Homelessness and Human Rights Campaign 2016!

Lent term 2016 saw the launch of CUAI’s first ever Homelessness and Human Rights Campaign!

The campaign was a part of the larger ‘Hope and Home’ campaign lead by Cambridge Homeless Outreach Programme (CHOP) and the Cambridge Hub. We also collaborated with a range of other student initiatives advocating for the rights of the homeless communities in Cambridge and abroad, including Cambridge Streetbite, Students Supporting Street Kids (SSSK), and Hiraeth.

All term CUAI’s wonderful college reps have been fundraising for b  and CHOP. The money raised in aid of SSSK will be going to grassroots organisations around the world that support street kids, and the money raised for CHOP will be used in further work engaging Cambridge students with organisations working with nthe homeless community in Cambridge.

As well as raising money another aim of our campaign was to engage students with the already existing initiatives helping the homeless community in Cambridge. In one of our weekly meetings we invited representatives of SSSK, Streetbite and Hiraeth to give quick talks about what they do and how CUAI members can get involved. As well as this CUAI sponsored a weekly Streetbite round after our normal Sunday meetings. This gave CUAI members an opportunity to directly help the homeless community in Cambridge, as well as get an idea of the significant numbers of people experiencing homelessness in Cambridge (not the 3 people the local council recognise).

We ended our campaign by hosting a panel discussion entitled ‘Homelessness and Human Rights: What’s being done and What Can We ado?’. The panel featured speakers from a range of different organisations looking at homelessness as a local, national, and international human rights abuse. Barry Griffiths joined us from Jimmys a shelter in Cambridge, François Holmey from Just Fair UK, and Sarah Rose from the Amos Trust. We are incredibly grateful to the speakers for joining us and hope everybody enjoyed the event!

Thank you to everyone who helped make this campaign possible! If you’d like anymore information about how you can get involved with the organisations mentioned above then please see the links below.

Jimmy’s shelter: http://jimmyscambridge.net
Just Fair: http://www.just-fair.co.uk
Amos Trust: http://www.amostrust.org

Cambridge Uni Amnesty International: https://www.facebook.com/camuniamnesty/
Students Supporting Street Kids: https://www.facebook.com/SSSKcambridge/
Cambridge Hub: https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeHub/
Cambridge Homeless Outreach Programme: https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeHomelessOutreachProgramme/
Streetbite: http://streetbite.soc.srcf.net/
Hiraeth: https://www.facebook.com/hiraethcambridge/


Meeting Shami Chakrabarti

Prior to her inspiring speech at the Cambridge Union in November, members of CUAI were given the opportunity to meet Shami Chakrabarti, who has been the director of the civil rights advocacy association ‘Liberty’ since 2003.

Although Amnesty and Liberty are separate organisations, it was encouraging to have Shami tell us that both are part of the major national and international human rights movement, which reinforced to us how important unity and collaboration are when it comes to supporting human rights.

As a highly experienced lawyer and campaigner, Shami advised us on how best to approach the current challenge of campaigning to keep the Human Rights Act, which the government is proposing to replace with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. Most importantly, she told us it is crucial that we articulate clearly to people  exactly what their rights are under the Act – which luckily for us is the approach we’d been taking  with our Human Rights Act Creative Campaign! We also discussed the importance of writing to your MP (especially if they are a Conservative) to express your support for keeping the Act.

In her speech, Shami spoke further about the Human Rights Act, and Liberty’s research into the current changes to it proposed by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling on the Conservatives website in October 2014. She suggested that the British Bill of Rights may seek to restrict our human rights, or make them dependent on fulfilling the “responsibilities” of British Citizens. She described the proposed “triviality test”, to be set by Parliament, to “stop human rights being use for minor matters”. Shami opposed this, with Liberty having stated on its website that “this objective is impossible to reconcile with the essential purpose of human rights legislation: to protect the individual against arbitrary Executive decision-making”. A clear example of this, which Shami cited, was that of legal recognition of a new gender, which in the past the Government has not allowed on the basis that applicants did not face any “practical disadvantages” from now having their new gender identity recognised. Luckily, since then the law regarding gender recognition has been changed, but this example amongst others suggests how the inability to legally change gender, although clearly incredibly important, was at first considered “trivial”, and similar rights might not be protected under the proposed legislation.

