Weekly News Review

Civil liberties blown away by Madrid bombs?

London-based civil liberties NGO Statewatch has criticised EU 'anti-terrorism' plans as, in many cases, "bear(ing) little or no relations to tackling terrorist attacks like those in Spain".

Citing proposals for data retention and storage, a spokesperson for the group said that these "would introduce the wholesale surveillance of everyone in Europe and could potentially be used for social and political control."

Include in the measures are the introduction of biometric information, such as fingerprints, in passports and residents’ permits for non-EU citizens, total surveillance of air travel within, to and from the EU, and the logging of emails, mobile phones and phone calls.

"Under the guise of tackling terrorism the EU is planning to bring in a swathe of measures to do with crime and the surveillance of the whole population. After the dreadful loss of life and injuries in Madrid we need a response that unites Europe rather than divides it", Tony Bunyan, who edits the groups magazine,  said.

The Madrid atrocity fuelled fears that measures would be taken which are more appropriate to a police state than a "family of free democratic nations" as the EU likes to style itself.  The EU, which this week appointed former Dutch Liberal MEP Gijs de Vries as "anti-terrorist Tsar", seems to be bearing these fears out.

Industry bosses defend their right to poison us

150 participants at this week's European Environmental Bureau (EEB)  chemicals policy conference, from environmental NGOs, trade unions and different sectors of industry spelt out their different assessments of the European Commission’s draft regulation on chemicals (REACH), looking for opportunities to reduce the differences.

The European Trade Union Convention (ETUC) presented its recent conclusions on the Commission’s proposals which were welcomed by environmentalists as a very constructive contribution to the debate. Contrary to this, the chemicals industry has taken a stand against the European Commission’s proposals for REACH, claiming that it could kill off Europe's chemical industry. The EEB and concerned European consumer groups are surprised and angry at the chemical industry federations’ all-out attacks on REACH. ‘It is not credible to call it a de-industrialisation programme for Europe, but not offer serious alternatives’ said John Hontelez, Secretary General of the EEB.

‘Genuine business concerns need to be looked at, but they also need to be separated from scare-mongering’ said Stefan Scheuer, senior EU policy officer at the EEB.

‘The time of the hurricane scenarios of industry commissioned studies should be over – enough of worst case hypothesis and polarising! We want to be honest. We want environment and public concerns to be taken seriously and not sneered at, and we want also to understand where business has real problems’, said Mauro Albrizio of the Italian NGO Legambiente. Industry-conducted surveys show that companies rank the loss of their reputation as the greatest risk to their business. The ongoing campaigns from the chemical industry are seriously undermining the positive image that the industry has tried to build up in the last 15 years in trying to be ‘part of the solution, rather than part of the problem’.

The EEB also issued a statement identifying five key areas where REACH must be improved in order to realise its benefits:

"1. The use of ‘chemicals of very high concern’ must not be authorised if their use is not essential to society or if safer alternatives are available. We insist on the mandatory implementation of the substitution principle.

2. The registration must ensure that the gap in safety information is closed.

3. Industry information must be of a guaranteed quality.

4. Chemicals used in imported articles must pass the same testing standards as in EU-made articles.

5. Sufficient information must be made publicly accessible.

The EEB, ETUC and UNICE, the EU employers' organisation, have agreed to continue to talk. No doubt the environmentalists and trade unionists are aware that every improvement in environmental legislation, workers' rights or health-anmd-safety legislation since the state first began to interest itself in such things about 150 years ago has been greeted by industry bosses as if it were the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse.

More on EU chemicals policy can be found at www.eeb.org and www.chemicalreaction.org

UK 'No' campaign suspends activities: finance minister ends short term prospect of referendum  

The "no" campaign, the broad movement against the adoption of the euro by the UK,  this week announced that it is suspending active campaigning from the end of the month because of the Government's decision to postpone any realistic chance of a euro referendum to 2008 - at the absolute earliest. According to a spokesperson, the campaign will continue to monitor the euro debate and will ensure that the organisation is ready "to spring back into action" if necessary.

In his annual budget announcement Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Gordon Brown announced a "rolling assessment" and said he would decide whether to reassess the so-called "Five Tests" - criterion for assessing whether the moment is ripe for Britain's membership - next year. The next budget will be just before a General Election, making the next chance to initiate a reassessment of the Tests the budget of Spring 2006. "If there is a credible period for a reassessment and the full statutory period for a campaign, Spring 2008 is the absolute earliest that a fair referendum can be held," the spokesperson added.

Explaining the decision earlier this week, Nigel Smith, Chairman of 'no' said, "The Government has made the right decision to end its attempts to bounce the UK into the euro. We have been here to fight for a no vote in a euro referendum. It is our judgement (that) there is no chance of that referendum being called in the near-future and it is right to end active campaigning. We have built the broadest coalition of people opposed to joining the euro - including representatives of six political parties. In a way we have been a victim of our own success".

