Floods in Southern Brazil

There was catastrophic flooding in Brazil’s southern Rio Grande do Sul early in May, killing at least 155 people. Eduardo Leite, the state Governor, said: “I repeat and insist: the devastation to which we are being subjected is unprecedented.” The water, caused by storms and torrential rainfall, has led to devastation: there have been landslides and mudslides, roads washed away, bridges collapsing. Communications and electricity supplies have been cut off, and more than three quarters of a million people have no water supply. Thousands have been forced out of their homes and have had to abandon their livestock. There is a threat to the city of Porto Alegre from vulnerable dams. One hydroelectric dam has already collapsed. 

Climatologist Francisco Eliseu Aquino, who is a Professor at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, commented that the devastating storms were the result of a “disastrous cocktail” of global warming and the El Nino weather phenomenon. Tropical and polar air masses collided, but it was particularly extreme as it was “intensified due to climate change”. It is not the first of a series of extreme weather events in Brazil, which included a cyclone in September. 

Last month’s News Digest contained reports of “the worst flooding in living memory” in Russia’s Ural region in the south, south west Siberia and in the north of Kazakhstan. There have also been catastrophic floods in Afghanistan and Indonesia. Europe is not immune. There has been unprecedented flooding in both Germany and France recently. Climate change is increasingly affecting many parts of the world, but much of this is rarely reported in the UK – after all even serious flooding is rare in our backyard. But we have been warned – we have been warned for decades. 

Israel destroys education in Gaza

Palestine takes pride in and has become known for its high level of literacy. In 2018 Middle East Eye reported that, despite the difficulties that thousands of Palestinian students had in order to reach their schools in the West Bank, crossing military checkpoints or the wall between their hometowns and schools, Palestine had one of the world’s highest literacy rates, with only 3.3% of Palestinians aged 15 and over in the West Bank and Gaza Strip unable to read. In September last year Middle East Monitor reported that the illiteracy rate in Palestine had fallen by 84 % over the last 20 years to 3.3%. Palestine’s adult literacy rate of 97% is actually higher than Israel’s which is only 91.8%.

Since 7th October, schools have been bombed or turned into shelters for displaced people, leaving Gaza’s estimated 625,000 school-aged children unable to attend classes.

All 12 of Gaza’s higher education institutions have been destroyed or damaged, leaving nearly 90,000 students stranded, and more than 350 teachers and academics have been killed, according to Palestinian official data. And, along with the destroyed buildings, some Palestinian teaching staff have lost years of research and materials, and students have lost vital pieces of work.

So in the last eight months the education system has become increasingly fragile. With schools and universities closed, damaged or destroyed, Palestinians both inside and outside their country are doing their utmost to start learning again. Some are sitting cross-legged in the sand in tents with volunteer teachers encouraging them, determined not to let them lose any more time in their education. Others have fled across the border and have managed to connect online with schools still functioning in the West Bank. There is a German professor who has managed to organise links for Palestinian students with universities in Europe.

Palestinians are determined not to allow their impressive record of educational achievement to be crushed completely. The Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court are clear that the widespread and intentional destruction of buildings designated for educational purposed are war crimes and constitute a form of genocide.

Domestic Violence 2024

Women’s Aid is 50 years old. It was founded in 1974 and was known initially as the National Women’s Aid Federation. The organisation created a national network, which meant that it was possible to find a safe place for women and children who had been suffering from violence and abuse in another part of the country. Another aspect of Women’s Aid was to fight for new policies and new laws to protect women and children from domestic violence. However, many specialist services have been closed in recent years. Women’s Aid’s Annual Audit investigates the availability and use of the services that still exist. They report that the available services are in many cases overrun and unable to deal with the high level of need and the many challenges they face today. 

Funding has proved one of the main problems and 44.2% of organisations are providing assistance in situations that should be covered by a statutory agency. One shocking statistic that was discovered is that 62.5% of services found that women could not afford to leave their abusers. They did not have money to pay for essentials and regularly had to make use of foodbanks. Numerous other problems have arisen over the years because of the absence of dedicated funding, including the low pay for staff, which has meant many members of the workforce have had to leave to find higher paid work elsewhere. 

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, commenting on the domestic abuse figures for 2023 stated: “These statistics also demonstrate the strides we have made in improving awareness and breaking the stigma around domestic abuse. In the year ending 31st March 2023, 81% of victims and survivors of DA told someone about the abuse. Of those, 71% told someone who they knew personally like a friend or relative whilst 33% told someone in a position of authority and 28% someone in a professional support capacity.”