Shami’s speech at the Union also dealt with government surveillance, personal privacy and Liberty’s values and history since its birth in 1934, and the importance of active organising when campaigning for civil liberties. The whole event was incredibly interesting and CUAI are very grateful for the opportunity of talking with her.


You can find out more about Liberty here:  https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/

What have CUAI College Reps been up to in Michaelmas 2015?

What have CUAI College Reps been up to in Michaelmas 2015?

On the 21st of December 2015, the number of migrants and refugees crossing the European border officially passed the symbolic one million mark. This, combined with the daily flood of shocking images and headlines, was yet another indicator that 2015 has seen the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

Throughout Michaelmas 2015, CUAI College Reps devoted their energy to tackling this global problem head on. Through various events and fundraisers, they successfully raised awareness about the refugee crisis and raise funds for the Cambridge Calais Refugee Action Group (CUCRAG). By the end of the term, CUAI College reps had raised a total of £390 for CUCRAG, an organisation aiming to raise awareness about refugees living in Calais camps and collect donations of clothing and other items to help the refugees. Find out more about CUCRAG and get involved here.

CUAI College Reps came up with a range of original and creative ways to spread awareness and support CUCRAG. Here are a few examples of the successful events they organised throughout Michaelmas: 

Gonville & Caius: Gofundmecampaign

College Reps Madeleine Loftchy and Tiffany Hui launched a Gofundmecampaign for CUCRAG and successfully raised £75!

Queens: QAmnesty Candle Club feat. BATS

On the 13th of November, QAmnesty teamed up with the Amateur Dramatics Society BATS and successfully resurrected the Queens’ tradition of ‘Candle Club’ – an evening of live musical and acting talent. Throughout the evening, guests were treated to a total of twenty acts, including performers from inside and outside college. The line-up of musical performers included Jonah Hauer-King, Zoe Lakota Baldwin, Clara Collingwood, Husna Rizvi, as well as some of our very own Queens’ students; Matilda Wickham, Dan Bulman, Joscelin Dent-Pooley, Anya Doherty, Ellie Coote, Helen Barker, Bobby He, Fin Williams, Tom Hiom, John Campbell, Lauren Downing, Caroline Thornham, Elizabeth Weir, and many more. Amongst the BATS stand-up comedians were Amber Dillon, Chris Turnbull and Callum Maney. With a jam-packed bar and high-class entertainment, QAmnesty managed to raise upwards of £200 for Calais refugee camps. The evening was so successful that QAmnesty organised a second Candle Club on 13th January 2016! To stay updated on this extremely dynamic Amnesty group’s activities and upcoming events, check out their Facebook page.

QAmnesty feat. BATS Candle Club


Emmanuel: Vintage Fashion Fair (with Cake Sale)

College Reps Laura Schubert and Sarah Roche decided to combine their concern for social and environmental issues by collecting donations for CUCRAG at Emmanuel’s Vintage Fashion Fair, organised on the 8th of November by Emma Green Ducks (Emma student green committee) in collaboration with the MCR Green officer (Moni Gupta). The theme of event was ‘reuse and reduce’, or as Laura put it, to present secondhand clothes as ‘an environmental and ethical solution to excess waste.’ Local charity shops kindly donated clothes, both for sale and modeling in an on-site photo booth at Emmanuel Bar. Laura and Sarah made the most of this event by hosting a cake sale at the same time, with proceeds going towards CUCRAG. As well as selling a third of their items and raising over £380 for the 13 participating charity shops, the cake sale successfully raised over £30 for CUCRAG.

