Urgent Christmas appeal for destitute women & children

Dear Friends, Each year for nearly a decade, Legal Action for Women has organized a Christmas appeal for destitute women and children in the All African Women’s Group (AAWG) — the self-help group of women asylum seekers based with us at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.  We have been amazed at people’s generosity. People who have very little themselves dig deep to help women who have even less. We thank you for that. This year we are sending a letter from Gloria from the AAWG as she can describe directly what women need and the difference this Christmas money makes to women’s lives.

Hello, my name is Gloria,

I am the chair of the All African Women’s Group.

We are a group of African women who formed a group which also welcomed women from other continents. We are asylum seekers and refugees. Most of us are mothers and some of us have our children with us and others had to escape from their country without them. The majority of women in our group are destitute and our situation has been made worse by this pandemic.

Last year after the Christmas appeal, we decided to survey our members because it seemed that many women had very little money. What we found shocked us so we published the results in a report called Up from Destitution. Nearly half of the women in our group had no income at all. Where women had access to some money it wasn’t enough to live on let alone feed their children. This poverty isn’t women’s fault. Our group is made up of very resilient women who have survived many horrors. But when they arrived in the UK they were treated cruelly. Even when women had suffered rape and other torture they were often disbelieved and turned down without a fair hearing.

This is the reason we are appealing for help so that in the upcoming season of Christmas and the school holidays, women especially mothers, will have some money in their hands so that they can warm their house and buy food and other essential needed items. We hear frequently of women who have to opt out of eating so they can feed their family. It is tragic that in this country a woman has to choose between feeding herself, feeding her child or buying essentials like sanitary towels.

Women are anxious to keep in touch with family and friends but don’t have money to travel, don’t have credit to call or even to get online. This human support is especially important given that we are not able to be together at the Women’s Centre because of the pandemic restrictions.

One example of how women and their children are affected by destitution is a mother in our group who was evicted from her housing in the middle of last winter by her local authority. Council workers tried to justify it but could not escape the accusation of terrible inhumanity. It was fortunate that a sister from our group stepped forward to help. That lady didn’t hesitate or worry about how small her own house was, how little food she and her children had, she just couldn’t bear the thought of a mother and young children being out on the streets.

This collective mutual aid means that our appeal is different from some of those run by big charities. We work together to distribute the money raised and Legal Action for Women takes nothing.

Finally, I would like to end on a high note. By donating to our group and helping ensure that women survive, you are also contributing to the mutual support we provide for each other. We work collectively to help ourselves and each other with our legal cases. We have had a number of successes. For example, one woman who escaped terrible homophobia in Uganda, saw her partner killed and her family threatened, just won her asylum claim. She can now begin to breathe again and live her life in safety.

It is for all this that we ask you to give as generously as you are able.

Sending you all warm wishes,
Gloria


How to donate:

1.     Through Crossroads Women’s Christmas Asylum Appeal 2021. If you are a taxpayer the value of your donation is increased by 20% at no extra cost to yourself if you choose to add Gift Aid to your donation.

2.     Money transfer to Legal Action for Women, Unity Trust Bank, account number – 50728361, sort code – 086001.  If donating online or direct into our account, we would appreciate an email to law@allwomencount.net to let us know.  3.     By cheque, payable to Legal Action for Women – please specify that you are donating in response to the Christmas Appeal and post the cheque to: Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, NW5 2DX.

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Victory: charges dropped against Malaysian human rights lawyer Charles Hector & the environmental campaigners he represents

On 14 April at Kuantan High Court, Malaysia, contempt of court charges against lawyer Charles Hector and eight environmental rights defenders were withdrawn – a major victory in this ongoing struggle against logging contractors.

This followed an international appeal for support by Legal Action for Women, UK, signed by 21 lawyers, including UK distinguished human rights barrister Michael Mansfield QC, over 60 organisations and 80 individuals from 17 countries, condemning attempts to discredit and criminalize Charles Hector and the villagers.

The defendants expressed their appreciation for the support they received.

In Defence of Charles Hector campaign commented:

“We are deeply grateful to every individual, organization and movement that supported and showed solidarity to both Charles Hector, the other environmental rights defenders and their community.

Our special thanks goes to Legal Action for Women, which initiated the Open Letter and to the Wages for Housework Campaign and the Global Women’s Strike, which helped co-ordinate support from prominent individuals and organisations internationally.

“While many aspects of the connection between human rights and the environment are important, none is more urgent than the need to protect those individuals and communities who work, often at great personal risk, to protect the natural environment from unsustainable exploitation, and defend their human rights and that of their communities.

“It is through their efforts taking collective community action that the survival of the environment and human life depends.”

Present in court to support the defendants was prominent women’s rights lawyer Honey Tan with her team. Representatives of the Bar Council of Malaysia attended on a watching brief. One indication that international support had an impact on the case is that the federal counsel representing the chief minister of Pahang state turned up in court.  

The civil suit taken against eight inhabitants of Kampung Baharu, a village in Jerantut, Pahang by two logging companies continues on 5 May. Villagers are protesting intended logging in the nearby forest on which they depend for clean water and therefore for their lives and livelihoods.

Since the contempt of court charges have been dropped, Charles Hector can continue to represent them.

We will keep you informed as your support is still needed to prevent the logging, which could commence at any time.

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Filed under International, Miscarriages Of Justice, Uncategorized

Lawyers condemn attempts to discredit fellow lawyer

Lawyers and organizations from UK and a number of other countries write to Malaysian authorities condemning attempts to discredit and criminalize human right lawyer Charles Hector.

8 April 2021

Twenty-one lawyers, including human rights QC Michael Mansfield, over 60 organisations and 80 individuals from 17 countries, have signed an Open Letter distributed by Legal Action for Women, UK, condemning attempts to discredit and criminalize Malaysian human rights lawyer Charles Hector and the eight villagers he represents. 

