Ellen MacAskill

Update: Call For a Conflict-Free Glasgow

On Friday 14th, four of us from the committee attended a meeting with David Newall, Secretary of Court for the University, and Jo Gallagher, Head of Procurement. As Ruth has pointed out it was frustratingly similar to the meeting she had with him on the subject this time last year. I took notes throughout the meeting and thought it would be worth updating you all on what happened. From here we can plan our next steps so that the new committee can continue the fight into the next academic year.

Unfortunately it seemed that Gallagher had not been fully briefed on the campaign at hand; not realising that it only focussed on the procurement of technology. She emphasised that the university does not take full responsibility for the sourcing of materials. Instead this goes through a framework of guidelines decided by the umbrella group APUC. This is governed by EU regulations. She said that she would enquire whether the APUC currently have a system of due diligence and corporate responsibility.

Newall’s two issues seemed to be as follows: that the university must not discriminate unfairly against companies or breach contractual obligations in its procurement policy; and that the university cannot make political statements as an institution. His excuse for unresponsiveness was that conflict minerals are “not important enough” from the university’s perspective.

He justified the political undertones of GU’s divestment from the tobacco industry by saying that it should promote healthy living and that extensive research here goes into the prevention of cancer. This is indisputable. More closely linked to CFCI is the movement calling for the divestment of fossil fuels. The issue is yet to be brought to university court. It struck us that this campaign is being viewed in terms of ethical and sustainable development – as should CFCI. (Personally I find it difficult to see why the university is comfortable to tacitly support genocide via its consumerism, but uncomfortable with making a political statement against it.)

Both Newall and Gallagher iterated implicitly that a top-down approach is the only way to push the university towards change. Clearly they feel out of their depth discussing Congo. It is understandable to want to avoid making bold statements which they are unable to follow up with action. However, Ruth requested that Newall send on an official response explaining why the university is not participating in the movement.

We discussed the progress that support for Congo has made worldwide in the last year. More companies, including Apple, are investigating their supply chains and recognising the conflict. The EU will vote on bringing in guidance for responsible companies relating to conflict minerals later this year*. The success that certain campuses in the USA have seen was mentioned, but dismissed as being allowed under very different systems of policy and procurement.

To close the meeting Ruth handed over the petition, which has been circulated on campus and collected over 400 signatures.

Newall pushed the importance of the SRC’s support as he thinks that having the issue taken to court is the first feasible step. Since the meeting we have discovered that the motion which was sent to the SRC was not in fact passed, as we had believed. This accounts for the lack of movement from them and will hopefully be rectified soon.

Breffni O’Connor, the new SRC president, is enthusiastic to help us get the motion passed at the next council meeting in April. In an email she said: “[The meeting] is also the last of the year. So it will need to be passed at this one. I think the best way to do it is to send us the motion but also to prepare a presentation to our council. It was done this was by Climate Action and I think it went down a lot better, if there’s no presentation people might not concentrate in full. And our council will fire you lots of questions, these discussions usually last a while.”

There is also talk of forming an inter-society coalition. This has been very effective for other events and campaigns, such as the Coalition for Syrian Refugees which Amnesty took part in earlier this year. Many NGOs and charities on campus are likely to be interested in supporting us. This will hopefully start up in the next academic year, as at the moment many societies are having AGMs and changing their committees. The increase in exposure that CFCI would get from broadening its audience in Glasgow is vital to progress.

To sign the petition, or read the motion in full, click here: www.guamnesty.org.uk/2013/02/petition-for-a-conflict-free-glasgow/

If you missed my last blog summarising the campaign, read it here: http://www.guamnesty.org.uk/2014/02/call-for-a-conflict-free-glasgow/

*Draft legislation proposed by the European Commission on 5th March 2014 http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2014/march/tradoc_152227.pdf

Ellen MacAskill

Organ Harvesting & the Battle Between China and Falun Gong

“There is enough circumstantial evidence to the alert the international community to what amounts to genocide.” – European Parliament Vice President on reports of Falun Gong practitioners being killed so their organs can be sold for transplants.

