Dr Ghulam Ashraf's Blog

www.ghulamashraf.co.uk

Archive for human-rights

Muslim helpline reveals majority of faith attacks on women

Tell MAMA, for victims of Islamophobia, logged more than 630 incidents during its first 12 months

The majority of Muslims physically attacked, harassed or intimidated because of their faith are women, according to the first results from the UK’s official helpline for victims of Islamophobia.

More than 630 incidents were logged during the first 12 months of the helpline, launched in an attempt to quantify the scale and nature of anti-Muslim violence in Britain.

Some of the most egregious attacks recorded include a family being forced from their Nottinghamshire home, a five-year-old girl knocked over by a hit-and-run driver and a Somali lady who had dog faeces placed on her head by a white man while shopping in south London.

The attacks, collated by the helpline, Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), show that Muslim women were targeted in 58% of all incidents.

The majority of physical assaults committed in the street were on women wearing Islamic clothing, with most victims describing the nature of the attacks as seemingly “random”.

High-profile female targets have included communities minister Lady Warsi who was threatened online by an English Defence League (EDL) member and journalist Jemima Khan, whose 14-year-old son received anti-Muslim comments on Twitter.

Of the perpetrators, the majority were subsequently found to have had links to recognised far-right groups such as the British National Party (BNP) or the EDL. So far, information provided to the helpline has led to the arrests of 21 far-right EDL supporters, with more than 40 incidents reported against EDL leader Tommy Robinson alone.

Members of the BNP or EDL were involved in 54% of all incidents, of which three-quarters were committed by men. The average age of perpetrators were between 21 and 30.

The results follow a report by think-tank Chatham House which identified a considerable Islamophobic sentiment in the UK, detecting a “wide reservoir of public sympathy for claims that Islam and the growth of settled, Muslim communities pose a fundamental threat to the native group and nation.”

The majority of incidents received by the helpline related to what it described as “abusive behaviour” with 74% of recorded incidents occurring online. However, experts agree that even non-violent incidents have a profound adverse impact on peoples’ lives.

Fiyaz Mughal, co-ordinator of Tell MAMA and director of non-profit group Faith Matters said he was “shocked” by the amount of racial hatred they had detected in their first year of monitoring, particularly online.

Mughal, a former advisor to the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, added: “We are calling on police and politicians to do more to tackle this shameful wave of fear and prejudice. From the internet, to the workplace, the street and even houses of worship, too often Muslim women and men are becoming the target of vicious, sometimes violent, abuse.

He added: “Recent history shows us what happens if we allow our fears to run unchecked. Demonisation of ‘the other’, misguided beliefs that Muslims are somehow a monolithic block, unchecked lies that Islam is a violent religion or that British Muslims wish to abuse white girls must be challenged.”

He is now calling on police forces to drastically improve their recording of Islamophobic crimes. At the moment just two forces, the Metropolitan police and City of London police, currently record anti-Muslim crimes separately. Mughal also wants the Home Office to take over monitoring of online hate and far-right groups from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Other areas that the Muslim community believe could be improved include more prosecutions against online-based hatred.

“The police frequently fail to take victim statements, fail to appreciate the terrifying effects of these incidents upon women and vulnerable children. Few police forces even bother to record Islamophobia as part of their reporting systems. More training is needed at a time when police are facing budget cuts; we need more leadership too from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which, unhelpfully, has talked about fewer rather than more social media prosecutions,” added Mughal.

During 2011 2,000 hate crimes were recorded against different faiths in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by police with officers at the time admitting that they were unclear how many were against Muslims because separate figures were not recorded.

Source: Guardian News

Landmark victory for BA employee over right to wear a cross at work

Airline check-in operator wins appeal at European court but three similar cases fail, as other rights trump faith

After seven years of legal appeals and accusations that Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs, the European court of human rights has ruled that a British Airways check-in operator should not have been prevented from wearing a cross at work.