——————————————————————————————————–

OPEN LETTER to: the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the Chief Justice of Malaysia, Chief Minister of Pahang State Government, The Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), the Pahang Foundation, the Head of the Delegation of the European Union, the Malaysian Bar and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (​UNHCHR)

We condemn attempts to discredit and criminalize Malaysian human rights lawyer Charles Hector 

Legal Action for Women (LAW) and undersigned organizations condemn attempts to discredit and criminalize Malaysian human rights lawyer Charles Hector.  Mr. Hector is representing eight villagers in Jerantut who are protesting intended logging in the nearby forest on which they depend for clean water.

We urge the Malaysian authorities to take immediate action to stop a spurious application by logging contractors for leave to begin contempt of court proceedings against Mr. Hector.  The application is aimed at precluding a fair trial.  It is based on a letter Mr. Hector sent on behalf of his clients seeking clarifications in preparation for full trial.  The contractors claim that that this letter breached a temporary/interim injunction court order.  The Malaysian Bar recently called for new legislation to define contempt of court and what sentences it would carry.  Sentences now are entirely arbitrary and can include high fines, prison sentence and even the revocation of Charles Hector’s practicing lawyer certificate.  The hearing has been adjourned on a number of occasions and is now due to be heard on 14 April

Charles Hector is a highly respected human rights lawyer who has defended freedom of assembly, the rights of women, Indigenous people, migrants and refugees, workers, trade unionists, urban settlers, as well as land rights and administration of justice.  He is a former member of the Bar Council, and has also been instrumental in developing the Malaysian Bar Legal Aid Dock-Brief programme to ensure that all defendants who do not have a lawyer receive free legal advice and legal representation. 

The charges brought against Mr. Hector may aim to stop him from representing victims of possible collusion between regional state authorities and corporations, such as these Jerantut villagers.

On the basis of Articles 1, 5 and 12.2 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 1998, we demand an end to the harassment of Mr. Hector and the eight villagers who are defending human and environmental rights and exposing rights violations.   Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by a United Nations Congress, also states, amongst other things, that lawyers must never be barred from being ‘. . . able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; . . . (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.’ (Article 16)

The outcome of this case is being watched internationally, especially given the climate emergency and the targeting of human rights defenders and their lawyers.  We call for the immediate discontinuation of this contempt proceedings against the lawyer and his eight community human rights defender clients.

SIGNED BY: Nina López, Legal Action for Women, UK

And by:

LAWYERS

Michael Mansfield QC, UK

Jamie Bell, Duncan Lewis Solicitors, UK

Ryan Bestford, Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit

Hilary Brown, CEO, Virgo Consultancy Services Ltd

Nick Brown, barrister, Doughty Street Chambers, UK

Emily Burnham, non-practising solicitor, UK

Brenda Campbell QC, Garden Court Chambers, UK

Valerie Easty, barrister, Garden Court Chambers, UK

Michael Ellman, solicitor, ex-chair of Solicitors’ International Human Rights

Group, UK

Matt Foot, solicitor, Birnberg Peirce Ltd, UK

Russell Fraser, barrister, Garden Court Chambers, UK

Toufique Hossain, director of public law & immigration, Duncan Lewis Solicitors, UK

Kevin Hsu, non-practicing attorney, USA

James Lafferty, lawyer, USA

Alastair Lyon, solicitor, Birnberg Peirce and Partners, UK

National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco

Richard O’Keeffe, Head of Legal, United Voices of the World Union, UK    

Elizabeth M Millar, solicitor, UK

Damien Morrison, Morrison & Associates Solicitors, UK

Kali Schellenberg, lawyer, Relman Colfax PLLC, USA

Sham Sunder, Shaharudin Sham Sunder & Partners

Frances Swaine, solicitor, Managing Partner, Leigh Day Solicitiors, UK

Farhana Yamin, solicitor & climate activist, UK

ORGANISATIONS

Gloria Peters, All African Women’s Group, UK 

Wiranta Ginting, Asia Floor Wage Alliance, Indonesia

Reiko Harima, Asian Migrant Centre, Japan

Jenneke Arens, Bangladesh Group Netherlands

Rachel West, Bay Area Global Women’s Strike, USA

Jacob Berkson, Brighton Migrant Solidarity, UK

Luke Daniels, Caribbean Labour Solidarity (President), UK

Rama Ramanathan, Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances, Malaysia

Poai Hong Wong, Childline Foundation, Malaysia

Arjan van der Waal, Defenders in Dordrecht, The Netherlands

Kofi Thompson, Eco-Conscious Citizens group, Ghana

Niki Adams, English Collective of Prostitutes, UK

Pat Albright, Every Mother is a Working Mother Network/Phila., USA

Meenakshi Raman, Friends of the Earth (SAM), Malaysia

Rohana Ariffin, Gagasan Insan Progresif

Dr. Pillkyu Hwang, GongGam Human Rights Law Foundation, South Korea

Alex Burton, Global Justice Bloc, UK

Meena Jagannath, Global Network of Movement Lawyers, USA

Crissie Amiss, Global Women Against Deportation, UK

Selma James, Global Women’s Strike, UK          

Phoebe Jones, Global Women’s Strike, USA       

Pierre Labossière, Haiti Action Committee

Susan Englander, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, USA

Jain Young, Heartland Communities, Inc., USA

NurFitri Amir Muhammad, IDRIS Association, Malaysia

Margaret Prescod, International Black Women for Wages for Housework

Hui Yein, Jaringan Hak Asasi Manusia, Malaysia

Sukhdev Reel, Justice for Ricky Reel

Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar, Klima Action Malaysia 

Kate Raphael, LAGAI Queer Insurrection, USA

LASSCAST collective, UK

Nina Lopez, Legal Action for Women, UK 

Alice Griggs, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, UK

Shahindha Ismail, Maldivian Democracy Network, Germany

Brahm Press, MAP Foundation, Thailand

Sam Weinstein, Momentum Camden, UK

Leslie Miles, New Future Foundation, USA

Laura Connelly, Northern Police Monitoring Project, UK

Adrian Pereira, North South Initiative

Giorgio Riva, Payday, Italy

Ben Martin, Payday men’s network, UK,

Eric Gjertsen, Payday men’s network/Phila, USA

David Gibson, Peace, Justice, Sustainability NOW!, USA

Lisa Pedersen, Peace Builders of Orange County, USA

Suguna Papachan, Persatuan Sahabat Wanita, Selangor (Friends of Women Organisation), Malaysia