Newnham: Fundraising at Newnham Smoker

College Rep Ruby Zajac seized the opportunity to support CUCRAG at the Newnham Smoker, a night of Feminist comedy organised on the 23rd October. The Smoker drew in a huge crowd of people keen to see performances by Callie Vandewiele, Mattie Weschler, Richard Perez Storey, Chris Wugh, and the stunning headliner, Grainne Mcguire. According to Ruby, the Smoker’s organisers ‘took every opportunity to mention that CUAI was fundraising for CUCRAG that evening and even let me jump on the stage with the mic and do some talking myself!’ As well as raising awareness about CUCRAG and the work they do, Ruby managed to raise £83.

Do not worry if you missed these wonderful fundraisers; with CUAI college reps already planning a host of events for 2016, Lent is shaping up to be just as exciting as Michaelmas! Look out for Sidney Sussex’s pidgeonhole surprise chocolate delivery, Corpus Christi’s chapel collections and Clare College’s collaboration with Clare Ents. If none of those options appeal to you, perhaps you might want to attend one of the film nights set at Downing, Kings’, Homerton, Murray Edwards, or Girton. If films aren’t your cup of tea, you might like to head over to one of the speaker events organized Fitzwilliam or Pembroke. And if actual tea is what your after, Kings and Girton have you covered with AmnesTea parties planned for the near future. With such a wide variety of events coming up, there will definitely be something for everyone!

If you would like to get more involved in CUAI or would be interested in becoming a CUAI College Rep do not hesitate to contact the CUAI College Reps Coordinator (Eleanor) at eh501@cam.ac.uk.

Jordan Hattar talks to CUAI

For CUAIs first meeting of term we were very excited to host Jordan Hattar, a graduate student from Trinity Hall and founder of Help4Refugees.org. Jordan’s inspiring talk outlined how he found himself setting up his own charity supported by UNHCR providing safer shelter in the form of caravans for the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which currently is home to approximately 83,000 refugees.

Jordan’s work was prompted from collecting hundreds of refugees testimonies in the Zataari camp, which have been used by the BBC and Jordan Times. He found the most popular wish among the refugees he interviewed was to return to their homes in Syria, but in the short term to have better housing. The camp itself when Jordan started his work was submerged in water leading to unsafe and unhygienic conditions, resulting in frequent infant deaths – the need for safer housing was obvious and vital. Now, partly thanks to Jordan’s fundraising efforts, every single family in the Zaatari camp has access to a caravan.

Jordan finished his talk by taking a couple of questions, one of which was how can we help as students and activists? His answer was that we can obviously raise money for causes doing vital work, like his own and the Syrian Medical Society. However, ultimately we need to share stories and humanise the Syrian refugee crisis.

CUAI would like to say a massive thank you to Jordan and everyone who came to the event.

“Problematic Politics” Panel Discussion 12/11/15

On the 12th of November 2015, CUAI hosted a panel discussion, “Problematic Politics”, in collaboration with Clare Politics and the Centre for Governance and Human Rights. The aim of the event was to discuss whether the work of Amnesty International ultimately does more harm than good and address whether organisations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations, and human rights theory in general, inherently imperialistic because of the nature of their inception?


Dr Sharath Srinivasan directs the University of Cambridge’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), and conducts research on the politics and ethics of external intervention in civil conflicts and the role of new information and communication technologies in political change.


Lucy Wake is the Government and Political Relations Manager for Amnesty International, whose role involves lobbying the UK government and Parliament on human rights issues, home and abroad. Lucy has also previously been a Board Member of the organisation, End Violence Against Women.

Professor Stephen Hopgood is the co-Director of the Centre for the International Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice (CCRJ) at SOAS and author of the ethnography, ‘Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International’.

Dr Arathi Sriprakash is a sociologist of education, globalisation, and international development at Cambridge, whose work includes global policy sociology, feminist postcolonial theory and the politics of knowledge in international development.

Srishti Krishnamoorthy is a PhD student in English at Newnham and high-class debater, whose research interests include gender and sexuality and Postcolonialism.

For a copy of the notes taken during the event please click here (disclaimer: these notes are very rough and do include some holes!)

We were overjoyed by the turnout and were so grateful to all of our speakers for agreeing to attend what turned out to be a great event.