Falun Gong, otherwise known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practised based on a combination of ancient oriental philosophies including Buddhism and Taoism. Truthfulness, kindness and tolerance are its three pinnacles of belief. It has no formal organisation or leader. Practitioners focus on meditation to find harmony between the mind and body and look inside themselves for spiritual fulfilment. It can benefit physical as well as mental health.

Since July 1999, the Chinese Communist Party has been condemning the practice as an “evil cult.” It was branded illegal. The millions of people who had found solace in the practice since the early 1990s were persecuted. Slanderous propaganda was circulated to schools and the public, and a process of “re-education” was announced by the CCP. These terrifying Orwellian tactics continue to this day.

A growing body of evidence shows that China are using prisoners of the Falun Gong practice to fatally harvest organs from, which are sold on for profit. China does not have a formal transplantation system, so the huge amount of organs that they provide to national and international patients each year is unaccounted for. In the past they have harvested organs from executed prisoners, however the total is kept a secret.

Apparently, many of those arrested for practising Falun Gong refuse to give their real names to the police. These people then fall off the record so if they are killed it is undetectable. At a press conference in 2013, China’s Vice Minister of Health, Huang Jiefu, described the current organ procurement system as “profit-driven, unethical, and violating human rights.” He also admitted that the number of transplants performed yearly grew from several hundred in 1999 to over 10,000 in 2008. MEP Edward McMillan-Scott has stated that: “It is clear that Falun Gong is to the communist regime what the Jews were to the Gestapo.”

This week we were visited by Yuyu, who returned to Amnesty to raise awareness of this issue. She screened a film entitled “Free China: The Courage to Believe” which details the stories of two campaigners who are fighting against the punishment of their spiritual practice.

Jennifer Zeng is a former Communist Party member who went through a year of testing before being allowed to join the Party. She was convinced that it would give her a leg up in society. After the birth of her first child, she was forced to abort her second due to the one-child policy. Her health suffered. When she found Falun Gong, however, she felt transformed – she says learned to stop trying to control other people and to only control herself.

Then the CCP which Jen was loyal to, who actively promoted the practice initially, turned against it in a drastic move. Falun Gong practitioners at that point outnumbered Party members. The widespread dedication to it went against state values of Marxism and atheism, first enforced by Mao in 1949. What was once such a positive thing for China lost its influence in a heartbeat. The CCP essentially run a totalitarian regime which does not tolerate anything which will pose an ideological threat to its motives. People found and benefited from spirituality in a country which prioritised consumerism and commercial gain in the 20th century.

Jennifer was arrested for attending a Falun Gong gathering in 2000 and sentenced to one year in a forced labour camp. Police used force and electrocution and humiliation to control her, and she was denied an appeal. In the camps, prisoners work for hours each day making consumer goods such as hand-knitted sweaters. Jen even made toy rabbits for the Nestle chocolate company. All were exported to the West.

Charles Lee is an American-Chinese businessman who practised Falun Gong. When he heard about the prosecutions, and the way that the internet and media were being used to survey the “crime”, he felt compelled to return to his native country from America. Charles attempted to intercept TV channels and broadcast pro-Falun Gong information. However, he was forced to flee the country after a near miss with the police. When he returned to China a year on, he was arrested at the airport. In jail he went on near-fatal hunger strike. His case became a study for the US Congress as they began to address the issue.

Those held in labour camps for their spiritual practices are forced to display reform before they are released. Jen did this so that she could continue the fight outside. It was an extremely difficult thing to do, particularly when she was held up an as example to others who shared her beliefs.

After release, Charles and Jen were eventually reunited with their families in different parts of the world, and continue the fight for the protection of Falun Gong practitioners.