Temma Fishman, Philadelphia Ethical Society, USA

Rumana Hashem, Phulbari Solidarity Group, Bangladesh

Shandre Delaney. Human Rights Coalition Fed-Up, Pittsburgh PA, USA

Didi Rossi, Queer Strike, UK

Ali M, Rakyat Jelata, Malaysia

Michael Kalmanovitz, Refusing to Kill initiative, UK

David Swanson, RootsAction Education Fund, UK

Kim Sparrow, Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, UK

Suresh Kumar, SUARAM, Malaysia

Jacob Berkson, Sussex Refugee and Self Support Group, UK

Puni Selvaratnam, Tamil Women for Peace & Justice

William Mitchell, Toxicology & Industrial Hygiene Consulting, USA

Chee Yoke Ling, Third World Network, Malaysia

Leela Panikkar, Treat Every Environment Special, Malaysia

Rachel West, USPROStitutes Collective, USA     

Cardiff People’s Assembly, Wales

Sara Callaway, Women of Colour/Global Women’s Strike

Mary Shanthi Dairiam, Women’s Aid Organisation, Malaysia

Roz Jones, #MeToo Survivors, USA

INDIVIDUALS

Adjeley Akwei, Ghana           

Adrienne Fong, USA

Adwoa Sey, Ghana

Agnes Williams, USA

Alice Nah, University of York

Alissa Trotz, Canada/Guyana

Anna Thorburn, UK

Anne Hall, retired health care lecturer, UK

Anne Phoenix, UK

Anuradha Banerji, India

Barbara Gurley, USA

Berit Jordahl, USA,

Bill MacKeith, UK

Bob Goupillot, UK

C Gill, UK

Carol Fern Culhane, USA

Carolyn Hill, USA

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Chris Barraclough, UK

Chris Peters

Clem Simon, BPP University, UK

Daniele Tamburlini, Italy

David Tejeda, USA

Dawn Sanders, UK

Devon Ferrucci, USA

Diana Bohn, USA

Dorothea Leicher, USA

Dr Felicity de Zulueta, Emeritus Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy at SLaM NHS Foundation Trust and Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer in KCL, UK

Dr Jonathan Fluxman, UK

Dr Laura Connelly, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Salford, UK

Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury, Presidential Fellow in Sociology, University of Manchester, UK

Dr. Susan Curtis, USA

Ellen E Barfield, USA

Estelle Cohenny, Thailand

Evelyn Bradley, UK

Fidel Asante, UK

Fitnat Adjetey Esq., Ghana   

Frances Gilmore, USA

Geoff Francis, RMT (personal capacity)

Gray Davis, UK                        

Halil SAVDA, Conscientious Objector and Human Rights Defender, UK

Heulwen Baworowska, UK

Jane Welford, USA

Janet Love, UK

John McCormick, USA

Julius Williams, Ghana          

Katharine Johnson, USA

Kua Kia Soong, Malaysia

Laura Sedgy, UK

Linda Ray, SEIU 1021 Delegate to San Francisco Labor Council, USA

Liz Hilton, Australia

Lorry Leader, UK

Maggie Ronayne, Lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland

Manjeet Panesar, UK            

Marcella Pedersen, member of National Farmers Union, Canada

Marta Guttenberg, USA

Nana Asante, UK

Naomi Caplin, UK

Naomi L Vinbury, USA

Nasreen Mahmud, USA 

Nell Myhand, USA

Nohad Nassif, author, USA

Olivia Qasir, Pakistan

Pamela Hall, USA

Rona Rothman, USA

Salai Yaw Aung, Thailand

Shoda Rackal, UK

Shreena Shah, UK                  

Shreena Shah, UK

Sidney Ann Ross-Risden, USA

Sophia Vassilakidis, USA

Symran Saggar, UK  

Teresa Muldrow, USA

Yvonne P Benn, High School of Economics & Finance, USA

Background

The contempt of court application has been initiated by two logging contractors, Beijing Million Sdn Bhd and Rosah Timber & Trading Sdn Bhd, appointed by the General Manager of the Pahang Foundation, being the Logging License holder. The Pahang Foundation is a statutory body of the Pahang State government. 

Since 2013, hundreds of villagers from Kampong Baharu and other villages in Jerantut, Pahang State, have been protesting logging in the Permanent Forest Reserve in Jerantut. The part intended to be logged is also a water catchment area.  The impact of deforestation on water catchment areas is well documented. 

Regardless of this classification, the Forestry Department issued a logging license in 2019 to the Pengurus Besar Yayasan Pahang (General Manager of the Pahang Foundation).  

The villagers rely on the sources in this forest for clean water for drinking, cooking and personal needs.  The water is a key to their livelihoods and food security which includes fish farming. Logging also threatens the critically endangered birds and animals of the forest; for example, the helmeted hornbill bird which is near extinction was sighted here.  The villagers submitted petitions with hundreds of signatures to the Pahang State Chief Minister (Menteri Besar), relevant members of State Cabinet and also Federal Ministers. In response, the Chief Minister directed the relevant government departments to address the issues raised.