Greenpeace urges action on two key issues

Greenpeace is asking supporters to take two actions in relation to EU policies on climate change and forest conservation. “Germany has played a leading role on climate change for more than a decade,” a message to “cyberactivists” states. “But now Germany's Minister for Economics threatens to undermine a progressive EU law, critical to tackling climate change. This law, the Emissions Trading Directive, aims to help all EU countries start reducing CO2 emissions from next January. It's a major part of how countries will meet their Kyoto Protocol targets. Germany has set itself the ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gases by 21% by the year 2012 compared to the 1990 levels. But if the government doesn't get its act together, it will fail to meet these targets, and will not meet any future reduction targets either.” To see what you can do about it. Go here 

Secondly, as you may have read, Greenpeace has taken action to stop a shipment of Indonesian rainforest plywood - from a mill known to be receiving illegal timber – from being imported into the UK and Belgium. Politicians at EU and member state level are currently discussing what action can be taken to tackle the illegal timber trade. Greenpeace suggests you write to the Commissioner responsible for the EU's work on this subject, Poul Nielson, demanding that the EU make it a crime to import and market illegally sourced timber and forest products, that it take steps to crack down on the illegal timber trade by strengthening existing national and European legislation on money laundering and public procurement, and provide adequate funds to tackle illegal logging and the relating trade.  For information, go here

Israeli and Jewish peace groups condemn murder of Hamas leader

 The peace activist group European Jews for a Just Peace issued the following statement in the wake of the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin

 "We wish to express our feelings of outrage and horror at the  targeted killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin by the Israeli army in Gaza  this morning.  It is a reckless and irresponsible action that threatens awful consequences. Targeted killings are of course illegal. They are quite simply a  weapon of terror and oppression. Sheikh Yassin’s death will inflame Palestinians far beyond the bounds of Hamas alone and will, inevitably, encourage militants to set out to kill Israeli civilians in response.

"There is no way the Israeli government and military cannot be aware of this. We must assume that the action was carried out in full knowledge of its likely consequences. We must assume that Israeli government and military are perfectly willing to expose the life and security of the Israeli people to the increased risk of  further attacks – and the Palestinians to the counter-retaliations of  an endless and unbearable circle of violence.

"We condemn the irresponsible decision of the Israeli government and military  to carry out this illegal assassination.

We call on Israeli soldiers to refuse to carry out illegal orders endangering the lives of their own people.

We call on the International Community in general and the European Union in particular to condemn the killing of Sheikh Yassin in the strongest  terms and to put an effective pressure on the Israeli government to end its ongoing and blatant violations of International Law which endanger both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian.

In Israel itself, peace group Gush Shalom/peace also condemned what it called the "assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, with its concomitant careless killing of passers-by," describing it as a mad provocative act by a government which lost all restraint. It is the act of a pyromaniac fireman whose method of putting out the fire of terrorism is to pour barrels of gasoline upon it, an act which might cost the life of dozens or hundreds of Israeli citizens in the near future. Prime Minster Sharon's talk of "withdrawal from Gaza", which had caught the headlines in the past months, is now revealed to be no more than meaningless chatter. Far from seriously meaning to evacuate even a bit of occupied territory,  this bankrupt prime minister - faced with police investigations into a myriad of corruption concerning himself and his sons - seems determined to bequeath to his country a legacy of eternal war with the Palestinians and the entire Arab and Muslim World. Every day that this man remains in power poses a grave danger to the future of Israelis and Palestinians alike."

The groups statement concluded by calling "upon all sane and responsible forces left in the international community to intervene, urgently and forcefully, to save our region at the edge of the abyss and halt the monstrous cycle of bloodshed which now threatens to engulf us.

Go to http://www2.ejjp.org/ to read more about EJJP. Gu8sh shalom can be found at http://www.gush-shalom.org/english

World DU Conference Reports now on-line

The records of the  World Depleted Uranium/Uranium Weapons Conference, held in Hamburg last October is now available for audio download and replay/airplay go here

More than 200 participants represented 21 nations, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Australia, Japan, Canada, Sweden, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Algeria, Cuba, and Malta, UK and the US.

Over thirty-five speakers including scientists, medical professionals, Iraqi medical and environmental professionals, independent researchers, international legal experts, military professionals, a nuclear weapons lab whistleblower, a prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal for Afghanistan, veterans and their families, civilians, NGO, and peace and anti-globalization activists presented their most recent findings and issues about the effects of these illegal weapons.  Iraqi scientist, Dr. Souad Al-Azzawi, received the internationally recognized Nuclear Free Future Award and prize of Euros 10,000 on October 12, just prior to the Conference. She presented her findings on environmental studies of DU contamination of air, soil and water in southern Iraq from the 1991 Gulf War. (For information on the speakers, see here

The evidence coming from the scientists, health professionals and legal experts at this Conference is clear:  "DU is causing significant health effects worldwide, and it illegal under existing international law and convention," concluded conference planner Marion Küpker, one of the co-ordinators of the German anti-weapons group Gewaltfreie Aktion Atomwaffen Abschaffen (Non-violent Action for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons -GAAA). "Now it's up to the activist community to force rogue governments like  the US and Britain to observe international law the same way they preach it to other nations."


The Index, here , is primarily audio, with links to 34 mp3 format files of presentations and interviews that are downloadable. For information on the conference, with conference reports and resolutions, see here