Author: David Alton

As antisemitism once again disfigures Europe we should remember our past: Confessions of a Butterfly – the remarkable story of Janusz Korczak

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David Alton:

Also see: http://davidalton.net/2014/03/08/paying-a-price-for-belief/

And Jonathan Sacks on Creative Minorities:
http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/01/on-creative-minorities

Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head again in Europe – with Jews vilified because of their religion, their race or their State. August 2014 has seen Jews fleeing from Paris after shocking attacks in the Jewish quarter of Sarcelles. Kosher shops have been burnt out, synagogues have been under siege and placards threatening “death to Jews” are openly brandished. This is France 2014 not Germany 1934.

Originally posted on :

As anti-Semitism once again disfigures Europe we should remember our past

Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head again in Europe – with Jews vilified because of their religion, their race or their State. August 2014 has seen Jews fleeing from Paris after shocking attacks in the Jewish quarter of Sarcelles. Kosher shops have been burnt out, synagogues have been under siege and placards threatening “death to Jews” are openly brandished. This is France 2014 not Germany 1934.

Jews are targeted because they are different and, as we increasingly see in the ISIS controlled areas of the Islamic State, for some ideologues the concept of difference is something which they refuse to countenance. After a visit to northern Iraq a Jewish politician, aware that Christians are persecuted in more than a hundred countries, observed to me that “Christians have become the new Jews.”

But it’s not just Christians: it’s Yazidis, Bahais…

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Pope Francis visits Korea, where Christianity has had a history of persecution. This post tells the story of the thousands who died for their faith – and the story of the Coming of Christianity to Korea.

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David Alton:

Pope Francis visits Korea, where Christianity has had a history of persecution. This post tells the story of the thousands who died for their faith – and the story of the Coming of Christianity to Korea.

Originally posted on :

Also See:

http://davidalton.net/2014/07/24/british-parliament-debates-the-united-nations-commission-of-inquiry-report-into-crimes-against-humanity-in-north-korea/

https://www.facebook.com/LordAltonofLiverpool?ref=hl

Reuters report on Christianity in North Korea

In North Korea, a church renovated, missionaries jailed

Tue, Aug 12 22:30 PM BST

By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters) – Tucked between trees and paddy fields in a quiet suburb in the west of Pyongyang, Chilgol Church is one of four state-operated churches in the capital of a country that espouses freedom of religion but effectively bans it.

In recent months, the Protestant church has been renovated – its rusted iron roof replaced with new tiles, and its faded brown brick walls repainted yellow, according to a North Korean propaganda video. At the same time, North Korea has sentenced two foreign missionaries to hard labour and along the border with China, both countries have cracked down on religious groups.

As Pope Francis visits South Korea this week in his first trip to Asia, religion in North Korea is under…

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Strong parliamentary opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E39xaYdqeX0&list=PLwjFHo9tsCgV8zRRMRNgNwKV68Ka-U3tE

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David Alton:

November 8th 2014:

Committee Stage of the Assisted Dying Bill Day One – Full Debate at:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/141107-0001.htm#14110775000728

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I support very strongly what the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, has just said about the effect of the Bill on medics. I was struck by a recent conversation that I had with one of my sons, who is a fifth-year medic. He very much welcomes the stand that the BMA and the royal colleges have taken in saying that they would not wish to see a change in the law because of the position that it would place doctors in. He argues, as I would argue, that you do not need a doctor to kill you to die with
7 Nov 2014 : Column 1874
dignity. I was very struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said about the roles that the hospice movement and palliative care can play.
However, I see the point of these amendments and I understand what my noble friend Lord Pannick and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, are trying to do in improving the Bill. It is right that we should, at a Committee stage of the House, take the amendments extremely seriously, as we are required to do. Therefore, I honestly believe that today we should not be pressurised by either time or the thought that we are going to be railroaded into taking votes at this stage. I hope that those who have been calling for greater reflection on the amendments will be listening, too.

My noble friend Lady Murphy said that this is a decision for patients. However, implicit in the amendments is the fact that it is not just a decision for patients. This will require an assessment process. It is not an “on demand” situation, and therefore there is the possibility that from time to time such proposals will be rejected as well by the courts.

My noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup rightly made the point that there will be people who are unable to take these decisions for themselves. That returns to one of the cases raised during the opening remarks of my noble friend Lord Pannick. He mentioned the case of Tony Bland, who went into a persistent vegetative state as a result of the football game that took place at Hillsborough. On Monday, I went to Warrington. I was incredibly impressed by the extraordinary resources and time that have been put into the new inquest process and by the work being done by the Independent Police Complaints Commission in reinvestigating the events. I made my own deposition there.

I was thinking not about the Tony Bland case—although I am well aware of it and well aware of those of my then constituents who died at Hillsborough—but about the case of Andrew Devine, who was a constituent of mine and who also went into a persistent vegetative state. It was predicted at that time that he, too, would die. Of course, Tony Bland was never on a life support machine; he had food and fluid withdrawn—a decision made through the court process. I just reflect that Andrew is still alive and is loved and cherished by his family. Having been in a persistent vegetative state and been told that he would never be in a position to take solid foods again, within a couple of years he was able to do so. Therefore, we have to be careful about prognosis. We have to be very careful in assuming that we will always get these things right.

Every single case matters, and that is what I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, following the intervention made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Every single case matters; it is not just about the one or two people who will not be able to take decisions for themselves. Public safety goes to the very heart of the concerns raised by my noble friend Lady Finlay and in the amendment put before us by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

I was struck by what Lord Sumption said in the Supreme Court judgment. He said:

“It is right to add that there is a tendency for those who would like to see the existing law changed, to overstate its difficulties”,
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by suggesting that,
“the current law and practice is less humane and flexible than it really is”.
So we are not at a settled point as far as this legislation is concerned.

I have been genuinely surprised that another place has not been given the opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary moral and ethical issues in this legislation, which are also contained in the questions raised by this amendment. One should recall that the Guardian said about the Bill:

“It would create a new moral landscape. It is also, potentially, open to abuse”.

That is what I think the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, seeks to address. The newspaper went on to say:

“Reshaping the moral landscape is no alternative to cherishing life and the living”.

The Daily Telegraph said:

“The more assisted dying is discussed, the more its risks will become apparent”.

That was the point made in the eloquent remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who reminded us today of the pressure that can be placed on vulnerable people. We should recall the speech made at Second Reading by my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton: it is not just the BMA and future medics; it is not just the hospice movement; it is also the disability rights organisation, whose representatives are standing outside this House today. I spoke to them this morning on my way in. They hope that, if we proceed with the Bill, we will do everything we possibly can to put in greater and stronger safeguards. Therefore, I hope that we will have a chance between now and Report to reflect on the different approaches contained in these two amendments and that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will also go away and reflect on them following today’s debate.
11.45 am

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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I echo very strongly the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, about the special and sacred relationship between doctor and patient. It is worth reminding the House of what the General Medical Council said unambiguously and robustly: “A change in the law to allow physician-assisted dying would have profound implications for the role and responsibilities of doctors and their relationships with patients. Acting with the
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primary intention to hasten a patient’s death would be difficult to reconcile with the medical ethical principals of beneficence and non-maleficence”.
I agree with what the noble Lord said about relationships, but I also agree in particular with the importance of Amendment 68, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, which is about the importance of independent safeguards. I will speak to it in a moment. I come from a region where Dr Shipman was a general practitioner. He was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his opening remarks on this group of amendments. Hundreds of cremation forms were signed by doctors who were not Dr Shipman; they were signed and those patients went to their deaths. That is why we are right to talk in detail about the safeguards that I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, wants to see incorporated in the Bill, should it proceed.

I am particularly enthusiastic about what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said about providing an independent element in this process. I think back to an exchange in a constituency surgery. The noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Empey, are right to remind the House that sometimes the exchanges one has on the ground as a local politician can inform the way we think about these moral and ethical issues, on the basis of human behaviour and human nature. Just after the Toxteth riots in Liverpool a man came to see me in my surgery about the death of his father. His father had divorced from his mother. They had lived in Germany and at the end of the war they went to Holland. After their divorce the mother and son came to live in England. After his mother died, the son wanted to be reunited with his father, whom he had not known since childhood. He went to Holland, only to find that, under the Dutch laws, his father, in a state of deep depression, had taken his own life.
What really distressed this young man was that he had a half-brother who had inherited all his father’s wealth and had given permission for his father’s life to be ended.

That reminded me of something that the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, said to us on an earlier occasion. I thought it a wry but very accurate remark. She said that where there is a will, there is a relative. There are profound implications. People can gain from these circumstances. That is why an independent element is so important.

One thing that has united the House is the sense we all have about public protection. For me it is the key question for whether we support the Bill or not. Public safety is the issue. Polling data have been referred to, but those data reduce massively to only 43% approval for a change in the law if people believe that public safety will be compromised. That is the issue that your Lordships have to deal with if the Bill is to go on the statute book.

Amendment 68 takes us to the point where we can have an independent overview of any decisions that are to be made. It builds on what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said on how we assess the effects of any individual act in the context of society as a whole: how we look at the aftermath of these decisions.

We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Howard, about the role of the hospice movement in palliative care. I am a patron of a couple of hospices, I suspect like many of your Lordships. I know the wonderful work that they do, particularly on Merseyside, which I have been involved with throughout my political life. Every year at one of those hospices there is a walk of witness through the local community, where they raise significant sums of money. It costs a lot of money to keep those hospices going. However, for me, what is really wonderful about those walks of witness is the therapeutic effect that they have on all those who participate. It is a healing process in grief.

I accompanied my father in the last moments of his life. He had a healing moment, believing that he had seen his brother who, as a member of the RAF, had died in the Second World War. I do not know whether this was a near-death experience or whether it was accurate, but it certainly helped him. If he had been given a lethal injection earlier, he would have been denied that moment. I believe that the concept of a good death—the one that historically we have always treasured in this country—could be lost if we proceeded into the mechanistic view that authorised assisted dying would probably introduce. Therefore, for me, safeguards are important.

People have been talking of their own experiences during these debates. My father was one of five brothers who were in the Armed Forces. He was a Desert Rat. One of his brothers lost his hearing and took his own life after the war was over. I remember it even though I was very young at the time. It had a profound effect—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben—on everyone in our family and it still has to this day.

Therefore, the idea that these decisions are purely acts of autonomy and matters of private choice that have no effect on others is simply wrong. Indeed, it was your Lordships who said precisely that in 1994, when my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant, who cannot be here today but who, in his 90s, still plays a very active part in the House, chaired the Select Committee in question.

I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has changed her mind since then but she has played a significant part in the debates around these issues over the years, and she, too, was a member of that Select Committee. The committee said:

“Individual cases cannot reasonably establish the foundation of a policy which would have such serious and widespread repercussions … Dying is not only a personal or individual affair. The death of a person affects the lives of others, often in ways and to an extent which cannot be foreseen. We believe that the issue of euthanasia is one in which the interest of the individual cannot be separated from the interest of society as a whole”.

I repeat:

“We believe that … the interest of the individual cannot be separated from the interest of society as a whole”.

I profoundly believe that. There is great wisdom in what the Select Committee said at that time. We have to weigh up that issue as we consider this and all the other amendments that will follow. Are we able to provide the necessary public safeguards? Are we sufficiently concerned about what will happen in the aftermath? And are we sure that we can proceed without safeguards such as the independent element that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is suggesting to your Lordships in this amendment today?

7 Nov 2014 : Column 1901 Baroness Warnock (CB): My Lords, why is it thought wrong for someone to ask to die out of a sense of duty or a wish not to continue in a condition that is intolerable—the condition of being disruptive, indeed often destructive, to the well-being of their own family? All the way through their life until this point, putting their family first will have been counted a virtue, and then suddenly, when they most want to avoid the trouble, bother, sorrow and misery of disruption to their family, they are told they are not allowed to follow that motive. I simply find this extraordinary puzzling and I would like the noble Lord to explain it to me.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: People with much less strength of character than the noble Baroness, who is known for her views and her enormous strength of character, are at risk of those feelings being adopted, condoned and co-opted by their family. Those of us who have practised law for many years have come across such cases. Indeed, there will be people who have observed it in the lives of friends and family. It is our view that a sense of obligation—“It would be better for my children if I were carried away”—is not a sufficient basis for allowing an individual to do what is anticipated by the Bill, which is deliberately to end the life of another person.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way.

Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con): My Lords, I think it is usual not to intervene before the noble Lord has moved the amendment.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: I believe that I moved the amendment right at the beginning of my speech, so I am very happy to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I was aware that he had moved the amendment. On the point about the pressure that can be placed on people to take decisions that they might involuntarily be asked to take, does he agree that the “right to die”, as it is sometimes described, can easily morph into a duty to die? I understand the point made by my noble friend Lady Warnock. However, I recall that in 2008 she also said that you can become a burden to the National Health Service if you have something such as dementia and then you can become a burden to society. I am personally disturbed by the idea that we place on people’s shoulders the idea that somehow they are a burden not just to their families but to the rest of us as well.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: I agree with the noble Lord. Indeed, there is a very slippery slope from saying, “I feel an obligation to my family or the NHS” to it being said, “Well, we have to deal with people
who are an obligation to their family or the NHS”. The safety that this provision would introduce into the system is, in my view, very important.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support Amendment 65 and Amendment 71 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hollins. I also support what the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has just said. I thought that he made some incredibly important points. We are dealing with capacity, depression, burdensomeness and the ability to communicate. The last point made by my noble friend Lady Masham during her intervention is one that the movers of the Bill need to take very seriously.
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I draw the attention of noble Lords to an Early Day Motion tabled in another place earlier this year. It deals with some of the points in these amendments and states:

“That this House notes the results of the Washington State Death With Dignity Act Report 2013, published on 10 June 2014, which concludes that the number of deaths through physician-assisted suicide has tripled since the first year of implementation and increased by 43% between 2012 and 2013; expresses grave concern that 61% of those who received lethal drugs in Washington in 2013 gave as a reason for seeking assisted suicide being a burden on family, friends or caregivers; recalls that those who introduced the law in Washington assured the public that it would only apply to terminally ill, mentally competent patients; and reiterates its belief that a corresponding change in UK law would endanger the lives of the most vulnerable in society”.

I agree with the sentiments expressed in that Early Day Motion. As the debate continues in the country at large, I hope that we shall have the chance to hear more voices from those who have been elected and who have had direct contact with their constituents.
It is not just in the state of Washington where we have seen things change from often good intentions—I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, whose motives in this I have never doubted—so that what comes out at the end is not always so. I draw the attention of the House to the comments of Professor Theo Boer in Holland, who said:

“I used to be a supporter of the Dutch law. But now, with 12 years of experience, I take a very different view … Pressure on doctors to conform to patients’ (or in some cases relatives’) wishes can be intense”.

He admitted that he was,

“wrong—terribly wrong, in fact”.
He had changed his mind. Since 2008, the number of assisted deaths in Holland has increased by about 15% every year, maybe reaching a record of 6,000 a year. It is worth pointing out that the law there changed at first simply by turning a blind eye—then voluntary euthanasia was introduced and then involuntary euthanasia. About a quarter of the deaths in Holland every year now are involuntary—that is, without the consent of the patient. These are the facts that we must consider as we consider whether or not we are putting sufficient safeguards in the Bill to safeguard the most vulnerable.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, was right to point to the often fragile existence that many elderly people have. I saw figures recently that suggested that around 1 million elderly people do not see a friend, relative or neighbour during an average week: toxic loneliness. It is assisted living that we need in this country, not assisted dying. We need people who can help people in that kind of situation.

We have all experienced depression. Winston Churchill experienced the black dog. Depression is prevalent in many of our large urban communities. Certainly, in the areas that I represented, it was not heroin—although you saw heroin on the streets—it was antidepressants on every shelf of every home that you went into in the high-rise blocks, cluster blocks and spine blocks, where people were forced to live in depressing situations. That is why I was not surprised by the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, with all her experience as a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatry.

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I was not surprised to hear what she had to say, but I was particularly struck by a report published in April of this year by Price, McCormack, Wiseman and Hotopf. They said:
“Before mental capacity can be placed so centrally as a safeguard in the process, discussion needs to take place about what exactly is meant by the term ‘mental capacity’ in the new Assisted Dying Bill”.

The Bill does not require any treatment for depression, although it proposes in Clause 8(1)(a)(ii) that there should be a recognition of its effects on a person’s decision-making. It is not clear what that would mean in practice. Would it mean that a patient would have to receive treatment or a psychiatric assessment, or be refused altogether? There simply is no clarity on that key point.

I also draw the House’s attention to the evidence given to the noble and learned Lord’s own commission when it considered the issue of capacity and judgment back in 2006. It said that,

“in the context of such a serious decision as requesting an assisted death, the Commission considers that a formal assessment would be needed to ensure that the person concerned had capacity. The evidence given to the Commission made it clear that there are a number of factors that might affect an individual’s mental capacity, including temporary factors caused by physical or mental illness, and more permanent impairments such as a learning disability. It would be important that such factors were identified and that an assessment was conducted to explore whether the subject’s decision-making capacity was significantly impaired … the Commission does not consider that a person with depression, whose judgement might be significantly impaired as a result of this depression, should be permitted to take such a momentous decision as ending their own life”.
I know that the noble and learned Lord still holds to that view. I commend it to the House.

Lord Avebury: Does the noble Lord prefer the situation that exists at present, in which several hundred unassisted suicides of terminally ill people take place every year?

Lord Alton of Liverpool: The noble Lord is right—and every one of those deaths is a tragedy. That is why I said that we have to intervene to assist in living, providing unconditional care, support and love. Simply to provide opportunities for people to take their own lives does not seem a wholesome or good way for this country to proceed. I have known the noble Lord for a very long time and I know that he would not support that either. Let us therefore be careful not to institutionalise what he rightly says already takes place. Just because something happens is not a good reason to make it legal or more easily available. That is why I support these amendments.

3.30 pm

Debate on whether Clause 1, as amended, should stand part of the Bill.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, given the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, I will take the Committee to the arguments that would have been contained in the group led by Amendment 11. I think that was the guidance that we were just given. Noble Lords will realise that later amendments, Amendments 90, 92, 93, 105 and 122 will be reached when they get there. I will try to keep my remarks fairly short, because I think that the Committee is growing weary.

This is an important question, as are many of those that have been laid before the Committee today. It deals with the title of the clause, which is “Assisted dying”. I would argue that that is incorrect; it is assisted suicide. Those who support the noble and learned Lord’s Bill are at pains to tell us that assisted dying is not physician-administered euthanasia, whereby a doctor administers a lethal dosage of drugs to a patient, but physician-assisted suicide, whereby a doctor supplies a lethal dosage of drugs and the patient swallows or otherwise ingests them. I invite the Committee to look at the procedures set out in the noble and learned Lord’s Bill against these claims.

Clause 4 is perhaps the principal clause in this respect. Its subsection (4)(a) allows a doctor or nurse to “prepare” lethal drugs for self-administration. Presumably this means putting them into a form, such as a liquid, that the person can swallow—in a way, so

7 Nov 2014 : Column 1944

far so good—but subsection (4)(b) then provides for a “medical device” to be put in place to aid self-administration. Again, I suppose that this is fair enough, although rather more precision is needed as to the object of such a device. That is why I have tabled an amendment to that effect.
Then we come to subsection (4)(c), which allows a doctor or nurse to,
“assist that person to ingest or otherwise self-administer”.
Here we really are on the borderline between physician-assisted suicide and physician- administered euthanasia. Subsection (4)(c) raises some important questions. Precisely what assistance, apart from preparing the lethal drugs and perhaps inserting a feeding tube, does “assist … to ingest” include? Does it include, for instance, holding a beaker to the lips of the person? It is not difficult to foresee a situation in which a doctor or nurse supplying lethal drugs under the terms of the noble and learned Lord’s Bill could cross the line, however innocently, between giving the patient those drugs and administering them. Subsection (4)(c) introduces a significant and dangerous grey area into the process of assisting suicide.

The noble and learned Lord has, I can see, recognised this ambiguity in subsection (5), which states that neither the doctor nor the nurse may administer the drugs to the patient, but it seems that as long as subsection (4)(c) stands, the ambiguity will remain. Moreover, subsection (5) says nothing about others administering the drugs, which brings me to my next concern. It is not just a matter of the doctor or nurse refraining from administering lethal drugs. There are others who might be inclined to do so, possibly from altruistic motives. It is therefore important that there is oversight by the doctor or nurse of what happens when the lethal drugs are delivered.
At this point, the noble and learned Lord’s Bill becomes rather convoluted. It states, reasonably enough, that the doctor or nurse must remain with the person to whom the drugs have been delivered until either they have been ingested and the person has died or the person has decided not to take them, in which case they are withdrawn. Yet subsection (6) defines remaining with the person as being,
“in close proximity to, but not in the same room as, the person”.
I understand and respect the noble and learned Lord’s wish to allow a person who is self-administering lethal drugs to die without strangers in the room but we have to balance that against the scope for others to intervene in a way that is not permitted in his Bill if the drugs are ingested without supervision.

We all heard the intervention that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, put to my noble friend Lady Finlay much earlier in our debates about the circumstances in which people might die. I would have thought that the doctor’s presence need not be obtrusive. Apart from anything else, we have to allow for the possibility—this sometimes happens, according to the evidence from Oregon—that complications, such as vomiting or distress, arise when the drugs are taken. The doctor needs to be in the room if that happens.
For me, this is an issue that helps to distinguish between assisted suicide and assisted dying. If it is not the wish of this Committee that we should legalise outright euthanasia—I do not believe that it is—then it is very important that those clarifications are made. While I am unable to move Amendment 11, which was originally on the Marshalled List, that would have been its purpose. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for providing us with the opportunity while debating the amended Clause 1, which I will not be opposing, to debate some of these questions.

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August 21st: 2014
Oxford University has published a study which looked at trips to the assisted suicide clinic between 2008 to 2012, and found that Britons comprised the second highest number of foreigners going to Zurich for assisted suicide during that period. More dying patients travelling to the Dignitas clinic now have non-terminal conditions such as chronic pain or paralysis and 5% of individuals that had an assisted suicide did so because they suffered from a mental illness.

Originally posted on :

euthanasia images

July 18th 2014 Debate on the Assisted Dying Bill. 6.36 pm
https:

Care Not Killing Alliance interview about the Bill…
//www.youtube.com/watch?v=E39xaYdqeX0&list=PLwjFHo9tsCgV8zRRMRNgNwKV68Ka-U3tE
https://www.youtube.com/user/cnkalliance

Full debate at:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/140718-0001.htm#14071854000545

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, since the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, laid the Bill before your Lordships’ House, I have argued that it should be given a proper, considered appraisal in Committee, and nothing that has happened in today’s debate has changed my view about that. This has been a thoughtful and at times very moving debate, on all sides of the argument. However, I express some surprise that the Bill was not laid first before the elected House. After all, it is not as if we have not given this issue any previous consideration.

When the House last asked the question, “Is it possible to allow assisted suicide for a determined few, without putting much larger numbers…

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Archive – indexed miscellaneous articles and columns

Aside Posted on Updated on

archive3

Miscellaneous archived columns on the following subjects:

Abortion and the right to know

Paying a price for courage

Politicians and how they vote on ethical issues

30 years of abortion in the UK

Abortion and the possible link with breast cancer

Joanna Jepson’s fight against eugenics

Africa and development challenges

America and Europe – uncomfortable bedfellows

Roe No more

Lord Joffe’s Bill – a “mad Bill” says Robert Winston

A faith worth dying for – Romania’s Tertulian Ioan Langa

Archbishops of Canterbury

The tragedy of broken families

Faith and politics

Genocide in Burma

The detention of Aung San Suu Kyi

Challenges facing Burma

A Land without evil

Ruskin’s money making mob

Darfur – never again all over again

Azerbaijan – where Europe and Asia meet

Bonding with baby

Basque country

The BBC and the right to free speech

#Snakes and ladders

Bishops in the Lords

The legacy of C.S.Lewis

Brazilian bloodbath in a nation asleep

Doing business with Benedict

Building civil society in Georgia

Politics – the oldest profession?

An Ave for good citizens

Give us this day our daily bread

The Celebrate Conference 2001

The case for married priests (2002)

The killing fields of Darfur (2005)

China – where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister

Christians in the Holy Land (1999)

Christians in India

Christmas 2001, 2002, 2003

The BBC and shooting the messenger

Don’t disestablish the CofE

Ban human cloning

Don’t make drugs misuse easier or legal

The looming threat of euthanasia (2003)

Death and suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2006)

The instructive story of Dolly the Sheep

Why the BMA opposes assisted suicide (2004)

Sorry is the hardest word

Religious liberties in Vietnam

Suffering in Burma

The changing face of Laos

The making of a modern kind of missionary

Africa’s children on the brink

A murderous kind of peace (Sudan)

The bishop with nine lives

Suffering and survival in Sudan

The church on the frontline (Turkana)

A Cornish pilgrimage to St. Michael’s Mount

Day for Life 2003

Some books to savour

Life on Kenya’s border with Ethiopia

North Korea and saving its people from hell (2006)

The phenomenal contribution of Catholic schools

Celebrating John Buchan

Phyllis Bowman: a friend in high places (2013).

Egypt and the Copts (article for the Australian Copts)

Ben Rogers And a Rangoon Journey (2013)

What could North Korea Learn from Burma (2013)

Knowing Who You Are (Bowyer’s Dinner 2013)

Congo at 50 (2010) and Remarks for a meeting in Parliament

E-Politics article on Voting Systems

Why Voting Is A Duty

The Year of the Pig – and the case of Chen Guangchen

Two Reports for Jubilee Campaign from 2004 on Congo and Sudan

Meeting Rwanda’s President

DRC’s Bloody History

Rwanda and Genocide

Sister Love and a story from the Burma Border

The Plight of the Karen – a case study in international indifference.

Reports of genocide in Burma

Burma and a Great British Betrayal (1998)

The Release of James Mawdsley

Investing Ethically?

The 2005 Mental Capacity Bill

Westminster Abbey – a place of pilgrimage not just a tourist attraction

Pope John Paul II The Lasting Impact of The Pope of Freedom

What Pope John Paul Meant for Catholics
The Debate about Drugs – 2003
Drugs Misuse
Select Committee Report on Stem Cells and Cloning – 2002
Therapeutic cloning: is research ethical?Speech given to the Parliamentary Scientific Committee, December 1999.
A Talk at Beaconsfield – 2001

 

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Universe Column for 5th May 2002

Abortion and the Breast Cancer Question – the ABC Link

One of the many lies propounded by the abortion industry is that abortion is beneficial to women’s physical and mental health. As the pro-life movement has consistently argued, the exact opposite is the case. This was the resounding conclusion from a meeting I attended in Parliament this week that brought together a number of leading pro-life activists and lawyers.

Unfortunately, the Department of Health and the medical establishment have adopted a conspiracy of silence on the risks to women’s health consequent upon abortion. Most notably, in recent months I have witnessed the Department of Health’s abject failure to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of a link between induced abortion and breast cancer, the so-called ‘ABC’ link.

Twenty-eight out of thirty five peer reviewed international studies have found that induced abortion increases the incidence of breast cancer. Last year, the pro-life charity LIFE commissioned a study on induced abortion and breast cancer. It concluded, “the main cause of the fast increase in post-menopausal breast cancer since the late 1980s can only be the increased availability of induced abortion”.

I have drawn Ministers’ attention to the ABC link and LIFE’s report in the hope that action might be taken to ensure that, at the very least, women having abortions are adequately informed of all the risks, including the risk of breast cancer. In reply, I am told that LIFE’s report “makes many assumptions and is a simplistic association between a rising incidence of breast cancer and the use of induced abortion”.

Yet the World Health Organisation, the medical establishment and even the Department of Health admit that delayed motherhood is a causative factor in the increased incidence of breast cancer. And what is one of the most commonly practised ways of delaying motherhood? Yes, abortion!

Neither Government, nor the abortionists themselves, have demonstrated any willingness to ensure that women are properly informed of the risks of abortion. They know that if they did, far fewer women would have abortions. Whilst the concept of informed consent permeates our health care system abortion remains untouched. No wonder the abortion industry is now known as “the red light district of medicine”.

Nevertheless, the tide is beginning to turn. In the United States and Australia, abortion clinics are finding themselves the targets of clinical negligence claims over their failure to inform women of all the risks of abortion. Charles Francis, an Australian QC, advised our meeting that he had recently settled, for “a substantial sum”, a case where the abortionist had failed to disclose the risks, most particularly the increased risk of breast cancer.

To date the UK has remained immune to this litigious trend, principally because the ABC link is not properly recognised by the Government or in medical literature. We therefore have some convincing to do but the evidence is accumulating at such a rate that it will soon be impossible to ignore.

This week in Canada a bioethics institute produced a report that reviewed more than five hundred studies on the health risks that have been associated with abortion. These included breast cancer, pelvic infection, infertility, ectopic pregnancy and suicide.

A litigation time bomb is ticking in the UK in relation to abortion. Women’s health is being put at grave danger by the very same people who claim to be protecting it. The sooner the Government and the medical establishment take their heads out of the sand, the better.

 

Column for November 23rd 2003

by David Alton – The Right To Choose and The Right To Know

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and affects 41,000 women each year. It claimed 13,000 lives in 2001 making it the second most common cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer.

In a debate in Parliament I have just raised the possible link between abortion and breast cancer – and was shocked by the determination of several speakers to deny any possible link, or even to accept that abortion can carry significant physical and psychological risks.

28 out of 37 worldwide studies have independently linked induced abortion with breast cancer. Thirteen out of fifteen studies conducted on American women report increased risk. Seventeen studies are statistically significant, sixteen of which found increased risk.

 

In 1996, Professor Joel Brind of Baruch College in New York and his colleagues at Pennsylvania State Medical College conducted a review and meta-analysis of the studies. The Brind team, half of whom were abortion law supporters, found an overall 30% elevated risk among women choosing abortion after their first full term pregnancy and a 50% elevated risk among women choosing abortion before their first full term pregnancy.

It is thought that there are two ways in which abortion may cause breast cancer.

Firstly, an induced abortion causes biological changes to occur in a woman’s breasts which make her more susceptible to breast cancer.

During pregnancy, a hormone called estradiol, a type of oestrogen, causes both the normal and pre-cancerous cells in the breast to significantly multiply. By 7 to 8 weeks gestation, the estradiol level has increased by 500% over what it was at the time of conception.

If the pregnancy is aborted, the woman is left with more undifferentiated — and therefore cancer-vulnerable cells — than she had before she was pregnant. On the other hand, a full term pregnancy leaves a woman with more milk producing differentiated cells, which means that she has fewer cancer-Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.02.21vulnerable cells in her breasts than she did before the pregnancy.

A second way in which it is claimed that induced abortion can cause breast cancer is through delayed first full term pregnancy.

One of the most common ways in which women delay their first full term pregnancy is by abortion.

In February 2000, the New England Journal of Medicine, possibly the world’s most influential medical journal, acknowledged evidence of the link between induced abortion and breast cancer in an article

written by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

The recent scare with HRT supports the argument for a link between induced abortion and breast cancer. HRT and induced abortion share one thing in common – they raise oestrogen levels. A low fat diet and avoidance of alcohol also reduce a woman’s exposure to the hormone oestrogen which is the key trigger for breast cancer.

Women have a right to know about risk factors for breast cancer about every possible risk factor. So, why the silence on what appears to be a significant risk factor for breast cancer – induced abortion?

If the Government does not place sufficient weight on the mounting evidence of the link between induced abortion and breast cancer there will be class-action law suits similar to those we are witnessing against the tobacco industry. Years of denial and complacency could lead to claims for billions of pounds in compensation.

In the States last month I heard of the case of a 22 year old woman from Philadelphia, who had an abortion when she was aged 17 and last week became the first person in the United States to successfully settle a medical malpractice case based on a claim for the failure of her doctor and the abortion clinic to inform her of the increased risk of breast cancer due to abortion.

Obviously, not all women who have breast cancer have had abortions: and no-one should imply that. Similarly, not all women who have had abortions will get breast cancer.

However, induced abortion causes women to change their childbearing patterns which, in turn leads them to forego the protective effects of an early first full-term pregnancy. Young girls and women who abort before they’ve had a child – the majority of abortion patients in the UK – are at most danger.

Whatever people’s views about abortion itself, we should surely all oppose the suppression of evidence and debate. The Abortion Act may give women the ‘Right to Choose’ but women also deserve the ‘Right to Know’.

Ends

Ends

2002: Abortion and Paying a Price for Courage Stories of Courage and Conscience

A brave mum who put off cancer treatment so she could give birth has died at the age of 19.

Kelly Byrne, of Beech Avenue, Braintree, had been suffering from leukaemia and last year,

she made a desperate bid to find a donor so she could see her son Logan grow up.

She underwent a bone marrow transplant in January after a world-wide search found a suitable

donor in America.

After her treatment she was thought to be doing well, but developed pneumonia and in her

weakened state was unable to fight it off. She had been in a coma and died on Tuesday.

Kelly’s plight touched the heart of Braintree carnival organisers, who planned to donate the

money raised this year to the Anthony Nolan Trust – the organisation through which she found

her donor.

Kelly was carnival queen in 1999.

Carnival organiser Pat Watson said: “We hope we can help someone else in her situation. We’re

all very sad about it, that’s all we can say.”

Miss Byrne was pregnant when she found out the leukaemia she had as a child had returned. She

put off treatment to give birth to Logan in August, then had chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Kelly paid the ultimate price for her unborn child. Others have paid a different price for holding firm to their belief in the sanctity of every human life.

Ellen Wilkie, the disability rights campaigner was an indefatigable champion of the rights of the unborn. She struggled all her life with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a very rare muscle wasting disease. Most of us could not hope to pack into our entire lives what Ellen achieved in her short thirty-one years; an honours degree in Classics from Bristol University, a published poet, prison worker, author, actress, radio and television presenter, journalist and musician – the list goes on.

When asked to address a school assembly about her achievements she said, “It would make a boring assembly. Anybody could do what I’ve done”. Whether anyone could in fact do what she did is debatable. The point is that anyone might do what she did. Her life and approach to life should be an inspiration to us all.

Ellen said “I did not see how anyone could be part of the disability movement and advocate abortion on the grounds of disability”.

Anita Anderson was my constituent. In 1993 she became pregnant and was told that a scan had revealed a chink in her unborn baby’s leg. She declined the abortion which she was offered. After her next scan she was told that the child would suffer from dwarfism. She again declined an abortion. On a third occasion she was told that the baby was growing again but would be multiply-handicapped. Following her third refusal, a social worker arrived at her mother’s home and told her mother that a hospital bed had been booked for an abortion on the following Monday. What presumptuous arrogance, and what extraordinary pressure!

The child’s father, Terry Anderson, told me that although he was not a regular churchgoer, he was certain that abortion was wrong. Spiritually they needed great strength, and Terry privately visited a local church and lit devotional candles and prayed. Their faith and strength were rewarded by the birth of a perfectly healthy little girl; but as Mr Anderson remarked: “What should have been the happiest time of our lives was turned into a nightmare”. Anita Anderson adds: “They treated me totally the wrong way. They didn’t think about my feelings. They made me feel as if I was carrying a guinea-pig and as if they just wanted me to have an abortion so they could carry it away. “I was crying all the time. One night I woke up and thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. It was just disturbing.”

I raised this case directly at a meeting with the then Health Secretary, Stephen Dorrell, in 1996. He agreed that tests should not lead to directional counselling. In reality, diagnostic tests are routinely treated as the first part of a search-and-destroy mission, and intolerable pressure is placed on parents to follow the logic of the tests.

Cures are not available, but abortion is. Far from being reliable, the tests lead to perfectly healthy unborn babies being aborted, and to the susbsequent trauma of angry parents suing health authorities for negligence and incompetence. It also led, in June 1996, to a British mother saying she would sue the doctors who failed to test successfully for the spina bifida which affects her son.

Later in 1995 Barbara Hanaway, a medical secretary from Manchester, was sacked from Salford Health Authority for refusing to deal with an abortion. An appointment had been made for a patient to attend the surgery. The woman asked for an abortion. The doctor declined and referred her to her own doctor, telling Janaway to take dictation, type the letter and contact the woman so that she could collect the letter. Hanaway refused on religious grounds saying: “I refused; my conscientious objection was that I was setting the ball in motion. I would have been responsible.” She was reported to the practice manager who told her to “get into the real world”. She responded that, “This is the real world”. The Health Authority dismissed her for gross misconduct.

Pharmacist’s Moral Dilemma In Belfast, in 1995, Patrick McCrystal lost his job as a pharmacist after he was told to dispense the abortifacient morning-after pill. When I met him in Northern Ireland he explained to me the dilemma he faced over his deeply held religious beliefs. “It threw me into a professional and moral dilemma. I was a pharmacist and a man of faith in a profession trying to promote health and prolong life, and being asked to dispense a pill that terminates a new life. “After wide consultation, prayer and heart-searching, I handed in my notice and left the post.” McCrystal, despite being ready to dispense 98% of daily prescriptions, has been unable to obtain anything other than a few days locum work since.

In 1996, he was joined on the dole queue by Stephen Clark, a 31 year-old scientist from Manchester. He was sacked after he refused, on religious grounds, to monitor emissions from hospital incinerators used to burn aborted foetuses. An environmental chemist with Greater Manchester Scientific Services Ltd., a subsidiary of Southern Water plc, his company obtained a contract with another operating clinical waste incinerators. One of their plants, at Hope Hospital, Salford, took waste from 16 medical centres in the North West. He discovered that among the waste were the remains of aborted unborn babies: “I would no more monitor the stack at a hospital incinerator than I would at the crematoria at Auschwitz. The plant was being used for the incineration of human beings after their wilful murder. I would have been taking part in a process which diminished humanity.” He was dismissed and lost his case at an industrial tribunal.

Column David Alton: June 22nd 2001.

Politicians and How They vote In Parliament

A reader has written to me rebuking me for recently publicising the voting records of the three party leaders on issues such as abortion, cloning and euthanasia. She says that these are purely private matters.

It is a curious thing in Britain but many of the things, which genuinely are private matters we take great delight in parading across daily newspapers. Meanwhile, issues that the public deserves to be told about are suppressed or concealed as official secrets.

How a politician votes in Parliament is not a private matter and those who want fundamental changes made in laws that destroy millions of lives are entitled to know how a politicians intends to vote.

The abortion issue, in particular, brings out some very mixed up attitudes.

Take the Dutch abortion ship as an example. Imagine the outcry if a group of drug pushers, pornographers, arms dealers or Nazis decided to moor a ship just outside the Thames Estuary and proceeded to act in defiance of British law.

In Ireland there are still laws that protect the unborn child. Yet, Dutch abortionists acting on a self-proclaimed liberal mandate say they are entitled to violate the laws of another sovereign state.

I believe that British laws that allow a disabled baby to be killed as she is being born are evil. Imagine the reaction if I incited acts of violence against the abortionists involved in ending those lives; or if I encouraged foreign militants to do it for me.

The abortionists are false liberals.

These are the same people who proclaim the right of people to know their rights to an abortion while denying groups like the Pro-Life Alliance the right to a broadcast which would have illustrated what actually happens in an abortion.

Cardinal Hume was so right when he said that if showing what happens in an abortion is “distasteful” then maybe the act is so distasteful that we shouldn’t allow it in the first place.

In January 1973 the USA legalised abortion following the Roe v Wade case. Jane Roe was the heroine of the liberal establishment.

Twenty eight years later Jane Roe and several other women are now suing the New Jersey State authorities because of the damage which abortion has done to their lives. They say that the abortion industry doesn’t care about women or the suffering, which they have experienced.

What interest I wonder will the Dutch abortionists have in the future well being of the women they entice to their ship? What legal redress will those women have in future years?

So to my irate correspondent, I must insist, these are not private matters about which we should not inquire of our politicians. They are issues that cut to the very heart of our humanity.

November 2001 – Thirtieth Anniversary of the Abortion Act

In this month of cenotaphs and remembrance spare a thought for the dead and the injured – the babies and their mothers – who have paid the price for Briatin’s Abortion laws: enacted exactly thirty years ago.

For those who do not know them, the stark facts are worth rehearsing: 5 million British abortions in thirty years; 177,225 abortions in 1996, a rise of 8.6% on 1995; 1 in every 5 pregnancies deliberately destroyed; abortion of disabled babies permitted up to, and even during birth. But this is to tell only half the story.

In 1967 just 31 Members of Parliament opposed David Steel’s Abortion Bill. After David Steel had won the Private Members Ballot, his friend, Roy Jenkins, the then Home Secretary, promised to help draft a Bill either to decriminalise homosexuality or to legalise abortion. David Steel took soundings in his Borders constituency and concluded that abortion would be the more popular cause. Jenkins and Harold Wilson subsequently delivered their promise to provide Government time once that allocated for Private Members was exhausted. Since then no Government has provided the time which would be necessary for amending legislation (most notably Margaret Thatcher refused parliamentary time in 1987, preventing my own Bill from completing its stages).

The climate which allowed the 1967 Bill to be so successful had been created over a sustained period of time. Opponents had been lulled into a false sense of complacency while hard cases and horror stories, some doubtless true, others grossly exaggerated, were remorselessly trawled through the press. This is the text book case which amply demonstrates the truth of the adage that `hard cases make bad laws’. The Hansard record of the 1967 speeches reveals a mixture of guile and self-deception, sincerity and cunning. Some speakers genuinely believed that they were liberating women; others were pursuing an agenda which they are still attempting to systematically complete.

That agenda includes eugenic testing, genetic engineering, the elimination of disabled people,embryo experimentation, coercive population control, and euthanasia. At times the debate may appear exhausted but it is by no means concluded. Until 1973-74 the argument largely focused on the status of the foetus.

Almost un-noticed the abortion lobby retracted and regrouped, as foetal scanning debunked the propagandistic nonsense that the unborn child was merely a clump of tissues or a lump of jelly. Adroitly, from the mid-seventies they switched to the surer ground of rights and specifically to a woman’s right to choose `not to be burdened’. The argument ran like this: “Yes, I know it’s killing, but my rights are paramount.” They insisted that this was entirely a private matter and having changed the law to their liking it was no longer to be a matter of public policy.

The language of rights proclaimed by Americans such as John Rawls was the ideal context in which to proclaim these new rights and to abandon old values. The claims of God were no longer permitted to trump the claims of citizenship and T H Green’s notions of positive freedom and the common good were superseded by a new doctrine of claimed rights undergirded by a merely managerial approach to politics.

The new, non-principled, politics believes the sanctity of life is just one more stall in the market and that it is wholly unreasonable and, indeed, intolerant to insist that abortion is wrong. And so, in the short space of 30 years, a serious crime has become a right, a public question of law and ethics has become a personal choice, and a practice once firmly repudiated by medics has become a routine medical procedure – so routine that clinics offer a lunch-hour service. And to what other enormities has this led?

100,000 human embryos are now experimented upon or destroyed in Britain annually. Procedures specifically prohibited on other species by the 1986 Animal Procedures Act are permitted on humans by the 1990 Human Fertilisation & Embryology Act. In touchy-feely Britain we are required to display emotions, to exhibit (often counterfeit) compassion, and embrace politically correct causes.

If you are a fox or hate smoking you are in luck; if you are an unborn child, too bad. Question the legislation which permits a handicapped baby to be killed at birth and you will be reviled as a bigot or misogynist. The Prime Minister, along with every other elected member of the Cabinet voted for the eugenics provision. He outlined the new doctrine in the General Election as “personally opposed to abortion but in favour of public provision”. Imagine the derision if I claimed to personally oppose the Government’s sale of arms to Indonesia and then voted for it as a `matter of public policy’.

This ambivalence mirrors the mixed sentiments of mixed-up middle England. Pro-lifers need to understand this. It may prove to be a better beginning than it first appears.

In this convoluted world of invented values we have permitted the popular belief to emerge that choices can be made without consequences, that rights outweigh obligations, that the strong can trample on the weak. Pro-life questions have been side-lined as a `single issue’ instead of the defining issue of our times. Measured against the promises of the 1967 legislators, many of today’s realities stand as a stark rebuke. Chief among their claims was that legalised abortion would liberate women. Instead we have a generation of women physically and psychologically hurt by abortion. Men have increasingly used abortion as a way to exploit women and to evade their own responsibilities.

The claim was also made that children would all be wanted; abortion would reduce the incidence of abuse. Today, 46,000 British children are on child protection registers. Might it not be that abuse permitted in the womb was always likely to increase the incidence of abuse after birth? While the abortion clinics replaced the orphanages, adoption of babies became far more difficult and expensive fertility treatments – which don’t work for four out of five couples – became the resort of the desperate.

Legal abortion has changed our attitudes to our doctors, our partners, our children and to the sanctity of human life. It has also bred an ugly intolerance: journalists sacked for insufficiently compliant copy; doctors, nurses, and medical staff sacked or refused promotion for refusing to collaborate; a scientist sacked for refusing to monitor emissions from an incinerator burning the bodies of aborted foetuses; pro-life students denied free speech; the Labour Life Group denied a stall at a Labour Party Conference; Emily’s List money available to women candidates on the one condition that they support abortion; and the BBC’s risible decision to allow a racist General Election broadcast because of the importance of `free speech’, while censoring a pro-life broadcast because it might cause offence.

Absurdity is piled upon absurdity as the Government proclaims a pious concern for human rights in China and then allocates funds – around £10 million per annum – to the Chinese Population Association. China’s `one child policy’ makes it the only country in the world where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister, and Britain helps fund the forced abortion, forced sterilisation and forced fitting of IUCD’s in women, which are used to implement this policy. How this squares with Robin Cook’s ethical policy is a mystery. It is all part of the culture of death.”

In 1967 David Steel said his Bill was not the commencement of a slippery slope. Opponents, he said, were scare-mongering when they warned that euthanasia would inevitably follow. Last week, the Government said it would support a Law Commission Bill on advanced directives – euthanasia by the back door. Conscience, he promised, would be protected. Scientists, journalists, pharmacists, and medics are among those who have been sacked or refused promotion for exercining their conscience. He said there would be no abortion on demand. there are 600 abortions every working day in Briatin.

This has been a chaotic century which will be remembered for its culture of violence and death. Yet there are hopeful straws in the wind. The Roe v Wade case (1973) famously led to legalised abortion in the USA. Jane Roe has now changed her mind.

In Britain the work of LIFE in establishing Life houses and care centres, a Health Centre and baby hospice, the work of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, through education and campaigning; the work of the Pro-Life Alliance, in contesting elections; the witness of the Revd. James Morrow and Rescue; the consistent pro-life ethic of the Movement for Christian Democracy, and Alert’s work against euthanasia, are all helping to change minds. A single life saved more than justifies this painstaking approach.

A pro-woman/pro-life approach is the best strategy for defeating abortionism. We must reform the abortion debate in a way which puts women and children together on the same side.’ Society has become hyper-sensitive to women’s rights.

By establishing the link between the pro-life position and women who have been victimised by abortion we stand a better chance of turning around the argument. When abortionists – like the one who boasted that he had done 100,000 abortions, generating œ30 million over the past 30 years – are made legally responsible for protecting women’s health and are required to inform women of the risks and alternatives, many who have been taken in by the slogans may think again. In the wider political battle we need no condemnation or judgement of women – especially the stigmatising of single parents- to define the argument. Instead, we need a politics that is consistently pro-life and argues for a mother and her child, for the sanctity of all human life: from the womb to the tomb. We also need to be rather more PC – not politically correct but politically courageous.

 

Column David Alton: 2003 – Abortion and breast cancer

To mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court cases, BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme recently highlighted the abortion debate in the USA. This included a short debate between myself and Joan Ruddock MP.

Perhaps the most telling moment in that exchange came when Mrs. Ruddock defended the 25 abortions undertaken on babies who had a cleft pallet, including one after 24 weeks gestation. This she said was simply a woman’s choice.

For those of who would describe it as eugenics and grossly discriminatory there is clearly little scope for a meeting of minds.

Yet, as the three preceding broadcasts illustrated attitudes in America have been changing – with an ABC poll last month showing that 60% of women oppose social abortions. Note that 98% of British abortions are done under the social clause.

The American change of heart has undoubtedly been helped by Jane Roe and Mary Doe, who have both become pro-life. It has also been helped by Dr. Bernard Nathansan, one of the principal architects of America’s abortion laws. Responsible for 75,000 abortions, he says the rhetoric of 30 years ago was based on “Cynical slogans then, just as they are now.”

Roe and Doe (their real names are Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano) say the cases that were brought 30 years ago were based on lies. That is why they have backed a new campaign to reverse a process that has destroyed millions of unborn children and damaged countless people, psychologically and physically. Now it’s Roe v. Abortion.

Both women say that false testimonies were used in the original cases. The Supreme Court listened to these women 30 years ago when it suited them, it will be a real test of their liberal credentials as to whether they will let these women come before them again.

American women have been changing their minds about abortion for a variety of reasons. The linkage of abortion with breast cancer is one of the most important.

In the last 50 years 28 out of 37 studies undertaken world-wide have shown a positive association between the two. Girls under the age of 18 who have abortions double their risk of breast cancer.

In Britain the total number of breast cancers is expected to double over the next 26 years from 35,000 to 77,000. This will be largely because of the high rate of nulliparous abortions (where a woman hasn’t previously given birth) and the decline in the birth rate.

In Britain politicians and society are in denial. The basis of their case for abortion has been that it is safe and legal. Well, legal it may be, safe it is not.

Don’t British women have a right to know that an abortion might lead to anything between a 30% and 50% greater probability of breast cancer? A woman in Australia recently won a landmark court case on the basis of her right to know. How long will it be before the British Government face a similar lawsuit?

Breast cancer is no trivial matter.

In Liverpool I chaired the successful appeal to build the NHS Linda McCartney Centre for women with breast cancer and am well aware of the suffering caused by this disease.

A year ago I sent the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Breast Cancer Group Patrick Carroll’s damning report on the linkage between breast cancer and abortion. In the report Carroll says “the number of women who will die from the disease will rise alarmingly.”

I am still waiting for a reply to my letter. The chair of that Committee? It’s Mrs. Ruddock.

Column July 27th 2003

Not content with almost 600 abortions every working day, the pro-abortion lobby are now calling for women to be allowed to complete so-called ‘medical abortions’ at home.

Don’t be fooled that this arises out of concern for women’s health and welfare. Far from it. The pro-abortionists are worried. Growing numbers of doctors, particularly the newly qualified, are refusing to participate in surgical abortions in hospitals. For some, the practice is considered beneath their status as doctors. Others, particularly young Christian and Muslim doctors, are exercising the right of conscientious objection.

No wonder the abortion lobby wants to see a change in the law to allow medical staff other than doctors and women themselves to administer medical rather than surgical abortions.

Medical abortion using the ‘abortion pill’ RU486 involves taking two doses of separate drugs that induce a miscarriage. It is accompanied by extremely heavy bleeding, severe cramping, nausea and vomiting. Also, according to a spokesman for the manufacturer, Roussel Uclaf, “there is considerable pain attached to the procedure”. Other potential side effects include cardiac arrest and frequent incomplete abortions.

In 2002 the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to all healthcare professionals about the dangers of taking the abortion pill, particularly if the pregnancy is ectopic.

If abortion does have to take place, then surely all stages of the abortion should be conducted in an approved medical environment where medical assistance will be on hand immediately if required.

If women were allowed to complete medical abortions at home or at locations other than licensed medical establishments, what help will be available to the woman when her dead unborn child is expelled from her womb? What is she to do with her dead unborn child? What help will be on hand if she suffers heavy bleeding? Many women will worry about whether the procedure will work. (For up to one in ten women, it does not.) Many women will be inevitably plagued with questions about whether the unborn child is alive or dead, or suffering at any particular moment.

While there may be reasons for increasing the availability of, and access to, potentially life-saving or life-extending drugs, (such as in the case of AIDS treatments) no such reasons apply here. RU-486 is clearly intended only for non-therapeutic, elective abortions. There is no health crisis demanding this treatment. Women already have access to surgical abortion, which abortion proponents insist is already safe, effective, and inexpensive.

Now is the moment to write to Dr John Reid MP, the Secretary of State for Health (at the House of Commons, London SW1A OAA), seeking assurance that the Government has no intention of extending the “class of places” under the Abortion Act 1967 (as amended) where abortions can be carried out in order to allow women to complete medical abortions at home. To accede to the abortion lobby’s demands would be a dangerous and retrograde step.

Rather than seeking to increase access to and availability of abortion – and calls to extend it to Northern Ireland is another example of this – we should be developing policies to reduce the appalling number of abortions that take place in Great Britain each year.

Ends.

Column, December 14th 2003

by David Alton

Two contrasting stories illustrate how individuals can affect the debate about abortion – for better or for worse.

The first story comes from the USA, from Wilmington, Delaware, where a teacher at an Catholic girls school has taken her school to court after she was dismissed for campaigning in favour of abortion. Michele Curay-Cramer, 32, was fired from the Ursuline Academy after her name appeared in a newspaper advertisement advocating abortion. Ms.Curay-Cramer claims the school’s action violated the woman’s rights under the Civil Rights Act.

Like Frances Kisling of the organisation “Catholics For A Free Choice,” Curay-Cramer claims that she is still a bona fide Catholic. In a bizarre interpretation of Catholic teaching she says “the Catholic Catechism says that if you do what you do with a clean conscience, then you’ve done nothing wrong.” The reality is that if by exercising your “free choice” you take the life of another you break the Commandment that “Thou Shalt Not Kill” – and Church teaching on abortion hardly needs explanation here.

GK Chesterton said that when you become a Catholic you surrender some of your freedom in order to gain a greater freedom: and he was right.

You can’t just make up your beliefs as you go along and then claim that you are still a Catholic – let alone demand to be paid to teach in a Catholic institution.

Contrast how Ms.Curay-Cramer has acted with Joanna Jepson, the young woman who went to the High Court to try to block late abortions for ‘trivial reasons’ such as a cleft palate.

 

In 1990 when I told Parliament that a new disability provision would be used to abort babies for trivial reasons – such as cleft palate or club foot – I was accused of scaremongering and irresponsibility. I was told it would never happen. Joanna Jepson – who is a young Anglican ordinand – has been waging a brave fight to prove it does happen and to expose and challenge eugenic abortions.

Joanna was herself born with a congenital jaw defect.

This personal experience prompted her to take the police to court. She says that they failed to investigate an unlawful late abortion of an unborn child with a cleft palate carried out in Herefordshire in 2001.

The 1967 Abortion Act (amended in 1990) clearly states that late abortions can take place after the 24 weeks only if “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”. A cleft palate, harelip, or congenital hip displacement, is, as Joanna’s case illustrates, operable and it beggars belief that reasons like this can be cited as a ground for a late abortion.

Joanna herself has said “When I found out about this ‘cleft-palate’ abortion by looking at the National Abortion Statistics it just felt so close to home. I thought to myself, I know people who have had cleft palates repaired and how many operations they went through, but I think I have had more major surgery than they’ve had.

“So I thought, if you play this argument through, the law is saying there are good reasons why I shouldn’t be alive. And I look at my life and I think, ‘That’s rubbish.’ Even if I hadn’t had my surgery, even if I’d chosen to stay the way I looked before, that’s no good reason for me not to be alive.”

The current abortion legislation gives no definition of “seriously handicapped”. It merely allows for what Michelle Curay-Cramer calls “choice.” Twenty-six abortions on unborn children with a cleft palate have taken place since 1995, two of which were performed after 24 weeks.

Two tales of two women; two tales of one issue. Both illustrate how the stand you take can influence events. Both illustrate how individual choices can take life or save it. Never did the choice offered to Moses seem more appropriate: “I have laid before you a blessing or a curse, life or death, choose life.” Joanna Jepson has decided to defend life, Micelle Curay-Cramer to defend those who take it.

Ends

 

Column June 8th 2003

What To Do About Development In Africa

One of the top priorities for the Evian Summit of the world’s most developed countries – the G8 – is to discuss development in Africa. They are focusing on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (which goes under the inelegant acronym of NePAD). This is a welcome commitment to Africa and a response to a partnership that has been forged among African countries by African countries.

 

Perhaps its top priority should be to see the link between ending Africa’s many conflicts and the possibility of inward investment and development.

. Without resolution of conflict it will be very difficult to ensure the success of NePAD and bring about development. In the Congo alone the number of deaths has now reached a staggering 3 million over the past five years.

The deteriorating situation in Darfur in western Sudan – where there has been real hope that the Machakos peace process might end the war – also jeopardises the possibility of development

In some respects the situation has been going backwards. The ending of the mandate of the special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan has created a vacuum in the human rights monitoring mechanism; this is very depressing. In Sudan human rights generally also continue to be flouted in the name of Sharia Law.

In the past few days a 14 year-old girl in Sudan, who is nine months’ pregnant, was sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip for alleged adultery. The Sudanese Government have not ratified and do not adhere to the convention against torture. Torture and violation of human rights have played their part in fomenting many conflicts in countries throughout the continent, such as Rwanda, during the past few years – and everyone is painfully aware that Zimbabwe could go the same way..

Conflict leads to refugees and displaced people. A few months ago I visited the shanty town of Kibera, a sprawling slum close to Nairobi. It is said to be the biggest slum in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rootless, drifting young people, pose a massive challenge to development. With 1 million orphans, often living rootless and disaffected lives, and their number rising exponentially, Africa is awash with feral children, many faring little better than vermin. They deserve to be at the top of NePAD’s agenda.

Orphaned children are the sharp end of the AIDS pandemic, but urban drift, civil war, a collapsing education system, human trafficking—and corruption are all playing their part.

UNICEF’s report, Children on the Brink, spells out the scale of that disaster. In 88 countries studied:

“More than 13 million children currently under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to Aids, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, this number is expected to jump to more than 25 million”.

The consequences of a vast, dislocated and embittered underclass of orphaned children, if it is not tackled properly and fundamentally, will be devastating for Africa. Tomorrow’s revolutionaries and tomorrow’s coups are already in the making in the festering slums to which children with no hope or prospects are migrating. Here is a fertile breeding ground for both Marxism and the radical fundamentalism of some Islamic groups.

So what can we do? Clearly we do need the international community to act. But as people in London and in the north west have heard this week we can assist sustainable development straight away. Fr.Albert Salvans, who works in Turkana in Northern Kenya, has been describing the water catchment dams, the schools and clinics he has built. As countries build their partnerships through NePAD we need to make our own partnership with Africa by supporting men like Fr.Albert. Individual responses matter just as much as those of international agencies – and often they achieve more significant results.

Column, Sunday August 3rd 2003.

America and Europe – Uncomfortable Bedfellows

 

Every so often it is worth looking at how America and Europe, those two uncomfortable bed-fellows, are getting on. Incoherent anti-Americanism, a total failure to understand one-another’s pre-occupations, and the bad taste of post-Iraq fallout, have all made the marital bed an unhappy place – sometimes even a bed of nails. One outward sign of this was the extraordinary decision of some American families to cancel some exchange visits between French and American children. When children get caught up in the cross-fire it’s a sure sign that the relationship is in deep trouble.

Boycotting French fries or pouring the Evian water down the drain is one thing, endangering our historic ties and strategic alliances is quiet another.

Some Americans have grown so tired of having to work at their European relationships that they hope that Europe will become so divided they won’t have to deal with it at all. The argument goes that dealing with a divided Europe is preferable to dealing with a united Europe – a profoundly mistaken view. Dividing and conquering works in the short term but not in the long term.

Although Europe deserves to be criticised for its parsimonious and lacklustre performance it also needs to be remembered that some major international initiatives – such as the World Trade Organisation (the WTO) –would never have happened without Europe. And for all the talk of replacing Europe with Japan or Asia it’s worth Americans considering that in the last decade there was more European investment in the State of Texas alone than in the whole of the US by the Japanese. Many international conglomerates operating out of cities such as Dallas or Paris, Cologne or Chicago have no idea where they are “from” and operate across country and continental borders. Their future success depends upon the continuation of that capacity and instruments of international arbitration, such as the Trade Dispute Mechanism of the WTO ensure their ability to make money and to make jobs.

Economically, culturally and politically – let alone in the big bad world of international security and terror – the US and Europe need one another. Pretending that we don’t is a dangerous world of make believe.

Post World War Two the US defined itself as altruistically committed to nation building and to building international institutions. For a while it tottered on the brink of becoming unilateralist and disinterested. Now, it has re-engaged in working for a more global, more democratic, and more stable society. That, Europe should welcome.

What we need to do is to ensure that the US walks the talk; that, for instance, it sees the link between failing to curb energy consumption and being reliant on corrupt regimes such as Saudi Arabia. Does religious America appreciate that every dollar it pours into Saudi Arabia coffers is liable to be used by militant Islamic Wahhabists in fomenting intolerance and extremism in Sudan and Indonesia? Every barrel of oil is paid for in the blood of hundreds of thousands of Christians.

In the face of hugely complex challenges the US and Europe need to rebuild their fractured

relationship. That will require some honest straight talking – and an appreciation that without one or other of the occupants, the bed will be a lonely and less productive place to be.

Ends.

archives1Column April 4th 2004

David Alton.

Roe V Wade – Jane Roe in the UK: Roe No More

In 1973 it was the Roe V Wade Case in the US Supreme Court which legalised abortion in America. Jane Roe’s real name is Norma McCorvey – and I recently invited her to Britain.

The decision of this one-time icon of the abortion rights movement to changed her mind about abortion, and to spend her whole life working for the right to life, has acted as a catalyst in the US.

Following her decision to take a pro-life position she also become a Catholic. Her personal journey mirrors that of of Dr.Bernard Nathanson, the New York abortionist who, having been responsible for 75,000 abortions, could no longer collaborate in a lucrative but merciless industry.

It was film footage from his clinic that was the basis for the film “The Silent Scream” – that shows the unborn child trying to escape Nathanson’s instruments.

Her testimony to Peers and MPs was a moving story and a poignant challenge from a woman who has had the courage to change her mind.

Norma McCorvey’s address was given in Parliament on the same day that a survey of 5,000 British teenagers was published by Bliss magazine It reported that two thirds of our teenage children believe that there are far too many abortions in Britain.

In truth, who could disagree?

There have been 6 million abortions in Britain since 1967 – 600 every working day. Last year there was a small, 0.5% fall in the total number of abortions – to 175,600: 78% of which were funded by the tax payer.

One in five pregnancies now ends in abortion.

Notoriously, we even permit it right up to birth on a disabled child: for reasons such as cleft pallet.

The picture in America has been little different.

There have been 44 million abortions since the Supreme Court upheld Norma McCorvey’s claim that the decision of the Texas district attorney, Henry Wade, had infringed her constitutional right to seek an abortion.

Roe V Wade was heralded as a fundamental breakthrough in human rights. In reality it has left a trail of bitterness and blood.

There are about 1.3 million abortions each year in the US, over 3,500 every working day: 150 every hour, 1 every 24 seconds.

The sheer scale of abortion is a key reason why Americans have become so passionate about this issue.

It is a fact that in the millennium year of 2000 more children died from abortion than Americans died in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf and Iraq combined. More nascent American lives lost in one year than in all those conflicts combined.

As Norma McCorvey ruefully said at Westminster “I don’t feel heroic over a law that has killed millions of babies.”

Yet, she is also entitled to the comfort of knowing that her brave decision, in 1995, to say she was wrong, has started to change minds and hearts in the US.

After reaching a high point of 1.6 million in 1990, the number of abortions performed annually in the US has dropped to levels not seen since the late 1970s – and targeted and highly effective advertising in some States, pointing to the alternatives and offering practical help, has seen truly dramatic falls.

If we are to reverse the levels of abortion we need thousands of people to do what Norma McCorvey has done – to think again.

 

Column April 23rd 2006 David Alton

Lord Joffe’s Bill To Legalise Assisted Suicide – “A Mad Bill” Says Robert Winston

 

In less than a month from now – on Friday May 12th – the House of Lords will debate Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying For the Terminally Ill Bill. When asked what he thought of this Bill, Professor Robert Winston – Lord Winston – said “Oh, well, it’s mad. Mad. I mean Lord Joffe has very good intentions but…”

In a fascinating interview with “Third Way” magazine, Lord Winston, who is well known for his controversial views on issues surrounding the beginnings of life, expands on what he meant in adding that crucial caveat, the BUT word. He adds that the ethical issues surrounding end of life issues are “a much more important discussion. I do not think that we should be terminating life.”

 

Of course, many of us would argue that the issues of how you treat the unborn and the terminally ill are inexorably linked. We should have a profound respect for life from conception until natural death – “the womb to the tomb”; but even if he doesn’t share the totality of this view, Lord Winston’s voice is an important and influential one in this debate. Significantly, and rightly, among the “buts” he identifies before we seek to legislate is the corrupting effect on society and the dangers of abuse from such laws:

“Of course, it would be nice, in an ideal world” he says, “to be able to terminate somebody’s suffering, on demand; but the risk of abuse, the risk of old people being devalued, the risk of people wanting to change their mind but never having the opportunity to do so, the risk of actually getting it wrong, make it to my mind a route down which we should not go.”