On 19 February 2020, an agent of the logging contractors unloaded heavy machinery in front of the home of one of the defendants.  Villagers went to inquire about what was happening peacefully. Later, they discovered that a complaint had been made to the police accusing them of having disrupted and blocking the workers.  When they went to the police station to assist investigations, they were arrested, finger-printed, photographed, had their DNA sample taken and statements taken before being released on surety.

The following day, 20 February, the Jerantut Forestry Officer, Mohd Zarin Bin Ramlan, issued a letter suspending the logging companies’ permission to build an access road into the forest.  The main reason given was the “disturbances” caused by the villagers on 19 February.  At that time, the police hadn’t even completed their investigations, and it is suspicious how the Forestry concluded that the allegations were true. The police now have concluded their investigations and found that the allegations against the villagers were false/baseless.  It is highly likely that this 20 February letter of the Forestry Officer was the primary reason why the Court granted the temporary injunction order pending completion of full trial.

In the process of trial preparation, Charles Hector, as lawyer representing the eight villagers, wrote to Mohd Zarin Bin Ramlan individually, not in his official capacity as Jerantut Forest Officer, seeking clarification of this 20 February letter.  How this private letter even came into possession of the logging contractors still remains a mystery.  Hector’s letter to Mohd Zarin is now the basis of this contempt of court action initiated by the logging contractors against the eight villagers and Charles Hector, their lawyer.  

The loggers claim that Mr Hector’s clarification letter was in violation of the interlocutory injunction orders, in particular the order that prohibits the Defendants, ‘their agents, representatives, servants and/or any party connected with them’ from ‘1.4 Interfering with department or approval given to the Plaintiffs on 15 September 2019 by the District Forest Office ….1.5 Cause nuisance to the work of the Plaintiffs in any manner whatsoever including physically, online or by  communication with the authorities…[1]  The said order is vague.

It is unfathomable for an allegation of contempt to be based on a letter from legal counsel, acting on behalf of his clients, seeking clarification from the author of a disputed document.In preparation for trial, lawyers must reasonably seek clarification, interview potential witnesses, obtain documents and evidence.  The need to do this is even greater in civil procedures that require the pre-filing of documents and the provision of witness lists and statements before trial proper even starts.  

It is alarming that the court is hearing a complaint possibly aimed at manipulating the legal process to attack and discredit a dedicated human rights lawyer and silence the genuine concerns of the community.  The right to counsel of one’s choice and the right to a fair trial must be protected.  Human rights lawyers like Charles Hector play a vital role in ensuring access to justice and protecting the public interest.

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Dear Friends,

We write to ask if you could kindly donate to our annual Christmas appeal for destitute women and children in the All African Women’s Group (AAWG) — the self-help group of women asylum seekers based with us at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.  Each year we have been able to ensure that women have some money in their hands to cover essentials over the holiday period when they are without the usual support that the Centre provides.

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed women into even more desperate situations. Women asylum seekers got just £37.75 a week to live on in pre pandemic times and that was increased by just £1.85. Many get nothing and are completely destitute. Since the lock down, we’ve worked with other organisations at the centre to get food vouchers and parcels to women in need,as well as phone top-ups/other help to ensure women are not isolated and can still pursue their cases and support each other.

Over half of the women in the group are mothers worried about their children going hungry. Some women have “No Recourse to Public Funds” and now can’t do waged work to support themselves. Many women, as you can imagine, are suffering from physical and mental health problems from rape and other torture that they suffered.

Last year as a result of people’s kindness, we were able to give 50 women a one-off payment comparable to one weeks’ worth of benefits. We worked together to distribute the money raised.  We’d like to be able to provide something similar this year.

We appreciate that the people we approach for help often don’t have much themselves especially in these very hard times, but women are always amazed at the generosity, lovely comments and good wishes received through the appeal. 

Even under lockdown women are campaigning to get their voices heard, raising destitution and the dependence and danger that comes from that, speaking about the impact of the climate crisis on women internationally, and where possible protesting about violence and lack of protection here and in their home countries as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

We are trying to raise at least £2,500 to match-fund a generous donor and ensure that the women who regularly attend AAWG’s monthly self-help meetings get a small cash payment. Anything you can give, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated.  

Best wishes,

Niki Adams

How to donate:

1.    ThroughCrossroads Women’s Christmas Asylum Appeal2020. If you are a taxpayer the value of your donation isincreased by 20% at no extra cost to yourself if you choose to add Gift Aid toyour donation.

2.    Moneytransfer to Legal Action for Women, Unity Trust Bank, account number -50728361, sort code – 086001.  If donating online or direct into ouraccount, we would appreciate an email to let us know. 

3.    By cheque, payable to Legal Action for Women – please specify that you are donating in response to the Christmas Appeal and post the cheque to: Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, NW5 2DX.

Thank You!

Legal Action for Women

 law@allwomencount.net  

Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, NW5 2DX Tel: 020 7482 2496

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Urgent Christmas appeal for destitute women and children

Dear Friends,

As Christmas and the school holidays are almost here, we write to ask again if you could kindly donate to our annual Christmas appeal for destitute women and children in the All African Women’s Group (AAWG) — the self-help group of women asylum seekers based with us at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. About 2/3 of women in the AAWG have been in detention and many of them are mothers, some are lesbian women.  Each year we have been able to ensure that women have some money in their hands to cover essentials over the holiday period when they are without the usual support, including food and second hand clothes, that the Centre provides.

We appreciate that the people we approach for help often don’t have much
themselves and are always amazed at the generosity, lovely comments and good wishes we receive.