Nadia Eweida, 60, was jubilant over her landmark victory, declaring it a “vindication” for Christians, after the court awarded her €2,000 (£1,600) in compensation for the “anxiety, frustration and distress” she endured.

While the finely tuned judicial compromise does not establish an absolute right for every employee to wear a crucifix, or religious symbol, visibly at work, it will help define the limits of religious freedom.

The decision on Eweida, a Coptic Christian working at Heathrow, was welcomed by David Cameron and others across the political spectrum.

Equally significant in the court’s complex ruling, however, was its determination that three other Christian applicants – Lilian Ladele, 52, a local authority registrar who lives in London, Shirley Chaplin, 57, a nurse from Exeter, and Gary McFarlane, 51, a Bristol marriage counsellor – who also claimed they had suffered religious discrimination, should lose their appeals.

The four decisions, contained in one judgment, stressed the principle that religious liberties should not trump other human rights. Freedom of religion, the court stated, as “one of the foundations of pluralistic, democratic societies” but “where an individual’s religious observance impinges on the rights of others, some restrictions can be made”.

In Eweida’s case, the Strasbourg court did not criticise UK law but said British courts failed to balance competing interests in the case adequately. On one hand was Eweida’s desire to display her religious belief; on the other was the employer’s wish to project a certain corporate image.

“While this aim was undoubtedly legitimate,” the judgment said, “the domestic courts accorded it too much weight … the fact that [BA] was able to amend the uniform code to allow for the visible wearing of religious symbolic jewellery demonstrates that the earlier prohibition was not of crucial importance.”

The prime minister, who intervened in the debate last summer by saying he might change the law, was among those who welcomed the ruling. Cameron wrote on Twitter: “Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld – ppl shouldn’t suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs.” In Chaplin’s case, superficially almost identical to Eweida’s, the judges unanimously decided the UK courts had resolved competing rights equitably. Chaplin stressed the importance for her to be allowed to bear witness to her Christian faith by wearing a crucifix visibly around her neck at work. But the Strasbourg judges said the fact that hospital authorities had asked her to remove it for the protection of health and safety and to prevent infections spreading on a ward “was inherently more important”. Hospital managers, the judges agreed, “were well placed to make decisions about clinical safety”.

Appeals by the other two claimants,Ladele and McFarlane were dismissed on the grounds that the disciplinary proceedings against them were justified. Ladele had been sacked by Islington council for not being prepared to conduct civil partnership ceremonies between same-sex couples. McFarlane was dismissed from his job after indicating he might have a conscientious objection to providing sex therapy to a same-sex couple on account of his Christian faith.

Both Islington council and the charity Relate were bound not to discriminate against their clients and therefore could not support staff who refused to work with homosexual couples, the court said.

After the ruling, Eweida, who lives in Twickenham, said: “I’m very pleased that after all this time the European court has specifically recognised … that I have suffered anxiety, frustration and distress. It’s a vindication that Christians have a right to express their faith on par with other colleagues at work visibly and not be ashamed of their faith.”

“I’m disappointed on behalf of the other three applicants but I fully support them in their asking for a referral for their [appeals] to be heard in the [European court’s] grand chamber, and I wish them every success in the future to win.”

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported the cases, said: “We are delighted that the cross has been recognised and indeed that Nadia has won her case.”

In the cases of Ladele and McFarlane, she complained, sexual rights had been given priority over religious liberty: “[The judges said] that if an employer has an equalities policy and says there should be no discrimination in any way on the grounds of sexual orientation no matter what your Christian belief is that the sexual orientation rights win.”

A BA spokesman said Eweida had worked continuously for the company for 13 years. “Our own uniform policy was changed in 2007 to allow Miss Eweida and others to wear symbols of faith and she and other employees have been working under these arrangements.”

But the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission said it believed “the government should now look at the need to change the law to take the European court judgment into account”. In the meantime, it added, it would publish guidance for employers and employees,” to help them avoid further confusion and potentially costly litigation”.The archbishop of York, the Most Revd Dr John Sentamu, struck a more cautionary note, insisting that courts should not have any power to prevent individuals wearing religious symbols. “‘Christians and those of other faiths should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination,” he said.

