inequality in 2018, which critics argue is largely the fault of the Universal Credit benefits reforms which are “driving people into destitution”.

One of Universal Credit’s key failings, say critics, is forcing claimants to wait up to five weeks for their first benefit payment. The right-leaning thinktank says a one-off initial “helping hand” payment should be made that covers a quarter of the expected first month’s sum to help offset financial stress.

Last month Citizen’s Advice found that the 35-day delay was reducing nearly half of the claimants it helped to living without the money to afford basic essentials such as food or heating, while 54 per cent had to borrow funds from family and friends to pay bills and stay afloat.

Widespread Cynicism Over Universal Credit Access

The authors of the report agreed with Universal Credit as a system in principle but sympathised with the interviewees who said it was ‘distressing’, ‘confusing’ and ‘challenging’, prompting them to call for mental health and disability workers in every job centre.

In another siren call to ensure “equal treatment of all actors in the universal credit system…[thus] sustaining public and specifically claimants’ support for it,” claimants should be given the right to an independent appeal for compensation if sanctions imposed by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) were judged to have broken rules, the report added.

Amid widespread cynicism among those claimants interviewed that the system has been made intentionally difficult to access, other suggested reforms included a smartphone app for those without a computer, and a live chat feature when claimants login online.

Too Much Hardship

Ryan Shorthouse, the director of Bright Blue and a co-author of the report, said: “Despite welcome improvements made by the government in recent years, there are too many examples and too much evidence of significant hardship experienced by a sizeable minority of those on universal credit.”

A DWP spokesperson labelled the rollout of Universal Credit a success story: “We welcome the report’s finding that the majority of people have had a smooth move on to universal credit, appreciating the simple monthly payment and work coach support.”

The DWP was last month accused of trying to “hide” the level of Universal Credit claimants relying on food banks, weeks after the Trussel Trust found that the two issues were inextricably linked as the use of foodbanks increased by 52 per cent in areas where the reforms had been in place for over a year.

Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd backtracked slightly, conceding in February that the rollout of the new system, in the context of a wider benefits squeeze, had helped cause the hike in emergency food bank use.

School To Discuss Parent Concerns About Curriculum, After Protests Over LGBT+ Education

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See this published for RightsInfo here: https://rightsinfo.org/lgbt-education-birmingham-address-concerns/

A primary school that taught children about LGBT+ relationships in an effort to combat homophobia and instil the right to equality in the next generation has said it will hold discussions to address parent concerns about the curriculum after 80 per cent of its pupils were withdrawn by parents in protest. The school has also said that it will not be delivering the lessons up to the end of term.

Parkfield Community School has faced a backlash by predominantly Muslim parents over its ‘No Outsiders’ programme, which uses same-sex stories and activities to instil knowledge and acceptance of homosexual relationships in children between the ages of four and 11.

The school in Alum Rock, Birmingham, had written to parents asking for the “upsetting” weekly protests staged outside its gates to stop, which have seen chants of “shame” from crowds and signs including “education not indoctrination”.

The curriculum, designed to meet the requirements of the Equality Act, was being piloted with five lessons each year featuring stories such as Mommy, Mama and Me and King & King to teach the children that homosexuality is as mainstream and normal as opposite sex attraction.

But rather than being seen merely as a forward-thinking programme that reflects modern society and the advancement of LGBT+ rights in recent years, the parents at the school escalated the row by taking around 600 pupils out of classes claiming that teachers were corrupting the innocence of their children and not honouring their faith.

Discussions Over Lesson Delivery

Facebook group Alum Rock Community Forum celebrated the school becoming “a ghost town” as only 140 students turned up of 700, and claimed the progressive education was “undermining of parental rights and aggressively promoting homosexuality & LGBT lifestyle”.

Leaving many in disbelief that such scenes are still unfolding in 2019, one father at the school Abdul Ma, 46, told The Sun: “This is a brainwash. We bring our children here so they can later work as a solicitor or a teacher, not to be taught about being gay or a lesbian.”

Senior managers at the school, which is rated outstanding by Ofsted and recognises tolerance, personal liberty and respect as core British values, have said discussions will take place about the delivery of the lessons, citing that “the ethos, the books, the age appropriateness, the lessons and the assemblies” made parents uncomfortable.

In a letter to parents, Excel Multi Academy Trust, which runs the school, added: “The school encourages parents to ask their children what No Outsiders is really about, as the children are very clear there is no focus on one aspect of equality, rather No Outsiders teaches that everyone is welcome.”