Last year people as a result of this generosity, we were able to give 50 women a one-off payment of approximately £50 with which they were able to buy food and other essentials. We worked together to distribute the money raised.  A third of women at AAWG meetings, are destitute without any income.  Many are suffering from physical and mental health problems from rape and other torture that they suffered.

Like millions of people in this country women are dependent on food banks throughout the year. Some women are on National Asylum Support but can barely survive on the weekly allowance of £37. Some are living in terrible slum housing with abusive landlords who take advantage of their vulnerable position. Mothers are particularly desperate. Having a little cash in their hands means that women get some respite from dependency and the grinding worry of how they are going to survive the day or week.

Women who are fighting for asylum knowing that their lives would be in danger if they were sent back are able to get help and support with this too. Using LAW’s Self-Help Asylum Guide women take part in weekly work sessions with Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape to work on their own and each other’s cases,including taking calls from women in detention. All are encouraged and strengthened by the collective work at the Centre.

Women also speak at public events about the often hidden situation of women seeking asylum. With the climate crisis at the forefront of everyone’s minds, AAWG women have been speaking as farmers and as mothers, the primary carers in every society, who do the work of ensuring that people are fed, and who have been evicted or seen their land destroyed by environmental devastation.

This year we have had more lovely victories including a young woman from Albania who was at risk of honour killing if returned to her home country who won her case after nine years. Yet even having won this  may not be the end of the struggle as some women are fighting for housing years after winning their status and many are still fighting to be reunited with children they were forced to leave behind when they fled.

We are trying to raise at least £2000 to ensure that the women who regularly attend AAWG’s monthly self-help meetings get a small cash payment. Anything you can give, no matter how small, will help.

Best wishes,
Niki Adams

How to donate:

1.   Through Crossroads Women’s Christmas Asylum Appeal 2019fundraising page. If you are a taxpayer the value of your donation is increased by 20% at no extra cost to yourself if you choose to add Gift Aid to your donation.

2.    Money transfer to Legal Action for Women, Unity Trust Bank, account number – 50728361, sort code – 086001.  If donating online or direct into our account, we would appreciate an email to let us know. 

3.    By cheque, payable to Legal Action for Women – please specify that you are donating in response to the Christmas Appeal.

If you would like to donate non-perishable food, toiletries or other essential items, these would also be very much appreciated.  They can be delivered any day before 19 December to the Women’s Centre in Kentish Town (25 Wolsey Mews, NW5 2DX).

Thank You!

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Press: Campaigners call on the Royal College of Psychiatrists to stop endorsing “solitary confinement”

LEGAL ACTION FOR WOMEN HELPED ORGANISE THIS PROTEST REPORTED IN THE CANARY.

A demonstration was held on 28 June outside the headquarters of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) over the organisation’s support for the UK’s Close Supervision Centre (CSC) System.

The protest – called by a coalition of groups – was joined by ex-prisoners and the families of current prisoners.

A press release from the coalition of groups reads:

Former prisoners [joined] a gathering called by a coalition of groups outside the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) to protest its endorsement of Close Supervision Centres.

The UK’s CSCs are prisons within prisons, where people are kept isolated for years with very little human contact. CSC prisoners face the “most restrictive conditions” seen in the UK prison system.

RCPsych is a professional medical body representing psychiatrists in the UK. However, prisoners and their supporters argue that the CSC system it endorses causes damage to mental health. A UN representative has said the system may amount to torture.

Solitary confinement is in breach of international human rights standards

According to the campaigners’ statement:

CSCs are prisons within UK prisons — segregation units where prisoners are locked in their cell 22 or more hours per day for months or years with no independent right of appeal. This level of confinement and deprivation of contact with other human beings is comparable to “solitary confinement”.

Long-term solitary confinement is a breach of United Nations (UN) rules:

Being held in solitary confinement for more than [15] days is a breach of the UN Mandela Rules on the treatment of prisoners.

The UK’s CSC system has been criticised by international human rights organisations:

Amnesty International condemned CSCs (formerly SSUs) as far back as 1997 as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

However, the RCPsych has rubber stamped this brutal prison regime as ‘positive’. According to campaigners:

Shamefully the RCPsych, whose primary duty should be the welfare of patients, instead endorses CSCs as “Enabling Environments“, that is places where there is a focus on creating a “positive and effective social environment”.

Brutality inflicted on prisoners

Kevan Thakrar, a prisoner who has spent 11 years inside the CSC system, wrote in Inside Times:

The cost of each place is over five times a place in a maximum security main location, the brutality inflicted upon the prisoners within them exceeds all other prison environments in the UK, and they cause the majority of its residents to develop major mental illness requiring treatment within the secure hospitals of Broadmoor, Rampton or Ashworth under the Mental Health Act.

Kevan is currently struggling to be moved out of the CSC. He was placed in the system after defending himself against a racist attack by a prison guard in 2010. He was cleared of assaulting the guards, on the grounds of self-defence. But he remains stuck in the CSC system.

It’s not surprising that Kevan has found it hard to get out of the CSC, as a 2015 HM Inspectorate of Prisons report found that there was no independent scrutiny of decision making within the CSC system.

The UN special rapporteur wrote in March this year:

we express our grave concern at the indefinite and prolonged detention of Mr. Thakrar in what appears to be conditions of solitary confinement. Both in this individual case and in terms of general policy, we are particularly concerned at the reported use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement in Close Supervision Centers, thus predictably inflicting severe pain or suffering amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.

“Fed through a hatch and isolated from family and outside support”

The campaigners’ press release continues:

Other prisoners describe being fed through a hatch and isolated from family and outside support. They speak of attacks from guards that remain unpunished and complain that there is no transparent process to decide who is placed in the CSC and therefore “no way out”.

