• Sweden edition
 

The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

IRAQ: THE UK RESPONSE

August 11th, 2014 by Paul Johnston

Yesterday at church I was talking to a friend who comes from Northern Iraq. He fled to Sweden at the start of the Iran/Iraq war. But he still has family in Northern Iraq, part of the increasingly small and vulnerable community of Christians and other minorities there being persecuted by the Jihadists.

It has been appalling to observe the growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Like Sweden, the UK government condemns the barbaric attacks waged by the so-called Islamic State terrorists across the region, including against the Yezidi community trapped in terrible conditions on Mount Sinjar.

Our Prime Minister said on Friday that he welcomed President Obama’s decision to accept the Iraqi Government’s request for help and to conduct targeted US airstrikes to help Iraqi forces as they fight back against the terrorists and to help the civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar.

This is about helping populations facing a humanitarian disaster but also about basic human values– the right to freedom and dignity, whatever your religious beliefs.

Therefore over the weekend the UK conducted a humanitarian airdrop over Iraq in conjunction with the US to provide help to those affected, including those in grave need of food, water and shelter in the Sinjar area.

This is just part of a cross-government response to the crisis. Late last week we agreed an additional £8m package of UK humanitarian aid for Northern Iraq, taking our total emergency aid in response to this crisis so far to £13m.

Our Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said that the UK expects the air drop operation to go on for the foreseeable future, in particular to the people who are trapped on the Mountain Sinjar.

But he also pointed out that airdropping supplies is a short term solution. The long term solution requires fundamental political progress in Iraq and concerted national and international efforts to defeat terrorism and promote a diverse and inclusive state, respectful of ethnic and religious diversity.

Therefore the process of agreeing a new Iraqi government is less visible but just as important as the military and humanitarian action now taking place.

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NATO: AN ENDURING ALLIANCE IN TIMES OF CHANGE AND CHALLENGE

August 6th, 2014 by Paul Johnston

Early next month the UK will host a Summit meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government in Newport, Wales.

The last time the UK hosted a NATO Summit was in 1990 as Europe was emerging from the Cold War. The Alliance was looking forward to the prospect of a Europe free from the divisions of the recent past. If anything, some were questioning whether NATO would be able to adapt to a world where its role was less obvious than it had been for the first four decades of its existence.

NATO has transformed itself in the intervening quarter century: enlarging and modernising, conducting military operations from the Balkans to Afghanistan.

But its core purpose has remained European security, the transatlantic link and the commitment to defence of its member states.

That mission now looks as central as it has ever done, given the challenge to European security posed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its destabilisation in Ukraine. This week’s tragic events in Afghanistan remind us also of the continuing international effort required there. And a glance at the newspapers or TV gives an idea of the range of other concerns that will be on NATO leaders’ minds as they prepare to meet in the UK.

Given this challenging global context, it is important that NATO Allies and crucial partner counties like Sweden approach the Summit determined to build consensus on a robust yet collaborative way of addressing future threats, wherever they arise.

With this in mind, my Prime Minister has identified a number of key goals.

First, in response to the Russia/Ukraine crisis, we need to strengthen our ability to respond to any threat and to reassure Allies concerned about their security, including through sustaining a robust presence in Eastern Europe and reviewing and rethinking our long term relationship with Russia, something the UK and Sweden also consider needs to happen in the EU as well.

Second, we must work to ensure a positive legacy in Afghanistan. The UK and Sweden have both committed much to Afghanistan and our soldiers have lost their lives there. We owe it to them and to the people of that country to ensure the fragile progress of recent years is built upon not reversed.

Third, we need to address the threats presented by an increasingly unpredictable and unstable world. To its south and east, Europe faces failed and failing states, regional conflicts and threats from non-state actors. There are places not far from Europe’s borders where terrorists plot attacks against us. Sweden and the UK both have advanced, interconnected economies that are vulnerable to cyber and other asymmetric threats, as well as to terrorism.