The programme was developed by assistant headteacher Andrew Moffatt, who was forced to defend the curriculum after 400 parents signed a petition calling for the lessons to be abolished.

Moffat, who has been awarded an MBE for his work in equality education, became a target for the angry parents after he was open about his same-sex civil partnership in class. He says he has been abused with a leaflet campaign and one parent was heard blasting “get Mr Moffatt out” through a megaphone at the school perimeter.

A Welcoming Ethos For All

The school is due to stop delivering the lessons to the end of term, but has denied that this was a U-turn. “In our Long Term Year Curriculum Plan, this half term has already been blocked for Religious Education (RE). Equality assemblies will continue as normal and our welcoming No Outsiders ethos will be there for all,” they wrote.

Mr Moffatt, who has made the top ten of the prestigious million-dollar Varkey Foundation Global teacher Prize, said that dozens of pupils at the school had supported him through the ordeal.

“I was inundated with little posters and cards that children had made at home saying, ‘No outsiders. Everyone is welcome,’” the teacher told The Independent.

“The first one I got I was quite shocked.”

READ MORE: Opinion – Teaching Young People About LGBTQ+ Issues Is Vital, Whatever Your Religion Or Beliefs

Parent Fatima Shah sowed the seeds of the protest, telling the BBC: “We don’t have an issue with them learning that yes, you will come across same-sex couples.”

Insisting that the challenge does not come from a site of homophobia, she added: “What we have a problem is his promoting of homosexuality, and that is what he is doing. Telling children as young as four that it’s ok to be gay. It just doesn’t go with our beliefs, our rights”.

Following a meeting between the Board of Trustees for the academy, local MP Liam Byrne, parents and Andrew Warren, the Regional Schools Commissioner for the West Midlands, the Trust agreed in a letter to parents to launch a consultation with parents this half term to “explore equality education at Parkfield”.

Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman defended the school, judging it essential that children know that families can “have two mummies or two daddies”.

Vulnerable Children Are Being Targeted By Gangs

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Read Ewan’s digital news story on a major report warning that many of Britain’s most vulnerable children are slipping through the net into violent gangs. It was written freelance for specialist human rights publication RightsInfo.

https://rightsinfo.org/vulnerable-children-are-being-targeted-by-gangs/

No-Deal Brexit Could Threaten Lives Of Diabetes Patients, Charities Warn

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Read Ewan’s news report on Brexit and health rights for specialist human rights publication, RightsInfo. Ewan was commended by the editors for this piece after it went on to get nearly 700 shares on social media and lively interaction on Facebook comment sections, thus ‘popping’ online as a story: https://rightsinfo.org/no-deal-brexit-could-threaten-lives-of-diabetes-patients-leading-charities-warn/

The Landmark Legal Challenge to Universal Credit System Explained

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See it published on RightsInfo here. Shared over 300 times on social media.

A controversial new social security benefit, currently being rolled out across the UK, is facing a major legal challenge. But what’s the challenge all about and what impact might it have? 

The Biggest Challenges Ahead For England’s New Education Secretary

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SEE IT PUBLISHED ON RIGHTSINFO.ORG HERE

With Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle now completed, we have a new Secretary of State for Education.

He’ll be facing a number of challenges as part of the role, all in the name of narrowing inequalities in educational experience and outcomes, so here’s a quick look at what’s ahead for Damian Hinds.

So, Education and Human Rights?

Image Credit: Marcos Luiz / Unsplash

Following Britain’s decision to leave in the EU referendum, education has featured prominently in the debate about whether EU citizens currently living in Britain should be entitled to public services in the same capacity following Brexit. The government has also been criticised for its inaction on unaccompanied child refugees from Calais, and pressure on British public services was part of this discussion. Particularly in inner-city areas, there have been challenges with language barriers and educational outcomes.

The right to education is clearly laid out in the Human Rights Convention, with the text specifically setting out that “no person shall be denied the right to education”. This also sits alongside broader issues about gender, ethnic and class divisions in the British education system – something which plays into the equality at the heart of our human rights.

The removal of coursework and accompanying changes to the grading system at GCSE may reduce the stark gender gap at this level – with girls outperforming boys in every subject as recently as 2013 – but the rollout of universal credit has been criticised for negatively impacting free school meal eligibility for poorer students. Essentially, there’s a lot going on here that plays into our rights.

Are White Working Class Boys Being Forgotten?