“Institutional racism” and “colonial mentality”

Campaigners accuse RCPsych of institutional racism:

Approximately 50% of prisoners held in CSCs are Muslim which indicates that these units are institutionally racist. This is not the only time that the RCPsych has been called out for racism. Last year more than 160 psychiatrists wrote to the RCPsych urging it to “root out all examples of institutional racism and colonial mentality”.

The campaign calling on RCPscych to drop its endorsement of CSCs has broad support:

The campaign demanding that the RCPsych withdraw its endorsement of CSCs is backed by more than 60 organizations and hundreds of individuals, including Prof. Angela Davis, author and anti-racist campaigner Selma James, former Chief Inspector of Prisons Lord Ramsbotham, miscarriage of justice victim Winston Silcott, Prof. Benjamin Zephaniah and a number of practicing psychiatrists.

The Canary contacted RCPscych for a comment, but we’d received no reply by the time of publication.

“CSCs and solitary must end!”

Sara Callaway from Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike – one of the groups who called the protest –  said:

We are part of this campaign because CSCs are racist and women end up picking up the pieces when men are abused within them. We will be making our voices heard until the RCPsych stops covering up for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This campaign was initiated by prisoners and is growing in size – CSCs and solitary must end!

Tom Anderson is part of the Shoal Collective, a cooperative producing writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism. 

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Press: Britain, Brexit, and the Battle For Asylum

For the most vulnerable people arriving on Britain’s shores, Boris’ Brexit Bill is just the latest in a long line of legal hurdles…

For refugees and asylum seekers searching for support to remain in Britain, the idea that the House of Lords could provide hope might seem, at best, unlikely. An unelected chamber, seen by many as the personification of Britain’s at times archaic class structures, the Lords is rarely viewed as the most obvious place in which to fight the toughest fights of the most country’s most vulnerable.

And yet, this is where the struggle of families separated during the migration process has been thrown under a fresh spotlight. Today, Boris Johnson is under pressure to drop his opposition to measures which would protect the rights of child refugees to be reunited with their families in the UK, after the bill was defeated for a fourth time by the Lords.

Instead, members back an amendment, introduced by Labour peer Lord Dubs, which would protect the family reunion rights of unaccompanied minors. Lord Dubs, himself a former child refugee who was taken in by Britain when he fled the Nazis, has called on MPs to “show what they are made of” in backing his proposed protections.

But while campaigners, as well as charities including Safe Passage and the British Red Cross, have urged the PM not to strike out the amendment, they’ve also warned far more needs to be done to ensure that families are being given the legal assistance necessary to assist them in the reunification process.

While the amendment, they say, is a necessary step, it deals with just one of a host of issues plaguing families seeking a safer haven on British shores, where government cuts to legal aid and exploitation by ruthless immigration solicitors have left asylum seekers with nowhere to turn for legal help, putting their lives at risk.

Legal struggles

The process of claiming asylum is already lengthy and traumatic. The Home Office’s immigration policy ensures interviews with officials are deliberately brutal to make it as hard as possible for someone’s claim to be successful. That’s why having a good solicitor makes the difference between deportation and being granted the right to stay.

Yet, in 2013, the government introduced sweeping cuts to legal aid in England and Wales which have meant free legal advice is no longer available to many people who need it. The result, according to the charity Refugee Action, is that half of all legal aid providers have been lost, leading to large areas being left as ‘legal advice deserts’. Meanwhile, the government’s policy to disperse asylum seekers on the basis of where housing is cheapest, as opposed to where they can access support services or legal aid provision, forces many to travel long distances to seek advice, incurring costs that aren’t always reimbursed. “It’s just a lottery” says Lora Evans, Early Action Charter project manager for Refugee Action.

Changes to the way legal aid solicitors can charge – a flat rate over hourly fees – means it’s very poorly paid, which “makes it more beneficial for them to take quite easy cases, than to spend the time with people who have really complex cases”, such as those involving trafficking, illegal working or expired visas, Lora adds. “It just doesn’t make it worthwhile for solicitors to take these on, and it gets harder and harder if they’ve already been refused by another legal aid provider.”

Niki Adams from Legal Action for Women (LAW) has helped many women who’ve experienced this. “The worst lawyers don’t give women an opportunity to speak about things they would find difficult, like rape, domestic violence and other sexual torture. Their experiences can be downplayed or dismissed. The lawyer may even advise them not to talk about rape because they won’t be believed.”

But when these abuses are the reason a woman is seeking asylum, this advice is entirely counterproductive. “My lawyer put in an application on compassionate grounds. I found out later that the Home Office immediately turned me down” one woman told us. “He probably thought I would be deported before I realised and could complain.”

The impact on families

LAW works closely with the All African Women’s Group (AAWG), a self-help group for women seeking asylum based in north London. At a recent meeting, eight women came forward to say they’d had bad experiences with solicitors.

One woman said she wasn’t told by her solicitor that if she accepted a limited stay under amnesty, she would forfeit the right to reunite with her family. She has since spent three years trying to be reunited with her children, who she was forced to leave behind when she fled to the UK.

The majority of women we met described difficulties getting hold of their solicitors, or being treated them like a nuisance when following up on their cases. Many say their layers wouldn’t explain properly what they were doing and how much it would cost, or just kept asking for more money they had no means to pay, forcing them to rely on friends and family who often went to enormous lengths to help, despite being on a low income themselves. Worst of all, two women said they’d had no alternative but to go into prostitution to be able to pay their legal fees.

Niki has also encountered cases where solicitors have made glaring errors that result in claims being rejected. One woman’s lawyer had missed an important deadline. Another put in an application saying she was from Uganda when she was from Cameroon. “It’s a litany of absolutely outrageous carelessness and neglect,” she sighs.

We spoke to another woman, whose solicitor had supplied incorrect information which led to her claim being refused, who told us about the impact this had on her mental health. “Finding that you have put forward the wrong application…that really deflates you. It catapults you back to the days when you arrived and didn’t know who to turn to, who is telling the truth and who is showing you the right way.”