The consensus seemed to be that the work of Amnesty International, though not perfect, is still important. However, through this event we hoped to encourage critical thought and constant reflection on our practices as human rights activists, which is the only way to make sure sustainable progress is achieved; this is something we will aim to continue beyond this discussion and into the future.

Coerced Labour: The Exploitation of Homelessness

When considering modern day slavery, we are most likely to cite victims of sex trafficking, domestic servitude and forced labour: those who, under false pretences of job opportunities or threats of violence, are imported from their country of origin and made to work for their employers for no wage, often living in appalling conditions and experiencing abuse, malnourishment, working for over 12 hours a day. However, what is not often considered is the existence of coerced, exploitative labour within this country of vulnerable citizens, both immigrants and nationals.

The most recent recession led to a huge increase in cases of homelessness, a stretching of soup kitchen and safe house resources, many of those sleeping rough suffering from alcohol and drug addictions. The abundance of vulnerable individuals marginalised from society provides easy pickings for those seeking to exploit. Gangs approach the most desperate with a lure of employment, yet after accepting the offer, workers are coerced into 5am to 11pm shifts for as little as £2-£3 per day. Rather than a gateway out of poverty, such exploitation feeds a vicious cycle: they are homeless because they are exploited, and exploited because they are homeless.

These gangs reportedly target open soup kitchens as well as penetrating indoor food banks, pretending to be homeless in order to gain access to potential victims. Whilst these gangs often work independently for their own ends, many make up ‘recruitmen
t agencies’, supplying workers to larger construction corporations, big businesses thereby complicit in the extortion.

Last year 511 were exploited in this way, however this is a gross underestimate. The new draft of the Slavery Bill aims to reduce evidential burdens with clauses on human trafficking for exploitation as well as slavery, servitude and forced labour. Whilst this may help those victims of forced labour, it will mean nothing for those coerced by the gangs into cheap labour. As it is legally perceived as consensual employment, such extortion will remain particularly hard to prosecute; those destitute are perceived to have ‘chosen’ to be exploited. The gangs and ‘recruitment agencies’ thereby rely on such legal impunity.

Exploitative labour is not just as a problem for the road workers of Jharkhand, the migrant construction workers in Saudi Arabia or the sweatshop workers of China, but as a global problem for the developed and developing world. And for the solution to an international problem, we need an international reaction.

Bronte Philips

International Women: A ‘Pandemic’ of Abuse

Throughout time, across continents and cultures, there has been no crime more greatly persecuted than the offense of being born female. In the name of honour, family, and religion, their most basic rights are habitually abused, the women themselves a matter of property. International women’s day this Saturday provides a chance to shout for those who have no voice.

Nothing on a national level compares to the global scale of violence against women, which the organisation UN women calls “pandemic”. In many countries, women are routinely denied not only the right to education and healthcare, but the right to feel safe, valued and unique, recent studies revealing that 54% of children are not in school – and over 64 million are child brides, more than the total UK population. Female genital mutilation affects 140 million, a figure thought to explain why pregnancy complications are the main causes of death amongst 15-19 year olds.

This year, International Women’s Week calls for change in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where UN forces have failed in protecting women from rape as a weapon of war even within refugee camps. They demand support for women in Egypt who have seen a rise in gender-targeted assault, including highly invasive “virginity tests”. They call for women’s rights in Afghanistan, where honour-killing and self-immolation of girls as young as 14 are frequent consequences of child marriage, the withdrawal of UN troops threatening to worsen the situation.

Yet there are many issues which will not be drawn attention to: women are the greatest casualties of poverty, with 10% of Nepalese (many in their 20s) suffering from uterine prolepsis caused by early child birth and carrying heavy loads. India’s degrading attitudes towards women boosts a thriving sex industry, with 20,000 sex workers working in Kamathipura, many trafficked children – after all, girls under 16 charge four times the price. One woman is raped in India every seven seconds – and these are the statistics we know about.