So NATO members and important partners like Sweden face interconnected challenges. The Prime Minister’s fourth goal reflects this; he is determined to reinforce NATO’s relationships with its partners and to work with those committed to an international rules-based system and the shared values of freedom and democracy.

For the UK, Sweden is at the forefront of this effort. We will continue to build on the close co-operation and interoperability developed by our armed forces as we have worked together in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, both bilaterally and in the context of NATO partnership activity.

The Summit in Wales will have less to celebrate perhaps than its predecessor in London 24 years ago. But the Allies and Partners there will, I’m sure, be no less determined to look hard at future challenges and opportunities and to focus on the key role NATO and its Partners can play in rising to them.

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PRIDE … AND PREJUDICE

August 4th, 2014 by Paul Johnston

Visitors to the Embassy last week will have seen the Rainbow Flag flying proudly above the building to show our support for Stockholm Pride.

Promotion of LGBT rights is an important part of our Government’s work on human rights around the world. Given Sweden’s leading role in this area, you might ask why I’m writing about it here. For three reasons, I’d say:

First, because the UK and Sweden are right to be proud of what we have achieved in this area over the years, and to celebrate it. As recently as twenty five years ago, gay people couldn’t join the UK Diplomatic Service. Now diplomats and members of the armed forces can be proud of their identity and of their professional contribution. The UK also passed another really significant milestone in March this year when the first same-sex marriages took place.

Second, because, despite all the progress that Sweden, the UK and other like-minded countries have made, we know we cannot be complacent. Too many LGBT people continue to face prejudice, bullying and violence, even in Europe, simply because of who they love or how they identify themselves. So standing up for our values continues to be crucial.

Third, and most significant, we need to show solidarity and support for LGBT people in parts of the world where the rights they can now enjoy in countries like Sweden and the UK are a distant dream.

The UK Foreign Office’s annual human rights report provides a stark reminder of the problem:

“…76 countries still retain laws that discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In at least five countries, the death penalty may be applied to those found guilty of offences relating to consensual same-sex relations. In many countries, the LGBT community continues to experience violence; hate crimes; intolerance; violation and abuse of their human rights, including torture inhuman or degrading treatment; restrictions on their freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly; discrimination in employment; and restricted access to health services and education.”

British diplomats and Ministers see it as a core part of our job to raise these issues with the governments concerned and to work to support civil society groups fighting prejudice and persecution. Around the world, UK funded project work provides direct support to local organisations seeking to make tangible, practical changes within their own societies.

Sweden similarly is active internationally on this, including through its development assistance programme and we work together with international fora such as the UN Human Rights machinery.

So as the flags come down for another year, it’s a moment to salute the actions of those, day in, day out, who work to make life better for LGBT people.

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PROTECTING GIRLS FROM ABUSE OF THEIR RIGHTS

July 22nd, 2014 by Paul Johnston

Today (22 July) my Prime Minister, David Cameron, and UNICEF, are hosting the world’s first #GirlSummit in London.

The Summit’s aim is to mobilise domestic and international efforts to end the appalling practices of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Early Forced Marriage (CEFM).

This is a high priority for the UK government and the Prime Minister personally. It’s our conviction that girls and indeed all women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination and thus to achieve their potential.

But it’s all to clear that many are being prevented from doing so by harmful practices such as FGM and CEFM, both of which are illegal in the UK and Sweden.

What can you do to help change this?

We are urging people to pledge their support through Facebook and Twitter and it would be great if you could do the same via www.girlsummitpledge.com. Many thousands of pledges have been made – let your voice be heard and let us together #endchildmarriage and #endFGM everywhere.

So what is FGM?

FGM is an extreme form of violence against women and girls. It is a human rights violation and can have a lifelong impact on survivors’ physical and psychological health.

