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Archive for Women & Children

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

Polish now England’s second language

POLISH is now the main language spoken in England and Wales after English and Welsh, according to 2011 census data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The language-speaking figures recorded for the first time from a survey of 56.1 million residents of England and Wales show 546,000 speak Polish. It is now the second main language in England. There are still slightly more Welsh speakers in Wales at 562,000.

The next biggest main languages are the south Asian languages of Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati, followed by Arabic, French, Chinese and Portuguese. The statisticians said they recorded over 100 different languages and 49 main languages with more than 15,000 users. English was the biggest of that group and Swedish the smallest.

Chinese people alone listed 67 different languages or dialects, although a minority of those were different spellings of the same language. All but three of the London boroughs, excluding the City, Richmond and Havering, have residents speaking more than 100 main languages, the ONS said. Hillingdon is the most linguistically diverse, with 107 languages listed, followed by Newham, with 103.

Some of the languages are in a tiny minority. For example, there was only one person in Barnet who said they spoke Caribbean creole and one person in Bexley.

Fifty-eight people speak Scottish Gaelic, 33 speak Manx Gaelic and 629 speak Romany.

Ealing in west London is the nation’s hotspot for Polish speaking, the town of Slough for Punjabi/Urdu, the city of Leicester for Gujarati, Kensington in central London for French and Manchester for Cantonese and Mandarin.

One million households have no residents with English as a main language, although most had some proficiency in English, the ONS said.

Only 138,000 people could not speak English at all.

“The West Midlands is the region with the lowest percentage of people that can speak English very well or well at 72 per cent,” said Roma Chappell, census director. It was the region that also had the highest number of people who can’t speak English at all.

The latest figures from the 2011 census also revealed how people in England and Wales get to work. The university cities of Cambridge and Oxford were the cycling capitals with 18 per cent and 10 per cent of their populations commuting on two wheels but London had the most cyclists, with the number more than doubling from 77,000 in 2001 to 161,000 in 2011.

Half of London residents travel using public transport but two per cent now use bikes and nine per cent of the people of Hackney in east London cycle to work.

Source: Dawn News/Guardian News

Health: Racial gaps in access to robotic surgery

Minority and Medicaid cancer patients are less likely to have their prostates removed at hospitals that use robot-assisted surgery, according to a new study that stops short of suggesting the robotic technique represents better care.

“People who are poor – frequently Hispanic, African American or black, and Medicaid patients – tend to get what is considered to be less high-quality care than those who are middle class and wealthy,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society.

But Brawley, who wasn’t involved in the new study, also said there is no evidence that removing a prostate with a robot is better than the old-fashioned way, with “open” surgery that requires an incision across a man’s stomach.

Those are two of several treatment options available for prostate cancer, including radiation as well as active surveillance, also known as watchful waiting.

The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 250,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, and about 28,000 died from it.

Despite a lack of evidence showing its superiority, robot-assisted prostate removal has become the predominant method since being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Simon Kim at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Robotic surgical tools allow doctors to operate through small incisions with the aid of a tiny video camera, an approach that is considered less invasive but also tends to be more expensive.

Kim and his colleagues write in The Journal of Urology that evidence does exist to show that black patients are already less likely to get radiation or to have their prostates removed, but there is less data on whether they and other minorities have equal access to robot-assisted prostate removal.

For the study, Kim’s group used two national databases to compare the differences between the approximately 20,500 cancer patients who had their prostates removed at hospitals offering robotic surgery, and the 9,500 who had their surgery at hospitals without robots between 2006 and 2008.

Overall, the researchers found, the proportion of all prostate removals shifted from about 56 percent taking place at hospitals with robots in 2006 to 76 percent in 2008.

They also found that hospitals offering robotic surgery removed more than four times the number of prostates as other hospitals during that time.

That’s important because hospitals that remove more prostates tend to report better patient outcomes after surgery.

In addition, black patients were 19 percent less likely to have their surgery at a hospital using robots compared to white patients, and Hispanic patients were 23 percent less likely.

Medicaid patients were also 30 percent less likely to go to a hospital offering robotic surgery, compared to patients with private insurance.

Dr. Michael Barry, who was not involved in the new research but has studied prostate cancer treatment and outcomes, pointed out that the new work shows a gap in who is able to access the hospitals that perform the greatest number of prostate removals.

“The issue here is not access to robot (surgery) but high-volume hospitals,” said Barry, a clinical professor of medicine at Boston’s Harvard Medical School.

The study authors, who were not available for comment by press time, similarly conclude that gaps in access to robotic surgery hospitals may also indicate limited access to high-volume hospitals.

“More effective health care policies focusing on incentives to provide better access for minorities or for patients primarily insured by Medicaid may reduce disparities in access to high volume hospitals with robotic surgery,” they write.

Source: News International

Indian lawyers refuse to defend gang-rape accused

india-rape-protest-1-AFP-670

Indian university students shout slogans during protest march in New Delhi on Dec 31, 2012. — Photo by AFP

NEW DELHI: Lawyers at an Indian court hearing the case of a fatal gang-rape which has shocked the nation said on Wednesday they would refuse to defend the men accused of taking part in the assault and murder.