 

Then he turns to the impact on the medical profession and the cataclysmic effect that this sort of legislation would have on the relationships between doctors and their patients. He says that the practicalities should send us running for cover.

 

Chillingly, he asks: “How could you frame a law in such a way that there would be no risk of doctors being seen as executioners by some patients, or old people being frightened of going into hospital because they felt they might be bumped off by the nursing staff?”

He is also right to say that it will re-enforce the negative attitude we frequently have towards older or sick people, where we characterise them as a burden or “better off dead”: “One of the great deficiencies in our society” he says “is the lack of respect and lack of understanding we have for ageing and older people. And I think that this (Bill) devalues them a little bit further.”

This is not just a “mad” Bill, as Lord Winston says. It is a bad Bill: which is why the majority of doctors and vulnerable disabled people in Britain do not want it.

Lord Joffe’s supporters tell us not to worry – that the Bill contains safeguards for vulnerable people. But the Select Committee which considered the issue made ten recommendations designed to strengthen the safeguards and many have been ignored. Indeed, many of the so-called safeguards in the new Bill are actually less robust than the old ones.

His supporters say that the Bill will merely make legal what is already happening.

Yet a recent report by Professor Clive Seale concluded that, insofar as it exists at all, the rate of covert euthanasia in Britain is much lower than in other countries, largely because of our established culture of palliative care. This, according to Professor Seale, shows that it is not possible to sustain the argument that covert euthanasia is widespread and needs to be regulated.

It’s all well and good to talk about “safeguards.” It is one thing to draft safeguards which make sense to healthy people with everything to live for, but quite a different matter to produce safeguards which will work as intended and protect dying people at such a vulnerable time in their lives.

The Care Not Killing Alliance will tell you what you can do and they can be reached on 0207 633 0770 or info@carenotkilling.org.uk.

Column April 20th 2003 (Easter Sunday):

On Easter Sunday we throw away the grave clothes, smash the bonds of death, and replace grieving with celebration. It is the day when we reaffirm our central belief in life after death and an end, once and for all, of pain, suffering and despair. At Easter we wipe away the tears of sadness and sing our alleluias and hosannas as peons of praise, joy, and thanksgiving.

 

But imagine, if you will, a dark, pessimistic world devoid of the assurance that death has been conquered. In all truth, that is the depressed world in which many people live.

These contrasting worlds were in my mind when Parliament heard about the forthcoming Joffe Bill to legalise euthanasia (soon to be debated in the House of Lords).

Professor David Currow, Professor of Palliative and Supportive Services at Australia’s Flinders University, in Adelaide, and Jane Campbell, a Disability Rights Commissioner, graphically described the implications of legalising euthanasia. Professor Currow said that five out of 8 of the patients killed in Holland via euthanasia were suffering demoralisation or depression – or both. 3.4% of all deaths in Holland are now caused by euthanasia and one in four is without the express wish of the patient. There has been a ten fold increase in non-voluntary euthanasia. Given the obsession with “patient autonomy” it’s hard to see how taking someone’s life without their consent makes them more autonomous.

What particularly struck me in Professor Currow’s presentation was his insistence that despair and depression – not pain – were the main reason why people end their lives: “If you’re not depressed or demoralised your chance of seeking euthanasia is zero,” he said.

He also insisted that “Positive requests for euthanasia usually result from poor medical care” and that when good palliative care is offered there is a dramatic drop in requests “despair melts like snow in the sunshine.”

Jane Campbell made an equally compelling case.

She has a severe disability and earlier this year wrote a brilliant article in The Independent entitled “Don’t Be Fooled: We Don’t All Want To Kill Ourselves.”

In 1999 Jane was deeply affected by the case of Baby C whom the Courts decided should be denied ventilation. The child would be “a burden” on State resources, would be dead by the age of two, and her life would be a “living hell.” Jane has exactly the same disability and as a baby was given the same prognosis.

In January became critically ill with pneumonia in both lungs and septicaemia. The doctor said “we won’t put you on life support; you don’t want to live like that.” A consultant also said that if she went into respiratory failure she wouldn’t be ventilated as she would not live a full and active life after ventilation. Jane described this approach as “ignorant, ill-informed, calculating and heartless.”

Having survived all of this she says that the Joffe Bill to legalise euthanasia “will put lives at risk and does nothing to protect disabled people from prejudice.”

Surely instead of seeking ways to kill patients we should seek ways to alleviate their despair. Too often when we say we want to put someone “out of their misery” what we really mean is that we want to end our own misery. We don’t address the real fears that people have of becoming a burden. We simply fail them when we leave them in the abyss of demoralisation, tormented by the black dog of depression.

This Easter we need to reaffirm the gospel of life, recalling Aristotle’s pre-Christian wisdom that “an act becomes a habit, becomes a destiny.” Our lives – and how we respond to those in need – has an effect on the whole of society; but so does how we die; and on this day of all days we need to remind society of the Hope that lies beyond the grave, and offer them a better destiny than a lethal injection.

Universe Column: April 25th 2004.

A Faith Worth Dying For Is Worth Living For

David Alton

Eighty two years ago the Romanian parents of a newly born boy gave him the Christian name Tertullian. It would prove to be an appropriate name. For the suffering of Tertullian Ioan Langa would lend new weight to his namesake’s famous dictum, Semen est sanguis Christianorum, that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.

Although eighteen hundred years separate their lives, the parallels between the great persecution of Christians by Nero and others, about which Tertullian was writing, and the suffering of Christians in the Communist dictatorships evoke many parallels.

Tertullian Langa spent 16 harrowing years in Romanian prisons. His story is recorded alongside other essays in “Faith and Martyrdom: The Eastern Catholic Churches in Twentieth Century Europe” – a collection that our bishops should give to every young Catholic preparing for confirmation.

Last week I told Tertullian Langa’s story to some of the Catholic families who gather annually for the week-long Celebrate conference in Ilfracombe. Just as the lives of Edmund Campion, Thomas More, John Fisher, Margraet Clitherow and the other English Catholic martyrs inspired many of us as youngsters, the stories of contemporary Christians cast into the gulags, make vivid the nature of Christian witness. We need to cultivate the seed and feed it, not starve it of nutrients and light.

Tellingly, the words witness and martyr come from the same root.

In Britain today standing up for what you believe may not literally cost you your life, but witnessing for your faith may well cost you something. Stories like that of Tertullian Langa remind us that if it is worth risking death for your faith, then it may also be worth living for. That’s the sort of faith young people are interested in, not an unchallenging religiosity that conforms to every fashion and fancy.

In 1948 as a 24-year-old up and coming academic Tertullian Langa was told to join the communist run union or lose his job. Renouncing his university career, he went to work on a farm. Known as a committed Greek Catholic (in union with Rome since the eighteenth century) he was hunted down and arrested in Blaj at the office of Bishop Ioan Suciu – who was later martyred.

After the fall of Ceaucescu I had the privilege of meeting the late Cardinal Todea, then head of the Romanian Catholic Church. Neither he nor any of the Romanian Catholic bishops collaborated with the communists. Cardinal Todea spent years on the run – often hiding in barns and hay wricks -, and years in prison. The Greek Catholic church was outlawed and the hierarchy liquidated. Most, like Bishop Suciu were executed.

Tertullian Langa’s fate was prison. For two weeks he was beaten with a rod on the soles of his feet, suffering excruciating pain. When he still refused to provide information against the church, a wolf hound was brought to the cell and set upon him, badly mauling him. Later, he was beaten on the head, rhythmically, with a bag of sand: “After approximately twenty blows, I began to apply the moral principle ‘age contra’, do the opposite, saying to myself at each blow: “I will not speak.”

He was moved to another prison, twenty five feet below the marshes of Jilava, where “men were packed like sardines – not in oil, but in their own juices, made of seat, urine and the water that seeped in, that tricked ceaselessly down the walls.” Sixty men fought for space and air, and humiliation was piled upon humiliation.

In his moving account, Father Langa.(for he would later be ordained) said of the inmates “We were animated by a people’s mysterious will to remain in history, and by the vocation of the Church to stay alive…When the sun abandoned me, I felt yet that I had not been abandoned by Grace.” Redolent of Solzhenitsyn’s writings from his Soviet gulag, Tertullian Langa’s story, challenges each of us to take more seriously the continuing suffering of the church in many parts of the world. His story is replicated in China, North Korea and Vietnam today.

There is one other thought to take away form Fr.Tertullian Langa.

Contrast the concept of “martyrdom” through which radicals blow themselves up in order to kill and maim others, as in New York, Bali, and Madrid, with a willingness to “lay down your life for your friends. ” Tertullian Langa exemplifies a selfless willingness to witness to the truth with a determination to endure so that the gift of life might be transmitted to others.

To help the suffering church contact Jubilee Campaign: info@jubileecampaign.co.uk , http://www.jubileecampaign.co.uk 01483 894 787 (Fax 797).

Ends.

Column by David Alton – 2002 on Archbishops of Caterbury

Pentecost stirred up memories of Pope John Paul’s great visit to England twenty years ago. No-one who was present in Liverpool as he travelled along Hope Street, between the city’s two cathedrals, could ever forget the raw emotions of that day. For Anglicans and Catholics it represented a mile- stone in ecumenical relations.

One day earlier I had been in Canterbury as one of the political representatives who witnessed the Pope’s historic entry into Becket’s cathedral – where he was embraced by two Anglican Archbishops, Robert Runcie and Michael Ramsay. Neither in Liverpool nor in Canterbury was there starry eyed naivety about the significant road blocks in the way of Christian unity but there was a sense that relationships were being profoundly altered.

During the two decades that have followed differences have opened up over issues such as feminism and bioethics, and there has been a movement of Anglican clergy and lay people into the Catholic church. But the relationship manifested in 1981 has prevented us from regressing into earlier hostilities. The late Cardinal Basil Hume and Dr.George Carey (who has been consistently underrated) deserve our thanks and praise for the sensitive way in which they dealt with these issues. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor puts it well when he says that “affective relationships lead to effective relationships.”

It is precisely because Catholics care about their relationship with Anglicans that they go on searching for common ground and keenly watch the direction in which the Church of England proceeds. Any decline in the standing of the established Church affects us all.

The choice of the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be crucial to how Catholic-Anglican relationships prosper in the future.

Both Britain and the Anglican Church need a prophetic voice able to clearly annunciate the Gospel in a hostile and confused world. Catholics will be hoping for a prophet who is orthodox in his beliefs and able to communicate and engage our secular society. Choosing an Archbishop because of his views on issues of internal church politics would be a fatal error. It would be the worst sort of naval gazing.

Equally catastrophic would be the choice of an Archbishop willing to embrace very passing fad or to appease every interest group.

Bishops, like the rest of us, may want to opt for a quiet life. On crucial issues such as divorce, abortion or embryo experimentation they may simply prefer to say the things society wants to hear. What we need are bishops who are prepared to challenge us, to speak into the void, metaphorically laying down their lives for their flocks.

The Church of England is blessed in having such good men in its ranks. The present Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones is one such; Christopher Herbert, the Bishop of St.Albans is another.

In Canterbury in 1982 Catholics and Anglicans began to see each other through new eyes. The choice of that city’s new Archbishop will have considerable ramifications on how those relationships prosper.

 

Column on the Education Bill – and threats to Church Schhols and Conscience .

By David Alton. February 2002

Challenging An Uneducated And Illiberal View Of Catholic Schools.

What was most striking about last week’s House of Commons debate about Church schools was how ill-informed were the opinions of those seeking to undermine and destroy Catholic education.

The prime movers in seeking to impose quotas on church schools – forcing them to take at least 25% of pupils who do not share the school’s religious affiliation – were the former Cabinet Minister, Frank Dobson, from Labour’s backbenches and Phil Willis from the Liberal Democrat frontbench. Most disturbingly of all, only two Liberal Democrats (the doughty John Burnett and Brian Cotter) broke a three-line whip and voted against 37 of their colleagues.

If some of the views expressed were ill informed, they were illiberal too. Catholics should wake up to the hard-line secular agenda which is being promoted and see this poison ivy for what it is.

Although the deeply flawed amendment was defeated, anyone who wishes to preserve Catholic education needs to understand the arguments which were advanced and exercise their vote in future elections with discernment.

During the debate John Gummer observed that “the party with the most liberal name has become the party with the least liberal policies.” Was he right?

Ten years ago the Liberal Party passed a policy resolution making abortion a matter of party policy rather than conscience. Earlier in the day they had passed a motion to protect, among other things, goldfish being sold in amusement arcades and fun fairs.

After eighteen years in the Commons this inevitably led to my own decision not to stand again as a Liberal Democrat. Subsequent demands for Royal Commissions to examine the legalisation of euthanasia and drugs, and official policy supporting the manufacture of human embryos for the purpose of therapeutic cloning, have reinforced my anxiety about the agenda which is being driven forward.

Issues which in Jo Grimond’s Liberal Party had traditionally been questions of conscience have increasingly become a litmus tests for political acceptability.

The party seems to have two twin objectives – which I suspect are contradictory – one to re-position the Party to the left of Labour on social issues, and, two, to become the main party of opposition. This re-positioning is based on a strong secular agenda.

One of their MPs. who spoke in last week’s debate, went so far as to thank the National Secular Society, of which he is an honorary associate, for providing advice on the Education Bill.

Traditionally, Liberals could boast that Gladstone’s government introduced the 1870 Education Act which pioneered free education. Gladstone liked to recall the proverb “Vox populi vox Dei” and in 1874 he wrote of the role of religion: “As to its politics, this country has much less, I think, to fear than to hope; unless through a corruption of its religion – against which, as Conservative or Liberal, I can perhaps say I have striven all my life long.”

The Edwardian Liberal party which came to power in 1906 was strongly dominated by nonconformism. With the demands of the immigrant Catholic Irish community for educational opportunity a fault line opened up over whether schools should be denominational in character. The call was “Rome on the rates. ”

A response was mounted and a great Catholic gathering at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1908 was attended by 60,000 people inside and outside the building and was addressed by Salford’s Liberal MP, the Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc. A constitutional battle ensued and after the Bill was emasculated by the House of Lords the government dropped it.

As late as 1917 Lloyd George called together those opposed to Catholic schools and promised to resurrect the Education Bill. The increasingly vociferous and numerous Catholic community realised that it needed to align itself politically. It grew close to the Labour Party and this last ditch attempt was still born.

More recently, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, and the former Education Spokesman, Don Foster, has made the present position abundantly clear: “In an ideal world” he said“there would be no religious state schools. We would put a stop to the daily act of worship.” During last week’s debate, Evan Harris, their MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, compared the teaching of religion in Catholic schools to the teaching of French or maths and said that anyone should be free to do it regardless of whether they had a religious conviction or not: “they militate against the best interests of pupils because they sacrifice the best teachers to the ones deemed religiously appropriate.”

This outmoded secular claptrap was defeated at the end of World War Two. Catholic aspirations were properly met in what Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, described as “the historic concordat between the state and the church” which would become the foundation of the 1944 Education Act.

That legislation was the fruit of a remarkable partnership between the Conservative R.A.Butler, an Anglican , and the Labour Chuter Ede, a Free Church man. Butler was president of the Board of Education in the Coalition Government, and Ede was his Private Parliamentary Secretary.

Perhaps the most enlightened and important piece of twentieth century legislation, that Act contrasts sharply with the overly partisan, ill considered, mertetricious and often contradictory changes which central government and local authorities have imposed on education in the fifty years which have followed. Among many other things it provided a small grant towards the cost of building church schools.

For his enlightenment towards the cause of Church schools, Archbishop Griffin of Westminster sent Butler a copy of “Butler’s Lives Of the Saints”.

Although the communities which had to struggle against all the odds to raise four fifths of the capital costs were often extremely poor, parishes seized the opportunity of creating a network of schools where their children could receive a Christian education.

Curiously the Church of England decided to significantly withdraw from education and of the 9000 Church of England Schools in existence in 1944, half closed. Yet because of self-sacrifice and extraordinary generosity the Catholic community has ensured that in total there are 6,384 religious primary schools and 589 secondary schools of differing denominations in Britain today, although all but 40 are Christian. This has not gone un-noticed and it is why the Catholic schools were the ones most targeted during last week’s debate.

In 1990 after the Liberal Conference had received motions calling for the closure of all church schools I became increasingly concerned about the attacks on church schools. I wrote to Liverpool’s bishop, David (now Lord) Sheppard. He replied: “over the past few years there has been an increase in the demand for places in church schools, especially at the senior level…but it is unlikely we would see major expansion of schools as a priority.”

Following the publication of Lord Dearing’s report the decision of the Church of England to create 100 new “faith” schools is a welcome recognition of the need to change priorities. Many people, some of only nominal belief, want an education which offers more than places in the academic league tables. The Church of England has 775,000 places in its primary schools but only 150,000 places in its secondary schools. Clearly there is an unmet demand.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat’s Home Affairs spokesman, was wrong to say the present system is founded upon “hypocrisy”: “many people suddenly find a faith and start going to church,” he said, to get their children into church schools. Many church schools are over-subscribed and parish priests provide affirmations of church commitment. But who is to say how deep another person’s faith – or to question their desire to return to it, or to prevent them from transmitting their beliefs to their children?

When latter day Robespierres have searched our consciences and imposed their quotas “by dictat”, as John Burnett put it, what will they have succeeded in destroying?

According to Dr.Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, “denominational schools have a great strength. Often they have a clear ethos that gives consistency and power to the lessons they teach.” He adds that a survey of 34,000 teenagers in England and Wales, carried out by the Jewish Association of Business Ethics, found that children educated in such an ethos “are less likely to lie, steal or to drink alcohol illicitly…the evidence is that teaching about the morality of everyday life does make a difference.” The recent debate took no account of the unique nature of Christian education – such as its incarnational character – and set out admirably by Dom Aidan Bellenger in his York Minster Lecture, 2001, “Christian Education.”

Imposition of arbitrary quotas will undermine ethos but also undermine the self-governance which allows church schools to determine their own composition. An average of 20% of pupils in Catholic schools are not Catholic but everyone knows that in some situations the character and ethos of the schools can be radically altered if the proportions become to unbalanced. Schools must be free to decide these things.

If quotas led to Catholic children being excluded from church schools because the school was no longer free to determine its numbers this would be a disgrace. So, such a policy is not merely ill informed and illiberal, it is also discriminatory.

Frank Dobson claimed that “no sound evidence” exists that religious schools perform better, a charge demolished by the publication this week of Ofsted’s report on the latest standards and quality of education.

The charge was also made that Catholic schools are not “inclusive.” The opposite is the case, and, as MPs from the north pointed out, the riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford involved children from non-integrated non-religious state schools. Paradoxically, given the number of immigrants who are Catholic, and the more extensive nature of catchment areas, our schools are usually beacons of social integration.

As I heard recently from Catholic teachers in Oldham, they place a great premium on preparing their children for active citizenship and the responsibilities this entails. To suggest otherwise illustrates profound ignorance of what goes on in church schools. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, in a trenchant and hard hitting statement, expressed his anger at the caricature of Catholic education, saying that our schools are the fruit of “a struggle” to which Catholic parents “ have contributed financially for many generations….Admission quotas could effectively undermine the cohesiveness of the school.”

Last week one MP told the Commons that there are many people “some of whom sit on the Liberal Democrat Benches, who want to end Church schools altogether.” But they are not alone. Forewarned is forearmed. To ignore this threat would be folly

 

Column August 1st 2004. David Alton Broken Families

Britain now has the highest rate of family breakdown in Europe and, as I said last week, we are gradually waking up to some of the consequences. At last, the debate is moving away from a denunciation of anyone whose marriage has failed and has begun to address the consequences of family breakdown and, more importantly, what we can do about it. One of the best of the new thinkers is Jill Kirby, who chairs the Family Policy Project for the Centre for Policy Studies. She has written two compelling publications, “Broken Hearts – Family Decline and the Consequences for Society” (2002) and “Choosing To Be Different – Women, Work and The Family” (2003).

By relying on hard facts and data her argument is intelligent and unanswerable. She points out, for instance, that cohabitation, is not a substitute for marriage. The data reveals that couples who cohabit are more likely to split up once they have a child together and that a child born to cohabiting parents has a less than 50% chance of reaching the age of 5 before his or her parents have separated. In contrast, more than 90% of children born into married homes will reach 5 and still have both parents living together. Which is the better scenario for a child?

And it’s not only children who suffer from the collapse of the family. Last month the think-tank, Demos, said that the retreat from marriage is having an impact on the numbers of lonely elderly people. Other surveys have shown that the main providers of care for the elderly are family members – particularly spouses and children or children-in-law. As the decline in marriage and increase in single-person households work through the population in the years ahead, this source of family care will shrink. Perhaps that accounts for one recent claim that as many as a million elderly people in Britain do not see a friend or a relative or a neighbour during the course of an average week.

So what can we do? Jill Kirby says look to America.

Following the 1990s decision of the Democrats to reform welfare, Americans have seen a levelling-off in the decline of marriage. More recently, The Institute of American Values, in conjunction with the National Fatherhood Initiative, has recently issued a report entitled “Can Government strengthen marriage?”– to which the report answers emphatically ‘yes’.

The report details the evidence on marriage and its beneficial impact on adults, children and society and recommends a series of public policy measures to boost marriage rates, reduce divorce, and remove disincentives to marry, particularly amongst low-income couples. Recognising that marriage is least prevalent in the poorest communities, the report calls on government to stem this source of inequality and give every child a better chance to ‘live the American dream.’ Research from the respected Brookings Institute asserts that marriage provides a better, more sustainable route out of poverty than cash, and exhorts government to match anti-poverty measures with pro-marriage measures.

Some of the measures recommended are already being implemented as part of President Bush’s $1.5 billion ‘Healthy Marriages Initiative”. Others are likely to follow in the near future.

Kirby says we could also look at the way the Australians provide marriage education and support and compare our tax and benefit system with other major European economies and the favourable tax regime provided for families.

This debate does not need histrionics or judgmentalism but it could do with a sober look at what people like Jill Kirby has to say.

 

Her booklets are available at www.cps.org.uk.

Column August 6th 2006

David Alton – Faith and Politics

A few weeks ago I was asked by a student what subjects he should study as the best preparation for politics: “should I do a degree in politics, economics, law or social sciences…?”he asked.

Now, twenty years ago a working knowledge of Marxist dialectics or the principles of capitalism versus command economies might well have been the best preparation for political life. Today? About as worthless as the endless statues of Lenin and Stalin removed from plinths in public squares to the safe keeping of museums.

My advice would be to worry less about economic theories and get a good dose of theology and history instead. Although I note that the Prime Minister has cast doubt on the value of teaching history there is no better way of understanding today’s challenges than through a thorough-going understanding of what has gone before. Mr.Blair might himself have been better served by the study of history rather than law.

But if history is a great teacher how can you possibly have any understanding of the awesome issues facing the world today without a thorough going knowledge of theology and the great world religions?

Think for a moment about the threat posed by Iran – a theocracy run by radical mullahs – whose President has said that he wants to develop a nuclear weapon so that he can obliterate the State of Israel. Think of Hamas, an Islamic organisation commited to the use of terror, which has been elected to govern Palestine. Think about the offensive Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed – and the global riots which they precipitated; or Laskar Jihad terrorist attacks in Bali; or the passing of a sentence of execution on an Afghan man because he had become a Christian..

And, as we head once again towards the anniversary of the September 11th attacks on New York’s twin towers, can anyone truly doubt that religious impulses – for better and worse – penetrate every artery of the political world. Yet, this is a world in which most people have what’s been called an “invincible ignorance” of Islam and, in the case of many Westerners ,a comparably woeful ignoirance of their own Christian religion.

Our political leaders constantly tell us that in this new cklimate our national secuyrity is endangered because of the forces at work all around us. As new laws are prolulgated and new restrictions imposed we are paying a heavy price with the erosion of long cherished civil liberties.

But as we promote these measures and castigate Islam and Islamic groups very few people are trying

to get to grips with the theological issues, helping to disentangle secular Islam – ideological, miltant Islam – from religious Islam, and seeking ways to promote dialogue and coexistence. Religion is a central part of the challenge – the problem – and it will be a central part of the answer – the solution. Good theology is the antidote to bad theology – and theological ignorance leaves us completely ill-euqiped to face the present challenges.

The Foreign Office and most international bodies are deeply secular institutions – with many key officials rightly described as secular fundamentalists. Diplomats are always wary of the “r” word but understanding religious world-views is a prerequisite to working in most parts of the world.

As a young man I often shared holidays with a good friend of mine, a Catholic priest. One night while we were enjoying a drink we were treated to the views of an Englishman abroad who, not knowing either of our occupations – gave us the benefit of his many views. He concluded by telling us that two subjects which should never be discussed in polite conversation were religion and politics. My friend an I gave each other an amused smile. It’s not just that the world would be rather dull if we could discuss neither of those subjects – it would be an unreal world, a more dangerous world, an intolerant world. And certainly in today’s climate, tomorrow’s politicians need to understand the complex religious issues that face the world today.

 

Genocide In Burma

January 2003

March 9th has been designated as the global day of prayer for Burma. In the refugee camps, where many of the 130,000 Karen people have fled to escape Burma’s genocide, voices will be raised in the earnest prayer that 53 years of conflict will finally come to an end.

Along with prayer, we need to redouble the political pressure on western governments and on the Burmese military junta. There are also a host of initiatives that individuals and church groups can take to help those who are suffering.

I have just returned from the Burma border where I was taking evidence, along with American Congressman, Joseph Pitts, on behalf of Jubilee Campaign. We collected truly shocking accounts of the latest violations of human rights. Although the British Government still refuses to categorise these crimes as genocide there is no doubt in my mind that no other word adequately describes the realities in Burma’s Karen State.

Two years ago the Catholic human rights activist, James Mawdsley, graphically brought that suffering to light. His brave decision to launch a protest inside Burma and the 17 year sentence and 13 months solitary confinement that followed made many people aware of the harrowing atrocities committed by the military regime.

The story of one small child I met at a refugee camp near Mae Sot illustrates how the brutality and violence of this perfidious regime continues.

Saw Naing Gae is just eight years old. He saw the Burmese military shoot dead his mother and his father. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Desperately unhappy he managed to escape and made his way to the camp, where he is staying with a group of thirty other orphans. Even as these children sang and welcomed their visitors Saw Naing Gae seemed unable to join in or even to smile. Every trace of joy and innocence had been stamped out of him; and all of this by the age of 8.

Saw Naing Gae squatted alongside four other children, brothers and sisters, whose parents had also been brutally murdered. The oldest girl, aged about 12, and now head of their family, dissolved into tears as she recounted their story.

Naw Pi Lay, whose photograph illustrates this article, did not survive.

Aged 45, the mother old five children and pregnant with her sixth, Naw Pi Lay was murdered in June of last year by the Burmese militia. During a massacre in the Dooplaya district of the Karen State, twelve other people were killed, including children aged 12,7,5, and 2 years old.

Elsewhere in the same district, at Htee Tha Blu village, further violations of human rights were carried out by Light Infantry Battalions 301 and 78. They beat and tortured villagers, stole their belongings and burnt down their church and their homes.

The last time I visited this region, about four years ago, I illegally crossed the border and entered the Karen State. I heard and saw evidence of the internally displaced people – estimated now at 600,000; of the scorched earth policy that has depopulated and destroyed countless villages; and of brutality unequalled anywhere I have travelled.

This time I met one of the Free Burma Rangers who had just come out of the Karen State. He had been with a little girl of eight who still had a bullet lodged in her stomach. To help people like hr he had taken in some nurses and medics. Why was he, an American, so committed to the Karen? “I love these people, and I simply don’t want to see them suffering like this. We’ve got to do something, even if we’re just like a small barking dog,” he told me.

At Mae Sot we took evidence from the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People. They provided me with over 100 pages of carefully documented examples of human rights violations committed by Burmese military over the past twelve months alone. One day I hope that this evidence will be placed before an international court and as at Nuremberg the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

The report lists three mass killings by the SPDC (Burma’s singularly ill-named State Peace and Development Council). It is a carefully chronicled account of looting, burning, torture, rape and murder. The SPDC routinely plant landmines indiscriminately and in areas where landmines have been laid by their opponents the SPDC use people as human landmine sweepers.

I saw some of the victims – people whose limbs have been severed from their bodies, whose skin has been peppered with shrapnel, and others who have been left blind. I also talked to the families of people whose loved ones – men and women – had been seized and used as porters and construction workers, and who have never returned. The SPDC kill many of the porters in frontline areas, especially when they are unable to any longer work because of exhaustion or sickness.

The international focus on Burma has long been on the heroic struggle of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). The SPDC are part of a military dictatorship that has brutalised its people since a coup in 1962. Having called an election in 1990, which the NLD won, the SPDC refused to accept the result. Although in the past twelve months the military have allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to travel more freely, tentative talks between the two groups appear to have stalled. During the same period the attacks in most parts of Burma have increased.

A settlement with the NLD represents a solution to only half of the conflict. The seven ethnic groups who have been fighting for self determination or autonomy since the end of World War Two – the Karen, Karenni, Mon, Arakam, Kachin, Chin and Shan – will still need to have their grievances addressed.

In Chiang Mai I met with the authors of a carefully meticulous 120 page report on the Burmese military regime’s use of sexual violence in the Shan State over the past six years. The report of the Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan Women’s Action Network, “Licence To Rape”, details how rape has been used as a weapon of war. Sexual violence – especially widespread gang rape – has terrorised and humiliated communities, flaunts the power of the regime, “rewards” troops, and demoralises resistance forces.

Women who have been raped have frequently been abandoned or rejected by their husbands. One woman described how she was gang-raped when she was 7-months pregnant and then gave birth prematurely to her child. Another was told by her husband to leave: “You didn’t control yourself. You are no longer my wife. Leave our home.”

The Burmese Junta have turned their country into one vast concentration camp. They are Nazi thugs who deploy Nazi methods. Like their Nazi predecessors they fail to appreciate the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to endure and survive.

Typical are the joint secretaries of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Bo Kyi, a student leader who spent seven years in Burmese jails, told me that “torture is designed to break down your identity, to turn you into a non-entity with no connection to the world outside of the torture chamber.”

Naing Kyaw served 8 years in Insein and Thayet prisons and still manages to joke that “insane” would be a better spelling. Regularly beaten with a chain and ball on his back, and often kept in solitary confinement, he was offered the chance to become an informer.

Instead, he learnt English from the professor who was housed in the adjacent cell – so that he would be able to tell the world about Burma’s suffering. He has put the language to good use in his essay in “Spirit For Survival” which he dedicates to a despairing young woman who took her own life: “All the suffering you felt we will change into strength. This grief, this feeling of deep hurt and bitterness will become a volcano, which is going to explode.”

I was struck that even as the suffering deepens no-one is giving in. Democracy activists continue their struggle and the beleaguered ethnic minorities refuse to capitulate.

In amongst it all are people trying to bring hope and help – like the Karen Catholic priest I visited who is simply known as “the jungle priest.” He is running an illegal school for young people denied education. Or the Thai Catholic nuns, inspired by the vision of one of their number, Sister Love. They have created a wonderful centre and school for six hundred children. The evangelical Life Centre for girls rescued from traffickers, the Bible School in the heart of one of the camps, and the non-governmental organisations are all doing wonderful work.

There is an old saying that the darkest moment is always just before the dawn.

For Naing Kyaw, Bo Kyi, and the other extraordinarily courageous men and women I met on the Burma border, this indeed may well be the darkest time.

Until now the Thai Government has been generous and hospitable in allowing refugees and democracy activists a place of shelter. While our delegation was in the country, not only did a group of 2,000 Burmese military attack Karen settlements in the Tak district, we also learnt that the Thais had raided the homes of pro democracy activists and were seeking to repatriate them. It would have been more humane to have issued an order for their summary execution and have done with it. Imagine Winston Churchill deporting members of the French Resistance to occupied Nazi Europe and you have the correct parallel.

All this has to do with the Thais seeking to strengthen commercial links with the military junta. On February 9th the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra and the army chief, Somdhat Attanant, travel to Rangoon. It is impossible for me to imagine how any democratic leader could want to do business with a regime that kills and brutalises its people and that relies on drug production to finance its economy.

Last year more than one billion meth-amphetamine pills were produced in Burma and most were sold on in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, causing disastrous social consequences. The junta have been making a killing from illegal trafficking of drugs, timber, and people, and then they use their illicit gains to kill their own people. One day the people who have collaborated in this profiteering will be held to account, tried and jailed.

These words from Psalm 61 were handed to me as I left the Karen refugee camp on the Burma border: “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

They represent a plaintive and last desperate cry by a people who have suffered beyond reason. Their cry is indeed issued from the ends of the earth. How much longer will they have to wait for the rest of the world to respond?

On March 9th the people of Burma will be sorely in need of our prayers. But they need our help too. Please resolve to help in some tangible way.

HOW YOU CAN HELP – WHAT YOU CAN DO

• Jubilee Campaign has campaign material available: info@jubileecampaign.co.uk or telephone Jubilee at St.John’s Seminary, Wonersh on 01483 894 787

• You can send a “Good Life” pack of small gifts for displaced children inside Burma (they suggest chewable vitamins, a small comb and mirror, a small toy, pencils) in a heavy duty Ziplock freezer bag, marked “gift/school needs/ no commercial value”, to Christians Concerned for Burma, PO Box 14, Mae Jo P.O., Chiang Mai, 50290, Thailand.

• You can sponsor or support the education of children being cared for by James Mawdsley’s Metta Trust, by the Burmese Jungle Priest or by Sister Love and her co-workers. Cheques should be made out to Jubilee Action and sent to St.John’s Seminary, Wonersh, nr Guildford, Surrey GU5 0QX.

• You can write to your MP, to the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the Prime Minster, demanding that Britain press for genocide charges to be brought against the Burmese military junta. (all c/o House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA)

• Write a letter of protest to the Burmese Ambassador:

His Excellency Dr Kyaw Win, Embassy of the Union of Myanmar (Burma)

19A Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London W1X 8ER

Telephone number: 020 7499 8841

• Organise a Day or Prayer on March 9 in your parish or at your home

Column for July 6th2003

Genocide In Burma

The Burmese military’s decision to re-arrest Aung San Suu Kyi has thrown back into sharp relief the despicable policies of the Burmese military junta. Every bit as evil as the brutal junta that governed Iraq the world needs to be much clearer about how it is going to deal with the systematic atrocities and the depredations in Burma.

In particular, relatively little interest has been shown in the genocide perpetrated by the Burmese military – and which western governments are still reluctant to name as such.

I have personally met the victims of terrible atrocities that include summary executions, rape, forced relocations,destruction of villages, food stores and crops and forced labour.

Over 650,000 Karen, Karenni and Shan have been internally displaced. Over 200,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Thailand. Many displaced people are hiding in the jungle with little or no food or medicine and they are usually shot on sight by Burmese troops. I can think of no other country where so many displaced people are being subjected to a shoot on sight policy, yet the British government and the international community continue to pay relatively little attention to the desperate plight of the Karen, Karenni and Shan.

The British government and European Union have measured progress in

Burma by mainly focusing on whatever improvements have taken place regarding

political developments and the release of political prisoners. While

these issues are very important, it remains a matter of grave concern that

the British government is not treating the desperate plight of the Karen,

Karenni and Shan people as being just as important.

In the Foreign Office’s Human Rights Annual Report 2002, the last 2

lines of their section on Burma states that “We shall continue to respond proportionately to political developments in Burma. But should progress stall or fail, our policy will again harden.” There is

no reference to the possibility of hardening British policy on Burma due to the continuing SPDC atrocities against the Karen, Karenni and Shan. According to this statement, the sole determinant of whether Britain and the EU’s policy towards Burma will harden or soften is whether any

progress is made on the political front, with no regard being given to those ethnic groups facing systematic atrocities.

On behalf of the human rights group, the Jubilee Campaign, I have

twice visited the Karen people along the Thai-Burma border. For several

years now the Jubilee Campaign and I have investigated the facts of the

situation and researched the international laws relating to genocide, war

crimes and crimes against humanity and we are absolutely convinced that the

Karen, Karenni and Shan are facing genocide, crimes against humanity and war

crimes at the hands of the Burmese military. Burma’s regime is not

just anti-democratic, it is also a criminal regime, who have committed

serious crimes under international law.

Even if the British government refuses to accept that Genocide is

taking place as it has done in the past, it should be obvious to even

the most casual observers that War Crimes are being inflicted on the

Karen, Karenni and Shan and that in itself should be enough to justify the

setting up of an International Criminal Tribunal by the U.N Security Council

to try Burma’s military regime.

With the recent crackdown against the National League for Democracy

and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Italian Undersecretary of State for

Foreign Affairs, Margherita Boniver, has said that the European Union

will be considering in detail the possibility of submitting this issue to

the U.N Security Council. Italy has taken over the Presidency of the

European Union this month. Good for the Italians.

The British government should ensure that any such considerations

include submitting to the U.N Security Council the systematic

atrocities against the Karen, Karenni and Shan ethnic minorities in Burma. While

the plight of political prisoners in Burma is grave, the situation of the

Karen, Karenni and Shan is even worse and directly affects a far

larger number of people.

Britain should not wait for others to act. It should urgently raise the plight

of the Karen, Karenni and Shan at the U.N Security Council and lobby at the

Council for a global arms and investment embargo against Burma. The

government should also ban all new investment by British companies in

Burma, as has been done in the U.S. and call on the Security Council

to set up an International Criminal Tribunal to try the Burmese regime for

war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. And they should answer the question I put to them in Parliament a few days ago: If what is happening in Burma is not genocide, what has to happen for them to decide that it is?

Burma – March 2003

While the international political and media focus remains on events in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the Burmese Government’s brutal repression of the Karen, Mon and Shan ethnic minorities continues unabated. It is only if the international community’s spotlight remains on the despotic regime in Burma and the desperate situation of so many of its peoples that democratic change will evolve. Our Government, together with its partners in the EU, the UN and the wider international community cannot afford to let the pressure slip.

Last month over 4,000 people fled following attacks by the Burmese army on internally displaced settlements in Papun and Nyaunglebin, two northern districts of Karen State. Eleven villages were burned, numerous paddy fields and rice barns were destroyed, properties were looted, landmines were planted extensively throughout the area and two villagers were killed.

 

The 4000 internally displaced persons have now fled deep into the jungle inside Burma. Short of food and medicines and unable to plant new crops they are in desperate need. Many are living in daily fear of attack from the Burmese army. Some have been in hiding for almost six years. According to Stuart Windsor of Christian Solidarity WorldWide, these persons are “hunted down and slaughtered like animals” by the Burmese military Junta.

This distressing news comes at the same time as the government of Thailand, a country that borders Burma, decided to repatriate 6,778 refugees back to camps within Burma.

Thailand has been a safe haven for over 120,000 Burmese refugees and close to 400,000 illegal immigrants from Burma. Most of them are from the ethnic minorities, predominantly the Karen, Shan and Karenni.

In the past Thailand has shown tremendous compassion to fleeing Burmese refugees but as the Thai government seeks improved economic relations with its Burmese counterpart, some international human rights observers are concerned that it will seek to repatriate all Karen refugees to Burma where there lives are at serious risk.

The international community must give greater financial and practical support to the Thai government as it attempts to deal with large numbers of refugees. Support should also be provided to the oppressed ethnic minorities in Burma, together with pro-democracy groups like Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD was the overwhelming victor in parliamentary elections in 1990 that the Burmese military junta has simply ignored.

So long as tourists continue to visit Burma and unwittingly invest in a despotic regime and so long as Western oil companies (like Britain’s Premier and France’s Total) continue to trade there the military junta is partially able to resist pressure for political and economic reform. Yet the winds of democratic change are sweeping through South East Asia, witness the events in Indonesia over the past few years. Burma cannot remain immune to this pressure but the process of democratic change will take far longer if the world’s gaze is averted from the appalling human rights abuses being perpetrated by the military junta.

Britain has historically strong links with Burma that make it all the more important for our Government to be at the forefront of bilateral, regional and multinational pressure on the military despots. The international political and economic isolation of the Burmese regime must be maintained. We must not allow other important world events to divert the spotlight from a dreadful state of affairs and allow the absence of democracy in Burma to persist any longer than it need do so.

 

Universe Column January 2007

David Alton

This year’s Global Day of Prayer for Burma will be held on March 11th. It will be a chance to focus on the continuing atrocities committed by the Burmese military junta against the ethnic minorities; and a chance to highlight the continued captivity of Aung San Suu Kyi.

In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League For Democracy decisleyly won the elections which the junta allowed to be held in Burma. Under normal circumstances, she would have been sworn in as Prime Minister.

Instead, the military set aside the results and refused to hand over power.

Despite international denunciation and representations – and,in recognition of her bravery, the awarding of the Sakharov Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize – she remains under house arrest to this day.

For five years, from 1995 until 200, some of the restrictions were removed but even when her British born husband, Michael Aris, was dying of cancer in 199, the regime would not allow him to vsiist her – and she never saw him again. . She remains seperated from her children who live in the UK. She is currentl;y said to be in good health, but is refused regular access to her doctor and visitors are not permitted to see her.

Meanwhile, her people continue to syuffer every possble depredation.

In the Karen State, which I have visitted illegally, mass murder has been committed and what has occurred can only be described as genocide (in thre technical and legal sense of that word).

I was recently sent information about a group of villagers who were forced to clear landmines and act as human shileds.

Villagers from 12 villages surrounding Baw Ga Lyi Gyi (on the Toungoo-Mawchi road) were recently forced to act as human shields around a bulldozer clearing the roadway of potential landmines.

In one village of 55 households, the Burma Army forced 1 person from each household to become human landmine sweepers and shields while, in another instance, 850 villagers were forced to carry supplies for the Burma Army and to act as human minesweepers along the same road.

The regime has a callous disregard for the lives of the people they enslave.

One group I am in touch with in the Karen State told me about 1,700 prisoners who have been forced to porter loads. Of these, 265 died – many were executed. In the Nyaunglebyn District, of the over 400 porters used in that area, over 20 have died. These include children.

As we commemorate the bicentenary of the decision taken 200 years ago to abolish slavery it is worth reflecting on the cruel barbarities of life in Burma today.

Enslaved labour is routinely used by the Burmese military. It is widespread, systematic and brutal. Men, women and children are forced to carry loads, build up camps and provide labour on demand. Prisoner porters are also used to carry loads, build camps and act as human minesweepers. Many die; others are executed. In just one area of Burma alone independent witnesses say that during 2006 some 76 men, women and children were killed and 25,000 displaced.

If you want to help focus attention on this continued suffering consider taking part in the Global Day for Prayer on March 11th. Further information may be obtained from Christians Concerned for Burma at ccb@pobox.com or at www.prayforburma.org

Column August 15th 2004.

David Alton

Burma – Wish you were here?

As we enjoy our summer holidays it’s worth sparing a thought for the people of Burma and those who are holidaying in a country that uses forced labour to prop up its tourism industry.

I’ve recently been in a spate of correspondence with people who argue that its time to welcome back the tourists to Burma. But before travel companies start counting their profits and tourists start packing their bags it’s worth remembering that the tourism infrastructure has cost people their lives.

Some people say this is a figment of the imagination. The facts reveal a different picture.

In 1998 the International Labour Organisation said that:

“ Forced labour is used for the benefit of private investors in development, public works and tourism projects. Widespread use of forced labour on a significant scale supports the development of tourist infrastructure., In Myanmar (Burma), most of the money made in the tourist industry is made in the airline and hotel industries, owned in part by foreign companies from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. These companies have reported benefits from the increased profits during 1996 Visit Myanmar Year, attributable in part to work of forced labourers on tourist attraction projects.”

 

They give a specific example of forced labour on hotels:

Forced labour was used for other projects including the Student Sport Festival in Chin and Rakhine States, hotels in Rakhine State.”

The accompanying note says:

“ There is information that forced labour was used in 1995 on the construction of the Sittway Hotel, at the beach near Sittway (Akyab), and in 1994 for construction of a hotel south of Ngapali, projects which were reportedly owned by senior members of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).”

 

It’s not just forced labour on hotel projects, but the raft of abuses that accompany tourist development. More than one million people have been forced out of their homes in order to ‘beautify’ cities, suppress dissent, and to make way for tourism developments, such as hotels, airports and golf courses. Forced labour was used to rebuild the moat surrounding the Golden Palace in Mandalay and a railway line near Pagan’s temple complex. The new airport at Mandalay, which opened in 2000 specifically to handle international flights, was built with forced labour and many people were forced from their homes to make way for the project. The 2001 US State Department Report on Human Rights, reports that in Mrauk U, Arakan State “the government used forced labour to prepare the city for expected tourist arrivals.”

Some recent reports show that this is not a thing of the past.

Recently it was revealed that a large number of valuable timber trees were being felled for the construction of a tourism complex, in Ngapali sea beach of Sandoway in Arakan state, by the Burmese and that locals were being used as unpaid forced labour.

Other reports described how villagers were being used for forced labour for various works like construction of houses, locating of specific trees and logging them without any payments.

One victim said, not only do the villagers have to supply their physical labour free of cost but also have to provide buffaloes.

” We are being forced by the military personnel,” said a villager of Khamong. The villagers not only have to work without any payments but they even have to manage food and water on their own.

Another recent report described how sea gypsies (the Salons) have been turned into a human zoo for the benefit of tourists.

And if all this doesn’t trouble the conscience of tourists travelling to Burma, they should take a look at the most recent International Labour Organisation report which says that the Burmese “are not serious about eliminating forced labour” that villagers are still being used “against their will to carry out assignments such as building roads” and that “there is evidence that troops are using Burmese citizens as human minesweepers.”

No happy holidays for them.

Ends.

Column August 7th 2005.

David Alton Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Future of Burma

Earlier in the summer Daw Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her sixtieth birthday under house arrest. This remarkable woman, the democratically elected leader of the Burmese people, defiant of the military junta, remains an icon for all who cherish democracy. She and her people should never be far from her thoughts.

She would be the first to agree that the struggle for democracy should not be allowed to eclipse the plight of the suffering ethnic minorities of Burma.

Their situation was well summed up by the then UN Special Rapporteur on Burma, Mr. Rajsoomer Lallah QC, who, in 1998, submitted a report to the U.N General Assembly, entitled, “Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar”. He said that “The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned about the serious human rights violations that continue to be committed by the armed forces in the ethnic minority areas. The violations include extrajudicial and arbitrary executions (not sparing women and children), rape, torture, inhuman treatment, forced labour and denial of freedom of movement. These violations have been so numerous and consistent over the past years as to suggest that they are not simply isolated or he acts of individual misbehaviour by middle- and lower – rank officers but are rather the result of policy at the highest level entailing political and legal responsibility. “

Having seen the situation first hand I have no doubt that the Burmese regime and its subordinates, the Burmese military, is committing Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity against the Karen, Karenni and Shan people of Burma.

The Burmese regime craves legitimacy and is set to hold the presidency of ASEAN (the economic union of Asia countries). If western and other governments used their positions of power in places like the UN Security Council to raise the charge of genocide it would make it far more difficult for Burma to get away with its international posturing.

The international legal definition of genocide is found in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Burma has in fact ratified this convention. The legal definition of genocide is given in Article 2 of the Convention, which reads:

“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

a) Killing members of the group;

b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

What is happening to the Karen, Karenni and Shan minorities in Burma probably contravenes all five of these criteria and most certainly contravenes at least three.

What the Burmese military regime is doing to the Karen, Shan and Karenni people clearly fits within the international legal definition of genocide. Article 3 of the Convention on Genocide states-

“The following acts shall be punishable:

a) Genocide;

b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

d) Attempt to commit genocide;

e) Complicity in genocide.”

Under international law, genocide is a very serious crime requiring an urgent global response. Under Article 1 of the 1948 Genocide Convention, all State parties to the Convention “confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.”

 

The British government is one of several governments who are parties to the Genocide Convention yet they refuse to recognise that Genocide is occurring against the Karen, Karenni and Shan and this is probably for political reasons. Denying Genocide is a common tactic used by governments to avoid having to take strong action to stop it. For example, this was done with devastating effect in the case of the Rwandan genocide, where an estimated 1 million people were massacred.

Much evidence has since surfaced indicating that the international community, especially the West, was well aware that Genocide was occurring in Rwanda but resisted acknowledging this because of the legal obligation they would come under to take strong

measures, including possible military action, to stop the bloodshed.

The situation in Darfur also illustrates the failure to see genocide for what it is or to act accordingly. Those who don’t learn from history inevitably repeat it.

So, just how many more birthdays will Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have to endure under house arrest; and how many more atrocities will occur against the ethnic minorities before the world gets serious about Burma?

Ends

Book Review – 2004 – by David Alton

“A Land Without Evil” by Benedict Rogers, Monarch Books.

On three occasions I have visited the Burma border, twice entering the Karen State, and each time spending time in the refugee camps where about 130,000 Karen people live. After my first visit in 1998 I initiated a debate in the House of Lords, describing the genocide that has been perpetrated by the Burmese military regime against these gentle tribal people.

Before that debate and recalling her father’s love of the Karen, Lady Mountbatten of Burma wrote to me encouraging me to speak up on behalf of the Karen. In her letter she described them as “Britain’s forgotten allies”, for while the Burmans fought alongside the Japanese in World War Two, it was the Karen who fought alongside us. For doing so the Japanese reserved their cruellest punishments for the Karen.

At the end of the War Britain promised the five million Karen people freedom and their own homeland. But in the pell mell rush of decolonialisation that followed we forgot our promises and we forgot the Karen. Civil War ensued – a war that continues to this day. After some 54 years of fighting it must surely be the world’s longest running civil war.

Now at last the story of the Karen has been told.

There can be few people better equipped to tell that story than Ben Rogers. He has fearlessly travelled with the Karen, learning first hand of their suffering and bravery. In “A Land Without Evil” he documents their heroic struggle and exposes the enormity of the depredations committed by the military junta. It is a book to read and to give to others. The stories that Ben Rogers records will break your heart.

Earlier this month it was the world day of prayer for Burma. I recalled the story of one small Karen child whom I met at a refugee camp near Mae Sot a few months ago. Saw Naing Gae is just eight years old. He saw the Burmese military shoot dead his mother and his father. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Desperately unhappy he managed to escape and made his way to the camp, where he is staying with a group of thirty other orphans. Even as these children sang and welcomed their visitors Saw Naing Gae seemed unable to join in or even to smile. Every trace of joy and innocence had been stamped out of him; and all of this by the age of 8.

Saw Naing Gae squatted alongside four other children, brothers and sisters, whose parents had also been brutally murdered. The oldest girl, aged about 12, and now head of their family, dissolved into tears as she recounted their story.

Naw Pi Lay did not survive.

Aged 45, the mother old five children and pregnant with her sixth, Naw Pi Lay was murdered by the Burmese militia. During a massacre in the Dooplaya district of the Karen State, twelve other people were killed, including children aged 12,7,5, and 2 years old.

Elsewhere in the same district, at Htee Tha Blu village, further violations of human rights were carried out by Light Infantry Battalions 301 and 78. They beat and tortured villagers, stole their belongings and burnt down their church and their homes.

The last time I illegally crossed the border and entered the Karen State, I saw and heard evidence of the internally displaced people – estimated now at 600,000; of the scorched earth policy that has depopulated and destroyed countless villages.

One little girl of eight still had a bullet lodged in her stomach.

At Mae Sot I took evidence from the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People. They provided me with over 100 pages of carefully documented examples of human rights violations committed over the previous 12 months by Burmese military. One day I hope that this evidence will be placed before an international court and as at Nuremberg the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

The report lists three mass killings by the SPDC (Burma’s singularly ill-named State Peace and Development Council). It is a carefully chronicled account of looting, burning, torture, rape and murder. The SPDC routinely plant landmines indiscriminately and in areas where landmines have been laid by their opponents the SPDC use people as human landmine sweepers.

I saw some of the victims – people whose limbs have been severed from their bodies, whose skin has been peppered with shrapnel, and others who have been left blind. I also talked to the families of people whose loved ones – men and women – had been seized and used as porters and construction workers, and who have never returned. The SPDC kill many of the porters in frontline areas, especially when they are unable to any longer work because of exhaustion or sickness.

Rape has also been used as a weapon of war. Sexual violence – especially widespread gang rape – has terrorised and humiliated communities, flaunts the power of the regime, “rewards” troops, and demoralises resistance forces.

Women who have been raped have frequently been abandoned or rejected by their husbands. One woman described how she was gang-raped when she was 7-months pregnant and then gave birth prematurely to her child. Another was told by her husband to leave: “You didn’t control yourself. You are no longer my wife. Leave our home.”

The Burmese Junta have turned their country into one vast concentration camp. They are Nazi thugs who deploy Nazi methods. Like their Nazi predecessors they fail to appreciate the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to endure and survive.

This is the story that Ben Rogers faithfully records. May it not be too long before the Karen people are free to live in a land that will truly be rid of this terrible evil.

David Alton is a founder of the Jubilee Campaign, who campaign for the Karen (www.jubileecampaign.com), and professor of citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University. He is a Crossbench member o the House of Lords.

Universe Column August 8th 2004

David Alton – Sopcially respopnsible Investment and the Money Making Mob

John Ruskin once wrote that “a nation cannot last as a money making mob.” Most of us would concur with that view and would want to see wealth used ethically and creatively. The movement in favour of the ethical use of money and socially responsible investment (SRI)has taken that impulse and turned it into corporate mission statements, government policies, and investment decisions. Ruskin would surely have approved.

One of the leading authorities on this issues, the Catholic writer, Russell Sparkes, cogently demolishes the myth that investing ethically and acting in a socially responsible manner is incompatible with good business returns. Indeed, the reverse is often true.

There is no doubt that many more companies and institutions do now routinely consider their responsibility to their stakeholders and the wider community. New laws now place a statutory obligation on charities to do the same.

The Trustee Act and Charity Commissioners now impose a duty on charities to include ethical as well as financial considerations with their standard investment criteria. Yet, this time last year, some 60% of the UK’s top 100 charities still had no written ethical or socially responsible investment policy, and two thirds of those were unable to say what plans they had to address the issue.

Because of the new statutory obligations every trustee needs to know how SRI impacts the objects of their charity: they need to appraise investment performance, legal obligations, the moral standpoint, compliance obligations and risk management. When charities fail to do this the results can be disastrous.

For instance, Campaign Against The Arms Trade decided to name 63 charities who own shares in arms exporters. These include major players in the charity world, including Cancer Research UK, the MS Society and the RNLI.

It was deeply revealing to hear the explanation given by the MS Society: “We never made a conscious decision to invest in the arms trade. We simply have a discretionary portfolio which means that our fund managers decide our investments for us. We can’t exclude any investment because our constitution doesn’t allow us to.”

Another charity said: “We don’t knowingly invest in any shares. Our investment managers manage our portfolio to the returns that we want, but how they invest it is down to them.”

But is it?

And can trustees any longer legitimately try to pass the buck?

In the past trustees have simply cited their fiduciary duty to get the best possible returns. But times and the laws have changed.

Sophie Chapman, speaking on behalf of the Charity Finance Directors’ Group says that “The Charity Commission now accepts that an ethical investment policy may be entirely consistent with the principle of seeking the best returns. For instance, trustees may be of the view that companies that adhere to ethical criteria are less risky and will perform better in the long term.”

In the past, SRI and ethical investment was often just another piece of public relations and window dressing: “nice to do” rather than as a “must do activity”. As people give to their favourite charities they should now be asking whether ethical and socially responsible investment is a core concern and a “must do” priority.

 

Ends

Column

August 28th 2005 David Alton.

“ITS ‘NEVER AGAIN’ ALL OVER AGAIN” – the Horrors of Darfur

Just before Parliament rose for the summer recess I took a letter to Downing Street to protest about the international community’s inadequate response to the carnage in Darfur. I was accompanied by Roman Halter, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, and by Abdellatife Ismael, who is a survivor of the atrocities in Darfur. Their message to the PM was “it’s ‘never again’ all over again.”

 

We handed in our letter of protest on the first anniversary of the American decision to officially designate events in Darfur as genocide – a decision replicated by Germany and Canada. I have never understood why, on the basis of exactly the same evidence being available to Britain, we have refused to describe events in Darfur as genocide (and accept the requirement that goes with such a declaration to prevent, protect and to prosecute).

It is estimated that as many as 400,000 civilians have died in the last two years in the remote western region of Sudan. 90% of their villages have been wiped out.

For the last two years Britain has downplayed the mass murder, rape and ethnic cleansing there, so the least we can do now is to help the people who survived.

More help should be given to the African Union troops trying protect nearly three million internal refugees. They’ve lost everything, and they still face attack and terror. We tell the world we care about making poverty history in Africa, while ignoring the scale of a deadly conflict at the same time.

A year ago America recognised that the Sudan armed forces’ huge military operation against the black African population of Darfur was genocide. The United Kingdom chose not to confront the Sudanese regime, the architects of the genocide. This is the same regime that killed two million Christians and animists in south Sudan over two decades, so we should have known better.

Abdellatife Ismael, whose village in Darfur was wiped out paid tribute to the generosity of the British public in their humanitarian aid to Sudan. He said: “People in Darfur are grateful for the food aid, but mostly they want someone to take the guns away from the militias who are terrorising them.”

At an All Party Africa Group meeting in July, Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for Overseas Development, reflected on the reaction of the international community to events in Darfur and said, “We haven’t, frankly, done very well.”

Anyone concerned about Darfur rightly credits his department with a generous and prompt humanitarian response to internally displaced people; and for giving the African Union forces all they have requested. However, it is clear that even with troop levels increased from their current 2,900 to 7,700 by the end of September, it will give inadequate protection for displaced civilians who are still under attack by militia, rebels and Sudanese security forces. There are also too few troops to enable the survivors to return to their villages and resume their lives.

Britain gets an “A” for our humanitarian aid to Darfur, but our foreign policy rates “F” for failure. History should have told us we always regret appeasing dictators. When we recently commemorated both the genocide in Bosnia and the Second World War our leaders said we would never let genocide happen again. But we keep turning the other way, in Cambodia, in Burma, in Rwanda and Bosnia, and now in Darfur. It’s ‘never again’ all over again.

 

Ends.

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Azerbaijan: Where Europe and Asia Meet. June 2002 – David Alton

Azerbaijan may have seemed like an unlikely destination for the recent papal visit. Of a population of 7 to 8 million people a mere 120 are Catholic, and the country has just one Catholic church, tucked away in a suburb of the country’s capital, Baku.

To the south lies the theocratic dictatorship of Iran. To the east lies the oil rich Caspian Sea. Its other neighbours are Russia, Georgia and Armenia. To the west there is an exclave called Nakhichevan where 300,000 people live in an area that has no land link with Azerbaijan and that borders Armenia, Iran and Turkey.

Recently admitted to the Council of Europe this is the continent’s last outpost, on the very cusp of Asia. Its language is close to Turkish and Ankora has become its most significant ally.

For seventy years Azerbaijan had been ruled by Moscow. The collapse of the Soviet Union propelled it into independence but also into war with its Armenian neighbour over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan lost one tenth of its territory and gained one million internally displaced people and refugees. This is the most pressing challenge confronting the country. The Pope got to the heart of the matter when he said “I have come to Azerbaijan as an ambassador of peace. As long as I have breath within me I shall cry out: “Peace, in the name of God!” Without peace Azerbaijan’s opportunities for development will be seriously impeded.

The removal of the certainties and cruelties of Communist rule has brought back into the open many long standing festering ethnic disputes. It has also seen the re-emergence of nationalism and of greater religious freedom.

Notionally this is Muslim country but the official who described himself to me as “a Muslim atheist” was by no means alone. Over five days in the country I saw little evidence of overt religiosity and I have seen more Muslim head veils in London than I saw anywhere in Azerbaijan. Notwithstanding this, a Saudi-backed campaign of Mosque building and Islamicisation is underway.

The enforced suppression and control of religion in the former Soviet Union was, of course, notorious. In 1930 Stalin had Baku’s Catholic church demolished. During Pope John Paul’s visit, Azerbaijan’s President, Heydar Aliyev, made a significant gesture to end this oppressive relationship – promising the pontiff some land on which a new basilica may be erected. Baku’s small Salesian community, led by the splendidly named Father Pravda, will need help in financing this project and developing social programmes of care for the needy and destitute.

Although Aliyev is a former member of the Soviet Politburo he has been willing to embrace democratic ideals and a market economy. There is still a whiff of the cult of personality which personified Communist regimes but it is mild in comparison with the propaganda of the fallen idols of eastern Europe or in comparison with Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan. Azerbaijan is a country in transition.

The election of the 125 members of the Milli Majlis ( the Azeri Parliament) and for the Presidency were marred by allegations of ballot rigging but a new Central Election Committee, chaired by Mazahir Panahov, is committed to ending electoral abuse. It is independent and contains members of the Opposition parties. The Council of Europe has been involved in the drafting of a new electoral code and procedures. A young woman at Baku State University maturely reflected that democracies are not built in a day and she told me that she understood the need for patience.

Students discussed with me the conditions necessary for creating a civil society and for developing codes of citizenship. They will remind you that it is just 12 years since the country secured its independence from Moscow – independence bought at a price in what is known as Black January.

The Pope commemorated the blood that was shed in securing Azerbaijan’s freedom when he visited Baku’s Martyr’s Alley where the 300 civilians mowed down by Soviet forces are honoured.

Azerbaijan’s economic future will be determined by its ability to create a sound market economy in which oil revenues can be used to develop infrastructure and social services. Aliyev has been trying to broker agreements with the other littoral states that border the Caspian Sea. Rich oil and gas reserves, in which British Petroleum has a major stake, have been the subject of dispute, especially with Iran.

More crucially still Azerbaijan must settle what the deputy prime Minister, Ali Hasanov, describes as its “300 year old conflict with Armenia.” In its refugees camps are all the necessary components for future instability and unrest. Unless a settlement is reached these festering squalid conditions will be a breeding ground for tomorrow’s Islamic militants and terrorists. When people have nothing to lose they can sink into the desperation that creates suicide bombers and revolutionary insurgents. To ignore the long term consequences of leaving the war with Armenia unresolved would be an extraordinary act of folly. President Aliyev is astute enough to realise that “there is no more urgent issue” facing his country.

Although there has always been an uneasy relationship between the Azeris and Armenians the present conflict began in 1991. Azerbaijan, having secured its own independence, abolished the autonomous status of the region of the mainly Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians responded by organising a referendum and declaring independence.

War ensued and in a David and Goliath struggle the Armenians captured the town of Shushi (sacred to both Christians and Muslims), opened a corridor to Lachin and occupied a “buffer” zone in Azeri territory. This led to the displacement of up to one million people. 20,000 Azeris were killed. The retaliatory Azeri blockade against Armenia and the flow of Armenians fleeing Azerbaijan also inevitably caused great hardship.

In 1994 an uneasy ceasefire was agreed and several attempts have been made by the Minsk Group (which included the US, France and Russia) to broker a settlement. This has proved illusive as Azerbaijan will not concede the principle of ceding sovereign territory and Armenia will not surrender occupied land until the Azeris concede either the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh or its assimilation into Armenia. This is a conflict crying out for international mediation and for imagination – perhaps formulating a lease-back treaty where the Azeris maintain sovereignty while leasing the territory to Armenia. Then many of the occupied lands could be returned and the refugees resettled. Discussion about the status of historic Armenian villages in areas such as Shahumyan – outside of Nagorno-Karabakh – and the formulation of a strategy for co-existence might also become possible.

The Armenians accuse the Azeris of leaving refugees in the camps for political reasons. As oil revenues begin to flow the resources will certainly be availble to improve their lot. The Azeris counter by asking why should they build permanent new homes for displaced people when it is their territory that has been occupied and when they seek a solution based on a return to abandoned homes and land.

The parallels that can be drawn with the British-Irish conflict in the north of Ireland, the long term hatred that ensues from unresolved territorial issues, the ultimate realisation that no-one can win this kind of war and the successful initiation of the Good Friday Peace Process might repay examination.

Without a just solution the families of people like Madat Mamadov, who comes from Jebrayil, will continue to suffer. Their camp, 250 km south west of Baku, near the Iranian border was flooded on May 25th. The floors of their squalid hut have been turned to mud. Three to four people occupy one room. They have no privacy and no sanitation.

Their neighbour, Kama Rustamova, shares her hut with eight other people, an 82-year-old father, four sons and three daughters. The deluge destroyed their food and their pitiful dwelling is full of hazards to health.

The camp itself was erected on land that the Soviets used to intensively grow cotton – 600,000 tons a year, meeting 20% of the USSR’s requirements. But the use of herbicides and pesticides has poisoned this land and maybe that is why some of the children I met have stunted growth. Malnutrition and mortality rates that are twice the national average tell their own story.

End of term examinations were taking place in the shabby school room of the camp. One of the children was wearing a t-shirt which bore the words “Keep Sea Turtles Safe.” It seemed a disproportionate sentiment in the context of so much human misery. In the eaves of the school room some swallows were nesting. They at least were safe.

For the fathers of these children there is the never ending search for work. They can become emigrants who doubtless end up at many of our ports of entry, to be classed as economic migrants and refused admission. This leads to twilight jobs that frequently turn people with illegal status into fully fledged criminals.

