Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Second response to VC

Sunday 25th January

To the Vice Chancellor,

Following your letter sent on the 22nd of January, we have responded with the following as a continuation of our negotiations. We are willing to discuss any of these points further and work together to ensure they are carried out both quickly and effectively. We would also like to point out that the occupation to date has remained peaceful and has caused a minimal disruption, as your security will tell you. As a proviso for further negotiation, we ask for a re-confirmation of point six in our demands.

1. We have constructed the following statement that the occupiers would like to be issued by the University.

The University of Sussex stands behind the United Nations Secretary General in his call for an end to the Israeli Occupation that started in 1967, and the demand for investigations and accountability where accusations of war crimes are made.

In light of recent events the University of Sussex wishes to acknowledge the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular drawing attention to the following clauses:

Article 1.

(1) All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education.

In the spirit of this statement, and as part of its responsibility towards academic freedom and the right to education, the University of Sussex, with the assistance of the USSU and alumni support pledges to set up new schemes. These will provide international scholarships for areas that have suffered from conflict, and will assist in the redevelopment of educational facilities where they have been destroyed.

In composing this statement, we have taken your previous comments into account, especially those where you clearly state you would agree to back up the UN’s position and to:

“uphold the principles of internationally agreed human rights such as that of the United Nations and in that context will denounce military attacks on civilians, any obstruction of provision of humanitarian aid and the targeting of public buildings and the facilities like universities, hospitals and schools wherever such attacks take place in the world”.

Although we accept that the University does not wish to “deplore the actions of a particular Government”, in this case the government of Israel has been shamed by the UN as a government that has no regard for these international laws. Continual statements from the UN, including the latest comments issued by the Secretary General, show the Israeli government to be the clear aggressor and responsible for breaking numerous international agreements. This statement does not prejudice a people, and if we are to remain an institution that has reputation internationally and prides the qualities of “tolerance” and “understanding”, then we as a University must speak with the UN against violations of these principles.

We would like you and your colleagues to feedback to us your sentiments and amendments to the statement, if not an alternative.

Any statement that is released by the University, we will insist be made available to all and published widely.

2. We are aware that the institution has an ethical investment policy, however, by use of the Freedom of Information Act, it has come to our knowledge that at the very least two companies that the University have invested in are known weapons manufactures and traders, whose names we have already supplied. It is clear that for whatever reason the current ethical policy is not being implemented effectively. We call upon the University management to adhere to the ethical policy of the University and disinvest at the earliest opportunity. For negotiations in this area to continue, we will need a timeline for when this will be able to be achieved and evidence to be provided once completed.

The fact that these companies were invested in originally suggests that the ethical investment policy has failed and needs to be reviewed. To ensure that this does not happen in the future, we ask that the University management to work with elected USSU officials and interested students to collaborate on ethical investment and work towards an Annual Review. This process must be transparent, open and accessible to all if it is to work.

3. Though we understand your sentiments, we still demand that all known Israeli exports be boycotted immediately in line with your own ethical investment stance. As already mentioned, Israel has shown a blatant disregard for international law and openly profits from the occupation of another nation. Claiming that the University “sources such items ethically” whilst purchasing Israeli goods is hypocrisy and cannot continue.

To enforce this point, we would like to see these goods be applied to the same ethical process as highlighted in Point 2, again in conjunction with USSU and the wider student body. This issue has been taken to USSU already, who have their own ethical and environmental investment policy, and are dealing with the matter separately in due course.

4. In relation to our discussions with USSU, we would like to see the creation of a scholarship program akin to the Mandela Scholarship. We stand by our demands for 6 scholarship places, but being mindful that some courses last more than one year, ask this on the proviso that the target is to fund six scholarships at any one time.

We are willing to discuss how funds could be raised, and hope that the University management will accept the assistance of the USSU to find the necessary amount, including through Alumni and other external groups.

5. We are happy that you have accepted the request for re-allocation of surplus educational supplies. To take this further, we have already identified several charities that will be able to accept the goods and pass them on to places of learning bombed in the recent conflict.

However, rather than work through a third party, we would like to see the University – both management and students – working directly with beneficiary learning institutions, enabling us to foster relations and ensure the goods supplied meet the needs. We would also like to see the University co-operate with other Universities in the UK that run similar schemes, to ensure that resources are distributed in a way that does not accidentally favour some benficiaries over others.

As to the resources themselves, we have already identified the large amount of old, unused computer stock as well as old educational materials and books that would otherwise cost the University to dispose of. Issues such as the cost of software licensing could be resolved through further discussion, with the use of open-source software such as Linux being one solution.

Making our own electronic library resources accessible would be of serious benefit to places of learning affected by catastrophe. We hope that a discussion of this possibility can continue.

We should make it clear that with points 4 and 5, we feel that at present the people of Gaza and the West Bank are the most in need of this assistance, and to them we owe the most responsibility. This opinion is supported by the hundreds of students and staff who have signed our petition so far, expressing support for our demands. However, we hope that in time the schemes set up can continue to make a positive difference in other parts of the world.

We await your response and are willing to negotiate further. In order to confirm this matter resolved we do ask that the University provides in writing a confirmation of its action points and an accompanying timetable for when they will be able to be achieved.

Yours sincerely,
Students of the Occupation.

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