Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The fallout from Typhoon Hayain continued in the Philippines this week. The huge storm – which is the second largest the area has ever seen – struck on Thursday 7th and raged for several days, stretching into the start of this week. More than 11 million people have been left homeless by the disaster, and the official death toll is now well over 3,000 – although aid workers say the real figure could be three times this.

Located inside the so called Ring of Fire – a hotspot for volcanoes and earthquakes – the Philippines is no stranger to extreme weather. However, as a country comprising over 7,000 islands it remains a place where coordinating infrastructure and communications is difficult. Although the storm has now relented, the crisis is by no means over, with the challenges of tackling diseases and housing displaced people just beginning.

The Philippines’s UN Envoy Naderev Sano, who comes from the devastated city of Tacloban, made a tearful statement at the start of the UN’s two week Warsaw summit, blaming the typhoon on climate change and calling for decisive action. He described it as an “extreme climate event” and said he would not eat until an environmental consensus was reached.

The priority, of course, has got to be dealing with the immediate humanitarian crisis in the country. On this front it was good to see international aid donations flooding in, and I was particularly pleased with the EU’s decision on Tuesday to increase its contribution from €3 million to €13 million. However, Sano is right that as once the dust finally settles it will be time to have a more serious discussion about climate change.

At present we are still a long way away from a consensus. In April of this year Tory MEPs voted against the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – even though the proposals had been specifically designed as a free market solution to the problem – and back in 2011 they blocked calls for tougher environmental targets. David Cameron may have spoken on Sunday of the need to “prevent and mitigate” climate change, but on this issue the Conservatives are liable to say one thing and do the opposite.

Speaking of the gap between words and actions, it was interesting to see the Tories attempt this week to remove all pre-2010 speeches from online spaces. Ironically, many passages from the deleted material focused on commitments to transparency, with George Osborne, for example, having pledged (in a speech back in 2007) to end the “asymmetry of information between the individual and the state”.

Aside from being politically counter-productive (the news of course prompted an immediate re-examination of the Tories’ pre-government policies) this ‘year zero’ approach is profoundly undemocratic. It is important to the already fragile relationship between public representatives and the electorate that voters and commentators can compare rhetoric with reality, so the deletion of material like this undermines basic standards of political accountability.

With their liberal pre-government rhetoric having been replaced by harsh and socially divisive policies in office, it is no surprise that the Tory high command want to conceal the promises they made in opposition. I am pleased, on behalf of everyone who believes in politics, that on this occasion they have been caught out.

Freedom of Artistic Expression and Creativity

Labour Party

This week I spoke at an event where Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights for the United Nations, presented her report on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity.

The report addresses the many ways in which the right to the freedom of artistic expression and creativity can be curtailed around the world. Ms Shaheed discussed the growing worldwide concern that artistic voices are being silenced. The report addresses laws and regulations restricting artistic freedoms as well as economic and financial issues significantly impacting on such freedoms. The underlying motivations are most often political, religious, cultural or moral, or lie in economic interests, or are a combination of those.

The report encouraged States to critically review their legislation and practices imposing restrictions on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity, taking into consideration their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil this right.

In her report, Ms Shaheed has a number of specific recommendations to help combat the problem.

(a)   Artists and all those engaged in artistic activities should only be subject to general laws that apply to all people. Such laws shall be formulated with sufficient precision and in accordance with international human rights standards.

(b)   States should abolish prior-censorship bodies or systems where they exist.  Prior censorship should be a highly exceptional measure, undertaken only to prevent the imminent threat of grave irreparable harm to human life or property.

(c)    Classification bodies or procedures may be resorted to for the sole purpose of informing parents and regulating unsupervised access by children to particular content, and only in the areas of artistic creation where this is strictly necessary due in particular to easy access by children.

(d)   Decision makers, including judges, when resorting to possible limitations to artistic freedoms, should take into consideration the nature of artistic creativity (as opposed to its value or merit), as well as the right of artists to dissent

(e)   States should abide by their obligation to protect artists and all persons participating in artistic activities or dissemination of artistic expressions and creations from violence by third parties.

(f)     States should address issues regarding the use of public space for artistic performances or displays. Regulation of public art may be acceptable where it conflicts with other public uses of the space, but such regulation should not discriminate arbitrarily against specific artists or content.

(g)   States should review their visa issuance system and adjust it to the specific difficulties encountered by touring artists, their host organizations and tour organizers;

(h)   States should ensure the participation of representatives of independent associations of artists in decision-making related to art, and refrain from nominating or appointing cultural administrators or directors of cultural institutions on the basis of their political, religious or corporate affiliation.