More than 125 million girls and women alive today have suffered some form of FGM in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where the practice is concentrated. In most populations which practice it, FGM is a deeply embedded social norm that is thousands of years old. Many engage in the practice even though they do not support it because it is considered essential for marriage.

Internationally, there is a growing, Africa-led, movement to end FGM – worldwide, it includes women and girls, community and religious leaders, politicians and First Ladies campaigning for change. Thousands of communities have chosen to abandon the practice and are encouraging others to follow suit. In 2012, an African-led resolution calling for a ban to FGM was passed unanimously at the UN General Assembly.

Despite these positive changes, unless efforts are accelerated, as many as 30 million more girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade. Today’s event in London is intended to redouble international efforts to end this awful practice.

…and CEFM?

Forcing a woman or girl into marriage robs her of the right to choose her own future, and can put her at greater risk of not going to school or of dying through early childbirth. A forced marriage is different to an arranged marriage. A forced marriage is one where one or both of the spouses has not consented to the union, but are being coerced or pressurised into it.

Poverty, lack of education and social norms are among the root causes of child marriage. Addressing these drivers and investing in girls’ education can help tackle significant inequities in society. Evidence suggests that girls who have little or no education are up to six times more likely to marry as children compared with girls with secondary schooling. The experience of going to school can provide a girl with skills, information and social networks that better equip her to communicate and defend her interests. So education and development are a crucial part of prevention.

The summit?

The good news is that things are changing. In the heart of communities and families in the UK and across Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe, more and more people are saying no to these practices. Many governments in developing countries are already working to end these practices and have passed laws and developed plans. Our role is to get behind, support and accelerate efforts to end them. The London event is bringing together women, girls and community leaders from the UK and overseas, alongside governments, international organisations and the private sector to agree on action to end FGM and CEFM within a generation.

The Prime Minister will be joined by Home Secretary Theresa May, and Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening, alongside heads of state, domestic and international practitioners, survivors, charities, community groups and celebrities. Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, Hillevi Engström will represent Sweden at the summit and we welcome her attendance and Sweden’s continued partnership in tackling these terrible practices.

The summit will aim to secure new commitments from the private sector, faith leaders, other civil society organisations and governments. Success stories and good practice in tackling these issues will be shared. The attendees will also hear from girls and women who have lived through the ordeal of FGM or CEFM, and from many inspiring individuals from affected communities who are now driving through changes so that other girls and women can enjoy greater opportunities in the future.

Globally, we will not see an end to these harmful practices unless we all work together, stepping up our efforts and partnering with other countries efforts to end FGM and CEFM forever.

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War and Remembrance

July 1st, 2014 by Paul Johnston

28 June marked the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the event that set in train the outbreak of the First World War.

Of course the causes of the war were much more complicated than one violent act. Last week we hosted an event at the Residence where British historian Andrew Oldfield gave us a fascinating insight into the political, economic and cultural conditions which led to war.

The consequences are still with us, as I noted in my talk; if post-war Europe was a “landscape with ruins”, as one historian noted, the Middle East today remains a landscape with fault lines, some of them dating from the aftermaths of the First and Second World Wars.

So remembering our history and understanding its lessons, I argued, is crucial to effective diplomacy. That’s why the British government has invested in a range of events to mark the centenary of the Great War.

WWI Podcasts

On 28 June the Foreign Secretary launched a series of WWI Podcasts based on original Foreign Office dispatches from the 28 June assassination to Britain entering the War on 4 August (the so called “July Crisis?”). In the interviews, the Foreign Secretary and former British Ambassadors to Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Russia and Serbia help set the context for what was unfolding in Europe and describe what it must have been like for their predecessors during that period. ?The podcasts are available at https://audioboo.fm/playlists/1256851-fco-first-world-war-podcasts.