“The Equality Act 2010 encourages employers to embrace diversity – including people of faith. Whether people can wear a cross or pray with someone should not be something about which courts and tribunals have to rule.”

Source: Guardian News

More than 60,000 killed in Syria conflict: UN

A Syrian child plays at the Bab al-Salam refugee camp on the Syrian-Turkish border. -AFP Photo

GENEVA: More than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime erupted in March 2011, a top UN official said on Wednesday.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that an exhaustive analysis carried out by data specialists showed that 59,648 people had died through the end of November.

“Given there has been no let-up in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013,” Pillay concluded in a statement.

“The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking,” she said.

Pillay had said in December 2011 that the UN was unable to provide a precise figure on the number of deaths, and media have been relying on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog, which on Monday had put the total number of those killed at more than 46,000.

In reference to the UN figure, Pillay said Wednesday that “although this is the most detailed and wide-ranging analysis of casualty figures so far, this is by no means a definitive figure.

“We have not been able to verify the circumstances of each and every death, partly because of the nature of the conflict and partly because we have not been allowed inside Syria since the unrest began in March 2011.”

The UN High Commissioner added that “once there is peace in Syria, further investigations will be necessary to discover precisely how many people have died, and in what circumstances, and who was responsible for all the crimes that have been committed.”

The analysts cited by the UN official noted that 60,000 was likely to be an underestimate of the actual number of deaths, given that reports containing insufficient information were excluded from the list, and that a significant number of killings might not have been documented.

The analysis, which the UN High Commissioner stressed is “a work in progress, not a final product”, shows a steady increase in the average number of documented deaths per month since the beginning of the conflict, from around 1,000 per month in the summer of 2011 to an average of more than 5,000 per month since July 2012.

The greatest number of reported killings have occurred in Homs (12,560), rural Damascus (10,862) and Idlib (7,686), followed by Aleppo (6,188), Daraa (6,034) and Hama (5,080).

Source: Dawn News

Islamic financial system shows inherent resistance to global crises

Pakistan is a fast growing country with regards to Islamic finance. Starting from scratch in 2002, it is now about 8% of the local banking industry.

Islamic finance is one of the fastest growing segments of the global financial industry. In 2008 the size of the global Islamic banking industry was estimated about $820 billion. Now it is closer to $1.35 trillion according to Global Islamic Finance Report (GIFR), and is expected to cross $1.6 trillion before the end of the current fiscal year.

The Islamic financial industry now comprises 430 Islamic banks and financial institutions and around 191 conventional banks having Islamic banking windows operating in more than 75 countries, according to the GIFR.

Pakistan is also a fast growing country with regards to Islamic finance and growth has been phenomenal. Starting from scratch in 2002, it is now about 8% of the local banking industry.

While Islamic banks play roles similar to conventional banks, fundamental differences exist. The central concept in Islamic banking and finance is justice, which is achieved mainly through the sharing of risk. Stakeholders are supposed to share profits and losses, and charging interest is prohibited.

There are also differences in terms of financial intermediation, the paper notes. While conventional intermediation is largely debt based, and allows for risk transfer, Islamic intermediation, by contrast, is asset based, and based on risk sharing. One key difference between conventional banks and Islamic banks is that the latter’s model does not allow investing in or financing the kind of instruments that have adversely affected their conventional competitors and triggered the global financial crisis. These include toxic assets, derivatives, and conventional financial institution securities.

$1.35

Analysis done by the IMF suggests that Islamic banks fared differently, if not actually better than conventional banks during the global financial crisis. Factors related to the Islamic banking business model helped contain the adverse impact on their profitability. In particular, smaller investment portfolios, lower leverage, and adherence to Shariah principles—which precluded Islamic banks from financing or investing in the kind of instruments that have adversely affected their conventional competitors — helped contain the impact of the crisis when it hit in 2008.

