Revelations about the way Oxfam handled sexual misconduct by senior staff in Haiti and Chad has rightly led to outrage. Both the UK government and the European Commission have threatened to withdraw funding if high ethical standards are not met. Thousands of people across Europe are cancelling their contributions to the organisation. While I would be cautious about rashly pulling back funding from a charity which does such vital work, we should never stay silent when faced with evidence of wrongdoing.
Yet, this is exactly what we are doing in Syria. On 27 February 2018, it was reported that Syrian women are routinely forced to undergo sexual exploitation and abuse in return for aid. The assessment by the United Nations Population Fund revealed the high levels of gender-based violence faced by girls and women across Syria, using highly corroborated testimonies and evidence. Shockingly, the practice is not just widespread - with in some areas nearly half of women having facing abuse from the hands of those delivering aid - it has been going on for many years.
In some areas, nearly half of women report facing abuse from the hands of those delivering aid.
According to aid workers, the UN was made aware of such practices as early as in 2015 - but turned a blind eye. Humanitarian news agency IRIN on Monday backed up allegations that the organisation has repeatedly shelved direly needed reforms to its humanitarian aid in Syria. But it also provides important clues as to the source of the problem, reminding us of how the Syrian Assad regime continues to actively prevent the majority of UN aid convoys from entering rebel-held areas. This means that aid ends up in the often abusive hands of uncontrollable middlemen.
In response, one might ask whether working through third parties, even if unreliable, is better than not delivering any aid at all. This is the wrong question to ask.
If one thing has become clear over the course of the now seven-year old Syrian conflict, it is that the Assad regime has consistently used humanitarian access as a weapon of war to starve those opposing his rule into submission. He has been able to do so because we let him, allowing successive UN Security Council Resolutions ordering cross-border and cross-line aid delivery to remain unenforced. The hell that is Eastern Ghouta, where fighting continues despite attempts at a ceasefire, offers an apt illustration.
The Assad regime has consistently used humanitarian access as a weapon of war to starve those opposing his rule into submission.
And that’s a travesty of democracy.
When I was first elected to represent the West Midlands for the UK Labour Party, I became the first female, Asian Member of the European Parliament. In fact, I became the first female, Asian member of any parliament in Europe. This was not in the 70s or the 80s. The year was 1999.
Between that time and the present day, the European Parliament continues to be dominated by those who are white and male. Of the 751 MEPs currently serving in the European Parliament, only around 12 would identify themselves non-white. And half of us are from the UK. So, after Brexit, it is plausible to suggest that number will reduce to just six. That would be less than one percent of the total number of MEPs.
Clearly we have a democratic deficit. Europe is a place of incredible ethnic diversity. Limiting decision-making to such a narrow section of society restricts our ability to solve problems. Since the EU referendum in summer 2015, hate crimes have spiked in the UK. Sikhs from my community – along with Muslims – often face the brunt of this verbal and physical violence. How can we expect minority communities to feel a part of mainstream society if they are not properly represented? How can their voices be heard if no one in the chamber recognises their perspective?Read more
EU must adopt Panama inquiry proposals to fight tax avoidance, warn Labour MEPs following Paradise Papers leaks
As the European Parliament today debated the Paradise Papers leaks, Labour MEPs reiterated calls for the EU to lead global action against tax avoidance, and adopt parliament’s recommendations for a blacklist of tax havens and new laws against companies that facilitate tax avoidance.
Neena Gill MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on taxation, said:
“Shocking levels of tax avoidance have been exposed in the world’s tax havens. This time we have some new names, but the same old techniques have been used. And we are even getting the same excuses.
“As we heard after the Panama papers: it is legal. And that is the problem. Tax avoidance may technically be legal, but it is highly immoral. Trillions of dollars are being siphoned off through loopholes to avoid tax, while public services are starved of money.
“And with an estimated $7 trillion (€6 billion) held in tax havens, tackling tax avoidance – and its criminal cousin, evasion – is central to reducing inequality. Inequality so unequal that just eight people in the world own as much wealth as half the planet.
“But we have a chance to stop it, through an international agreement that outlaws tax havens and imposes sanctions, fines and prison sentences on those that run them. As the European Parliament inquiry into the Panama Papers recommended, we need a comprehensive list of tax havens, and legislation splitting the audit sector into actual audit activities and tax avoidance facilitation.
It’s not just Aung San Suu Kyi who is failing to act on the Rohingya massacre – it’s time we bring back sanctions.
A mind-boggling 500,000 people belonging to the Rohingya community – and counting – have fled to Bangladesh in recent weeks.
Flooded with images of unspeakable atrocities, we are overwhelmed by a feeling of powerlessness at the highest outflow of refugees since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Yet, as someone who has been closely following relations with South East Asia and has led negotiations on the European Parliament’s most recent resolution on the issue, I believe there is still more that we can do.
While the tragedy has been heartbreaking to watch, we must not forget our own power to act.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council’s response to the Rohingya crisis on Monday does not reflect the scale of the crisis. The Council reconfirmed the arms embargo, but this is largely symbolic, given that most military hardware in Myanmar comes from countries outside of the EU, including China. Disappointingly, the Council has not decided to adopt further restrictive sanctions, despite the continued deterioration of the situation, with an additional 200,000 and counting displaced from the region.
To make a real impact, we should focus our leverage on Myanmar’s powerful army, who not only hold a strong grip over the country’s economy, but also make many key political appointments and reserve 110 seats in parliament for unelected soldiers.
