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Growing pressure for Europe to investigate mistreatment of women in #Kuwait



An important trading partner and investment destination for EU goods, Kuwait is being challenged to show that it is not turning a blind eye to human rights abuses at home. Following a series of reports by this newspaper and other international media highlighting growing cases of women in Kuwait being made targets for persecution, MEP David Martin this week wrote to the EU's foreign policy chief demanding a full accounting by the Kuwaiti authorities and an investigation by the European Parliament – writes Josie Simmons

Martin, an MEP for almost 35 years and with a seat on the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights, wrote to Federica Mogherini that the treatment of prisoners and complaints by human rights groups of poor justice and “disproportionate” sentences, especially against minorities and foreigners, are a reason to be “very concerned”.

Martin's raising the alarm about violations of due process and infringement of liberty have been echoed by Transparency International, Amnesty International and most recently Human Rights Watch in their 2018 report, which highlighted ongoing concerns about overcrowding in prisons and the treatment of minorities and especially foreign women.

Martin’s letter added: “With six to seven in a cell and only a small window for ventilation in the blistering heat of Kuwait, it’s a perfect depiction of mistreatment and a clear breach of human rights. It’s a wonder people aren’t dying in these types of conditions”.

Martin and other prominent international voices across Europe are drawing particular attention to the plight of Marsha Lazareva, who he says has been sentenced to 10 years of hard labour in a “controversial decision by the courts, and where basic needs such medical care and even a bible are arbitrarily denied.”

Martin said, “For people like Marsha, access to medicine and adequate care for an ongoing illness is essential.  The degradation suffered by many of the women prisoners is truly shocking. For a nation which prides itself on being a signatory to conventions on human rights, it must be alarming to other nations that these practices are allowed to go on unchecked.”

He says Lazareva “is one of many foreign nationals left to rot” in Kuwait’s female prison, explaining: “Often kept in cells together, they are victimised for being foreign and of different religions. Moreover, access to children is a top concern for human rights groups, and for people like Marsha, a mother of a 4-year-old and daughter of an elderly mother, this causes unnecessary harm to families.  As a father myself I know that it must be difficult for a young child to have to deal with their absence of a parent but to not be in a position to have proper access when legally allowed must go beyond frustration.”

The letter ends, “I call upon the Commission to look into this case and open dialogue on these alleged human rights abuses in Kuwait.”



Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus



Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.

“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”

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Leaders agree on new ‘dark red’ zones for high-risk COVID areas



At a special meeting of European heads of government, to discuss the rise of infection rates across Europe and the emergence of new, more contagious variants, leaders agreed that the situation warranted the utmost caution and agreed on a new category of ‘dark red zone’ for high-risk areas.

The new category would indicate that the virus was circulating at a very high level. People traveling from dark red areas could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. Non-essential travel in or out of these areas would be strongly discouraged.

The EU has underlined that it is anxious to keep the single market functioning especially concerning the movement of essential workers and goods, von der Leyen described this as of the “utmost importance”. 

The approval of vaccinations and the start of roll-out is encouraging but it is understood that further vigilance is needed. Some states which are more dependent on tourism called for the use of vaccination certificates as a way to open up travel. The leaders debated the use a common approach and agreed that the vaccination document should be seen as a medical document, rather than a travel document - at this stage. Von der Leyen said: “We will discuss the suitability of a common approach to certification.”

Member states agreed to a Council recommendation setting a common framework for the use of rapid antigen tests and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results across the EU. The mutual recognition of test results for SARS-CoV2 infection carried by certified health bodies should help facilitate cross-border movement and cross-border contact tracing.

The common list of appropriate COVID-19 rapid antigen tests should be flexible enough for addition, or removal, of those tests whose efficacy is impacted by COVID-19 mutations.

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Lagarde calls for swift ratification of Next Generation EU



Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, shared the conclusions of the monthly Euro Governing Council. The Council has decided to reconfirm its “very accommodative” monetary policy stance. Lagarde said that the renewed surge in COVID had disrupted economic activity, particularly for services. 

Lagarde underlined the importance of the Next Generation EU package and stressed that it should become operational without delay. She called on member states to ratify it as quickly as possible.  

The interest rate on the main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will remain unchanged at 0.00%, 0.25% and -0.50% respectively. The Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present or lower levels.

The Governing Council will continue the purchases under the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) with a total envelope of €1,850 billion. The Governing Council will conduct net asset purchases under the PEPP until at least the end of March 2022 and, in any case, until it judges that the coronavirus crisis phase is over. It will also continue to reinvest the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the PEPP until at least the end of 2023. In any case, the future roll-off of the PEPP portfolio will be managed to avoid interference with the appropriate monetary policy stance.

Third, net purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP) will continue at a monthly pace of €20 billion. The Governing Council continues to expect monthly net asset purchases under the APP to run for as long as necessary to reinforce the accommodative impact of its policy rates, and to end shortly before it starts raising the key ECB interest rates.

The Governing Council also intends to continue reinvesting, in full, the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the APP for an extended period of time past the date when it starts raising the key ECB interest rates, and in any case for as long as necessary to maintain favourable liquidity conditions and an ample degree of monetary accommodation.

Finally, the Governing Council will continue to provide ample liquidity through its refinancing operations. In particular, the third series of targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO III) remains an attractive source of funding for banks, supporting bank lending to firms and households.

The Governing Council continues to stand ready to adjust all of its instruments, as appropriate, to ensure that inflation moves towards its aim in a sustained manner, in line with its commitment to symmetry.

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