Image Credit: UNISON / Flickr

Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, has brought the underachievement of white working-class boys back into focus. She claims the focus on ethnic and gender gaps in education has created a “negative impact”whereby the struggle for many in this social group to adapt to the school environment has been neglected.

Whilst ensuring a multicultural educational experience is still especially relevant following Brexit and heavy EU migration flows, it is alarming that white working-class boys in Britain are the least likely to achieve five GCSE passes or go to university, and 35,000 of them are currently in prison.

What’s The Deal With Free Schools?

Image Credit: Pexels

A staple of Conservative education policy since 2010, the current government is following through with David Cameron’s 2015 manifesto pledge to build 500 free schools by 2020. As with the mass conversion of comprehensive secondary schools to academies, free schools are relatively autonomous of government control. They can be established by parents, faith leaders and businesspeople (to name a few), and claim to offer a more flexible educational experience.

But some question the standard of teaching, whether they favour a particular social group, and the amount of funding being ploughed into this scheme at a time when teacher recruitment and retention is worryingly low. Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former Joint Chief of Staff, has criticised Justine Greening for putting a brake on free schools so it will be interesting what Hinds does with them. Previously, his voting record shows he is a fan of greater autonomy for schools.

Right, And What About Tuition Fees Then?

Image Credit: Faustin Tuyambaze / Unsplash

Hinds is expected to announce a long-awaited major review of university funding, as debate continues over whether university tuition fees make higher education more accessible or exclusive.

The Chancellor has already explored capping fees at £7,500 rather than £9,250. Hinds also arrives at a time of outcry over Vice-Chancellor salaries, and debates over whether no-platforming policies violate free speech. However, he has previously voted to raise tuition fees.

So, What’s Damian Hinds All About Then?

Image Credit: HM Revenues and Customs / Flickr

In terms of what we know about his views, Hinds has already made it clear he plans to scrap the cap set on faith schools – something we’ve written about extensively here. It’s a complicated issue but has several human rights implications for both religious freedom and equality.

In terms of human rights more generally, he’s previously voted in support of LGBT+ rights, but has previously voted to scrap the Human Rights Act, as well as the duty of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to:

Support the development of a society where people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination and there is respect for human rights.

Whichever route Hinds takes to try and level the playing field for education in the UK, it’s likely to have a massive impact on one of our fundamental rights. Education is the building blocks for the rest of our lives, so many hope he will continue Greening’s efforts on improving equality and relationships teaching in schools.

As with all comment pieces, this article is the opinion of the author and not RightsInfo.

Hopes And Fears: We Asked Erasmus Students About Their Rights As Brexit Draws Closer

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SEE IT PUBLISHED ON RIGHTSINFO.ORG HERE

It’s one of the most popular programmes offered by the EU, but after 30 years Britain’s ties with Erasmus+ are hanging in the balance.

Hundreds of thousands of students have been sent or hosted by UK universities on exchanges in 34 European countries, but as the Brexit negotiations continue the future UK relationship with the scheme is uncertain. So we thought we’d hear from some Erasmus students who have just studied in Britain.

What’s Erasmus+ All About?

Erasmus+ allows students to experience studying in another EU city. Image Credit: Pexels

Run by the European Commission, Erasmus+ is a programme connecting European university institutions and departments for exchanges and research. Since its launch in 1987, the scheme has grown to encompass all 28 EU member states and six non-EU members. Young people are able to harness the European links their university has, to spend between three and 12 months abroad at a partner institution – made all the more accessible by a monthly grant of around 300 euros. The European Commission sets budgets for the programme in seven-year blocks, with 14.7 billion euros allotted between 2014 and 2020.

Erasmus has proven immensely popular, with 725,000 participating EU students annually. Between 1987 and 2013, three million students were placed across Europe to study or work, and more than 200,000 from Britain alone. Naquita Lewis, head of Erasmus in Britain, said at a recent seminar that 30,000 students came to the UK to study in 2015, with 40,000 outgoing British students. Britain ranks as the third most attractive destination behind Spain and Germany. What’s more, between 2014 and 2017 alone, British educational organisations received 501 million euros for nearly 4,000 research and innovation projects.

Insecurity In the Face of Brexit?