Council conclusions refer to suspending invitations to the military, but to influence the military, we also need to undermine their finances: both through more punitive sanctions and by targeting key industries like jade production, which have helped to finance the conflict.Read more
I've seen how the EU tackles tax evasion versus the US – and if Brexit Britain follows Trump, we're headed for disaster
While the EU looks at ways of preventing tax avoidance in an age of vast technological development and rapid globalisation, the US – under the leadership of Donald Trump – is taking a deep breath before slashing taxes and creating even more tax loopholes.
If the UK does begin doing what the Tories have threatened, beware the economic consequences Getty Images
The Panama Papers scandal last year shone a light on the extent and pervasiveness of tax avoidance that exists around the world. It revealed that individuals from 200 countries used more than 214,000 offshore entities to help them avoid paying billions in tax to their country of origin. Those implicated included 140 politicians and officials; including the president of Ukraine, the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, and the King of Saudi Arabia, many of whom have correctly now lost their positions.
Though these tax arrangements are totally legal, the super-rich that use them are directly undermining the funding of our vital services, including our schools, hospitals and emergency services.
While everyday working people have no choice but to pay taxes in their own country, some members of the global elite avoid paying their fair share by setting up shell companies in exotic tax havens.
When Jeremy Corbyn talks about the need to address the “rigged system”, this is exactly what he means. The problem is that even with a Labour government determined to fix the system, the scope for addressing this at the national level is limited.
Tax avoidance of this kind is a symptom of globalisation and as a result, it can only be countered at a transnational level. And the only international institution with both the appetite and scale to push for real reform of tax avoidance is the EU.
If you thought the housing crisis was bad enough, the UK just lost its biggest funder of social housing
The £1bn given by European Investment Bank to UK social housing projects last year makes it the sector’s biggest investor. This week it was confirmed that this investment would stop.
I worked for housing associations throughout the 80s and 90s and one memory remains more vivid than any other. I was called out to visit a new client who told us he had been trying to relocate for the past three years.
After climbing a steep set of stairs, I reached his second floor apartment. The man welcomed me in and explained that he was severely disabled from the waist down. He was wheelchair bound, so he was forced to remain indoors for all but essential trips.
There was no lift.
On the rare occasions that he left the apartment, he had to scramble downstairs,using only his arms for balance. As you can imagine, wrenching himself upstairs again on the way back up was almost impossible.
Due to a lack of suitable housing it was difficult, but we were finally able to relocate him to a ground floor apartment. When I delivered the good news, he broke down, flooding the room with tears of appreciation.
A general housing crisis puts enormous pressure on social housing. The most vulnerable are the first to be neglected and their human rights to adequate shelter are too often forgotten.Read more
European Parliament, Strasbourg, France, 15/06/2017
Plurality in the UK media is at “high risk” in terms of its high levels of concentration of ownership and the influence these owners exert on editorial content. That’s according to a new report from theCentre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom.
The worrying new findings come just ahead of the deadline (June 20) for Ofcom’s recommendation on the proposedmerger between Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and Sky.Read more
The ECB will preserve “at least the current levels of involvement” of supervision over CCPs based in the UK after Brexit, according to its President Mario Draghi.
This will require deeper cooperation between the Bank of England and the ECB to preserve “the tools required to tackle potential systemic risk,” Draghi said at the Monetary Dialogue with MEPs in the European Parliament on Monday 29 May.
Draghi’s words came as a result of pressure from MEPs, including Neena Gill CBE - Labour MEP for the West Midlands - who used the dialogue to express concern about the possibility of an EU location policy, which would take CCPs out of the UK.Read more
Labour MEPs: The EU has set out its priorities, but when will May answer the questions posed by Brexit?
Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Labour MEPs have warned that Theresa May and the Tories still haven’t answered any of the questions about what they would be looking for in the Brexit talks, as the European Parliament today debated the conclusions of the recent EU-27 summit, at which the EU set out its negotiating priorities - something the UK government has yet to do.
Richard Corbett MEP, Labour’s Deputy Leader in the European Parliament, said:
“The European Union guidelines, agreed at the recent summit, highlight the issues at stake and the EU position with far greater clarity than the UK government has done. We still don't know, eleven months after the referendum - and two months on from the triggering of Article 50 - what the government wants to aim for in these negotiations.
“What kind of relationship do they want with the Single Market and how do they realistically expect to achieve that? What actually does the government want in terms of the Customs Union?
“What solution do they envisage for farmers if they are no longer part of an agreed common EU system of subsidies?
“What happens to Britain's participation in the various EU technical agencies, such as those for air safety, medicines, chemicals, and so on - whose certifications are a requirement for selling in the European market? What about security cooperation and the UK’s role in Europol?
“There are literally thousands of issues that require clarification, ranging from the future of the pet passport scheme - a quarter of a million Brits take a pet on holiday to the continent every year - to data protection rules, to emergency health care when travelling.
“On most of them, the intentions of the UK government are still not clear.”
Richard Corbett MEP added:
“Tomorrow the Tories are expected to unveil their manifesto - maybe they’ll reveal all then? Don’t hold your breath.
“The prime minister has said next to nothing on policy during this election campaign, while her ministers have been hidden away. Is she scared they’ll give the game away, and reveal the unpalatable truths behind their plans, or confirm that there really is no plan?
“Far from providing "strong and stable leadership", Theresa May is offering "desperate and deluded leadership".”