The study used bank-level data covering 2007−10 for about 120 Islamic banks and conventional banks in eight countries — Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. These countries host most of the world’s Islamic banks (more than 80% of the industry, excluding Iran) but also have large conventional banking sectors. The key variables used to assess the impact were the changes in profitability, bank lending, bank assets, and external bank ratings.

While the study showed that Islamic banks were able to better withstand the initial impact of the crisis, the following year (2009), weaknesses in risk management practices in some Islamic banks led to a larger decline in profitability compared to that seen in conventional banks. The weak 2009 performance in some countries was associated with sectoral and name concentration—that is, too great a degree of exposure to any one sector or borrower. In some cases, the problem was made worse by exemptions from concentration limits, highlighting the importance of having a neutral regulatory framework for both types of banks.

Despite the higher profitability of Islamic banks during the pre-global crisis period (2005–07), their average profitability for 2008–09 was similar to that of conventional banks, indicating better cumulative profitability and suggesting that higher pre-crisis profitability was not driven by a strategy of greater risk taking. The analysis also showed that large Islamic banks fared better than small ones, perhaps as a result of better diversification, economies of scale, and stronger reputation.

Islamic banks contributed to financial and economic stability during the crisis, given that their credit and asset growth was at least twice as high as that of conventional banks. The IMF paper attributes this growth to their higher solvency and to the fact that many Islamic banks lent a larger part of their portfolio to the consumer sector, which was less affected by the crisis than other sectors in the countries studied.

However the post-crisis years have also shown where the Islamic banking sector is relatively weak. It lacks as efficient a structure for liquidity management as seen in conventional banking. The IMF report also recommended that the sector needs a stronger supervisory and legal infrastructure, including bank resolution.

The paper also recommended that Islamic banks and supervisors work together to develop the needed human capital, saying expertise in Islamic finance has not kept pace with the industry’s growth.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2012.

Frankie Boyle donates £50,000 to help Guantanamo inmate sue M16

The comic uses his libel victory cash to fund landmark legal bid

He’s the television comedian best known for controversial jokes about swimmer Rebecca Adlington, The Queen and Down’s syndrome sufferers.

But Frankie Boyle is now using his fame, and wealth, for more serious ends, by donating tens of thousands of pounds of his money to help Britain’s last inmate at Guantanamo Bay to sue the MI6.

Yesterday the Glaswegian comic announced the £50,000 compensation he won from a recent libel victory against the Daily Mirror newspaper, would go towards a landmark legal attempt to sue Britain’s security services over accusations they have defamed Shaker Aamer, the only British resident still languishing without charge in Guantanamo.

Boyle, who has decided to retire from comedy early next year after repeated clashes over his controversial style of humour, unveiled his plan alongside Reprieve, the British-American charity which has long represented inmates of Washington’s extra-judicial jail.

Even Boyle, who is best known for his performances on BBC panel show Mock the Week, admits his involvement in the case sounds a little far-fetched. “I remember reading [the US pop star] Usher crashed a hot air balloon into something, and I thought ‘this is just a random word generator’”, he told The Independent yesterday. “It feels a bit like that.”

Clive Stafford-Smith, the director of Reprieve, admitted the libel action untested legal formula but said there was important legal ground that needed to be explored. “If the Daily Mirror says something bad about Frankie that embarrasses him or humiliates him then he has the right to sue,” he said.

“If, on the other hand, a far more powerful organisation, the British government and their agents, say something about Shaker – whereby instead of being humiliated he’s banged up in prison for eleven years for something he patently didn’t do and something he’s never been charged with –  then the British  government’s position is Shaker can  do nothing.”

Aamer was arrested in Afghanistan in late 2001 and is the only British resident left in Guantanamo, a US detention centre in Cuba. He has been cleared for release by the US authorities but has yet to be freed as the Americans have insisted on returning him to Saudi Arabia. Although he holds Saudi nationality with his British residency, Aamer’s wife and four children – one of whom he has never met – live in London. The British government are supportive of him returning to the UK but the Americans have so far refused to hand him over.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said they could not comment on any on-going legal proceedings but Reprieve claim that they have already seen a response from Government lawyers claiming the security services are protected by legal privilege.