But we are not doing nearly enough. The police receive a domestic abuse-related call every 30 seconds. And the 2023 report revealed that just 6.8% of domestic abuse reports resulted in a charge, and in cases where sexual abuse was involved the charge rate was only 3%. Yet it is estimated that less than 24% of domestic abuse crime is reported to the police. One in four women experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives and two women a week in England and Wales are killed by their partners, either a current partner or previous one. In addition to murder, on average three women on the receiving end of violence at home commit suicide every week. One in five children have lived with domestic abuse, and it is closely linked to homelessness and depression.

Nicole Jabobs remarked: “Every life lost to domestic abuse is a tragedy and my thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones. Every domestic homicide is preventable. I want to see agencies come together to learn the lessons from domestic homicide reviews so that future deaths can be prevented.” But sympathy and vague words are simply not enough. Domestic abuse and the suffering and deaths it leads to are completely unacceptable, and providing funding and reforming the justice system should be a high priority. But when was violence against women prioritised by our politicians?

Rwanda – “an open and welcoming destination”

On 13th May this year, Clémentine de Montjoye arrived at Kigali International Airport. The Rwandan immigration authorities denied her entry to Rwanda and took her passport. Clémentine de Montjoye is a senior researcher in the Africa section at Human Rights Watch. She had visited Rwanda in order to meet officials from foreign embassies, but the authorities informed her that she was “not welcome in Rwanda” for undisclosed “immigration reasons,” and they instructed Kenya Airways to make sure that she was removed from the country. She flew back to Nairobi where her passport was returned to her. 

This is the fourth time a Human Rights Watch researcher has been prevented from entering Rwanda. It happened in 2008, in 2010 and in 2018, when a Rwandan consultant who worked with Human Rights Watch was detained for six days.

Rwanda’s human rights record is extremely poor and appears to be deteriorating. For a long time the establishment in Rwanda has taken measures to block independent scrutiny and criticism, including denying entry to international journalists and persecuting a number of Rwandan journalists. Some critics have been killed or went missing in suspicious circumstances. 

Yet the British Government is still prepared to risk the futures of people who have fled war, persecution and torture by sending them to Rwanda. The Safety of Rwanda Bill was passed in parliament on 16th April and is due to become law now. Freedom from Torture, Amnesty International UK and Liberty have called our Parliament a ‘crime scene’ for passing the bill and ignoring rulings and evidence from the House of Lords, the Supreme Court and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Parliament has undermined the system we have of balances and checks and has overruled important international protections. 

These cruel measures were introduced by the Tories and are backed by Labour. In January Marilyn Tyzack explained that the odious scheme “will not save Rishi Sunak’s political skin”. It does not reflect the will of the British people, but simply panders to a minority who support the far right. A poll in December 2023 commissioned by Together With Refugees revealed that 80% of the British public “want an approach to the asylum system that is well managed, fair and compassionate”. This will not come about under the present government nor the government formed after the next election.

Looking back in time – Paris May 1968 : “Be realistic – demand the impossible”

“Be realistic – demand the impossible” were the words of Paris students in May 1968. They fought pitched battles with the police every night for a few days, and trade unions called a national strike. 

The protests in Paris were part of global unrest, student activism and protest, which differed from country to country. In the US there were increasing levels of opposition to and demonstrations against the war in Vietnam and a number of civil rights protests. In France there were demands for a radical overhaul of society and widespread social reform. And in France, because the workers’ strikes were taking place at the same time as the students’ protests, there was a great deal of disruption, and there seemed to be the possibility of a political revolution. In many parts of the world capitalism was under fire and radicalism appeared to be spreading. During 1968 there were confrontations with the authorities in a number of countries and riots in Germany, Paris, Mexico City, Brazil, Tokyo and Chicago. 

The same level of radical protest did not take place in the UK, but there were protests in Hornsey College of Art, Colchester, Hull, Brighton, Coventry and the London School of Economics (LSE). The LSE was known in London as “a hot bed of revolution”.

At a time when it is easy to lose sight of hope for radical change, can we try to summon some optimism when we look back at Paris, 1968?

The Communist Norman John Klugman wrote in 1968: “There is the courage of the mass demonstration and the barricade, and there is the courage of the long patient perseverance of winning people to understand the need for and character of revolutionary change in society”. Both of these forms of the fight for change are still evident and relevant.

Eleanor Beardsley, writing in 2018 at the time of the 50th anniversary of Paris 1968, believed that the protests and strikes in Paris brought about the women’s movement and the sexual revolution in France. Workers achieved higher salaries and improved working conditions and the unions became stronger. May 1968 was “a brief moment when everything seemed possible”. One day everything will seem possible again.

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