WWI Tweets

In another digital project to mark the July Crisis, FCO Historians will tweet, in real time, extracts from Foreign Office telegrams, dispatches and letters leading up to the outbreak of WWI. Eleven twitter accounts have been set up reflecting the key British diplomatic figures from 1914. They will tweet from their respective accounts and be re-tweeted from a central FCO account: @WWIFO. You can sign-up and follow the tweets as they come in real-time 100 years to the day. A blog has also been posted on the History of Government website on Gov.UK to provide the context and background.

UN Security Council

Finally, commemoration of WWI will be a major theme of the UK’s Presidency of the Security Council in August. The UK will co-lead with Australia a Security Council visit to Belgium on 9-10 August. The Council will hold a session on conflict prevention with academics, visit a multinational war cemetery and attend the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gates. During our Presidency we shall also host an exhibition of WWI poetry in the UN Secretariat building which will feature poems from different countries.

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Europe: After the Vote

June 30th, 2014 by Paul Johnston

Much ink has already been spilled (or many keys have already been tapped) in analysing the European Council’s decision to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker to head the European Commission.

My government has been clear that the decision was wrong in principle, as a matter as process and as an issue of policy.

For that reason the UK stood up for the principle that the European Council – the elected national leaders – should be the ones to propose the Commission President, not be dictated to by political groups in the European Parliament.

This was a position shared by all three main political parties in Britain. In the UK, as in most other EU countries, the so-called Spitzencandidates had been invisible in the elections. The notion that they automatically represented the conscious choice of a European demos is nonsense.

So it was important and welcome that the European Council agreed to review what has happened and to consider how we handle the appointment of the next Commission President. We need to ensure we get a choice of high-quality candidates in the future.

This whole process has reinforced my Prime Minister’s conviction, as he said in Brussels, that the EU needs to change to address the concerns of citizens across Europe and thus close the gap between people in Europe and the EU institutions.

For us, it’s clear that the status quo – “Brussels as usual” – is not right for the EU of today, let alone that of tomorrow. We won’t be able to sustain a diverse, flexible and competitive continent unless we look the challenges and opportunities of modernity and globalisation in the face.

The Prime Minister was clear that Britain’s national interest still lies in our membership of a reformed EU and that he is determined to achieve that through discussion and renegotiation.

He, with others, secured progress in a number of important respects at the Council:

For the first time all Member States have agreed that the EU will need to address Britain’s concerns about the EU in the next few years. We know these are shared by others.

Leaders have also agreed that “ever closer union” allows for different paths of integration for different countries and to respect the wish of those who do not want deeper integration.

We have also embedded Britain’s push for reform, which is shared by other Partners, in the Council’s mandate for the Commission for the next five years:

-prioritising work to building stronger economies and creating jobs.

-making clear the EU should only act where it makes a real difference – leaving it to nation-states where it doesn’t.

- giving national parliaments a stronger role.

- tackling issues that worry voters such as the abuse of free movement in certain countries.

Of course, this is only a start and more change is needed. The PM accepts that what happened in Brussels on Friday will make reform tougher and the stakes higher. But he’s clear that reforming the EU and the UK’s role within is necessary and also achievable.

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Scotland: the best of all lands and the best of all worlds

June 23rd, 2014 by Paul Johnston

On 18 September, voters in Scotland will be asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?”.

The UK and Scottish Governments agree that the question is for people in Scotland to decide. The UK Government strongly believes that Scotland’s future is better staying within the United Kingdom, but it has of course pledged to respect the outcome.

As part of its commitment to a fair and decisive referendum in Scotland, the UK Government has commissioned a number of papers to evaluate the benefits of Scotland remaining in the UK, both to Scotland and the rest of the UK. Late last week, it published the fifteenth and final paper.

United Kingdom, united future: Conclusions of the Scotland analysis programme summarises the previous papers in the series and sets out the programme’s key findings on issues such as currency, businesses and jobs, the affordability of public services, personal finances, and Scotland’s place in Europe and in the world.

The paper shows that Scotland is better off as part of the UK, now and in the future.