For Niki, the vulnerability of these women is clear. “Everybody wants to believe that a lawyer is a professional, so they put their faith in them. People seeking asylum have so little power. It’s very difficult for them to complain and have an impact.” Because of this, it’s hard to quantify the size of the problem, but consensus in the sector is that it is widespread. If that is the case, why hasn’t it been widely reported?

The risk of speaking up

“When we were fighting the legal aid cuts, it was a lawyer-led campaign” Niki says. “They did some very good work, and really exposed the injustice of what would happen under the cuts. But they made a political decision not to put immigration work at the forefront, because it wasn’t seen as the most sympathetic case.”

Meanwhile, with a system that’s stacked against them, fighting for their own rights becomes almost impossible for many refugees. “There’s real genuine fear among people seeking asylum to speak up about their concerns” says Rachel Ward-Newton, a project manager at Refugee Action.

Rachel manages the Asylum Guides National Programme, which promotes legal literacy for people seeking asylum. Asylum Guides take a role similar to that of a coach, informing people of their rights and what their solicitor should do, with the aim of helping them to navigate the complex asylum process themselves. A booklet by LAW called A Self-Help Guide Against Detention & Deportation is distributed to women held in detention, and weekly meetings and workshops at the All African Women’s Group also focus on empowering people to help them understand and strengthen their case.

For those on the frontline however, the impacts of the “hostile environment” already faced by those seeking asylum are real and far-reaching, from day-to-day discrimination to a lack of access to justice, that most basic tenet of democracy. Until this wrong is corrected, they say, it is the individuals themselves who must be given the tools to fill the gap left by legal aid cuts and arm themselves against corrupt law firms. Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement, meanwhile, is yet another lengthy piece of paperwork to add to the pile blocking their path to a safe and secure life.

LEILA HAWKINS JANUARY 22, 2020

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Protest Royal College of Psychiatrists covering up prison abuse.

Monday 28 June, 12.30-2pm, 21 Prescot Street, E1 8BB

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has given its “Enabling Environments” award to prison Close Supervision Centres (CSCs) – segregation units where prisoners are often held in solitary confinement, locked in their cell 22 or more hours per day for months or years with no independent right of appeal.

More than 15 days in solitary is considered torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, under the UN Nelson Mandela rules.

CSCs are racist institutions in which approximately 50% of prisoners are Muslim, despite Muslims being only 5% of the UK population.

This complicity must stop now. Despite protests and an open letter signed by over 60 organisations and many prominent individuals Dr. Adrian James, RCP president has responded with platitudes about “equality and diversity”.

We have to disrupt the RCP’s work until this professional body stops covering up for institutional racism and abuse. We’ll make noise and make ourselves heard on behalf of all the prisoners who have no voice outside prison walls. Bring something to make a lot of noise!

Sponsors: Legal Action for Women (LAW) Payday men’s network, Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike, Community Action on Prison Expansion (CAPE), Fight Racism Fight Imperialism (FRFI), Prisoner Solidarity Network (PSN)

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Solitary Confinement is a Crime

International webinar: 12 May 2021
7 – 9pm (UK), 2 – 3.30pm (US Eastern Time)

REGISTER HERE

Hosted by Legal Action for Women, Payday men’s network,
Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike

Speakers include:

Kevan Thakrar, over 11 years in UK Close Supervision Centre – audio presentation Now in further segregation: ACTION ALERT

Khalfan Al-Badwawi, survivor of torture and solitary confinement in Oman

Susie Winter, former prisoner

Dr. Derek Summerfield, Psychiatrist, member of The International Critical Psychiatry Network 

Shandre Delaney, Human Rights Coalition (US), mother of Carrington Keys, one of the Dallas 6 prisoners

Deepa Govindarajan Driver, campaigner against the continuing imprisonment in solitary of journalist Julian Assange

Mumia Abu-Jamal, famed political prisoner and solitary survivor – message of solidarity

Plus: Q&A.

The UK government denies that there is solitary confinement and that dozens of prisoners are being held in isolation, sometimes for years – 23 hours a day, having to choose whether to phone relatives or bathe, or take exercise in the one hour allowed out of their cell.  Since March 2020, all prisoners have suffered these conditions – effectively held in solitary because of the pandemic.

A smaller number of prisoners are held in Close Supervision Centres (CSCs) where conditions replicate those in solitary. Prisoners describe being fed through a hatch and isolated from family and outside support. They report attacks from guards that remain unpunished and complain that there is no transparent process to decide who is placed in the CSC and therefore there is “no way out”. Approximately 50% of prisoners held in CSCs are Muslim – proof that these units are institutionally racist.

A campaign initiated by prisoners is pressing the Royal College of Psychiatrists to withdraw the “Enabling Environment” status they awarded to CSCs. These awards deny prisoners’ experience and provide a cover for abuse. A letter signed by 60 organizations and 200 individuals, including Professor Emeritus Angela Y. Davis, Professor and former prisoner Benjamin Zephaniah, and psychiatrists and other healthcare providers, was delivered to the RCP last December.

This webinar aims to highlight the cruelty and illegality of solitary confinement and help build the movement to end it in the UK and internationally.

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Please sign urgently in defense of Malaysian human rights lawyer – by Sunday 21 March

SIGN HERE
OPEN LETTER to:  the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the Chief Justice of Malaysia, Chief Minister of Pahang State Government, The Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), the Pahang Foundation, the Head of the Delegation of the European Union, the Malaysian Bar and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (​UNHCHR)

19 March 2020

We condemn attempts to discredit and criminalize Malaysian human rights lawyer Charles Hector 

Legal Action for Women (LAW) and undersigned organizations condemn attempts to discredit and criminalize Malaysian human rights lawyer Charles Hector.  Mr. Hector is representing eight villagers in Jerantut who are protesting intended logging in the nearby forest on which they depend for clean water.