“The claim they would make is they would have law enforcement privilege,” said Stafford-Smith. “But our response to that is they’re not enforcing any law because Shaker has not broken any law, he’s not been prosecuted for breaking any law and they’re not investigating him for breaking any law. So our position is they would have no such privilege.”

Source: The Independent Newspaper

Latest human rights report ‘embarrassing’ for India

An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard at a closed market during a strike in Srinagar. – File Photo by AP

For the first time since the inception of popular armed uprising against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989, two leading human rights groups have named 500 “alleged perpetrators”— including two Major Generals and three Brigadiers of the Indian Army besides many other serving officers and soldiers — involved in killings, fake encounters, torture, rape and other serious crimes like abduction and enforced custodial disappearances in the disputed Himalayan region.

After the discovery of about 6,000 unmarked and mass graves in different parts of the Kashmir Valley not that long ago, the latest report could finally ‘embarrass’ the “world’s largest democracy”.

According to International Peoples’ Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) — two leading human rights bodies operating in the Valley — their report is the outcome of two-year-long painstaking research.

“Out of 214 cases a list emerges of 500 individual perpetrators, which include 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary personnel, 111 Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel and 31 Government backed militants/associates. Among the alleged perpetrators are two Major Generals and three Brigadiers of the Indian Army, besides nine Colonels, three Lieutenant Colonels, 78 Majors and 25 Captains. Add to this, 37 senior officials of the federal Paramilitary forces, a recently retired Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, as well as a serving Inspector General,” the report alleges.

“By naming names the report seeks to remove the veil of anonymity and secrecy that has sustained impunity. Only when the specificity of each act of violation is uncovered can institutions be stopped from providing the violators a cover of impunity,” the report further says. The institutional culture of moral, political and juridical impunity has resulted in enforced and involuntary disappearance of an estimated 8000 persons (as on Nov 2012), besides more than 70,000 deaths, and disclosures of more than 6000 unknown, unmarked and mass graves. The last 22 years have also seen regular extra-judicial killings punctuated by massacres. The Gow Kadal (Srinagar) massacre of around 50 persons on 21 January 1990 and other mass killings discussed in this report are symbolic reminders of the persistent human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir,” it adds.

The 354-page report released on December 6, 2012 in Srinagar by these groups also accuses India of institutionally ‘obstructing justice’. India has all along been dismissing allegations of such serious nature against its armed forces by saying that the unfortunate acts are a mere “aberration” and “error in judgment” on part of some individual soldiers, not a matter of policy.

But Khurram Parvez, one of the co-authors of the report, told Dawn that the Indian State has used its various institutions in Jammu and Kashmir – judicial and otherwise – in a sophisticated manner to “continue its control over territory”. “This fits in with the State’s policy and design in Jammu and Kashmir. The State has ensured a lowering of the standard of the serious human rights discourse. Our analysis of the cases in this report clearly evidences this. The State on occasion allows for the filing of FIR’s (First Information Reports), or ordering investigations but it will not allow prosecutions despite information being present,” Parvez writes in response to our questionnaire.

Asked how confident his group was about the findings of the report, he writes: “We are confident of our documentation and analysis in this report. We intend to engage on this report with international rights groups and UN working groups and Special Rapporteurs. We will use this [report] to build awareness in India and internationally regarding the processes of injustice in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Programme coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Tribunal Liaison, Parvez, hopes that the international community will take notice of their group’s report.

The other authors of the report are Kartik Murukutla, who has worked in a UN tribunal in Rwanda for five years, and leading human rights activist in Kashmir, Parvez Imroz.