With a strong Scottish Parliament, Scotland can make its own decisions in devolved areas, while sharing risks and resources with the other parts of the UK. The best of all worlds for the best of all lands!

More than 200 UK public institutions serve people in Scotland, underpinned by shared principles and values. If Scotland votes for independence, this will come to an end.

As part of the UK, Scotland has one of the oldest and most stable currencies in the world. It would not be possible to recreate today’s arrangements if the UK as it stands did not exist. That is why all three main political parties in the UK Parliament have ruled out sharing the Pound or the Bank of England in a formal currency union.

A great weight of evidence says that Scotland’s finances are stronger as part of the UK. Independent experts agree that the UK offers people in Scotland lower taxes and higher public spending than would be possible in an independent Scotland – an estimated £1,400 per person per year for each person in Scotland.

There would also be global implications for an independent Scotland. Currently, the people of Scotland benefit from the UK’s reach and strength on the world stage. The UK has a unique and historic role in world affairs which it uses to enhance its security and prosperity. Scotland also benefits from and contributes to the UK’s relationships with other countries, and the UK’s high profile in multilateral organisations, including NATO, the UN Security Council and the EU.

Previous Scotland Analysis papers can be found here.

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A Wake-Up Call for Europe

June 9th, 2014 by Paul Johnston

Tonight David Cameron pays his second visit to Sweden in just over two years. In 2012 it was to meet his Nordic and Baltic counterparts. Tonight and tomorrow Prime Minister Reinfeldt is again his host, this time at Harpsund. And this time, the German Chancellor and Dutch Prime Minister will be the other participants. At a crucial moment in the European debate they’ll be charting a reform course for the EU. Here’s the article I published in the leading Swedish business newspaper Dagens Industri today, setting out our view of the reform challenges ahead.

A WAKE-UP CALL FOR EUROPE: OP-ED BY PAUL JOHNSTON, HMA STOCKHOLM, IN DAGENS INDUSTRI, 9 JUNE

Today David Cameron comes to Sweden to discuss the future of Europe.

Two weeks ago citizens voted across Europe to elect a new European Parliament.

Earthquakes, tremors, seismic waves: the media air was full of metaphors as pundits reflected on the emerging results.

The analogy that sprung to my mind was less a natural disaster than a wake-up call.

Some will say the results in the UK suggest that it’s already too late: that Britain has overslept and is sleepwalking out of the EU.

The UK government disagrees. These results show that people across Europe are disillusioned with the EU. Not a surprise, given the longest recession in living memory. But this is about more than economics: it’s about politics too. A return to growth, crucial though that is, will not solve all the EU’s problems. What we need is a serious rethink of where the EU goes next and how.

That was the message my Prime Minister took to the European Council dinner on 27 May. It was a message echoed around the table.

This is not a moment for the EU to panic. But emphatically it is not a time to return to business as usual.

What we need is new thinking, some new faces and a new agenda for the next Commission and the next 5 years, set by the European Council. Many leaders are committed to reforming the European Union.

That’s why David Cameron, along with Germany’s Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands , has accepted the invitation of Fredrik Reinfeldt, to meet at Harpsund on 9-10 June, to look at the real reform challenges facing the EU up to 2020 and beyond.

For the UK, these concern above all competitiveness, fairness and flexibility.

Competitiveness, because the election results speak to a deep concern that Europe has lost sight of its key mission, to secure prosperity for its citizens. The next Commission, the member states, national parliaments and the European Parliament need a ruthless focus on creating jobs and growth. More free trade, less, and smarter, regulation, fewer barriers to commerce and innovation: these must be the watchwords if we are to respond effectively to the challenges of globalisation and demographic change.

Fairness, because the evolution of the Union needs to work for all member states, large and small, inside and outside the eurozone. We need eurozone governments to take the right decisions to stabilise and strengthen governance of the single currency. But access to the single market, and non-discriminatory treatment of all member states, not least those with big financial sectors like Sweden and Britain, means a fairer EU is integral to a more competitive EU.