What is striking about these recommendations and the report in general, is that it shows that restrictions on artists are not limited to authoritarian regimes.  Though the worst cases of artistic oppression happen in countries such as Iran and China, there is still a lot more we can do in Europe to ensure a vibrant and unrestricted culture.  It was a very interesting event and if you would like to read the full report, you can do so by following the link here.

The three deadliest words in the world… It’s a Girl

Labour Party

Earlier this week I watched this shocking trailer for new documentary film “It’s A Girl“. The film, which will be relased later this year, takes a look at the horrifying phenomenon of gendercide.

It is  over 20 years since Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen brought this problem to the world’s attention. Today though, women and girls continue to be killed, aborted and abandoned solely on the basis of their gender.

Sickeningly, the UN estimates that today the number of “missing” women and girls has reached around 200 million.

This means that around 9 million more females are demographically  “missing” than the total number of people believed to have been killed in all of the conflicts and wars of the 20th century combined.

But where are these missing women and girls?

Domestic violence, including honour and dowry killings, is one major cause of gender related deaths. A World Health Organisation study of 7 countries found that between 40% – 70% of female murder victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

Girls are often neglected in terms of access to food and medicine in comparison to their male counterparts. In South Asia for example, girls are less likely than boys to be immunised against vaccine preventable diseases.

Despite being forbidden by law, female infanticide and sex selective abortion remain common in countries including China and India. These two practices are highlighted in the trailer of what looks like it will be a hard hitting documentary. One of the most scarring scenes shows a woman talking with apparent indifference about killing 8 of her new born baby girls.  

Death can often be the result of a lack of access to medical care following gender specific operations such as female genital mutilation and unsafe abortion. Lack of adequate care during and after pregnancy is another cause of mortality amongst (pregnant) women. 

These are just some of the ways in which women and girls are killed, aborted or die, simply for being born with the “wrong” gender.

They are not reasons though.

The real reason behind the loss of these women and girls is the inherent inequality that continues to value men above women in societies.

Stop the Use of Combat Drones Now

Labour Party

This week I signed a written declaration on the use of drones in combat situations.

It has been estimated by the Pakistan Body Count that the use of combat drones in Pakistan has resulted in the deaths of 2179 civilians by September 2011.  President Obama made the frankly disgraceful decision when he assumed power in 2009 to increase the use of drones, believing them to be favourable to other methods.

The United Nations have made it clear that the use of drones is, at the very least problematic.  On 28 October 2009, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, presented a report to the Third Committee (social, humanitarian and cultural) of the General Assembly arguing that the use of unmanned combat air vehicles for targeted killings should be regarded as a breach of international law unless the United States can demonstrate appropriate precautions and accountability mechanisms are in place.

On 2 June 2010 Alston’s team released a report on its investigation into the drone strikes, criticizing the United States for being, “the most prolific user of targeted killings” in the world. In a statement about America’s use of drones, he said: “…you have the really problematic bottom line, which is that the Central Intelligence Agency is running a programme that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws.”  Alston, however, acknowledged that the drone attacks may be justified under the right to self-defence, but still called on the US to be more open about the programme.

Unfortunately the United States has not been forthcoming about the methods it uses in the selection of targets, nor have they been clear about the number of civilian deaths.  The CIA has gone as far as to say that of the people killed during drone attacks, none have been ‘non-combatants’, a claim that was seen as entirely unrealistic Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal among others.

I commend my colleagues Sabine Lösing, Sonia Alfano, Ana Gomes and Rui Tavares for helping to raise awareness of this important issue.  If your MEP hasn’t signed then you should write to them, urging them to do so.  We must put an end to the use of combat drones.

In Pursuit of Justice: A Few Words on the UN Women Report

Labour Party

Last week the recently establised UN agency UN Women published ‘In Pursuit of Justice’, a flagship report surveying women’s access to justice across the globe. Whilst it is clear that international agencies are increasingly recognising that the fight against gender inequality warrants far greater investment, progress has been slow and there is much work to be done if changes in legal status are to be translated into substantive improvements in the the quality of women’s lives. Here I discuss some of the issues emerging from the report and comment on the work the European Parliament is doing to address enduring inequalities.

You can read the report at by following the link here.

Desiderata – A New Blog on Child Protection

Labour Party

 Child security and the distribution of child abuse images online is a very important issue.  You may remember me blogging about the use of internet blocking last year (read the blog here).  A very useful resource in finding out about this subject is a relatively new blog called Desiderata (Latin for ‘things you desire or need).  