Sometimes the men stay in the camp. They go to the nearest railway station where there is a “slave bazaar” and sometimes they can get work as porters or construction workers at $2.5 a day.

Like refugees the world over Madat Mamadov simply says: “We want to return to our native land – nothing more.” This is not such an unreasonable request.

Next year both Armenia and Azerbaijan will be embroiled in elections – and the sabre rattling and posturing that inevitably accompany. For the moment there is a window of opportunity and a desperate need to seek a solution.

Speaking to the 5,000 people who came to hear him in Baku, Pope John Paul insisted that the conduct of politics “requires honesty and accountability”. He asserted that we must always “respect the dignity and freedom of the human person.” And quoting Nizami, a great Azeri poet, Pope John Paul said “Do not eat in the presence of those who are starving, or, if you do, invite everyone to the table.” For the refugees who have no place at the international table there could surely be no more pertinent message.

 

Column January 25th 2004 David Alton

Bonding with the Baby – the role of Baby Bonds

Gordon Brown recently announced an innovative proposal to hand out nearly £1 billion in “baby bonds” to two million families. Any child born after September 1st, 2002, will be eligible for the child trust fund of up to £500 – although the payments will not be made until April 2005.

 

The decision to defer the payments until 2005 has inevitably been criticised by the Conservatives as electoral sharp practice: the money will be handed over on what will probably be the eve of a General Election. But it would be a pity if the Chancellor’s initiative became tarnished by charges of electoral cynicism because the principle which underlines the “baby bond” is a good one and Gordon Brown – and his excellent Financial Secretary, the talented Ruth Kelly MP – should be commended for it.

About 700,000 babies are born each year in Britain and the calculation is that payments could total about £900 million if the payment levels rise at 7% each year. When the scheme is up and running, the baby bond payments will be made as a child is born and registered for child benefit. Vouchers for the children born between September 2002 and April 2005 will be sent out in the first part of next year.

The Government know that many people in their thirties and forties (when they are increasingly having their children) are facing real dilemmas as they bring a baby into the world and try to balance their family life against their working patterns and the costs of mortgages reliant on two incomes, child care and education.

In trying to address these anxieties there have been a number of mixed messages.

The 2002 employment Act, for instance, gave parents with children under six the right to work flexibly or at home, as well as extending maternity leave and creating a new right to time for fathers to two weeks’ paid paternity leave. Good. But dare I remind Mr.Blair that he was the principal player in ending Sunday as a “special” family day – and putting 1 million women into the workplace away from their families on Sundays as a result?.

Another contradiction is the rising level of debt and loans (not least for young people). It’s a great initiative to start a saving account for a new born baby but shouldn’t we be doing more to tackle the ruinous mountain of personal debts and loans (that frequently become the source of anxiety, stress and conflict within the family and often lead to separation and divorce). Never before have so many owed so much.

A few years ago my wife prudently opened four “impecunious student funds” I guess the Chancellor would approve of these saving accounts, opened for each of our children. The money saved is set aside for use when they are students.

If Government put matching money, pound for pound, for these sort of saving funds – money that could only be used for education – it would relive some of the worries about chronic levels of student loans, and give incentives to save rather than to go deeper into debt.

One reason why Government knows it must change thinking about family duties and encourage the birth of new babies is because Britain is not reproducing itself. This will have a calamitous demographic, economic and social effect. I suppose Catholics could be forgiven for saying we told you so.

One in five pregnancies now ends in an abortion (180,000 a year). Fertility treatments fail in 80% of cases; and last week we were told male fertility has collapsed by 30% (probably the effects of the birth pill). Only a handful of babies are now available for adoption annually nationwide.

If Mr.Brown and Miss Kelly want to help reverse this decline, there is one simple, practical thing they could do. Let the new baby bond be available from conception ( and registered as such at the hospital) and the money should be paid as proposed after birth.

That way the Government could affirm the importance we attach to these new babies, that as a society we would wish them to be born, and it would immediately show mothers that there will be some practical help for them and their baby. The baby bonds are a good idea, but here is a way to deepen their impact.

Ends.

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Column for Sunday August 31st 2003.

The Future of the Basque Country

A holiday in northern Spain, in the Basque country, underlined for me the parallels with northern Ireland. Breathtaking countryside, generous hospitality and a profound faith are matched by fierce loyalties, visceral hatred of national government, and polarised political attitudes.

Intimidation of those who refuse to support ETA – the terror group who use violence to further their aim of creating a Basque state in northern Spain and south west France – is commonplace.

Over the summer, a priest who hired a personal bodyguard because of threats to his life, was forced to flee his parish of Maruri. Fr.Jaime Larrinaga said “I have defined myself as an opponent of terrorism and that is why I have been persecuted.” Demonstrations in support of the priest have been staged by moderate Basque nationalists opposed to the use of terror.

The parallels with the IRA and the non-violent nationalist of the SDLP in northern Ireland are self-evident. So is the spark that has initiated this summer’s escalation of violence. The central government in Madrid suspended Batasuna – the political wing of ETA and that in turn has led to more bombs being laid. ETA’s fatalities over the past three decades now number more than 800 people and in addition to the dead many more have been wounded or disfigured.

There have also been a series of on-off cease-fires. In 1998 ETA said it had begun a “unilateral and indefinite” ceasefire but it called it off in November 1999 and they now say that they are particularly targeting inward investment and the tourist infrastructure. Sadly, there has been no equivalent of the British-Irish Peace Process or the Good Friday Agreement. Nor has there been a dispassionate assessment of both the nationalist case for separation or a proper understanding of the tortured history of the Basque people.

I was particularly moved to visit Gernika, a Basque town signalled out for an exemplary punitive attack during the Spanish Civil War. On April 26th 1937 Franco’s German and Italian allies sent 59 planes to destroy the town during a bombardment that lasted for three hours. About 1,650 people were killed. Picasso’s famous painting named after the town vividly captures some of the horror.

The succession of atrocities carried out by both sides sealed this period of history with vengeance and blood.

During World War two the Basques sides with Britain and the Allies and their government in exile was officially recognised. In the aftermath of the War it was more expedient to mollify Franco and the Basques felt betrayed and driven into a corner. Out of all this ETA campaign of terrorism was born.

If all of this starts to sound depressingly familiar, one other parallel with northern Ireland can be drawn – but this one gives pause for hope. As in northern Ireland, the vast majority of Basques wholeheartedly oppose the use of violence.

Perhaps this silent majority, and the courageous stand of Father Larrinaga, will be the catalyst to kick start a peace process. When the violence does finally, the Basque country will have a fine future.

Column for Sunday 27th of April 2003 The BBC and the Right To Free Speech

Just before Easter the Law Lords delivered the second judgement in as many weeks against the Pro-Life Alliance. In both instances the lawyers found against the PLA but no one was in any doubt about who had won the moral argument.

 

Even as the judgements were being handed down there came a gentle braying from the stable. It was the ass who is so often synonymous with the law.

In one case the Law Lords decided that the BBC were right to censor a PLA General Election broadcast that showed viewers the consequences of an abortion. In the other case, their Lordships said it was perfectly alright for Britain to use the 1991 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act as the basis

on which to permit certain forms of human cloning.

When the issue of censorship first surfaced, the late Cardinal Basil Hume rounded on the double-speaking liberals at Broadcasting House by saying that if the broadcast was deemed “distasteful” what about the bad taste of the original act. Abortion is cruel, violent and takes a life. Hardly tasteful, hardly decent – and they know that if the public ever got to see what is involved opinions would change over night.

There is another double standard involved.

During the same week that the PLA broadcast was censored, a racist broadcast by the British movement was permitted. This, according to the guardians of our consciences, was because it would have been against the interests of free speech to do otherwise.

So the moral of the story is that if you are a racist you can broadcast without restraint but if you are pro-life the Lord Chamberlain, in the form of the BBC Anne Sloman, will ban you.

How normally sane people, like Miss Sloman, can believe in the equity or coherence of such a position defies belief.

In the second judgement delivered by the Law Lords the outcome was more complex but equally open to criticism.

This judgement upholds the right of the Government to press on with the cloning of human embryos for therapeutic purposes using cell nuclear replacement (CNR) techniques. At the heart of their decision appears to be the belief that the 1991 Act foresaw this possibility. Yet CNR hadn’t even been thought of at the time.

Since 1991 nearly one million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon (with only 4% seeing the light of day). Apart from the wanton destruction of the earliest forms of human life none of the much vaunted and greatly promised cures and breakthroughs has occurred. It has simply been a dangerous and unethical blind alley.

Paradoxically, while the Law Lords were giving therapeutic cloning the green light the European Parliament was voting against all forms of cloning – therapeutic and reproductive. I have written to the Prime Minister to ask him what notice he intends to take of that vote.

Meanwhile, linking the first judgement the first, the BBC were on hand to report the European Parliament vote. Needless-to-say, not one scientist opposed to cloning (and there are many), not one ethicist, not one religious leader, and not one British politician who supports the European Parliament vote was quoted in the news story. It was simply a diatribe of criticism.

If the law has been made to look like an ass, the BBC comes out of this no better. I am simply glad that a few brave souls – like Jospehine and Bruno Quintavale – of the PLA have exposed this sham for what it is.

Column for February 8th 2004 David Alton

The Snakes and Ladders of Politics

People take various routes into politics. Mine was the well trod path from local government into the House of Commons and now the Lords. Despite some disillusionment with party politics – and I sit today as an independent on the Crossbenches – I still passionately believe that through political work you can champion causes and work to improve society.

Throughout the 1970s I served as a member of the Liverpool City Council and the now defunct Merseyside County Council. Beginning life as the council babe – as a precocious 21-year-old student, and the council’s youngest member – at various times I served as the Council’s Deputy Leader, as Chief Whip and Chairman of the Housing Committee.

Election to the House of Commons, in a bizarre by-election held the day after the Callaghan Government lost a vote of confidence, sent me to the Commons, once again as the enfant terrible (ital), but also as the shortest lived MP. Only two or three days elapsed before the House was prorogued and MPs headed off to fight the 1979 General Election that brought Margaret Thatcher to power.

Four weeks later, having endured two election campaigns and two election counts – I was one and a half stone lighter, and finally able to take stock of my new role: Member of Parliament for Liverpool’s Edge Hill Division, and one of just 11 Liberal MPs, the rump of what was left of Mr.Gladstone’s patrimony.

I was struck by the powerlessness of the backbench MP in a tiny minority party. Margaret Thatcher enjoyed a working majority, the desultory Labour opposition was in a state of collapse and Marxist neophytes, in cities like my own, were beginning their long campaign of attrition to seize control of Labour. Meanwhile, the former Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe, was before the court on charges of conspiracy to murder, and it seemed very unlikely that a handful of diehard Liberals could make much difference in Parliament.

I compared the resources I had enjoyed in my local government role with those available to me now. As Housing Chairman and the Council’s deputy leader I had access to officials and resources: decisions I promoted through the Local Authority ( on issues such as building low cost homes for sale on inner city sites, promoting housing co-operatives, designating the biggest housing action area programme in Britain) made a real difference in the lives of under-privileged people. The contrast between being able to deliver inside sanitation and hot water to homes that had previously been without them ( as 50% of the homes in my Council Ward had been) and the ineffectual banalities of political slanging in the House could not have been greater.

My part-time secretary, a dingy office, wholly inadequate resources to properly service the needs of constituents who deluged me in the desperate hope that I could put right some injustice, seemed a poor substitute for the realities of local government. And yet, and yet.

Early on during my time in the Commons I decided that I should take the opportunity that the Commons offered to pursue the causes about which I cared. and to become “a good constituency MP”. In short, to use whatever time I had in the House to achieve small things.

In retrospect, this was the right decision. Too many people now go to Parliament in the mistaken hope of becoming something else – one of the great political panjandrums, climbing ladders that with another throw of the dice take you back to where you started. The parliamentary game has many more snakes than ladders. Just being a good MP should be prize enough.

Enoch Powell was broadly right when he said that all political careers end in failure. The parliamentary landscape is littered with the wreckage of frustrated and failed ministerial careers. Festering bitterness followed by years of back-stabbing, seems a poor substitute for the satisfaction and fulfilment enjoyed by “campaigning” MPs.

The saving grace of our parliamentary system is the cranky, often idiosyncratic MP who by dint of effort perseveres and get some injustice put right. No doubt dictatorships are easier systems to run operate but totalitarianism has little else to commend it. Politics is still a worthy way of contributing to the common good and we shouldn’t hold back from becoming involved.

Universe Column or March 19th 2000.

by David Alton

Bishops in The Lords

With his usual wisdom Cardinal Hume always resisted the idea of being given a place in the House of

Lords. He didn’t need the platform which the House can provide and the disadvantages of membership for a Catholic bishop far outweigh any advantages.

This Government makes a big effort to bring everyone under their “big tent.” Very cleverly, at the beginning of this Parliament, they neutered the Liberal Democrats by sucking them under their canvas – effectively silencing a Party which historically had been able to be a voice of dissent and conscience. For this they could pay a terrible electoral price in due course.

Control of opposition voices, within the Labour Party and outside it, has become a blatant objective of the Government. The shambolic outcome of the London mayoral contest is the result of trying to fix the selection system to ensure that however members of the London Labour party voted, Frank Dobson would be chosen as the candidate.

Over centralised control of local democracy has already cost the Labour Party dearly in the Welsh

Assembly. It ensured Denis Canavan’s victory in Scotland.. Closed party lists in the European Elections cost Labour seats and votes.

Now, in London, many will vote for Ken Livingstone as a protest against yet more interference – and not because they support some of the wild causes Ken has embraced. The public are increasingly hostile to the Napoleonic tendencies of the Government.

Reform of the House of Lords is also an exercise in curtailing democracy. It is about the exercise of patronage and power – generally appointing people who will be loyal to the Government; not about creating an American-style Senate elected by the people as a democratic check against the lower house.

If the Lords is to be filled to the gunnels with party loyalists steeped in political correctness it will not be able to perform its honourable and long established role as a revising Chamber, capable and intelligently able to criticse Government and to hold them to account . It will no longer be the ultimate guarantor of our constitutional freedoms.

This is why the Church must be very careful about lending legitimacy to the changes that are afoot. If there were to be Church representatives sitting in the Lords it would be better for them to be lay people who are elected by representative organisations. The voices of the Presidents of groups like the Catholic Women’s League, the Guild of Catholic Doctors, or the Catholic Teachers Association; or, the Master of the Guild of Catholic Writers, or the Chairman of Life or CAFOD, are voices which would be worth hearing. They should not be aligned to political parties but sit as cross-benchers and because they were not appointed as individuals by this or any other Government – but there by virtue of their office – they would be less likely to become clubable.

Another problem for bishops is that everything they say is assumed to be the authentic voice of the church.This may make either make them timid of being too critical of Government or allow them to be cited as allies of the Government when they vote for it in the lobbies. If they decide not to vote (because of the constraints of Canon Law) that would turn their presence into even more of a fig leaf.

When the Anglican Bishop of Oxford recently spoke out in the Lords in favour of human cloning this was inevitably called in aid by the eugenics lobby. Earlier, in 1990, the then Archbishop of York called for experiments on human embryos. It was left to Cardinal Hume, speaking outside of Parliament, to tell Britain that this decision meant we had forfeited the right to call ourselves a Christian country. The authority with which he made this statement had nothing to do with any position handed to him by any temporal government. The Church should be wary of forfeiting its independence in a country where dissent is being suffocated.

ENDS.

 

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Book Review By David Alton.- 2003 – The Legacy of C.S.Lewis

“C.S.Lewis At The BBC – Messages Of Hope In The Darkness Of War”, Justin Phillips. Published by Harper Collins.

After Justin Phillips died, on Boxing Day 2000, it fell to his widow, Gillian, his daughter Laura, and to his publisher, James Catford, to bring this book to completion. The result, C.S.Lewis At The BBC – Messages of Hope In The Darkness of War (ital) is a magnificent achievement.

Phillips was brilliantly placed to produce this book – having spent most of his life as a broadcaster with the BBC. A former producer of Radio Four’s Today (ital) programme, I wonder what this deeply committed Christian would have made of the appointment of the non-believing Alan Bookbinder as head of religion and ethics at the BBC; or the manner in which his old programme now deals with the church.

 

Phillips would probably have counselled us not to shoot the messenger because we don’t like the message. He would have reminded us, as he does in this book, how the media may be used as a powerful force for good, and with love he would have unfolded the story of the Christian roots of Britain’s public radio broadcasters – and encouraged us to reclaim that tradition.

Every day, Phillips, Like James Welch and Eric Fenn, the principal players who brought C.S.Lewis to the BBC to broadcast to a nation at war, walked past Eric Gill’s sculpture of The Sower (ital) in the entrance of Broadcasting House, which bears the Latin inscription for “God gives the increase.”

They would have passed the Latin dedication on the building proclaiming that “This temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director-General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and righteousness.”

The dedication – like the BBC motto, Quaecumque (ital) (“whatsoever”) are inspired by St.Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:8).

As Britain braced itself during 1940 for the aerial bombardment of its cities it needed all the steely resolve and idealism that these high sounding phrases implied. Dr.James Welch, then the BBC’s Director of Religion, knew that bewildered people, dreading the arrival of telegrams heralding the loss of loved ones or the drone of German bombers, needed explanations about where God was in all of this.

In 1941, an Oxford academic, C.S.Lewis, published The Problem of Pain . Welch had never met Lewis (and perhaps, just as important, he had never heard him speak either). Yet, he asked him to consider making a series of broadcasts, grappling with the tragedy of war, the inexplicable loss of loved ones, and to speak as a layman about how the Christian faith inspired him.

The talks which followed – and which were organised by the BBC’s Eric Fenn – would ultimately form the basis of Lewis’s Mere Christianity . According to Phillips at the heart of Lewis’ approach is the belief that “we can’t shake off the idea we know how to behave but in practice don’t do so. We break the Law of Nature. Realising this is in fact the basis for all clear thinking.”

In turn Lewis provokes, encourages, enlightens, and inspires us to turn to God.

In advance of his broadcasts Leiws shared his scripts with four people. One was Dom.Bede Griffiths, the Catholic priest who, as Richard Griffiths, an Oxford undergraduate, had challenged his English tutor’s atheism. This deep desire to stay close to orthodox Christianity is why the broadcasts and books which followed have captivated Catholics and evangelicals alike.

Phillips draws out Lewis’ friendship with Sister Penelope, an Anglican nun, and his belief in regular personal confession. He records Dorothy L.Sayers’ battles with the BBC over the broadcast of The Man Born To Be King – and Lewis’ words of encouragement. He touches on Lewis’ close relationship with J.R.R.Tolkien and the other Inkings. And there are countless vignettes which shed light on Lewis’ kindness and generosity.

I was especially touched by Jill Freud’s recollections of Lewis’ wartime hospitality; by his decision to get the BBC to send his fees to clergy widows; by the recollection of Kenneth Tynan’s (a onetime student of Lewis) who said Lewis was “Johnsonian without the bullying and Chestertonian without the facetiousness“; and by Walter Hooper ( literary advisor to the Lewis Estate), who recalls his conversation with Pope John Paul II. The Pope said Lewis knew what his apostolate, his divine calling, was – “and he did it”.

The BBC has only a few recordings of Lewis’ original broadcasts but what there are, along with the broadcasts of his Cosmic Trilogy (ital), The Screwtape Letters (ital) and the Narnian Chronicles (ital) should be re-broadcast as a tribute to one of the great figures of the twentieth century.

Perhaps it says something about how the BBC has changed since the days of Welch and Fenn, and even Phillips, that instead of celebrating Lewis this Christmas we were being served up extra helpings of Philip Pullman. This avowed atheist has described Lewis’ writings as the most “ugly and poisonous” things he has ever read: “it’s propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology.” He said that his own writings are an attempt to destroy the legacy and influence of Lewis. Heaven preserve us and our children from this.

Phillips’ posthumous book is a reminder of how much we owe C.S.Lewis and that as his legacy is now attacked we need to cherish and uphold it.

 

CHILDREN OF THE FAVELA:

Brazilian bloodbath in a nation asleep

David Alton

February 2004

I the 1990s the world woke up to the horrifying reports of children routinely shot dead on the streets of Brazil. Many assumed that those days had been consigned to the pages of history.

During a recent visit to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Recife and Olinda with a delegation from the international charity Jubilee Action, I discovered with dismay and anger that the carnage continues. If flourishes in a climate of fear, silence and official collusion. The streets literally run red with young Brazilian blood.

We began our mission by making a quiet pilgrimage to the church of Our Lady of Candelaria, in Rio

It was here, in July 1993 that six police officers opened fire on a group of street children who were sleeping in some doorways opposite the church. Today, a small cross, with the names of the eight boys who died, has been erected in front of Candelaria. Their silhouettes have been etched in red onto the surface of the street. Those dead boys, some as young as eleven, were Paulo Silva, Marcos Alves Silva, Paula Oliveira, Anderson Pereira, Leandro Conceicao, Valdevino Almeida, Gambazinho and the poignantly named Marcelo C. Jesus. (Seeing the image of Jesus in the form of these children, nailed again to a cross, should surely bring to mind His angry declaration that those who hurt a child would be hurled into the depths with a millstone around their necks. The secretive death squads and those corrupt policemen and officials who continue to collaborate or acquiesce in the quiet assassination of Brazil’s young people should be reminded of that admonition every hour of every day until the killing stops. The scale of the killing is almost unbelievable.)

Alessandro Gama, Co-ordinator of Brazil’s National Movement of Street Children, says that between 4 and 5 adolescents are murdered daily; that every 12 minutes a child is beaten; that 4.5 million children under 12 are working; and that 500,000 children are engaged in domestic labour. In 40% of crimes children are the victims. The massive proliferation of small arms is a central cause. One of the movement’s activists told me, ‘It is easier for a child to get a gun than to get a bus-pass.’

Alongside the greater accessibility to guns, what has changed since the 1990’s and deepened the crisis, is the emergence of a ruinous drugs culture. Formerly, Brazil was simply a transit country for the notorious producers of Columbia, Bolivia and Peru. Today, Brazil ranks only after the USA as the second biggest consumer of cocaine. In Rio’s 680 favelas – where about 25% of the city’s 12 million people live – this has led to the emergence of no-go areas controlled by rival gangs such as Red Command and Third Command, who organize and arm the children. Children as young as four have guns and are used as ‘little planes’ – to use the jargon of the street- trafficking drugs and messages between sellers and buyers.

Although there has been no formal declaration of war, the children caught up in the escalating violence are child soldiers by any other name.

A young Englishman, Luke Dowdney, supported by Save The Children, has graphically documented the changing shape of the favelas in his “Children of the Drug Trade: a Case Study of Children in Organised Armed Violence in Rio de Janeiro.” Chillingly he adds that a child’s chance of dying here is “eight to nine times greater than in the Middle East.”

I went into one of these favelas in the north of Rio and had a chance to hear some first hand accounts of the consequences of this undeclared war. I promised those I spoke to that I would not use their real names.

The people who live in this particular district are descendants of the slaves who settled on Rio’s hillsides after emancipation in the nineteenth century. Many of them are black.

Rodrigo told me that he had come here, as a 10-year-old, from the countryside. He had no education and remains illiterate. He made a living carting water up the hill and by feeding the pigs. Later he got a job carrying boxes of beer. He married and together they had several children. Approached by one of the drug gangs he became a dealer and spent four and a half years in prison, where: “You’re alive and dead at the same time,” he told me.

Prison conditions are a national disgrace. Rodrigo’s cell was so over-crowded that they took turns to stand and sleep.

An 11-year-old, nicknamed Cicero, and old before his time, interposed that, “The prison doesn’t teach you anything good. It’s a university of crime. You’re living with criminals even worse than you. The drugs in prison are worse than outside.”

Rodrigo’s oldest boy is also illiterate and is now in jail. The other children are on the fringes of crime.

One of Brazil’s powerful figures, Senhor Luiz Conde, Rio’s former mayer who now serves as deputy Governor in the state of Rio, repeats the tired formulary that “There is a school place available for every child,” and admits that, “The prisons are very bad, a nasty inheritance of the past.” The reality is that many children are not in school, that some are too frightened to take places in schools situated in areas controlled by rival drug gangs, and that those in school often get a mediocre education at best.

Codne exudes an air of complacency and irritation, passing responsibility to other arms of government or to the failure of “society as a whole” to tackle the problem. Throwaway lines like, “There are more non-governmental organizations than street children” and “It’s easier to arrest Saddam Hussein than to arrest a drugs baron” say more about their author than his targets.

Rio has no integrated or co-ordinated strategy for eradicating its reputation as human charnel house; a city whose streets are an abattoir, awash with the blood of its young people.

In a surreal, Kafkaesque remark, Conde’s opposite number at the city hall, Senhor Antonio Vales, Rio’s deputy makyor, told me that “violence is not under the jurisdiction of the city.” In the grandeur of what was once the sumptuous British Embassy in Rio, Vales said that he couldn’t comment on any of the fundamental issues because they were “too sensitive” and that there was little point them talking to the military police because, “Those talks are not very fruitful.”

These are not bad men but nor are they brave.

In the favela, I was reminded of the prophet’s words that, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The merry-go-round of buck passing in Rio is like a carousel, which passes for coherent good government and courageous political leadership.

Probably the best hope for breaking this inertia and for imposing a nationwide strategy in Brazil’s 26 states remains President Lula Da Silva, who was elected with 61% of the vote and became President in a wave of optimism in January 2003. Lula has himself – and very unusually for Brazil – risen from deep poverty and obscurity; but already there are inevitable disappointed voices asking where is the change. If Lula cannot make the arms of government respond to this crisis he will deservedly lose his reputation at home and abroad.

I was struck by the remark of one youngster in the favela who told me that, “The only way to go up in society is to go through the trafficking of guns or drugs.” The role models are young men with designer clothes and brand new motorbikes. They earn phenomenally more through the drugs trade than their fathers. But, if they come to represent the only ladder on which the young can climb out of destitution, Lula will end up presiding over a dead country. It is impossible to reconcile rhetoric about social justice and opportunity with the reality of corpses lying like litter in the streets.

It would be unfair if this account did not refer to the positive and hopeful initiatives that should provide men like Conde and Vales with a blue-print for concerted action. They could do worse than to heed the calls of Jubilee Action’s partner in Rio, Sao Martinho, who advocate the need for an integrated programme of action. We did see evidence of an embryonic strategic approach in the city of Recife.

A piece of sculpture in the heart of that city recalls the time, thirty years ago, when death squads routinely killed opponents of the country’s military dictatorship. The sculptor has left the defiant words, “Torture – never again,” to exhort those who see his work to cherish the fundamental human rights that should be the corner stone of any democracy.

Near Recife, is the ancient Portuguese settlement of Olinda. Here, in 1537, the Portuguese Governor, Duate Coelho, established Olinda as the first capital of the State of Pernambuco. Simultaneously, the Jesuits built the first churches and provided the first opportunities for higher education in Brazil. In 1582 the Benedictines established the truly beautiful Basilica e Mosterio de Sao Bento; and in 1641 the Jewish people built the first synagogue of the Americas. In 1986 UNESCO declared Olinda a world heritage site.

Brazil’s first law school was established here and the Declaration of the Abolition of Slavery was promulgated from Olinda. More West African slaves were sent to Brazil than any other destination but, despite emancipation, many of their descendants continue to suffer disproportionately to this day.

Here too is the grave of Dom Helda Camara, the Archbishop of Recife and Olinda, who died in 1999 and was renowned for his outspoken opposition to the violence of the dictatorship and as a champion of the dispossessed. Dom Helda famously said that when he provided relief for the poor they called him a saint, but when he identified the causes of Brazil’s acute poverty he was branded a communist.

Helda Camara’s book “A Thousand Reasons For Living” was a powerful crie de coeur against a society where human life had become devoid of value.

The echoes of the battles against slavery, poverty and injustice still linger in the life of Olinda and Recife. For not far from the world heritage sites are favelas and slums that bring shame on us all. In these shantytowns, assassins roam freely and with impunity and who, for as little as $4 a head, will kill a child or adolescent who has fallen foul of the gangsters and the drug barons. It is against the reality of this routine killing of children and adolescents that the bold words of Recife’s sculptor need to be measured.

In Olinda and Recife – where there is street crime, violence, and drugs in their 600 favelas – albeit not on the scale of Rio – I visited “Future Station” a project involving 12 partners from governmental organizations. With the support of Crisotovam Buarque, the Minister of Education, and the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, “Future Station” has announced the bold objective of working for “zero-percentage of children and teenagers at risk on the streets of Brazilian cities.”

Initially, they surveyed 2793 children. They found that only 43% were enrolled in or going to school and that more than 400 were sleeping rough on the streets. 71% said that they went onto the streets to make money. However, the survey team were encouraged that a third of the children had a mother and a father, 72% were sleeping at home, and 88% were either at home or staying in an established household. These were higher numbers than they had anticipated.

Following the survey, an integrated programme of action was brokered between government agencies from all levels and non-governmental organizations. At an impressive centre, Future Station begins the long and painstaking business of reclaiming the lost children of the streets from a life of crime, drugs and sexual exploitation.

Young people have to leave their drugs at the door. Drugs can’t be used in the buildings but can be reclaimed when the adolescents leave. In place of drugs comes basic education and hygiene (most of the children are infested with worms picked up form the garbage dumps which they have scavenged for food). As the children progress there are opportunities to train. A suite of computers provides information technology skills that one-day will make some of these youngsters employable.

One young woman at Future Station, who had been abandoned by her parents, told me how she is struggling to bring up her young daughter. Before Christmas an electric fan had fallen from a ceiling crushing the baby in her womb. Into her small home, she had taken another street child who had come to Future Station. That boy told me how his father had thrown him into a bath to try and drown him, because the child had been unable to walk. Eventually he had gained his mobility and the first thing he did with it was to run away.

As the young woman and the young man told me their stories there was no trace of self-pity and a realization that the opportunity they now had gave hope for the future.

Elsewhere in Recife I visited three remarkable projects – all supported by the Catholic aid agency, CAFOD – and which were pioneered by an Irish priest of the St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Fr Anthony Terry. The Kiltegan priest, who hales from Cork, has spent more than four decades of his life working with the Brazilian dispossessed.

At Galapao De Santo Amoro, a training centre has been developed that provides everything from courses in the stunningly energetic and athletic traditional Brazilian dance and music to computer literacy. The latter have proved so popular that 4,800 sessions have been held over the past year alone and more than 500 children are currently registered. If resources permit, the number could be doubled over night: something Jubilee Action, together with a British businessman who joined our delegation, has committed itself to achieving.

Santo Amoro is situated on the edge of one of Recife’s biggest favelas and is the most violent area in the city. Last year, sixteen young people were shot, or died, as a result of either non-payment to pushers or from overdoses. The youngest urchin was ten years old. One of the workers at Santo Amoro, has seen his three brothers killed and the young woman who trains the dancers recently saw her brother gunned down.

At Comunidade Assumindo Suas Criancas (Community Taking Responsibility For it’s Children) – an initiative born in 1985, pioneered by people of the local parish with the help of Fr. Anthony – the story was the same. Throughout the Peixinhos district young people at risk can come to the centre and develop skills and possibilities for their lives. More than 150 children pass through daily – and literacy courses for adults are also provided. Ten educators are financed from a £20,000 grant given annually by CAFOD.

I was deeply moved to hear the tragic story of one of the mothers who helps at the centre. Her 25-year-old son, Roberto Trinity de Concecicaon, died in her arms on the street after being mowed down in a shooting. Roberto was shot in the back in a case of mistaken identity. His mother, Aurelina, told me: “We are overwhelmed by all this violence, but Brazilian society regards killing as normal. Some people believe that, if the children are on the streets, it serves them right if they are killed. We are trying to confront and fight this line of thinking.”

Tellingly, she demanded to know why firearms should be freely available: “Children who can’t even get food to eat can get a gun. 74% of the killings are by gun. I never saw a gun in my life and now they are everywhere.” She described how two more young people, aged 20 and 21, who passed through their centre, had been killed in the previous week. One was another case of mistaken identity: “They took him from his mother’s arms and killed him.” The other had been a drug user who hadn’t paid his bill.

She wanted to know where was the international pressure to end the bloodbath. Pointedly, she said that, “While the killers are free, it is society that is in prison.”

Roberto died just one year ago and unlike most people, who are cowed into silence by a fear of brutal retaliation, the people of Peixinhos rallied to support Aurelina de Concecicaon as she organized a public procession of crosses and candles. In all, there were eighty crosses – each bearing the name of men, women and children who had been killed over the previous two years. Repeat: eighty people from one small community in just two years.

At another project, in nearby Olinda, we saw the same pattern of compassionate care and a determination to resist the escalating violence. We also heard more accounts of drug related violence. They work with 94 children. Last year ten were killed: 4 girls, aged 14 – 16 and 6 boys, aged 16 – 18. Project workers told me, “The law of silence is the law. Nobody saw, nobody says, nobody does anything.”

Last year, when one young retarded boy who had been sniffing glue was shot by police, who were indiscriminately shooting as they pursued a robber, workers went to the hospital to protest: “Shut your mouth or else we will silence you,” they were told. When the boy left hospital he was sent to prison, falsely accused of starting the shooting. He still languishes there and his mother has said she dare not pursue her son’’ case because she is petrified or retaliation.

Yet, if all this is grotesque what we learnt about the fate of children in varaduro suberb’s district, known as Inferninha – little hell – reads like pages straight from Dante and where the living might well envy the dead.

Inferninha is the area of Recife where child prostitution is concentrated. Here, at least 40 children are known to be working as prostitutes – with more than 60 at weekends. Some of the boys and girls are as young as ten, and some have been sent there by their parents to supplement their income. The men who exploit the children fall into three categories: the men who live in the neighbourhood; members of the police force, including senior officers; and foreigners who stay in pousadas, small local hotels and have the children brought to them. When I asked whether the police simply closed their eyes to this I received the reply: “No, they go to the bars and the pimps every Tuesday for their share of the takings.”

We heard the appalling story of one young woman who had become a prostitute and was taken into this living hell by four men. They gang-raped her. When they were finished, they killed her, gouging out her eyes, ripping out her heart and throwing her, like detritus, into the sea. Is there no barbarity of which man is not capable?

Another leading agency – who we can’t name – told me of 15 killings in one town, Gabuatao, on the Sunday before we met them. The agency said that the authorities will claim that the children died at a dance, or some such pretext, “But we know it was assassination. 99% of these crimes are never judged because investigators simply refuse to come out to the favelas.” The police regularly humiliate young people and assume their guilt. I was told of one case where a boy held in custody was reluctantly allowed by the police to attend his grandmother’s funeral: he was accompanied by six police officers and shackled by his hands and his feet.

As for the malign availability of firearms, we were told: “It’s easier to get a gun than it is to get a pass for the bus.”

In another macabre twist, Sao Paulo adolescents have now started playing Russian Roulette with loaded guns. One youth holds the gun to another’s head and fires. The consequences are all too terribly predictable both for the victim and in the twisted psyche of the other.

Being Jurado – when someone has decided to kill you – is another manifestation of their insidious culture of death. It also leads to countless more assassinations often for banal and trivial reasons.

On raising these horrific cases with GAJOP, the Juridical Assessors for Popular Organisations, they admitted that the situation is bleak and that witness protection arrangements are not working. They have submitted reports to the Brazilian government – who, in turn, have failed to honour their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which they signed in 1990. The Convention requires Brazil to produce a report every five years detailing the protection that they are giving to children. So far they have failed to do this. GAJOP will send their submissions direct to Geneva of February 20th if the deadline for submission is again ignored.

Brazil craves to be recognised as Latin America’s leading nation. It says that it would like to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council – but if it cannot comply with basic Treaty undertakings (let alone enforcing its own model legislation on child protection) its reputation will be seriously compromised. As GAJOP puts it: “The law says the child is a privileged person: the reality is that he is the prisoner.” Like many others we spoke to they were highly critical of a proposal to change the age of criminal responsibility so that even younger children may be incarcerated in jail.

At the heart of the problem is a climate of fear and an unwillingness to speak out for fear of revenge. In Sao Paulo, Waldenia Paulino, a Children’s Commissioner denounced the police officers who accosted a courting couple, raped the girl, and then shot her boyfriend. Faced with death threats, Paulino has had to seek sanctuary outside the country.

Shining a light on this darkness has become a near impossibility. When a brave journalist, Tim Lopez, who worked for Global Television Network, broadcast a report 18 months ago he quickly disappeared, was tortured and then shot dead.

Groups like the National Movement for Street Children are extremely wary of documenting cases or providing data: understandably, as one member who gave an American journalist information about child killings was found dead the following day.

GAJOP say that nobody is brought to justice and that, “The whole system is contaminated.”

It is hard for a European to fully comprehend how little value is attached to the sanctity of human life in the drug running favelas in Brazil. Yet I saw countless examples of Brazilians – and others – who have plunged themselves into practical projects to offer relief and help to the children of the favelas and the streets.

I saw inspired projects in the heart of areas where violence is all-pervasive. In Rio, for instance, the Sao Martinho shelters – including those visited by the late Princess Diana, John Major, the former British Prime Minister, and by Cherie Booth QC, wife of the present Prime Minister, Tony Blair – are a superb example of love in action. But the men and women who give themselves tirelessly to these projects know that as well as addressing the symptoms there needs to be a radical and concerted attack on the causes.

Firearms must urgently be taken out of the equation; the drugs barons must be confronted; the police corruption eradicated; and proper educational programmes, based on all-day schooling, established, the promotion of good citizenship, human dignity and social justice, as well as equipping young people to find jobs and make careers. The Jesuit Provincial in Rio, Fr Francisco Ivern SJ, was right to insist that, “Education is the only way for the children of the favelas to reach a better way of life.” These children are the future of Brazil – and without them Brazil has no future.

The continued killings – at the rate of 4 to 5 every day – are a stain on the reputation of Brazil. It is a scandal that so little has been said or done. It is the intention of Jubilee Action to launch an international campaign to combat these killings an Members of Parliament in Britain and Members of the US Congress will jointly inaugurate a web site where every day the names and details of those who have been killed can be added. In the absence of any headstone, let their stories reverberate around the world until Brazil ends this killing.

 

Doing Business With Benedict (June 30th 2002)

by David Alton –

A venue close to the financial heart of the City of London was where Timothy Wright, the Abbot of Ampleforth, recently led a discussion about “doing business with Benedict.”

The theme of how busy executives and managers can stay spiritual while living out their stressed and hectic lives is also the theme of a new book which the abbot has co-authored with Kit Dollard. Kit, and his wife Caroline, run a retreat house, courses, and workshops in collaboration with the monks at Ampleforth.

Both men displayed a considerable understanding of the harsh realities of a world in which the average chief executive now lasts for only two and a half years before he is sacked. The demise of companies like Enron has also led to a collapse of trust in business ethics.

The thirst for something deeper than crude materialism haunts many of the people who get trapped in the business world. They rapidly realise that a full filofax and even a bulging bank account do not necessarily represent a fulfilled life. Some 7,000 people spent at least one night at Ampleforth last year, many searching for meaning in their lives, many wanting to search for God.

Of course, the spiritual part of our lives is usually the first to be squeezed out by day to day pressures. St.Francis de Sales said we need half an hour every day for prayer and spiritual reflection – except when we are really busy and under pressure. Then we need at least an hour.

The Abbot said that the four Benedictine priorities would be leading; caring; inspiring and being aware.

A good business executive would lead by consulting and by “listening to the younger members of the team”; a caring executive would look after people: “by rubbing too hard to remove the rust, he may break the vessel”; they would inspire – “the greater your maturity the more you can bring others to maturity” and they would be aware and sensitive: “laughter is therapeutic and healing.”

Someone trying to live out their faith in the business world would build relationships and be a servant. A Christian is called to point the way back to the Word of the Master. “Service” said Kit Dollard “is not about taking tents at Wimbledon or champagne at Ascot.”

As I thought about the endless buzz of mobile telephones

and the cacophony of noise in the nearby dealing rooms of the City I was also struck by another of St.Benedict’s maxims that might be applied in the business environment: “There are times when it is best not to speak even though what we have in mind is good.” Advice for the world of politics too.

The rule of St.Benedict is 1500 years old. Yet it remains contemporary. In a world of stress and burn out its effect could be dramatic. And who can doubt that commercial ethics would be radically improved if we seriously decided to do business with Benedict?

 

Building A Civil Society In Georgia by David Alton March 2003

One of the most impressive figures in the last days of the Soviet empire was its Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze. His was a restraining hand as he and Mikhail Gorbachev decided whether to use the Russian army to repress Polish Solidarity and other reform movements in Eastern Europe. Since 1992, and now aged 74, Shevardnadze has been President of one of the former Soviet Union’s forgotten outposts, the Republic of Georgia. He was re-elected in April 2000 with 80% of the vote.

During a recent visit I talked to him about the post-Communist challenges facing his country. He opened our conversation with a play on the old Confucian saying about being blessed to “live in interesting times.”

Interesting for Shevardnadze has meant assassination attempts, in 1995 and 1998, covert Russian attempts to destabilise the country, the transition from a collapsing socialist economy to a market-led economy, and the quelling of Mafia-style forces. Georgia’s instability was recently underlined by the captivity of British businessman, Peter Shore.

The country has been dogged by civil war, hostage taking and ambushes of businessmen and journalists, followed by attempts of the provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to secede from the Republic. But to falsely caricature Georgia as a country in open revolt and dominated by lawless anarchy would be about as fair as the caricature so often used to describe Northern Ireland.

Like Ulster, if left in peace, Georgia will be a primary destination for development, investment and tourism. Students and staff at two of Tibilisi’s universities were emphatic that the country has a great future. One student said to me “ten years, since the collapse of communism and civil war is a short time to build new institutions.”

Shevardnadze argues that his main objective has been to give the country “a distinctive image and a point to its existence. We still have problems with our great neighbour in the north but we do not regard the situation as dramatic”. He adds that the construction of a new pipe-line from Azerbaijan to Europe, via Georgia, will help to regenerate the economy and help his country to become “the bridge” between east and west. The Baku-Tibilisi Ceyhan and Baku-Tibilisi Erzerum pipe lines will be the core of an economic corridor that will revive the “silk road” that once linked Europe and the Orient.

The pipeline venture is being co-ordinated on behalf of Shevardnadze by Giorgi Chanturia, the President of the Georgian International Oil Corporation, who has the drive and vision to make the project a reality. Impressively, he insists that any economic gains must have collateral benefit for the ordinary citizens. Astutely, he understands that a huge investment ( of up to £16 billion, including a 36% stake by British Petroleum) will be dissipated unless strenuous efforts are made to build a civil society.

Shevardnadze underlines the need to make Georgia a secure, safe and attractive place in which to invest. Nino Burjanadze, who chairs the Georgian Parliament, supports him. She told me that Europe needs to become “more proactive in the resolution of the challenges which we face.” Georgia is already a member of the Council of Europe, aspires to membership of the European Union and during the recent NATO summit in Prague signalled their desire to join the military alliance. They see international institutions as the best bulwark against nationalism.

Shevardnadze believes that failure to resolve root causes of ethnic conflict and nationalism “gives impetus to terrorism and provides nourishment for continuing conflict. It scares me to think how small areas of conflict may explode into conflict for the whole world.” He may have been thinking about the diverse sub groups that comprise Georgia’s population as he said this. According to the British Foreign Office, Georgians (including subgroups like the Svanetians and Mingrelians), comprise 71% of the population, Armenians 7.7%, Azeris 6%, Russians 6.5%, ossete 3% and Abkhaz 1.8%.

In common with their neighbours in the Balkand and Eastern Europe the reconcilining of ethnic interests with those of the minorities remains a major challenge.

Shevardnadze says that the major task for the Security council should be conflict resolution, and that the war on terror should be accompanied by a war on the root causes of terror: “This is achievable is we use half the vigour we use in pursuing terrorism.” He also ruefully muses that the UN and the Security Council “have got used to these conflicts,”; that a greater sense of urgency is needed in promoting economic development – such as the Georgian energy corridor – in facilitating the resolution of conflict. Reflecting on the continuing war in Chechnya, and its pernicious effect on Georgian stability, Shevardnadze

calls for a “dialogue of cultures.”

Georgia is a small country – with a population about the size of Ireland. It knows that it has to create a regional identity for the three countries of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, and that they will either live together or hang together. The unresolved war between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues to bedevil the region while two major territorial disputes inside Georgia are crying out for international mediation and resolution.

The Georgians point to their long and admirable tradition of co-existence between the great faiths, and the once persecuted Church is playing a crucial role in guiding the nation. 65% of Georgians belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The Georgian Orthodox Patriarch, Ilia II, who presides over an ancient church established by a Palestinian woman, St.Nino, in the fourth century, has worked hard to give Georgia focus. It is supportive of Shevardnadze’s attempts to build a healthy civil society. He also points out that the Jews describe Georgia as “one European country where there is no history of anti-Semitism.”

The Patriarch says that when Pope John Paul II visited the country he placed a map of the region on the table and told the Patriarch that “the geographical location of Georgia has placed it in a most difficult position and it has always had to show courage in defending its beliefs, culture and heritage.” The country’s geography will always leave it vulnerable but paradoxically this vulnerability can also imbue its people with creativity and ingenuity.

The Church is in the enviable position of enjoying widespread respect and support. According to the Georgian Opinion Research Business Initiative (GORBI), compared with the Parliament’s 10% approval rating, more than 70% consider the Church to be Georgia’s most trustworthy institution. Overwhelmingly the public also identifies corruption and unemployment as the two most important challenges.

The Patriarch told me that Georgia would like to emulate the western churches in developing social and educational institutions. He recalls the Chinese proverb that rather than giving a man a fish it is better to teach a man how to fish.

Ilia also wants to see spiritual renewal and says that young people – many of whom are to be seen in its churches – are its great hope: “these days the children are teaching their parents.” One of the more distressing aspects of post-communist society have been the predators – economic and cultural – who have set out to take whatever pickings they can grab. Instead of sheep stealing young Orthodox believers western Christian pastors should be giving the Church practical help and support to fulfil its mission.

The next generation of Georgians, like Mamuka Dolidze, of the European House is impressive and formidable. Their impact is significant enough for the electricity to have been cut from the part of the building where we were launching an initiative to draw Georgia into associate membership of the European Union.

Such maladroit and blatant tactics only puts more fire into the belly of men like Dolidze who remind me of the visionary zeal of the Catholic pioneers of the early European Community. The common European house is a room of many mansions and we should ease the way for this little country on Europe’s eastern periphery to take up early residence.

At the end of World War Two the altruism of the American-led Marshall Aid Programme enabled strong and secure democracies to emerge in Western Europe. Something equally ambitious is needed in the southern Caucases.

We have a great deal in common with the Georgians – including a patron saint. I left the country on November 23rd, when the Georgian Orthodox celebrate the feast day of St.George. As they set about slaying their contemporary dragons the Georgians will need all the strength he can give them.

 

Column December 7th 2003 : David Alton

Politicians and the oldest profession…

There is a story about an argument that ensues between a doctor, a lawyer and a politician. All of them claim that theirs is the oldest profession.

The doctor insists that his is the oldest profession: “because a doctor took a rib out of Adam in order to make Eve.”

“No,” says the lawyer, mine is the oldest profession because a lawyer created order out of the chaos that existed in the firmament before time began.”

“No”, insisted the politician, “mine is the oldest profession, because we created the chaos.”

In reality, both the politicians and the lawyers can take some of the credit, and the blame, for many examples of order and of chaos. The link between the making of law and its administration is obvious – and perhaps that’s why so many lawyers have been attracted into politics.

As politicians seek to meddle in the administration of the law it is worth reflecting on how easily political interference can wreak havoc and bring chaos; and how, also, political interference can ultimately lead to the corruption and subjugation of an independent judiciary.

Perhaps it is more important then ever, therefore, that those who have a love of law and its independence from political taint should themselves think about how they can help to strengthen public and civic life.

Lawyers, like the rest of us are a pretty mixed bunch.

One of the most colourful of the last century was F.E.Smith, Lord Birkenhead as he became. A close friend of the young Winston Churchill, Smith would rise to the post of Attorney General in 1915 and Lord Chancellor in 1919.

One famous FE Smith story recalls how each morning he would be observed leaving the National Liberal Club in London. One day Churchill, who was then l Home Secretary, bumped into him and asked him why he was so often seen coming in and going out of the National Liberal Club: “Is that what it is?” he asked: “I though it was the public convenience.”

GK Chesterton’ despised F.E.Smith famously writing one of his best poems about him – and concluding with the acerbic words: “Chuck it Smith.”

Another twentieth century lawyer-politican was Hartley Shawcross, Attorney General and MP for St.Helens, he had Chambers in Liverpool, and was Chief Prosecutor for the War Crimes Trials at Nuremburg.

In his closing speech at Nuremburg Shawcross remarked “In all our countries, when perhaps in the heat of passion or for other motives which impair restraint, some individual is killed, the murder becomes a sensation. Our compassion is roused, nor do we rest until the criminal is punished and the rule of law vindicated. Shall we do less when not one but 12 million men and women and children are done to death, not in battle, not in passion, but in a cold calculated deliberate attempt to destroy nations and races.”

Shawcross reminded his generation that such tyranny and brutality could only be resisted in the future not simply be “military alliances but firmly on the rules of law.”

This passionate belief in the upholding of law and in the administration of justice is central to the upholding of civilised values; to the maintenance of human rights and hard won liberties. The rule of law determines the way in which we govern ourselves in Britain. It is the very bed rock of our parliamentary system and the corner stone of our democratic institutions. We can gently poke fun at lawyers like F.E.Smith or appreciate the passionate prose of a Hartley Shawcross; we can be exasperated by legalistic pedantry or infuriated by lawyers fees but ultimately we should count ourselves fortunate to be living in a country governed by the rule of law.

Ends

Universe Column 12th May 2002 – Say An Ave For Good Citizens

On Monday night (13th May) Cardinal Murphy O’Connor will make an important speech in Liverpool about the role Catholics should play in civil society.

The challenge we face is to remain faithful to the values of the gospel while living in a plural and diverse society.

Our Lord called for personal change and also urged his followers to change the world by being “salt and light.”

St. Paul understood the importance of belonging to civil society when he proclaimed that he was “a citizen of no mean city”.

 

As a politician, I am always conscious of the witness of St Thomas More and St Edmund Campion, both of whom were very clear about where the clash between honouring the State and following our faith – “the king’s good servant, but God’s first” – can lead.

The world may change but God’s law remains. Sadly, however, we live in an age where a great threat is posed to our national life by the horrific assault on human life, by our destruction of life-long familial commitments, and by the cult of materialism.

For the Catholic citizen the “imago Dei” question is the supreme question. Every person is made in the image of God and entitled to have their dignity and worth upheld from creation until natural death – from the womb to the tomb.

Catholics have long been taught the importance of civic duty. The gospel does not offer us a debatable, amendable composite clause with options for loving our neighbour on days it suits us. We are given a clear command. It is an obligation.

Cardinal Hume spoke of our obligations to “one human family”; Cardinal Murphy O’Connor says, “The Gospel invitation to love includes helping those in need and playing an active part in building a society of justice and compassion.”

Repeatedly Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals have called us to engagement with the world and its culture.

This is not a uniquely Christian view, indeed we would stand with Aristotle, but secularists have a duty to understand this tradition and not to misrepresent it.

Put simply, perhaps using a suitably Catholic acronym, our civic duty is threefold: to be Active, Vocal and Engaged. This formation must take place within our families, our parishes and our schools.

This is a message which society at large needs to hear. Hobbes and Locke, John Stuart Mill and Isaiah Berlin, still less Marx or Hegel have little to say to us about how to build or sustain such relationships, or how to protect families or communities. Yet these are the questions which trouble people today and which the Cardinal will address in his lecture tomorrow.

 

GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD.

Address to the 1999 Celebrate Conference.

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. These days, most people are insufficiently stirred by anything to do with faith or religion to feel anything as strong as contempt or anger. Familiarity breeds complacency. Familiarity breeds indifference. Familiarity breeds inertia.

Even those of us who admit to belief frequently parrot the words without conviction and recite them like a mindless mantra. Yet these are the words which Jesus personally gave us. Weighed and tested, pondered upon and ruminated over these words carry awesome consequences for each of us individually and for society at large – in this generation and in every generation which preceded us and which will follow us.

Once on a visit to the Holy Land I visited a Church close to the Garden of Gethsemane where the words of the Pater Noster are inscribed in dozens of diverse languages. It was a visual reminder to me of the universality of Christ’s words and the universality of His church.

Standing there in Jerusalem I was particularly struck by the frailty of the men to whom Jesus first gave these words. Even when He wanted them to keep watch while He prayed they fell asleep, and within hours of of their experience in Garden, with the single exception of John – the disciple whom Jesus especially loved – all of the men had cut a nd run. Peter, particularly, had promised so much and was subsequently so weak. I am always encouraged by this thought because if Jesus chose such humanly weak material on which to build His church, there must be hope for the rest of us.

The Gethsemane Christians fell asleep at their posts – how very like us.

The Gethsemane Christians promised so much – but delivered very little – how very much like us.

The Gethsemane Christians heard the words that Jesus taught them but I wonder whether, like us, they allowed them to become a formula, praying from their lips but not from their hearts.

Each of the words which we are asked to consider in today’s extract from the Lord’s Prayer carry their own message. I have found it personally helpful this Lent that Charles gave me the task of just thinking about this phrase: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Perhaps in the future it will help me to pray the words with more conviction and more intimately from the heart.

The word “Give” is a direct appeal to God Himself to respond to our personal need. Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus tells us to ask and it will be given, to trust in the power of prayer. All prayer is answered although it may not be in the way which we would wish. Nor does the response come in our time but in God’s time. On my office wall I have a poster which says “Dear God give me patience, but please hurry.” In our busyness we so easily forget God and forget to pray. When I was first elected to Parliament it was to the Liverpool Edge Hill constituency. During the English Civil War a far more famous battle of Edgehill occurred. As the parliamentarians and the royalists prepared to do battle Lord Astley still found time to ask God to remember him: “Lord thou knowest I must be very busy this day, I may forget thee. Do not thou forget me.”

I am speaking to myself as much as to others when I say that we have to learn anew how to ask, how to trust, how to wait on God and how to receive his gifts. Surely our great English poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson was right when he said that “more things are wrought by prayer than this world ever dreams of.” And so was the Mayo priest who held that “ a family which prays together, stays together.” St.Thomas More, who held two of the highest political offices in the land – as Lord chancellor and Speaker of the House of Commons – knew that pressure and prayer marched hand in hand: “These things, good Lord, that we pray for, give us grace to labour for.” When we ask God to give we do it through prayer. It has always struck me as odd that in extremis the drowning man will utter a pleading gasped prayer to God: “O God save me, don’t let me drown”, but our invocations rarely see the light of day in less extreme circumstances.

Knock and the door shall open, ask and it shall be given: If the Giver is willing to give why do we not more regularly ask?

When we ask God to give help it can be a request for help over the mundane little things or for help in the big picture. Joshua asked for the walls of Jericho to be torn down. They were. That was part of a big picture but Jesus worked His first miracle at the request of His mother. Mary simply told Him that the guests at the wedding feast in Canna had run short of wine. He rectified that.

A couple of years ago I visited the endangered churches of South East Turkey – the Syriannis and the Chaldean Catholics. Like the Coptic Church they have suffered grievous persecution. After compiling my report I travelled back via Ephesus where Paul sparked of the silversmith’s riot, where John is buried, and where Mary’s final home was reputed to have been. At Maryenamma there is a chapel which is also a holy place for Muslims. While I was there a Muslim woman with her multiply handicapped daughter entered and lit a candle. The mother offered her silent prayer. I do not know what she was asking God to give her but I am sure that He heard her prayer. And for a Catholic there is no problem in enlisting another mother or, for that matter, any of the Communion of saints to join with us in offering their prayers too. After all, the wedding guests went to Jesus’ mother with their request and she, in turn, put it to Him.

We ask God to “give us.” I am struck that the first person plural is used rather than the first person singular. And that is so throughout the whole of the Lord’s Prayer. We are asking for ourselves but also for others. The prayer is not the refuge of solitary Christianity or individualism. It is a prayer from the community and for the community. In a parody of the Gospel, 1980s individualism encouraged us to “do unto others before they do you” to take whatever you can, grab whatever you want, trample on whosoever you like, so long as it got you what you wanted.

My late mother, from the West of Ireland, taught us the old Irish saying that “It is in the shelter of each other’s lives that the people live.” The loss of strong community life has led to the Beatitudes of the New Testament being replaced by the Me-attitudes of the late twentieth century. Me, my, I. Rights and entitlements, personal autonomy and choice: these are the words which pepper our individualistic vocabulary. The Lords prayer is the prayer of the community. It is about us, not just me.

In the beautiful picture of the Holy Trinity we meet a God who dwells in community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the Father, the Creator, we encounter a God who tells those he has created that it is not goof for man to live alone. Through His laws he teaches us how to regulate and govern our community life.

In Jesus we meet a builder of community – celebrating its life in the Eucharistic Supper.

At Pentecost we encounter the Holy Spirit who comes aon a small and rather frightened group of disconsolate individuals – bereft and unsure of what to do next – and he welds them into a secure and confident community. They learn to be witnesses – a word which, significantly, in the Greek is the root of our own word, martyr. And, as the Acts of the Apostles they learns to share: everything will be held in common.

In the Trinity, then, we have the perfect picture of community living. Every thing we could possibly want to know about ourselves and how we fit into the world around us is contained in that icon of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And so we ask God to “give us this day.”

There is an urgency about this prayer. It is for now, this day, not for some far off time or other set of circumstances. Too often our religious faith is put off for another time. We can hear echoes of Augustine’s famous prayer to make me chaste, but not yet; to make me less selfish, but not yet; to make me more considerate, but not yet; to make me less self reliant, but not yet; to make me more open, but not yet; to make me more honest with myself, but not yet; to make me more sensitive, but not yet. We have all been there. But Jesus does not put off for tomorrow what needs to be attended to this day. He teaches us to pray for this day and its needs. Perhaps this urgency is compounded by what Jesus reminds us on another occasion that we never know the coming of the hour, the coming of the day, when our time on this earth will pass.

I suspect that one of the reasons why contemporary society has so much difficulty in talking about death is that having conquered so many peaks and overcome so many technological challenges, we cannot cope with the idea that death remains a chasm which man cannot bridge. We put off getting right with God in the forlorn hope that one day it won’t be necessary. Jesus urges us to pray this day for His Father’s help and for God’s transforming power in our lives. Not someday soon, after we have had one more fling or one more night out on the town.

A conversion experience can be quite dramatic. It was for John Wesley, who experienced a great warming of his spirit. His brother, Charles, in his wonderful hymn, And Can It Be, writes about how he felt like a prisoner in a dungeon whose chains suddenly fell off. Although, even in the case of the Wesleys the final moment of conversion came at the end of quite a long and painful search.

Most of us who are cradle Catholics have never experienced anything quite so dramatic. We have been brought up not just on the Lord’s Prayer, which was given with our mother’s breast milk, but with the drip drip drip of conversion. The lives of the saints, the catechism, the recitation of the rosary, family prayers and the sacramental life of the church, nourishes us and gradually imbibes us with a deep faith which seems to frequently survive against all the odds.

I was recently talking to a highly placed Cabinet Minister. Although no longer practising the faith the Minister admitted through the phrase “once a Catholic” that it is impossible to entirely disown who you are and what has formed you.

Many have what is euphemistically called “a holiday from the faith.” Others drift in and out of the Church. I am amazed by the number of my previously avowedly atheistic contemporaries who have quietly chosen Catholic schools for their children and have equally quietly resumed the practice of Mass attendance and faithful practice. How true are the words “and a little child shall lead them.”

Others return for other reasons. They chose a Church marriage or through bereavement experience again the desperate need for the sacraments. The unchurched are with us in their millions – but as the spontaneous outpouring of religious sentiment after the death of Diana Princess of Wales perhaps demonstrated there is still a huge reservoir of religious sentiment and religious need. Who will reach the unchurched first? The New Agers – with their belief that man can become a god himself – or the Christians?

We must become much more sensitive to removing the road blocks which impede return.

Every parish should set itself the objective of opening a shop in the local high street where books, music, and information about the Church should be available in a coffee shop atmosphere. People who are scared off by the imposing nature of inaccessible church buildings would more easily come in and browse. Give Glory to God in the high street – and then we might see peace to His people on earth.

Christian visibility is needed “this day” and every day. It may be through parish visiting to the sick or through projects for the homeless or through a credit union for the poorest. It may be through a parish mission, preferably spearheaded by the young people of the parish, systematically working through the community street by street, telling the people about the Church and inviting them to take part. If people don’t venture into our churches, could it be because we don’t invite them?

Sometimes all that is needed is to be present.

One of the most moving stories of the year for me was the story of a Catholic couple leaving their parish church at the end of a prayer meeting. On the road side was a young black boy who had been viciously beaten to the verge of death. The couple called the emergency services and stayed with the boy, Stephen Lawrence – whose very Christian name tells its own story of the brutality which a small violent gang of people can inflict on an innocent individual. The last words which Stephen heard as he died was the repeated assurance that he was loved, that he was loved. At moments when you feel deeply ashamed of your colour and of what your compatriots are capable. I thank God that it is still possible for those moments to be redeemed by an act of love; by some small quiet voice breaking through the violence and hatred.

 

“This day” there will be someone who needs you. I recently met a young woman who told me that her friend had decided to have an abortion. They were both students. She felt betrayed and abandoned by the child’s father and emotionally overwhelmed. Her friend did not give her a lecture but told her that she would give her every support if she decided to have the child. In the event the girl opted for the abortion. Her friend told her that she would meet her that evening when she was dischareged from the abortion clinic. She received a telephone call from the clinic to say that at the last moment she had decided not to go through with it. They baby was subsequently born and although it hasn’t been easy – no-one said that it would be – the child is being brought up by the mother, with a lot of encouragement and practical support.

If the young woman’s friend had held her tongue; decided to say nothing on the grounds that it might have been interfering, the child would not have lived and the mother would have grieved for that baby for the rest of her life. She gave an immediate and loving response -”this day” – not when it might have been too late.

Once in North Africa I was troubled by a woman who was lying by a roadside, surrounded by a cluster of young children. She had her hand outstretched, begging for money. I was in a hurry and didn’t give her anything. When I returned later on the woman was no longer there. Act now, this day, some other day may simply be too late.

 

So where are we up to?

“Give us this day…. our daily bread”

I am impressed by the use of the word daily. This is not to be an occasional binge or a slap up meal at some grand hotel which I can charge up to Charles’ account. This is to be daily sustenance: the basic food for living. And that bread is to be In Khartoum alone and real.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that although he was not a Christian he could understand a God who chose to make Himself manifest through life sustaining bread. Jesus specifically tells us: “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus does not scorn the need for physical sustenance. His own decision to go into the desert and to live without food for a forty day period, during His time of preparation, does not lead to indifference when He thinks His followers are without food. When they are hungry He takes the loaves of the little boy and feeds the thousands. The miracle is as much about meeting a physical need as well as demonstrating His spiritual power. It also recalls God’s bountiful manna given to His exiled people experiencing the pangs of hunger as they make their way home through the desert. God didn’t want them to starve and nor does he want us to starve – physically or spiritually..

In the Lord’s prayer we ask the Father to relieve our hunger. Ours remains a hungry world in many respects.

According to the World Bank 800 million people are racked by starvation or despair, living below any rational definition of human decency. Poverty and famine are frequently entrenched by civil conflict in the poorest nations.

In Sudan, for instance, an estimated 4 million people are displaced , either internally or as refugees. The humanitarian toll of the war is appalling and not confined to Sudan. The conflict has become one of the major fighting zones in a string of wars across the African continent – conflicts which are interlinked by shifting alliances between governments and rebel movements from Eritrea to Uganda and from Rwanda to Angola.

In Khartoum alone 2 million displaced people live in the squatter areas of Khartoum – 70% of whom have fled the war. Inhabitants have to depend for water on one borehole for every 13,000 people.

Poverty, malnutrition, displacement, poor sanitary conditions, and lack of access to clean water combine to increase people’s vulnerability to diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, sleeping sickness and guinea worm.

 

Civil conflict in the Sudan has led to a collapse in health and education services. Estimates of adult illiteracy are 90% for women and 80% for men in the south, and 44% in the north.

In Central America, natural forces, rather than civil conflict, has decimated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Hurricane Mitch has exacerbated what was already a grave situation. Prior to the hurricane, Nicaragua and Honduras were already among the poorest nations in the Western hemisphere. In 1997 2.1 million Nicaraguans and 2.6 million Hondurans lived below the poverty line – this represents about half of the population of both countries.