We urge the Malaysian authorities to take immediate action to stop a spurious application by logging contractors for leave to begin contempt of court proceedings against Mr. Hector.  The application is aimed at precluding a fair trial.  It is based on a letter Mr. Hector sent on behalf of his clients seeking clarifications in preparation for full trial.  The contractors claim that that this letter breached a temporary/interim injunction court order.  The Malaysian Bar recently called for new legislation to define contempt of court and what sentences it would carry.  Sentences now are entirely arbitrary and can include high fines, prison sentence and even the revocation of Charles Hector’s practicing lawyer certificate.  The hearing is on 25 March 2021 at Kuantan High Court in Pahang, Malaysia

Charles Hector is a highly respected human rights lawyer who has defended freedom of assembly, the rights of women, Indigenous people, migrants and refugees, workers, trade unionists, urban settlers, as well as land rights and administration of justice.  He is a former member of the Bar Council, and has also been instrumental in developing the Malaysian Bar Legal Aid Dock-Brief programme to ensure that all defendants who do not have a lawyer receive free legal advice and legal representation. 

The charges brought against Mr. Hector may aim to stop him from representing victims of possible collusion between regional state authorities and corporations, such as these Jerantut villagers.

On the basis of Articles 1, 5 and 12.2 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 1998, we demand an end to the harassment of Mr. Hector and the eight villagers who are defending human and environmental rights and exposing rights violations.   Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by a United Nations Congress, also states, amongst other things, that lawyers must never be barred from being ‘. . . able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; . . . (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.’ (Article 16)

The outcome of this case is being watched internationally, especially given the climate emergency and the targeting of human rights defenders and their lawyers.  We call for the immediate discontinuation of this contempt proceedings against the lawyer and his eight community human rights defender clients.

SIGNED BY: Nina López, Legal Action for Women, UK

Background

The contempt of court application has been initiated by two logging contractors, Beijing Million Sdn Bhd and Rosah Timber & Trading Sdn Bhd, appointed by the General Manager of the Pahang Foundation, being the Logging License holder. The Pahang Foundation is a statutory body of the Pahang State government. 

Since 2013, hundreds of villagers from Kampong Baharu and other villages in Jerantut, Pahang State, have been protesting logging in the Permanent Forest Reserve in Jerantut. The part intended to be logged is also a water catchment area.  The impact of deforestation on water catchment areas is well documented. 

Regardless of this classification, the Forestry Department issued a logging license in 2019 to the Pengurus Besar Yayasan Pahang (General Manager of the Pahang Foundation).  

The villagers rely on the sources in this forest for clean water for drinking, cooking and personal needs.  The water is a key to their livelihoods and food security which includes fish farming. Logging also threatens the critically endangered birds and animals of the forest; for example, the helmeted hornbill bird which is near extinction was sighted here.  The villagers submitted petitions with hundreds of signatures to the Pahang State Chief Minister (Menteri Besar), relevant members of State Cabinet and also Federal Ministers. In response, the Chief Minister directed the relevant government departments to address the issues raised.

On 19 February 2020, an agent of the logging contractors unloaded heavy machinery in front of the home of one of the defendants.  Villagers went to inquire about what was happening peacefully. Later, they discovered that a complaint had been made to the police accusing them of having disrupted and blocking the workers.  When they went to the police station to assist investigations, they were arrested, finger-printed, photographed, had their DNA sample taken and statements taken before being released on surety.

The following day, 20 February, the Jerantut Forestry Officer, Mohd Zarin Bin Ramlan, issued a letter suspending the logging companies’ permission to build an access road into the forest.  The main reason given was the “disturbances” caused by the villagers on 19 February.  At that time, the police hadn’t even completed their investigations, and it is suspicious how the Forestry concluded that the allegations were true. The police now have concluded their investigations and found that the allegations against the villagers were false/baseless.  It is highly likely that this 20 February letter of the Forestry Officer was the primary reason why the Court granted the temporary injunction order pending completion of full trial.

In the process of trial preparation, Charles Hector, as lawyer representing the eight villagers, wrote to Mohd Zarin Bin Ramlan individually, not in his official capacity as Jerantut Forest Officer, seeking clarification of this 20 February letter.  How this private letter even came into possession of the logging contractors still remains a mystery.  Hector’s letter to Mohd Zarin is now the basis of this contempt of court action initiated by the logging contractors against the eight villagers and Charles Hector, their lawyer.  

The loggers claim that Mr Hector’s clarification letter was in violation of the interlocutory injunction orders, in particular the order that prohibits the Defendants, ‘their agents, representatives, servants and/or any party connected with them’ from ‘1.4 Interfering with department or approval given to the Plaintiffs on 15 September 2019 by the District Forest Office ….1.5 Cause nuisance to the work of the Plaintiffs in any manner whatsoever including physically, online or by  communication with the authorities…[1]  The said order is vague.

It is unfathomable for an allegation of contempt to be based on a letter from legal counsel, acting on behalf of his clients, seeking clarification from the author of a disputed document.In preparation for trial, lawyers must reasonably seek clarification, interview potential witnesses, obtain documents and evidence.  The need to do this is even greater in civil procedures that require the pre-filing of documents and the provision of witness lists and statements before trial proper even starts.  

It is alarming that the court is hearing a complaint possibly aimed at manipulating the legal process to attack and discredit a dedicated human rights lawyer and silence the genuine concerns of the community.  The right to counsel of one’s choice and the right to a fair trial must be protected.  Human rights lawyers like Charles Hector play a vital role in ensuring access to justice and protecting the public interest.
SIGN HERE

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