And with competitiveness and fairness must come greater flexibility. If Sunday’s results demonstrate anything it’s that the EU’s institutions have become dangerously remote from those who pay for them and elect them. Centralisation and harmonisation in the pursuit of an abstract ideal need to be replaced with a more modern vision: where, as the Dutch government has said, it’s Europe where necessary, national where possible.

As long ago as 2001 Europe’s Heads agreed that powers could flow down as well as up, away from the centre as well as toward Brussels. It’s long past time to act on that.

The elections were thus a wake-up call for Europe. Some Europeans, although not many Swedes, have had a tendency to decry the UK debate on Europe, “noisy neighbours” endlessly questioning the status quo, the acquis, the Project.

But increasingly our debate is a Europe-wide debate, not about dismantling the European Union, but about adapting it for the future.

And it’s essentially a cross-party issue in Britain. Of course the Westminster parties differ on the details. The Conservatives would have an in-out referendum, following negotiation of a new settlement for the UK in Europe, by the end of 2017. Labour and the Liberals would have such a referendum only in the event of a Treaty change transferring powers from Britain to Brussels.

But all agree on the need to reform Europe.

As David Cameron concluded his Bloomberg speech in January 2013: “I believe something very deeply. That Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union and that such a European Union is best with Britain in it… I will not rest until this debate is won. For the future of my country. For the success of the European Union. And for the prosperity of our peoples for generations to come. “

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Sweden: it’s #timetoact against sexual violence in conflict

June 5th, 2014 by Paul Johnston

Next Tuesday marks the beginning of the Foreign Secretary’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. I know the Swedish government shares the UK’s commitment to tackling this issue globally and we are already working closely with them. Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, Hillevi Engström will represent Sweden at the conference.

As part of the global relay of events supporting the Summit, Stockholm will host a panel discussion with the Swedish Red Cross, Swedish NGO Kvinna till Kvinna (Woman to Woman) and several international social entrepreneurs.

Addressing a broad public audience, the discussion will consider the contributions non-government organisations, business and individuals can make towards tackling issues such as sexual violence in conflict. The event will be filmed and shared both through the Summit and wider social media.

Earlier this week, I participated in a #diplocafe with the Secretary General of Kvinna till Kvinna, Lena Ag. We discussed the Global Summit and the impact of nationalism on women’s security and human rights. We also took the opportunity to show our support for the #TimeToAct campaign.

Next week, embassy colleagues will attend a Nordic Forum on women’s rights in Malmö (Southern Sweden) which is taking place at the same time as the Summit in London. They will participate in discussions, capture the activity on film, and share insights on social media.

What is the summit all about, you may ask?

The use of sexual violence in war is one of the great injustices of our lifetime. It is hard to document, let alone investigate. Perpetrators do not discriminate, because it’s not about sex, but violence, terror, power and control. When rape is committed during conflict, it has often been seen as an inevitable part of war, and so it has been allowed to go unpunished.

But even war has rules. So just as the world could agree that land mines have no place on the battlefield, the world must agree to end sexual violence in conflict.

In London between 10-13 June, the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and UN Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie, will co-host the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Representatives of governments, civil society, the military and the judiciary will all take part. So too will the public. Events will also take place around the world, including in Sweden. Representatives of Sweden will be asked to commit to concrete action that will help remove wartime rape and sexual violence from the world’s arsenal of cruelty. You can help to ensure they do so.

It will be a Summit like no other, because sexual violence is a crime like no other. Women and men are made to suffer its horrors in conflicts around the world, and shocking as it may seem, many victims are very young girls and boys. Sexual violence carries a corrosive after-effect that lasts a lifetime: an unjust and destructive shame for the victims and their families.

But we firmly believe that this can – and must – change.