Joining Yuyu was lawyer Mrs Grace Xu, who spoke to us first-hand about her experience. She found the healing properties of Falun Gong through a roommate at university, well into the 2000s and years after the CCP launched their attack. After a decade of practising Falun Gong, Grace was arrested on her doorstep one morning. She tried to relate to us how brutal life was in the camp she was sent to, and how difficult it is for us to imagine, living in a free democratic country like the UK. She was transferred to a camp reserved for Falun Gong practitioners. Now seeking asylum in the UK, Grace has not seen her daughter for two years.

Yuyu expressed her happiness at the turnout to the event, saying that growing up in China she was faithful to the CCP and shielded from human rights issues. Only when she left did she become aware of what is hidden.

GUAI member Milia Hau, who grew up in Hong Kong, was shocked to learn the truth about Falun Gong. She says: “In Hong Kong the CCP’s influence is not as strong as in China; there are always campaigns about human rights like lawyers disappearing, political prisoners etc. But because Falun Gong is a non-mainstream religious group that most people avoid and ignore in Hong Kong, the fact that Falun Gong practitioners were tortured in China was ignored, despite loads of constant campaign booths in the city’s shopping areas. I personally think it is equally unfair torturing this group, just because their view opposed the party’s view, as torturing other groups inside China.”

Zoom out of the personal pictures, and what is being done globally? The internet has been a big hurdle in the battle between the CCP and campaigners. China censors everything online; however, people out of surveillance’s eye have managed to intercept the “Great Firewall” to provide safe and true information about Falun Gong, available without trace to Chinese internet users.

Ethan Guttman, a human rights investigator and China analyst, gave a talk at Amnesty’s annual Student Conference in Edinburgh this month, which committee members Ali and Maisie attended. He is currently completing a history of the clash between Falun Gong and the CCP. He estimates that approximately 65,000 Falun Gong adherents may have been killed for their organs between 2000 and 2008.

Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting started a petition to the UN last year, urging them to “call upon the Chinese government to immediately end the brutal persecution of Falun Gong, which is the root cause for the forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners.” It received over 1.5 million signatures in less than 5 months. The European Parliament also passed a motion last year condemning the practice. As Yuyu said, these steps are all positive, but the bureaucracy that must be broken down before real change is made means that campaigning is still as vital as ever.

Find out more about Falun Gong: http://en.falundafa.org/

Sign DAFOH’s petition to the UN: https://www.dafoh.org/petition-to-the-united-nations/

Watch the film for free: http://freechina.ntdtv.org/

Read recent article from EP Vice President: http://fofg.org/2014/01/we-recall-the-holocaust-we-should-recognize-genocide-in-china-today/ (this website also has information about how Falun Gong has been banned in Russia).

 

answering questions (2)AI student (2)ai members (2)

Ellen MacAskill

Happy International Women’s Week!

This week Glasgow University has put on a full schedule of events to promote discussion, awareness and celebration in the run-up to International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. The ever-increasing consciousness of gender issues on our campus deserves such recognition, and the array of things going on has been testament to that. (I only wish I’d had Hermione Granger’s time-keeper to allow me to be at three seminars at once.) A big ‘thank you’ goes to Domi and Rob whose organisational efforts have been fantastic.

On Tuesday our meeting was attended by ex-GUAI member and qualified Amnesty speaker Elena Soper, who gave a presentation about women’s rights in Afghanistan. This is currently Amnesty UK’s specific women’s rights campaign. It was eye-opening to learn about how gender equality in the country went from an upwards trajectory, with equal suffrage being granted in 1919, to a complete backwards landslide following the Russian invasion in 1979. When the extremist Taliban regime commenced in 1996, female oppression was worse than ever before. Women were banned from working, studying, and even going out unchaperoned by a man.