The hurricane and the floods which followed have taken the lives of thousands of people. Crops, houses, hospitals, schools, roads and bridges were destroyed. The Government of Honduras estimate that recovery efforts may cost more than $2 billion and take more than 20 years just to get back to where they wre before Hurricane Mitch. This is a country which before some rescheduling of debt took place had a debt of over $6.1 billion, with the highest per capita debt in the world, at $1,300 per person. Debt service payments of $254 in 1997 took over half of government revenue. Debt service payments in Nicaragua were two and a half times recurrent expenditure in health and education combined. Yet, prior to the Hurricane, over half the population was living below the poverty line and two fifths of poor children were malnourished. Three quarters of the poor live in rural areas. Half of these people are unable to even meet their daily food needs..

Indebtedness, civil conflict, and a lack of generosity from our part of the globe are all contributory factors as we come to survey those hundreds of millions of people who with stretched out hands also pray the prayer, give us this day our daily bread.

And when we ask for bread, what do we give in return?

Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations says that “small arms are used to inflict death or injury upon thousands of civilians every year. It is now vital to stp the cynical trade in small arms to unstable countries.”

Britain is the second largest exporter of arms in the world. 500,000 people are employed in 2,000 arms factories in this country. Since the General Election 22,000 arms export licences have been renewed. In the case of Indonesia alone, 60 new export licences have been granted, even though the Defence Attache at the Indonesian Embassy in London, Colonel Halim, has confirmed that British made tanks and weapons have been used by the Indonesian in East Timor – where more than 200,000 Catholics have been killed. Squaring this with the rhetoric about an ethical arms policy takes some doing. Much needed resources, desperately required in Timor and Indonesia to address endemic poverty, are diverted instead into a campaign of killing and repression. And we are the willing quartermaster. When they ask for bread, we give them weapons. They ask for alms and killed by our arms.

When we are not selling arms, we are demanding repayments of debts. We take back more in repayments than we give in aid. Isn’t this a graphic illustration of the parable of the unforgiving debtor? Isn’t it also worth recalling the story that Jesus told about Dives and Lazarus – the rich man and the poor man. For refusing to give even the crumbs off his table the poor man is condemned to Hades where he is burnt in hell fire. When they ask for bread, we give them crippling debts and demand repayment at usurious rates of interest.

In another parable, the story of the Good Samaritan, we see the key to how we should act. Here is a man who uses his resources to ensure the well-being of another. The Samaritan has the goodness to stop and help the victim by the roadside. He puts the transport which he has available at the victim’s disposal and then he is able to help him further because he has the funds to pay the inn keeper. If he hadn’t had that wealth he would have been unable to help. Having wealth is not the problem – it’s what you do with it.

Elsewhere Jesus tells his parable of the talents. Once again the criticism falls on the man who fails to use his talents properly. We have so much of the eart’s wealth, so much of its talent. How do we share it how do we use it? By way of illustration, although there has been a modest and welcome increase in our aid programme, it is still lkess than 0.3% of our entire GNP. Part of that programme is support for organisations such as the United Nations population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Plannee parenthood Federatyion (IPPF). In the past 18 years UNFPA has received £121 million. Over the same period, the IPPF has spent more than $14 million in China alone supporting coercive population measures. The one child policy makes China the only country in thew world where it is illegal to have a brotyher or a sister. When they ask for bread, women are forcibly sterilised, forcibly fitted with an IUCD, or forcibly aborted.

We are constantly told that there are too many people in the world but instead of addressing poverty we attack population. There is sufficient in the world for our needs but not our greeds.

Now it could be that if it is found to be safe genetically modified food could make a significant contribution to feeding the world. But instead of treading cautiously and inspiring confidence we suppress and attempt to manipulate reasonable debate.

Twenty two of London’s thirty three borough councils, fourteen County councils and even the House of

Commons Cafeteria have all banned genetically modified (GM) food. Yet in Parliament anyone who

questions the wisdom of allowing the planting and subsequent sale of such food is rounded on for

scaremongering.

. You would have thought that after the debacle over BSE that a little caution – and not to say humility – was now called for.Like the Bourbons – who despite their experiences at the hands of the revolutionaries had famously learnt nothing – our modern Bourbons, from the Prime Minister down, are dazzled by the promise of great scientific advances, seduced by the promises of crops which will have a greater resistance to disease, and enticed by the spectre of higher yields.

Four GM foods have already entered the UK’s food supply. The responsibility for that rests with the

previous Government but their successors say that these foods are entirely safe and that new crops

will only be permitted when safety is certain.

But how can they utter any of this with such conviction? On what evidence do they base these claims?

What continuing studies will be carried out into the long-term effects on the immune

system and on people’s health? What contingency plans do they have for human health if the crops

mutate and it all goes hideously wrong?

It hardly inspires confidence when one dissenting scientist, Arpad Pusztai, has his work suppressed.

Nor is public confidence boosted by Ministers like Lord Sainsbury, who have been such open advocates

of GM foods. He is said to have been inspired by the molecular scientists Crick and Watson.

Significantly they once described their work as “essentially anti-religious.” It’s all part of the age old desire of man to play the role of God.

Transplanting human genes into our food supply, like the development of human clones as a spare-part

body banks are scientific developments which reek of conceit. They are driven on by vanity

and by vested interest. Just look at the people who make the decisions and how these awesome

questions are decided.

The advisory committee on human cloning consisted of four scientists, two of

whom are directly associated with the pharmaceutical industry, and who before their appointment had

publicly expressed support for therapeutic cloning. Although this involves the deliberate creation of a human embryo, which is then plundered for tissue, little consideration has been given to the ethics of permitting this.

Last week’s New Scientist (ital) reported that in the Tottori University in Japan they have grown human sperm in the testicles of rats and in this country, at Bristol University, they are conducting experiments on the ability of human sperm to penetrate hamster eggs. This puts the Prime Minister’s comments about safe to eat cucumbers and lettuces into context.

Scientists routinely assert that it is perfectly safe to east genetically modified food, to clone human beings and to cross previously inviolable species boundaries. But who decided this? Certainly not Parliament.

In the absence of any broadly based national standing commission to examine the ethical

implications, the science is being allowed to completely outstrip the ethics.

There should be an outright ban on all human cloning and until there is a proper assessment of the risks and benefits and there should be a moratorium on the sowing of genetically manipulated crops – which will seep into our environment and destroy non- modified species and the countryside. Those which are imported should be properly labelled – in writing which does not depend on a magnifying glass. And scientists and food producers alone should not be allowed to dictate the terms of a debate which cuts to the very heart of our humanity.

Our daily bread is needed for our physical and our spiritual strength. Let’s ensure that it is life giving, not life taking, and that we treat what we have been given with great respect and a concern always for those who will inherit the earth from those who have been given custody of it in this generation.

Ends.

 

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Celebrate Conference: April 29th 2001 David Alton.

When asked recently whether there was anything in his Catholic faith that made him feel glad he was a Catholic, a blunt Lancastrian told me he could think of nothing. It was, he said, a daft question.

I was sorry that he was not with me over Easter week at Celebrate, the Catholic Family Conference.

For the eighth year in succession this annual event was being staged in the West Country at Ilfracombe. More than 1,200 Catholic people were present – half under the age of 23. The theme for the week was The Eucharist. Plenty here to be glad about.

 

Here was a Church full of vigour and enthusiasm, at times prayerful and reverent, at other times intelligent and listening, worshipping through music, through prayer, through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and through daily Mass.

These were people well aware that being a Catholic today makes you a part of a counter-culture, in headlong collision with prevailing ideas and values. Far from being intimidated by this prospect, delegates reinforced and encouraged one another.

The teaching team this year included Monsignor Mark Coleridge, an Australian biblical scholar, who is a secretary and speech writer to Pope John Paul II. An American theologian, Dr.Marcellino D’Ambrosio, spoke on The Real Presence, on Getting More Out of the Mass, and on the role of The Priest, At the end of his talk those priests and deacons who were present were invited forward and delegates, as a sign of appreciation of the commitment of our clergy, gave them prolonged applause.

There were also excellent talks by Joan le Morvan on The Passover and by Dave Wells on the role of The People. Each day workshops and seminars considered a whole variety of themes.

Best of all are the streams designed for the young people. After the creche, 3-5s join the Little Lights, years 1 and 2 are with the Bright Sparks, years 3 and 4 are at Switched On, years 5 and 6 are with People of Power, years 7 and 8 attend Cross Purposes, 14-15 year old join The Pulse, and the young adults gather at Joel’s Bar. The Catholic communities who organise these groups – such as Cor-Lumen Christi Community and the Sion Community – do a remarkable job: so much so that the overwhelming question from young people at the end of the week is to ask whether they can book in again for next year.

Celebrate makes available tapes of the conference proceedings, and the Catholic Evangelisation Services, through the work of people like David Payne, are developing video resources for use in parishes.

 

When Charles and Sue Whitehead pioneered the Celebrate Conference eight years ago they can have had little idea of how it would take root. For married couples it is especially difficult to get away for Retreats and many parents despair about the inadequate formation of the children. Yet we all know there is a hunger and a thirst for knowledge of the faith. By combining good teaching with fun and good shared company the organisers have hit on an ideal formula.

The Celebrate model is one which needs to be replicated in the north of England and in other parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland. No-one underestimates the amount of work involved in staging such a professional and successful venture but there is no doubt in my mind that it will be through this sort of approach that the Church will be strengthened and will grow in the future. It may even provide the critical Lancastrian with an answer to his question.

Celebrate Conference 2002

Within days of distributing the brochures for this year’s Celebrate, the Catholic family conference, all 1,300 places were booked up. Sadly, dozens of applications had to be declined because all the available accommodation had been filled.

The venue at Ifracombe, in North Devon, is in a lovely location but is restricted by capacity to remain at is current size. Perhaps the organisers will use next year’s tenth anniversary of this excellent initiative to open a second conference in the north of England.

Celebrate is one of the success stories of the Catholic Church. It attracts large numbers of young people and is teaming with life. Charles and Sue Whitehead and the team who work with them bring together a great synthesis of good teaching, fellowship and fun.

Two American Catholics, Dave Nodar and Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, brought to life some of the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the teaching of Paul VI on evangelisation. They contrasted modern relativism – where the phrase “follow your conscience” is used to justify doing whatever you want – with the absolutes of Church teaching and orthodoxy. Undoubtedly the end of the twentieth century was a time marked by “a crisis in truth”. Reflecting on the scandals in the Church Nodar and D’Ambrosio concluded that this was a time of purification. Satan, sin and self are the things that oppress us and Jesus is both the model and the means to salvation.

In its mission statement, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed that it wanted “the whole world to hear the message of salvation” and I was struck by the deep conviction and energy that so many of the contributors at Celebrate are determined to bring to this task.

The youth streams hold their own sessions – led by impressive lay communities such as Cor Lumen Christi – and at the end of the week they present music, mime and sketches to the conference. In years to come these young people will be the powerhouse of the English Church.

At a series of seminars and workshops participants learnt the art of icon painting, the use of mime and designing websites. Speakers such as Dwight Longnecker explained how to develop parish groups for the study of scripture, Joanna Bogle spoke on celebrating feasts and seasons, Peter Garrett on life issues, and James Mawdsley on suffering. Monsignor Keith Baltrop and David Wells tackled evangelisation through prayer and the spirituality of parenthood.

Pope Paul VI famously remarked that “evangelisation is the essential mission of the Church. She exists to evangelise”. St. Paul challenges us to “blush for the gospel”. But before we can reach the world we have to reach our own hardened hearts. Celebrate is undoubtedly a good place to start this process. The sooner it flourishes in every region of the country the better it will be.

 

Ends.

The Case For Married Priests – 2002- Column by David Alton

Cardinal Bernard Law’s Boston diocese has been asking whether the rule requiring priestly celibacy should be relaxed. This is a debate that re-opens whenever there is a scandal involving a priest or whenever an article is penned about the decline in vocations in Britain and the USA.

It would be far better to debate the issue of married priests on its own merits. Linkage of the two questions makes a sober and considered assessment difficult to achieve. But, like it or not, now that the debate has opened we should approach it rationally, weighing all the arguments.

The starting point should be to dispose of some myths and misconceptions.

Myth one is that ending celibacy would end scandal. This is as wrong-headed as it is offensive to the holy men and women who live exemplary lives. The Episcopal (Anglican) church in Canada has married clergy but has been devastated by child abuse. Adultery and divorce make for new scandals – as they do now when a vicar is involved. It is always news when we fall short of the ideal for which we strive.

Myth two is that celibacy is a doctrine of the church. It is not. It is simply a rule – but one which has its origins in New Testament times. St.Paul says that it is better to be single and to give up everything for God but he cautions that if you cannot manage this then you should marry. Jesus chose not to marry.

Traditionalist can, of course, point to married clergy for the first thousand years of the life of our Church. That situation was ended in order to combat scandals such as simony. So this is not about a liberal or conservative agenda. It is about appropriate practice for individuals and for the times.

Myth three is that Pope john Paul II will “never allow” married clergy. This ignorant assertion ignored his important decision to waive the celibacy rule for hundreds of Anglican men who now successfully minister as our priests and make a major contribution to the life of our church. It ignores the centuries of full communion we enjoy with Eastern Catholics (sometime called Uniate or Greek Catholics) who have married priests. Like the Orthodox churches they choose their bishops from the celibates.

There is a powerful argument for adopting the Eastern Catholic practice throughout the whole church. By upholding both the ideal of celibacy for those who can achieve it – and who give up everything for God – and by harnessing the gifts of mature Catholic families, great balance and energy would come into the Church.

Liverpool Archdiocese bravely ordained a large number of married deacons who have done wonderful work in their parishes. Other dioceses should follow their example and then, instead of reports on whether to close another of our English seminaries, we might be thinking about how we can use them for the formation of eucharistic ministers, deacons and mature married priests and for the deepening of our lay communities.

Parishes will get none of this on the cheap. The level of giving to support married people will have to rise. We already leave too many of our priests insufficiently supported.

Some of these changes are already underway. We should get on with them, not as a reaction to institutional failure, but because a failure by the church to mobilise its resources to evangelise and to fulfil its pastoral duties really would be a scandal.

 

Ends.

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Article for The Church of England Newspaper.

The Killing Fields Of Darfur – June 2005

David Alton

The Prime Minister made the plight of Africa the focus of his summit talks with George W. Bush during his visit to Washington last week. The Government have also declared this to be the Year of Africa; and the combined efforts of aid charities, the Make Poverty History Campaign, the Commission for Africa, and singular individuals, such as Bob Geldorf, have all ensured that at the forthcoming G8 Summit, Africa will be taken seriously.

But, paradoxically, just as they have discovered in connection with the European Constitution, the political leaders are out of step with public opinion. For while they have been taking welcome strides to grapple with fair trade, levels of aid and debt, the general public, (as confirmed in a recently published poll), were largely sceptical about the effectiveness of our development programme and our polices in Africa. I suspect the reason for this scepticism centres on two words: corruption and conflict.

Put simply, the public have understood what the politicians have taken a long time to comprehend: there’s little point in feeding people if you’re going to leave them to be killed by a marauding armed militia; there’s little point cancelling debts or advocating largely development programmes while the anarchy that prevails in many parts of Africa remains untamed. What development programme can be sustained in a country like the Congo while militias continue with a killing campaign that has claimed more than 3 million lives? Or Rwanda, where one million were killed in a genocide that had been predicted and was avoidable? But perhaps the most salutary example is Sudan.

I travelled in the war torn areas of southern Sudan during the fighting there – which over 19 years claimed 2 million lives. I saw the remains of schools, clinics, and homes – all of which had been reduced to rubble by the bombing campaign of the Khartoum Government. Mercifully, there is now a cease fire and maybe some development will follow. Now the violence has shifted to the west of the country, to Darfur, and history repeats itself you wonder whether, like the Bourbons, the international community has learnt anything from their previous experience.

Last autumn I travelled to Darfur. I published a report through the Jubilee Campaign, and in Parliament I described what I had seen and heard and said I believed that what has been happening in Darfur is genocide in the technical as well as the pejorative sense. But, in some respects, what you call it is irrelevant: the scale and intensity of what is happening is what should most concern us.

When I first raised the depredations of the Janjaweed militia, as long ago as 2001, thousands were said to be dying. By 20th May, 2004, with an estimated 30,000 dead, I asked the Government “What was to happen to change the passive role we have taken so far of merely monitoring the situation? Are we not in grave danger of making the same mistakes that we made at the time of the genocide in Rwanda?”

The Government replied by saying “there is now a ceasefire that has been broadly holding”. But there was never a ceasefire in Darfur and, in any event, the deliberate displacement and corralling, by the Janjaweed militia, of nearly 2 million defenceless people into makeshift camps, will ultimately lead to death as certainly as a bullet in the head. The evidence bears me out that while the world has been sleepwalking, Darfur has been dying.

On 15th September last year I told Parliament that, according to the United Nations, the number had risen from 35,000 to 50,000, and then on 18th October, in response to a further question, the Government said it could be as high as 70,000. Last week, in answer to another intervention, they told me that the number was probably over 150,000. Even this figure is disputed, and some respected sources suggest an attrition rate that has reached alarming levels.

On March 23rd 2005, I drew attention to the findings of the House of Commons International Development Committee‘s devastating report on Darfur. They put the number now dead at 300,000, and last month an American university concluded that the number is 400,000. Compare this with the 300,000 people who lost their lives in the recent tsunami in South-East Asia, and you start to get an idea of the scale of this genocide.

On May 2nd, Oxfam published a report echoing a point I have repeatedly made that internally displaced persons in Darfur face starvation because they have been unable to plant crops. When the rains come, access to roads to camps will be washed away. Hygiene, as I have seen, is already compromised and, in addition, the security of humanitarian workers remains an issue.

Meanwhile, the Janjaweed and the Government of Sudan have manipulated the international community – which has been guilty of prevarication and feeble posturing.

Why, for instance, have we not challenged the assertion of the Government of the Sudan that the stationing of a mere 100 Canadian soldiers in Darfur would be “unacceptable interference”?

Of course, I welcome the cash aid we have given the African Union – and the heavy lifting equipment provided by NATO to assist them, — but there are still only 2,400 African Union troops in an area the size of France. We are putting poultices on the problem rather than tackling it at its roots.

We have also been woefully slow in criticising the deep incongruity between the Government of Sudan’s arrest of aid workers, including the head of Médecins Sans Frontières in Khartoum, Paul Foreman, for exposing the systematic rape of countless women, the burning of villages and the laying waste of vast areas of land in Darfur, and the failure to arrest and bring to justice any of those responsible.

We also need to ask ourselves some searching questions about role of the United Nations and the ineffectiveness of Security Council resolutions. On March 29, for instance, the Security Council authorized sanctions on individuals responsible for violating international law in Darfur, with penalties including the freezing of assets and travel restrictions and that within 30 days of the passage of Resolution 1591, the U.N. secretary-general was required to appoint a panel to investigate the identify who has been responsible for the human rights atrocities in Darfur. Needless-to-say, like the resolution requiring the disarming of Janjaweed militia by August last, 2 months later nothing has still been done.

This simply adds to the general belief in Khartoum that we will appease while they continue to kill with impunity

I am glad that the International Criminal Court will try to bring nearly sixty people to justice but let’s hope their effectiveness will be greater than in Bosnia – and that this will not be used as another fig leaf for international inertia in Darfur.

It’s also worth noting that last month Musa Hilal, leader of the Janjaweed, showed his contempt for the international community and the victims of the Darfur crisis by categorically stating in a speech that he would not be subject to any of the resolutions passed either by the UN Security Council or the UN Human Rights Commission. Speaking in Kebkabiya, northern Darfur, he said that he would not be disowned, would not agree to relinquish any weapons, and that,

“Nobody will be able to try me or bring me to justice in any way”.

According to the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development,

“His accounts were further corroborated by the heavy presence of officials of the Sudanese government at a meeting who had accompanied him and who had facilitated his travel to the area”.

Let no one be in any doubt about the umbilical cord that ties the Janjaweed militia to the Government of Sudan and their complicity in the tragedy that has unfolded there.

Africa’s centres of conflict – and Darfur remains what the United Nations has described as “the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe – hold the key to all other issues. The self-sufficient and self reliant people of Darfur were never reliant on hand outs and aid and were not in need of G8 Summits and the rest. It is the man-made conflict that has dispossessed them and until that conflict is resolved progress of any kind is impossible.

 

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Column February 1st 2004: David Alton.

Illegal To have A Brother or A Sister

China remains the only country in the world where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister – although India and Vietnam also promote population policies that target second and third children, especially when the child is a girl. But China’s one-child policy is the most systematic and the cruellest. It is coercive and enforced with punitive retaliatory measures against anyone who breaks the law.

The Marie Claire magazine brought home the shocking reality of this policy by publishing a photograph of a baby girl lying dead in a Chinese gutter. She was by the side of a busy road, with few pedestrians even giving her a second glance. The story from the Chinese province of Hunan, where many Catholics live – graphically illustrates the evil of a policy financed indirectly by the British Government and British taxpayers.

The woman who picked up that baby girl’s corpse said: “I think the baby had just died. I touched her skin, and it was warm. Blood was still coming out of her nose.” TThe magazine reported that “eventually a man picked up the baby, put her into a box and dropped her into a rubbish bin”.

The woman was subsequently interrogated by police (who, needless-to-say, failed to investigate the child’s death). Then the police confiscated photographs the woman had taken. Mercifully, one film survived. Those shots of a tiny girl – accorded no more dignity than detritus – must be the most powerful and moving image of this shocking policy that the world has ever seen.

As for the parents of these children, they are terrified of being caught giving birth to illegal children. So, they abandon or kill their babies: one aid worker in Shanghai described how a father dropped his daughter down an old well so no one would know that she had ever existed.

In Parliament, last month, I again highlighted this barbaric policy – and during an earlier attempt to stop the funding of the Chinese Population Association (who obtain their money from the UNFPA and IPPF) – I cited the evidence Gao Xio Duan – a former population control official, who escaped from China and gave evidence to a Congressional Committee.

Describing herself as “a monster” she recounted how she and doctors had injected lethal formaldehyde into babies’ skulls during compulsory abortions. She said: “I saw how the baby’s lips were sucking and how its limbs were stretching. Then the doctor injected the poison into its head, and the child died and was thrown into the trash.”

The Congressional Committee heard evidence of how woman have gone into hiding, had their homes burnt to the ground, faced persecution and fines and compulsory sterilisation. The fines of 10,000 yuan are seven times greater than an average peasant’s annual income.

Some estimates now suggest that 17 million girls are “missing” from the Chinese population and in some rural districts, where the ratio of boys to girls was two to one a decade ago, now have a ratio of six to one. The social consequences are catastrophic. They even have a name for it “the little emperor’s syndrome” – referring to the pampered and distorted mentality of the children without siblings.

So what do we do about China – who not only kill their own children but, despite some welcome economic relaxations, still pursue a punitive policy towards political and religious liberties?

Do we simply say, as many politicians do, that because China is carrying out economic reforms (and more specifically, lucrative markets are opening to the West), we should just hope that more fundamental change will come in the future?

Some people in Britain and Europe have even been calling for a relaxation of the European Union’s embargo on trade in arms with the People’s Republic of China.

Surely this simply sends the message that we don’t really care; that you can rely on us to be like those pedestrians in Hunan: that we’ll look the other way. How can it ever be “business as usual” with a regime that brutalises its own people , leaves little girls to die in the gutter, and oppressed the most basic rights of women, their husbands and their families?

Ends

Column by David Alton. November 1999.

The decision of the Church authorities in Israel to close the doors of the Holy Land’s most sacred

sites was a justified and urgent appeal to Christians in the West to rally to the suffering Church in the Middle East.

A few weeks ago I visited the site in Nazareth which triggered this protest. It is a prime piece of land immediately adjacent to the basilica of the Church of the Annunciation – where the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus.

 

Some of the authorities had hoped that a flight of steps or some appropriate landscaping would link to basilica to the town’s centre. But next to the site is the grave of Saladin’s nephew, Shehab-el-Din and Muslim leaders were determined that a mosque should be erected which would obscure the basilica.

So, is this just another spat between two world religions vying for their place in the sun?

As with most things in the Middle East it is much more complex than that.

Nazareth was once a mainly Christian town. Today, Christians comprise about 30% of a population

of around 60,000. Like other Christians from the ancient churches of the Middle East they have been

facing systematic erosion. Many have been forced from their homes and villages and many have

emigrated. The previous Archdeacon of Nazareth – now the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem – once told

me that Christian pilgrims come to the Holy Land to see the dead stones of holy places but seemed

utterly indifferent to the plight of the country’s living stones. Their situation is worsening by the hour.

Yards away from the site of the controversial new mosque in Nazareth I spoke to Christian shop-

keepers whose shops had been attacked and looted. They were frightened and felt isolated and

vulnerable.

The Israeli authorities have done little to help them and were responsible for allowing the new

mosque to go ahead. Even Yasser Arafat’s appeals to the Muslim leadership to think again have been

ignored. Palestinian Christians are caught between a rock and a hard place.

The Catholic primate in Israel , the Latin patriarch, Michel Sabbah, expressed the growing sense of unease when he said: “It’s not a question of building a mosque – it’s a question of provocation.”

In his brilliant exposition of the plight of the ancient churches, William Dalrymple, in “From The Holy Mountain” , graphically describes the plight of Christians in Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The “living stones” have suffered grievous persecution – and are hanging on in tiny communities, living on a knife edge. As the people are obliterated evidence of their existence is frequently obliterated too.

Fifty years ago one of the founders of the modern state of Israel, David Ben Gurion, recognized that the young state’s reputation abroad would be judged by the way it dealt with its Christian minority. He issued instructions against the looting of Christian holy places such as Nazareth. Reading Dalrymple’s account of the preset day plight of the Armenian and Greek Christians of Jerusalem, Israel’s new leadership needs to rediscover that original good impulse.

The situation was summed up graphically by the Armenian Bishop Hagop who says “We have been here for 1,600 years, yet we cannot be sure what will happen tomorrow. I am seriously worried for our

future. the Israelis have not granted one building permit to us since 1967. It took four years for us to get a telephone for our infirmary.”

In 1922 some 52% of the Old City of Jerusalem was Christian. today they make up just under 2.5%.

The systematic erosion of their rights lies behind Archbishop Sabbah’s heartfelt protest. Will the West listen?

What an extraordinary thing if the beginning of the third millennium were to herald the destruction of the ancient Christian community in the land where Christianity was born.

 

Column by David Alton for January 5th 2003

Christians In India.

Epiphany is a time when we traditionally look east and a time when we celebrate the gifts that was laid at the infant Jesus’ feet. Perhaps on this Epiphany you can spare a thought for the suffering Christians who live in the near-east and Far-east and consider how you can use some of your gifts – such as the liberty to write a letter or the opportunity to help groups like Jubilee Campaign or Aid to The Church In Need. One country where Christians are in need of your help is Idia.

 

Catholics associate India with the apostle St. Thomas, who is credited with first bringing the faith to India; with the great missionary work of the Jesuit Saint, Francis Xavier; and with the Nobel Prize winner, Mother Theresa, for her love and devotion to the poor of Calcutta, work I have seen for myself. But we rarely associate India with persecution and suffering, but we should.

More than eight-two percent of India’s population are Hindus. Approximately twelve point five percent are Muslims, and just over two percent are members of India’s Christian minority. India employs a centuries old “caste system,” by which the rights and standard of living of its citizens are immutably determined at birth. India’s Christians, as well as its Muslims and Sikhs, have historically rejected the concept of caste, though many of them have descended from low caste Hindu families and continue to suffer the same social and economic limitations of low caste Hindus.

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies came to power in India in 1998, it has launched an extremist form of Hindu nationalism called “Hindutva,” to purge the country of religious minorities. The BJP has succeeded in portraying Christianity as a suspect “foreign religion,” has passed legislation to effectively limit the rights and activities of Christians in some Indian States, and has even rewritten the nation’s history books. Christians are now slanderously mischaracterized to India’s more than one point two million schoolchildren. Upper caste Hindu groups like the BJP, fear that Christians may try to convert large numbers of lower caste Hindus. As this could destroy the rigid caste hierarchy, the BJP has targeted Christians with a vengeance.

Violent attacks against Christians have dramatically increased since the BJP’s ascension to power and the central government has done virtually nothing to stop the violence or to punish the perpetrators. In scores of violent incidents that began to escalate in the summer of 1998, priests and missionaries have been murdered, nuns have been raped and assaulted, churches have been bombed, and Christian converts and parishioners have been intimidated and harassed.

These are just a few examples:

- In the past two years at least thirty people were injured by a bomb explosion during a Christian religious meeting in Machlipatnam; several bombs exploded in or near Christian churches and institutions in the southern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

- In July 2000, a Jesuit priest was attacked and killed while riding home on his motorcycle in South Bihar.

- In August 2000, a Catholic Priest was beaten in Gandhinagar, Gujarat for distributing Christian literature.

- In September 2000, a Catholic Church in Karnataka was vandalized.

- In November 2000, in Surat district, Gujarat, a Hindu mob vandalized a small church.

- In December 2000, a Catholic Priest was attacked and killed in Manipur.

- Earlier in Kurpania, Bihar, a nun was raped and a convent looted. This is in addition to the September 1998 rape of six nuns in a Navapeda convent.

- Also in December 2000, a Christian school near Ranchi in Jharkand State was forced to close after a series of attacks, including assaults and a rape against teachers and staff.

- In January 2001, two Christian missionaries and their followers were beaten in a village near Udaipur, Rajasthan because they were watching a film on the life of Christ.

These examples illustrate the gravity of the situation – and I could mention many more. As we in the west celebrate this Epiphany let’s not forget the suffering of Christians in the east and make a resolution to use our gifts to act on their behalf.

Column: Christmas 2001

David Alton.

G.K.Chesterton said that it was the writings of Charles Dickens which led to the Victorians renewing the traditional English love of Christmas celebrations. Banned during the Puritan period and side-lined during the eighteenth century, the religious renewal of the nineteenth century provided fertile soil in which Mr.Dickens could plant his seeds.

The more materialistic twentieth century saw religious celebration often eclipsed by a consumerist orgy of spending and frenzy; and yet, through the din we know that something unique occurred.

People say that September 11th “changed everything.” At one level, in our attitudes towards terrorism and security for instance, that may be true but at a more fundamental level life goes on just the same. The only event that “changed everything” was the birth of a baby who came to save.

The Church which placed a poster outside its door stating that “Only Sinners Welcome Here” understood why Jesus – whose very name means rescuer – came to change us and to save us from ourselves.

That is something which really is worth celebrating.

The innocence of the Christmas Crib scene – a gift to us of St.Francis of Assisi – still captivates the hardest and most cynical of hearts. Watching my four-year-old playing the part of the sleeping angel in a Nativity Play reminded me how important it is to preserve innocence and childhood.

And yet, how do we begin our Christmas celebrations? At Midnight Mass – where we commemorate the death of Jesus, not His birth; where we recall the inhumanity of His accusers, not their love.

There is a children’s picture story where Santa Claus is reading to the baby Jesus the story of the baby’s birth. “How does it all end?” The baby asks. Perhaps because we know the answer to that question we can be very realistic about Christmas, not least because of the visceral hatred that even today lacerates the little town of Bethlehem. Christmas is not about trying to escape reality and we make a grave error when we put it onto a par with Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings – turning it into a religious Camelot.

Even within days of His birth, the life of Jesus is threatened by Herod and his thugs. The theme of the slaughter of the holy innocents is brilliantly caught in the carol, “In Rama There Was A Voice Heard” – by Sullivan -, which I heard at my first carol evening this year.

By contrast, some strangers – possibly Zoroastrians – travelling from the East recognised who they encountered and brought gifts and adored Him.

There is the story of the sculptor who having made a sculpture of Our Lord was asked, “what is the best way to view it?”. The reply came: “on your knees.” It reminded me of a visit I made to Novgorod – the holy city of the Russians – and after about two hours of continuous standing a companion said “it is a pity they didn’t provide some seats.” An elderly Russian lady turned her head and in perfect English simply said “We would not think it right to sit before our God.”

The wise men on their knees remind us of the awesome nature of the Christmas story. The choice today, in 2001, is the same as it was then – whether to be with Herod or to be with the Magi. As someone recently put it: “there is no neutral ground, no spiritual Switzerland.”

Happy Christmas.

 

David Alton Christmas 2002

If you can’t come over “all religious” during Advent, limbering up for Christmas, well, when can you talk religion?

Dutifully conscious of how short I fall of the Christian ideal, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to shut up because we don’t want to “put up.” Personal failure and institutional failure lead to a loss of voice and loss of nerve.

But spurred on by the babe in the crib – and by the engaging circulars that arrive with Christmas cards detailing the important events in the lives of the families of friends – I thought I would take a stab at my own (electronic) circular to a few friends.

I have also been spurred on by “The Man Born To Be King”, which Dorothy L. Sayers wrote for broadcast by the BBC in 1941. The play caused outrage because she told the story of Christ in contemporary language. The Lords’ Day Observance Society and the Protestant Truth Society sought to ban a broadcast that they considered to promote “irreverence bordering on the blasphemous.” C.S.Lewis, by contrast, considered the plays “excellent, indeed most moving.”

After recording the episode that featured Christ’s crucifixion, the actor Bobby Speight, who played the Christ, just put on his coat and walked out with tears running down his face.

Sayers had already used realism in her nativity play “He That Should Come” and she said that the lack of realism in the sanitised versions of the birth, life and death of Christ “produce a sense of unreality which is very damaging to the ordinary man’s conception of Christianity.” There is something equally unreal about the celebration of our twenty first century Christmases.

This is a time when all the talk is of war. Yet, we don’t need to look very far the see the war we wage on a daily basis on the least of our species.

The harsh reality of contemporary conception and birth were brought home to me in three written answers given in Parliament recently.

In one reply Ministers blandly confirmed that in ten years about a million human embryos have been created and then manipulated, experimented upon, frozen or destroyed. Just 4% have seen the light of day. Contrast this with the disproportionate respect we shower on the fox.

In another reply, a Minister confirmed that more than 80 girls under the age of 12 have been put through abortions. He also admitted that, since 1995, some 25 abortions have taken place on the grounds that the baby had a harelip (one was performed after 24 weeks gestation). In 1990, when I said this would stem from the 1990 legislation I was accused of outrageous scaremongering. In the face of eugenics, perfection tests, and the taking of life itself on the grounds of disability (and a curable one at that) where now are the raised voices of indignation?

A disregard for the value of life before birth is mirrored by the total disregard for life after birth in places like Southern Sudan – where I was a few weeks ago. 2 million dead in 19 years, 4 million displaced people. Children running for fox holes at the sound of approaching bombers, the ruin of a little hut where a whole family, including a pregnant mother, were simply wiped out.

The reality of the Christmas story is that it always precedes the slaughter of the holy innocents. How true in those Sudanese villages where bombs have dropped relentlessly on schools, clinics and homes. How true in Britain in our attitude towards the child in the womb.

And yet, despite all this, there is still something worth celebrating. The Victorians rediscovered that.

G.K.Chesterton said that it was the writings of Charles Dickens which so acutely pointed to the social horrors of his day but which also led to the Victorians renewing the traditional English love of Christmas celebrations. Banned during the Puritan period and side-lined during the eighteenth century, the religious renewal of the nineteenth century provided fertile soil in which Mr.Dickens could plant his seeds.

The more materialistic twentieth century saw religious celebration often eclipsed by a consumerist orgy of spending and frenzy; and yet, through the din we know that something unique occurred.

People say that September 11th , 2001,”changed everything.” At one level, in our attitudes towards terrorism and security for instance, that may be true but at a more fundamental level life goes on just the same. The only event that “changed everything” was the birth of a baby who came to save.

The Church which placed a poster outside its door stating that “Only Sinners Welcome Here” understood why Jesus * whose very name means rescuer * came to change us and to save us from ourselves.

That is something which really is worth celebrating.

The innocence of the Christmas Crib scene * a gift to us of St.Francis of Assisi – still captivates the hardest and most cynical of hearts. This year my five-year-old son, James, graduated from the part of the sleeping angel in the Nativity Play to the role of Joseph. Nativity plays and carol services always remind me how important it is to preserve innocence and childhood; but this year I was also thinking of the manly qualities of Joseph. Where are the men whose girlfriends, wives, daughters and grand-daughters need a Joseph to stand by them today?

Dorothy Sayers was right to say we need a sense of reality as we think about the Christian message.

How do we begin our Christmas celebrations? At Midnight Mass * where we commemorate the death of Jesus, not His birth; where we recall the inhumanity of His accusers, not their love.

There is a children’s picture story where Santa Claus is reading to the baby Jesus the story of the baby’s birth. “How does it all end?” The baby asks. Perhaps because we know the answer to that question we can be very realistic about Christmas, not least because of the visceral hatred that even today lacerates the little town of Bethlehem. Christmas is not about trying to escape reality and we make a grave error when we put it onto a par with Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings * turning it into a religious Camelot.

Even within days of His birth, the life of Jesus is threatened by Herod and his thugs. The theme of the slaughter of the holy innocents is brilliantly caught in the carol, “In Rama There Was A Voice Heard” * by Sullivan -, which I heard at my first carol evening this year.

By contrast, some strangers * possibly Zoroastrians * travelling from the East recognised who they encountered and brought gifts and adored Him.

There is also the story of the sculptor who having made a sculpture of Our Lord was asked, “what is the best way to view it?”. The reply came: “on your knees.” The words reminded me of a visit to Russia, to the ancient city of Novgorod * the holy city of the Russians * and after about two hours of continuous standing a companion said “it is a pity they didn’t provide some seats.” An elderly Russian lady turned her head and in perfect English simply said “We would not think it right to sit before our God.”

The wise men on their knees remind us of the awesome nature of the Christmas story. The choice today, in 2002, is the same as it was then * whether to be with Herod or to be with the Magi. The choice is between presenting our gifts in the cause of life or siding with those who debased and destroy life.

The worst reason for acquiescing is the fear that others will be well aware of our own imperfections. As someone recently put it: “there is no neutral ground, no spiritual Switzerland.” So, if we can’t get “all religious” in the remaining few days before Christmas, when can we?

Happy Christmas.

Column for December 21st: Christmas 2003

by David Alton.

In 1941 Dorothy L Sayers wrote “The Man Born To Be King”, and in controversial circumstances it was broadcast by the BBC. The play caused outrage because Sayers told the story of Christ in contemporary language. The Lords’ Day Observance Society and the Protestant Truth Society sought to ban it because they considered it promoted “irreverence bordering on the blasphemous.” C.S.Lewis, by contrast, considered the plays “excellent, indeed most moving.”

After recording the episode that featured Christ’s crucifixion, the actor Bobby Speight, who played the Christ, just put on his coat and walked out with tears running down his face.

Sayers had already used realism in her nativity play “He That Should Come” and she said that the lack of realism in the sanitised versions of the birth, life and death of Christ “produce a sense of unreality which is very damaging to the ordinary man’s conception of Christianity.” Isn’t there something equally unreal about the celebration of our twenty first century Christmases?

The harsh realities of 2003 were captured for me a few weeks ago on the Burma border – where more than a hundred thousand people are in refugee camps. I met a young boy who saw his parents shot dead by the Burmese military – then fled across the border, was sold to a Thai family, and subsequently ran away to the refugee camp. All this and he is barely eight years of age.

Earlier in the year I was in North Korea – where at least a million people have died of starvation and where the government is engaged in dangerous nuclear brinkmanship with the United States. This is a country where Christmas has bee n banned by the Communists for more than fifty years.

Other realities I have experienced recently include villages in Southern Sudan – where millions of people have been killed, maimed or displaced. How those people must yearn for the simplicity of a happy Christmas..

And none of us need reminding of the suffering in the Holy Land and the victims of terrorism.

No-one wants the celebration of Christmas to be abandoned because of the reality of suffering – but Dorothy Sayers was surely right that tinsel and holly can mindlessly obscure that reality and blot out the whole point.

The reality of the Christmas story is that it always precedes the slaughter of the holy innocents. That’s the reality in those Sudanese villages where bombs have dropped relentlessly on schools, clinics and homes. It’s the reality in the Sudan, in Burma, and in the endless terror attacks. It’s also the reality of our attitude towards the child in the womb and towards the terminally ill and dying.

21st century Christians do not need to be like the Puritans who banned the celebration of Christmas – but we do need to reclaim this great feast from the consumerist orgy of spending and frenzy. And we do need to keep a sense of reality about its point.

The innocence of the Christmas Crib scene – St.Francis of Assisi’s timeless gift to us – still captivates the hardest and most cynical of hearts. But even as we gather around our parish crib we mark a beginning and an end. How do we begin our Christmas celebrations? At Midnight Mass we commemorate the death of Jesus, not His birth; we recall the inhumanity of His accusers, not their love. And, if we didn’t know that Easter is not far behind, Christmas would be about as pointless as celebrating the mid-winter solstice.

Dorothy Sayers was right to say we need a sense of reality as we think about the Christmas message. Perhaps it would be a good time for the BBC to broadcast again her “Man Born To Be King.”

 

Ends.

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Column By David Alton (Sunday 19th January 2003)

The BBC And Shooting the Messenger

In ancient Greece the messenger was always in danger of being executed when the recipient didn’t care for the message he delivered. The modern parallel is with todays’s media and the desire to shoot the messenger because we don’t always like their message.

When the criticisms are fair, and the coverage balanced, we should accept this as part and parcel of life in an open society. When it isn’t, we should say so. And, as international Catholic broadcasting networks such as EWTN (Eternal Word)are demonstrating, alternatives can also be created that make a virtue of truth and fairness.

It would be absurd to suggest that nothing good any longer comes out of the BBC but, as Britain’s largest minority, Catholics have every right to voice their concerns when public broadcasting defames, caricatures or misleads. Millions of us, after all, pay our licence fees towards the BBC network.

 

When BBC broadcasters appear on platforms attacking the principal of Christian schools and then trying to play the role of independent arbiter on “Newsnight” we have every right to some scepticism.

Should also simply be quiet about the BBC’s recent travesty of the life of Mary? This attempted to put on one side the ‘myth’ of the Virgin of historic, orthodox tradition – and promoted the BBC’s other ‘real’, ‘historical’ Mary, who the programme suggested had sex with Joseph before marriage and an adulterous relationship with a Roman legionary.

This was yet another attempt to ‘demythologise ‘ and to deconstruct the Bible.

It surely crosses the boundary of making a scurrilous attack on Christianity and ridicules the faith not just of Christians but Muslims too. Why is it that when it comes to the historicity of scriptural texts, the BBC seeks to undermine and criticise, rather than celebrate or examine the consequences for human action?

Some of today’s programme makers should stand at the entrance of Broadcasting House and take a look at the Latin dedication on the building proclaiming that “This temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director-General. It is their prayer that good Seed sown may bring forth a good harvest and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report,

may tread the path of wisdom and righteousness.”

The dedication – like the BBC motto, Quaecumque (“whatsoever”)are inspired by St.Paul’s letter to the Philippians .

Nine years after Reith’s dedication, as Britain braced itself for the aerial bombardment of its cities, it needed all the strength that these high sounding phrases implied. Unlike his contemporary successor, Dr.James Welch, then the BBC’s Director of Religion, was a committed Christian. He knew that bewildered people, dreading the arrival of telegrams heralding the loss of loved ones or the drone of German bombers, needed explanations about where God was in all of this. That is why he asked CS Lewis to begin the series of religious broadcasts that inspired Britain’s beleaguered people (and which formed the basis of his later book “Mere Christianity” ).

Our needs are in many respect no different today. Yet, instead of drawing out the finer impulses of religious faith, programme after programme on the TV takes this deconstructionist, negative approach.

The consequences of this hostility for employees of the BBC is particularly illustrative. One wrote to me before Christmas and said “we work in a subtle atmosphere of harassment, blame and

ridicule (the jokes from some about my own faith are becoming a frequent

occurrence).” So much for BBC liberal tolerance!

Perhaps it says something about how the BBC has changed since the days of Reith that over Christmas, as well as offering its attack on he Virgin Mary, we were being served up extra helpings of Philip

Pullman. This avowed atheist has described CS Lewis’ writings as the most “ugly and poisonous” things he has ever read: “it’s propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology.” He said that his own writings are an attempt to destroy the legacy and influence of Lewis.

So, although we may be reluctant to shoot the messenger we would be naive not to understand that this is the message we are being sent.

 

Column: June 16th 2002 David Alton.

The Church and State End Discrimination Not CofE Establishment

In this year when we celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee relations between Church and State have, not surprisingly, come under renewed scrutiny. Most notable have been the calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England.

Following a House of Lords debate on this subject there is no doubt that prompt action on two matters would help kill the ongoing debate about the position of the established Church.

Firstly, the Act of Settlement should be repealed and the Bill of Rights amended so as to remove from the statute book all measures that discriminate against Catholics. In the House of Commons Kevin McNamara has been calling for this.

Secondly, the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury should be made the responsibility of the Church of England Commissioners and not the Prime Minister of the day. A simple way to achieve this would be for the Prime Minister to ask for only one nomination from the Commissioners, the nominated individual in effect representing their choice.

I have written to the Prime Minister outlining this proposal.

We certainly do not need to disestablish the Church of England to secure these two modest changes. It is important that we do not allow ourselves to confuse the issues involved.

Disestablishment would give the signal that religion, and more particularly Christianity, no longer matters.

Those who argue for disestablishment seem content for religion to become a purely private matter that should not interfere or impact upon public life. Martin Luther King described that as a “dry as dust” religion.

Christianity is woven into the fabric of our nation, and can be seen in the symbols, rituals and stories that pervade public life and that people cling to at times of national celebration, crisis and mourning.

Disestablishment should be recognised as part and parcel of the secularist agenda. Already there is a drive towards the removal of blasphemy laws, the removal of prayers in Parliament, the removal of prayers and RE from schools and challenges to the role of chaplains in prisons, hospitals and the army.

Thirdly, establishment is broadly welcomed by other faiths and other Christian denominations, albeit that its precise form may well evolve. People like Dr.Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, believe the public affirmation of Christianity through the established church can give others the courage to witness publicly to their beliefs.

When secularists argue that we live in a religiously plural society, they usually don’t actually want to take those religions seriously at all. Today, no belief is regarded as true except the belief that no belief is true – and that has become a new dogma.

The clarion call is ‘inclusivity’ but this is often so much rhetoric. Being socially included is becoming a mask for enforced conformity. The truth is that because many have lost the faith of their fathers, some insist that we must lose the faith of ours.

The Church of England will need to consider new ways of meeting the contemporary challenge but to destroy a relationship that has served our nation well would be foolish and dangerous.

 

Ends.

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Human Cloning Bill

By David Alton. November 2001

Ban Human Cloning

Legislate in haste and you will repent at leisure.

Invariably, when Governments steamroller through Parliament hastily prepared Bills they soon come to regret it.

This week they have been pushing through a tightly worded little Bill to stop the Italian scientist, Severino Antinori, from coming to the UK to clone a human being. So tightly worded that even “friendly” amendments couldn’t be tabled to help them achieve their objective. So yet another flawed Bill will reach the Statute Book and it will not be long before they will be forced to return with further Bills.

Two years ago I urged the Government to ban all forms of human cloning. They failed to do it. In January they promised to outlaw reproductive cloning if so-called therapeutic cloning was permitted. They failed to do that either.

Instead, in January they pushed through unamenadable Orders permitting experimental cloning – only to be told in the High Court two weeks ago that this was unlawful.

So now they have introduced a Bill to outlaw reproductive human cloning. But does it?

The Bill makes it an offence to place a cloned human embryo in the womb of a woman. Good.

But it will still remain legal to create a cloned embryo – and then to implant it into an animal, into an artificial womb or even into a man. The fertility doctor, Lord Winston, says “male pregnancy would certainly be possible” and Dr.Simon Fishel says “there is no reason why a man could not carry a child.” Most of us would regard these scenarios as a horrifying and repulsive possibility – and this Bill does nothing to outlaw them.

Revealingly, Lord Winston told Parliament that “science does not have a moral dimension.” But shouldn’t it have? Just because something is scientifically possible, it doesn’t make it desirable or right. Science for its own sake, rather than for the common good, may become a negative and destructive force.

Scientists say they need to clone human beings in order to extract embryonic stem cells for use in treatments. They call this therapeutic cloning. This is a misnomer. It isn’t therapeutic for the human embryo – who is created, manipulated, plundered and disemboweled, and then destroyed. Nor is it the only way of extracting stem cells.

All the recent evidence points to the use of adult stem cells as a better scientific bet but also as an ethical alternative to the use of embryonic stem cells. They are also safer.

A week ago three top scientists warned Parliament that embryonic stem cells could pose dangers to public health; that there had been no clinical treatments involving embryonic stem cells; that there had been few successes in animal models; that they are difficult to obtain as pure culture; difficult to establish and maintain; have problems with immune rejection ; have potential for tumour formation and there is generic instability.

By contrast, adult stem cells avoid the problem of transplant rejection – and do not carry the same public health risks. Serious and unpredictable medical risks in embryonic stem cells include teratoma and teratocarcinoma formation – and unregulated growth.

Dr.Ian Wilmot of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute – who cloned Dolly the sheep after 277 attempts – has warned about the dangers of reproductive cloning but the dangers of using embryo cloning in therapies is also becoming clearer.

Britain’s refusal to sign up to international protocols banning these unethical techniques is a national disgrace – and seems to be driven by a multi-billion pound vested interests.

Our go-it-alone approach is also out of line with American and European legislation. Ten days ago the European Parliament voted to ban any funding of experimental or reproductive cloning. Congress voted by a majority of over 100 for a complete ban.

During the debate in the House of Lords this week I argued that Scotland’s national Parliament should have been involved in determining these crucial issues. I argued that there had been insufficient public debate. And I accused the Government of riding rough-shod, once again, over the democratic process.

This is a bad way to make public policy and it subverts the role of Parliament. Instead of scrutinising and improving legislation, Parliament now has about as much effect as a rubber stamp.

Ultimately, this question cuts to the core of what it is that makes us human and unique. Cloning is dabbling in the grotesque. Our failure to ban all forms of human cloning is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Column November 30th 2003. by David Alton.

Don’t Make Drugs Misuse Easier or Legal

The Government have reclassified cannabis as a class C drug. This puts it into the same category as sleeping tablets and anabolic steroids.

The Home Office website states that.

‘Reclassification of cannabis should help the Government to convey an effective and credible message – to young people in particular – about the dangers of misusing drugs.

The reality is that reclassification sends the message that cannabis is harmless, not addictive, that it is ok to take cannabis and that it has been legalised. A survey of school children by Life Education Centres shows that 86% of primary school children thought that cannabis was now legal, and 79% thought it was safe. This is a message that is neither effective nor credible – just plain dangerous.

The confusion about the legal status of cannabis following the proposed reclassification however does not stop with pupils. The Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Jan Berry says that members of the police force believe that cannabis had now been legalised not simply reclassified.

The Government claims that reclassification is based on the medical evidence. That

is contradicted by the evidence.

Since the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs reported in 2001, recommending reclassification, significant new evidence has emerged linking cannabis with serious mental illness. The majority of psychiatrists now accept a link between cannabis and serious mental illness. Two years ago, this was not the case.

Schizophrenia, psychotic symptoms, depression and anxiety are strongly associated with cannabis abuse.

Cannabis is strongly associated with mental illness such as schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and anxiety. Recent research confirms that cannabis can trigger psychosis even in those with no predisposition to mental illness. The earlier cannabis use begins, the greater the risk.

● 18 year olds who have used cannabis 50 times have a nearly seven-fold increased risk of developing psychosis over the next 15 years.

● Teenagers who use Cannabis by age 15 have more than a four-fold increased risk of developing schizophrenia symptoms by age 26.

● Early cannabis use – by age 15 – increases the risk of schizophrenia compared to later cannabis use by age 18.

A recently published study examined patients with recent onset of psychosis. It was found that patients with this disorder are twice as likely to have used cannabis compared with a population without psychosis.

This evidence was only published last year, and, again, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs could not have taken it into account when recommending reclassification in 2001.

It is also a disgrace that the Home Secretary so far has refused to meet eminent scientists and leading researchers on cannabis including four Professors who want to present new research evidence to the Home Secretary. These include Prof Robin M Murray Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, London;

Prof John Henry of Imperial College London;

Prof Heather Ashton, of the School of Neurosciences, Division of Psychiatry, University of Newcastle;

Prof Colin Drummond Professor of Addiction Psychiatry at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London;

Dr Clare Gerada MBE FRCGP MRCPsych head of substance misuse training Royal College of General Practitioners, London; and

Mr Hamish Turner HM Coroner for the Torbay and South Devon District – immediate past President Coroners Society England and Wales.

Does the Government think that none of these eminent voices were worth listening to?

Not to have heard their evidence is an insult and a disgrace. To have ignored new research and to have relied on a Committee whose membership included representatives of 13 organisations in favour of weakening the law on drugs (and which included none of the organisations who take a contrary view) shows how decisions are driven through in this country. Insulting and undemocratic, yes, but it’s worse than that. What word do you use to describe a decision that will simply put at risk many more young lives? Irresponsible seems too mild.

 

Ends.

December 28th 2003 David Alton

The Looming Threat of Euthanasia

If you’re looking for a New Year’s Resolution, look no further than the need to fight the looming threat of euthanasia. The battle will be crucial and is taking place on several fronts. It will be vitally important to get the right target and the right tactics.

Last year a joint Committee of the House of Lords and House of Commons met to consider a draft Bill on Mental Incapacity. As predicted, the Bill was not included in the Queen’s Speech and is still in draft – it is not before either House of Parliament and it is a complete waste of time asking MPs or Peers to vote against a non-existent Bill.

The All Party Parliamentary Group – led by its excellent Chairman, Jim Dobbin MP – have been engaged in meetings with Ministers raising a number of concerns. The Government state categorically that it is not their intention for the Bill to be used to legalise euthanasia – but we have pointed to proposals that could never-the-less allow euthanasia “by omission.”

Whilst we do accept that the Government is not seeking to legalise euthanasia through the draft Bill we maintain that unless key aspects of the Bill are amended, in particular those dealing with best interests, advance refusals and lasting powers of attorney, then euthanasia could be introduced ‘through the back door’.

This is because euthanasia can be committed by action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death. Euthanasia cannot be restricted to deliberate interventions undertaken with the express intention of ending life as the Government has argued.

We are particularly anxious about the use of legally binding advance directives that rarely, if ever, meet the standards of informed consent that is required from patients with capacity. An ill informed advance decision can hardly be considered a genuine exercise of autonomy.

The Government have responded to us that “no advance decision would be automatically effective under the Bill” – and we welcome this. If this is the case, and if, as they say, the clinician would be required to consult with colleagues and with family members and would only be able to proceed where there is agreement between the medical team and the family, then why make advance statements legally binding? Legally binding advance refusals of treatment will make it very difficult for practitioners faced with the need to make rapid decisions in acute medical emergencies to easily and clearly decide when an advance decision is valid and applicable. Fear of litigation may well result in doctors withholding appropriate care with resultant harm to the patient.

Non-legally binding advance statements can, however, be very helpful to patients, their families and the healthcare team. One of the leading experts in the field, Baroness Finlay, acknowledged when she gave evidence before the Joint Committee. “Advance refusals are very helpful for communicating with patients. It is terribly helpful as an idea of what patients want. My concern is that they are legally binding and then you may have to sit back and watch something happen that you just feel terribly uncomfortable with.”

It may be that in the end the Bill will have to be opposed outright – but it is much too early to say that as the consultation process is still underway and no Bill will be laid before Parliament before next autumn at the earliest. It simply makes you look stupid to announce outright opposition to a Bill that doesn’t yet exist.

At this stage MPs and Peers should simply be asked to monitor the Bill’s progress and, in particular, to express their in principled opposition to making advance directives legally binding.

Of far more immediate concern is the decision to allow a new Select Committee to be established in the Lords to examine the proposals in Lord Joffe’s Private Member’s Bill. This will meet after Easter and the first battle involves its membership. It would be a scandal if, like the Select Committee that examined the use of human embryos for experimental purposes, it contained no-one who upholds the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.

During last year’s debate on Lord Joffe’s Bill – which seeks to introduce Dutch-style euthanasia laws into the UK – a majority of Peers spoke against the Bill. The Select Committee membership should therefore reflect that opposition. Government Ministers and MPs should be asked why their Party supported the creation of a new Committee to consider an issue already investigated by an earlier Select Committee? Could it be because the first Committee didn’t come up with the verdict they wanted? How does it square with their oft repeated statements that they oppose the legalisation of euthanasia?

If that Committee’s membership is loaded in favour of euthanasia and it recommends in favour it will be powerful ammunition in the hands of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

Letters could very usefully be sent to the Prime Minister, leaders of the other parties, and to parliamentarians, demanding that the process is not manipulated.

The pro-life parliamentarians – in both Houses – are agreed about these targets and these tactics. It would be a good New Year’s Resolution for everyone involved in this battle to unite behind their leadership and to act intelligently, coherently, and in a disciplined way.

 

Ends.

Column January 1st 2006. David Alton

Death and Suffering In the Congo

Just imagine that you woke up tomorrow and read a newspaper headline that told you that the whole of the population of Ireland had been wiped out. You’d be shocked into disbelief. But, in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that’s exactly what has happened – 4 million dead over just ten years. This is the biggest loss of life in any single conflict since World War Two.

Twice as many have died in the Congo over a comparable period than have even died in Iraq, yet lives in the Congo hardly rate a column inch, let alone a television report.

For all the proper political interest in Africa during 2005 nothing was done to stabilise the Congo – and when the Prime Minister recently appeared before a Parliamentary Committee it was significant that in two and a half hours of exchanges Africa was not mentioned once.

The greatest losers in the Congo have been children.

At a recent meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Street Children it was said that 40,000 children are living on the streets of the country’s capital, Kinshasa, with 6,000 more in Lubumbashi, 7,000 in Kananga, 7,000 in Bukovu and 2,000 in Goma. This crisis has been brought about by the continuing conflict in the east and north east of the country, by the spread of AIDs, by poverty and by a negative view of orphaned children.

As many as 300,000 children have been recruited into the competing militias and the demobilisation process – and subsequent reintegration into society – has proved to be a painstakingly slow business.

Organisations like Warchild, Jubilee Action and the Princess Diana Memorial Fund have all identified this as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and have committed themselves to highlight Congo’s plight and to offer some practical small scale help.

When Warchild gave evidence to the parliamentary committee they told the story of a boy called Jacques whose mother and father were used as human shields and burnt alive. He is now on the streets in Bunia.

They also told the story of Jean, aged 12, who fled Bosinga after bombardment by rebel militia. Her mother and father were both killed and she fled to Gbadolife, over 100 miles away, and is now living on the streets.

So what can we do?

Governments like our own can insist that the declarations in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are put into effect. Likewise the International Crisis Group’s Congo Action Plan needs implementing – and we should be writing to MPs asking them to exert some real pressure.

But there are individual actions we can take, too. The children at St.Martha’s Catholic school in London have set us all a great example by filling a container with books, games and equipment for children and sending it out to Kinshasa.

Likewise Jubilee Action’s, Jedidiah project is providing a street shelter in Kinshasa – and every little you can send them will help.

Jubilee can advise you on how small initiatives can make a real difference in a country that has been decimated. Committing to help would make a great new year’s resolution. They can be reached on 0148 3894787 (info@jubileeacton.co.uk

Column January 4th 2003, by David Alton.

Beware the Moves To Permit Cloning – Remember Dolly The Sheep

Just before Christmas I took part in a rather scary Conference on human cloning. It was scary because also on the platform was a representative of Cloneaid – who could see no ethical objection to reproductive cloning and who, in the face of worldwide opposition, claims that she and he colleagues have already cloned babies and intend to clone more. There simply could be no meeting of minds because there was no common ground.

Not only does the pro-cloning lobby seem completely disinterested in the ethical arguments and international opinion it also seems oblivious to the huge risks to public health.

It is clear from current scientific evidence that the vast majority of cloned babies would die in the womb, and the few that developed to birth would be likely to die within a few days, or would be severely handicapped, or would die early.

The most famous animal cloner is Professor Wilmut, who is best known for the creation of ‘Dolly’ the sheep. In a recent article in “Nature Reviews Genetics”, he says: “Our experience with other mammals shows us that any attempts at cloning humans are inherently unsafe at present. On these grounds alone, scientists should not condone human reproductive cloning, even without taking into account the equally important ethical and moral issues.”

Another article, in “New Scientist” paints a graphic picture of the fate of cloned animals that do survive to birth: “Abnormalities in those surviving to term frequently include oversized hearts and lungs, enlarged tongues, squashed faces, poorly functioning kidneys, intestinal blockages, immune deficiencies, diabetes, shortened tendons causing feet to twist into useless curves, a remarkable degree of obesity and impaired intelligence.”

However, in many cases, even severe abnormalities in reproductive cloning may be undetectable until the animal dies unexpectedly. An animal which is apparently completely healthy one day, may die the next. Scientiests say that foetuses that look robust at 60 days may die at 61; that a clone that dies after five days of life can have normal chromosomes and genes while still in the womb.

Cloned animals that survive longer than a few days can still die at a young age. For example, in one study it was found that many cloned mice died early owing to severe lung disease, tumours and liver necrosis .

Professors Wilmut and Jaenisch state, “There is no reason to believe that the outcomes of attempted human cloning will be any different…if human cloning is attempted, those embryos that do not die early may live to become abnormal children and adults; both are troubling outcomes.”

Some have claimed that it would be possible to screen out abnormal embryos and not to implant them. However, Professor Ian Wilmut, states clearly that it is not possible currently to reliably predict which cloned embryos are safe, because firstly, current screening techniques using pre-implantation diagnosis only check specific genetic abnormalities, whereas cloned embryos have profound epigenetic abnormalities as well as genetic defects. Secondly, even if epigenetic abnormalities were examined, it would be impossible to carry out adequate checks because (a) abnormalities in cloned embryos have been found to be different from cell to cell. Therefore testing individual cells would not give an indication of whether other cells in the embryo were normal or not; and (b) it would require knowledge of all of the potential adverse epigenetic effects, which is currently not possible.

Professors Wilmut and his colleague, Professor Jaenish graphically spell out the dangers: “We believe that attempts to clone human beings at a time when the scientific issues of nuclear cloning have not been clarified, are dangerous and irresponsible.” (Jaenisch and Wilmut, 2001)

There is also considerable evidence about the dangers to public health if human embryos created for the purpose of experimental cloning are then used in treatments and therapies. Even proponents of embryo experimentation, such as Lord Winston, have admitted that freezing embryos increases the risk of disability when the embryos are used for fertility treatments.

Shouldn’t all of this make us pause for thought? Not if the people from Cloneaid have their way.

Ends.

Column March 21st 2004

David Alton

Why the BMA Opposes Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

A new attempt has been made to put Dutch-style euthanasia laws onto our statute books. Lord Joel Jofee’s Assisted Dying Bill will go before a Select Committee of the House of Lords – that will deliberate after Easter.

The redoubtable Baroness Finlay of Llandaff will lead the opposition to the Bill on that committee. As a professor of palliative care she knows better than most what a disaster it would be for the medical profession if this Bill were to be enacted. Illora Finlay passionately believes that good hospice care is the alternative to killing patients; that care and kill cannot be used as synonyms; and that dying with dignity doesn’t mean telling doctors that they have to kill you.

Powerful opposition to the Jofee proposals – and support for Baroness Finlay’s arguments -

has been expressed by the British Medical Association.

The Jofee Bill seeks to legalise assisted suicide and it also purports to make provision for terminally ill patients to receive pain relieving medication. As this second provision already exists it is like legislating that everyone in Britain should have the right to breathe or to eat.

The BMA have cogently and persuasively set out a strong case against the two strands of the Bill. They says that

• Legalising physician assisted suicide would fundamentally alter the ethos of medicine; that

• Arguments for such legislation are generally based on arguments about competent individuals’ rights to choose the way they die. The BMA say they “respect the concept of individual autonomy” but that “there are limits to what patients can choose when their choice will inevitably impact on other people and on society at large”. They also say that:

• Legalising assisted suicide would affect patients’ ability to trust their doctors and to trust medical advice; that

• In particular, it could undermine the trust that vulnerable, elderly, disabled or very ill patients have in the health care system; that

• If assisted suicide were to be an available option, there would inevitably be pressure for all seriously ill people to consider it even if they would not otherwise entertain such an idea; that

• Health professionals explaining all options for the management of terminal illness would have to include mention of assisted suicide. This, sat the BMA could lead to patients choosing euthanasia for the wrong reasons. Patients might feel obliged to choose that option “if they feel themselves to be burdensome to others or concerned, for example, about the financial implications for their families of a long terminal illness.” They conclude that

• The euthanasia provisions of the Jofee Bill “would also weaken society’s prohibition on intentional killing and could weaken safeguards against non-voluntary euthanasia of people who are both seriously ill and mentally impaired”. So voluntary euthanasia would inexorably lead to involuntary euthanasia – as it has in Holland.

Just four years ago the BMA organized a two day conference to promote the development of consensus on physician assisted suicide. Overwhelmingly, BMA members from a wide range of moral viewpoints, agreed that they could not recommend a change in the law to allow voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

The BMA say that “part of the reason for this consensus concerned the high risks if assisted suicide came to be accepted as a viable option for the people not specifically mentioned in this Bill but who would inevitably be affected by it: vulnerable, dependent or very impressionable sick people.”