The authors of the report have a word of caution, though: “The IPTK cannot conclusively pronounce on the guilt of any of the alleged perpetrators, but it is clear that enough evidence exists to warrant further action. However, in the absence of any institutional or political will to take the evidence to its natural conclusion – a trial where the crime and the guilt of a perpetrator can be proven beyond reasonable doubt – the Indian State stands indicted,” read the contents of the report’s executive summary.

How significant are the findings of this report released by IPTK and APDP? When I posed this question to Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Jammu and Kashmir’s oldest English daily The Kashmir Times, she had this to say: “Well, I feel this report is significant because the groups have used the information from the same government that is involved in crimes against humanity. In this report a pattern is revealed and that is to bury the investigation.”

She feels that the government can not deny the findings of the report. “Human rights groups have heavily relied on the government version, court case proceedings and information gathered after filing Right to Information (RTI) applications with different state-run departments,” she adds.

How embarrassing could it [the report] be for the state? “The state is too thick skinned to be embarrassed,” she mocks.

Until now, the state government officials and ruling party spokespersons are sounding over cautious and, therefore, reluctant to give a detailed official reaction.

Tanvir Sadiq, spokesperson of the ruling pro-India party National Conference (NC) while speaking to Dawnsaid it will be “too premature to give a reaction” on a report which is of course of “serious nature”. “Let us read the contents of the report first; study them properly so that we will be in a position to give our party’s reaction.” Asked about the coalition government’s position, Tanvir said: “Our Chief Minister, Mr. Omar Abdullah, has already informed the media in Jammu — the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir which is about 300 kilometres from the summer capital, Srinagar — that the State home department has asked for the copy of the report to study and examine it, and once that is done; the official reaction will come.”

“This report, prepared over two years using information gleaned mostly from official State documents in addition to witness testimonies, in cases available with IPTK/APDP, portrays the state of impunity prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir. Where identities of individual perpetrators of crimes are known it seeks a process of accountability for institutional criminality. The State documents used range from police records, judicial and quasi-judicial records and Government documents. IPTK/APDP using the Right to Information (RTI) legislations sought information on First Information Reports (FIRs), High Court petition numbers and other documentation,” claim the authors of the report.

The contents of the report paint a grim picture of the law and order situation and also highlight the environment of impunity under which Indian forces are operating in Jammu and Kashmir. Experts say that the draconian laws like the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), PSA (Public Safety Act) and DAA (Disturbed Area Act) have served as “shield” for the armed forces in Kashmir to “avoid punishment” under law.

Many in Kashmir are expecting a strong reaction from the international community.

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, noted Kashmiri humourist-poet based in Srinagar at his home. – photo by writer

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, noted Kashmiri humourist-poet based in Srinagar at his home. – photo by writer

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a renowned Kashmiri humorist-poet, believes it is time for the powerful world nations to act. “For one Malala Yousufzai — a victim of Taliban violence in Pakistan — the entire world community expressed solidarity and made special arrangements for her treatment outside a sovereign country to ensure she was safe. Now, we shall see what is the measuring rod for justice and equality? If they’re genuinely sincere and care for justice and human rights everywhere across the globe, they should come forward to the rescue of the victims of Indian state-sponsored violence in Jammu and Kashmir,” Zareef says. The report, according to Zareef, has exposed India’s “hollow claims of being a secular and democratic” nation having a “responsible and professional army”.

“India has declared a war on the civilians in Kashmir. There is no Kashmiri family which is not either directly or indirectly a victim of the state violence. There are some Indians who care for human rights and justice and I’m sure they will not remain silent on this. Whatever has come in open through the report, it is clear that Kashmir has a strong case against India in the International Criminal Court (ICC),” he adds.

Parvez also sounds hopeful about it. “We have flagged issues regarding the application of international criminal law for crimes committed in Jammu and Kashmir. These issues need to be further debated. We ourselves and particularly, other countries that are members of the United Nations need to read this report and push the Security Council to consider further action, including possibly engaging with the procedures at the International Criminal Court. Towards this end, we will lobby with member States of the United Nations. Further, we expect other rights groups and the Kashmiri Diaspora to do the same. The process must continue,” he hopes.