When the UK and US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, many political figures justified the move on the grounds of supporting women. This is a highly contentious issue but, either way, women’s suffering is ongoing. Three years ago the country was called the ‘Most Dangerous Place to be a Woman’ by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation. Elena detailed some shocking case-study stories about activists who have dared to challenge discrimination by practising education and abortion, and faced consequences such as fatal violence against their family members.

Amnesty UK’s website has a lot more information about their activists and campaign actions: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Women’s-rights-in-Afghanistan

Our president Ruth then ran a workshop about socialisation and the media. We had a flick through a variety of magazines for different demographics and discussed how they represent (or do not represent) women. After being an avid reader of such boy-obsessed teen rags in my younger years, it was odd to revisit what I once took for granted. The lack of intelligent content in magazines for women and young girls is amazing. Just last week I was dismayed to open Q magazine, one of the biggest and most well-respected music publications, and see an advert encouraging readers to vote for ‘FHM’s sexiest woman’. No, thank you.

Lads mags and tabloids were another matter altogether. Ruth handed out sheets of misogynistic quotes. Once we all felt sufficiently nauseated by what we had read, she revealed that these were a combination of snippets from lads mags and quotes from convicted rapists. In a study*, men who did not know where the quotes came from said they identified more with the rapists’ sentiments. Due to the rapid growing-up process expected of teenagers today, ever younger boys are picking up magazines like Nuts and Zoo to educate themselves about sex, and this is what they are exposed to. Quotes that perpetuate and out-do rape culture.

*Links to the study: Reported in Jezebel; original research by University of Surrey

Our debate then turned to censorship and what we would like to be done about this harmful material. (A fortnight ago, after some of us were disappointed by what we heard at Cheesy Pop, ‘Blurred Lines’ was finally banned from being played at the QMU. The song has been known to trigger damaging responses in victims of sexual assault, and as such should not be played in a space which is supposed to be safe for students.)

On Thursday we were visited by the wonderful Eileen Maitland, Information Worker at Rape Crisis Scotland. She screened a film called ‘Consent’, about how our prejudices affect rape cases in court. It was part drama presented by actors, part documentary-style court case with real-life officials and jury. The most shocking aspect was the opinions expressed by the jury, who eventually voted to acquit the rapist. There was a lack of compassion and understanding, and constant diversions from the question at hand: whether or not the woman consented to the act. At one point before the trial, the (real) police officer said: “Just because it’s ‘not guilty’, doesn’t mean to say it didn’t happen.” This seemed to sum up the message of the film; that just because so few rape cases end in convictions, this is not because false allegations are disproportionately high for this specific crime. A change of public attitude would make a huge difference to the experiences of victims who are brave enough to report rape.

Rape Crisis Scotland are currently campaigning for women to be represented by a lawyer in court, as currently the prosecutor is only representing justice. They are also distributing information and statistics to promote the fact that false allegations of rape are no common than they are for any other crime.

To find out more visit: www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk

If you are free tonight and would like to kick off your weekend with some all-girl theatre with ‘vagina’ in the title (who wouldn’t?) then join us in Qudos at the QMU for The Vagina Monologues. This cult show is being staged by students for the second year running. Proceeds go to Rape Crisis Scotland, plus our Publicity Officer Nikola is starring. Afterwards, GU FemSoc are hosting a feminist themed Cheesy Pop, complete with Lady Gaga and Katy Perry tribute acts. Suffragette and/or riot grrrl costumes optional.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the brilliant Ursula Le Guin:

“We are volcanoes. When we, women, offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”

P.S. Congratulations to Domi our Ordinary Board Member who has been elected the SRC’s new Charities, Clubs and Societies Officer! We know you will be wonderful if you put even half as much passion into the role as you have done into Amnesty this year.

Ellen MacAskill

Call for a Conflict Free Glasgow

The Conflict Free Campus Initiative has been growing up gradually at Glasgow University since GU Amnesty International took on the campaign in 2012. So why are so many people still in the dark about the bloodshed that fuels our technology habit?