I should say that the blog is written by an old friend of mine, John Carr, who I have known for many years.  As well as an old friend though, he is a world expert in the field of child safety and security online, as an adviser to the British Government and the United Nations.  Further more, John is an executive on the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online and is Secretary of the UK’s Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety (made up of NSPCC, Action for Children, Barnardo’s and many more). He has also provided advice for Microsoft, MySpace and Google as well as a number of the UK’s leading mobile phone service providers.  John was also the worthy recipient of an OBE for services to child security online.  So you can see he is well placed to offer advice and analysis on many of the problems that worry many parents and people responsible for young children and teenagers.

The blocking of internet sites that contain child pornography is one of the first issues that John tackles on his new blog.  If you would like to read a well written and thorough defence of blocking and a debunking of the arguments against then please click here, I highly recommend it.  He writes with clarity, never overly technical so even relative laymen like me can understand, and has a mastery over the subject matter, not surprising given his unparalleled level of expertise in this area.  Blocking was recently voted on in the Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee, and it did not go the way he or I would have hoped.  I was happy that most if not all UK MEPs were in favour blocking, but perhaps if a few more MEPs from other delegations, particularly Germany, had read John’s blog, we may have got a better result.

Apart from that I think we can expect a high level of discussion about all current issues and debates surrounding the important subject of child security online.  In his most recent posts John talks about the possibility of Internet Service Providers doing more to stop children accessing inappropriate material.  He suggests solutions that I think would definitely meet the approval of any parent or carer who reads it.  I’m sure we will see a lot more like this in the future.

“Tolerance within” Dr. Ban Ki-moon makes veiled attack on France

Labour Party

Speaking to Members of the European Parliament today UN Chief Dr. Ban Ki-moon raised the spectre of immigration in Europe. 

“As a friend of Europe, I share profound concerns,” he told MEPs, and went on to explain that the story of the 20th Century had been the narrative of winning peace in Europe, but now that the peace was won, the 21st century was about the struggle for “tolerance within”.  Dr. Ban then said that integration and equal opportunities for different cultures were never easy but they are profoundly important. People claiming to be liberal “accuse immigrants of violating European values”, but in actuality, the accusers were the violators themselves. 

Anyone who has been reading the news in recent months will know that these comments were squarely pointed at the French government and their recent actions towards the Roma.  These controversial and by all accounts illegal actions have led to Commissioner Reding likening Sarkozy’s Roma policy to the actions of the Nazis, and have prompted an investigation by the European Union in to their legality.  It may also have been inspired by Merkel’s very troubling remarks about multiculturalism.  It is almost too predictable that in times of economic turmoil people turn on those at the fringes of society, but I would certainly have hoped that we in Europe had learnt our lessons a long time ago.  Dr. Ki-moon’s comments were very welcome by a large section of the parliament today and I hope that both Sarkozy and Merkel will hear them.

Dr Ban’s theme was that the United Nations and the European Union were natural allies.  He discussed the various ways in which we can work together to make this a better world,  focusing on the Millennium Goals which he believes are in danger of slipping from us.  I was particularly encouraged by his declaration that the Global Strategy for women and children is his number one priority, stating that “the hardest to reach people in hardest to reach places” should remain the focus of the UNs energies.

Tory MEPs Refuse to Support EU Targets on Aid to Developing Countries

Labour Party

David Cameron is today attending a summit of European leaders which will seek to agree the EU’s approach at a major United Nations summit on the UN Millennium Development Goals due to be held in September.

Meanwhile a large proportion of his Tory MEPs yesterday refused to vote in favour of a report in the European Parliament on the EU’s progress in meeting these very same Millennium Development Goals.  Fortunately the report was adopted by a large majority, which only goes to show just how out of touch the Tories are with mainstream opinion.

In the final vote on the report authored by my Labour colleague Michael Cashman MEP, there were no Tory votes for the report and no outright rejections.  However, the following Tory MEPs abstained: Jacqueline Foster, Ashley Fox, Daniel Hannan, Roger Helmer, Syed Kamall, Sajjad Karim, Emma McClarkin, Kay Swinburne, Charles Tannock and Marina Yannakoudakis.

The refusal of such a large proportion of the Conservative MEPs (10 out of a total of 25) to back the report must call into question the wider support for international development within the Tory party.  It also makes you wonder about David Cameron’s attitude in that most of these MEPs supported Cameron for Tory leader and are clearly close to him.

In yesterday’s vote, the European Parliament specifically expressed its support for policies on voluntary family planning, safe abortion, treatment of sexually transmitted infections and the provision of reproductive health supplies consisting of life-saving drugs and contraceptives, including condoms. Maternal mortality claims over half a million women’s lives a year and progress has been negligible. Teenage pregnancy is still high and contraceptives and family planning have become only slightly more accessible.