There is also this perception that the international community is selective in its approach in relation to the cases of human rights abuses in different parts of the world. While there is an uproar if violation occurs in countries like China, Iran or Pakistan, very little or nothing is said against India even when the magnitude of excesses may be too big. Some experts opine that the Kashmiris need to learn “marketing their sufferings”, because their supposed supporters are currently on a weak wicket.

Dr. Sheikh Showkat, an expert in international law, says that Kashmir needs to “project its pain” so that the prosecutors at the ICC can take cognizance. “Our supporters are too weak at the moment. We need to market our pain and convince the international community to take action. Also, there is little doubt that there exists disparity because of powerful UN member nation’s selective approach on issues of human rights and self-determination,” Dr. Showkat believes.

Meanwhile, to all cases related to gross human rights excesses in Kashmir during the past 23 years, the Indian Army has more often used expressions like “it was a mistaken identity”, “it was an aberration”, “it was a rare error of judgment”, “we do not shoot with an intention to kill”, “anger of people against killings is justified, but we will conduct our own enquiry to ascertain the facts”, etc.

In a high-profile case, one Major Avtar of the 35 Rashtriya Rifles unit was accused of being involved in the killing of a well-known human rights defender in Kashmir, Jaleel Andrabi, and four counterinsurgents in 1996. Major (Retd.) Avtar Singh committed suicide on 9 June in California, USA before killing his wife and children. Fugitive Avtar had taken refuge in California and kept a low profile there. Some in Kashmir interpreted Avtar’s death as “divine justice”.

In March 2000, the Indian Army claimed neutralising five “terrorists” in Pathribal area and said they were responsible for the killings of 35 members of minority Sikh community in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) — India’s premier investigating agency — conducted an inquiry and found that those killed by the army in an ‘encounter’ were actually civilians. The CBI then filed the charge sheet against the accused Army officers in 2006. Nothing has happened since except for the unconvincing court proceedings and open to doubt Court-Martials.

In majority of the abuse cases, the guilty haven’t been punished. ‘Not only is justice delayed but denied as well’ is the common perception in Kashmir!

Tailpiece: I remember covering an Army press conference in Kashmir in July 2005.  Lieutenant General S S Dhillon was the GoC (General Officer Commanding) at Srinagar-based sensitive 15 Corps of the Indian Army. The press conference was organised in the backdrop of killing of three teenaged boys in North Kashmir’s frontier district, Kupwara on 24 July that year. Tens of thousands of people had protested against this incident. I vividly remember Dhillon’s words then. “This incident was unfortunate and most regrettable. It was an ‘error of judgment’ on part of the troops who opened fire on the teenaged boys. The anger of people against the Army over the killings of three boys was justified.” Dhillon had visited Bungargund, an area falling under Trehgam hamlet in Kupwara, where he had himself witnessed the anger of people. Army bunkers were being attacked by the protesting crowds. Besides seeing the parents of those killed, I went to feel the anger of people, to see the anger of people, and I saw some of it. It (anger against the Army) is justified,” the then GoC of the most sensitive Corps said. After his assurances that there will be no such repeats, four more civilians were allegedly killed by the army in Kupwara district in February 2006. The town observed complete shutdown for five consecutive days and staged massive anti-India demonstrations. The unfortunate incidents kept repeating. Not that long ago, one more civilian named Hilal Ahmad, 25, was killed allegedly at the hands of 27-Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district.

Source: Dawns News (Story by Gowhar Geelani)

Amazon, Google and Starbucks attacked by MPs over tax avoidance

Report also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for leniency in dealing with corporations that pay little or no corporation tax

Amazon, Google and Starbucks have been accused of an “immoral” use of secretive jurisdictions, royalties and complex company structures to avoid paying tax on British profits by a committee of MPs.