Those who speak out for women’s rights face even greater risks of persecution. This does not just include the Malalas, the politicians, the journalists, but those who deal with women daily as part of their career – teachers, health and security workers. In Amnesty’s report on Afghan women, a gynaecologist told of how her son had been shot because his mother helped rape victims. Yet even in the most dangerous environments, women’s rights groups provide support and hope for a better future. Despite assassinations of group members, ‘Women for Afghan Women’ has helped more than 8,000 women since 2007. Such movements are lighting candles for women of other communities, creating their own counter-epidemics. The resistance is contagious.

As an international community, we cannot continue to support an environment where women’s issues can remain silent. There is a difference between what is culturally relative and what constitutes the systematic abuse of human rights. Without imposing any ‘western’ priority, we must support the women looking to change their society – from the inside out. They need our voice, your voice.

Bronte Philips

The Death Penalty: Not a Dead Issue

Adultery, fraud, treason, blasphemy, sorcery, drugs-smuggling, arson. All offences for which, depending on where you live, what you did, who your father was and what colour your skin is, you can be injected, stoned, hung or beheaded completely legitimately, with the cold authority of the state. You don’t even have to have committed any of the above; you can be killed for planted evidence or even no evidence at all, under the lies of the prosecutor or a confession beaten out of you. And you can languish on death row for 20 years waiting for the day to come when they give you a number and a bare cross, or dump you in a ditch. People might even watch.

Iran, Iraq, USA were the most prolific executing countries in 2012 after China, whose figures on the death penalty are regarded as a state secret – meaning there are believed to be thousands killed every year that we don’t even know about.

With Belarus as the only European country still attached to the death penalty, you’d be forgiven for thinking the UK exempt from the issue, as a country elevated above and distanced from the practice of institutionalised killings. Everyone has a right to life (Article 3, 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and everyone has the right not to be tortured, or subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment (Article 5). Can we truly respect these crucial values, knowing that elsewhere they are systematically broken? Surely “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Martin Luther King Jr.).

There are few more perverted abuses of human rights than fiddling with someone’s end date. Hakamada Iwao, now 77, is the longest serving death row inmate having waited 45 years, with many of those years in solitary confinement. According to Japanese practice, an inmate has no known death date – for Iwao, every morning could be his last.

Despite the horrific abuse between death sentence and death punishment, even if you firmly believe victims need vengeance, even if you deny the evidence of the death penalty’s failure to deter and even if you believe there exist crimes that only death can rectify, people are flawed, bigoted and corrupt, thus contaminating even the most rigorous justice system with errors – deliberate, as well as accidental. An execution is an error that can’t be undone.


Yet this is without considering that the majority of countries using the death penalty operate executions under already skewed justice systems, for political convenience, using unreliable evidence, or for crimes unworthy of the word criminal. In China, there are 55 capital offences, including fraud, jailbreaking and embezzlement. In Africa, Mauritania, Sudan, northern Nigeria and southern Somalia, you can be killed just for being gay. Only last year, North Korea publically executed around 80 people, many for watching smuggled TV shows. In Iran and Iraq, two of the largest executing counties, frequently death sentences are carried out based on ‘confessions’, a strategy otherwise known as beating the accused until they sign their own death warrant.

Yet it isn’t just far flung, lesser developed judicial systems that get it wrong. In the USA, 142 former death row inmates have been exonerated; that’s one innocent inmate released for every ten that have been executed. Indeed, plea-bargaining, poor or unreliable representatives and even the location of the crime create a lottery effect of who lives and who dies. In many states, the colour of your skin is a matter of life or death: of those sentenced to death in 2012, 60% were of ethnic minorities, a group making up just 36% of the population.

The death penalty should not be condoned for any crime, be it homicide or homosexuality. Whether or not a person is guilty or innocent, blood-thirsty or remorseful, sick or misguided, the absolute degradation of personhood that constitutes a systematic killing on behalf of the state is an offense against human rights the modern world should not be willing to tolerate, let alone contemplate.

Bronte Philips

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Thumbscrew

He was getting medical care for his son in Tijuana, northern Mexico, when they arrested him. Blindfolded, he is taken to a military base. Struck in the ribs, forced to walk on his knees, kicked, punched in the stomach. A plastic bag is put over his head to provoke near asphyxiation. Stripped, he is forced to lick clean the shoes of other detainees. Then he’s forced to sign a false statement. The authorities see the wounds; they do nothing.