CFCI calls for regulation of minerals used by large Western technology manufacturers, bought from mines in the war-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. The war there has dominated the country’s landscape since the early 1990s. The International Rescue Committee estimated that 5.4 million fatalities have occurred as a result since 1996. Rape is used as a weapon of control over the population and children are involved in fighting from a young age. The statistics are staggering for a conflict which receives such little media coverage. We rely on these countries for minerals such as gold, tungsten, tantalum, and the ores that produce tin. Armed rebels groups, domestic and foreign, pillage the land’s natural resources then sell them on to large corporations.

A lack of transparency in the production line means that consumers of products such as phones and laptops remain ignorant.

At university we spend millions of pounds cumulatively on technology. By sourcing products from companies that check and regulate their supply chain, we can encourage other companies to do the same. But no one is asking Glasgow’s library to send its computers to the dump. CFCI calls for university policy to prioritise the increasing number of companies who have expressed concern over the matter, when buying products from now on. Intel and HP are leaders in this field and just recently Apple have resolved to investigate their supply chain for conflict-related atrocities.

GUAI started circulating a petition last year to David Newall, Secretary of Court, and Principal Anton Muscatelli, calling on them to make Glasgow conflict free. A motion has been passed through the SRC in support of the movement, however their power is limited and progress has been slow. To raise awareness of the campaign a video was filmed by members, with help from Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

A letter-writing action to Newall last semester has prompted another meeting to be planned with him and Jo Gallagher, Head of Procurement for the university. We are preparing for this opportunity to give the campaign the attention it deserves.

In March, in collaboration with the charity Earth Movies, we will be screening ‘Blood in the Mobile’. The documentary directed by Frank Piasecki Poulsen investigates the relation of mobile phone companies to the conflict in Congo. Following the screening will be a panel discussion, with speakers to be confirmed, plus a Q & A session. The joint publicity between GUAI and Earth Movies will reach out the event to a wide audience.

In February our members partook in the global #CongoPeace photo campaign. This social media campaign is designed to show our support for the women of Congo. The images will be collected and presented in a book to Special Envoys at a UN conference focussing on resource exploitation and sexual violence.

To give the Conflict Free Glasgow campaign a boost before the imminent meeting, we will be submitting informative articles to campus press such as the Glasgow Guardian newspaper.

Let’s make Glasgow a Conflict Free Campus!

http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/content/initiatives/conflict-minerals

Ellen MacAskill

Human Trafficking in the UK and Beyond

Hear “trafficking” and of what do you think? Women being shipped around South East Asia for sex work? Crowded sweatshops in India?

These are undoubtedly huge issues but the extent of human trafficking today is more far-reaching than many realise. On Tuesday’s meeting we kicked off our new campaign with a visit from Euan of Stop the Traffik, who volunteers in the Glasgow branch of the international charity. The grassroots group raise awareness in communities to make it more difficult for traffickers to slip through the net.

Key points from the talk were as follows:

–          Trafficking should not be confused with an immigration problem.

–          Trafficking equals slavery.

–          Traffickers’ prerogative is the exploitation of vulnerability.

On the same day that we held our meeting, the National Crime Agency released a report which shows that the number of trafficked people in the UK has more than doubled in the past year. They stated that their estimate numbers will be far below the actual number, which remains hidden from view. Euan suggests that the increased statistics may be down to an improvement in detection processes. Apparently there are more slaves in the world today than there ever have been in the past.

Victims of trafficking can be lured by the promise of marriage or work. They can be forced into prostitution, unpaid labour, domestic slavery, or crime activity. Violence, rape and induced drug and alcohol addiction are all used as weapons of control. Psychological control is a less detectable but equally dangerous method.

Euan gave some specific examples of trafficking in the UK. One young Nigerian girl was promised marriage in the UK but found herself being forced to work in a brothel. When she became pregnant, she was forced into abortion, then later turned out onto the street. In another case four Czech men seeking work were enslaved in Birmingham and made to live in slum-like conditions.