A hard-hitting report released on Monday by the Commons public accounts committee, the parliamentary spending watchdog, also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for being “way too lenient” in negotiations with corporations which pay little or no corporation tax. It calls on the government to draw up laws to close loopholes and name and shame companies that fail to pay their fair share.

The report’s scheduled release, following a humiliating parliamentary session for the three multinationals’ executives, prompted a flurry of media activity over the weekend. On Saturday night, Starbucks announced that it is reviewing its tax approach to Britain with a view to paying more following widespread criticism of the coffee chain’s tax regime.

George Osborne will on Monday announce an extra £77m a year for two years for more staff at Revenue & Customs to pursue companies which avoid paying tax. The chancellor said the extra investment would help secure an extra £2bn a year in unpaid tax.

He is also expected to confirm a deal with Switzerland which the chancellor hopes will raise more than £5bn in previously uncollected taxes from Swiss bank accounts over the next six years.

Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, said of the Starbucks statement: “I am delighted they are taking this issue seriously and they are listening to the feedback from their UK taxpaying customers.” He too had been boycotting Starbucks. “I might be able to buy a coffee from Starbucks again soon.”

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the PAC, said its report showed that corporations had been allowed to get away with “ripping off” taxpayers because of a weak tax authority, poor legislation and a lack of international co-operation.

“Global corporations with huge operations in the UK generating significant amounts of income are getting away with paying little or no corporation tax here. This is an insult to British business and individuals who pay their fair share.

“Corporation tax revenues have fallen at a time when securing proper income from taxes is more vital than ever.

“The inescapable conclusion is that multinationals are using structures and exploiting current tax legislation to move offshore profits that are clearly generated from economic activity in the UK,” she said.

Executives from the multinationals who appeared before the committee last month were singled out for criticism.

Responses to questions by Andrew Cecil, Amazon’s director of public policy, were “evasive”, “unprepared” and lacking credibility.

The company’s UK website reported a turnover of £207m for 2011, but its tax bill was just £1.8m.

Amazon avoids UK taxes by reporting European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit, MPs alleged. This structure allowed it to pay a rate of less than 12% on foreign profits last year – less than half the average corporate income tax rate in its major markets.

Troy Alstead, Starbucks’ global chief financial officer, claimed that the firm has lost money in the 15 years it has been operating in the UK except in 2006.

The world’s biggest coffee chain paid £8.6m in total UK tax over 13 years during which it recorded sales of £3.1bn.

Alstead’s claim was “difficult to believe” when contrasted with boasts of success sent to shareholders, according to the report.

Starbucks has been able to cut its tax bill, MPs said, by paying fees to other parts of its global business, such as royalty payments for use of the brand.

Google had £2.5bn of UK sales last year, but despite having a group-wide profit margin of 33%, its main UK unit had a tax charge of £3.4m in 2011.

The company avoids UK tax by channelling non-US sales via Ireland, an arrangement that has allowed it to pay taxes at a rate of 3.2% on non-US profits. It also diverts some profits through Bermuda.

Revenue & Customs has been asked by the committee to be bolder in challenging tax avoidance by multinationals and to be ready to prosecute if necessary.

“Top officials need to challenge the status quo and be more assertive, for example in accepting that excessive levels of royalty payments are appropriate when businesses are making a loss,” the report states. Benchmarks for common charges such as royalty payments and intellectual property rights could be published by the Treasury or tax officials. A company’s tax practices should also be made part of its mandatory reporting requirements, which would increase transparency, the MPs say.

The government and the tax authorities should also take a greater lead internationally in closing loopholes and increasing transparency in tax havens, particularly across Europe, the report concludes.

Osborne told BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show that he will work closely with France and Germany to close tax loopholes. “It will be a big priority for the G7, G8, which we host next year,” he said.

A spokesman for HMRC said it had reduced tax avoidance by large businesses in recent years. “We relentlessly challenge those that persist in avoiding tax and have recovered £29bn additional revenues from large businesses in the last six years, including £4.1bn in the last four years from transfer pricing inquiries alone. These figures speak for themselves.”

Source: Guardian News