You sit down and pick up a pen. ‘Dear President…’ Something about the government. Something about the Istanbul protocol – you take another biscuit – the international community, medical examinations, independent investigations… the letter meets the others, it’s put in the letterbox, you go home.

Angel Colon couldn’t stand up to his torturers, his imprisoners, the government. But thanks to thousands of similar letters, on 15 October 2014 the Mexican Federal Attorney General agreed to drop charges and release him unconditionally. Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese mother sentenced to death for her refusal to denounce her Christian faith; after over one million joined the Amnesty campaign, she was released, now living in New Hampshire.Two years ago, Mikhail Kosenko was committed to a closed psychiatric hospital by a compulsory treatment court order for his role in the Bolotnaya Square protest. He is now released. Nabeel Rajab, a prominent Bahraini human rights activist jailed for calling for anti-government protests, was released on 24 May. There are hundreds more success stories; all it takes is a brief Google search.

In December 2013, more than 2.3 million letters, emails, SMS messages, faxes and tweets were sent in Amnesty’s “Write for Rights” campaign, beating last year’s record of 1.9 million actions; and this year, the recently launched ‘Stop Torture’ campaign is seeking even more. Whether its letters of support for the family, the community, the survivor or to those directly responsible, Amnesty is a name to be feared and respected; whether it works, or doesn’t. In the words of Belarusian Ihar Tsikhanyuk, a drag artist and LGBTI activist beaten by police for being gay: “When I’m left with no hope to fight, I’ll get a letter and the light of hope appears again,” he said. “I remember I’m not alone”.

It’s not a popular opinion to have these days – most would rather absolve their guilt in cynicism – but people power is important, relevant, unifying. And it’s effective.

Bronte Philips

Palestine: When Aid Is Not Enough

The 139 square mile territory of the Gaza strip is what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calls “destruction beyond description”. 2170 dead on both sides during a 50 day bombardment in a brutal crackdown on ‘Hamas operatives’: 97% Palestinian, principally civilian, 500 children. 4 billion tons of lingering rubble: mosques, ambulances, beaches, schools of towering concrete flattened by ‘targeted’ drone attacks. One in five have access to water only once a week, the electricity only functioning for 4-6 hours every day, the sewage system demolished. Hospitals still standing are beyond full capacity, running on faulty equipment with an acute shortage of drugs for an acute overflow of casualties.

This is Gaza, two months after the assault. Only last Tuesday did building materials (scrupulously raided in search of arms) pass through the crossing with Israel. It wasn’t until a week ago that the international community pledged aid towards reparations.

Whilst the pledges in total amounted to £3.4 billion, if the last ten years have taught the Palestinians anything, it is that it is one achievement to raise the money, and yet another to collect it; the billions pledged in aid after the Operation 2008-9 were never received. Palestine is controversial. And this time the destruction is worse – much worse.
Firstly, the £3.4 billion is not just for Gaza; many countries included contributions already allotted for Palestine. Additionally, there are border blockades: Israel’s stranglehold still restricts goods entering Gaza, meaning the process of actually getting aid-materials in will be tortuously slow. At the Egyptian entry point, Egyptian authorities have refused to allow aid through, claiming the access point only sustains people (denied refugee status in Egypt), not urgent medical supplies.

Food is also scarce, the secret import tunnels into Gaza demolished and the trickle of food through the border and the 6-mile fishing area not enough to support the population; the 65,000 homeless have nothing to pay with. Yet even with one-off aid, without a lift in the crippled economy any sort of recovery will be slow. And who’s to say the area won’t be flattened again in a few year’s time? Aid to Israel has not been reduced.
So, what else? Yes, 130 different countries including Britain have voted for Palestine’s recognition as a state. But if the UN continues to preserve Israel as immune to International Law, possession of statehood will be irrelevant; the people of Gaza will not be protected. Meanwhile, 65,000 Gazans are facing a winter without a roof.

Bronte Philips