Hearings are expected to begin on Thursday at the Saket district court in south New Delhi, where police will formally present a 1,000-page charge sheet against the six-person gang.

“We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend the rape accused as it would be immoral to defend the case,” Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer and a member of the Saket District Bar Council, told AFP.

Kumar said the 2,500 advocates registered at the court have decided to “stay away” to ensure “speedy justice”, meaning the government would have to appoint lawyers for the defendants.

Another lawyer at the court confirmed the boycott to AFP.

Five men are expected to face charges including rape, murder and kidnapping in the Saket court, with the prosecutor likely to seek the death sentence.

A sixth suspect is believed to be 17 years old, meaning he would be tried in a juveniles’ court, but police are conducting bone tests to determine his age.

The brutality and horrific nature of the attack on a 23-year-old has led to protests in the capital and elsewhere over the widespread abuse of women and sex crime in India.

The rape victim died at the weekend after 13-day struggle to survive injuries so grievous that part of her intestines had to be removed.

She was repeatedly raped and violated with an iron bar on a bus on December 16 before being thrown from the moving vehicle at the end of a 40-minute ordeal.

In 2008, Indian lawyers also refused to defend a gunman who took part in attacks on Mumbai which killed 166 people, leaving him with a government-appointed lawyer. He was executed in November last year.

Source: Dawn News

 

‘Useless, useless, useless’: the Palestinian verdict on Tony Blair

Former Prime Minister’s role as representative of Middle East Quartet comes in for fiercest criticism yet 

Palestinian officials say Tony Blair shouldn’t take it personally, but he should pack up his desk at the Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem and go home. They say his job, and the body he represents, are “useless, useless, useless”.

Mr Blair became the representative of the Middle East Quartet – the UN, EU, US and Russia – a few weeks after leaving Downing Street. Last week, he visited the region for what he said was the 90th time since being appointed in June 2007. He spends one week a month based in Jerusalem or globetrotting on behalf of the Quartet. His office is funded by the Quartet members and his 24-hour security detail is on secondment from Scotland Yard but he receives no direct salary.

After four years of renting 15 rooms at the American Colony Hotel for his full-time staff, Mr Blair put down more permanent roots in 2011 by renting the penthouse of a new office building in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem.

But senior Palestinian officials and analysts told The Independent the move was unnecessary – his sojourn in the region should be cut short. “The Quartet has been useless, useless, useless,” Mohammed Shtayyeh, an aide to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said last week. He suggested that its constant need to reach internal consensus among its warring participants had rendered it ineffective.

“Always the statement of the Quartet really means nothing because it was always full of what they call constructive ambiguity that really took us to nowhere,” said Mr Shtayyeh, who had just ended a meeting with Mr Blair. “You need a mediator who is ready to engage and who is ready to say to the party who is destroying the peace process ‘You are responsible for it’,” he said.

Mr Shtayyeh is not alone. Last February, the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution pronounced the body already dead in a report bluntly entitled The Middle East Quartet: A Post-Mortem.

“The Quartet has little to show for its decade-long involvement in the peace process. Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to resolving the conflict, and in the few instances in which political negotiations did take place, the Quartet’s role was usually relegated to that of a political bystander,” said the report. “Having spent most of the last three years in a state of near paralysis, and having failed to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking UN membership and recognition in September 2011, the Quartet has finally reached the limits of its utility.

“The current mechanism is too outdated, dysfunctional, and discredited to be reformed. Instead of undertaking another vain attempt to ‘reactivate’ the Quartet, the United States, the European Union, United Nations, and Russia should simply allow the existing mechanism to go quietly into the night,” the report concluded.

Mr Blair rarely travels to Gaza, citing security reasons. The Quartet website features a number of achievements in the West Bank, including the removal of Israeli army checkpoints and upgraded facilities for exports. Palestinian and Israeli officials told The Independent that the Quartet appeared to be taking credit for other people’s work.

“I think in general Palestinians are disappointed by the performance of the Quartet,” said Ghassan Khatib, vice-president of Birzeit University near Ramallah and a former Palestinian Authority cabinet minister. “I cannot think of any serious thing that the Quartet succeeded to help us in.

“Sometimes Tony Blair speaks about removing checkpoints, but I think Israel was going to remove these checkpoints with or without the Quartet,” said Dr Khatib. He said the Quartet’s announcements about assisting the Palestinian economy were as hollow as their political achievements, but he stressed that his attitude wasn’t personal. “It has nothing to do with Tony Blair … I think it’s the Quartet that failed to deliver.”

Mr Blair’s Jerusalem office did not respond to a request for a comment.

Timeline: Blair’s peace-making

June 2007

Tony Blair appointed Middle East envoy on behalf of the EU, US, UN and Russia.

May 2008

Launches peace plan for Israel-Palestinian conflict based on improving economic co-operation.

March 2009

On a visit to Gaza, Mr Blair calls on Israel to ease its blockade.

September 2011

Mr Blair warns that a bid for statehood at the United Nations by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be “deeply confrontational”.

October 2011

Nabil Shaath, one of the senior aides to President Abbas, has harsh words for the Palestinian leader, accusing him of talking “like an Israeli diplomat”.

Source: 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