Tellingly, they go onto to assert that permitting euthanasia or physician assisted suicide would “irrevocably undermine” the “primary goal of medicine.” It would radically alter the way in which doctors relate to their patients. And which doctor would you go to? – the one who would treat you and care for you or the one known to kill his patients?

Without any equivocation – no shilly shallying, or the usual “on the one hand this, and on the other hand that” – the BMA conclude that “ the case of euthanasia and assisted suicide, benefit for an individual in terms of having their wishes respected, is only achievable at too high a cost in terms of potential harm to society at large.”

The second strand of the Bill invites us to tilt at imaginary windmills – implying that we need a new Act of Parliament to provide for the relief of pain. In the BMA’s view, “this plays on unjustified public fears about the possibility of intolerable or unrelieved pain at the end of life.” Their concern is that this is an emotionally charged argument that could be manipulative of parliamentary and public opinion. So does the law need changing? Resoundingly no, say the BMA: “ the law and ethical position is already clear on the right of patients to receive the most effective pain relief available.”

Providing pain relief is not compromised by the fact that effective medication might have the side effect of shortening some patients’ lifespan: what is often called double effect.

To die with dignity you don’t need a doctor to kill you. Every Member of Parliament – Commons and Lords – should listen to the views of the doctors and if you are opposed to euthanasia you should write a letter to Peers and MPs asking if they back the BMA.

Column May 21st 2006 David Alton

Sorry Is The Hardest Word – the road to reconciliation

Knowing how and when to say sorry is always tricky. Often you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If it’s a difficult thing for us to do as individuals, collective acts of regret are even more problematic.

When the Prime Minister apologised for Britain’s failure to save the lives of a million Irish people during the great famine he was accused by some of tokenism.

When Pope John Paul apologised for the crimes of Christians against Jews and to Orthodox Christians for the sacking of Constantinople by Catholic militias, 1000 years ago, commentators rebuked him and told him that it was all time expired. In any event, they said, how could he atone for the actions of others?

The same reservations will be doubtless be expressed when on May 1st 2007 we mark Parliament’s abolition of the slave trade. Cities like Liverpool, heavily implicated in the trade, have already expressed regret at their city’s role. But does that really mean anything to the descendents of those who suffered so terribly?

Can we heal the past? Should we even try?

A lot depends on the spirit in which atonement is made. If it’s just shallow public relations spin, or gesture politics, it will deservedly rebound and be counter productive.

If, however, it is a genuine attempt to “start again” it can mark the beginning of a new and more fruitful chapter. And where else can you start other than with a recognition of the wrong done by you, or in your name, or by those who went before you?

Usually this healing of relationships and the healing of nations begins with personal initiatives, often through individuals and low key relationships which later blossom at the level of leaders – think of De Klerk and Mandela in South Africa.

This road to reconciliation is a rough one and frequently it leads to misunderstanding or rejection. In the case of Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s leader who reached out to Israel, it led to his assassination.

Tentative moves towards reconciliation don’t happen by accident. They usually require facilitators and encouragers. Happily, there has been a significant growth of groups working in this area – pioneered by people like the Manchester based Maranatha Community and the international St.Egidio Community.

One group, who call themselves “Road To Reconciliation” – and are made up of fifty political and spiritual leaders – have made a particular study of European involvement in China’s two Opium Wars and the Boxer Revolution. They say it’s now time to address the wrongs we committed.

They intend to travel to China in September and have arranged meetings with Chinese officials – at which they will address the destructive and humiliating role which Europeans played in those bloody events.

They know that we cannot undo the effects of British and American merchants smuggling opium into China in the mid nineteenth century; or the things which followed: humiliating loss of sovereignty and the imposition of squalid treaties, like the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing and the 1858 Treaty of Tianjin; the deliberate undermining of the Chinese economy, by swamping it with cheap imports; the burning of the old Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing, by the British and French; the Taping Revolution, which led to the deaths of between 20 and 50 million people; and, ultimately, the Boxer Revolution of 1900-1911, the abdication of the Emperor, the end of a 2,000 –year-old dynasty and the coming, in October 1949, of Mao Zedong and Communism.

No doubt when the delegation goes to China and admits or part in past crimes of history there will be a “loss of face” – a concept readily understood in the East. And nor will there be – and nor should they expect – any reciprocal expression of forgiveness. But as the beginning of a historic healing process, this act could be a regenerative and powerful one. And haven’t we always known that for healing to come between races and nations it has to start somewhere and that it has to begin with me?

 

Ends

 

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Religious Liberties In Vietnam

By David Alton March 2003.

It is hard to visit the former central prison in Hanoi without experiencing a deep stirring of emotion. Built by the French, this was where they held nationalist leaders seeking to overthrown colonial rule. The leg irons, manacles, and guillotine are all a vivid reminder of the harrowing and brutal methods used to subdue dissidence.

In 1954 Ho Chi Minh, who took control of the north, routed the French. Throughout North Vietnam convents, church schools and hospitals were confiscated. 900,000 people fled to the South (500,000 were Catholic).

For those of us brought up in the sixties it is the sight of the clothes and uniforms of the US airmen who were also incarcerated in Hanoi Prison, that stirs the memories of the war that raged throughout those years in Vietnam. Prisoners like Senator John McCain spent many years in these cells, pondering, no doubt, on a conflict that still defines how America shapes its foreign policy.

The US armed forces were withdrawn in 1973 and in 1975 North Vietnamese forces overran the south: a precedent that shapes all American thinking about the communist regime in North Korea. It also led to the arrest of key Catholic figures in South Vietnam, such as Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who died in September of last year.

Hanoi prison is now a museum and Vietnam’s communist leaders have grudgingly initiated economic reforms as a prelude for a free market. Economic liberalisation has yet to be accompanied by any moves towards political pluralism and the country’s prisons still hold prisoners of conscience who have been incarcerated for their religious or political beliefs.

At one level, allowing more Catholic seminarians to train for the priesthood, allowing 700,000 New Testaments to be printed, allowing the country’s six million Catholics to celebrate Christmas, and the consecration of a new church in one diocese (the first in fifty years) all point to the beginnings of greater tolerance. Yet in one respect old habits seem to die-hard: critical social comment by religious leaders is not to be permitted. When free speech is exercised prison sentences rapidly follow (including the imprisonment of some Buddhist monks from the country’s predominant religion, which counts some 39 million adherents).

One of the most significant religious prisoners is a Catholic priest, Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly.

Father Van Ly began a campaign for religious freedom in 2000 and was arrested after sending evidence to an American Congressional Committee in February 2001. He had called on the US Congress to postpone the ratification of a bilateral trade agreement while religious persecution persisted.

Father Van Ly is serving a fifteen-year prison sentence and during a visit to Hanoi with US Congressman, Joseph Pitts (Rep. Pennsylvania) on behalf of the Jubilee Campaign, I raised his case with Le Quang Vinh, head of the Vietnamese Government Committee on Religion.

Quang Vinh denies that religious persecution occurs in Vietnam and says that people like Father Van Ly have been arrested for acting subversively against the Communist Party: “It was not because he contacted the Congress” he said. “Van Ly tried to upset the people. He encouraged their illegal right to own land; he lied that there was no true freedom in Vietnam, and he refused to obey the authorities and accept their control. He armed his group to fight the authorities.”

When I asked him where Fr.Van Ly bought his guns and weapons he replied that “they had sticks and knives, not guns.”

The reality is that a group of about 35 frightened parishioners had gathered for sanctuary in his church. The church was surrounded by 600 armed security officers (Quang Vinh later contacted us to say the number was 200) and as Father Van Ly prepared to say Mass he was arrested. This report was confirmed by Dang Cong Dieu, the Chairman of the People’s Committee in Phy An.

Quang Vinh told us that we could not visit Fr.Van Ly but he did promise to place our plea for clemency before the Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai.

Fr Van Ly is only the latest and the most high profile of a series of prison sentences for Christians. The late Cardinal Van Thuan spent 13 years in Communist prisons, jailed after South Vietnam in 1975.

The beginnings of religious tolerance have come too late for Cardinal Van Thuan and there are worrying signs that ethnic minorities are to be excluded from the new dispensation.

In the central highlands of Vietnam the Montagnards, the Degar people, are facings systematic persecution. So are the Hmong.

There are about 600,000 tribal people from 30 different groups in the central highlands. Two thirds are Christian, both Catholic and Protestant. They assisted the US army during the Vietnam War and ever since 1995 they have not been allowed to forget it. Since 2001 they have been subjected to a massive crackdown.

Montagnard children have been denied education if their parent’s practice Christianity; soldiers and police have forced believer to renounce their faith and drink pig’s blood (a pre-Christian practice) and Martial law was imposed throughout the central highlands. A year ago the Cambodians deported 167 Montagnard refugees who had fled persecution. On their return they were tortured.

In Lai Chau province the Hmong have also suffered grievously.

Quang Vinh insists that he is working to ensure that “religious freedom is protected and improved.” Yet, last year Communist officials beat Mua Bua Senh, a Hmong Christian, to death when he refused to renounce his faith. His widow and six children, and three other families were forced to leave their homes and land.

Quang Vinh told me he would ask officials to investigate the case. He says “arrests are to do with issues of sovereignty and the secessionist aspirations of these groups. It is a political attack endangering our independence.”

They may well have secessionist aspirations – hardly a crime, ask the Scots – but this has been used as smoke screen to try and eliminate Christianity; and the attacks have become violent and brutal.

Just six weeks ago a Sunday worship service was underway in the Huoi Huong hamlet, Huong Nha village of the Dien Bien District, Lai Chau province.

Suddenly, police rushed in, and insisted that everyone leave the worship service. The believers declined to go. The police then sprayed them with an unknown gas leaving more than 100 unconscious. Four small children died and three pregnant women lost their unborn babies.

All of the worshippers were transferred to the Lai Chau Hospital for treatment and five have failed to recover.

In recent months, three Montagnard pastors of the Dak Lak province have been imprisoned and subsequently killed by lethal injection in their cells at Buonmathuot. In addition, fifty-six Ede and Hmong pastors have disappeared. The government has forcibly closed 354 of the 412 churches in Dak Lak Province and more closures are expected to follow.

Quang Vinh simply told us that “it is not our policy to persecute. We’ll investigate.” He did say, however, that there is to be new legislation on religious liberties questions; that this has been approved in principle by the Party’s Central Committee; and that it will go before Parliament later this year. He declined to share a copy of the draft with us. However, the auguries are not good.

The plenum of the Central Committee opened with a call from the party’s General Secretary, Nong Duc Manh, for new policies to strengthen political and social stability.

The new party resolution promotes a campaign against dissent and appeals to the patriotism of religious people, encouraging them to counter attempts to use religious and ethnic issues against the party.

The new resolution seeks to cement the control of religions from within.

It provides for a programme to specifically increase the state management of religious affairs and to guide the six approved religions in line with party policy.

To do this it has ordered the build-up of a core group of party members who are also religious followers, for each religion. Trotsky would have felt at home with this form of entryisim.

The plenum has ordered a review of party policy in order to set up a programme for managing religious affairs over the long term.

One observer commented “Vietnam is clearly going backwards. When you hear words like “guidance” and “control” and “hostile forces” in connection with religious practice you can be certain that the Christian faith will suffer even more.”

In the past, Vietnamese people have suffered grievously from outside intervention. They are still living with some of the consequences. I heard, for instance, of one town in Nambinh Province, about 80 kilometers from Hanoi, where about 200 children are disabled from the continuing effects of Agent Orange; and of a further children 300 who were born without speech or sight. There are 300 orphans in the town (150 cared for by the local Catholic church).

Yet, now the country is suffering from within and if it is to grow strong and tackle its many challenges it simply cannot afford to pursue an ideological campaign against religious belief. Reconciliation, progress, and national unity will not be achieved through persecution.

Ends.

Genocide In Burma, Spring 2003: by David Alton.

March 9th was been designated as the global day of prayer for Burma. In the refugee camps, where many of the 130,000 Karen people have fled to escape Burma’s genocide, voices were being raised in the earnest prayer that 53 years of conflict will finally come to an end.

Along with prayer, we need to redouble the political pressure on western governments and on the Burmese military junta. There are also a host of initiatives that individuals and church groups can take to help those who are suffering.

I have just returned from the Burma border where I was taking evidence, along with American Congressman, Joseph Pitts, on behalf of Jubilee Campaign. We collected truly shocking accounts of the latest violations of human rights. Although the British Government still refuses to categorise these crimes as genocide there is no doubt in my mind that no other word adequately describes the realities in Burma’s Karen State.

Two years ago the Catholic human rights activist, James Mawdsley, graphically brought that suffering to light. His brave decision to launch a protest inside Burma and the 17 year sentence and 13 months solitary confinement that followed made many people aware of the harrowing atrocities committed by the military regime.

The story of one small child I met at a refugee camp near Mae Sot illustrates how the brutality and violence of this perfidious regime continues.

Saw Naing Gae is just eight years old. He saw the Burmese military shoot dead his mother and his father. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Desperately unhappy he managed to escape and made his way to the camp, where he is staying with a group of thirty other orphans. Even as these children sang and welcomed their visitors Saw Naing Gae seemed unable to join in or even to smile. Every trace of joy and innocence had been stamped out of him; and all of this by the age of 8.

Saw Naing Gae squatted alongside four other children, brothers and sisters, whose parents had also been brutally murdered. The oldest girl, aged about 12, and now head of their family, dissolved into tears as she recounted their story.

Naw Pi Lay, whose photograph illustrates this article, did not survive.

Aged 45, the mother old five children and pregnant with her sixth, Naw Pi Lay was murdered in June of last year by the Burmese militia. During a massacre in the Dooplaya district of the Karen State, twelve other people were killed, including children aged 12,7,5, and 2 years old.

Elsewhere in the same district, at Htee Tha Blu village, further violations of human rights were carried out by Light Infantry Battalions 301 and 78. They beat and tortured villagers, stole their belongings and burnt down their church and their homes.

The last time I visited this region, about four years ago, I illegally crossed the border and entered the Karen State. I heard and saw evidence of the internally displaced people – estimated now at 600,000; of the scorched earth policy that has depopulated and destroyed countless villages; and of brutality unequalled anywhere I have travelled.

This time I met one of the Free Burma Rangers who had just come out of the Karen State. He had been with a little girl of eight who still had a bullet lodged in her stomach. To help people like hr he had taken in some nurses and medics. Why was he, an American, so committed to the Karen? “I love these people, and I simply don’t want to see them suffering like this. We’ve got to do something, even if we’re just like a small barking dog,” he told me.

At Mae Sot we took evidence from the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People. They provided me with over 100 pages of carefully documented examples of human rights violations committed by Burmese military over the past twelve months alone. One day I hope that this evidence will be placed before an international court and as at Nuremberg the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

The report lists three mass killings by the SPDC (Burma’s singularly ill-named State Peace and Development Council). It is a carefully chronicled account of looting, burning, torture, rape and murder. The SPDC routinely plant landmines indiscriminately and in areas where landmines have been laid by their opponents the SPDC use people as human landmine sweepers.

I saw some of the victims – people whose limbs have been severed from their bodies, whose skin has been peppered with shrapnel, and others who have been left blind. I also talked to the families of people whose loved ones – men and women – had been seized and used as porters and construction workers, and who have never returned. The SPDC kill many of the porters in frontline areas, especially when they are unable to any longer work because of exhaustion or sickness.

The international focus on Burma has long been on the heroic struggle of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). The SPDC are part of a military dictatorship that has brutalised its people since a coup in 1962. Having called an election in 1990, which the NLD won, the SPDC refused to accept the result. Although in the past twelve months the military have allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to travel more freely, tentative talks between the two groups appear to have stalled. During the same period the attacks in most parts of Burma have increased.

A settlement with the NLD represents a solution to only half of the conflict. The seven ethnic groups who have been fighting for self determination or autonomy since the end of World War Two – the Karen, Karenni, Mon, Arakam, Kachin, Chin and Shan – will still need to have their grievances addressed.

In Chiang Mai I met with the authors of a carefully meticulous 120 page report on the Burmese military regime’s use of sexual violence in the Shan State over the past six years. The report of the Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan Women’s Action Network, “Licence To Rape”, details how rape has been used as a weapon of war. Sexual violence – especially widespread gang rape – has terrorised and humiliated communities, flaunts the power of the regime, “rewards” troops, and demoralises resistance forces.

Women who have been raped have frequently been abandoned or rejected by their husbands. One woman described how she was gang-raped when she was 7-months pregnant and then gave birth prematurely to her child. Another was told by her husband to leave: “You didn’t control yourself. You are no longer my wife. Leave our home.”

The Burmese Junta have turned their country into one vast concentration camp. They are Nazi thugs who deploy Nazi methods. Like their Nazi predecessors they fail to appreciate the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to endure and survive.

Typical are the joint secretaries of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Bo Kyi, a student leader who spent seven years in Burmese jails, told me that “torture is designed to break down your identity, to turn you into a non-entity with no connection to the world outside of the torture chamber.”

Naing Kyaw served 8 years in Insein and Thayet prisons and still manages to joke that “insane” would be a better spelling. Regularly beaten with a chain and ball on his back, and often kept in solitary confinement, he was offered the chance to become an informer.

Instead, he learnt English from the professor who was housed in the adjacent cell – so that he would be able to tell the world about Burma’s suffering. He has put the language to good use in his essay in “Spirit For Survival” which he dedicates to a despairing young woman who took her own life: “All the suffering you felt we will change into strength. This grief, this feeling of deep hurt and bitterness will become a volcano, which is going to explode.”

I was struck that even as the suffering deepens no-one is giving in. Democracy activists continue their struggle and the beleaguered ethnic minorities refuse to capitulate.

In amongst it all are people trying to bring hope and help – like the Karen Catholic priest I visited who is simply known as “the jungle priest.” He is running an illegal school for young people denied education. Or the Thai Catholic nuns, inspired by the vision of one of their number, Sister Love. They have created a wonderful centre and school for six hundred children. The evangelical Life Centre for girls rescued from traffickers, the Bible School in the heart of one of the camps, and the non-governmental organisations are all doing wonderful work.

There is an old saying that the darkest moment is always just before the dawn.

For Naing Kyaw, Bo Kyi, and the other extraordinarily courageous men and women I met on the Burma border, this indeed may well be the darkest time.

Until now the Thai Government has been generous and hospitable in allowing refugees and democracy activists a place of shelter. While our delegation was in the country, not only did a group of 2,000 Burmese military attack Karen settlements in the Tak district, we also learnt that the Thais had raided the homes of pro democracy activists and were seeking to repatriate them. It would have been more humane to have issued an order for their summary execution and have done with it. Imagine Winston Churchill deporting members of the French Resistance to occupied Nazi Europe and you have the correct parallel.

All this has to do with the Thais seeking to strengthen commercial links with the military junta. On February 9th the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra and the army chief, Somdhat Attanant, travel to Rangoon. It is impossible for me to imagine

how any democratic leader could want to do business with a regime that kills and brutalises its people and that relies on drug production to finance its economy.

Last year more than one billion meth-amphetamine pills were produced in Burma and most were sold on in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, causing disastrous social consequences. The junta have been making a killing from illegal trafficking of drugs, timber, and people, and then they use their illicit gains to kill their own people. One day the people who have collaborated in this profiteering will be held to account, tried and jailed.

These words from Psalm 61 were handed to me as I left the Karen refugee camp on the Burma border: “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

They represent a plaintive and last desperate cry by a people who have suffered beyond reason. Their cry is indeed issued from the ends of the earth. How much longer will they have to wait for the rest of the world to respond?

On March 9th the people of Burma will be sorely in need of our prayers. But they need our help too. Please resolve to help in some tangible way.

HOW YOU CAN HELP – WHAT YOU CAN DO

• Jubilee Campaign has campaign material available: info@jubileecampaign.co.uk or telephone Jubilee at St.John’s Seminary, Wonersh on 01483 894 787

• You can send a “Good Life” pack of small gifts for displaced children inside Burma (they suggest chewable vitamins, a small comb and mirror, a small toy, pencils) in a heavy duty Ziplock freezer bag, marked “gift/school needs/ no commercial value”, to Christians Concerned for Burma, PO Box 14, Mae Jo P.O., Chiang Mai, 50290, Thailand.

• You can sponsor or support the education of children being cared for by James Mawdsley’s Metta Trust, by the Burmese Jungle Priest or by Sister Love and her co-workers. Cheques should be made out to Jubilee Action and sent to St.John’s Seminary, Wonersh, nr Guildford, Surrey GU5 0QX.

• You can write to your MP, to the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the Prime Minster, demanding that Britain press for genocide charges to be brought against the Burmese military junta. (all c/o House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA)

• Write a letter of protest to the Burmese Ambassador:

His Excellency Dr Kyaw Win, Embassy of the Union of Myanmar (Burma)

19A Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London W1X 8ER

Telephone number: 020 7499 8841

• Organise a Day or Prayer on March 9 in your parish or at your home

Photographs To Follow:

Captions:

1. Saw Naing Gae (A Karen boy, aged 8) – whose parents were shot dead by the Burmese military.

2. Four Karen children whose parents have been murdered by the Burmese military.

3. Illegal drugs seized by Karen soldiers.

4. Mass killings of Karen villagers, including women and children.

5. Pregnant Karen Woman, raped by 5 Burmese soldiers and then killed.

David Alton is an independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool john Moores University. For 18 years he served in the House of Commons and is one of the founders of Jubilee Campaign.

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The Changing Face of Laos by

David Alton. March 2003.

Laos – or, to be more precise, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic – is a landlocked country of just over five million people, situated in south east Asia, north east of Thailand and west of Vietnam.

Like its better known neighbour to its west Laos has a communist government. When the Pathet Lao took control in 1975 they ended six centuries of monarchy and imposed a hard-line brand of Marxism.

Since 1997, when they joined ASEAN, there has been a gradual liberalising of the Laotian economy, a gradual return to private enterprise and an easing of foreign investment laws. There has also been an easing of the repression of religion and the first vestiges of free speech.

However, political prisoners are still held in jail – the most prominent of whom are Latsami Khamphoui and Feng Sakchittaphong. Another prominent dissident, Thongsouk Saysangkhi, died in prison in 1998. They had been arrested in 1992 for forming a “social democratic club” to advance democratic ideas.

Another five dissidents were arrested in the capital, Vientiane, on October 26th 1999, apparently for attempting to stage a political protest. There has never been a trial and their fate is unknown. In October 2001 Lao authorities arrested and deported five Western democracy activists for staging an illegal protest against the government of President Khamtay Siphandone.

Christians have also suffered repression and hardship.

When I visited Laos with Congressman Joseph Pitts (Rep. Pennsylvania) I saw and heard first hand accounts of both the privations and the positive changes underway.

About 60% of Laos are Buddhist. About 3% are Christian and the remainder adheres to traditional religions.

Unable to eliminate “the opium of the masses,” as Marx famously described religion, attempts have been made to co-opt religion for the purposes of the state. So, for instance, in 1991 a Buddhist stupa replaced the red star and hammer and sickle on the insignia of the Laotian Communist Party, and the word “socialism” has been removed from the motto of the State.

Less than half of Lao Buddhists are regarded as orthodox followers of Buddhism with younger people, particularly, simply maintaining a traditional link with the religion. All Lao television aerials point towards Thailand and the unremitting diet of consumerism and materialism that is working its own magic.

Christianity came to Laos in the seventeenth century but did not take root. More Catholic missionaries came with the French colonists in the nineteenth century. Four Catholic dioceses were established and a cathedral was built in Vientiane.

According to the Government there are about 150,000 Christians in Laos and they divide about equally between the Catholics and Protestants (who established a presence at the turn of the twentieth century but established themselves after the declaration of Lao independence from the French in 1954). There are an estimated 245 churches and prayer houses, and 400 priests and ministers. The majority of Protestants are part of the Lao Evangelical Church. The other officially recognised Protestant denomination is the small Seventh Day Adventist church, established in 1973, and whose church in Vientiane I visited.

The officially recognised churches have endured various forms of repression and hardship but the greatest suffering has been reserved for those small Christian “house churches” and unofficial groups who worship without registration or state sanction. Undoubtedly, some Evangelicals have been impeded from preaching, proselytising (especially among the many ethnic minorities, particularly the Hmong) and from publishing or distributing the Bible and other forms of religious literature.

Catholics were among the strongest opponents of the Pathet Lao, believing that communism would sap human rights and destroy religious liberties. Although this is in the past, it has a continuing impact on how the State treats believers.

In 1974 the Pathet Lao seized two Catholic churches in Vientiane and these have never been returned. The Holy Mother Church is in use as a fire station and the church of Notre Dame is used as a police station. I went to see the Catholic school which had also been seized and continues to be held by the government.

Elsewhere, in Luangphrabang, the church and the bishop’s residence were confiscated and the church building is used as a fire station. Catholics told me that in areas of the diocese such as Sayabouly and Bokeo there are thousands of Catholics without a priest. Every village appoints a catechist so that the faith may be handed on but they are desperately short of priests and of formation and resources for the catechists.

The bishop of Luangphrabang has spent three periods in prison but in recent years he and the church have enjoyed improving relations with the government.

Catholics would like to create a drug rehabilitation centre, to re-establish educational opportunities, and open a community centre (which they say they would do in collaboration with a group of Buddhists). But government restrictions and over-regulation still make this very difficult to achieve. But there are developments about which we can be positive.

In summer of 2002 the gates of the Laotian prisons were literally thrown open to many Christians who were imprisoned for their faith. And in July 2002, the Laotian government passed laws that gave official recognition to the Lao Evangelical Churches. While a number of Christians remain in jail, this is an unprecedented turn of events.

The new laws allow more freedom for the existing churches – such as the Catholic Church – to assemble and practice their faith among themselves. However, the negative side is that these same laws restrict the Christian outreach activities of evangelization and bringing new believers into the church.

In one all too typical case, two years ago a Christian leader, Mr. Pa Tood, was detained in Savannakhet City Jail. He was offered bail on the condition that he gives up his Christian faith, which he refused to do. As punishment, he was put in solitary confinement with one leg in wooden stocks 24 hours a day. His legs became swollen and his health suffered badly. He was often deprived of food for several days. Pa Tood’s wife, Koom, was arrested with her baby on 17th March 1999 and deprived of food in jail. She had a nervous breakdown after 7 days and was eventually released.

Even while I was in Laos I heard other disturbing news about unregistered “unofficial” Christian believers.

At all four official government meetings that I took part in I raised the case of Mr. Keo, an Evangelist ministering in Attapu District, Attapu Province. He had suffered four previous arrests and after his last release in 2002, he continued to share his faith and allowed his house to be used as a church meeting place. Currently, local authorities are trying to force him to recant and stop spreading Christianity by threatening to expel him and his family from this Province if he does not renounce his faith. The Governor of Attapu Province has a reputation for being very strict toward the Evangelical Church and we requested that his case be investigated and that Mr. Keo be permitted to practice his religion in peace.

Our Jubilee Campaign delegation also called for the release of two pastors first arrested in 1999 in Oudomxai Province. That year, three pastors, Tchong Chan (63), Yot (64), and Lil (65), were arrested and charged as “traitors”. Pastor Tchong was sentenced to 15 years and the other two to 12 years each. Two of these pastors remain imprisoned, although Pastor Lil died in prison last year.

Dr.Siho Bannavong, the Vice President of the Lao Front for National Construction, told us that the new laws promoting religious tolerance were being implemented unevenly and he gave us copies of the “Decree On Management and Protection of Religious Activities in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic” promulgated by the Prime Minister in late 2002. Dr.Siho said that this law is now being distributed to the local level.

However, even a cursory reading of the rules shows that they can be used punitively by officials if they so wish: for instance, the requirement in Article 6 to register “…movable and immovable properties of each religion…” or seeking approval for all religious activities.

Article 11 of the new rules requires believers to gather only where registered. Article 12 imposes tight requirements for approval of religious activity and Article 20 requires a Lao official to be present when any “properties for assistance” are given to believers (i.e., books, bibles and religious artifacts)

Dr.Siho candidly admitted that some people are opposed to the decree and could misinterpret its requirements. We found plenty of evidence that in areas such as Savannakhet the law is being harshly applied, whereas in provinces such as Champasak we heard that officials behave with enlightenment and tolerance.

Aid to the Church in Need, has rightly pointed out that although the national constitution guarantees freedom of religion, the communist government has severely restricted religious practice. These new regulations could be used in the same way.

Undoubtedly many Laotian communists would like to treat the Lao Churches like the official government controlled Protestant and Catholic churches in China, where churches are tightly controlled by the state and any attempt to spread their faith is strictly curtailed. Yet, as the Lao Foreign Minister, Somsavat Lengsavad, tacitly acknowledged to us they know that curtailment of religious liberties places severe obstacles in the path of normalising relations with the West.

The US does not have NTR (Normal Trade Relations) with Laos. As we heard again and again they regard this as a grave impediment to economic and material progress. To obtain it, they will have to consider further some of the restrictions they have placed on believers, end the imprisonment of Christians, and return the confiscated properties. Do those things and they will not only win the whole-hearted admiration and support of observers in the West but they will also create active partners in their genuine quest to build a more civil society.

Ends.

The Making Of A Modern Kind Of Missionary October 2002

 

At about the age of twelve, inspired by the life of Francis Xavier, I wrote of to the Mill Hill missionaries and told them that I wanted to go to Africa as a missionary. Unfortunately, in my letter I didn’t state my age and I hadn’t told my parents. So when a couple of weeks later a Mill Hill priest turned up at the council flat where we lived there were quite a lot of shocks all around.

Since then a lot of water has passed under the bridge but I was thinking of my childhood impulse when I recently travelled into war torn Southern Sudan and stayed for a few days with Catholic missionaries in northern Kenya.

On this Mission Sunday I want to record the real sense of admiration I have for the sacrifices and for unflinching dedication of our missionaries. Through their words and deeds they make a reality of the gospel in remote places. Often they are stalked by famine, drought, grinding poverty, contagious illnesses and death.

The day before I arrived in the remote Turkana region of Kenya (a diocese about the size of Ireland) Fr.Albert Salvans (Spanish born but a priest of the Westminster diocese) had buried seven parishioners who had been gunned down by a raiding party. Raiding and slaving is still, for many tribes, a way of life.

As we drove for hours upon end on rough tracks through his parish we saw no other vehicles. Yet word of Fr.Albert’s whereabouts had somehow got about. Some villagers flagged our truck down. They told us about a young woman lying under a tree half a mile away, choking on her own blood. She had miscarried two days earlier and was haemorrhaging.

Fr.Albert lifted her into the truck and took her to the nearest dispensary. Like all the dispensaries in Turkana the Church runs it.

At the dispensary another young missionary transferred the woman to his vehicle to drive her to the hospital at Lodwar – about five hours away.

There are some rough airstrips in Turkana but the missionaries have no plane. It could have made the difference between life and death.

As we drove on, four young African men – Gabriel, Maurice, Hilary and Denis – who all want to be ordained – prayed for the sick woman and to raise our spirits gently, sang favourite hymns.

Later they showed me some water catchment dams they had helped to build, water pumps the mission had drilled, irrigation projects, and schools that had been established. Turkana’s bishop is a wonderful Irishman, Patrick Harrington, whose visionary leadership is inspiring the young people who are making these projects a reality.

At their church on Sunday new men were commissioned as lay catechists and hundreds of women and men crowded into the church for a deeply reverent celebration of Mass.

Yes, they need lay volunteers; they need parishes to twin with them; to adopt small-scale projects; to support seminarians through their training. But we also need to appreciate the blessings they can give us. One day, just as the Irish once did, I have no doubt that African missionaries will come to Britain to re-evangelise us.

And if my own children ever write off to a missionary society what will I say? That I can think of no more worthwhile way to spend your life.

 

Ends.

 

Africa’s Children On The Brink.

Article by David Alton.

October 11th 2002).

The words “suffer the little children to come unto me” might have been uttered with Africa in mind. For with one million orphans often living rootless and disaffected lives, and the number rising exponentially, who can doubt that this will be the most serious challenge that a continent riven by so many crises must face? Africa is awash with feral children, faring little better than vermin.

Orphaned children are the sharp end of the Aids pandemic but urban drift, civil war, a collapsing education system, human trafficking, and corruption are all playing their part. I have just been in Southern Sudan and northern Kenya with the humanitarian organisation, Jubilee Action, and saw first-hand some of the implications of this new crisis – and some of the ways we can respond.

In a timely report, “Children On The Brink” several agencies including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have just spelt out the scale of the disaster. They say that in 88 countries studied “More than 13 million children currently under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to Aids, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, this number is expected to jump to more than 25 million.” World-wide, by 2010 UNICEF says the number of orphans in the world will have risen to around 106 million (about a quarter Aids related).

By the same year, in 12 African countries orphans will comprise 15% of all children under the age of 15.

There are already indications that this will not be the peak.

In Zimbabwe, for instance, 17. 6% of children are already orphans (three-quarters left parentless by Aids) and, in Kenya, HIV prevalence among pregnant women ranges from 3% in Mosoriot to 31% in Chulaimbo. Bishop Patrick Harrington, the bishop of Lodwar, in Kenya’s remote Turkana region told me that the District Medical Officer reports 34% of the population infected by the HIV/Aids virus. Poignantly one young Kenyan simply said to me “help us, Kenya is dying.”

The consequences of a vast dislocated and embittered underclass of orphaned children will be devastating for Africa. Tomorrow’s revolutionaries and tomorrow’s coups are already in the making in the festering slums to which children with no hope and no prospects migrate. Here is a fertile breeding ground for both Marxism and the radical fundamentalism of some Islamic groups.

Culturally disaffected young people will always create unrest but the numbers in Africa are without precedent. The crisis of orphans is shoed away; I see no evidence that national governments either understand the scale of this catastrophe or to what it will lead.

Aids is a major contributor to this crisis but not the only one.

The ravages of African civil war and tribal killings also take their terrible toll. In Southern Sudan the vicious policies of the Sudanese government have caused two million deaths and 4 million internally displaced people – including vast numbers of children.

Development is impossible in places like Sudan’s diocese of Torit, which is being pounded into the ground. The auxiliary bishop, Akio Johnson, showed me where bombs had showered down on their schools and the shelters where children take refuge “like foxes in holes.” For most children there is no education at all. There are just 20 secondary schools in an area the size of Western Europe.

In neighbouring Kenya the picture ought to be better.

The day before I arrived in Turkana a missionary had buried seven parishioners murdered by a raiding party from nearby Ethiopia, who had come to steal women and cattle. Elsewhere the Rendille told me how a mother had been killed and her six year-old castrated by a Somali raiding party. Rushed to Nairobi’s children’s hospital he has survived, becoming another of the orphaned statistics.

In the 1980s I was Chairman of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth and Kenya was a shining light of educational achievement. Today, under President Daniel arap Moi’s Kanu government the education system has collapsed and incompetence and corruption has seeped into every last vestige of society. I didn’t meet a single Kenyan who wasn’t hoping for a change of government after elections later this year. A senior schools inspector, Samuel Lepati told me that “the country’s children have become marginalised.”

At the Kenyan Parliament the chairman of the National Alliance Party, the hon.Dr.Noah M.Wekesa told me that political strife was destroying Kenya: “When two elephants are fighting, it is the grass that suffers.” In Kenya it is the children.

Dr.Philista Onyango, the formidable regional director of the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN), says that the rot began in the mid 80s when Moi introduced “cost sharing” for Kenyan parents. Forced to pay large fees towards education many simply withdrew their children from school and if it was a choice of sending a boy or a girl the boys get priority: “32% of our children lack access to any kind of education, either through not enrolling or dropping out,” she says.

Traditionally, if a Kenyan family was poor, children would be sent away to relatives or family friends to find work. Today, urban drift leads to children being exploited, driven into sex slavery and prostitution. Most of the children are totally uneducated and with no employment prospects. Handed over to bogus employment bureaux run by racketeers it is not long before they are prostitutes and themselves HIV/Aids positive.

The chance of building a stable civil society in such circumstances is negligible.” There is no way we will have democracy with illiteracy,” says Dr.Onyango.

I visited the slum town of Kibera, where 700,000 people, one third of the population of Nairobi, are living in 21,115 structures. It would be hard to call them homes or even dwellings. It is said to be the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. In rooms six-foot by six foot whole families try to survive. They live among garbage heaps where typhoid, TB, cholera and HIV are rampant. Drug abuse, incest, crime and prostitution equally so. At 15, children must leave and find someway to make a life on their own.

At Kibera we saw some of the men who had migrated from the Rendille and Turkana tribal lands, now employed on a pittance as watchmen. They have abandoned their wives and children; and those that do return have visited HIV on their kinsfolk. Aids is a gun pointed at Africa’s female gender.

Steve Wathome, who co-ordinates Kibera’s Community Based Organisations, has embarked on a series of small-scale self-help initiative: “dependency syndrome has become a disaster,” he says. Dr.Onyanga makes her point even more graphically asserting that “The day the international agencies go, Africa will develop.”

ANPPCAN provides more than thirty pro bono lawyers to champion children’s rights and in two respects Kenya has begun to address the challenge. They have put new children’s courts and children’s laws in place. But they need an Enforcement Unit, as the laws are not yet biting. They have established a new Standing Committee on Human Rights under the impressive leadership of Thuita Mwangi but only time will tell whether this is a government public relations ploy or a watchdog with teeth.

In opening ANPPCAN’s latest initiative, a textile factory employing former prisoners, I saw plenty of evidence that given a chance people can make it on their own. I reminded them of the prophet’s words that “where there is no vision, the people will perish.”

Along with clearer vision there are practical things that can be done to relieve the suffering of the children.

Jubilee Action’s new dormitory for blind Rendille children in northern Kenya is an example: a sign of hope. The wonderful health, education, and self-sufficiency initiatives I saw in Turkana’s diocese of Lodwar; an adult literacy project run by a Christian couple who have spent 22 years among the Rendille tribe are others. Employment projects particularly help to curb the urban drift.

There are superb personal initiatives, like the centre for 160 street children built at Wea, central Kenya, by a group of people from the British High Commission, and which has been handed over to the Catholic church to run. But none of this is enough.

Unless there is a realistic response to Africa’s new catastrophe I fear that civil unrest will lead to children being hunted down like rats; summarily executed on the streets by frightened military leaders who fear anarchy and disintegration. Alarmist? It’s happened elsewhere and frightened corrupt elites who feel threatened will have no compunction in using violence.

So if they aren’t to perish, what should be the vision? Perhaps the motto of the blind children at Loglogo Jubilee Action project best sums up what Africa’s children now need “Give us only opportunity, not sympathy,” it reads.

Ends.

Ends.

A murderous kind of peace

David AltonOctober 4th 2002

ON 20 July the Islamic Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLA) signed the Machakos Protocol establishing terms for a peace agreement. That would bring a long-awaited settlement to this civil war that has raged for almost 20 years, at the cost of two million lives and four million people displaced.

The protocol tackled the conflict’s two major issues. Self-determination for southern Sudan, the SPLA’s principal objective, would be subject to a referendum with the option of secession. If a six-year breathing space failed to result in reconciliation between the north and south, southern Sudan could secede.

Secondly, the mainly Christian and animist south would be exempt from Islamic sharia law, which they have long resisted, during the six-year interim. Machakos is silent on what would then happen to the two million southerners who live in Khartoum and its hinterland and in Christian areas such as the Nuba Mountains (which remains north of the prospective border).

The agreement suffers from the usual problem of ambiguity: both sides seem to interpret it differently, with the north’s supporters still stating that autonomy within a federal structure is as far as they will go. The SPLA, for its part, sees the agreement as paving the way for an independent state. In any event, the ink on this settlement was barely dry before the talks collapsed amid acrimonious recriminations. The Government then threatened to accelerate its military campaign against the south, and the bombing has indeed been resumed.

The SPLA’s decision to use the negotiating period to press on with its military campaign (and the important capture of the town of Torit) no doubt contributed to the collapse. The government forces are now concentrated in Juba and Liria: although weak on the ground, they are masters of the air.

Last week, I travelled into southern Sudan as part of a humanitarian mission with the human rights charity, Jubilee Action, to see some of the consequences of a war that the West has frequently ignored. Far from being contained, the conflict is having a ripple effect throughout the region, as far away as Chad. And it is a war whose line of engagement has become Africa’s Maginot line.

This bloodletting has its roots in racism and fundamentalism. In Africa’s biggest country, the Arabs of the north call the blacks of the south “slaves” – and have frequently treated them accordingly. The bloodletting is exacerbated by radical Islamists seeking to impose their religion on non-believers, and by greed for resources – primarily oil.

In addition to the two million lives which have been brutally ended, there are countless displaced people and refugees. Nearly 80,000 of them are in one camp which I saw at Kakuma in northern Kenya’s remote Turkana region, where they are causing instability and resentment among the indigenous Turkanas living in abject poverty in the neighbouring areas.

Many refuges inside Sudan are dying from hunger and thirst. Cholera and other virulent diseases are rife. The effects of daily aerial bombardment and indiscriminate laying of anti-personnel landmines are manifest in torn limbs and broken bodies. One Red Cross surgeon working at Lokichoggio, the last Kenyan outpost before the border, told me that he had performed 300 operations in the past month and that two other surgeons had done the same. “It’s not a civilian hospital, it’s a field hospital in a war”, he said.

I travelled into Sudan with the Catholic auxiliary Bishop of Torit, Akio Johnson, and one of his priests, Fr Maurice Loguti of Chukudum. There have been nine attempts on Bishop Johnson’s life. On his head and other parts of his body he has scars where bullets have hit him or glanced off him. He has a diocese that is equally scarred but has also somehow managed to survive. It is an extraordinary story of personal bravery and endurance.

The bishop says that the daily bombardment of villages such as Hiyala and Tirangore is taking a terrible toll in lives. Homes, schools, churches and dispensaries have been targets too.

When the SPLA liberated Torit on 1 September, the scale of the destruction became apparent. The cathedral church of Sts Peter and Paul, where Mass was last celebrated in 1992, is still standing but has been stripped of its furniture, which has been used to make bunkers. Torit’s smaller church, Our Lady of the Assumption, built in the Forties, fared far worse. It has been razed to the ground; only one wall remains. The foundations have been turned into a military bunker and the bricks taken to build a mosque. The town itself has been forcibly Islamised: the Koran imposed; the road signs changed to Arabic; and water and medicine only given to people who have changed their names to Islamic ones. One group of 180 children had been taken to Khartoum and radically indoctrinated, encouraging a hatred of their parents, and turning them into child soldiers.

Even as the negotiators were hammering out the details of the Machakos accord, Bishop Johnson’s home and compound were being blitzed by the Sudanese military. In three raids on Ikotos, on 26 and 29 June and 12 July, 72 bombs were dropped on his residence. It was obliterated. If its occupants had not scrambled into shelters, there would have been a massacre.

The compound also housed the primary school of St Teresa of the Child Jesus and the secondary school of St Augustine (where more than 200 children were being educated). Both were destroyed. Miraculously, the prudent provision of bomb shelters saved their lives, but the bishop told me that “many were vomiting and crying; they were deeply traumatised”.

South Sudan’s children have learnt to recognise the difference between the engines of the planes trying to deliver the UN’s massive relief programme and those of the feared Russian-made bombers as they dispatch their daily cargo of death. “People are living like foxes in holes, just to survive”, Fr Loguti said.

The bishop would like to see strenuous efforts made to create a process of reconciliation (and after the capture of Yei he personally intervened to stop the killing of Sudanese troops, whom he fed, clothed, and had repatriated). But he says an end to the bombing is a prerequisite – “people’s hatred has gone very deep”. Fr Loguti sums up the mood of defiance by adding: “It is better to be a rebel in the south than to be a slave.”

The picture of devastation is much the same throughout the south. At Mur Ahat Tha, for instance, four children and their mother were killed along with six others while its church of St Mary, rebuilt four times, was levelled again in August.

Janet Aya, the programme manager for Torit diocese, pays tribute to organisations such as the Catholic aid agency Cafod for the practical help they give. But the agencies come and go, pulling out whenever there is an attack. Only the Church stays, frequently facing the frustration of building a school or dispensary only “to find it destroyed the following day”.

At the town of Narus, Sr Mary Consolata, an energetic and formidable nun, is headmistress of a primary school for 600 girls (drawn from 27 tribes). “Educating a man educates one person, educating a woman educates a whole society”, she says. She showed me unexploded munitions on the school site. She points out where bombs have hit buildings and the bomb shelters where children flee from the approaching planes. The life-saving shelters were built with funds from Cafod.

The dispensary that served Narus has been completely destroyed. The buildings are a mangled ruin. One local inhabitant, Moses March, took me to where a family of seven (five children, including an unborn child) all died in a direct hit on their hut. In addition to the massacre of Martin Lowie’s family, 23 other people were killed in raids on Narus.

Many young people are forced into the militia. Bishop Johnson recalls how one child soldier told him that he had joined the SPLA because “if I don’t take up a gun they will come and take my mother and my sister.” The bishop says that during the past five years the SPLA had generally stopped recruiting child soldiers but that the Sudanese army had kidnapped young people from the streets.

In the areas of southern Sudan, where the conflict still rages, children are being killed and women are being raped. Unicef told me that “children are being crippled, nails put into their knees, and their Achilles’ tendons deliberately broken so they can’t run. There are serious serial human rights abuses. The Government connives by arming the tribes who are involved.” All this in a country where 10 per cent of children die before they are five; where life expectancy is just 56 years; where 92 per cent per cent live in poverty; and where, in a vast land mass, there are a mere 20 secondary schools.

In recent months the Sudanese Government has been intensifying its attacks on the areas around oilfields with the aim of depopulating those districts. Since the oil began to flow in Sudan, Khartoum has been able to increase its military spending from £110m to £220m. Sudan has a military-technical pact with Russia. Bishop Johnson is scornful of the morality of Western oil companies: “Every barrel of oil they extract is half full of oil and half full of blood. When people decide where to buy their petrol they should remember that”, he says.

The Khartoum Government also generates funds through the sale of people; raiding and slaving has become a way of life. Even the SPLA will resort to selling slaves, Bishop Johnson says, if they see it as a way of raising money. “It should,” he says, “be a crime to hold someone as a slave.” As to their destiny – “some have been sold on to Libya”. The Sudanese Catholic Bishops’ Conference opposes the buying out of slaves by Western groups, believing that this simply multiplies the problem. “It’s like too many aid programmes. It seems a reasonable response at the time, but it is not a solution. It’s better to tackle the causes”, Bishop Johnson says. Buying out slaves feeds the market and becomes a useful hard currency earner for local warlords.

When the Machakos peace process resumes, early agreement is needed on a complete ceasefire. No social progress can be made without an end to the bombing.

The United States recently proposed that there should be a verification mission to ensure that both sides honour their undertakings. This should be broadened to include UN participants, and it should focus less on the military issues and more on the human rights questions. The mission should examine abductions from the south; it should seek a reduction in arms; and concentrate on conflict resolution and initiatives that deepen civil society. Its most useful ally in these objectives will be the Sudanese Catholic Church, which, in the south, was described to me by Unicef and Save the Children as the only credible non-governmental agency.

Neither the SPLA nor the Government seem to know what to do next. Neither has a plan for the future; both appear interested only in a fight to the finish. From the international community they need carrots and they need sticks.

No one who has been engaged in this war of attrition has been accountable to the people who suffer, and no one at the talks will be truly accountable either. What Sudan proves is that wars are easier to start than to finish. Sudan is an object lesson in what happens when peaceful methods for resolving conflict are abjured.

 

Column by David Alton.October 2002

The Bishop With Nine Lives.

The auxiliary bishop of Torit in Southern Sudan, Akio Johnson, is a bishop with nine lives. With engaging humour he makes light of the nine attempts that have been made on his life but he is unsure whether he will survive a tenth.

His survival in the face of assassin’s bullets, ambush, and the torrent of bombs that have been unleashed by the Sudanese government is nothing short of miraculous: “God clearly put me here for a purpose” he told me.

The bishop’s story is a metaphor for the suffering, resilience and the endurance of Sudanese Christians. Rarely is the good shepherd faced with the reality of having to lay down his life for his flock but Akio Johnson risks death for them daily.

I was in Southern Sudan and the neighbouring district of Turkana, in northern Kenya, with Jubilee Action. They recently built a dormitory for blind children in Kenya’s Marsabit docese . While there it provided an opportunity to travel into Sudan with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Bishop Akio.

During twenty years of attrition Torit diocese has been pounded into the ground.

Earlier in the summer, while the two sides were engaged in hammering out the Machakos Peace Plan (which subsequently fell apart) Bishop Akio’s home and compound were destroyed by the Sudanese aerial bombardment.

In three raids on Ikotos, on June 26th, June 29th and 12th of July, 72 bombs were dropped on his residence. It was obliterated. If its occupants had not scrambled into shelters there would have been a massacre.

The compound also housed a primary and secondary school. The primary school of St.Teresa of the Child Jesus and the secondary school of St.Augustine (where more than 200 children were being educated), were destroyed. Miraculously the prudent provision of bomb shelters (provided by funds from Cafod) saved their lives but Bishop Akio told me ‘many children were vomiting and crying; they were deeply traumatized.’

Early years education for South Sudan’s children involves learning the difference between the engines of UN relief planes and the bombers – and then running for your life. One of Bishop Akio’s priests told me ‘people are living like foxes in holes, just to survive.’

On September 1st the SPLA liberated Torit and the scale of the destruction became apparent.

Torit has been forcibly Islamicised; the Koran imposed; the road signs changed to Arabic and water and medicine only given to people who have changed their identities to Islamic names. One group of 180 children had been taken to Khartoum and radically indoctrinated, encouraging a hatred of their parents, and turning them into child soldiers.

Recently the Sudanese government intensified its attacks on areas near oilfields with the aim of depopulating those districts. Oil revenues have allowed the Khartoum government to increase military spending from £110 million to £220 million. Bishop Akio is scornful of the morality of western oil companies: “every barrel of oil they extract is half full of oil and half full of blood. When people decide where to buy their petrol they should remember that,” he says. Certainly oil companies should be required to disclose the payments they make to the government of Sudan and – as the recent withdrawal of Premier Oil from Burma illustrates – they are susceptible to consumer pressure.

Sudan’s best hope is the reconvening of the peace process and the construction of a civil society where human rights and religious tolerance form its basis. Then maybe Bishop Akio and his flock will no longer be in daily danger of losing their lives.

 

Suffering In the Sudan October 2002

On July 20th 2002 the Islamic Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLA) signed the Machakos Protocol establishing terms for a peace agreement. The long awaited settlement to a war that has raged for almost twenty years, and that has claimed two million lives and displaced four million people, addressed the conflict’s two major issues.

Self-determination for Southern Sudan, the SPLA’s principal objective, would be tackled by a referendum with the option of secession. If a six-year breathing space failed to result in reconciliation between the north and south, southern Sudan could secede.

The second key issue, the imposition of Sharia law, long resisted by the mainly Christian and animist south, would allow these minorities to be exempt from Sharia law during the six-year interim. Machakos is silent on what would then happen to the two million southerners that live in Khartoum and its hinterland and in Christian areas such as the Nuba Mountains (which remains north of the prospective border).

The agreement suffers from the usual problem of ambiguous interpretation: both sides seem to interpret the agreement differently, with the north’s supporters still stating that autonomy within a federal structure is as far as they will go. The SPLA see the agreement as paving the way for an independent state. In any event, the ink on this settlement was barely dry before the talks collapsed amid acrimonious recriminations. The Government then threatened to accelerate their military campaign against the south, and the bombing has indeed been resumed.

The SPLA’s decision to use the negotiating period to press on with their military campaign (and the important capture of the town of Torit) no doubt contributed to

the collapse. The government forces are now concentrated in Juba and Liria but although weak on the ground they are masters of the air.

There are some hopes that the peace process may be revived later this month but meanwhile the hostilities continue and they take a terrible toll in human lives.

Last week I traveled into southern Sudan to see some of the consequences of a war that the west has frequently ignored. Yet we are intimately involved. This is a client war whose roots lie in the same conflict that led to the carnage of New York’s twin towers. It is a war that far from being contained is having a ripple effect throughout the region, as far away as Chad. And it is a war whose line of engagement has become Africa’s Maginot line.

This bloodletting has its roots in racism and fundamentalism. In Africa’s biggest country, the Arabs of the north call the blacks of the south ‘slaves’ – and have frequently treated them accordingly.

It is a blood letting exacerbated by radical Islamists seeking to impose their religion on non-believers; and it is a bloodletting motivated by greed for resources – primarily oil. Warlords do not see themselves as a liberation movement but often as a for-profit organisation benefiting from a war economy.

In addition to the two million lives brutally ended there are countless displaced people and refugees – nearly 80,000 of whom are in one camp I saw at Kakuma in northern Kenya’s remote Turkana region (causing instability and resentment amongst the indigenous Turkanas who live in abject poverty in the neighbouring areas).

Many refuges inside Sudan are dying from hunger and thirst. Cholera and other virulent diseases rage. The effects of daily aerial bombardment and indiscriminate laying of anti-personnel landmines can be seen in countless torn limbs and broken bodies. One Red Cross surgeon working at Lokichoggio, the last Kenyan outpost before the border, told me that he had undertaken 300 operations during the last month and that two other surgeons had done the same: ‘It’s not a civilian hospital, it’s a field hospital in a war’ he said.

I traveled into the Sudan with the Catholic auxiliary bishop of Torit, Bishop Akio Johnson, and one of his priests, Fr.Maurice Loguti of Chukudum. There have been nine attempts on Bishop Akio’s life. On his head and other parts of his body he has scars where bullets have hit him or glanced off him. He has a diocese that is equally scarred but has also somehow managed to survive. It is an extraordinary story of personal bravery and endurance.

Bishop Akio says that the daily bombardment of villages such as Hiyala and Tirangore is taking a terrible toll in lives. Homes, schools, churches and dispensaries have been targets too.

When the SPLA liberated Torit on September 1st the scale of the destruction became apparent. The cathedral church of St.Peter and Paul, where Mass was last celebrated in 1992, is still standing but has been striped of its furniture, which has been used to make bunkers. Torit’s smaller church, of Our Lady of the Assumprtion, built in the 1940s, fared far worse,

The church has been raised to the ground; only one wall remains. The foundations of the church have been turned into a military bunker and the bricks taken to build a mosque. The town itself has been forcibly Islamicised; the Koran imposed; the road signs changed to Arabic and water and medicine only given to people who have changed their identities to Islamic names. One group of 180 children had been taken to Khartoum and radically indoctrinated, encouraging a hatred of their parents, and turning them into child soldiers.

Even as the negotiators were hammering out the detail of Machakos accord Bishop Akio’s home and compound were being blitkreiged by the Sudanese military. In three raids on Ikotos, on June 26th, June 29th and 12th of July, 72 bombs were dropped on his residence. It was obliterated. If its occupants had not scrambled into shelters there would have been a massacre.

The compound also housed a primary and secondary school. The primary school of St.Teresa of the Child Jesus and the secondary school of St.Augustine (where more than 200 children were being educated), were destroyed. Miraculously the prudent provision of bomb shelters saved their lives but Bishop Akio told me ‘many were vomiting and crying; they were deeply traumatized.’

South Sudan’s children have learnt to recognize the difference between the engines of the planes trying to deliver UN’s massive relief programme and those of the feared Russian- made bombers as they dispatch their daily cargo of death. Fr.Maurice told me ‘people are living like foxes in holes, just to survive.’

The bishop would like to see strenuous efforts made to create a process of reconciliation (and after the capture of Yei he personally intervened to stop the killing of Sudanese troops, whom he fed, clothed, and had repatriated). But he says an end to the bombing is a prerequisite. He says that in the present climate reconciliation is impossible: “people’s hatred has gone very deep.” Fr.Maurice sums up the mood of defiance by adding, “It is better to be a rebel in the south than to be a slave.”

The picture of devastation is much the same throughout the south. At Mur Ahat Tha, for instance, four children and their mother were killed along with six others while its church of St.Mary, rebuilt four times, was leveled again in August.

Janet Aya, the programme manager for Torit diocese, pays tribute to organisations like Cafod for the practical help they have given. She says that aid agencies come and go, pulling out whenever there is an attack. Only the church stays, frequently facing the frustration of building a school or dispensary only “to find it destroyed the following day.” She pleads that “even if they can’t end the war, at least stop the bombing. It’s indiscriminate and rarely hits SPLA targets, but it does hit civilians.”

At the town of Narus, Sister Mary Consolata, an energetic and formidable nun, is headmistress of a primary school for 600 girls (drawn from 27 tribes)- “educating a man educates one person, educating a woman educates a whole society” she says. She showed me unexploded munitions on the school site. She points out where bombs have hit buildings and the bomb shelters where children flee from the approaching planes. The life saving shelters were built with funds from Cafod.

The dispensary serving Narus has been completely destroyed. The buildings are a mangled ruin. One local inhabitant, Moses March, took me to where a family of seven (five children, including an unborn child) all died in a direct hit on their hut. In addition to the massacre of Martin Lowie’s family 23 other people were killed in raids on Narus.

Many young people are forced into the militia. Bishop Akio describes one child soldier who told him that he had joined the SPLA because “if I don’t take up a gun they will come and take my mother and my sister.” He says that during the last five years the SPLA had generally stopped recruiting child soldiers but that the Sudanese army had kidnapped young people from the streets “which is probably why many have run away, as at Torit, when they are attacked.”

In the areas of southern Sudan where the conflict still rages children are being killed; women are being raped. UNICEF told me that “children are being crippled, nails put into their knees, and their Achilles’ tendons deliberately broken so they can’t run. There are serious serial human rights abuses. The government connives by arming the tribes who are involved.” All this in a country where 10% of children die before they are five; where life expectancy is just 56 years; where 92% live in poverty; and where, in a vast land mass, there are a mere 20 secondary schools.

In recent months the Sudanese government has been intensifying their attacks on the areas around oilfields with the aim of depopulating those districts. Since the oil began to flow in Sudan the Khartoum government has been able to increase its military spending from £110 million to £220 million. Sudan has a military-technical pact with Russia. Bishop Akio is scornful of the morality of western oil companies: “every barrel of oil they extract is half full of oil and half full of blood. When people decide where to buy their petrol they should remember that,” he says.

The government and the SPLA also generate funds through the sale of people; raiding and slaving has become a way of life. Bishop Akio says “even the SPLA will resort to selling slaves if they see it as a way of raising money. It should,” he says,” be a crime to hold someone as a slave.” As to their destiny: “some have been sold on to Libya.” The Sudanese Catholic Bishops Conference opposes the buying out of slaves by western groups believing that “buying slaves simply multiplies the problem. It’s like too many aid programmes. It seems a reasonable response at the time but it is not a solution. It’s better to tackle the causes,” says Bishop Akio.

Buying out slaves feeds the market and becomes a useful hard currency earner for local warlords.

When the Machakos peace process resumes early agreement is needed on a complete cease-fire. No real social progress, including the rebuilding of Torit, or the ending of slavery, can be made without an end to the bombing.

The United States recently proposed that there should be a Verification Mission to ensure that both sides honour their undertakings. This should be broadened to include UN participants, and it should focus less on the military issues and more on the human rights questions and the desperate need to begin building a civil society. The Verification Mission should examine abductions from the south; it should seek a reduction in arms; and concentrate on conflict resolution and initiatives that deepen civil society . Its most useful ally in these objectives will be the Sudanese Catholic Church, which, in the south, was described to me by UNICEF and Save the Children as the only credible non-governmental agency.

In the past the absence of credible partners on the ground has led to aid programmes based on a hit-and-run approach. This in turn has led to great dislocations, to great imbalances and to elites entrenching themselves with seized resources. Aid has kept people alive at times but it has not created capacity. Southern Sudan is a curious mixture of trees, huts, dug outs and Kalashnikovs. A new approach will be needed.

Neither the SPLA nor the government seems to know what to do next. Neither has a plan for the future; both have seemed only interested in a fight to the finish. As they now stumble, exhausted, into peace talks someone needs to show them what you need to do to build a civil society. From the international community they need carrots and they need sticks.

The real problem for Sudan is that no one who has been engaged in this war of attrition has been accountable to the people who suffer and no one at the talks will be truly accountable either. What Sudan proves is that wars are easier to start than to finish. Sudan is an object lesson in what happens when peaceful methods for resolving conflict are abjured.

Ends.

The Church On The Frontline: Bringing The Gospel To Africa.

October 20th 2002.

Imagine a diocese the size of Ireland and a parish where you can travel for most of two days without seeing another vehicle. This is the remote region of Turkana in Northern Kenya, close to the turbulent borders of Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia. Turkana district comprises some 77,000 square kilometres and semi-desert where there is only very sparse vegetation. It has been described as “a sun-dried moonscape” and it is easy to see why. Famine and drought are a part of every day life for the Turkanas and death, suffering and endurance are words that need no explanation here.

The young missionary priest who had invited Jubilee Action to see the work of his community had, one day earlier, buried seven of his parishoners shot dead by a raiding party who had come over the border to steal women and livestock. Death is no stranger in Turkana.

During my recent visit I met the energetic and resourceful bishop, Patrick Harrington, an Irish priest of the Society of African Missions (SMA). As bishop of Lodwar (and only the second, having succeeded Bishop John Mahon) he is the only authority actively engaged in the provision of health, education and development initiatives. The government and aid agencies are nowhere to be seen.

In his diocese 70 out of every 100 adults cannot read or write in an language; only about 15 of every 100 women are literate; more than 50% of children of school age do not attend school; and the infant mortality rate is 159 deaths for every 1000 live births. Last year the District Medical Officer said that the HIV/AIDS virus infects some 34% of the population.

Before ending their relief operations in the area last month, World Vision reported that in the most recent famine (2000-2001) some two thirds of the people received food aid supplies. As the agencies move on to the next disaster zone it is difficult to see how they can conclude that the crisis is over in Turkana or to see what capacity they have left in place to equip the Turkanas to combat the next famine more effectively.

Bishop Patrick has been a missionary all his life, and having served as Superior General of the SMA in Rome, he was asked to head up the diocese in 1995.

He has a flock of about half a million Turkanas. Most follow traditional religions. About 20% are Catholic. He says, “Christianity is the one liberating force available to these people.”

During his episcopacy 12 new churches have opened, 10,000 people have been baptised and 5,000 others confirmed. I met one of the four Turkana priests who have been ordained and had the privilege of acting as witness for four young men as they received their minor orders in preparation for ordination next June. They will become part of a pastoral approach developed by the bishop and which seeks to spread the gospel message in word and deed.

Bishop Harrington is fortunate to have a group of missionaries who have their motherhouse in Turkana. They run three of his parishes, covering a staggering area of about 30,000 square kilometres, and with each parish operating 10 to 12 outposts.

The Missionary Community of St.Paul the Apostle, and Mary Mother of the Church, was founded by a Spanish priest, Fr.Fancisco Andreo, who first came to Africa in 1968. He came to Turkana in 1982 and then, he says, “the desire to move to that region never left us.” One of his priests, Fr.Albert Salvans, is a priest of the Westminster diocese, an intriguing mixture of Spanish and adopted English, who was allowed to go to Turkana permanently by Cardinal Hume. He combines the role of priest, with that of engineer, medic and teacher. He even seems to run a mobile seminary in the back of his truck. I have never seen anyone change another burst tyre so quickly but a hundred miles from anywhere I did secretly wonder what happened next as the last spare was fitted to the truck.

These Irish and Spanish missionaries follow in the relatively recent footsteps of the first missionaries to Turkana. During the colonial period the British did not permit access to what was a restricted area but famine in 1961 led to the first Catholic missionaries arriving here. Of course, other parts of Kenya have a long and sustained Christian presence.

Kenya’s great seaport of Mombassa reminds us that this was a cultural crossroads where Arab, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish sailors met. Today, there is still plenty to remind us of this period: Fort Jesus in Mombassa, built by Philip the II, the Vasco da Gama pillar, or the chapel that St. Francis Xavier used to celebrate Mass during his stay in Malindi before departing to India.

Even in the time of St.Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit patron of the missions, the Christian travellers shared knowledge and expertise as well as the faith. Down to our own times, in the form of remarkable women like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Catholic approach has been to base evangelisation on this powerful combination of word and deed.

In 1987 three women of the community of St.Paul went to live in Loarengak, Turkana, in order to carry out a far-reaching health programme, covering more than 10.000 sq. Km,

They organised a mobile clinic for the nomad population in fifteen different centres and a network of six primary health dispensaries. In the mobile clinics they make periodic checks on mothers and children up to 6 years of age. They have immunisation campaigns for children, and inform the mothers about questions related to basic hygiene and health.

The desperate need to extend this provision was underlined to me in one graphic incident. Fr.Albert was flagged down by some villagers to tell him that a young women was lying under a tree half a mile away choking on her own blood. She had miscarried two days earlier and was haemorrhaging. He lifted her into our truck and took her to the dispensary. Another young missionary then transferred her to his vehicle to drive her to the hospital at Lodwar – about five hours away.