Image Credit: Estonian Presidency / Flickr

The current seven-year Erasmus cycle terminates in 2020, one year after Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU in March 2019. This means that without a deal, British universities may not be able to participate in the scheme beyond December 2020. Prime Minister Theresa May said last December that Britain would remain in the scheme until “at least” 2020. Furthermore, last October Universities Minister Jo Johnson said the government is “encouraging participants to continue to apply for funding until we leave” as applications for study or work in the scheme processed before March 2019 will still be valid and funded for the following (2019/2020) academic year. But what about beyond 2020? With no official position stated yet and Brexit negotiations continuing, this is where the uncertainty lies. Beyond the scheme itself, students wishing to study in Britain still don’t know how negotiation will affect their rights to live and work here more generally, or how they’ll access things like healthcare.

I’m afraid some students may not decide to study abroad if the costs rise or face other difficulties.

Ania Machnio, Erasmus Student

Ania Machnio, 21, is a third-year European Studies student from Warsaw University. She has been on a five-month Erasmus exchange at The University of Sheffield since September. Speaking to RightsInfo, she “wasn’t very worried” about the security of her position whilst studying here, but said “it would be a great loss” if future students missed out: “I’m afraid that some students may not decide to study abroad if, for instance, the costs of studying raise, or if they would need a visa or face other difficulties. Unfortunately, the costs are high and scholarships are not always available so students like me may be more likely to choose a country that belongs to the Erasmus community and have the unified and consistent exchange programmes.”

Stefan Pretterhofer is a final year Material Science student who has just finished his exchange in Sheffield from Montanuniversität Leoben in Austria. He was also concerned for future Erasmus students: “I suppose that travelling back and forth between my home-country and the UK will be affected negatively by Brexit. Especially, the times for safety checks, passport control and border checks will increase. I also expect an increase in tuition fees, as at the moment I don’t have to pay anything here in England. I think that doing an exchange term like I do won’t be possible after the UK isn’t part of the EU anymore.”

These concerns were echoed by Janine Barten, a third-year student at Radboud University in Holland. Having just finished her exchange semester in Sheffield, she said: “I am thinking about doing my postgraduate degree in the UK and I am worried about this, because the future for Erasmus students in the UK is quite uncertain and I am not sure how things will work out or what the actual impact is going to be. Some friends in Sheffield who were studying here for their whole degree, or who wanted to come back for a graduate degree, told me that they weren’t sure how things are going to be in the future.”

A Welcoming Place to Study Today?

Ania is worried about future students. Image Credit: Supplied by Author

Recently published Home Office figures show that almost 84,000 hate crimes were recorded in the 2016-17 financial year, a 29% increase on the previous year. The record spike occurred in the aftermath of the EU referendum, and crimes were based on race, religion, and nationality among others. But have they affected the experience of Erasmus students?

Janine’s experience was positive overall: “I think the UK has definitely been welcoming to me as an Erasmus student, especially the University of Sheffield, which is a really internationally-oriented university. However, it was sometimes difficult for me to get in contact with British people outside the university, because some of them were a bit reserved. I am not sure whether this was because I am an international student or that the British culture in general is just a bit more reserved than in my home country.”

Ania highlighted that welcoming attitudes existed in the wider city as well as within the university community: “The British people were open and welcoming and that probably won’t change. Both within and outside the university I experienced hospitable attitudes, for instance, I had rented a room few times and the hosts were really kind. Of course, not everyone smiles at you, but it does not differ from what I see in Poland. Personally, I haven’t experienced any unpleasantness due to my origin and I hope that this will not happen.”

So, is Brexit Really Having That Much Impact So Far?

Image Credit: Chris Lawton / Unsplash

For Janine, the impact of the Brexit negotiations on Erasmus students has been exaggerated: “Actually it had less impact that I expected. Everybody told me that I was just ‘in time’ to escape the problems the Brexit might bring for Erasmus students, because Britain hasn’t formally left. I had no problems with my application or entering the country, however, I have definitely noticed that it is a very current and controversial topic for British people.”

But, interestingly, Ania felt this was her final opportunity and shares Janine’s concern about whether Britain will be an option for postgraduate study. “Actually, I can say it’s helped me decide. I felt like it was the last chance to go to such an exchange in the UK,” she said.

“I knew that maybe during my masters I won’t be able to do this so I decided to go. I think that during the exchange the impact wasn’t so strong as Brexit negotiations were in their initial phase and I knew that until the end of my stay in the UK nothing would change dramatically for me. But when I said that I was going to the UK for an Erasmus someone often mentioned that after Brexit there may not be such a chance at all. And yes, I still have this feeling because I don’t know much about future arrangements.”