The internet has put vulnerable victims within the reach of traffickers in ways that were not previously possible. The “business” is the second most profitable of all organised crime. When considering why the industry is catching up with drug-dealing in terms of money quanitites, Euan says: “You can sell a body again and again.” These chilling thoughts can go some way to explain why the problem continues to grow.

Stop the Traffik are focussing on two international campaigns at the moment, targeted at the cotton industry and the chocolate industry. Fairtrade branding only refers to the picking and harvesting of the cotton. The manufacturing stage goes un-policed and many Western clothing chains are oblivious to the fact that people in the factories they buy from have been trafficked or are being underpaid. Children, particularly in West Africa, are often used to collect cocoa beans for no payment. One Amnesty member from Ghana suggests that people there might give their children to family members to be worked on their farms for nothing, so the children themselves are not aware that they are being abused. Consumer awareness can put pressure on ignorant Western companies to decrease demand for cheap labour and tackle the problem.

In April, Stop the Traffik will be lobbying at the Scottish Parliament to push a proposed bill which addresses the issue. Amongst other things, it outlines a new victim support service and a single coherent definition of what human trafficking is. Unfortunately the Scottish Parliament have not yet backed the bill, instead turning attention to Westminster’s Modern Slavery bill, which is more focussed on crime rather than the implicated human rights abuses.

If you are in Glasgow during the Commonwealth Games, look out for Stop the Traffik’s ‘Gift Boxes’ popping up on the streets, which lure in passers-by with an attractive exterior then reveal to them the realities of human trafficking on the inside.

Have a look on http://www.stopthetraffik.org/ for more information.

 

On a brighter note: SECRET POLICEMAN’S BALL!

Hopefully you have all got your tickets by now and are looking forward to an evening of jokes and merriment.

If not then get them for the reduced advanced price of £5/7 (with after-party) up until midnight on Friday by clicking here:

http://www.guamnesty.org.uk/spb-2014/

Also if you missed it and want a taster for the event, here’s an article that qmunicate let me write about why it will be so wonderful:

http://qmunicatemagazine.com/2014/02/11/secret-policemans-ball-stand-up-for-human-rights/

See you there folks.

Ellen MacAskill

Guantanamo Bay: 12 Years of Shame

Shaker Aamer is the last UK prisoner held in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The 14th February marks the twelfth anniversary of the beginning of his ordeal there. His wife and four children await his return. The youngest of his children has never met him. He has been approved for release twice, but US legislation controlling the transfer of Guantanamo detainees has kept him imprisoned without charge. In a statement received by his lawyer, Aamer said:

“At best, we are numbers. I worry that when I come home that my children will call for ‘Daddy’, and I will sit unmoving. I am 239. I even refer to myself as 239 these days. I am not sure when I will ever be anything else. It is much easier to deny human rights to those who are not deemed to be ‘human’.”

The US Detention Camp was established post-9/11 in January 2002, when George Bush declared the “war on terror” and required a place for “highly dangerous” prisoners from Iraq and Afghanistan. The camp’s location renders it effectively exempt from US and international law. The prisoners detained there over the past twelve years have been “suspected” terrorists and Muslim militants, largely innocent civilians with a right to prisoner of war status. The US government has dodged this charge by labelling the prisoners “enemy combatants” so they are outside the rulings of the Geneva Convention. The Convention, created to establish humanitarian treatment in war, outlines the prohibition of:

“Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture”

And “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment”.

Guantanamo has a track record of using torture and degradation as a tool. Practices include water-boarding (pouring water onto a cloth covering the face to simulate suffocation), sleep deprivation, and leaving prisoners hand-cuffed in the scorching sun with their heads covered.

Force-feeding is used as a reaction to inmates’ hunger strikes. It has recently been estimated by lawyers that 34 detainees are currently on hunger strike and 17 are being force-fed. Aamer is one these numbers. The process involves the person being strapped to a chair and having a tube inserted through their nose to pass liquid nutrition to their stomach to keep them alive.