They have a rough airstrip but no plane. In this sort of situation it could have made the difference between life and death.

In addition to dispensaries it is the Church who provides the education in Lodwar diocese – operating 97 primary and 6 secondary schools. The Missionaries of St.Paul have also constructed many nursery schools.

Since the beginning of 1993, the mission of Nariokotome has tried to be a place of initiatives in development projects that could improve people’s lives long-term.

This has included the practical formation of young aspirants to their community as well as vocational training for Turkana’s young people. Carpentry, basic mechanics, and learning to work with metal form a basic vocational education. The goal is to make people self sufficient and not reliant on western handouts.

I met a wonderful Kenyan called Frederick who has been working with the community on a range of horticultural and agricultural initiatives. With stunning success, and learning from the Israelis, they have made green barren tracts of land.

Over the past decade they have dug wells, erected wind pumps, built dams and created irrigation projects – often with the help of young people from Britain, America, Spain and France. Today, hundreds of fruit trees grow at the mission together with vegetables, melons and watermelons – introducing the Turkanas, a nomadic people, to basic agriculture. They have also been developing fishing and bee keeping projects.

It is now two years since the community started planting coconut and date palm-trees in the villages near the highly saline Lake Turkana. Planting trees has involved fencing the orchards from foraging animals. There is also more to be done in educating villagers about the necessity of the daily watering of the trees.

Fr.Albert took me to one of the rock catchments that the mission has built across small valleys that flood once or twice a year.

Since they built their first dam at Nyiburin near the mission, more than five years ago, 14 more have followed. And four others are under construction.

Each dam assures permanent water supply for around six hundred people and their livestock. Previously these people had to migrate to the areas bordering Sudan and Uganda during the dry season.

With the help of two new excavators they have started building sand dams in the places where the absence of bedrock prevents the construction of rock catchments. Fr.Albert says he desperately needs two Massey Ferguson tractors to get on with this work. Like the plane they need this is about life and death.

The daily quest for drinking water for Turkana families is perhaps the most poignant sight you will see in Turkana. Women are crouched in the riverbeds scooping out sand trying to find water below. It is backbreaking work and these manual wells are always in danger of collapsing. When the rainy season comes and the women’s water holes are covered in sand the process has to begin all over again.

Perhaps the picture of water bringing life to the arid land is the best metaphor of all for these remarkable missionaries. Their water of life, through baptism and through development, brings the only hope in the lives of countless people.

So what might we do to help? A parish in North London runs a small charity, New Ways that supports the work in Turkana. Bishop Harrington told me that he would like to twin his diocese with one in Britain. Why not put that to your own bishop? Parishes can twin too, perhaps taking on the building of a dam, a well, an irrigation project, a dispensary, a school or the pastoral support of the young men and women of this exciting and vibrant community. They also need volunteers – single and married – to commit themselves to working in the diocese, especially as catechists , teachers, and medics.

And what else? On this Mission Sunday it is worth recalling what Fr.Albert told the four men going forward for ordination next year. He reminded them of what Don Bosco’s mother told him on the day of his ordination: “To become a priest is to begin to suffer.” But the old Irish saying that where there is no pain there is no gain can comfort missionary priests. In Turkana the Missionaries of St.Paul are standing at the centre of immense suffering and pain but they are making remarkable gains. It puts our own interminable introspective concerns into perspective. We are part of a universal church and these missionaries deserve our prayers and our practical support.

Cornish Pilgrimage to St.Michael’s Mount – 2002.

As a very young child my late mother took me to Croagh Patrick during one of her visits home to Mayo. It made an indelible impression on me; I have been back many times since – most recently climbing it with two of my own children, Marianne and Padraig.

The pilgrim way is a never-ending one – always with another unexpected encounter around every corner. Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotsz pithily summed up the never-ending nature of life’s journey when he wrote: “He who thinks he is finished is (ital) finished.”

Pilgrimage can be a moment to pass on something of the faith – and the trials, suffering and endurance of those who went before us. During a family holiday there is always a place of Catholic interest nearby.

In Cornwall this year we managed to explore two of the West Country’s Catholic shrines.

St.Michael’s Mount, near Penzance, is home of the St.Aubyn family and is owned by the National Trust. It was originally a Benedictine priory built in the twelfth century and a daughter house of the famous Mont St.Michael in Normandy (which the French intend to restore as a true island). St.Michael’s Mount is a huge granite crag, dominating the skyline, often shrouded in a magical mist, surmounted by an embattled castle, and a pre-reformation place of pilgrimage.

St.Michael’s Mount is an island at high tide but can be reached by a walk over the sands at other times. This trick of geography makes an important point to the modern pilgrim – perhaps recalling John Donne’s verses that “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Any man’s death diminishes me because I

am involved in mankind.”

Catholic involvement in contemporary society may well be at a price – and steadfastness can even lead to death (think of Pakistan). A visit to Launceston, Cornwall’s lovely historic county town, will soon remind you that religious freedom has been won at a price.

The dungeon at Launceston Castle was where St.Cuthbert Mayne was held before he was taken to the town square and executed. Born near Barnstaple in 1544, he was educated at Oxford University and was a contemporary of Edmund Campion. He went to Douai to train for the priesthood and on his return to England ministered to the numerous Catholics in the West Country.

Arrested at the behest of Richard Grenville he was executed on a scaffold in the market place on November 30th 1577. His shrine may be visited at Launceston’s Catholic Church.

Not far away is a pilgrim site that has been re-reborn over the past few years: the shrine of Our Lady of Liskeard at Ladye Park.

And at all these places an appropriate prayer might by the Lord’s Prayer – the Pader Agan Arluth -in

the ancient Cornish tongue:

Agan Tas-ny, us yn nef, Benygys re bo da Hanow, Re dheffo dha wlascor, Dha voth re bo gwres, y’n nor kepar hag y’n nef. Ro dhyn-ny hedhyu agan bara pup deth-oll; Ha gaf dhyn agan camwyth, kepar del aven-nyny dhe’n re-na us ow camwul er agan pyn-ny; Ha na wra agan gorra yn temtasyon, mes delyrf ny dyworth drok. Rag dhyso-jy yu wlascor, ha’n gallos, ha’n gordhyans, Bys vyken ha bynary. Amen.

 

A Day For Life – 2003.

It took the inspiration of an eighty-year-old Anglican Marchioness, Lady Salisbury, to draw together pro-life campaigners for a Day for Life in London. As the Day began in Trafalgar Square – at 2.30pm – she was busy organising speakers and as the day ended – at 10.45 pm – she was still busy thanking those who had stayed for the Prayer Vigil for their attendance, and collecting up the candles used in the Prayer Vigil.

Not only should Lady Salisbury’s remarkable and indomitable spirit serve as an encouragement to the rest of us but so should her determination that the ideals of the pro-life movement should be passed to the next generation. The team of young men and women that she had galvanised more than justifies her statement to the gathered crowds that, however long it takes, we will never give in.

One of the speakers was Jacob Rees Mogg; another, the young Catholic human rights activist, James Mawdsley. James was right to make the connection between the vulnerability of the unborn, the sick, the terminally ill, and the vulnerability of political prisoners and the countless others whom no-one is prepared to speak for.

Young women from the Faith Movement and Youth 2000 trenchantly set out their own hostility to a culture that wantonly destroys the weak and creates a selfish culture where rights trump duties and where personal choice and autonomy becomes an ideology.

From the Square we walked down Whitehall, behind St.Michael the Archangel, mounted on a great charger, and the Holy Family was there, too, with Mary astride her donkey. It was good of them to look in.

Children with painted faces and British-African musicians added to the sense of Carnival. As broad smiles from police officer implied, it’s not often that the Metropolitan Police can have handled such an easy demonstration.

The crowds walked past Downing Street and through Parliament Square – where the laws were enacted that have led to 6 million abortions, 1 million destroyed human embryos, human cloning: and now attempts to legalise euthanasia. They then listened to more young people who sang the beautiful Requiem for the Unborn in Methodist Central Hall. Later, they filled Westminster Cathedral for Mass and heard the Administrator, Monsignor Mark Langham, preach a powerful sermon in defence of human life. The Cardinal then spoke and underlined the importance of public witness and personally greeted those who had attended – some coming from as far away as Poland and the United States.

Later, a Prayer Vigil was held opposite Westminster Abbey and a beautiful service of commendation held for those who have died. Thousands of small candles were to be lit but a gentle breeze kept blowing them out. A small sign, perhaps, of what it is that we have permitted.

We were reminded of the words of St.Hilary of Poitiers who said that “where caution is everywhere, courage is nowhere to be found. Our ancestors were not so quiescent. We shall die of prudence yet, you will see.”

We have, indeed, been lacking in courage but perhaps Lady Salisbury’s initiative will both shake us out of our apathy and give encouragement to the young people who attended that it doesn’t need to be like this.

Column December 17th 2006

Some Books To Savour

Top of my list of some recently enjoyed books comes Alice Hodge’s fast moving and scholarly account of Queen Elizabeth’s forbidden priests and the hatching of the gunpowder plot: “God’s Secret Agents” (Harper Collins). I defy anyone to read this brilliant account of the courage of young men like Edmund Campion and John Gerard – just 24 years old when he plunged ashore on a Norfolk beach in October 1588 – and not be powerfully moved by the story of how Catholicism survived in England.

Another thought-provoking book is the Catholic writer, William Dalrymple’s “The Last Mughal – The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857” (Bloomsbury Publications).

A few weeks ago I heard Dalrymple speak at Stonyhurst College about the background to the book:

He explained how, “on a May morning in 1857, three hundred mutinous sepoys rode into Delhi, massacred every Christian man, woman and child they could find, and declared Zafar to be their Emperor. Zafar was no friend of the British; yet he was not a natural insurgent either. It was with severe misgivings that he found himself made the nominal leader of an uprising that he suspected from the start was doomed: a chaotic and officerless army of unpaid peasant soldiers set against the forces of the world’s greatest military power.”

The consequences of that uprising were appalling.

On the 14th September 1857, the British assaulted and took Delhi, sacking the Mughal capital and massacring great swathes of the population.

“The orders went out to shoot every soul,” recorded Edward Vibart, a 19 year old British officer. “It was literally murder … The women were all spared but their screams, on seeing their husbands and sons butchered, were most painful… Heaven knows I feel no pity, but when some old grey bearded man is brought and shot before your very eyes, hard must be that man’s heart I think who can look on with indifference…”

Those city dwellers who survived the killing were driven out into the

countryside to fend for themselves. Delhi was left an empty ruin. Though

the royal family had surrendered peacefully, most of the Emperor’s sixteen

sons were tried and hung, while three were shot in cold blood, having first

freely given up their arms, then been told to strip naked.

In understanding the genesis of today’s Muslim disaffection and resentment Dalrymple’s erudite and powerful description of events 150 yeas ago provides plenty of food for thought.

After this, if you want something to cheer you, turn to Gervase Phinn and “Up and Down in the Dales” (Penguin Global).

At the start of the year I chaired a public lecture in Liverpool by Gervase Phinn and this wonderful raconteur conveyed his profound belief in the teaching profession with wonderful anecdotes and shafts of great humour. A former Yorkshire Dales inspector of schools – educations’ answer to James Herriot – this book will leave you craving for more (and there are more). You’ll also be taken Gervase’s warmth and gentle faith.

My fourth choice is another Catholic writer, William Brodrick. His book “The Sixth Lamentation” (Time Warner Paperbacks) is subtle and gripping. An absorbing thriller he writes after the style of John Le Carre and like Le Carre’s “The Constant Gardener” Brodrick deserves to see his writing turned in to a block buster movie.

His sleuth is Brother Anselm – a Gilbertine monk who has foresworn the courts where he was once a barrister for the cloisters. He is caught up in a mystery that takes us back to the Nazi occupation of France, the Holocaust, collaboration, and the endless layers of deceit spawned by totalitarianism. It’s a brilliant thriller.

My last choice is a book about the slave trade. Adam Hochschild’s “Bury The Chains” (Houghton Mifflin) cannot be surpassed. 2007 will be the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade. If you want to understand how a whole host of players, like Thomas Clarkson, Olaudah Equiano, John Newton and the Christian abolitionist, William Wilberforce, created the alliance which changed these evil laws, this is the book to read.

Who knows, as millions of men women and children continue to be enslaved and trafficked in our world, perhaps a gift of this book might inspire someone you know to follow in the footsteps of Wilberforce and his friends.

Life on The Kenyan Border with Ethiopia – December 2006

A few months ago I reported on the efforts of Fr.Steven Ochieng to establish a new mission station at Todenyang on the Kenyan-Ethiopian border. Fr.Steven is part of the community of St.Paul the Apostle which was founded in Kenya’s remote north western province of Turkana. Working with Fr.Albert Salvans – a Spanish priest sent by the Westminster diocese – Fr.Steven and his collaborators have been building water catchment dams, schools, health facilities and churches throughout the region.

Thanks to the generosity of readers of this coulmne, Fr.Steven has been able to press on with the construction of the church and a priest’s house and to fund some of the humanitarian work.

 

Fr.Steven tells me that with the money which has been sent “we have rebuilt the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace and completely furnished it…a borehole has been drilled just behind the church and a pump is being installed.” However, the water from the pump is salty and they need a water booster as well as five kilometres of pipes to bring water from the river through a purifier into an elevated tank.

The work on a house for Fr.Steven – who has been sleeping in a tent – is also underway although he tells me that the supply of materials has been slow. A large part of the £10,000 for this work came from a family in Eastbourne. The work should be completed by the end of the year.

Your generosity has also enabled them to get a mobile clinic up and running – although they remain in need of a trained nurse. So, if anyone suitable wishes to volunteer I know that Fr.Steven will want to hear from them!

Out of all this frenzy of practical activity some important spiritual gains have been made too.

In the past, the two local ethnic groups – the Turkanas and Merilles –, have regularly attacked one another, leading to fatalities, injuries, the theft of livestock and the destruction of homes. Fr.Steven says that “all of our activities have brought these two communities together for peace talks.” Although he says that the peace remains fragile, for the first time there is real dialogue.

In the newly consecrated church of Our Lady Queen of Peace – whose reconstruction was generously financed by Joe Kennedy – Fr.Steven celebrated Mass for the Merilles and Turkanas: “we couldn’t fit everyone in because so many came” he says.

“It was beautiful to see men and women who are enemies exchanging goods and handshakes.” Fr.Steven said he felt truly emotional as many who are not Christians experienced the Good News. How appropriate, he said, that the reading of the day was from the Book of Kings: that God was not in the earthquake but in a cool breeze – not in the twenty first century rattle of gun shots but in the gentle touch of peace.

In July Bishop Patrick Harrington confirmed 138 candidates and established a sub-parish at the out station of Lowarengak. He has also encouraged Fr.Steven to meet the needs of the Merilles who yearn for education. To build one nursery school and to run it for a year costs £12,000. That is the next objective and hopefully someone will be able to help Fr.Steven to achieve this.

The determination of this young African priest to struggle against any number of dangers and difficulties was vividly illustrated by the story he told me about Arbanesh Kope from Doshe, a village in the delta area of the RiverOmo, where the mission is situated.

In recent weeks hard rains in Ethiopia have led to the river swelling and breaking its banks. Many lives and property have been lost.

Abranesh was trying to move his cows to higher grazing land but first had to wade them through some treacherous water. Suddenly a crocodile measuring five meters in length appeared. It left the cows and went for the herdsman. Its teeth penetrated his right thigh, the cattle were scattered and Arbanesh was pulled away.

Fr. Steven says “a tug of war then ensued. Arbanesh was determined not to give up the fight. This was life or death – not some make-believe in a Tarzan-style movie.”

Arbanesh went straight for the eyes of the crocodile and pierced them. It instantly loosened its tight jaws. Arbanesh took the opportunity to dive deeper to where he knew the crocodile could not reach him. With his thigh dripping with blood he made it to the banks and dragged himself to his shelter.

The mission station cared for Arbanesh and nursed him back to health. After two weeks – “and a body which had resembled a spotted cheetah” – Arbanesh returned to care for his cattle.

Fr.Steven’s own determination to fight against impossible odds is not unlike Arbanesh’s. He continues to need our help with his projects and in November he will be in England next month to talk about his work

Column December 10th 2006 David Alton

North Korea – and saving its people from a living hell

I recently met Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the United Nation Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea.

During our discussion I pointed to the 2 million people who have starved to death in North Korea, the 200,000 who languish in its modern-day gulags, and the estimated 400,000 people who have died in its concentration camps over the past 30 years.

It is particularly perverse that at least 30% of North Korea’s national wealth is used for armaments and nuclear development while its people starve and languish in third world poverty.

North Korea is a totalitarian State which demands total obedience and which, in the manner of a cult, exerts total control over every aspect of its citizens’ lives.

The United Nations recently promulgated a new doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” – the duty to intervene in egregious situations. The Security Council may now be invited to consider how best to proceed where there is evidence of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes or crimes against humanity. It recently did so in an extremely welcome move in the case of Burma.

In North Korea, Professor Muntarbhorn accepted that the evidence of the regime’s involvement in crimes against humanity has been empirically documented in a report which was launched in Parliament on October 30th last at a meeting I chaired.

That report, “Failure To Protect – A Call For the UN Security Council To Act In North Korea” was commissioned by Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic, Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and the former Norwegian Prime Minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik.

Not long after its publication, the General Assembly of the United Nations, on November 17th passed its second resolution on North Korea.

It called for North Korea to honour its obligations detailed in the four treaties to which it is a signatory – especially in regard to the rights of children, workers, the elderly, disabled people and women; and to reassess its refusal to recognise the mandate of Special Rapporteur.

It also condemned the morass of allegations and evidence of the use of torture, degrading treatment, public executions, prison camps, forced labour, people’s tribunals, and the absence of due process. It drew attention to “all pervasive and severe restrictions on the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association”, the terrible plight of refugees, and restrictions on travel and freedom of movement.

The General Assembly Resolution details the “continuing violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, in particular the trafficking of women for the purpose of prostitution or forced marriage, forced abortion, and infanticide of children repatriated mothers” and the abduction of foreigners, and enforced disappearances.

It highlights what it calls “the precarious humanitarian situation” and “infant malnutrition”; and it requires the Secretary General to submit a comprehensive report and for the Assembly itself to return to the issue during its sixty-second session.

Given that the Republic of Korea and China are desperate that there should not be a complete collapse of the DPRK – with all the humanitarian and refugee issues that would arise – it is now vital that the UK encourages China to use its extensive leverage – not least through its control of North Korea’s petrol and electricity – to deter further nuclear proliferation and to avert these crimes against humanity in North Korea. Meanwhile, China is itself in flagrant violation of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in repatriating refugees to a country where they will face severe punishment, torture, and even execution.

Pope Benedict recently urged the international community not use food as a weapon against North Korea.

Caritas and countries like Ireland have continued to provide food relief but funds for the World Food Programme to North Korea are down from £6 million to £1.9 million; only 10% of the needed funds have come in, from 30 countries out of 200; and although, in the light of the current circumstances the attitude of the international community is understandable, it could lead to the starvation of hundreds of thousands of people if food aid is withheld.

North Korea is the latest test of our frayed international structures. It will be among the UN’s great moral challenges in the coming years

How will history judge the effectiveness of our international institutions in facing crises in places like Burma, Darfur and North Korea?

Would it not be better not to use sententious and earnest rhetoric, such as “the duty to protect”, if we are unwilling or unable to make a reality of the high minded words?

Dag Hammarskjold, one of the great UN Secretary Generals, said the UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell. In North Korea that remains the challenge today.

 

Column December 31st 2006 David Alton

The Contribution of Catholic Schools

At the end of this calendar year I would note two significant parliamentary achievements. The first was the defeat of Lord Joffe’s Bill on euthanasia and the second was the defeat of a concerted threat to church schools. Both battles will be resumed in 2007.

A speech by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Taverne revealed the depth of secular antagonism. He launched a tirade against Christianity and church schools, describing Catholic beliefs on everything from abortion to embryology as superstitious.

He condemned Catholics for teaching children about miracles and how to pray. He commended to Parliament the words of the Latin poet, Lucretius, who said “Such crime did religion inflict upon the world.”

Sadly, there are others who share Lord Taverne’s view and who fail to see the positive contribution made by people of religious faith – and, in particular, the contribution of church schools. A good New Year’s Resolution would be to ensure that we become better advocates of our beliefs and that we use every opportunity to tell the success story of our schools and how they came about.

10% of this country’s schools are Catholic: 1,723 Catholic primary schools and 352 secondary. In addition there are 17 Catholic sixth form colleges and 156 Catholic schools in the independent sector.

Those schools were only possible because of the sacrifice and generosity of previous generations of Catholics – many of whom were from poor immigrant communities. Even today, in addition to many other forms of support, parishes contribute around £20 million each year towards capital costs.

Their achievements are significant. 42% of Catholic schools have high value-added status and above average points scores. According to OFsted’s figures that compares with a national average of 30% for other schools. A fifth of the top performing comprehensive schools at A level are Catholic; and Ofsted says they provide better value for money than other schools.

Many of these schools have waiting lists of families from Catholic parishes. If this year’s proposals had been enacted and local councils had been allowed to interfere with admissions policies is that even where parents have helped raise the funds to build a new school and are keen members of the Catholic parish, they would be denied a place at the local school. Think of the resentment this could easily engender. Far from encouraging community cohesion and integration we will have sown the seeds of division.

The Leeds Association of Catholic Head teachers rightly argued in a letter to me:

“The introduction of quotas would have an adverse effect on the social and ethnic diversity of our schools as the restriction of places for Catholics would, in some instances, result in children from ‘poorer’ backgrounds being denied access to Catholic education.”

It’s a classic example of the law of unintended consequences.

And why exactly were we contemplating doing this? For the worst reasons of muddled social engineering.

The issue of Islamic schools is constantly raised. But this was simply a cloak for many of those who wanted to emasculate Catholic schools.

The realty is that the introduction of quotas and social engineering would simply lead to new Muslim schools being established in the independent sector, where there will be no ability to influence admissions criteria.

In the present climate does anyone seriously believe that if a Muslim school is established in the voluntary aided sector it will be able to fill the 25% quota with non Muslim children?

No, this wrong-headed approach will have an adverse effect in dealing with the perceived problem and simultaneously antagonise a sector which has an exemplary record. It was not a good example of well thought through public policy – but very nearly came to be in 2006.

Without the imposition of externally imposed criteria the Catholic sector has made a huge contribution to the development of communal co-existence and responsible citizenship. Without external interference it already has significant diversity, with 18.2% of its pupils drawn from ethnic minorities – compared with 16.7% in the state sector.

As Trevor Phillips, the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality said last year:

“…when we look at the ethnic mix of schools, Catholic schools tend to be far more mixed than local authority schools.”

Without outside interference, as I know from personal experience of my own children’s schools, that without anyone telling them to do it, Catholic schools frequently admit significant numbers of children from other an no-faith backgrounds. But that is their decision and they do not need Government – central or local – to interfere.

The recent report “Quality and Performance in Catholic Schools” convincingly demolishes many of the hoary old arguments. The survey reveals that Catholic schools are socially and ethnically mixed, and they may have large numbers of pupils who are not Catholics. The high standards reported by Ofsted are not confined to the academic but also encompass positive attitudes, good behaviour, respect for others, and excellence in personal development. The survey also noted the high degree of parental involvement in Catholic schools and in supporting children’s learning and it highlighted good governance.

So in every respect we have a good story to tell and in 2007, well before peers like Lord Taverne mount their next attack on our schools, we should ensure that the story is well known.

 

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Column December 11th 2005. David Alton

Celebrating John Buchan

With this month’s cinema launch of the new production of The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe (ital) there has been a welcome boom in sales of C.S.Lewis’s Narnian Chronicles. What better Christmas present for any child?

Doubtless, the Disney adaptations of the books will become the “must see” films for countless families – taking over the space left by The Lord of The Rings trilogy, based on the books of Lewis’s friend, J.R.R.Tolkien.

Forty years after his death, the cinema production of the Narnian Chronicles has thrown C.S.Lewis right back into the limelight – generating acrimonious remarks by the contemporary children’s writer, Philip Pullman, who says his main mission objective is to destroy the Lewis/Tolkien legacy. In his books Pullman quickly kills God and religion and would be very happy to see off the extraordinary abiding influence of the two Oxford dons whom he dislikes so much.

Pullman particularly despises the way in which the overt Christianity of the two men influences what they wrote. But they were by no means unique in allowing their faith to influence their stories and ideas.

In the inter-war years a formidable cast of writers, from Dorothy L.Sayers to G.K.Chesterton, wrote books in a whole host of genres. Their faith frequently shaped how they wrote.

John Buchan also comes from that period and is enjoying a welcome revival. Although he died in 1940, while serving as British Governor General of Canada, his prose still have a freshness and vibrancy which, along with the beauty of his descriptive writing, are a real pleasure to read. His mastery of the English language, his use of Scottish dialect, his considerable personal experience of diplomacy, politics, and the heroism required in war, all combine to shape novels which have contemporary resonance.

Many people are familiar with the exploits of Richard Hannay in the gripping tail of pre-World War One espionage, in Buchan’s The Thirty Nine Steps (ital). Hannay reappears in several other stories – notably in Greenmantle (ital), which has an almost prophetic quality when read against the backdrop of events in the Middle East today.

One of the things I like most about Buchan is the way he uses his cast of characters, letting them first appear as incidental characters in a major story, only to find them popping up again in different yarns often in much more considered roles.

Buchan’s canon consists not only of contemporary inter war fiction, but there are some lovely short stories, historical novels and some excellent works of non-fiction, including biographies of Walter Scott and Cromwell.

Buchan is a son of the Manse and his father’s faith was something he too embraced. But it was not a narrow or sectarian faith and there are moments when some of his characters appear to mourn the passing of the old religion.

Fortunately, many of Buchan’s books are still in print and it would be interesting to see whether a Peter Jackson-style cinematographic make-over would do for some of his books what the big screen did for Lord of The Rings and is now doing for Narnia.

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Phyllis Bowman – a friend in high places.

I’m really going to miss the short sharp message: “It’s Phyllis; it’s urgent; ring when you can.” It was always urgent and it always elicited a response as soon as I could.

Invariably she would be calling about the latest issue to vex the pro life movement’s most assiduous campaigner: an MP was proposing the further liberalisation of our abortion laws; a report highlighting new evidence on the physical or psychological effects of abortion on women; a Select Committee recommending more experiments on human embryos and animal-human hybrids; or Dutch-style euthanasia laws being wished upon us by a member of the House of Lords.

For Phyllis Bowman there was always one more battle to be fought; one more life to save; one more mind to change; one more letter to send; one more volunteer to encourage; one more campaign to plan.

This week’s news of Phyllis’ death was not unexpected. She has been ailing for quite some time. And our thoughts now will be with Jerry – her beloved husband.

But even up until the last couple of weeks of her life she had been dictating letters from her hospital bed and giving Right to Life – which she founded in 2003 – its instructions and marching orders. Reliant on her oxygen machine, telephone conversations would be interrupted as she inhaled, caught breath, and proceeded with what she had been saying.

Jewish by birth, the then agnostic Phyllis was initially in favour of abortion. But when she saw its effects on women and their unborn children she changed her mind. Later she became a Catholic – and every day would be interrupted by her recitation of the Angelus and by knocking on the door of heaven with her novenas and prayers for the unborn.

One or the more amusing memories I recall was when we went to see the late Robert Maxwell, owner of The Daily Mirror, to protest at one-sided coverage. Before he joined us, Phyllis, herself a onetime Fleet Street journalist, took the precaution of sprinkling the place with holy water which emerged from her handbag.

Phyllis Bowman DSG – Dame of St. Gregory – is one of a band or remarkable women who will always be celebrated for their causes: Elizabeth Fry, Cicely Saunders, Florence Nightingale, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and Sue Ryder all spring to mind.

As the prolife movement’s supreme protagonist and organiser for half a century she also had much in common with Emmeline Pankhurst.

Listening to Pankhurst describe her first visit to a workhouse in Manchester you can hear the same sense of indignation at the crushing of human dignity debasement of life which would pour forth from an angry Phyllis Bowman:

“The first time I went into the place I was horrified to see little girls seven and eight years old on their knees scrubbing the cold stones of the long corridors…the babies are very badly protected … These poor, unprotected mothers and their babies I am sure were potent factors in my education as a militant.”

The potent factors in Phyllis Bowman’s education were the industrial scale abortion of babies which followed the enactment of the Steel Bill, the 1967 Abortion Act.

For years Phyllis Bowman has argued that successive Governments have refused to look at the effects of contraceptive pills and abortion on women’s health; at the physical and psychological damage caused by abortion and possible links to cancer. Above all she hated the cover up.

These are taboo subjects for Health Ministers and powerful vested interests in the reproductive rights lobby and pharmaceutical industry have dominated the debate.

Beyond the concealment are the dreadful things we do know and which should stir our consciences as they stirred hers:

On the very day Phyllis died, reports emerged from South Korea that customs officials had discovered thousands of pills filled with powdered human baby flesh; news from China about Chen Guangchen, the blind human activist, who served 4 years in prison for exposing the forced abortion of 130,000 women; while reports from the UK revealed shocking new statistics about the number of IVF babies who are born with disabilities – from a country which permits 600 abortions daily and the abortion of disabled babies up to birth.

Ever prescient, months ago Phyllis Bowman wrote:

“Although we know that the incidence of disability is higher in IVF babies, no research has ever been conducted to find out what other consequences there might be: it could be generations before we find out anything. The powers that be have never bothered to do any long-term investigations.”

She was withering, too, about the hype generated about cures for every ailment known to man which, all dependent on the sacrifice of millions of human embryos:

“The very reason the scientific world wanted to get its hands on embryonic human beings was to cannibalise them. Their claims of miracle cures became more and more extravagant in order to blind the public. Newspapers and politicians lapped up their stories without ever checking the facts.”

Phyllis the former journalist was disdainful of sloppy reporting and contemptuous of those who manipulated frightened or sick people with distorted claims. Ever vigilant in hammering home the truth she deployed encyclopaedic knowledge of what had gone before. As Parliament legislated to permit the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos she remarked:

“Even today, the scientists involved in embryo production make exactly the same promises: their work will find cures for the incurable. Yet, in the last 23 years, the relentless and destructive experiments on human embryos have produced not one treatment or cure of any disease.”

Pointing out that the cures are coming from adult stem cells, she said: “stem cells developed from adult skin or other tissue or from umbilical cord blood can all be done without any controversy or any form of abusive treatment of human life.”

She was also passionate about Parliament itself – and understood politics. She was spot on is identifying the drift towards new euthanasia laws being introduced by stealth, not by Parliament, but by the judiciary:

“We have to be quite clear. We are facing a constitutional crisis: the judiciary seeking to take over from the legislature. It is not only a matter of euthanasia it is a question of whether Parliament will sit back and let the judiciary trample over the primacy of Parliament.”

Phyllis Bowman took a lot of hits over the years. This diminutive figure appeared frail but was made of steel. In 1979, after my election to Parliament she told me how four years earlier, when James White had challenged the abortion laws her office was broken into several times and “we had to take turns of sleeping on the office floor to protect our equipment throughout the summer months, because we were broken into so often.”

On another occasion – during the debates on the Enoch Powell Bill on Embryo Research “we had our office smashed up so badly that the BBC actually made it the first item on their evening news programme.”

It’s no secret that almost since the start there have been serious divisions within the pro life movement. At times it broke her heart – and her language could be choice and often unprintable when it came to those she held responsible for the divisions!

The best memorial to Phyllis Bowman’s memory would be for the rising generation to build on her considerable legacy and to make the right to life the supreme question of the times.

And we’re now going to have a friend in high places. May she Rest In Peace.

2 EGYPT AND THE COPTS

David Alton

For two millennia, Christians have been woven into the fabric of the Middle East. Yet, as Pope Benedict XVI has warned, “Churches in the Middle East are threatened in their very existence.”

The ancient churches of the region, of which the Coptic Church is the largest, have contributed

enormously to the rich story of Christianity. But we who are privileged to live in free societies that enjoy religious freedom and freedom of speech seem ignorant of and indifferent to the fate of Christians living in the lands of Christianity’s birth.

From the religion’s humble origins in a Bethlehem stable to the stunning wonders of Byzantium, and from the beautiful liturgies of the Chaldeans, Marionites, Syrianis, Copts, and other ancient Christian traditions to the evangelism of contemporary converts who risk their lives by committing the crime of apostasy, the story of the Middle East’s Christians is one of persecution and suffering—of which we are too frequently ignorant or silent.

Between 2011 and 2012, however, the crisis facing the ancient churches has deepened.

Palestinian Christians now constitute just 0.5 per cent of the population; in Lebanon, they have declined from 75 per cent to 32 per cent. They have faced asphyxiation in Iraq, persecution in Saudi Arabia, execution in Iran, and share in the terrors of Syria. In the 1987 census, there were 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq; today, there may be fewer than 150,000. This exodus has been of biblical proportions. As one Christian source in Iraq comments, “The attacks on Christians continue, and the world remains totally silent. It’s as if we have been swallowed up by the night.”

The region’s biggest Christian population is in Egypt—and they joined with Muslim neighbours in the heady pro-democracy demonstrations in Tahrir Square. But the Christians had barely taken their banners home before Salafi groups began to foment sectarian violence against the Copts. The Egyptian Muslim novelist Alaa Al-Aswany put it well when he said, “We can expect Islamists to use the democratic system merely as a ladder to power, which they will climb up and then kick away so that no one else can use it.”

More than 100,000 Coptic Christians left Egypt over a nine-month period last year, and they were coerced into that, according to the director of the European Union of Human Rights Organisations, “by threats and intimidation of hard-line Salafists, and by the lack of protection they are getting from the Egyptian regime”.

Syria’s bishop of Aleppo, Bishop Audo, flags up the significance of a Middle East without Christians and is firm in his conviction that Arab Christians provide a vital contribution for the whole Middle East region:

If the presence of Christians continues to decline, the impact will be felt far and wide. It will not just be a loss to the Christians, but it will be a loss to the Muslims. The Muslims need the presence of Christians as a safeguard to ensure their true identity is maintained. Christians are like them in so many ways, and at the same time are yet different. Hence, the Christians are well placed to help Muslims keep their bearings as a faith community centred on belief in one God and tolerance for others.

This urgent need for tolerance is underlined by what occurred in Alexandria, Egypt, at the beginning of 2011. Christian worshippers had been attending the Midnight Mass at the Coptic Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria, when radical Islamists left a trail of destruction, death, and injury.

I was particularly struck by something which Amira Nowaira, a Muslim, wrote about the carnage.

Describing the changing nature of Egyptian society, she recounted two stories that sum up the alternative paths that Egypt can take: one is built on cultivating a civilised respect and tolerance of difference, whereas the other rests on violence, uncivilised intolerance, and hatred of difference. One is about unfulfilled hope; the other, about loss.

Nowaira’s first story concerned a young Coptic woman called Mariam “Mariouma” Fekry, who on the last day of 2010 entered the following note on Facebook:

[The year] 2010 is over . . . This year has the best memories of my life . . . Really enjoyed living this year . . . I hope 2011 is much better . . . I have so many wishes in 2011 . . . Hope they come true . . . Please God stay beside me and help make it all [come] true.

Just hours after writing her message, Mariam was among those killed in Alexandria—along with her

mother, her aunt, and her younger sister, Martina.Nowaira’s second story concerned herself. She described how as a child growing up in a traditional Muslim family in the 60s, I remember quite clearly after suffering a bout of illness that conventional medicine seemed unable to cure, my mother took me to an Orthodox church in the popular district of Moharrem Bek to light a candle in honour of the Virgin Mary. As we stood together in the beautifully decorated and darkly lit church, my mother, an ordinary, middle-class woman, whispered some heartfelt prayers. She didn’t feel that she was on alien territory, or that she was in any way betraying her faith in appealing to the Christian God to heal her daughter. This simple and spontaneous act of reverence seems sadly unthinkable in today’s Egypt.

The violence that robbed Mariam, her sister, her mother, and her aunt of their lives—and the subsequent violence at Maspero—and the loss of the innocent coexistence described by Nowaira are all part of the festering story that characterises Egypt today.

The failure of the international community to champion the Copts and other ancient churches clearly has implications for girls like Mariam—but it also has implications for the region and for us.

Speaking about the silence of so many in the face of Hitler’s depredations, the Protestant theologian

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis, said, “We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds.”

In our generation we, too, have been silent witnesses as the Middle East’s Christians have faced significantly intensified persecution and violence.

Although the Copts have suffered a wide range of persecution and discrimination for centuries, for much of the time many Muslims and Christians were able to coexist peacefully. What has changed, today, is that with the arrival of radical Islamic ideas, and calls for an exclusively Islamic state, Christian groups are confronted with higher risks and face constant persecution, despite constitutional protections.

Even before the protests in Tahrir Square and the turbulence that accompanied Mubarak’s fall, the attacks had increased in frequency and severity, while the attackers have enjoyed immunity from prosecution. The current campaign of persecution and violation of the human rights of Egypt’s Copts have included extortion, bigotry, discrimination, the confiscation of property, the siege of some towns, the imposition of unjust laws, the murdering of civilians in their churches and in broad daylight, and even the bombing and torching of churches—all accompanied by the curse of impunity.

And who can forget what happened on 9 October 2011? On this day, moderate Muslims joined with their Coptic neighbours and marched through Cairo’s Maspero area to protest the burning of a Coptic church; however, during the march, radicals wielding sticks and swords attacked the unarmed protestors. And the Egyptian security forces—after they rammed armed vehicles into the Coptic crowd and fired live ammunition at them—soon prohibited media coverage and tried to remove the evidence. At least 26 people were killed in the massacre, and more than 300 were injured. Maspero was Egypt’s worst sectarian violence in 60 years.

It is 20 years since I wrote a report for the Jubilee Campaign on the plight of the Copts. It was based on firsthand accounts and evidence, which was collected during a visit to Egypt. I quoted Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, who reminded the world that the ancient Coptic community is not made up of foreigners in a strange land: “Egypt is not a country we live in but a country that lives within us.”

Back in 1992 I wrote that

Insecurity and fear remain the most crucial and pressing concerns. The same ugly phenomenon of ethnic cleansing that

happened in Bosnia—the destruction of the culture and civilisation of minorities and their vilification—is to be found in the villages of Upper Egypt. Christian women have been raped; men and their families have been induced or pressurised in their thousands to convert to Islam. Local police officers have either ignored the attacks or have collaborated.

The US Department of State referred to this continuing pattern of persecution in its 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom: “The status of respect for religious freedom by the government remained poor, unchanged from the previous year.”

Nothing much has changed in the underlying situation. Yet the gaping wounds are now more openly on display. On satellite channels, for instance, fanatical preachers have been allowed to incite hatred and target non-Muslims. And it is a cruel irony that a Government, which prosecutes journalists and writers who criticise Government policies, does nothing to prosecute those who are responsible for stirring hatred and making unfounded and dangerously inflammatory statements—including suggestions that Copts have been amassing weapons and creating a secret army. Such comments are obviously designed to incite further hatred and bitterness.

Coptic women have also been targeted. Over the years, hundreds of young Christian girls have been

abducted from their families and raped. They are then forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men.

And the State has done little to support Coptic parents seeking the return of their abducted daughters. It is hard to believe this is happening in twenty-first-century Egypt, a country that takes pride in being a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The radicalisation of Egyptian society, says Nowaira, “is now visually present on our streets and in our public spaces, not only in women’s attire but also in the large number of men wearing their beards long in an ostentatious display of their religious creed.”

The Arab Spring must be viewed against this backdrop of radicalisation and long-term victimisation of Egypt’s Copts. Egypt has tried to silence those tolerant members of its Muslim community who speak out against the mistreatment and unjust policies—even going so far as to imprison its own citizens when they have attempted to defend the rights of Christian groups.

Those moderate Muslims—like Amira Nowaira—understand that if a country were to treat its minorities well, then through these actions that country would mould a decent society for the majority. Those moderate Muslims know that if a country were to disrespect the human rights of minorities, then the human rights of the majority would also be ignored. And those moderate Muslims understand that if a country were to elevate religious freedom, then that country would increase its charitable works and enhance the common good for all society.

The 2011 Alexandria bombing is a warning for President Mohamed Morsi—and the West.

Will Egypt become a nation for all its citizens—or just for some? Will it be a nation that focuses on a person’s religious or political beliefs—or on a citizen’s willingness and ability to contribute? Will it be a nation where all men and women are treated equally and justly before the law? Will it be a society that promotes an authentic citizenship for all its citizens rather than one based on religious and political apartheid and discrimination of second-class dhimmis? Will Egypt protect the rights of its religious minorities against those who incite violence or preach hatred against them?