The appalling truth is that only a tiny number of perpetrators of these crimes have ever been brought to trial, let alone convicted. That is why at the Summit we will launch the first International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Protocol will help investigators preserve information and evidence in the aftermath of an attack, improve the chances of someone being successfully prosecuted later, and protect victims and survivors from further trauma.

At the Summit next week, we want governments to announce their support for the Protocol and to encourage local activists, lawyers, police personnel, and doctors to use it. We also want governments to make sure that their national laws on rape and sexual violence are in line with international standards, so that there’s a greater chance of securing successful prosecutions for war crimes in their own courts. The Summit will also look at the role that the military can play. When sexual violence occurs in conflict zones, soldiers are often the first people on the scene, but are not always properly equipped or trained to deal with this sensitive problem. This needs to change. And Armies are often responsible for carrying out these abhorrent acts. This must stop. Finally, we hope the governments of the world’s wealthiest nations will announce new funding support, including to local grass-roots organisations which often work at the heart of the most affected communities.

But government action alone is not enough. We need every family and community to change the culture that stigmatises survivors and to be united in their abhorrence for these crimes, so that any man with a gun will think twice before ordering or committing rape. Will you add your voice to the global call for decisive action?

Join the conversation on twitter @end_svc using #TimeToAct and watch and share the animation on Youtube, ‘Don’t believe the thumbnail, this is the stuff of nightmares’, which depicts the horrors of rape and sexual violence through the eyes of a child.

It is time to support survivors, shatter the culture of impunity and ensure that justice is done, both now and in the future. It is #TimeToAct.

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Scotland in the UK: Better Together

June 2nd, 2014 by Paul Johnston

The referendum on Scottish independence draws ever nearer and the debate is intensifying on both sides.  As part of that debate, the UK government has published its 14th paper in a series of analyses, which set out the case for Scotland’s continued Union with the rest of the UK.

The focus of this latest paper is fiscal policy and sustainability.  It states that Scots would be around SEK 14,000 better off per person, per year, over the 20 years from 2016-17 if Scotland remained in the UK.  This “UK Dividend” is possible thanks to pooling financial resources and managing financial risks at an aggregate UK level.  If Scotland were independent, it is estimated that spending would need to go down 11%, or taxes would need to go up 13%, to avoid losing this benefit.

Other independent bodies, such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, have also analysed the fiscal prospects for an independent Scotland.  They all point towards greater fiscal challenges e.g. a continued decline in oil and gas revenues, and a more rapidly ageing population  than the rest of the UK, reducing tax revenues and growth whilst putting more pressure on age-related spending.

It is not just the UK government setting out the case for Better Together.  Separately, researchers at the University of Glasgow have challenged the facts behind the argument that Scotland can be successful as a small, independent country as it is one of the richest nations in the world.   In pure GDP terms, the wealth claim might be true (USD 39,600 per capita). However, the academics suggest that GNI (USD 37,400 per capita) is a better measure of wealth, as this identifies wealth that stays in the country.  And given the high levels of foreign (including Swedish) ownership, if foreign companies’ dividends and profits are discounted, the figure goes down to USD 34,600 per capita, rendering Scotland a middle-ranking economy.

The business community themselves are also getting directly involved in the debate, with everyone from the CBI (Svenskt Näringsliv equivalent) through to individual companies saying they think Scotland would be better off staying in the UK.  They are concerned that companies will pull out of an independent Scotland, although of course, they may not.  But it is a risk, and it could be an expensive one.

A lot of this might sound rather dull, simply quoting numbers and acronyms, and there are plenty more if you click on the link above.   Some might also say this sounds like a negative argument, that “London” and others from the outside are saying Scotland can’t go it alone. But that is categorically NOT the message.  The message is that we are Better Together.  The facts and figures stack up much more in Scotland’s favour as part of the UK.  Scotland and all the constituent parts of the UK make a stronger whole, building on each other’s respective strengths and capabilities, pooling resources, and constituting a coherent, outward-facing entity in an increasingly globalised world.

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