A Washington court ruling this week means that the practice of force-feeding will be allowed to be challenged in federal court by inmates. However the judges declined to put an end to force-feeding immediately.

In 2014, 155 people remain in Guantanamo, 77 of which have been cleared for release.

Research for this post has been depressing. Information and statistics were circulated around 2008, when Barack Obama pledged to make the closing of Guantanamo a priority as soon as he took office. Well into his second term as President, it remains open. The US are struggling to deal with the hangover from their rash, unjust, anti-extremist actions and cannot find safe countries for many detainees to return to. In his State of the Union speech at the end of January, Obama said:

“This needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.”

On Wednesday, a group of us took to campus in orange jumpsuits and signs reading “12 YEARS OF SHAME” and “CLOSE GUANTANAMO”. One of the interesting things about demonstrations is the bemused expressions of passers-by. But the fact that so many are unaware of the symbol and the neglected human rights atrocities of Guantanamo shows that the US are succeeding in sweeping their mistakes under the rug. Real action is long overdue.

Here are some links to more information:

http://saveshaker.org/

http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/security-and-human-rights/guantanamo

http://www.theguardian.com/world/guantanamo-bay

Ellen MacAskill

The Whole Spectrum of LGBT Issues

What a great week for Scotland.

Even though it has been imminent been for some time now I cannot but be relieved, excited and proud that the last barrier has been broken. One of society’s most treasured institutions is becoming egalitarian. Finally. And with a record of 108 to 18 voting in favour, the decision was easy, without the MSPs being dictated by party whips. Scotland is the 17th country globally to fully legislate same-sex marriage, following England and Wales last year.

Also exciting is the amendment made to the first draft of the bill concerning trans couples. Last semester we had guest speaker Nathan Gale visit us from the Scottish Transgender Alliance. He spoke about how the proposed ‘spousal veto’ would stop people from having their gender confirmed off their own backs as a partner would have to confirm it for them. This breach of our basic autonomy was removed from the bill, making the bill fairer for the Ts as well as the LGBs.

You may also have noticed that the university are flying the rainbow flag on campus for the UK LGBT History Month. On Saturday GU LGBTQ+ celebrate this wonderful use for February with Queerfest. Check out their Facebook page for finalised details of the event and the afterparty.

Over in Russia, the future does not look so bright. The Sochi Winter Olympics kick off on Friday and activists and campaigners are being dealt with unfairly so Putin can avoid a scene. Pavel Lebedev was detained during the Olympic Torch relay for waving a rainbow flag. He is one of many who will be victimised for taking a stand. Last year legislation was passed which makes the promotion of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations amongst minors’ punishable by law (Is that what they call it these days?). Homophobia is being further institutionalised when the opposite should have happened years ago.

A certain tension is hanging around the Winter Olympics as both sides of the ethical dispute wait to see what will unfold. We can only hope that Putin’s attitude can be recognised as an example of how not to use power.

coke-petition

Speaking of power: the internet. Isn’t it great sometimes? We love a petition here at Amnesty so naturally, we have jumped aboard the Change.org band-wagon. Following Coca Cola’s refusal to withdraw sponsorship from the Sochi games, despite much lobbying and deliberation, Dom conceived an idea for a petition to encourage them to symbolically repent. His brainchild asks Coca Cola to put a rainbow on their cans to represent the global LGBT community which they have ignored in their alliance with the Games.

The ‘Put a Rainbow On It’ petition has been a success, gaining more than 8000 signatures in a week. At the time of writing, the figure stands at 8,284. If your signature is not already on it, please add it and help us to reach 10,000. Below is a link (warning: refreshing the screen to watch the number grow can become addictive).

http://www.change.org/CokeRainbowFlag  

We take one step forward and Russia takes two steps back. If we keep up the good work they will catch up one day.