On the answers to those questions turns the fate of the Copts—and the right of Egypt to count itself among the civilised nations of the world.

~~~~~~

Professor Lord Alton (David Alton) is the president of UK Copts and the co-founder of the Jubilee Campaign. He served

in the British House of Commons for 18 years, and has been an independent member of the House of Lords since 1997.

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Ben Rogers and a Rangoon Journey (2013)

The Catholic Church has always been deeply enriched by the contribution of converts – so much so that many of us who are cradle Catholics often feel a little intimidated by the zealous enthusiasm which is the hallmark of the convert.

Along with commitment, I am also struck by the sacrifice which some converts have had to make when they crossed the Tiber. I was recently reading an account of how J.R.R.Tolkien’s mother was rejected by her family and friends when she embraced the Catholic Church; and there are many stories of ostracism and hardship experienced by some of the clergy who have felt compelled to take the road to Rome .

Standing at the head of England’s converts is surely St.Edmund Campion SJ, the brilliant Oxford academic who returned to England as a Jesuit priest, knowing his capture would lead to his death.

After Catholic emancipation, in 1829, the big names among converts include two of the great Cardinals of the nineteenth century: Blessed John Henry Newman and Henry Edward Manning, an Archbishop of Westminster (a widower, he famously kept a picture of his wife under his pillow).

One of the great prophetic voices of the twentieth century, G.K.Chesterton, was a Catholic convert as was his fellow author, Evelyn Waugh, along with the poets, Siegfried Sassoon, and Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ and the writer Malcolm Muggeridge.

Others who opted to become Catholics include the Nigerian Cardinal, Francis Arinze – sometimes mooted as a possible Pope; Elizabeth Anscombe, the theologian and analytical philosopher, who coined the phrase “consequentialism”; Jacques Maritain, the French Thomist philosopher; the theologian Scott Hahn; the Catholic apologists, Fr. Richard Neuhaus and Robert Novak; the writers Beryl Bainbridge and Robert Hugh Benson, a son of an Archbishop of Canterbury; the actor Alec Guiness; the writers Muriel Spark and Joseph Pearce, who was an anti-Catholic agnostic member of the racist National Front but who read Chesterton and sought out the Catholic Church from his prison cell; and the British mathematician, E.T.Whittaker.

Then there are Royals such as the Duchess of Kent and her son, Lord Nicholas Windsor, who gave up his claim to the throne to become a Catholic.

Others, like the Nobel Laureate and South Korean President, Kim Dae Jung, who spent six years in jail as he defied the military dictatorship; our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair; the U.S. Senator, Sam Brownback; Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, and Governor Jeb Bush; the indomitable Ann Widdecombe DSG and John Gummer (Lord Deben) – all high profile in political life; while the Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli, is better known for his wonderful voice ; Dave Brubeck for his jazz; and the hymn writer Frederick William Faber for his music.

Then there have been soldiers like Field Marshall (Lord) Charles Guthrie, former Chief of Staff of our armed forces and General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO; perhaps matched perfectly by the peace activist Dorothy Day and the Trappist monk, and spiritual writer, Thomas Merton.

Think, too, of Dr.Bernard Nathanson, who undertook 60,000 abortions but became a leading advocate for the rights of the unborn. Like Phyllis Bowman DSG, who began by supporting abortion and who later founded Right To Life, Nathanson journeyed from what he called “Jewish atheism” to Catholicism.

Some of these names – and others – and the journeys which they made were on my mind when, on Palm Sunday, I stood in the Burmese Cathedral in Rangoon to act as sponsor for a friend, Ben Rogers, who had asked to be received into the Church.

As Archbishop Charles Bo carried out the time honoured rite, and the bells of the Cathedral were rung out to celebrate his reception, it underlined for me how we cradle Catholics should never take our faith for granted.

Ben has been a serious Christian since his school days. A former parliamentary candidate in Durham, he is a senior member of the advocacy organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide; has written some of the big books about Burma and its former dictator, Than Shwe (and was deported on one occasion for doing so); and he has been one of the leading campaigners for Burma’s ethnic minorities.

Unsurprisingly, members of Burma’s ethnic groups were present at the Cathedral ceremony along with Buddhists, Protestants, atheists and agnostics – many of who told me how moved they had been by the richness and beauty of the Mass and Ben’s reception.

Ben knows the price which Catholics have paid in many parts of the world to practice their faith; and it is the story of some the modern martyrs which has profoundly touched him. A faith worth dying for might be worth living for.

He was especially inspired by Catholics he met in East Timor and by Pakistan’s Catholic Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, a good friend of Ben’s who was assassinated two years ago and not long before his death poignant said “I know what it means to follow the Cross.” Of Bhatti he says: “We travelled together several times, when he was a grassroots activist. We shared my experiences, including missing a bomb by five minutes, and meeting a seven year-old Christian girl who had been raped.” Perhaps this illustrates the truth of Tertullian’s age old axiom that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Ben’s decision to become a Catholic was not taken lightly. It’s a classic case of fides et ratio – faith and reason coming together. He carefully read the writings of theologians like Von Balthasar and de Lubac; the encyclicals of Pope Benedict; the Catechism of the Catholic Church; and writers like Chesterton, Muggeridge, Newman and George Weigel “everything I could get my hands on.”.

Ben then studied the life and writings of John Paul II: “ These all drew me closer and closer to the Church. The tug that I had first felt several years ago grew stronger and stronger. The more I read and talked and prayed and thought, the more I was drawn to the Barque of Peter.”

Instructively, Ben also had several Catholic friends who helped him by being willing to listen to his questions and by offering some answers. His parish priest met him weekly to prepare him; he took part in an Evangelium (RCIA) course; and did a five day Ignatian Retreat with Fr.Nick King SJ at Campion Hall, Oxford.

But, in many ways, it was his meetings with Archbishop Bo which proved decisive:

“I first met Archbishop Bo five years ago. I was instantly impressed by his understated courage, his quiet determination to take a stand against injustice in Burma, his warmth, generosity of spirit, hospitality, humility and humour. He is not a rabble-rouser, he is not someone who would take to the streets, and he has wisely navigated his way to being a voice of conscience, without getting into trouble with the authorities. Read any of his homilies over the years and the message of justice and freedom is clear, without always being explicit. His combination of boldness and wisdom is impressive.”

Two years ago the Archbishop told him “If you ever find yourself in that position, I would receive you into the Church here in Burma”. And on Palm Sunday that is precisely what happened .

Perhaps it takes the story of one who has discovered the beauty of the Catholic faith to remind the rest of us never to be too down-hearted by our personal and institutional inability to live up to its high ideals and calling.

What Could North Korea Learn from Burma?

Pentecost is traditionally associated with the gift of tongues; the stirring of the Holy Spirit; and with the wisdom, courage and fortitude which the Spirit poured down upon the first disciples – gifts still offered in abundance in our own times.

In May 1984 Pope John Paul II drew attention to the way in which the Holy Spirit had, two hundred years earlier, touched the hearts and minds of a group of Korean intellectuals who set out for Peking to learn more of the Christian faith – rumours and whispers of which had reached their remote land.

One of that number was baptised and “From this good seed” said John Paul,”was born the first Christian community in Korea, a community unique in the history of the Church by reason of the fact that it was founded entirely by lay people.”

Courage and wisdom were needed in abundance as the first believers faced wave after wave of persecution. In less than a century more than 8,000, perhaps as many as 10,000 men, women and children had lost their lives for their faith.

Through prayer they deepened their faith and created great unity among themselves, disregarding the social divisions which traditionally set Koreans against one another.

The Korean martyrs – canonised in 1984 – ranged from a thirteen-year-old boy, Peter Yu to the seventy-two-year-old Mark Chong.

Teresa Kwon’s last words expressed the depth of her faith with great clarity:

“Since the Lord of Heaven is the Father of all mankind and the Lord of all creation, how can you ask me to betray him? Even in this world anyone who betrays his own father or mother will not be forgiven. All the more may I never betray him who is the Father of us all”.

The seventeen-year-old Agatha Yi insisted “we cannot betray the Lord of heaven whom we have always served”.

In a new book which I have written with Rob Chidley, and which is published by Lion next Friday, we tell the story of the coming of Christianity to Korea – and the terrible suffering experienced by those who have followed them. In our own times the persecution has gone on unabated– in the North no Catholic priest has been permitted to share the Sacraments for more than 60 years.

But many forget that before the coming of Communism, for the first half of the twentieth century the Peninsula was cruelly occupied by the Japanese; and that while the north suffered at the hands of the Communists the South suffered at the hands of military dictators.

It was the Catholic opposition leader, (and later South Korea President and Nobel Laureate) Kim Dae Jung, who after assassination attempts and six years imprisonment, who led the country towards democracy and today’s economic prosperity.

At the time, the highly acclaimed Cardinal Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Stephen Kim, called for “great courage” in opposing “the long dark tunnel of dictatorship” and his cathedral became a place of sanctuary for those who ushered in today’s vibrant democracy and social market economy.

But, in the North, other Kims have come and gone but nothing much has changed.

200,000 people continue to languish in gulags and a network of forced labour camps and to face malnutrition and starvation. Escapees are routinely murdered as they flee across the border. Their plight was brilliantly highlighted earlier this month by the Catholic musicians, Ooberfuse, who released their song, Vanish the Night, on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=be7WTX_z_E8&feature=share ) to coincide with North Korea Freedom Week.

Along with egregious violations of human rights and persecution the North has also been playing nuclear brinkmanship, risking another Korean war. The last war cost 3 million lives.

Although the North’s decision to pull back their missiles from the launch sites is welcome – as has been the decision of China to support the Security Council’s censure of North Korea – the risk of a “Sarajevo Moment”, when a stray shot could spark a conflict into which millions are sucked, remains real.

It’s hard not to compare North Korea’s fear and hostility to reform and change with events in Burma – where I was just before Easter.

There are considerable differences between the two countries – not least the absence of a Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – and in many respects North Korea is simply sui generis. But for decades both have been isolated from their neighbours; both have been dominated by military cliques; both have squandered natural resources while their Command Economies stagnate and their populations suffer; both have had a contempt for democracy and human rights. Both have to live with a powerful neighbour: China.

In North Korea nearly sixty years of austerity, failed self-reliance and famine have left its people suffering in unimaginable ways. There is malnutrition and hunger and earlier this year there were unverified reports of cannibalism.

But, from Burma to the Berlin Wall, the ending of apartheid, Northern Ireland’s Peace Process, the Arab Spring, and reform in China, unexpected change can occur quite rapidly and sometimes with unpredictable results.

As North Korea’s leaders stand at a crossroads they must surely be surveying the wreckage of countries like Syria, and recalling the fate of Communist dictators like Nicolai Ceaucescu, but also looking at South Korea and China and seeing the dividends which can flow from reform.

Over the past few months its leadership have walked away from reform and used missile movements and threats of war as a distraction from the internal challenges which it faces. The dog has been barking very loudly but so far it has decided not to bite.

Creating a crisis with the world beyond their borders is designed to intensify the country’s siege mentality and to unite it behind the Kim family; and to show its disdain for the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2094, supported by Russia and, most tellingly, by its traditional ally, China.

China’s new President, Xi Jin Ping, has said “No country should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains” – and North Korea now knows that should it decide to bite it can no longer be certain of China’s support.

I have been in North Korea four times. At Panmunjom, where, in 1953, the now suspended Armistice was signed after the deaths of 3 million people, I wrote that : “It’s better for men to build bridges than to build walls.”

Walls require less creative genius and few engineering skill. Bridges, by contrast, are more complex – though they do have the disadvantage of being walked over. Instead of risking uncertainty or endlessly waiting for change the international community should discount that disadvantage and begin a process of constructive, critical engagement – with the objective of a Peace Conference that finally ends the Korean war.

The simultaneous objectives would be the complete de-nuclearisation of the peninsula and the reunification of Korea.

This Pentecost, in remembering the blood of the martyrs of Korea, and suffering past and present, that is something worth praying for.

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Knowing Who We Are – the Bowyer’s Dinner (2013)

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that you should never forget “the rock from which you are hewn.”

And in the Book of Deuteronomy we are told to “remember the days of old; consider the generations long ago; ask your father to recount it, and your elders to tell you the tale.”

Knowing who we are and knowing our personal and family story is one of the reasons why the New Testament contains a detailed genealogy through which Jesus traces all his forbearers.

Knowing who you are and cherishing your community’s and your family’s narrative is an essential part of everyone’s make–up. Knowing who you are gives self knowledge, security and confidence; the absence of this knowledge sows seeds of insecurity and instability.

The Oracle at Delphi offered the wise advice to the Lydian King Croesus, “Know thyself and you will know how to live.” The deep desire to know the rock from which we were hewn undoubtedly explains why television programmes such as “Who do you think you are?” and genealogy sites are so popular.

The importance of knowing your story – who you are – the rock from which you are hewn – is not a new urge or a need identified by modern psychiatry.

Central of the Jewish community’s celebration of Pesach, or Passover, is a 3,300 year-old ritual which involves a child questioning an adult about the Jewish story – the Haggadah. It is a story which Jews say begins with the bread of affliction and ends with the wine of freedom.

It is a loving act of remembering and through more than a hundred generations of Jews have handed on their story to their children.

The word Haggadah means “to relate, to tell, to expound.” But it also means “to bind, to join to connect”.

It is not for nothing that at Passover, the Jewish people celebrate their Seder meal at which the community, the family, or multiple generations of a family retell their story of liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt.

By comparison, we are in danger of collective amnesia in forgetting our story, what makes us who we are, and with whom we connected through our shared values across our globe. Perhaps as we approach the anniversary in 2014 of the Great War there will be an opportunity to explore questions such as duty and sacrifice, courage, the nature of leadership, and reconciliation.

To ensure that the rising generation know who they are families, communities and educators need to collaborate with one another. Recall the African proverb: “To educate a child you need the whole tribe” – to secure our identity and heritage it needs everyone, the family, the churches, the schools; the universal and the local; memory and imagination; and as St.Augustine put it, “ancient and new.” It’s about interior and exterior. We constantly need to ask ourselves what does it mean to be English and British; what are the implications for us as individuals and for the world in which we live?

The old story binds one generation to the next; connecting past with future; and joining people of the present with their community throughout the world and throughout time; and above all, the telling of our story honours the presence of our Creator and in the affairs of mankind and the call on each of us to protect each human being made in His image – just as George took on his dragon to protect the weak and vulnerable, so must we.

We hear a lot about deprivation but for me, far worse than material privation is being deprived of your story.

Self evidently, there are many forms of material deprivation, and this is a tough time to be young and leaving school.

My generation used to agonise over the prospect of a nuclear war; this generation agonises over the lack of economic security, especially the lack of jobs.

But, in many respects, a far worse deprivation is the loss of identity experienced by so many young people today. I think of the 800,000 children who have no contact with their fathers. All too frequently there is no longer a father or an elder to tell the tale of their family or to explain their community’s history to the rising generation.

Consider also the effect on children who will deliberately be denied knowledge of their biological origins.

I strongly opposed the last Government’s decision to allow any two people to be listed as the parents of a child on the child’s official birth certificate. This was a classic example of how, instead of placing a child’s interests first, we treat them like accessories.

Biologically these men and women are not the child’s parents and the State has no business collaborating in a lie. Straightforwardly, this deceit is simply identity theft.

It is vital that every child knows who they are, that they are values and loved, and that they will be protected from the many dragons ready to way lay them. This will require more than a knowledge of algebra or quadratic equations. It requires the cultivation of the virtue which personifies St.George. This search for virtue is something which can unite all of us – whatever our background or origins.

The first words of the Confucian classic, “The Great Learning”, says that “The way of great learning consists in manifesting one’s bright virtue, consists in loving the people, consists in stopping in perfect goodness.”

That love of the “the great learning” and the stress which another of the ancients, Aristotle, places on the educating for virtue, represents the best investment which we can make for future peace, harmony and prosperity. In both the East and West we fully understand the necessity of investing in education.

There is an Oriental proverb which states that “if you want to plant for one season, plant a seed; if you want to plant for ten years, plant a tree; but if you want to plant for life, give a young man or woman an education.”

Education should equip students to reach beyond academic attainment, important though that is. Young people must have the opportunity to think, enquire, debate and understand how decisions will affect their lives and the future of their nation. They need to have lain before them potential ethical dilemmas, moral conundrums, technological and scientific challenges, the rapidly changing pace of living – and world crises, ranging from hunger, to global warming, to the exploitation of finite resources.

A key objective for these young people must surely be the promotion of harmony: harmony in our world, between nations, between cultures, between beliefs, between mankind and the natural world. When we bring together of our thoughts, our words and our actions, that is harmony. It is what the placard Ricard Martin, the 8 year old American boy so tragically killed in Boston last week, and who has been seen in pictures holding a poster which proclaimed “No more hurting people: Peace.”

This is surely a sentiment which can unite us.

In Asian belief we can see the centrality of the idea of harmony. In ancient Chinese Taoist thought all reality is determined by constantly changing relationships and by the harmonious complementarity of the two primal principles of Ying (the receptive, feminine, the earth) and Yang (the creative, masculine, heaven).

Hinduism sees the idea of ahimsa as pivotal. Ahimsa proclaims a rejection of the use of force and all that is harmful. For Mahatma Gandhi the ancient ahimsa was promoted as non-violence in all spheres of life including the political realm.

Alongside the cultivation of harmony the objective of educators should be the inculcation of compassion and the promotion of peace.

For the Buddhist all life is suffering. But karuna – the concept of compassion in Buddhism – mitigates the suffering through an outpouring of compassion and encourages each encounter with humanity and nature to be based on loving-kindness.

For Jews the Hebrew word shalom (like the Arabic word salaam, used by Muslims, and derived from the same word root) has a more substantive meaning than the English word peace. Jews use the word as a benediction or a blessing and the implicit prayer that the person so greeted will reach a place of contentment, happiness wholeness and inner peace.

The New Testament develops this understanding of the Old Testament message of peace. Jesus’ nativity is proclaimed as peace on earth; God’s kingdom is to be the kingdom of peace and righteousness; the Beatitudes praise the peacemakers as blessed and Jesus intensifies this message through the command to love one’s enemies. The disciples are told to speak peace in the name of Jesus after His Resurrection He greets the disciples with the words:”Peace be with you!”

Without this inner peace – this pax – and inner calm, which so many of the world religions foster, it is not possible to promote peace among the nations or within a nation; or to forestall chaotic anarchy and conflict. But, once you have experienced this inner pace and inner harmony the challenge is to take it into the service of the world.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “You must be the change you want to see in the world” whilst Confucius offered sage advice to anyone who wants to see change:

“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”

I have been four times in North Korea – where 200,000 languish in the prison camps – and the rest of the country lives in an open prison. That country’;s leaders need to put their hearts right. The Nobel Peace Laureate and eighth President of South Korea, Kim Dae Jung, understood the importance of personal transformation as the preparation for political life. In his Prison Letters, he wrote that:

“We have to be reborn every day and make fresh progress every day. The object of our conquest is ourselves. We have to fight and conquer that self that is complacent, the self that tries to escape, the self that is arrogant and the self that is carried away by a single moment of success.”

The principle that good leadership is dependent on this personal transformation and political life needs to revolve around the concept of service, not power.

sAVE THE CONGO

Congo at 50 (2010)

Fifty years ago, on June 30th 1960, the Congo was granted its independence by Belgium – a colony which, in 1908, had literally been sold, with ruthless zeal, by King Leopold II to the Belgian Government. In 1960 I was a boy attending the parish primary school. The good nuns who ran our school had links with the Congo and the entire class had been enlisted to raise money to support children in the Congo. It was my first attempt at raising funds for a good cause and the neighbours on the council estate where I was growing up were unfailingly generous – even more so as dreadful stories began to appear in our newspapers about the most terrible atrocities

From the first fleeting moment of post colonial freedom Congo’s fledgling democracy began to unravel – and ever since has been blighted by instability, by debilitating and incessant conflict and by corruption.

With the complicity of external quartermasters the conflict is fuelled by the sale of weapons and by avaricious greed.

During the 15 years up until 2005 the cost of conflict in Africa has been around $300 billion.

1,000 people die each day, victims of small arms. 95% of the Kalashnikov rifles used in these conflicts come from outside Africa. Conflicts are costing African economies an average of $18bn a year – desperately needed money which could solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, prevent TB and malaria, or provide clean water, sanitation and education.

• Nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day; the World Bank reports that more than 800 million people are wracked by starvation or despair, living below any rational definition of human decency;

• the Gross Domestic Product of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined; 20% of the population in the developed nations, consume 86% of the world’s goods; according to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty; nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.

• In the DRC, UNICEF estimate that 1200 people are dying every day due to continuing epidemics and conflict related emergencies: children and women are invariably the hardest hit. In eastern DRC they say that there are more than 31,400 children identified with acute malnutrition have been treated and a further 100,000 children with acute malnutrition in need of treatment. UNICEF say that they only have funds to meet 15% of the needs.

• Rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality are staggering. One in five children dies before reaching the age of five. Mothers die in childbirth in 13 out of every 1,000 deliveries.

• Nearly one third of children are underweight. Malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are responsible for nearly half of deaths among children under age five.

• Vaccination rates for the most common childhood diseases are approximately 65 per cent.

• Less than half the population has access to a safe source of clean drinking water. Less than one third has access to adequate sanitation facilities.

• HIV/AIDS is increasing and is significantly higher in areas of recent armed conflict, where sexual abuse and violence against women has been widespread.

• There are over 4 million orphaned children in the country.

• School enrolment rates are declining. More than 4.4 million children (nearly half the school-age population) are not in school. This number includes 2.5 million girls and 400,000 displaced children.

• Child labour is commonplace: More than a quarter of children ages 5 to 14 are working. Nearly 25,000 street children, 200,000 internally displaced children, and 3,000 child soldiers have received help from UNICEF

Back in 1960, within days of independence a military coup was underway and it was followed by widespread looting in the capital, Kinshasa. By July 11 the richest province, Katanga, seceded and the United Nations urgently sent 20,000 peacekeepers to protect Europeans and endeavoured to restore order: the fore-runners of today’s MONUC, the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world – which from the beginning of this month has been renamed MONUSCO.

In 1960 the peacekeepers were followed by a procession of mercenaries and militias – frequently hired by Western interests, especially mining companies.

In these events was the genesis of an endless bloody conflict, in which Congolese people have been hapless pawns in the hands of brutal and avaricious gangsters and war lords. Some six million people are estimated to have lost their lives in the years which have followed. The cost of the conflict can be seen in the devastating statistics which I have read to the House. Without conflict resolution development is impossible.

When I visited Congo in 2004, and published a report about the scale of the violence and our apparent indifference to the hemorrhaging loss of life, I quoted the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Professor Mbwinga Bila, who told me that as a consequence of the long corrupt and rapacious rule of Mobutu and the almost incessant armed violence since decolonisation “the decaying infrastructure we have today is the one we inherited at the moment of independence. In fact, we have even less now than we had then. The only change is that in 1960 the infrastructure supported a population of 14 million and today the population is closer to 60 million. We have had 35 years of bad government followed by 10 years of armed conflict.”

That conflict has destroyed all prospects of development and stability. Wholly inadequate national and regional leaders have emerged – some, like Patrice Lumumba, and Laurent Kabila (father of today’s Congolese President, Joseph Kabila) were assassinated; others like Colonel Joseph Mobutu became a by-word for Africa’s worst corruption. Others again, such as Jean-Perre Bemba created their own local armies and was backed by neighbouring powers such as Rwanda and Uganda. At one point six neighbouring countries had militias fighting over Congolese diamonds, copper, zinc and coltan. It is often said that Congo has been cursed by its natural resources. Natural wealth which should have lifted the country out of conflict and desperate poverty has proved to be a ball and chain.

When today’s President, Joseph Kabila, succeeded his father in 2001 a peace agreement was signed. By 2006 it had proved possible to agree a Constitution and to hold multi-party elections – the first since independence in 1960.

But welcome though those developments have been, lasting stability in this very fragile State remains elusive, and the world is fooling itself if it believes there is peace in the Congo, or that it will be possible, any time soon, to draw down its peacekeepers. The continuing level of suffering in the Congo is wholly unacceptable.

In the east of the country there are waves of explosive violence and terrible abuses of human rights. In North and South Kivu the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) continue to maraud – and as they displace terrified people the refugees become fodder for the competing militias. Two million people have been unable to return to their homes and thousands of women and girls – as well as boys and men – have been the victims of rape used as a weapon of war.

There are around 100,000 refugees in the east of the country. Kinshasa has tried “divide and rule” – the divide has worked but the rule has not. At the latest count a mushrooming of local factions has seen the emergence of 22 different local factions. One recent survey in the Kivus found that 60% felt less safe than they did a year ago.

Elsewhere, in Ituri MONUC has proved unable to contain the numerous militia; and in Northern Katanga the Mai-Mai – created by Laurent Kabila – are now at odds with Kinshasa.

Since 2008 a military offensive has been underway against the LRA (the Lord’s Resistance Army), and its leader, Joseph Kony, has regrouped and been recruit new children. It is a shocking indictment on the UN that Kony – against whom there is an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court – is still at large and still a major menace in the region. We need a much more coherent military campaign to hunt down the LRA leaders and bring them to justice.

After the deaths of countless numbers of people in Northern Uganda Kony’s LRA continues to kill, rape, abduct and enslave children – who become its fighters.

Kony is more wily than some imagine and he sees the ungoverned reaches of northern Congo as a safe haven. This territory has become the LRA’s new killing fields with chilling reports emerging of massacres perpetrated by the LRA. It is said that Kinshasa doesn’t give a damn about the depredations caused by the LRA. It is an ungoverned territory but failure to confront the LRA does not directly threaten the central government so they turn a blind eye. The UN peacekeepers also stay clear of the north, only one twentieth of their force is deployed there, yet the violence there has reached a fever pitch, with the outside world frequently unaware. The LRA is a more deadly killing machine than even the FDLR in the east of the country.

What this failure to contain the LRA has led to is the creation of a no-man’s land from which it is able to launch new incursions into Southern Sudan – it is said, with the connivance of paymasters and facilitators in the north of that country who wish to undermine Southern Sudan’s fragile new democracy. The LRA are a useful tool in the hands of Khartoum.

The danger posed to those in the Congo who courageously speak out against these depredations, atrocities and human rights abuses, was graphically underlined on June 2nd when one of Congo’s leading and most ardent human rights defenders, Floribert Chebeya, was murdered. He was President of the non-governmental organisation, La Voix des Sans-Voix – Voice for the Voiceless. In 1992 Mr.Chebeya won the Reebok Human Rights Award – and spent over twenty years fighting for the respect of human rights and the rule of law.

On June 3rd Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur of Extrajudicial Killings, made clear that in his view the circumstances of the killing raised questions about official involvement and he called for an urgent, independent investigation. MONUSC should put this in hand without delay. It is certainly not something which can be left to the Congolese authorities to investigate.

Those responsible for this crime must not go unpunished. But the world must also realise that Floribert Chebeya’s death was not an isolated incident. A grim pattern of repression, threats to human rights organisations, the murder of journalists, arbitrary arrest and detention, the flouting of the rule of law, and the emasculation of genuine opposition, are deeply worrying developments. There have been reports of opposition groups being brutally crushed, of bodies turning up in rivers, victims blind-folded and hands tied behind their backs. It cannot be a matter of indifference that impunity has become the rule, justice non existent, and the security services disproportionately powerful. The Congolese army is too often a source of abuse rather than protection. President Kabila is widely perceived to be reducing the political space; and creating structures which are usually associated with repressive states. He has used the clarion call of “fight against corruption” to attack the opposition.

The United Kingdom has become one of Congo’s largest donors – providing £130 million in 2010 – and has an increasing level of influence but to date has shown little sign of exercising any real clout. We should also question how we use our aid; and the role of UK companies working in the region. What is the point of using UK aid to refurbish the Ministry for Mines – when war lords, not the Ministry, run many of the mines? Our support for the building of civil society – which has stalled – and security sector reform would be much more effective. So would engagement with other regional players and especially with China, which is now a significant commercial player.

As it looks back over the fifty deadly years since it gained independence Congo’s people need protection and stability. This will require security sector reform; the disarmament of militias; and the restoration of authority based on the rule of law. It is said that the world is growing weary of the endless conflict in the Congo – but tired though the world may be, it should remember the truth of the motorway warning: “Tiredness Can Kill” – for the sake of Congolese people we need to remain alert to the country’s suffering and engaged with its plight.

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The United Nations now estimate that 5 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 1998 – the most deadly conflict since World War Two. They say that sexual violence is higher than in any other country – with more than half a million women raped overall, with an average, in the east of the country, of 40 women raped every day in South Kivu alone.

. The war continued and by 2007, it had claimed an estimated 5.4 million – and left 100 000 of women brutally raped – not to mention the million of internally displaced refugee.

See, rape and sexual violence is the cheapest weapons of war yet it is the most effective to instill fear amongst the population, punish community for supporting the wrong militia groups, humiliate the husband, destroy women and displace communities.

And in Congo, in addition to rape, in many cases, the damage is caused by the deliberate introduction of objects into the victim’s vagina when the rape itself is over. The objects might be sticks or pipes. Or gun barrels. In many cases the attackers shoot the victim in the vagina at point-blank range after they have finished raping her. The disastrous effect of both rape and Fistula on women and on the social fabric of the Congolese society is catastrophic – unimaginable.

In 2008, at the UN Security Council, Alan Doss declared:

“today being a woman in the Congo has become far more dangerous than being an armed militia.”

The International Community – Britain and the US in particular – made a conscious decision to pass on the issue, leaving it up to the ill equipped and ill trained UN force to protect the frightened population – – and remained silent as countless of Congolese men, women and children were being killed and raped.

The old, grey bearded traditional moralist, Lord Jakobovits, the late Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, once said:

“. . . Silence, indifference and inaction were Hitler’s principle allies”

And it was precisely because of inaction that a promised of “Never Again!” was made to the memories of six million men and women who perished in Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Birkenau and many other places in Europe during world war two.

Yet we have. . . and we have done so in many occasion indeed: Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur and now in Congo – a conflict in which not only women are victims but every women is a target – a rape victim in waiting

Recently The Times newspaper highlighted the extraordinary humanitarian work of a remarkable Congolese doctor, Dr.Denis Mukwege, who works with the women who have suffered. He has founded South Kivu’s City of Joy – and his daughters have described their father, who is sustained by his Christian faith, as a “doctor without borders”. His work stands both as a rebuke to the world and as an inspiration.

The violence, torture and killing is perpetrated by militias and groups like the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) – against whom, as Ban Ki Moon has argued, we need to create a regional strategy. The intensity of the violence continues to threaten the DRC’s fragile stability, its development, and progress towards 2011 elections.

To put the scale of the violence into context, it is calculated that with a death toll greater than a 9/11 every single day for a whole year combined with the 1 million who died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, combined with the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, combined with the genocide taking place in Darfur, and the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2005, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Put all those deaths together then double it and you have the Congo.

That remains the daunting challenge.

I last visited the Congo in 2004. Since then geo-strategic battles for control of the country’s natural resources has gone on unabated. The intensity, scale, and effect of the continued use of rape to displace communities from rich mining areas and the speed at which HIV AIDS and Fistula are spreading as result of sexual violence against women, young girls and now men are all documented in a series of human rights reports .They describe a country catapulted into a living nightmare. Today’s particular tragedy – in the east – is inextricably linked to the genocidal destruction of the Rwandan genocide and an influx of 1.5 Million Rwandan refugees into Eastern Congo, then Zaire

The hidden obstacle to peace is the control of easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources by armed groups and national armies from neighbouring countries. This remains the biggest obstacle to long-term peace in that region.

The Congo has more diamonds, more gold, more cobalt, more coltan, and more uranium –to name only some of its phenomenal assets, than any country in Africa; and in spite of the lamentable catalogue of crimes against humanity taking place, the Congo probably remains Europe’s and America’ s biggest supplier of uranium, coltan, cobalt, and tin.

For rebel groups and military elites from neighbouring countries, these riches, rather than bringing the populace out of poverty, have become a source of obscene wealth. It serves their interests to encourage the sickeningly chaotic situation. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda have all been beneficiaries.

Only when the illegal exploitations of natural resources from Eastern Congo is tackled will we eliminate the capacity of rebel groups to buy weapons; when economic incentives of neighbouring elites to export natural resources from Eastern Congo are undermined, Congo will become a stable and secure state.

But for the long term we also need to target our development aid towards education.

Throughout the Congo we must surely promote education for all. Education is said to be the cornerstone of personal, social and economic well being of individuals and a vaccine against social, historical and political ignorance that often break harmony and peace within and between communities.

The Congo has a population of approx 60 million – 50% of which is estimated to be under the age of 18 and 1 in 2 are said to be unschooled

– and of which 100 000s sleep rough on the streets, 10 000s have been recruited into armed groups and another 10 000s live in virtual slavery –mining natural resources for armed groups for as little as $5 a month, whilst the vast majority live in dire poverty.

The education of women – empowering them and helping them to rise to positions of leadership should be central to our approach to development.

Perhaps the most revolting issue of the wars overwhelming the Congo have been sexual atrocities against women and the young – they have been gang raped on a blood chilling scale. As Alan Doss – who heads up the biggest United Nations peace keeping force in the world – put it: being a woman has become far more dangerous than being an armed militia.

Thos responsible for these atrocities must not be allowed to think they will get away with it. To date, there has been a culture of impunity. The Congolese Government is comprised of military, government and parliamentary officials responsible for dozens of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch says:, “In Congo, if someone starts an armed group or kills people, they have a better chance of becoming a senior minister or a general than being put behind bars.” A gang of people who have achieved political power through involvement in mass killings and who used sexual atrocities as weapons of war will ever successfully heal or lead a nation if they are permitted to do so with impunity. As in South Africa there must be a process of truth and justice. Without it reconciliation will never be achievable.

No Congolese official responsible for alleged war crimes should ever be allowed to benefit from UK aid – be it financial or military and no UK visa should be granted to such individuals. It shames the UK that the United Nations have had to criticise us for withholding information about the activities of militia leaders living in Britain. Nor have we done enough to encourage the Congolese Government to extradite Bosco Ntaganda, for whom there is an International Criminal Court warrant outstanding; or to persuade the Government of Rwanda to bring Laurent Nkunda, captured in January of last year, to trial; or to ensure that Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA is arrested and brought to trial.

The Congo is a nation in ruin: a nation which has been suffocating in its own people’s blood. Its people deserve much much better than this.

More on the Congo….

Some remarks in advance of a short parliamentary debate about the Congo…2009

The All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region of Africa does an excellent job. They, along with the NGOs working on the admirable coalition Congo Now, along with the officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who have responsibility for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have ensured that Parliament and Government remain focused on a part of Africa where the UN estimates that 5 million people have died since 1998 – the most deadly conflict since World War Two. The United Nations say that sexual violence is higher in the DRC than in any other country – with more than half a million raped overall, with an average, in the east of the country, of 40 a day raped in South Kivu alone. The extraordinary humanitarian work of Dr.Denis Mukwege in South Kivu’s City of Joy – whose daughters describe him as “doctor without borders” – stands both as a rebuke to the world and as an inspiration.

Sadly, the killing, torture and violence which Dr.Mukwege contends with on a daily basis – and documented so well in The Times on January 28th – is not a new phenomenon in the DRC. Today, in the east, the carnage continues. This and violence perpetrated by other militias and groups like the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) – against whom, as Ban Ki Moon has argued, we need to create a regional strategy – continues to threaten the country’s fragile stability, its development, and progress towards 2011 elections.

November 19th last marked the Centenary Anniversary of the Great Congo Demonstration, when one hundred year ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Christian church leaders, including nine bishops and leading non-conformists along with many Peers and fifty Members of Parliament assembled at the Royal Albert Hall to protest against the abuses by Belgium in the Congo –then known as the Congo Free State.

A century ago the Belgians were responsible for terrible depredations – a story which is brilliantly told by Adam Hochschild in his admirable and comprehensive book, “King Leopold’s Ghost.” In many respects the shocking abuses of that period paved the way for today’s atrocities.

The centenary of the Royal Albert Hotel gathering – and to protest at the continuing suffering inflicted on the people of the Congo – was marked by another gathering at the Royal Albert Hall organised by a young Congolese living in Britain, Vava Tampa, who is director of “Save the Congo.”

Vava Tampa was determined to emulate Edmund Dene Morel, who organised the demonstration a century ago. Morel’s “Letter of Protest” , published by The Times, was signed by eleven Peers, nineteen bishops, 76 Members of Parliament, the Presidents of seven Chambers of Commerce, thirteen editors of major newspaper, and every Lord Mayor in the U.K. It was an extraordinary achievement.

E.D. Morel – like Tampa – was a young man, in his twenties. Morel was an employee of a Liverpool shipping line and he saw the hatches of his company’s ships filled with valuable cargoes of rubber and ivory. He saw the same ships return with soldiers, firearms and ammunition. In a report in 1904 the British Counsellor in the Congo, Sir Roger Casement, concluded that the conflict which Europe aided and abetted led to the deaths of ten million Congolese.

Morel resigned from his Company and, single handedly highlighted the violence. Sir Edward Grey, then Foreign Secretary, and a man not given to overstatement, said “no external question for at least thirty years has moved the country so strongly and so vehemently”.

In replicating the 1909 letter the signatories of the 2009 Letter of Protest rightly draw attention to these continuing horrors: The letter states with great clarity:

“Today, with a death toll greater than a 9/11 every single day for 356 days, genocide that struck Rwanda in 1994, ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, genocide taking place in Darfur, and the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2005, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined and then doubled, the world is looking away with hardly a peep.

“This conflict has pushed the Congo to the very edge of ruination; decimated social harmony; killed an estimated six million while sending millions more running in fear; brought material destruction and looting on a mass scale; orchestrated death squads; invented new horrors in rape on scale never seen before; and attacked Congo’s future generations with an HIV AIDS pandemic triggered by orchestrated campaigns of sexual atrocities against women – still spreading today at an alarming speed.”

They add:

“We know that there are, sadly, innumerable urgent humanitarian and human rights crises around the world, all of which require the world’s attention. Yet the Congolese conflict is the greatest since World War Two and addressing the unfolding human tragedy, the thriving culture of impunity and corruption is of paramount urgency. A peaceful Congo is critically important for the citizens of DRC and the whole Great Lakes region.”

That remains the daunting challenge.

I last visited the Congo in 2004. Since then geo-strategic battles for control of the country’s natural resources has gone on unabated. The intensity, scale, and effect of the continued use of rape to displace communities from rich mining areas and the speed at which HIV AIDS and Fistula are spreading as result of sexual violence against women, young girls and now men are all documented in a series of human rights reports .They describe a country catapulted into a living nightmare. Today’s particular tragedy – in the east – is inextricably linked to the genocidal destruction of 800 000 – 1 million people in Rwanda in April 1994 and an influx of 1.5 Million Rwandan refugee into Eastern Congo, then Zaire

Sometimes people ask “What needs to be done to save the Congo? And more precisely what could and should the UK do to help?”

Firstly, we must continue to help drive forward the long overdue political dialogue between the Government of Rwanda and Rwandan Hutus living in Eastern Congo:

Military operations against these groups have not been able to dismantle them, but instead have created massive retaliation against civilians – the case of Kimia II speaks for itself.

In the same way that the Congolese Government has been opening negotiations with Congolese rebel groups, HMG should encourage the Governments of Rwanda and Uganda to open political dialogue with their respective country’s rebel groups in order to stabilise the Congo and Great Lakes region.

Can the Minister tell us what progress is being made to resettle FDLR combatants, as was agreed by the Governments of Rwanda and Congo in the Nairobi communiqué of 2007? And, as Alan Doss, the UN Special Representative, draws up his report on the work of MONUC, to be submitted by April 1st, are we pressing for better planning of operations between FARDC and MONUC – of sharing of intelligence information about the where abouts of key figures wanted for war crimes – and for the creation of Joint Protection Teams for civilians; and for more resources, particularly helicopters.

We frequently underestimate the sheer size of the territory that MONUC’s 20,000 peacekeepers have to cover. The Congo is the size of Western Europe – its distance from one side to the other is greater than the distance from London to Moscow – and though 90% of the mission forces are now deployed in Eastern Congo, the task of patrolling one of the concerned provinces, South Kivu, is equivalent to having one police officer cover all of Paris and Brussels combined.

Last year the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote to European leaders asking them to intervene in the Congo–─some thing that can safely be declared as “an implicit admission that MONUC had failed to deal with the conflict and needed EU to help end it” – yet Europe looked away .

A year later, and the figures speak for themselves: 7,000 women raped –some in the most unimaginable ways, and with the rape, HIV AIDS, Fistula and STDs are spreading at an alarming speed; 900,000 forced from their homes (and this is on top of the 1.5 million who were already displaced when Ban Ki-moon wrote to EU leaders) and at least 6,000 houses have been burned down by rebels, some as recently as September and thousands killed.

Secondly, we must address the hidden obstacle to peace:

Specific grievances might have sparked specific episodes of fighting, – but hidden below this is the more fundamental question – the control of easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources by armed groups and national armies from neighbouring countries. This remains the biggest obstacle to long-term peace in that region.

The Congo has more diamonds, more gold, more cobalt, more coltan, and more uranium –to name only some of its phenomenal assets, than any country in Africa; and in spite of the lamentable catalogue of crimes against humanity taking place, the Congo probably remains Europe’s and America’ s biggest supplier of uranium, coltan, cobalt, and tin.

For rebel groups and military elites from neighbouring countries, these riches, rather than bringing the populace out of poverty, have become a source of obscene wealth. It serves their interests to encourage the sickeningly chaotic situation. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda have all been beneficiaries.

Only when the illegal exploitations of natural resources from Eastern Congo is tackled will we eliminate the capacity of rebel groups to buy weapons; when economic incentives of neighbouring elites to export natural resources from Eastern Congo are undermined, Congo will become a stable and secure state.

Her Majesty’s Government needs to tell the House what diplomatic, financial and military means we are using to end the looting of Congolese resources, allowing armed groups to recruit from their territory and fuelling wars in Congo? When did we last raise these issues with the three countries I just referred to? How far have we got with legislation in the UK – like the US “The Congo Conflict Minerals Act 2009” – to pave the way for legitimate companies to operate with transparency and social responsibility?

Resolution 1896, adopted by the Security Council on November 30th last, mandates the Group of Experts to come up with recommendations to the Committee for guidelines on the exercise of due diligence to prevent indirect support to armed groups through the exploitation and trafficking of natural resources in the DRC. Can the Minister tell us more about the timetable for the implementation of these guidelines?

Thirdly, throughout the Congo we must surely promote education for all: Education is said to be the cornerstone of personal, social and economic well being of individuals and a vaccine against social, historical and political ignorance that often break harmony and peace within and between communities.

The Congo has a population of approx 60 million – 50% of which is estimated to be under the age of 18 and 1 in 2 are said to be unschooled

– and of which 100 000s sleep rough on the streets, 10 000s have been recruited into armed groups and another 10 000s live in virtual slavery –mining natural resources for armed groups for as little as $5 a month, whilst the vast majority live in dire poverty.

The education of women – empowering them and helping them to rise to positions of leadership should be central to our approach to development.

Perhaps the most revolting issue of the wars overwhelming the Congo have been sexual atrocities against women and the young – they have been gang raped on a blood chilling scale. As Alan Doss put it: being a woman has become far more dangerous than being an armed militia.

The last United Nation’s report S/2009/362 on sexual violence states that about 200,000 cases of rape have been reported in the DRC since the war began in 1996. This is a conservative estimate – it does not take into account the many victims who did not survive the attacks, those who live in places out of reach by data collectors, and those forced to hide because of shame, fear of retaliation or rejection by their families or community.

I recently met officials at the Foreign Office to discuss the DRC and among the issues we discussed – and I tabled Parliamentary Questions about this as well – was the condition of shegues – street children who are imprisoned at Angenga and Buluwo prisons. What assessment has made of conditions in those prisons? Can the Minister say how many street children are estimated to live on the streets of Kinshasa? How many children in Congo are still under arms? The Government recently gave me figures about the funds allocated for schools and education. Perhaps the Minister could say what percentage of our aid programme this represents?

Fourthly and lastly, Impunity: the Congolese Government is comprised of military, government and parliamentary officials responsible for dozens of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, as Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch put it, “In Congo, if someone starts an armed group or kills people, they have a better chance of becoming a senior minister or a general than being put behind bars.” I remain to be convinced that a group of people who have achieved political power through involvement in mass killings and who used sexual atrocities as weapons of war will ever successfully heal or lead a nation if they are permitted to do so with impunity. As in South Africa there must be a process of truth and justice. Without it reconciliation will never be achievable.

I hope the Minister will assure Parliament that no Congolese official responsible for alleged war crimes will ever benefit from UK aid – be it financial or military, and that no UK visa will be granted to such individuals. Perhaps they will tell us the current situation concerning FDLR leaders living in Britain and how we have responded to the UN Group of Experts criticism that we withheld information about their activities.

THE Government also needs to say what action they are taking to encourage the Congolese Government to extradite Bosco Ntaganda, for whom there is an International Criminal Court warrant outstanding; when did we last discuss his case with the Congolese? What discussions they have had with the Government of Rwanda about bringing Laurent Nkunda, captured in January of last year, to trial; and to arrest and bring Joseph Kony, of the LRA, to trial?

Let me conclude: We are all agreed that the situation in the Congo is extremely grave: it is a nation in ruin, suffocating in its own people’s blood.

At the beginning of my remarks I mentioned Vava Tampa.

In an Open Letter to the Prime Minister, to President Obama, President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister of Belgium, and others, last year, he concluded: —

“We know that there are, sadly, innumerable urgent humanitarian and human rights crises around the world, all of which require the world’s attention. Yet the wars and humanitarian crisis overwhelming the Congo is the greatest since World War Two and addressing the root causes of the crisis, sexual violence against women and the thriving culture of impunity and corruption is of paramount urgency. A peaceful Congo is critically important for the citizens of DRC and the whole Great Lakes region.”

This is a message the world needs to hear.

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Article for e-politix: 2010 – on Voting Systems and Fairness. Why Closed Party Lists, Alternative Votes and First Past the Post are neither fair nor effective.

On Monday the House of Lords will have a short debate on my motion drawing attention to proposals to change the voting system – and some of the implications.

The political parties will be making a huge mistake if they muddle the genuine case which can be made for reform with cynical and belated attempts to sustain their own hegemony or if they imagine that any change is preferable to our existing arrangements.

Some forms of proportional representation are a hundred times worse than first past the post.

When closed party list systems of proportional representation were introduced for elections to the European Parliament I opposed it, on the grounds that it was bound to open the way to groups like the British National Party and because it offends a fundamental principle of our parliamentary democracy: the right to vote for an individual candidate rather than for a party or its list. Party lists destroy the constituency basis of representation which is such a strength of our system.

By putting power into the hands of political elites closed party lists also compound voter alienation and encourage politicians to further detach themselves from direct community engagement.

Yet, first-past-the-post (FPTP) hardly inspires.

The last election gave the current government 55% of the seats with just 35.1% of the votes. This was the flimsiest basis for a Commons majority in modern British electoral history. If the steady trend of increasing support for parties other than Labour and the Conservatives continues, then such massive distortions will continue and potentially get even worse.

People are also increasingly aware that their vote will probably make absolutely no difference to the result, especially if they live in a so-called “safe” seat. The feeling of powerlessness and alienation this creates is a major contributor to low turnout. In 2005, Labour was able to win power with the support of just 21.6% of potential voters, thanks to the large numbers staying at home.

Just like closed-lists, safe-seats can also lead to voter frustration. In Barking and Dagenham, for instance, the BNP are now the main opposition to Labour, with 12 councillors. Turnout in this area, where Labour has dominated for decades, was less than 40%, making it relatively easy for the BNP to win seats on the council with minority support from voters.

Jack Straw has suggested that a good way to address this would be through the introduction of the Alternative Vote (AV).

But, AV is no different to FPTP in denying voters a say in who will be the candidate for each party.

By contrast, single transferable votes give voters a choice of different candidates whom they can support within each party – a kind of built-in primary (without the extra expense). As each party has more than one candidate, there is also far more scope under STV to promote candidates from under-represented groups (women, ethnic minorities etc without quotas).

Paradoxically, AV has the potential to be even less proportional than FPTP. AV would still allow parties with minority support to have large majorities in the Commons. Again, by contrast, STV is a highly proportional system, where parties’ seat shares closely reflect their share of the vote.

Under AV, a large minority (at least) of voters would not have a local representative that they supported at the ballot box. In contrast, after the 2007 Scottish local elections, which used STV, nearly three-quarters of voters are represented by their first-choice candidate.

Nor would AV do anything to end the relentless focus on a handful of key marginal seats which so distorts British politics. Under STV, there are no safe seats and no no-go areas for any parties. STV has the added advantage that it requires political parties to co-exist – as it has done to such historic advantage in Northern Ireland.

In addition, under AV, constituents would still have just one local representative to turn to if they have a problem. Under STV, with multi-member constituencies, they would have a choice of who to turn to.

The dying days of a Parliament (and probably a Government) is the worst possible time to try and alter the voting system. It will raise the spectre of gerrymandering and Tammany Hall style politics. If there is to be a change to our voting system let it be because reform is long overdue. Let it have as its first requirement that an MP will represent a defined geographical area and that votes will be cast for people not parties. Any move to Single Transferable Votes or Alternative Votes would need to command wide spread support and should not, under any circumstances, be steam-rollered through as a last gasp political fix or as part of a political deal.

Despite its manifest imperfections the immediate crisis of confidence in our political system and political classes has been the expenses debacle – it is not a crisis of faith in democracy.

Ultimately, constituency parties and, failing that, the constituents themselves, are best placed to sort this out. They need to ponder long and hard on the character and the motives of their candidate. What are their causes – and, if they have none, might it be that they are entering political life for the wrong reasons?

If we wish to renew Britain’s political life we need to address the disconnect between politicians and the people they are supposed to serve – not a raft of measures from State funding of political parties to votes at 16 – measures that are beloved of political activists but which are irrelevant in the current crisis of confidence.

Some footnotes:

Comparisons between STV and AV

1. Lack of voter choice. AV is no different to FPTP in denying voters a say in who will be the candidate for each party. Under STV, voters have a choice of different candidates to support for each party – a kind of built-in primary (without the extra expence). As each party has more than one candidate, there is far more scope under STV to promote candidates from under-represented groups (women, ethnic minorities etc).

2. Distorted results. AV has the potential to be even less proportional than FPTP. AV would still allow parties with minority support to have large majorities in the Commons. In contrast, STV is a highly proportional system, where parties’ seat shares closely reflect their share of the vote.

3. Voters feel unrepresented. Under AV, a large minority (at least) of voters would not have a local representative that they supported at the ballot box. In contrast, after the 2007 Scottish local elections, which used STV, nearly three-quarters of voters are represented by their first-choice candidate.

4. Marginal seats. AV would do nothing to end the relentless focus on a handful of key marginal seats that distorts British politics. Under STV, there are no safe seats and no no-go areas for any parties.

5. Coaltion governments would be no more likely under AV than the current system, whereas they would be a virtual certainty under STV, given that no party has anywhere near majority support.

6. Under AV, constituents would still have just one local representative to turn to if they have a problem. Under STV, with multi-member consituencies, they would have a choice of who to speak to.

Examples of how FPTP has distorted election results

1. The current government has 55% of the seats with just 35.1% of the votes. This was the flimsiest basis for a Commons majority in modern British electoral history. If the steady trend of increasing support for parties other than Labour and the Conservatives continues, then such massive distortions will continue and potentially get even worse.

2. In one ward in Burnley, all the borough council seats are held by the BNP – despite the party receiving far short of a majority of the votes. Many ethnic minority constituents here feel they have no palatable person to turn to with their problems.

3. While PR systems do not prevent obnoxious parties from gaining representation, the vast majority of BNP election victories have happened under FPTP, notably in council elections in places like Barking and Stoke-on-Trent.

a. In Barking and Dagenham, the BNP are now the main opposition to Labour, with 12 councillors. Turnout in this area, where Labour has dominated for decades, was less than 40%, making it relatively easy for the BNP to win seats on the council with minority support from voters.

4. Turnout. People are increasingly aware that their vote will probably make absolutely no difference to the result, especially if they live in a safe seat. The feeling of powerlessness and alienation this creates is a major contributor to low turnout. In 2005, Labour was able to win power with the support of just 21.6% fo potential voters, thanks to the large numbers staying at home.

a. Supporters of smaller parties often vote Conservative or Labour so as to elect ‘the lesser of two evils’ rather than for the party they positively identify with. Again, this helps to make people cynical and negative about politics under FPTP.

Why party lists have aided the BNP.

1. Party lists are the most anonymous of voting systems – famously, a tiny fraction of voters are able to name their MEP. This encourages apathy and low turn-outs – which in turn helps parties with relatively low support to win seats, as supporters of the mainstream parties stay at home.

e.g. in 2009, barely a third (34.3%) of the electorate turned up to vote in the Euro elections that saw 2 BNP candidates elected. In Northern Ireland by contrast, where STV has always been used for Euro elections, the turnout was – as usual – markedly higher (42.4%).

2. Richard Barnbrook was elected to the London Assembly, through a city-wide list vote. He received 5.3% of the votes cast – just over the 5% threshold. Setting a higher threshold would reduce the likelihood of extremists being elected. (In Turkey, parties must poll at least 10%, for example).

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Why Voting Is A Duty

Much has been written about the elections held earlier this month. As power has been changing hands at national and local level, the parties and leaders will have been carefully analysing the movements of “swing voters” and plotting the implications for the next Westminster elections.

Beyond the swings and roundabouts of party politics lies a deeper issue – the mass absenteeism which is becoming such a feature of our British elections. This begs the questions about whether it should be compulsory to cast a vote.

Although I freely admit that there are arguments in favour and against compulsory voting, I think the balance is tilting in favour of change.

In the post-War working class community where I lived as a child, voting was seen as a serious civic duty. My late father, a Desert Rat, had served alongside his four brothers in the armed forces during the Second World War. It was a war which was fought to prevent this country falling into the hands of the Nazis – with the consequential loss of our democracy, our freedom and our liberties.

My father’s younger brother, an airman, lost his life. Their family home was one of the many that was destroyed in the blitz. He reckoned that if our freedoms were worth fighting and dying for, they were certainly worth a walk to the polling station.

Even before the sacrifices of that generation, countless people fought long and hard to gain the franchise. Think of the blood that flowed on St.Peter’s Fields in Manchester – “Peterloo” – or the Chartists – or Emily Pankhurst and the Suffragettes. Remember the death of Emily Davidson, who lost her life when she threw herself in front of the King’s race horse. She was fighting for a right that many now treat with indifference of contempt.

In the post war years whole families went to the polls together; they certainly did on the council estate where I lived as a boy.

Even in the 1970s, when I was elected as a student to Liverpool City Council, there was a tangible sense of excitement and a buzz on the streets on voting day.

Later, as a Member of Parliament, representing the Liverpool seat that always had the highest election turn-out, I would always argue that the only “wasted vote” was the one that wasn’t used.

Yet, in areas in local elections, only about one in five bother to vote. In one Liverpool ward the turn out fell to 6%. When 94% stay away, that doesn’t just pose serious questions about how alienated people have become from political parties and their candidates (in some areas aiding and abetting extreme parties like the BNP), it also raises questions about how lightly people are taking their civic duties.

Even in the last General Election, just 59.6% voted –down from 71.4% in 1997 and in the last two General Elections the lowest turnout in the entire UK was in the Liverpool Riverside constituency (34% and 41%) – which includes deprived neighbourhoods like Toxteth that desperately need effective representation .

When four out of five people do not vote in local elections how can any councillor or council leader claim to have a mandate? How can they legitimately claim to represent the will of the people? And we all know to what extremes voter apathy may lead.

So should we be required by law to vote?

Yes, but given the state of our sclerotic political parties – often devoid of energy and in full retreat from the voters, hiding behind a manipulative mixture of image makers and spin – I would also want the right to tick a “none of the above” box, formally registering the protest of an abstention.

That is the system they have in Australia and it works well.

32 other countries also have compulsory voting – including Greece, Belgium, Mexico and Switzerland.

I am generally against the further extension of the powers of the State but compulsory voting would help to make the State more accountable. Paradoxically it would be an extension of the powers of the ordinary citizen.

When they appointed me to the House of Lords one of the things I had take away was my right to vote in a General Elections (in common with lunatics and criminals!). In return I am given the privilege of voting on every Bill that comes before Parliament. If I added up all the time I have spent in the Commons and the Lords casting votes it would add up to months on end. But in comparison with those who live under dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, what a privilege that is. Perhaps because I have been in too many countries –like Burma and North Korea – where free elections are just dreams, that I wonder if we haven’t allowed voter apathy in Britain to get completely out of hand.

Voting is a duty which we should treat with the utmost seriousness; a right which we should never take for granted.

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As they celebrate Chinese New Year today – the Year of the Pig – say a prayer for China and spare a thought for brave Chinese citizens like the blind human rights activist, Chen Guangchen, who will be spending his new year behind bars.

Chen’s crime? He spoke out against the one child policy, which in the Shandong Province led to around 130,000 women being forcibly aborted or compulsorily sterilised in one year alone.

Thousands of people have already sent letters and post cards to the Chinese Ambassador at their Embassy in London calling for Chen’s release. Others have been writing to MPs urging them to sign the House of Commons Early Day Motion (586) which draws attention to Chen’s case.

Chen’s case is of crucial importance for a variety of reasons.

* First, his prison sentence – four years and three months – is a shocking miscarriage of justice. Incarcerated on wholly trumped up charges, this 34 year-old man has been deprived of his liberty and brutally separated from his wife and family.

* Second, a blind man has seen what we have chosen to look away from, the cruel and inhumane treatment of women and their children. Millions of Chinese women have been violated by a law which makes it illegal for their children to have a brother or a sister.

* Third, at a time when China is keen to be taken seriously as a world power, this casts in doubt the belief that they are improving human rights and religious and political freedoms.

Chen’s courageous stand puts each of these issues under the spotlight – and, of course, some elements in China do not welcome that.

This is a particularly sensitive time because China is preparing to host next year’s Olympic Games. An unwelcome case like Chen’s vividly underlines how much more China has to do to establish an impartial and independent judicial system. Chen’s case is not an isolated example and as the world becomes more and more aware of China’s human rights violations it is quite likely that pressure will grow on democratic nations and individual athletes to reconsider their participation in the Games.

Chen is by no means the only person to have been jailed because of opposition to the policy of coercive population control.

Two weeks ago the international press reported on the case of Mao Hengfeng, a Chinese woman who for two decades has led protests against the one child policy.

She was recently sentenced to an additional two-and-a-half years in prison for breaking two lamps while in a detention house in Shanghai.

In 1988, Mao was fired from her job at a Shanghai soap factory after becoming pregnant with a second child. She carried her pregnancy to term despite pressure from the government to have an abortion. After Mao became pregnant again, she sued the soap factory for firing her, and the presiding judge told her he would rule in her favour if she aborted this third pregnancy.

She succumbed to the pressure and at seven months gestation she aborted her baby. But the Judge’s promises proved worthless. The court ruled against her, upholding the factory’s right of dismissal, because she had violated China’s family planning policy. Then, in 2004, she was sentenced to 18 months in a prison labour camp for refusing to stop campaigning. In January 2005 they added three months to her sentence, and human rights groups say that Mao has been tortured while in custody.

Cases like those of Chen and Mao may not only make the international community deeply uncomfortable about participating in the Olympics. They will also sharpen international criticism of China on other issues too: Tibet, Taiwan, persecution of religious believers, and irresponsible environmental policies – these are all part of the mix.

Many have also noted that it was China (along with Russia) that last month used their double veto to stop the United Nations Security Council taking decisive action against Burma for its violation of human rights. In neighbouring North Korea China has been similarly disinterested in human rights abuses, but recently work up to the dangers of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

As a huge emerging economic power, China is also a principal player in Africa. In Sudan, for instance, she owns 40% of the oil industry; in Zimbabwe, China is one of Robert Mugabe’s few allies. President Hu has been in Africa this month – and many will wonder whether China will use any of her new muscle and leverage to persuade President Bashir to stop the killing, rape and plunder of Darfur.

China could and should do a lot; but while she goes on incarcerating men like Chen Guangchen, it isn’t very likely. Support for repression at home will be mirrored by support for repression overseas.

But China is not alone in studied ambiguity and inconsistency.

Some British MPs are so wedded to population control that they have refused to sign the Commons Motion calling for Chen’s release. Why? – Because it calls on those international agencies which have funded China’s population policies to stop doing so. It also calls on the British Government to stop funding these same agencies while women continue to be forcibly aborted and men like Chen rot in jail. Millions of pounds of British taxpayers money has aided and abetted these crimes against humanity.

So, if you haven’t already done so, why not mark the Chinese New Year by sending a card or letter on Chen’s behalf – one to the Chinese Ambassador at 49 Portland Place, London W1B 1JL and one to your MP.

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Two Reports for Jubilee Campaign – 2004 – Congo and Sudan

A JUBILEE ACTION REPORT

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

The Killing Continues: A path to progress

September 2004.

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Between September 19th and October 2nd 2004 a delegation sponsored by the British charity, Jubilee Action, visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. The delegation included Lord Alton of Liverpool, Canon Anthony Harvey, Sam Burke and Raphael Mpanzu.

2.0 Purpose of the Visit.

2.1 Jubilee is involved in advocacy on human rights and the promotion of dialogue and conflict resolution in many parts of the world. Jubilee Action also supports projects aimed specifically at alleviating the plight of street children, many of whom are often left orphaned, destitute or homeless as a consequence of conflict.

2.2 In arranging a delegation to the DRC, Jubilee was responding directly to an invitation by the Congolese Government and was welcomed by the Vice-President, Yerodia Ndombasi. In Rwanda, the delegation were welcomed by the President, Paul Kagame, and by senior Ministers.

2.3 Political, social, and economic progress in DRC is inextricably linked with conclusively ending the conflict between Rwanda – a country that face its own daunting but by no means insuperable challenges. We are indebted to the individuals and agencies that we met (Appendix 3) and to all those who went to so much trouble to make our mission productive.

3.0 Narrative and History.

3.I The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

3.1.1 After becoming independent from Belgium in 1960, the DRC has been blighted by instability, by debilitating and incessant conflict and by corruption. We heard many allegations that, to this day, with the complicity of western governments, European quartermasters continue to fuel the conflict by the sale of weapons. This continues a tradition begun in the 16th century by French and Portuguese traders and pursued in the nineteenth century with ruthless zeal by King Leopold II of Belgium (who literally sold the country – his personal possession – to the Belgian government in 1908).

3.1.2 The country’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Professor Mbwinga Bila, told us that as a consequence of the long corrupt and rapacious rule of President Mobutu and the almost incessant armed violence since decolonisation “the decaying infrastructure we have today is the one we inherited at the moment of independence. In fact, we have even less now than we had then. The only change is that in 1960 the infrastructure supported a population of 14 million and today the population is closer to 60 million. We have had 35 years of bad government followed by 10 years of armed conflict.”

3.1.3 Many Congolese told us that it is futile to simply blame the past and that it is now time for the country to move on. In doing so it faces enormous challenges and has great possibilities.

3.1.4 DRC is the third largest county in Africa and the fourth most populous. Per capita income is $107 dollars. Congo has been benighted by exploitative rule, and by callous and corrupt leadership.

3.2 The Consequences of Conflict

3.2.1 According to the United Nations between in the four years after 1998 more than 3.5 million deaths “occurred from the beginning of the war up to September 2002. These deaths are a direct result of the occupation by Rwanda and Uganda.” Put another way, 2,000 people a day were killed in a war that has been likened to Europe’s Great War. As the DRC saw this staggering loss of life, catastrophic conflict has rendered social development impossible. Congo became a text book example of a failed State – with marauding war lords vying for power and central government barely in control of the capital’s government buildings, let alone its far-flung provinces.

3.2.2 As the country was disfigured by the mass killing of civilians, by the end of 2003 3.4 million people remained internally displaced. Rape has been used as a weapon of war, accompanied by torture, arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, and the widespread use of child soldiers, some as young as seven.

3.2.3 From the moment of its birth DRC was plunged into civil war, with army mutinies, the attempted secession of Katanga province (richly endowed with minerals) and the assassination of the first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. By 1965 the head of the army, Jospeh Mobutu had installed himself in power, renamed the country Zaire, and initiated conflict with Angola.

3.2.4 Uniquely, the DRC has nine neighbours – Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Central African Republic, and the Republic of the Congo. At various times in its turbulent history the DRC has either been at war or in alliance with most of its neighbours. Internally, its sprawling landmass – covering an area half of the size of Western Europe – is occupied by ethnic groups who have invariably been at war with one another.

3.2.5 The Mobutu regime squandered 30 long years in an orgy of violence and corruption of a high order.

3.2.6 It was toppled by a rebellion in May 1997. This led to the installation of Laurent-Desire Kabila as President. A year later Rwanda and Uganda supported a rebellion against him while troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Sudan and Chad intervened on Kabila’s side. The stage was set for continued blood-letting in which the prize has always been the DRC’s huge potential mineral wealth. Sometimes the conflict is described in shorthand as a conflict between DRC and Rwanda (and some of its other neighbours). Minister Bila reminded us that DRC “is 80 times bigger than Rwanda and we have no territorial ambitions in Rwanda. They have no natural resources that we could possibly want” – and we were inclined to believe him.

3.2.7 Throughout the 1990s groups of militias and counter insurgents were spawned everywhere. The Rassemblement Congolais pour la democratie (RCD), the Mouvement pour le liberation du Congo (MLC), and the Mai-Mai all emerged in this climate. The instability and violence, particularly in the east of the county, was intensified by the exodus to DRC of 1.2 million predominantly Hutu refugees who had fled from during the genocide of 1994.

3.2.8 With impunity the perpetrators of the genocide used the cover of the camps to escape arrest. The Interahamwe militia used DRC as their base while they continued to mount incursions into Rwanda.

3.2.9 In 1999 a ceasefire was agreed. Intermittent fighting continued and it culminated in Kabila’s assassination in January 2001. His son, Joseph Kabila, assumed power.

3.2.10 Meanwhile, Rwanda and Uganda – former allies – fought each other for control of the strategically and commercially important city of Kisangani. 1400 Congolese civilians were left dead by the time the city fell to the Rwandans.

3.2.11 In 2002 President Kabila secured the withdrawal of the Ugandan troops from the Ituri district of the Orientale Province. Rwandan troops also withdrew from the east of the country (although around 10,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels – Forces democratiques de Liberations du Rwanda (FDLR) still roam the highlands of South Kivu ).

3.2.12 An agreement was made with the external parties involved in the conflict, accompanied by the creation of a coalition government of national unity (GNU). A National assembly – comprising 500 deputies and senators – was convened. A pledge was made to promote a new constitution and a promise of democratic elections for 2005. A rare window of opportunity for DRC had been opened.

3.3 An Impossible Task?

3.3.1 Kabila appeared to have been given an impossible task. Most observers believed the GNU’s life would be short-lived. The four vice presidents who were appointed to serve under Kabila each represent different parties to the conflict and seemed at best to be uneasy bedfellows and, at worse, belligerent parties who would only be interested in preserving their own position. It was suggested to us that this formula of “one plus four equals zero” but we saw encouraging signs that opposing factions have tried to make the process work. DRC is a fragile if no-longer a failed State and can best be characterised as “a situation that is not as bad as it could have been.”

3.3.2 DRC desperately needs peace. In a huge country of 2.3 million kilometres (about a quarter of the size of the U.S.) there is a population of 58.3 million – 65% of whom are` under the age of 25. Minister Bila told us that “only 3 million have a regular supply of drinking water and the same is true of electricity.” Life expectancy is put at 40.6 years; 1.3 million are living with HIV/AIDS, and infant mortality is 94.6 deaths for each 1,000 live births.35% of the people are illiterate. An estimated 3 million people have been displaced from their homes (accentuating urban drift and urban squalor). Inflation in 2001 peaked at 135% and bundles of Congolese Francs are still needed to buy basic things. Resources are virtually non existent for public services (the national budget is just $820 million). The social infrastructure is in a state of collapse.

3.3.3 We cite two examples, one a hospital and one a school. We visited Kinshasa General Hospital. Built in 1912, we were told that it had once been one of the finest hospitals in Africa. With around 1700 beds it remains the biggest hospital \in the DRC. Dr.Diabeno Tombe, the hospital’s medical director, told us that the 160 doctors, 1,100 nurses and 1200 employees regularly go for months on end without remuneration: “This has led to us losing doctors to countries like Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, because they have no salaries, no equipment and little else but disillusionment.”

3.3.4 Dr.Tombe said “patients have to pay on arrival and 4 out of 10 cannot pay. Sometimes people are removed from beds when there are not enough spaces or they cannot pay. Half the patients have HIV.”

3.3.5 He painted a grim picture, which we can confirm, of dedicated staff working in impossible conditions: “most of our equipment is useless, in our trauma service we have no artificial limbs; families have to bring in food to feed patients, or they would starve.” We saw what had once been the hospital’s kitchen – now an overgrown jungle, strewn with detritus and debris.

3.3.6 In the premature baby unit there were nine incubators; most were occupied by tiny infants. Only two of the incubators were working, the others were no better than glass boxes. One of the babies, Mayamba – which means Welcome – had been born by Caesarean Section at 38 weeks gestation. Like her country, Mayamba’s situation was fragile and her future uncertain. We later learnt Dr.Jose Loumpze said, “We don’t even have nappies for the babies.”

3.3.7 The broken-backed facilities – a dearth of resuscitation equipment, malfunctioning aspirators, wholly inadequate equipment – is a stain on the reputation of the DRC’s government. Dr.Loumpze told us: “Yes, I feel anger and sadness to see the way the hospital was before and the way it is now. Every day children are losing their lives – lives that could have been saved. Officialdom is forever promising us improvements but seems paralysed and never delivers on its promises. They just don’t care about life. The big problem here is that no-one seems to respect the dignity of the human being.”

3.3.8 We were encouraged by two small signs of hope – one part of the hospital had been renovated thanks to a contribution from Shell and we learnt that the Knights of Malta and the hospital’s Catholic chaplaincy provide free medicines for many patients and pay for a medical team who attend the hospital each day.

3.3.9 If health provision in Kinshasa is minimal, it pales alongside the situation in the East of DRC. We heard from the co-ordinator of the (US) Presidential Emergency Fund for Aids Relief (PEFFAR), Colette Cunningham, of a medical worker who literally has to carry patients to her clinic on her back, and who has a complete dearth of medicines. She said that donors are reluctant to commit any funds because they simply believe it will be looted.

3.3.10 In Kinshasa, we also visited a school, Mbenseke Futi, situated about 50 kilometres from the centre of Kinshasa. There are about 300 children in the school – including 50 street children, many of whom have lost parents during the conflict. Fernand Matabo, the headmaster, showed us decaying buildings, including a wing that had been storm damaged in 1991. The dangerous collapsed roof had never been repaired. The squalid kitchens had long since been abandoned and the children’s meals – usually nothing more than a pea broth – was being prepared in pots over an open fire. The dedicated teachers are unpaid and have to raise their own salaries by asking for donations from parents and there are few books and little equipment. We were especially moved by the school dispensary. Posters emphasised the importance of immunisation programmes but when we asked the elderly man who cared for the dispensary what drugs and medicines he had, he told us that he had nothing and simply pointed to a row of empty bottles. There was nothing to treat the malaria that affected all of the children – and the sleeping conditions, wooden slats in bunks placed in filthy dormitories, were an absolute disgrace.

3.3.11 Minister Bila told us, when we asked him, that this was not an untypical situation: “In our schools books don’t exist, parents have to pay and the buildings are in ruins.”

3.3.12 He was quite emphatic about the cause of the decaying hospitals and schools: “the real problem is the war. It has destroyed the infrastructure.”

3.3.13 It would be tempting for the outside world to see the DRC as an impossible situation. This was not our conclusion and we concur with the view of the All Party Parliamentary group on The Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention, expressed in their report “A Break in The Clouds”, October 2003, that there is “a moment of hope” in the DRC.

3.3.14 If the hope is to become a reality and the catalyst for social change it will be because of the resolution of the conflicts that have scarred the face of the DRC. Only then will the exploitation of the country’s natural resources become a means of raising the standard of life of its people rather than a cause of fratricide.

3.3.15 The UN Security Council Panel of Experts have pin-pointed the continuing stripping of resources that are benefiting insurgents and outside interests (including UK companies: cf Corporate Watch for examples) – not the people of DRC. Although ratifying and signing the Kimberley Process on blood diamonds and a Mining Code, these formularies are largely honoured in the breach and are unlikely to be enforced until security and the rule of law stabilise DRC. The pre-requisite for the long-term development of DRC is an end to conflict and the demobilisation of the competing marauding militias.

3.4 Demobilisation and the International Community

3.4.1 Despite the ceasefire and the shared power arrangements of 2002 and 2003, there are at least 200,000 men still under arms. And the violence is far from over. In May and June 2004 a battle ensued for control of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu (DRC’s province abutting Rwanda). The renegades – the RCD, who were backed by Rwanda during the earlier war and who have been opposed to reunification – were doubtless encouraged by the military support Rwanda is known to have given to several Kivu militias at the end of 2003.

3.4.2 The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in July 2004 that Rwanda “gave some of its old allies the belief that they could maintain the status quo. Kigali has given the impression that the restoration of effective Congolese sovereignty generally or Kinshasa’s authority in the Kivus specifically is not in its interests. Rwanda’s governing elite has developed important commercial interests in the Congo that alone may be sufficient to motivate continuing involvement in its internal affairs.”

3.4.3 The DRC’s transitional government has been mandated to form an integrated national army and to demobilise and to reintegrate into civilian life those combatants who will not be taken into the national army. Simultaneously, the international community has been represented by the UN Mission for the Congo (MONUC), and it has deployed peace-keeping troops in Congo (4800 deployed in Ituri).

3.4.4 In September 2003 the Security Council, in Resolution 1493, gave Chapter VII powers (“all possible means”) to the UN force in Ituri. This followed fighting in Ituri’s capital, Bunia, including the massacre of patients in a hospital. The same powers do not obtain elsewhere and the failure to forestall the unrest in the Kivu provinces has been blamed on MONUC’s apparent impotence, inadequate mandate and manpower and confused strategy. We also heard disturbing allegations about the behaviour of MONUC soldiers towards the civilian population, especially in relation to the sexual exploitation of young women and children.

3.4.5 The ICG commented that MONUC’s shortcomings, which were evident during the Bukavu crisis, need to be overcome, and it must implement its mandate more assertively.” About 10,000 militia remain at large in the Kivus.

3.4.6 The criticism of MONUC was shared by members of Kinshasa’s diplomatic community who told us that “there are significant gaps” and an urgent need to strengthen capability and manpower. Some of the militias remain larger than the UN force and the different terms of reference within the mandate is a recipe for confusion and paralysis.

3.4.7 When we put the criticism of the ICG to Peter Swarbrick – who deals with demobilisation issues for MONUC, he warned that an over-assertive approach could lead to years of fighting against militias who would use the jungles and hostile terrain to their own advantage. Having “picked up all the low hanging fruit” he said that the fighters who remained to be disarmed were particularly “hard men who thrive in abnormal conditions. Rwanda has exported their genocide into the Congo. Just how are we supposed to tell the difference between the competing combatants?” He believed that the key to disarmament lies in normalisation.

3.4.8 We were told by a MONUC representative that normalisation is being impeded because “Rwanda is not playing straight. They don’t believe that a resolution of this conflict is in their interests. But they are wrong. A stable DRC is in their interests.” It was put to us that Rwanda acts both covertly and overtly to cause instability.