Yet the Tories refused to support amendments to the report on these issues.  The first part of amendment 42 dealing with safe abortion and the provision of condoms was rejected by Richard Ashworth, Robert Atkins, Giles Chichester, James Elles, Vicky Ford, Daniel Hannan, Malcolm Harbour, Roger Helmer, Syed Kamall, Timothy Kirkhope, Emma McClarkin, Struan Stephenson and Charles Tannock while Ashley Fox, Sajjad Karim, James Nicholson, Kay Swinburne and Marina Yannakoudakis abstained.

Both these Conservative MEPs and more importantly Prime Minister David Cameron need to explain why they do not wish to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and improve the lives of women in poverty in developing countries.

We know that David Cameron has promised there will be no cuts to overseas development aid.  The big question now is: “Will Cameron make good on this promise or will he renege on all those vulnerable people who so badly need our assistance?”

The Dark Side of Mother’s Day

Labour Party

Mother’s Day fell this year in Belgium on 9th May.  Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld, who is the President of the European Parliament working group on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and development (EPWG), used Mother’s Day as a way of introducing a roundtable discussion entitled ‘The Dark Side of Mothers’ Day: Maternal Mortality’.

Unsafe motherhood, and its disastrous consequences, are wholly preventable. As Nicolas Beger, Director Amnesty EU Office, explained, the situation would be much improved if national governments, development agencies and international actors put safe motherhood and reproductive health initiatives at the top of their agendas. 

Burkina Faso-based representative, Madame Traore, who works for Family Care International, one of several non-governmental organisations seeking to make pregnancy and childbirth safer around the world explained that while improving maternal health is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed by the 192 United Nations Member States in 2000, it remains the most off-track of them all. This, in her opinion, says a great deal about the way that the world views women. The issue of maternal mortality is too often deemed as ‘women’s business’, and not something about which everyone, both men and women alike, should be concerned.

The situation as it stands is extremely bleak. In sub-Saharan Africa the chances of dying during pregnancy or childbirth can be as high as one in eight, compared to one in 8000 in Western Europe, and pregnancy and childbirth remain the primary cause of death among women of childbearing age. Women in developing countries make up almost all of the 500,000 mothers who die each year from either being pregnant or giving birth, with many more deaths falling off the medical map given the difficulty of measuring them. Unsafe motherhood is caused by a number of factors, including poor hygiene and care during labour, poor health and nutrition prior to pregnancy, and inaccessible or unaffordable healthcare. Social, economic and cultural issues, including poverty, female genital mutilation and early marriage amplify the risks.

UN-EU Collaboration on Women’s Issues

Labour Party


Asha-Rose Migiro was at the European Parliament earlier in the week for the third time since becoming Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN). Migiro, who is from Tanzania, is both the first woman and the first African to hold this position. Her appointment by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, was a huge turning point for the organisation, and fulfilled the Security-General’s earlier promise to select a woman from the developing world for the post.

Ms. Migiro is deeply committed to gender issues, and has travelled extensively in her short time as Deputy to encourage world leaders to promote equality in the home and workplace. She arrived at the Parliament armed with a report entitled Renewing Hope, Rebuilding Lives, outlining how the partnership between the UN and European Commission can help vulnerable states to recover from natural disasters or conflict.

Migiro has repeatedly highlighted the need to combat sexual violence against women, which is so often used as a tool in war. The conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and Cote d’Ivoire, have all seen widespread gender-based sexual violence used as a war crime. For Migiro, the collaboration between the UN and the EU can play a crucial role in curbing this grave crime and providing help for victims. The UN-EU partnership has supported, amongst other things, the development of key EU policies, research collaboration, and landmark conferences leading to the adoption of policies and guidelines. The latter includes the 2008 conference From Commitment to Action and the 2009 conference International Colloquium on Women’s Leadership.

Inevitably, the UN cannot preach gender equality unless it shows that it also practises it. According to Migiro, the Secretary-General has made it his aim to get more women working at the UN, and has given many top positions to women. She argues that the organisation has seen a 40 per cent increase in the numbers of women taking up high-level roles since Ban Ki-Moon came into office.

UN-logoAlso commendable is the UN’s decision to create a ‘super-agency’ for women. Until recently the way that the UN system works for women has been deeply fragmented and under-resourced. It has been a severe disappointment for the world’s three billion or so women, many of who continue to face discrimination on a daily basis. With the creation of a UN Women’s Agency, one that has as much weight as the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) or the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN will have a greater chance of protecting women in need.

It is now 15 years since the UN conference on population vowed to put gender equality and reproductive rights at the centre of development. Yet there has been no reduction in the numbers of women who are dying as a result of childbirth. I agree with Asha-Rose Migiro that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to cut maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health care must remain a central focal point. Let’s just hope that in the next 15 years, with both the creation of a UN Women’s Agency and with greater collaboration between the UN and EU, we might see some of the changes that are so desperately needed.