Ellen MacAskill

Syria: A Humanitarian Crisis Three Years On

Syria has been in the headlines this week. It has been in the headlines for three years now. And the humanitarian crisis in a country wreaked by civil war only continues to get worse.

Why has more not been done? Why does the conflict persist? What can we do to help?

After a screening in Tuesday’s meeting of BBC Panorama’s ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, I think I speak for us all when I say we were left harrowed, speechless, and asking these questions.

On the following day the UK government announced plans to take in 500 of the most vulnerable refugees – with Nick Clegg insisting that this was an exhibition of our “open-hearted” nature – and the Glasgow University Coalition for Syrian Refugees hosted a panel discussion. The title:

‘Syria: I Can Still See Hope’

The CSR is a collaboration of societies on campus, including Amnesty International, put together to raise funds and awareness for Syria’s plight. Five speakers on Wednesday gathered to inform an audience of students and answer their questions.

First to speak was Kurt Mills, a senior lecturer in social sciences and representative of the Glasgow Human Rights Network. He tackled the day’s headlines straight away: 9.3 million Syrians need assistance and the few hundred that the UK are willing to help is a mere 0.0008% of our own population. Mills said that we should demand more than this “cynical ploy” and stop relying on the £600 million that we have donated in aid. Monetary aid is helpful, yes, but it ultimately keeps Syrians “bottled up” in an unsafe country.

Three speakers from charities stood up to describe the challenges of the situation and emphasise the good work that is already being done. Tristan Jones from Medicine Sans Frontiers outlined the struggle to deliver medical care in a warzone where hospitals themselves have been targeted. A dwindling number of doctors and resources tackling a huge number of casualties means that basic needs are often not met. MSR have been sending doctors to hidden locations, and giving vaccinations to children and antenatal care to women.

From British Red Cross, Patrick MacIntyre told us about the work of the charity in conjunction with Syrian Arab Red Crescent. They work under the principles of “impartiality and neutrality” to provide aid such as medicine, food and hygiene. An Emergency Appeal for Syria was first launched in 2012 and has been extended since.

Amby Karamchedu, president of GU UNICEF, focussed on the work being done to help children in refugee camps, such as Zaatari in Jordan, and in Syria itself. Crossing the border does not guarantee security for Syria’s 6 million affected children. UNICEF’s current aim is to “winterise” the camps so that refugees can deal with the extreme climate. Education is often neglected in Syria and the surrounding refugee camps, despite its benefits for the future of the country. Amby mentioned that campaigner Malala Yousafzai travelled to New York to urge UNICEF executives to increase focus on basic education.

The most moving speech of the night came from a courageous man who cannot be named. From the ancient city of Damascus, he fled Syria when he became endangered by the state. Many of his family and friends have met their fate since the uprisings of 2011. Recounting his story, he was overcome with emotion to the point of nearly breaking down. He urged us to recognise the “Syrian holocaust of the 21st century”.

His words silenced the room. The reaction was unanimous. No matter how many statistics we can reel off and pounds we can donate and articles we can read – nothing compares to the scale of personal tragedy that the Syrian conflict has inflicted.

The Q and A session proved interesting, with Mills pointing out that sending aid becomes more futile the longer the political situation goes un-addressed. We were urged to take individual action by donating what we can, informing ourselves and writing to MPs and newspapers.

When the question turned to the uncertain future of the country, the refugee concluded that he “can see hope as a Syrian”. The end of the conflict may not be imminent or quick, but we must continue to do all we can to give hope to Syria and its people.

If you missed the panel discussion but are interested in the Coalition for Syrian Refugees, look them up on Facebook for information and get involved at two fundraisers this Saturday the 1st, the Challenge and the Ceilidh.

 

P.S. Hello, I’m Ellen, GUAI’s new and first Press Officer! I’ll be updating the site weekly with blog posts and all the Amnesty chat you could ever need and more. See you Tuesday!