3.4.9 About 6,000 men have been sent back to Rwanda thus far (about half of whom were combatants) but we were told that the most reluctant to return are those who would face genocide charges in Rwanda and that they had every personal interest in fighting on to avoid the inevitable jail sentences that would await them. We were told that about 5-15% of the militias at large in the Kivus are “serious criminals.” The MONUC representative told us that he believed “a climate of confidence and security will make them wither away. Pinstripe suits, not guns, will give Rwanda access to all the assets they want – not this futile war in which hundreds of thousands have already died and hundreds of thousands more will die unless it is permanently ended.”

3.4.10 During the course of our visit the political crisis in the DRC was among the issues that dominated the 59th session of the United Nations General Assembly. On his return to Kigali, the Rwandan prime Minister, Bernard Makuza, said that the Security Council will set out clearer measures by which the Interahamwe militia and other rebels will be disarmed and returned to Rwanda. He said that “The insecurity that is being caused by Interahamwe militias in Congo is comparable to the terrorism that is currently rocking the globe.”

3.4.11 He also confirmed that under the mediation of the UN Security Council Rwanda and the DRC had signed a joint agreement aimed a wiping out the Interahamwe problem. He also claimed that MONUC was allied to the militias and that until the Security Council honoured its promise to investigate this alleged link it would not be possible to disarm successfully.

3.5 DRC and the International Community

3.5.1 No huge investment will be made in DRC until the conflicts and instability are seen to be resolved. Mark Bensberg, British Charge d’Affaires in Kinshasa told us that without a legal framework for investment it is very difficult to persuade investors to engage commercially in the DRC. Risible levels of trade with the UK are indicative. In 2003 the tenth largest export to DRC from the UK was a second hand Mercedes. The bribes required by police officers at road blocks on the road to Kinshasa airport and the chaotic and anarchic arrangements at the airport itself would be totally unacceptable to legitimate western business interests but conducive to the corrupt. The Kinshasa Government could do worse than inviting the management of Nairobi’s Kenyatta airport to offer advice and they should prioritise the training of airport personnel and police officers on the main routes in and out of the city.

3.5.2 Corruption is not confined to DRC nationals. In Rwanda, for instance, we heard allegations that, despite UN prohibitions, European companies (with, at best, the implicit connivance of some governments) are still selling weapons to parties involved in the conflict.

3.5.3 In this very complicated and difficult environment we were impressed by the high standing of the United Kingdom and the widespread belief in its probity and its enhanced commitment to the development of the country. We were impressed by the calibre of the British officials we met, their commitment to the country, and the clarity of their Engagement Plan.

3.5.4 Augustin Amisi Wa Lika and Rachel Brass, of the Department for International Development (DFID), outlined what is a new programme “aimed at supporting the peace and transition process” targeted particularly at vulnerable groups including displaced people “many of whom are women and children and child soldiers.” The DFID programme ranges from strategic macro-level interventions in Security Sector Reform, work for elections, support for the World Bank-led Multi-Country Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme (MDRP) of £25 million over 5 years.

3.5.5 We were pleased to learn of DFID’s decision to fund a peace and reconciliation programme throughout the Great Lakes countries, including DRC, which will be organised by the British Catholic Aid Agency, CAFOD and their international partner CARITAS. Christian Aid will receive £666,000 over 2 years to facilitate democratisation and human rights work in the Kivus. In addition, Christian Relief Network has been granted £697,000 over 3 years to provide relief assistance to 20,000 Rwandese Hutu refugees located in 8 transit camps in eastern DRC.

3.5.6 We agreed with DFID’s assessment that “faith based organisations have an important strategic role in the country as well as having influence at the local, micro and practical level.” DFID told us that “The Catholic Church in DRC is the organisation with the broadest reach down into the communities” and that “religious leaders have played a major role in promoting dialogue between the warring factions in promoting peace and bringing human rights violations onto the agenda.” We are also painfully aware that when the Church does not have such an appreciation it can remain silent and even a negative force.

3.5.7 DFID have also earmarked £5 million to assist with the election promised for 2005. Trish Hiddleston of UNICEF told us that DFID’s assistance had been pivotal in getting their programme for the demobilisation of child soldiers off the ground – “it saved us”, she said.

3.5.8 Beyond the diplomatic and NGO communities, the DRC’s ties with the UK have been sparse and sporadic.

3.5.9 Minister Bila reflected that “far too few visitors come to DRC from the UK.” He was pleased that the All Party Parliamentary Group had visited and intended to return. We commented that it would be helpful for the Inter Parliamentary Union to strengthen ties with the National Assembly and to invite a Congolese delegation to visit Westminster. The IPU might also arrange a round-table discussion between DRC, UK and Rwandan representatives.

3.5.10 Patrick Merienne, Director of the NGO, Search for Common Ground, told us that there was a desperate need for civic education, formation of citizens, and in facilitating the rapprochement of conflicting groups.

4.0 DRC and Human Rights

4.1 Jubilee’s triple mandate of advocacy, conflict resolution and protection for children, led us to concentrate on these three areas.

4.2 DFID told us that “There is documented evidence of appalling human rights violations in the country including murder with impunity and sexual violence as a weapon of war. Human rights are violated in all spheres – economic, social political and cultural.” We particularly commend the reports by Human Rights Watch (January, 2004), “DRC: Confronting Impunity” and “DRC: War Crimes in Bukavu” (June 2004) and Amnesty International’s 2003 Report “DRC: On the Precipice – the deepening human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ituri.”

4.3 Among the gravest reports we heard was one from the UN who estimate that between October 2002 and February 2003 some 5,000 women had been raped in South Kivu – an average of 40 women each day. Many were raped by men with HIV/AIDS.

4.4 Combatants operate with total impunity. We heard of a combatant who broke into the home of Kavira Muraulu I Mangangu, near Beni, North Kivu. Kavira was raped. She reported the crime to the Governor. She was then attacked again by the alleged rapist and four other soldiers – who beat her and stabbed her with a bayonet.

4.5 We learnt that serial human rights abuses and violence, particularly in Bukavu, the wider Kivu region, Ituria and Katanga, continues to this day. These include abuses by pro-government forces.

4.6 For instance, we ere told that following the violence in Bukavu in May 2004 , forces under the command of General Mbuza Mabe killed civilians of the minority Banyamulenge (Congolese whose ancestors migrated from Rwanda and Burundi) as a reprisal following the death of a soldier. Between May 26th and May 28th at least 15 civilians were killed. These included six university students, two of whom were student leaders. They were stripped, tied together and beaten to death. Their bodies were thown into shallow graves. Among the dead were Ruhimisha Mahirwe Manege, Mahoro Ngoma, and Mande Manege.

4.7 The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) subsequently estimated that 3,000 Banyamulenge fled to Rwanda – many with gunshot, machete and knife wounds.

4.8 The militia if the Rally for Congolese Democracy – Goma (RCD-G), supported by Rwanda and loyal to Colonel Jules Mutebutsi and Brigadier General Laurent Nkunda responded with their own orgy of violence. For instance, in Bukavu their soldiers shot a fifty-five year old man in his home wile they looted and plundered it. On June 3rd six soldiers raped a mother and another raped her three-year-old daughter in the centre of the town – forcing her husband and other children to look on. They then looted their home.

4.9 This violence and the mutual recriminations between DRC and Rwanda led to the closing of the border in June of this year.

4.10 We also heard of retaliation against those who report these events or who champion human rights. For instance, N’sii Luanda Shndwe spent nine months in prison as a prisoner of conscience at the Centre penitentiaire et de reeducation de Kinshasa. He was never formally charged with a criminal offence but was detained because of human rights activism. He was released at the end of January 2004.

4.11 In Kinshasa we met an impressive human rights lawyer, Amigo Ngonde, who is President of the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights. He told us that the Government of DRC had “signed and ratified all their UN obligations but has not acted upon them.” He said that “The justice system is not working – resources are not made available for salaries, the magistrates work in intolerable conditions and there is widespread corruption… we have been at war since 1996 and this has paralysed our justice system. So many crimes and so many criminals have never been punished. There is a culture of impunity.”

4.12 He pointed to the wholly inadequate judiciary, the need to train human rights lawyers and judges, and an international tribunal (as in the case of Bosnia), including some DRC magistrates, to properly investigate and try the perpetrators of the massacres and human rights violations.

4.13 He asked why the international community suffered from myopia when it came to the Congo and why there is no universal applicability of the rights of man.

4.14 Mr.Ngonde is involved in promoting human rights information through the country’s churches and is developing programmes in schools, teaching duties, responsibilities, rights and obligations. He passionately believes that “without justice the conditions necessary for reconciliation and harmony cannot be satisfied. There has to be an honest facing up to the past. When members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (established in 2002) have themselves been accused of human rights abuses, it is difficult to see how it can do good work. They will be partie prie. If it is compromised, it cannot facilitate reconciliation. Nor should its existence prevent the administration of justice.”

4.15 We discussed the parallel with South Africa and Mr.Ngonde reflected: “Congo doesn’t have a Mandela. He gave inspiration. Here, we have more than 3 million dead and the killing is still going on. To end this we will have to do without a Mandela but we cannot do without a legal system. The instigators and perpetrators must be brought to account.” These were observations with which we profoundly in agreement.

5.0 DRC and its Children

5.1 One of Jubilee’s central concerns is the children who become caught up in conflict. In the case of DRC we are especially concerned about the use of child soldiers and about the plight of street children.

5.2 Two thirds of the population of DRC is under the age of 25. UNICEF told us that in broad terms about 30,000 children are under arms and comprise about 10% of the armed groups: despite the demobilisation programme “both recruitment and re-recruitment is continuing.” Children as young as seven carry arms – and we cannot adequately emphasise the importance of ending the traffic in small arms from neighbouring states (in breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1493).

5.3 Amnesty International reported in December 2003 that “all armed forces in the DRC” had used children as soldiers. In the east of the country children have comprised as much as 40% of the militias. Some were sent into combat, some were used as sex slaves. According to Amnesty, “some were forced to kill their own families; others were made to engage in cannibalistic or sexual acts with enemy corpses. Girl soldiers were raped and some died as a result.” Sexual violence has often been accompanied by subsequent HIV/Aids.

5.4 In January 2004 Human Rights Watch confirmed these reports: “All groups have recruited children, some as young as seven years old, for military service, subjecting the children to the risks and trauma of military operations.

5.5 We heard from UNICEF that as well as being used as combatants, children have routinely been used to clean and carry guns and to collect and prepare food and camps for combatants.

5.6 UNICEF told us that there has been a very small drift of children out of the militias. Sometimes commanders refuse to let them go but many children joined of their own volition – some enjoying the degree of power that a gun gives them, others without families pleased to be given food and camaraderie. Others again were even sent by their families. Many of the children are not interested in demobilisation as they have nowhere else to go and are fearful that if they are returned to communities where their past is known they will face retribution.

5.7 UNICEF told us that a lack of resources is also hampering the demobilisation of children but that the transitional government of DRC has played a constructive and helpful role.

5.8 Domestic laws now prohibit the use of children but paradoxically the demobilisation of children could make them doubly vulnerable unless proper social and educational provision is made. Clearly, children in a school are less likely to be recruited and more likely to be given a protective framework. While teachers remain unpaid, and parents and children are expected to pay for education, this protective environment will remain out of reach for the 30,000 child soldiers of DRC. UNICEF told us that the main-line churches remain the best hope for making such provision. UNICEF has also called for the creation of “convergence zones” where demobilised child soldiers can be helped in properly resourced health and education centres.

5.9 If no provision is made it will undoubtedly accentuate the growing problem of drifting, rootless, children on the streets. Save The Children have initiated a programme to re-integrate children into foster families but, welcome though this is, UNICEF point out that there is no tradition of fostering outside of extended families. 5.10 In the capital, Kinshasa, it is estimated that there are now some 20,000 children on the streets. We met and talked to some of them.

5.11 Like most children of their age they dream of becoming Beckham or Ronaldo. Poignantly, Yvec, aged 14 said “I would just like the same opportunities as other children, but I don’t even have a football.” Nsimba, aged 13, saw her parents and her twin die. She now cares for her 3-year-old sister, Octavia. She didn’t want to talk about the things that have happened to her on the streets.

5.12 During our stay we also heard reports about the plight of street children in the East of DRC. 18 children were reported dead by the local media after an incident in a small diamond mining town, reportedly killed by “unofficial” diamond miners and the reason given was that “they had made a nuisance of themselves.”

5.13 One of our delegation, Raphael Mpanzu (RM), is Congolese. After the death of his parents he came to the UK as a refugee and has worked as the project co-ordinator for the refugee and homeless people’s project at Notre Dame de France in Soho.

5.14 RM has established the Jedidah Foundation (named for his six month old son) to help the street children of Kinshasa. The Revd.Dr.Anthony Harvey, another member of the Jubilee delegation – and a retired Canon and sub-Dean of Westminster Abbey, is the President of Jedidah. They have acquired a small, safe, compound in Kinshasa which will house 32 young people and they hope that this may become a model for similar small-scale initiatives that can be taken by voluntary organisations, parishes, groups of friends, companies or parishes who wish to respond to the acute needs and desperate plight of the children of the Congo.

5.15 In addition, we took evidence on the phenomenon of “witch children” cited in the All Party Parliamentary group’s report. Although witchcraft has always been practiced in the Congo, and deep superstitions remain ingrained in their lore, over the past decade a new and disturbing trend has emerged. In a climate of deep poverty families who cannot cope with the up-bringing of their children, or who have a child with behavioural problems or disabilities, declare the children to be witches or involved in sorcery. This is used as a pretext for abandoning their children to the streets.

5.16 The situation has been exacerbated by 1) the collapse of many traditional extended families who would have taken in a related child; and ii) the emergence of myriad independent Christian groups which display many of the attributes of cults.

5.17 Trish Hiddleston, Director of UNICEF’s Child Protection Programme in DRC, told us that the linkage of sorcery with disability or behavioural problems was used by self-appointed pastors as a source of income generation. These “dodgy priests”, as she described them, acquire small buildings on main streets, and by holding dramatic “healing” services where they claim to have purged children of their “darkness” reinforce the popular belief that God is to blame for infirmity, disability, or maladjustment and that it is legitimate and even necessary for the good health of the rest of family to be rid of “witch children.” UNICEF estimates that in Kinshasa alone there are between 20,000 and 30,000 street children and that 60- 80% of these are “witch children” accused of sorcery.

5.18 At Kinshasa general Hospital we saw a baby of two months, Mukranda, born with withered hands, and who had been abandoned at the hospital by the girl’s mother when she saw her disability, believing this to be a sign from God. We also visited a shelter for street children in Kinshasa where the only provision was a place to sleep overnight. Most children worked the streets by day in order to get money for food.

5.19 We were re-assured to be told that Government Ministers have begun to speak out about the phenomenon of “witch children” and we were assured by Simon Kimbangu Kiangani, the spiritual leader of the Kimbanguist church (founded in 1921 as a national Protestant church, highly influential and accounting for about 10% of the DRC population) that this is an issue he takes very seriously.

5.20 The Vicar general of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa ( all the other Bishops being ill or absent)told us the view of the Catholic church which is carefully nuanced. Each case must be examined: there are instances of strange phenomena – a child speaking with the voice of an old man or in a foreign language for example. The causes may be imaginary or psychic or (in a very small number of cases) genuine posse3sion, in which case a church service of prayer may be appropriate. Different churches have different approaches, which makes an ecumenical response to the problem difficult. But all churches, other than the small ones who are exploiting the situation by selling ‘exorcisms’, recognise the gravity of the problem and seek to combat it in their teaching.

6.0 Recommendations

6.0.1 Our recommendations fall into the three areas of our mandate: Conflict, Advocacy, Children.

6.1 Conflict:

6.1.1. The international community must use its leverage with Rwanda to end all military involvement in the Congo and to actively collaborate with the DRC and MONUC in disarming the militias.

6.1.2. Western governments should urgently hunt down and prosecute arms dealers and those giving assistance and training, or benefiting from involvement in Congo’s

conflicts.

6.1.3. MONUC’s mandate, capacity and effectiveness (as evidenced by its impotence in the events in Bakuvu in June last) are all in serious doubt and should be radically re-assessed.

6.1.4. The DRC’s unified army and the former rebel groups such as RCD-Goma must exercise more stringent control and discipline over their soldiers, hold them to account when accused of abuses, and accelerate the disarmament process and creation of an integrated professional national army.

6.2 Advocacy:

6.2.1 The DRC must entrench the rule of law, hold to account those who have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, with special regard to the use of rape as a weapon of war.

6.2.2 The DRC should allow proper debate about the transparency of bodies such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, seek assistance from the international community in the training of more judges and magistrates and police officers.

6.2.3 Human rights advocacy should not be seen as a threat but as a vital component in the upholding of the rule of law, human dignity and the sanctity of human life.

6.2.4 The central role of the churches as a lynch-pin in building civil society, in educating for citizenship, democracy and human rights, and in working for reconciliation should be further encouraged.

6.3 Children

6.3.1. UNICEF’s work in demobilising child soldiers continues to be the highest priority and donor countries should remain committed to demobilisation and the creation of convergence centres where children can be helped to make the transition back into normal living.

6.3.2. The international community and DRC should urgently reassess their pitiful support of the DRC’s schools and paediatric facilities. Special attention should be paid to the removal of prohibitive school fees, the non-payment of salaries, the condition of buildings and provision of resources.

6.3.3. Those churches that have been capitalised on or encouraged a belief in “witch children” should be openly challenged by DRC government ministers, main-line church leaders, and the overseas churches that often support them.

6.3.4. An urgent co-ordinated, regulated strategy for the creation of child-headed households, shelters and opportunities for the children of the streets should be agreed between the government of DRC, the donor community and NGOs.

7.0 Conclusion.

7.1 Our delegation was enormously impressed by the hospitality and warmth of the Congolese people. We marvelled at their capacity to endure colossal suffering and pain. We were shocked by the scale of what they have had to endure and staggered by years of indifference by the international community. But we saw signs of hope in the Congo and believe that the transitional government remains the country’s best hope. As DRC approaches free elections in DRC there is a moment of opportunity. If this moment is not seized Congo could drift back into brutal anarchy with horrendous consequences for its people and its neighbours.

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A JUBILEE CAMPAIGN REPORT

SUDAN

Darfur: The Genocide Continues

Prepared by Lord Alton of Liverpool and Rebecca Tinsley

October 2004

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Lord Alton and journalist Rebecca Tinsley returned on Oct 4th from Geneina in Darfur, Western Sudan. This report confirms the World Health Organisation’s estimate that 10,000 people are dying every month from malnutrition and disease in Darfur. Put more starkly, as every hour passes another fourteen people die. By the close of each day another 333 people are among the 50,000 lives claimed in what the UN has rightly described as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” In addition to the 50,000 dead, 1.4 million people are displaced. The rate of death is comparable to the death rate in Rwanda at the height of the genocide in 1994.

1.2 Over the past nine months David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) and Caroline Cox (Baroness Cox of Queensbury) have urged the UN and UK Government to formally declare the events in Darfur to be genocide. Prior to this both peers have travelled independently into Southern Sudan and drawn attention to the two million fatalities, and the five million displaced people, since the war started in 1983 (see Jubilee Campaign Report on Sudan 2002 and Hansard). To date, the Security Council has simply established a committee to consider the situation.

1.3 In September 2004 in Parliament David Alton challenged the Leader of the House, Baroness (Valerie) Amos to follow the lead of Colin Powell and the US Administration in making a formal declaration of genocide. The Government have thus far declined to do so, but we strongly welcome the decision of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to visit Sudan/ Darfur to see the situation first hand.

1.4 In 2002 David Alton called in the House for oil sanctions and a calibrated response against Sudan and in May in the House he warned the Government that they were repeating the failure to intervene in Rwanda’s genocide in 1994 (see Hansard).

1.5 During a visit to Darfur, on October 3rd and 4th, he and the journalist Rebecca Tinsley – on behalf of the UK human rights group, Jubilee Campaign – saw for themselves the situation in Geneina. Their recommendations are summarised below.

1.6 Executive Summary:

1) The British Government, The European Union, The United Nations and the Arab League must immediately acknowledge that genocide has occurred in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan has supported the perpetrators, universally referred to by the people of Darfur as the Janjaweed militias.

2) Targeted economic and military sanctions must be imposed upon Sudan, and in particular oil sanctions, must be applied immediately. The international community must prevent the flow of arms into Sudan, and impose an immediate no fly zone over Darfur, enforced by an armed international force, mandated by the Security Council to use force to prevent over-flight of the region by the Sudanese Air Force or its proxies.

3) The Governments of Rwanda, Tanzania and Nigeria must be applauded and supported for committing their troops to an international peacekeeping force in Darfur. International leaders must act upon their consciences by committing troops, resources and funding to assemble an armed peacekeeping force, mandated to use appropriate force to defend civilians, internally displaced people (IDPs), monitors and NGO staff in Darfur, and IDPs in camps in neighbouring Chad.

4) The Government of Sudan is urged to immediately stop its military, materiel and financial support of the Janjaweed, to allow international peacekeepers to disarm the militias, and to guarantee the unconditional return of displaced people to Darfur with the participation of the African Union. The Sudanese Government must begin constructive dialogue with all sides of the community in Darfur to institute a federal power-sharing system of government based on constitutionally enshrined equality for all citizens irrespective of race, religion, sex or ethnicity. As soon as feasible there must be a referendum on the future sovereign and legal status of Darfur.

5) The Sudanese Government must immediately stop recruiting people perceived by the local people as Janjaweed into the Darfur police force. The international community must apply pressure on the Khartoum regime in this regard.

6) The international community must press the Sudanese Government to stop the intimidation and imprisonment of NGO staff and community leaders in Darfur.

7) The Sudanese Government must immediately drop its requirement for NGO staff to obtain travel permits to travel around Darfur province. NGOs must have freedom of movement to reach isolated areas at will.

8) Punitive financial penalties must be applied to international companies or governments involved in orchestrating or facilitating military sales to Sudan. These penalties must also be applied to companies violating oil sanctions against Sudan.

9) Recognising that the genocidal terror campaign in Darfur has prevented crops being planted this year, the international community must prepare and adequately fund relief operations to feed Darfur’s displaced people. Given that the UN believes that the Darfur emergency is likely to continue for at least 18-24 months, planning is needed for returns and rehabilitation.

10) Recognising the burden being borne by Chad, the international community must provide assistance and support to the Government of Chad.

11) We learned that the US Government had promised emergency food aid in the spring which finally arrived in September. There clearly exists a need for a mechanism by which governments who promise aid are held to their commitments.

12) The 135 signatories of the 1949 Genocide Convention must affirm that once genocide has been determined, action to “prevent and to punish” is required. This action must be commensurate with the magnitude and urgency of the catastrophe.

13) We commend the Sudanese Department of Health for its immunisation programme. Working with UNICEF and its NGO partners, two million children in Darfur have been vaccinated against measles, out of a total target of 2.3m. Polio vaccination has been even more impressive, reaching 97% of the target. But at the same time the Khartoum regime must be condemned for its deliberate, cynical and racist neglect of Darfur over decades. In all of West Darfur there is one stretch of paved road; clinics go without supplies for three years before getting medicines; doctors and teachers are unpaid for months; and are expected to cope with minimal infrastructure. While the people are Darfur are resourceful and stoical, it is clear Khartoum has brought the rebel insurgency on itself through the contempt with which it has treated Darfur.

14) It is intolerable for Khartoum to impose Sharia law on the people of Darfur to whom it is alien and unacceptable. The international community must insist the Sudanese Government requires the broad consent of the people for laws enacted and applied.

15) We recognised a profound need on the part of the people of Darfur to give testimony about what has befallen them. We owe it to survivors, and those who will not survive because of hunger, AIDS or attack, to collect their testimony into an archive. We commend Human Rights Watch for compiling evidence to be used in judicial proceedings, but believe the voices of Darfur’s persecuted people must be recorded if we are to learn from current failings.

16) On a practical level, there is desperate need for interpreters because the NGO community does not have enough Arab speaking personnel to communicate effectively.

2.0 Genocide

2.1 The British Government has said it sees no point in declaring the situation in Darfur to be genocide. Ministers have claimed that such a declaration would “add nothing” to the UK’s current actions. The EU mission to Darfur in August 2004 said the humanitarian disaster “fell short of genocide”, as did the UN’s Representative to Sudan, Jan Pronk.

2.2 But, as the US has recognised – and as we were bitterly reminded during the taking of evidence in Rwanda immediately preceding our trip to Darfur (see Jubilee Report Rwanda/DRC – The Killing Continues) – when no formal declaration exists the international community feels able to stand idly by or literally conduct “business as usual” with the perpetrators.

2.3 Under the 1949 Geneva Convention Against Genocide any country that names genocide for what it is must then act to “prevent and to protect” and subsequently bring to justice those who commit crimes against humanity (Article 51 of the UN Charter).

2.4 Even if it were concluded that fewer than the 10,000 who died in August died in September 2004, it would not alter the reality of what has already occurred. Nor would it absolve us of our duty to bring to trial the perpetrators – something that will certainly not happen in the absence of a formal determination.

2.5 In any event, we received contemporaneous accounts that leave no room for purile theological debates about how many people have to die before western interests act. The day we arrived in West Darfur two villages had reported that Government helicopters had arrived bringing arms for the Janjaweed. We cite other examples, below.

2.6 We spoke to the Fashir of the eastern district of Geneina, Suliman Dina, who is aged 71 and was appointed to his senior position of local leadership by the former Sultan of Darfur.

2.7 He told us that the build up to genocide began in 1995 and during the years that immediately followed. It began with the usual catalogue of plundering and looting. Cows and cattle were stolen, and rustling was accompanied by sporadic attacks.

2.8 In 1997 the Janjaweed militia began to consolidate their position and build a presence. Nine hundred Janjaweed fighters, formed in three lines of 300 mounted men, and reinforced by a Government helicopter from which guns and mortars were distributed, attacked the 54 villages in the Fashir’s district. 433 people were left dead.

2.9 Suliman Dina told us that of the 54 villages only one, Azena, was not raised to the ground. In Azena 12 people were killed and there was much looting, but it was not burnt. The Janjaweed forces were heavily armed and had land cruisers mounted with guns with which they have been able to control and subject the civilian population.

2.10 The Janjaweed tried to hunt down the Fashir but he escaped across the border (30 miles away from where we met him) with many other villagers.

2.11 In 1998 he returned when the Government said there would be no reprisals: “Instead of killing me, they killed my son in Khartoum.” His son, Adam Dina, was a doctor serving as a lieutenant in the Sudanese army. The Government has also continued to harass the Fashir. Last month he was arrested and released after several days in prison for being outspoken in reporting the events that have occurred in Darfur. His life is undoubtedly in danger, but he told us emphatically that he wanted the truth to be told and for the international community to act.

2.12 When we asked him what was the Government’s motive in allowing the rape of Darfur, he said, “We have lived on this land for generations, under five sultans, but the Arabs want to empty us off our land and take it from us. Since the creation of Sudan the Khartoum Government has never wanted us and they behave as if they want to rid the whole land of the tribes people.”

2.13 He added that they suspect Khartoum is fearful that “there are too many of us compared to them. Now that the world is open and we can be educated they fear we will over-whelm them.” Changing demography has accelerated a process driven by racism. Darfur was always a collection point for the seizure of slaves, and even the Arabic word for their African population reflects this servile relationship.

2.14 The Fashir, and others we met, told us that among the Janjaweed fighters are zealots originally from countries such as Chad, Mauritania and Niger – who have been promised the land and possessions of Darfur’s tribes’ people. Sheik Adam Abdullah Ismael described his harrowing ordeal. By the end of his account he and the other leaders were weeping. This glimpse of open emotion was itself indicative of the abyss into which these dignified people have been driven.

2.15 Sheik Ismael lived at Hafier Abu, the site of a water-pool. In 1997, 15 men and 2 women died after an armed attack. One month later the fighters returned and burnt down the village. He and the villagers who escaped spent 11 hours walking and running, pursued by gunmen, finally reaching a place of safety. After several months they returned and rebuilt their village. Then in 2003, 400 Janjaweed arrived, mounted on horses and camels. “Don’t worry,” they said. “We are just here for the water.” Two days later they started attacking the villagers in the area, stealing every animal and all their property.

2.16 The Sheik went to Geneina to get a vehicle to transport his family and to escape. “If we return we die, if we go back, we die.” He decided to return and was accompanied by an Arab policeman. That night he was forced to watch as the Janjaweed raped 10 of the women. The policeman, who stopped the militia killing the Sheik, told him, “I thank God I am not from this tribe.”

2.17 Sheik Ismael movingly said, “A Government should act as a father – and a father should not love some of his children and not others. A father should love all his children.” He also reflected that “these events have created a climate of fear and a cycle of revenge that will last for generations.” Sheik Zacharia Yahian Ibrahim gave an equally harrowing account of events in the village of Terlile, in the east of the province of West Darfur, in 1999. During the religious festival of Eid three people were killed during an attack, including the 85-year-old sheik of the village. After looting the village, and stealing the cattle, the Janjaweed burnt it down.

2.18 After escaping, the Sheik returned with his wife and children in 2000. In November 2003 the village was incinerated after the men had their hands tied behind their backs and were forced to give promises never to speak of these events, never to reclaim their land and never to seek revenge. They were then allowed to leave with only the clothes on their backs.

2.19 Sheik Ibrahim Abaka Yakia described how his village of Gosz Banat – in the north of the province – was also attacked by mounted Janjaweed and 17 were left dead: “Nothing was left. The village just disappeared.” Sheik Yacob De Allah lived in Ushara village, near the town of Geneina. 200 men on horseback surrounded the village, whiplashed the women and children, and beat the men with sticks. Ushara was one of 13 small villages raised to the ground that day.

2.20 Sheik Ibrahim Adam Suleman told us that if the men now leave the refugee camps they will be killed by the Janjaweed. When the women leave the camp to collect firewood or fodder they are regularly attacked and raped by Janjaweed:

“A few weeks ago a lady went to collect firewood. They raped her, broke her arm and left her. Why? The plan of these people is to force us to abandon our land and never return.”

2.21 We were told of another woman who the day before our visit went to collect branches to make a fence for her small garden by her hut in the refugee camp. She is growing okra to try to support herslf. She was carrying her baby on her back. When the Janjaweed fighter stopped her she asked if she could lay the baby on the ground while he raped her. After he did this she produced an axe concealed under her clothes and he fled. The attacker is known to the woman and is from Anjudol area.

2.22 Sheik Suleman said that the presence of Non-Governmental Organisations in the refugee camps had provided a measure of protection inside the camps: “but we are prisoners, denied the right of movement. You can’t go one kilometre from the camps.” Sheik Ismael added: “If it weren’t for the NGOs, we wouldn’t be able to stay here. We would have fled or have been dead ourselves.”

2.23 Never-the-less, the NGOs do not get to every part of Darfur (or to all the areas of Chad where refugees have fled). UN Security believes 17% of the population is deemed inaccessible. For instance, in addition to the police permit we had to obtain in Khartoum, travel passes are required to go outside Geneina. The Government of Sudan has recently put one of their senior intelligence officers in charge of security in Geneina and restrictions and reprisals against NGOs may intensify. Two weeks ago, local staff from an NGO were beaten and the local police refused to act “for fear of the army and Janjaweed.”

2.24 In addition to the numerous and repeated accounts of killings, burnings and lootings, we were shocked by the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war. We concluded that in every sense what we saw and heard about in Darfur is genocide and should be named as such.

3.0 Rape as a Weapon Of War

3.1 It is hard to overstate the scale of the continuing suffering of the Black African women and girls in Darfur. At Ardamata Camp, outside Geneina, where 30,000 people live, we talked to families who had fled from Abhasla, a village eight days’ walk to the west.

3.2 In February 2004 heavily armed Janjaweed on horseback swept into the village and killed every man and boy they could find. Their cattle were looted and their homes were burned down.

3.3 Thirty five year old Hawry told us that the men “harassed and beat” the women and girls before they rode off. It soon emerged that these are euphemisms for rape, but in their traditional society it is an unmentionable subject, bringing shame and humiliation on the victim and her family.

3.4 We were told that the “Arabs” carried razor blades and sharp knives with them to cut open the atrophied vaginas of old women before they raped them. They also raped girls as young as 10. When the Janjaweed had gone, Hawry told us, the women abandoned the village. “My family once had 88 head of cattle, but I put one baby around my neck and another child on my back, and I started walking.” Her other three children had to walk for the next eight days, hiding in empty houses when they could.

3.5 When Hawry and the other women arrived at the camp they were just some of the 10,000 refugees who also arrived that same week. She and her girls built themselves a hut using branches, reeds and grass to weave a thatched roof. She draped plastic bags across the roof, hoping to keep the rain out when the season arrived.

3.6 As we sat in her hut she talked about the everyday difficulties of her life. She is grateful for the UNICEF school in the camp, but she is frustrated because she wants to find work. She yearns to return to her old life, but she knows it is not possible as long as the Janjaweed are armed. “And the children are too scared to leave the compound,” she adds.

3.7 We joined a group of 17 women sitting in the shade of a tree, drinking coffee. All the married women were widows, and most had also lost fathers, brothers and sons. They need firewood for cooking and grass for their animals, and are thus forced to go beyond the camp. It emerged that they were all, without exception, the victims of attack and rape by the Janjaweed. Although they are clearly traumatised by the daily risks they run, they speak philosophically about it. “If our men go out, they die. If we go, we are raped. That’s the choice.”

3.8 When speaking about the future, 20 year old Semira said the shame of rape would normally have prevented her from finding a husband. “Since most of the young men are dead, I suppose this isn’t going to be a problem.” Semira’s 18 year old sister, Roda, shrugged in agreement. Like all the other women in the group she wanted education, but our conversation kept coming back to their terror at leaving the camp compound to fetch firewood. “Someone has to take away their weapons,” she said. “They are cowards, and if they see soldiers from Britain here they will run away. We feel much safer when there are white faces around.”

3.9 The women agreed it would be best to have a European troop presence. “Then Darfur can be an independent country without the Arabs harming us and stealing our cattle.”

3.10 We also met 19 year old Jewa whose parents were killed by the militia, and who is now responsible for a family for six. Unfortunately her situation is common, and when one woman succeeds in getting a job she is expected to support her extended family. Sedeer, who cooks for an NGO, supports all eight families of her dead husband’s brothers.

3.11 Margaret, a nurse at the camp, summed it up when she said, “Life for women in Sudan is hard, but it is especially hard for women in Darfur.” Her own parents had been killed in southern Sudan, and she came to Darfur because she knows how the refugees feel, she says. “I keep telling the girls to get as much education as they can because that is their best hope.”

4.0 The Janjaweed is a pro-government militia.

4.1 It has its origins in the mid-1980s. Sadiq El Madhi initiated a policy of arming Arab Baggara militias in Darfur and Kordofan.(Human Rights Watch: Darfur In Flames). It was originally intended as a counter-insurgency measure against the SPLA rebels in the South and to entrench Tujammo Al Arabi (Arab Alliance) throughout the region, subjugating the non-Arab population.

4.2 The name of the region is the key to understanding its ethnicity. “Dar” means homeland. In addition to the native Fur people the Massaleit and Zaghawa are among the 30 ethnic groups living in Darfur. Ruthlessly discriminated against and targeted for vicious treatment, the African people of Darfur began attacking military installations in April 2003 at El Fasher airport.

4.3 The tribal leaders we met were emphatic that the Janjaweed are determined to bring about their annihilation. They cannot understand why other Muslims have attacked them (even as they have been gathered for religious festivals), why they have burnt mosques, raped their women, and killed their people. This troubling question is one also for Muslim leaders who need to appreciate the nature of the genocide against these gentle Muslim people who are living through a reign of terror.

5.0 The Government of Sudan

5.1 The Sudanese Interior Minister, Rahim Mohamed Hussein, has issued a bellicose declaration that “We will not agree to the presence of any foreign forces, whatever their nationality.” Mr.Hussein is part of a government that enjoys single digit support among a population that has been described to us by many people as overwhelmingly moderate in its attitudes (although there is a rump of people who want to see strict Sharia law).

5.2 Mr.Hussein’s attitude reflects his Government’s repeated indifference to international initiatives and a tendency to renege on undertakings given (eg the 1996 Peace Charter), and to allow initiatives to collapse (eg the Ajuba Talks in September 2004).

5.3 The Machakos Naivasha Protocols (2003), while a hopeful moment in the Government’s relationship with the SPLA, have been used by the Government of Sudan as a means of stifling international criticism. The talks, which are to resume this month, have become yet another bargaining chip. Khartoum has threatened to withdraw from the north-south dialogue if the international community takes action against it over Darfur.

5.4 Throughout the gathering humanitarian disaster in Darfur, the Sudanese government has let it be known that it will restrict or deny humanitarian relief access if the international community asserts itself in ways Khartoum dislikes.

5.5 For the international community, the question is whether to accept such blatant blackmail or to make it clear that it will not tolerate genocide against a civilian population. The choice is between appeasement or decisiveness.

6.0 The United Nations

6.1 There is no United Nations peace-keeping presence in Darfur. The Government of Sudan have bitterly opposed the presence of “foreign troops” although the reincarnated African Union (AU) has sent a small force of Rwandan soldiers (something their President Paul Kagame, told us he is very proud of when we met him a week earlier in Kigali, and especially given the international community’s failure to respond to genocide in Rwanda in 1994). There are also troops from Tanzania and Nigeria. Tribal leaders told us they would also like to see European and Commonwealth soldiers deployed.

6.2 Based at El Fasher, the main role of the AU peace-keepers has been to guard the UN monitors sent to Darfur. The UN has said that at least 3000 soldiers are needed and that they must have a robust mandate. The UN Security Council Resolution of September 18th 2004 committed the Security Council to do little more than think about possible penalties in the event of Sudanese intransigence. China, Russia, Pakistan and Algeria abstained.

6.3 Despite at least eighteen months of atrocities in Sudan, the international community has yet to take a single positive action against the Sudanese Government.

7.0 Britain

7.1 In 1898 Britain and Egypt formed a joint government for Sudan. The south, with its Christian and traditional religions, gravitated towards British East Africa, and the north to Egypt and Islam.

7.2 By 1947 – as a prelude to independence – Britain had fused the two regions and handed power to the north. For the south independence resulted in a change of colonial masters. Within two years the army had taken power and begun a campaign of forced Islamisation. The cycle of displacements and refugee crises had begun. In turn the SPLA (Sudanese People’s Liberation Army) and other factions of resistance were spawned. In Darfur, the emergence of the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) – although acting independent of the SPLA – has now become a potent force. It has armoured vehicles and weapons, in many cases taken from their attackers during reprisal campaigns. Tribal leaders told us, “If we were given weapons, we would fight,” but then added, “We would prefer to go back to the way we were before all of this began.”

7.3 There is a real danger of linkage between the insurgents in Darfur and SPLA. Such a violent escalation could lead to the implosion of Sudan, a coup in Khartoum and the emergence of an even more authoritarian regime (an attempted coup by the Muslim Brotherhood occurred last month), and derailment of the Machakos protocols and the north-south process. The UK Government will want to emphasise all these consequences of the continuing genocide in Darfur.

7.4 Fashir Suleman Dina reminded us of Britain’s historic links with Darfur, including a treaty with Sultan Mohamaed Baharadin that provided for western Darfur to opt out of the state created in 1898 if it so wished. He said, “We never really thought about this before but if you are experiencing genocide then you would have to think of anything that would allow you to escape from this.”

8.0. Child Soldiers and the plight of children

8.1 We heard evidence that children as young as 10 have become child soldiers. We also had a chance to speak to Daniel Toole, Director of the office of emergency programmes for UNICEF worldwide about the plight of children. For instance we learnt that one child had joined the rebel SLA after his father was killed. The SLA and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) inevitably attract marginalised, disaffected young people.

8.2 Many children have also been left as orphans. In the camps children join the food lines for they are now the heads of their families. We were pleased to learn that the Government of Sudan has been supporting the immunisation programme in West Darfur (especially against measles). However, polio has begun to reappear and also TB, and we were told that more needs to be done to combat it.

8.3 The worst health threat appears to be malaria. In one refugee camp we visited we were told that malaria is at its peak at present, with an average of one person per household suffering – and over 4000 cases in that camp alone last week. Chloroquinine treatments are not working due to high resistance, and other treatments are limited by their cost.

8.4 We learnt that before the genocide stable villages had been very positive participants in health improvement programmes for children, and although the camps were continuing their work children in inaccessible villages were greatly at risk.

8.5 An immeasurable problem will be the impact of so many babies born due to rape by the Janjaweed. While the women we spoke to would eventually open up somewhat about the horrors of their attacks by the militia, they would not even discuss what the future holds in store for so many children. “They want to dilute our blood, you see,” one woman said. “They hate black people.”

9.0 The IDPs

9.1 There is a traumatised, helpless mood of resignation in the camps. Sometimes it boils over, as, for instance, at Otash camp, near Nyala, when a policeman was recently lynched. A woman recognised him as one of those who massacred her family.

9.2 Some IDPs, an estimated 200,000 have fled to Chad and 70,000 more to Kenya. The other million have left their homes for makeshift camps that have sprung up in many parts of Western Sudan. This exodus has been precipitated by the Janjaweed’s reign of terror. We learnt for example of a boy aged 11 whose mother had been killed, leaving him to care for his three brothers in the camp in which he is living.

9.3 Over one million IDPs have been herded into camps which are run by the Government. Some of the policemen who patrol the camps are Janjaweed militia who have been given police uniforms. This understandably terrifies the people living there.

9.4 Stifling temperatures, soaring to a regular 45 degrees centigrade, food and water shortages, illness and makeshift sleeping quarters, all conspire to rob people of their dignity. They have already lost their land, their homes, their independence and self-sufficiency for which they were noted.

9.5 The irony is that a nutritionalist in Darfur working for the UN earns $10,000 a month to oversee the distribution of grain and supplements to malnourished children. We are in grave danger of creating vast numbers of dependent people out of the previously self-sufficient.

10.0 Conclusion

10.1 Targetted oil sanctions should have been imposed at least six months ago. The failure to do so and the abject failure to control the flow of arms into Sudan has lulled Khartoum into believing (rightly thus far) that the world community would allow the Janjaweed militia, with their deep associations with the Sudanese Government, to continue to act with impunity.

10.2 It is extremely disturbing that countries with direct interests in Sudan have used their votes on the UN Security Council to soften the world’s response to the crisis in Darfur. China’s National Petroleum Company controls 40% of Sudan’s oil and India controls about 25% (through the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Videsh Ltd). Malaysia’s Petronas Company controls a further 30%.

10.3 One Sudanese – from the south – who has survived nine attempts on his life, told us that, “every barrel of your oil is half filled with our blood”.

10.4 Sudan produces 32,000 barrels daily – worth $1m. In 2001 the Congressional Reserves Record estimated that this same sum, $1m, was what the Government of Sudan has been spending each day on arms. China has sold AK47s, mortars, ammunition and rocket propelled grenades to Khartoum. We heard descriptions of such weapons in use against civilians in West Darfur.

10.5 The elders whom we met – among the traditional leaders of Darfur – told us that their greatest desire is peace and an end to the genocide.

10.6 In West Darfur alone 600,000 of their people live in sprawling camps. There are 120,000 IDPs just in and around Geneina (doubling its previous population). Throughout Darfur – a land mass the size of France – a colossal 44% of the population are directly war-affected.

10.7 Mercifully the rainy season this year was very light. Extensive flooding would have jeopardised humanitarian operations. Of course, this small mercy will also mean a modest harvest – so it is a mixed blessing. And no-one should under-estimate either the seriousness of the situation or the inadequacy of our response.

10.8 The elders said that security remains their greatest concern. They called for five things:

1) The disarmament of the Janjaweed

2) The restoration of looted livestock

3) The return or rebuilding of property

4) A resolution of the land issue

5) Freedom to move about

Above all they told us that the genocide must end.

10.9 Sheik De Allah put it well when he poignantly said, “We are a simple people. We know our farms and cattle and that’s all we want. The Government created Janjaweed and have created this situation. We are desperate and pray that the international community will intervene.”

Our recommendations appear in the Executive Summary at the top of this report.

Darfur

October 5th 2004

JUBILEE DELEGATION MEETS RWANDAN PRESIDENT

A Jubilee Action delegation including Lord Alton of Liverpool, met the Rwandan President, Hon Paul Kagame, in Kigali last week in a bid to support the fledgling peace process between Rwanda and its neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a positive meeting, Lord Alton took the opportunity to urge President Kagame to continue to build bridges with his counter-part, President Joseph Kabila to prevent further loss of life in the region. Lord Alton shared Britain’s struggle to cultivate peace in Northern Ireland and the importance of dialogue with one’s enemies.

David Alton commented “It was important for us to meet President Kagame. 2,000 people a day have been killed in a conflict that has been likened to Europe’s Great War. I encouraged the President to take the opportunity to bring peace in a region torn apart by genocide, war and political instability. The President welcomed Britain’s role as an honest broker and we discussed some practical steps that could bring progress.’

The UN estimates 3.5 million people have been killed since 1998 in a war that was started when Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo under the pretext of capturing the Hutu militia who were responsible for the 1994 genocide. However, Rwanda has been accused of deliberately de-stabilising the region in order to get access to Congo’s vast mineral wealth.

The Jubilee Action team, who were in Africa from Sept 20th to Oct 5th to develop Jubilee’s work with children at risk, had also met Congolese Government Ministers in Kinshasa and were therefore able to pass on messages in an attempt to foster greater understanding.

The delegation visited the genocide site in Murambi where 50,000 people were killed in 1994 while French UN troops stood-by and refused to intervene. They also visited the Nyanza prison where 6,000 genocidaires are being held for their involvement in the genocide when 800,000 mainly Tutsi people were killed in 100 days.

Dr Richard Rowland, a missionary doctor in Rwanda for 10 years, presented a Bible to the President and requested that he makes an unprecedented television appeal to urge Rwandans to change their behaviour in order to halt the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He gave the President a copy of “Towards an Aids-free generation” and asked that a copy be sent to every primary school in Rwanda. The President declared that he would do what had been asked of him.

ENDS

DRC’s Bloody History

Universe Feature: October 31st The Congo

By David Alton.

Photographs available from Mark Rowland at Jubilee Action (01483 894 787 mark@jubileeaction.co.uk) We have photographs of street children at Mbenseke Futi school (Yvec, 14 and Eric, 10); of a collapsed building at the school; of the broken incubators at Kinshasa hospital (and two of the babies who subsequently died); of church leaders, of children accused of being witch children, of Raphael with Canon Harvey, of the site of the proposed shelter for children. Mark could also get archive material of Interahamwe genocidal fighters and child soldiers

Introduction

In last week’s Universe I wrote about the genocide in Rwanda, where three quarters of a million people were slaughtered and the previous week I described the situation in Sudan’s Darfur region where a new genocide is in the making.

But I began my journey in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where the death-toll has reached staggering proportions, and yet it barely warrants a mention in our national media.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo a phenomenal 3.4 million have been killed since 1998 – an average of 2,000 people every day. The continuing carnage in the Congo has been described as Africa’s World War One. 200,000 remain under arms and UNICEF told me that, of these, 30,000 are child soldiers. In the wake of the carnage comes the usual litany of traumatised families, orphaned children, women raped at gunpoint, villages raised to the ground, political assassinations and corrupt politicians and businessmen using the situation to make their own killing.

DRC’s Bloody History

After becoming independent from Belgium in 1960, the DRC has been blighted by instability, by debilitating and incessant conflict and by corruption. I heard many allegations that, to this day, with the complicity of western governments, European quartermasters continue to fuel the conflict by the sale of weapons. This continues a tradition begun in the 16th century by French and Portuguese traders and pursued in the nineteenth century with ruthless zeal by King Leopold II of Belgium (who literally sold the country – his personal possession – to the Belgian government in 1908).

The country’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Professor Mbwinga Bila, told me that as a consequence of the long corrupt and rapacious rule of President Mobutu and the almost incessant armed violence since decolonisation “the decaying infrastructure we have today is the one we inherited at the moment of independence. In fact, we have even less now than we had then. The only change is that in 1960 the infrastructure supported a population of 14 million and today the population is closer to 60 million. We have had 35 years of bad government followed by 10 years of armed conflict.”

Many Congolese told us that it is futile to simply blame the past and that it is now time for the country to move on. In doing so it faces enormous challenges and has great possibilities.

DRC is the third largest county in Africa and the fourth most populous. Per capita income is $107 dollars. It has been unable to climb out of this poverty because Congo has been benighted by exploitative rule, and by callous and corrupt leadership.

The Consequences of Conflict

According to the United Nations between in the four years after 1998 more than 3.5 million deaths “occurred from the beginning of the war up to September 2002. These deaths are a direct result of the occupation by Rwanda and Uganda.” Put another way, 2,000 people a day were killed in a war that has been likened to Europe’s Great War. As the DRC saw this staggering loss of life, catastrophic conflict has rendered social development impossible. Congo became a text book example of a failed State – with marauding war lords vying for power and central government barely in control of the capital’s government buildings, let alone its far-flung provinces.

As the country was disfigured by the mass killing of civilians, by the end of 2003 3.4 million people remained internally displaced. Rape has been used as a weapon of war, accompanied by torture, arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, and the widespread use of child soldiers, some as young as seven.

From the moment of its birth DRC was plunged into civil war, with army mutinies, the attempted secession of Katanga province (richly endowed with minerals) and the assassination of the first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. By 1965 the head of the army, Jospeh Mobutu had installed himself in power, renamed the country Zaire, and initiated conflict with Angola.

Uniquely, the DRC has nine neighbours – Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Central African Republic, and the Republic of the Congo. At various times in its turbulent history the DRC has either been at war or in alliance with most of its neighbours. Internally, its sprawling landmass – covering an area half of the size of Western Europe – is occupied by ethnic groups who have invariably been at war with one another.

The Mobutu regime squandered 30 long years in an orgy of violence and corruption of a high order.

It was toppled by a rebellion in May 1997. This led to the installation of Laurent-Desire Kabila as President. A year later Rwanda and Uganda supported a rebellion against him while troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Sudan and Chad intervened on Kabila’s side. The stage was set for continued blood-letting in which the prize has always been the DRC’s huge potential mineral wealth. Sometimes the conflict is described in shorthand as a conflict between DRC and Rwanda (and some of its other neighbours). Minister Bila reminded us that DRC “is 80 times bigger than Rwanda and we have no territorial ambitions in Rwanda. They have no natural resources that we could possibly want” – and I was inclined to believe him.

Throughout the 1990s groups of militias and counter insurgents were spawned everywhere. The Rassemblement Congolais pour la democratie (RCD), the Mouvement pour le liberation du Congo (MLC), and the Mai-Mai all emerged in this climate. The instability and violence, particularly in the east of the county, was intensified by the exodus to DRC of 1.2 million predominantly Hutu refugees who had fled from during the genocide of 1994.

With impunity the perpetrators of the genocide used the cover of the camps to escape arrest. The Interahamwe militia used DRC as their base while they continued to mount incursions into Rwanda.

In 1999 a ceasefire was agreed. Intermittent fighting continued and it culminated in Kabila’s assassination in January 2001. His son, Joseph Kabila, assumed power.

Meanwhile, Rwanda and Uganda – former allies – fought each other for control of the strategically and commercially important city of Kisangani. 1400 Congolese civilians were left dead by the time the city fell to the Rwandans.

In 2002 President Kabila secured the withdrawal of the Ugandan troops from the Ituri district of the Orientale Province. Rwandan troops also withdrew from the east of the country (although between 8 and 12,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels – Forces democratiques de Liberations du Rwanda (FDLR) still roam the highlands of South Kivu).

An agreement was made with the external parties involved in the conflict, accompanied by the creation of a coalition government of national unity (GNU). A National Assembly – comprising 500 deputies and senators – was convened. A pledge was made to promote a new constitution and a promise of democratic elections for 2005. A rare window of opportunity for DRC had been opened.

An Impossible Task?

President Kabila appeared to have been given an impossible task. Most observers believed the GNU’s life would be short-lived. The four vice presidents who were appointed to serve under Kabila each represent different parties to the conflict and seemed at best to be uneasy bedfellows and, at worse, belligerent parties who would only be interested in preserving their own position. It was suggested to me that this formula of “one plus four equals zero” but I saw encouraging signs that opposing factions have tried to make the process work. DRC is a fragile if no-longer a failed State and can best be characterised as “a situation that is not as bad as it could have been.”

DRC desperately needs peace. In a huge country of 2.3 million kilometres (about a quarter of the size of the U.S.) there is a population of 58.3 million – 65% of whom are` under the age of 25. Minister Bila told us that “only 3 million have a regular supply of drinking water and the same is true of electricity.” Life expectancy is put at 40.6 years; 1.3 million are living with HIV/AIDS, and infant mortality is 94.6 deaths for each 1,000 live births.35% of the people are illiterate. An estimated 3 million people have been displaced from their homes (accentuating urban drift and urban squalor). Inflation in 2001 peaked at 135% and bundles of Congolese Francs are still needed to buy basic things. Resources are virtually non existent for public services (the national budget is just $820 million). The social infrastructure is in a state of collapse.

I visited the country’s biggest hospital and one of its schools. They tell their own story.

Kinshasa General Hospital was built in 1912. It was once been one of the finest hospitals in Africa. With around 1700 beds it remains the biggest hospital in the DRC. Dr.Diabeno Tombe, the hospital’s medical director, told me that the 160 doctors, 1,100 nurses and 1200 employees regularly go for months on end without remuneration: “This has led to us losing doctors to countries like Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, because they have no salaries, no equipment and little else but disillusionment.”

3.3.4 Dr.Tombe said “patients have to pay on arrival and 4 out of 10 cannot pay. Sometimes people are removed from beds when there are not enough spaces or they cannot pay. Half the patients have HIV.”

3.3.5 He painted a grim picture, which we can confirm, of dedicated staff working in impossible conditions: “most of our equipment is useless, in our trauma service we have no artificial limbs; families have to bring in food to feed patients, or they would starve.” We saw what had once been the hospital’s kitchen – now an overgrown jungle, strewn with detritus and debris.

3.3.6 In the premature baby unit there were nine incubators; most were occupied by tiny infants. Only two of the incubators were working, the others were no better than glass boxes. One of the babies, Mayamba – which means Welcome – had been born by Caesarean Section at 38 weeks gestation. Like her country, Mayamba’s situation was fragile and her future uncertain. We later learnt Dr.Jose Loumpze said, “We don’t even have nappies for the babies.”

3.3.7 The broken-backed facilities – a dearth of resuscitation equipment, malfunctioning aspirators, wholly inadequate equipment – is a stain on the reputation of the DRC’s government. Dr.Loumpze told us: “Yes, I feel anger and sadness to see the way the hospital was before and the way it is now. Every day children are losing their lives – lives that could have been saved. Officialdom is forever promising us improvements but seems paralysed and never delivers on its promises. They just don’t care about life. The big problem here is that no-one seems to respect the dignity of the human being.”

3.3.8 We were encouraged by two small signs of hope – one part of the hospital had been renovated thanks to a contribution from Shell and we learnt that the Knights of Malta and the hospital’s Catholic chaplaincy provide free medicines for many patients and pay for a medical team who attend the hospital each day.

3.3.9 If health provision in Kinshasa is minimal, it pales alongside the situation in the East of DRC. We heard from the co-ordinator of the (US) Presidential Emergency Fund for Aids Relief (PEFFAR), Colette Cunningham, of a medical worker who literally has to carry patients to her clinic on her back, and who has a complete dearth of medicines. She said that donors are reluctant to commit any funds because they simply believe it will be looted.

3.3.10 In Kinshasa, we also visited a school, Mbenseke Futi, situated about 50 kilometres from the centre of Kinshasa. There are about 300 children in the school – including 50 street children, many of whom have lost parents during the conflict. Fernand Matabo, the headmaster, showed us decaying buildings, including a wing that had been storm damaged in 1991. The dangerous collapsed roof had never been repaired. The squalid kitchens had long since been abandoned and the children’s meals – usually nothing more than a pea broth – was being prepared in pots over an open fire. The dedicated teachers are unpaid and have to raise their own salaries by asking for donations from parents and there are few books and little equipment. We were especially moved by the school dispensary. Posters emphasised the importance of immunisation programmes but when we asked the elderly man who cared for the dispensary what drugs and medicines he had, he told us that he had nothing and simply pointed to a row of empty bottles. There was nothing to treat the malaria that affected all of the children – and the sleeping conditions, wooden slats in bunks placed in filthy dormitories, were an absolute disgrace.

Minister Bila told me that this was not an untypical situation: “In our schools books don’t exist, parents have to pay and the buildings are in ruins.”

He was quite emphatic about the cause of the decaying hospitals and schools: “the real problem is the war. It has destroyed the infrastructure.”

Of course, the Catch 22 is that the international community will not make significant investment in the DRC until the conflicts and instability are seen to be resolved.

Mark Bensberg, British Charge d’Affaires in Kinshasa told me that without a legal framework for investment, a a stable environemtn, it is very difficult to persuade investors to engage commercially in the DRC. Risible levels of trade with the UK are indicative. In 2003 the tenth largest export to DRC from the UK was a second hand Mercedes. The bribes required by police officers at road blocks on the road to Kinshasa airport and the chaotic and anarchic arrangements at the airport itself would be totally unacceptable to legitimate western business interests but conducive to the corrupt. The Kinshasa Government could do worse than inviting the management of Nairobi’s Kenyatta airport to offer advice and they should prioritise the training of airport personnel and police officers on the main routes in and out of the city.

The Plight of Congo’s Children: Child Soldiers, Street Children, Witch Children

Of course, a country’s most important investment are its children.

Two thirds of the population of DRC is under the age of 25. UNICEF told me that in broad terms about 30,000 children are under arms and comprise about 10% of the armed groups: despite the demobilisation programme “both recruitment and re-recruitment is continuing.” Children as young as seven carry arms. I cannot adequately emphasise the importance of ending the traffic in small arms from neighbouring states (in breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1493).

Amnesty International reported in December 2003 that “all armed forces in the DRC” had used children as soldiers. In the east of the country children have comprised as much as 40% of the militias. Some were sent into combat, some were used as sex slaves. According to Amnesty, “some were forced to kill their own families; others were made to engage in cannibalistic or sexual acts with enemy corpses. Girl soldiers were raped and some died as a result.” Sexual violence has often been accompanied by subsequent HIV/Aids.

In January 2004 Human Rights Watch confirmed these reports: “All groups have recruited children, some as young as seven years old, for military service, subjecting the children to the risks and trauma of military operations.

I heard from UNICEF that as well as being used as combatants, children have routinely been used to clean and carry guns and to collect and prepare food and camps for combatants.

UNICEF told me that there has been a very small drift of children out of the militias. Sometimes commanders refuse to let them go but many children joined of their own volition – some enjoying the degree of power that a gun gives them, others without families pleased to be given food and camaraderie. Others again were even sent by their families. Many of the children are not interested in demobilisation as they have nowhere else to go and are fearful that if they are returned to communities where their past is known they will face retribution.

UNICEF told me that a lack of resources is also hampering the demobilisation of children but that the transitional government of DRC has played a constructive and helpful role.

Domestic laws now prohibit the use of children but paradoxically the demobilisation of children could make them doubly vulnerable unless proper social and educational provision is made. Clearly, children in a school are less likely to be recruited and more likely to be given a protective framework. While teachers remain unpaid, and parents and children are expected to pay for education, this protective environment will remain out of reach for the 30,000 child soldiers of DRC.

UNICEF told me that the main-line churches remain the best hope for making such provision. UNICEF has also called for the creation of “convergence zones” where demobilised child soldiers can be helped in properly resourced health and education centres.

If no provision is made it will undoubtedly accentuate the growing problem of drifting, rootless, children on the streets. Save The Children have initiated a programme to re-integrate children into foster families but, welcome though this is, UNICEF point out that there is no tradition of fostering outside of extended families. In the capital, Kinshasa, it is estimated that there are now some 20,000 children on the streets. I met and talked to some of them.

Like most children of their age they dream of becoming Beckham or Ronaldo. Poignantly, Yvec, aged 14 – who was busy interweaving bits of fabric and leather into a make-shift football – said “I would just like the same opportunities as other children, but I don’t even have a football.” Nsimba, aged 13, saw her parents and her twin die. She now cares for her 3-year-old sister, Octavia. She didn’t want to talk about the things that have happened to her on the streets.

During my stay I also heard reports about the plight of street children in the East of DRC. 18 children were reported dead by the local media after an incident in a small diamond mining town, reportedly killed by “unofficial” diamond miners and the reason given was that “they had made a nuisance of themselves.”

In addition, Itook evidence on the phenomenon of “witch children.”. Although witchcraft has always been practiced in the Congo, and deep superstitions remain ingrained in their lore, over the past decade a new and disturbing trend has emerged. In a climate of deep poverty families who cannot cope with the up-bringing of their children, or who have a child with behavioural problems or disabilities, declare the children to be witches or involved in sorcery. This is used as a pretext for abandoning their children to the streets.

The situation has been exacerbated by 1) the collapse of many traditional extended families who would have taken in a related child; and ii) the emergence of myriad independent Christian groups which display many of the attributes of cults.

Trish Hiddleston, Director of UNICEF’s Child Protection Programme in DRC, told me that the linkage of sorcery with disability or behavioural problems was used by self-appointed pastors as a source of income generation. These “dodgy priests”, as she described them, acquire small buildings on main streets, and by holding dramatic “healing” services where they claim to have purged children of their “darkness” reinforce the popular belief that God is to blame for infirmity, disability, or maladjustment and that it is legitimate and even necessary for the good health of the rest of family to be rid of “witch children.” UNICEF estimates that in Kinshasa alone there are between 20,000 and 30,000 street children and that 60- 80% of these are “witch children” accused of sorcery.

At Kinshasa general Hospital I saw a baby of two months, Mukranda, born with withered hands, and who had been abandoned at the hospital by the girl’s mother when she saw her disability, believing this to be a sign from God. I also visited a shelter for street children in Kinshasa where the only provision was a place to sleep overnight. Most children worked the streets by day in order to get money for food. Many had been branded “witch children” by their parents.

I was re-assured to be told that Government Ministers have begun to speak out about the phenomenon of “witch children.” Simon Kimbangu Kiangani, the spiritual leader of the Kimbanguist church (founded in 1921 as a national Protestant church, highly influential and accounting for about 10% of the DRC population) said that this is an issue he takes very seriously.

50% of the Congolese people are Catholic. The Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa said that each case of “witch children” must be examined: there are instances of strange phenomena – a child speaking with the voice of an old man or in a foreign language for example. The causes may be imaginary or psychic or (in a very small number of cases) genuine possesion, in which case a church service of prayer may be appropriate, he said.

Different churches have different approaches, which makes an ecumenical response to the problem difficult. But all churches, other than the small ones who are exploiting the situation by selling ‘exorcisms’, recognise the gravity of the problem and seek to combat it in their teaching.

A Sign of Hope

The reason I went to the Congo was because I had been approached by a man with a mission.

A few years ago, in London, I met Raphael Mpanzu . He is Congolese and after the death of his parents he came to the UK as a refugee. In those days his life was at risk and I persuaded the Home Office to allow him – and later his young Congolese wife – to remain in Britain.

Throughout those years Raphael has been working with the homeless and with refugees at the Catholic church of Notre Dame de France in London’s Soho. It was Raphael who was pictured carrying the Cross along Westminster’s Victoria Street during a recent Holy week Procession.

Raphael has never forgotten the DRC or the plight of the Congolese people. Working with Jubilee Action he has established the Jedidiah Foundation (named for his six month old son) to help the street children of Kinshasa.

Canon.Dr.Anthony Harvey, who also accompanied us to the DRC is the retired Anglican sub-Dean of Westminster Abbey. He has agreed to become the President of the Jedidiah Foundation and to help Raphael turn his dream into a reality..

We went to see a small, safe, compound in Kinshasa which Raphael has used his own funds to acquire. In time it will house 32 young people and they hope that this may become a model for similar small-scale initiatives that can be taken by voluntary organisations, parishes, groups of friends, companies or parishes who wish to respond to the acute needs and desperate plight of the children of the Congo.

Raphael may not solve all of the problems of all of Congo’s children but as my late mother used to say: “just because you can’t solve all of the world’s problems, it isn’t a reason for not solving any of them.”

This small initiative was typical of the determination I saw among the Africans I met in DRC, Rwanda and Sudan. It was a sign of hope and one which should encourage us to redouble our own efforts to find ways forward for this suffering people. It would be tempting for the outside world to see the DRC as an impossible situation. That was not my conclusion – there is “a moment of hope” in the DRC – and we need to encourage those who are trying to find constructive ways forward.

Rwanda and Genocidearchive2

Universe Feature on Rwanda October 24th 2004-10-10

By DAVID ALTON

Photographs available from Mark Rowland at Jubilee Action (01483 894 787 mark@jubileeaction.co.uk) We have photographs of: Jean de Dieu Mucyo, the Prosecutor General; church leaders; Nyanza prison, Murambi genocide site; orphans; Kigali peace village; Gratien Gatete (24); Gihoco Christian (4); President Kagame (and other photographs).

Introduction

In last week’s Universe I wrote about the terrified Sudanese people sheltering in refugees camps in Darfur. Before visiting that beleaguered Sudanese province I travelled to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In each one of these three countries the toll in fatalities and suffering has reached staggering proportions.

* In the Sudanese province of Darfur 50,000 have been killed – 10,000 last month alone. 1.4million people are displaced. Over the past two decades 2 million people living in the southern provinces have been killed in a war of attrition waged by the Khartoum government.

* In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a phenomenal 3.4 million have been killed since 1998 – an average of 2,000 people every day. The continuing carnage in the Congo has been described as Africa’s World War One.

* In neighbouring Rwanda they have just been commemorating the genocide of ten years ago when 800,000 people were killed – and the aftermath of those events is still being experienced.

Understanding what happened in Rwanda holds the key to combating the conflicts that rage all over Africa. Ten years ago the international community simply looked on while, during a 100 day reign of terror and violence, Hutus murdered Tutsis in an orchestrated campaign of violence.

During my visit to Rwanda I met the President, Paul Kagame, I travelled to the capital, Kigali, and to the city of Butari, near the Burundi border. Here I saw the Murambi genocide site where 56,000 men, women and children, were slaughtered. Yes, it was chilling to the core but this harrowing experience would be pointless if, in places like Darfur, we simply sleep walk into the same horrors all over again.

How the Genocide Happened

During their years as Rwanda’s colonial power, the Belgians instituted identity cards classifying most of the Rwandan population as either Hutu, who made up the majority, or as Tutsi. It was classic “divide and rule.” The identity card system would later be used for the purpose of discrimination and, during the genocide for the purpose of identifying candidates for killing.

After independence in 1962 Rwanda was ruled by Hutu-dominated governments, including a period of one-party rule under the Hutu President Habyarimana between 1972 and 1994. During this time the Tutsi minority (making up 15%) were excluded from power, denied university education, and restricted to a few professions like teaching and nursing. Consequently many Tutsi became businessmen, and comprised a large part of Rwanda’s middle class.

Discrimination and ethnic hatred resulted in widespread massacres of Tutsi in 1959 after which many Tutsi went into exile, particularly in Uganda. Further violence followed, and as a reaction some Tutsi in Uganda, including the current President, Paul Kagame, formed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and its armed wing, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA).

The RPA invaded Rwanda in 1990 but were halted by the Forces Armee Rwandaises (FAR). Unrest and dissatisfaction continued, and in April 1994 President Habyarimana signed a power-sharing agreement in Arusha, but on his way back from Tanzania his plane was shot down.

This event is widely understood to have been the pre-arranged signal the Hutu militia, the Interahamwe, had been waiting for: roadblocks went up across the nation, and the systematic and coordinated killing of Tutsi and moderate Hutu began. It is thought 100,000 Interahamwe spearheaded the genocide, supported by Hutu peasants who had been indoctrinated with ethnic hate propaganda against their neighbours. Between 800,000 and a million people were murdered, and it is believed at least 200,000 Tutsi women were raped.

From their base in Uganda the RPA invaded and reached Kigali by July, fighting off a coalition of FAR, Interahamwe and supporting Zairean troops who retreated into Zaire. Since 1994 they have used their bases in exile to menace local ethnic Tutsi in what is now the DRC, as well as Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi. Their presence in eastern DRC has also contributed to the continuing violence and massive bloodshed there.

Next week I will bring you a first hand report from the Congo detailing the situation in a country where 3.4 million people have died since 1998. The Interahamwe ‘genocidaires’ – as they are known – continue their killing to this very day. It is the world’s most under-reported loss of life.

In late 1996 the RPA backed a rebellion in eastern DRC (then still called Zaire) which destroyed the Hutu/Interahamwe/ex-FAR refugee camps, and precipitated the downfall of Mobutu Sese Seko. A million refugees returned to Rwanda, but many ‘genocidaires’ escaped. They remained in eastern Zaire from which they continued to attack northwest Rwanda.

In 1998 Rwanda and Uganda together backed rebel militia in DRC ostensibly to eliminate the Interahamwe/ex-FAR. They defeated the combined forces of Zimbabwe, Chad, Angola and Namibia who were supporting DRC, leading to a stand-off with Mobuto’s successor Laurent Kabila. By the time a ceasefire was signed in Lusaka in autumn 1999 the rebels had taken large parts of the north and east, at the cost of millions of civilian lives. A further agreement, brokered by South Africa, was needed in 2002 before Rwandan forces began to withdraw from DRC.

Rwanda continues to have interests in the vast mineral wealth of eastern DRC, and it is accused of using local militias to impose their will in the area and to fight against remaining Interahamwe/ex-FAR groups who are believed to number between 8,000 and 12,000 fighters.

Rwanda accuses DRC of arming and supporting Interahamwe/ex-FAR militia and their allies who have been killing and terrorising the ethnic Tutsi population in eastern DRC. I used most of my one hour meeting with President Kagame to raise Rwanda’s continuing conflict with the DRC. Development in this part of the world will be impossible until the conflict ends.

The Situation Now

The Rwandan Government is currently struggling to strike a balance between allowing free speech, and defeating once and for all the genocidal ideology responsible for inspiring millions of people to participate in the murder, betrayal, and looting of the homes and property of their fellow Rwandans.

Everyday, in every encounter we had, we were reminded that people have good reason to be apprehensive to the point of paranoia about allowing people to make derogatory comments about the ethnic minority Tutsis, or to deny the genocide occurred. Last month this even led the Government to suppress the Irish Aid agency Trocaire, who have been accused of bias towards the Hutus. The danger is that anyone who is critical of the government will be silenced simply by levelling the charge that they support genocide.

There is a persistent fear that the exiled Interahamwe and ex-FAR wish to destabilise the country by force. I met many people who either fear for their lives, or are receiving threats, or have actually been attacked by those who believe their testimony will put them in prison. I took evidence of genocidaires released under the Gacaca system – where you can confess that you were involved in the genocide and then go free – who have returned to their communities to commit revenge attacks on those who testified against them. For instance, 30 Tutsi survivors were reported to have been killed in June 2004 in Butare.

I visited Nyanza prison and watched in admiration as the country’s young Prosecutor General, Jean de Dieu Mucyo – a Catholic – urged the five thousand genocidaires (male and female) gathered before him in the prison yard, to confess their guilt, submit to the Gacaca process, and go home to their families. Given his own personal loss during the genocide, his commitment to resolving the future of the prisoners was doubly impressive. On a practical level Rwanda cannot afford to keep 70,000 genocidaires in prison indefinitely, and if they want to reconcile their shattered nation, Undoubtedly there are worse ways of seeking national reconciliation and healing than the the Gacaca process but I can see why people are fearful that some people simply confess in order to go free.

The role of the Churches During the Genocide

In Butare I was deeply impressed by the personal friendship and public leadership of the Catholic and Episcopal (Anglican) bishops, Bishop Msgr. Philippe Rukamba and Bishop Venuste Mutiganda. They are both involved in reconciliation and social projects. In Kigali I visited the Catholic Cathedral of St.Michael the Archangel, met with Protestant church leaders and talked with faith-led individuals and groups about a whole host of impressive initiatives.

I also met Antoine Rutayisire of African Enterprise whose book, “Faith Under Fire”, details the stories of individual Christians who resisted the genocide. He tells the story, for instance, of Father John Bosco Munyaneza, of Mukarange in the Kibungo Prefecture. All the tutsi had gathered in his church, seeking sanctuary. When the Interahamwe militia arrived and began murdering people he began to say Mass and to baptise young children as well as those who had not been baptised. The Interahamwe begged Fr.Bosco – a Hutu – to leave the church. He responded: “These are sheep the Lord has given me to shepherd. If they must die, let me die with them. And if you want to save my life, save theirs with mine.” The Interahamwe, angered by his stubborn response, backed away from the church and the a hand grenade. Many. Including Fr.Bosco, were seriously wounded and then the Interamamwe militia broke into the church and finished them off.

. We heard of many pastors who lost their lives , and of a group of nuns who refused to abandon the children in their care, and were brutally murdered.

But, it is also clear that during the genocide individual pastors, priests, and Christian leaders either collaborated in the killing or failed to speak out prophetically against the slaughter.

For instance a Government spokesman, Fatima Ndagije, Executive Secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, alleged that the deceased Catholic Archbishop, Nsengungiyuva, had been involved in planning the Hutu attacks on the Tutsis.

At Nyanza Prison I talked to one of two Episcopal priests who are prisoners. As his case illustrates, charges and accusations can be motivated by all sorts of agendas.

The Reverend Musominali Paulin was accused by a parishioner of betraying her husband. He has been waiting for seven years to be tried for a charge he strenuously denies. He says she brought the charges out of malice.

He also told me that at Nyanza Prison there is a Baptist pastor, and two Seventh Day Adventist pastors, and that a Catholic priest had been in the prison, but under the Gacaca system he had been released (and is back in his post in his parish). Musominali raised an interesting aspect of the Gacaca process when he said, “some confess to things they have not done in order to secure release. Why should a man confess to a crime he did not commit?”

I was struck by the comparison that might be made with the actions of the church in Nazi Germany: notwithstanding individual acts of bravery during the genocide, there appears to have been a collective failure. In Rwanda, the failure to be more outspoken has partly been because individual denominations have over-identified with one ethnic group of the other, and have failed to form individual believers and parishes/fellowships in the duties that go with Christian citizenship. In facing the future the church must learn hard lessons from this experience.

The Hellish Reality

My visit to the Murambi Genocide Site served to remind me of the hellish reality of Rwanda’s recent past. Murambi was a technical college, children from a nearby orphanage, went there to take shelter. They believed the French garrison there would protect them. Instead, so we were told, the French soldiers assisted the Interahamwe in hunting down local Tutsis, as they are reported to have done throughout the country, delivering them to what became the mass graves of Murambi.

Fifty six thousand bodies were found there, and we walked from classroom to classroom, viewing 852 remains that have been disinterred. Within a few days of the massacre, a volleyball court had been built on top of one of the mass graves which, we were told, the French then used in their leisure time. We saw the site of where the French raised their flag while the killings proceeded without impediment. Meanwhile, at the UN, French diplomats were working in concert with Secretary General Boutros Ghali to withhold any information about the genocide from the Security Council as it occurred.

The French position was unquestioningly supporter by Britain’s representative to the UN and in the House of Commons by the Foreign Secretary at the time.

France’s role in allegedly training FAR, and supplying them with satellite telephones with which to coordinate the killing from community to community, deserves special mention, but equally I was constantly aware that Britain’s record in 1994 is nothing to be proud of. On the credit side, the UK is now the biggest donor to Rwanda (£37m in 2003-4). By contrast France has given very little, has refused to examine its role in the run up to the genocide and during it, and denies any moral responsibility.

I agree with President Clinton’s assessment that the failure of the international community to act in the Rwanda genocide was ‘the greatest regret of my Presidency’ – a view shared by the British Aid Minister of the time, Baroness Chalker.

The Continuing Genocide

Although we can now reflect on the mass slaughter of 1994, many Rwandans continue to be victims of genocide.

As a consequence of the genocide there are 260,000 orphans in Rwanda, of whom 65,000 are HIV positive, and the President’s office told me that they classify one million children as vulnerable. Given that the total population of Rwanda is eight million, it is clear the country faces an enormous challenge. Every year, 40,000 children are born to HIV-infected mothers.

Throughout the genocide rape was used as a weapon of war – and I heard devastating testimonies from women who suffered serial rape and, along with children born subsequently, became HIV positive.

Of the 100,000 Rwandans who need HIV treatment, only 4,000 are currently receiving anti-retro viral (ARV) medicines. Disgracefully the international community decided to prioritise the treatment of HIV positive prisoners, most of whom participated in the genocide, as their victims died of AIDS or struggled to survive, the perpetrators of the genocide received three meals a day and ARV – an issue I raised in Parliament earlier this year.

. This perverse situation was compounded by the knowledge that those who could testify against them would die before they could go to trial. This grotesque iniquity is finally being corrected, and the President’s office told us they hope to have virtually everyone who needs treatment receiving ARVs within five years. However there are only 274 doctors serving a population of eight million in Rwanda.

Initiatives, such as the training of survivors and victims to administer home-based care, and the creation of child-headed households for orphans, are good examples of a positive response to this terrible tragedy. I was especially impressed by a young Irish woman, Collette Cunningham, from Cork, who has been given the job of administering the massive US AIDS programme in Rwanda . She is creating a parish-based network “mobilising for life” as she puts it and she has plans to create hospices for dying children and proper palliative care.

The Children

As a consequence of the genocide forty per cent of all 10-14 year olds in Rwanda are orphans. 26% of all children in Rwanda are orphans and the UN forecasts this will rise to 32% in 2005. There are 6000 child-headed households in Kigali alone. The Rwandan Government is encouraging a policy of allowing extended orphan families to live together and manage their own lives, with modest financial support, rather than putting children in orphanages. Many live a hand-to-mouth existence, and are burdened with remarkable responsibilities at a young age, but I was impressed by the optimism and hopefulness of the children I met.

I spoke to children as young as 14 who were running households of four or five, at the same time as attending school, earning money to support their families, and coping with the legacy of having lost their parents either to AIDS or the genocide.

I visited the Peace Village, just outside Kigali, where 52 children live in a community of ten simple but well-built homes.

Gratien Gatete, age 24, told me his “mission” was to have a career in which he could create jobs for as many people as possible. During the genocide Gratien’s life was saved by a Hutu man who recognised him and told the Interahamwe he was his brother. The man hid Gratien and five other people for days until he could escape. Of Gratien’s nine siblings, three survived.

One of his sisters, Marie Rose, has saved when a Hutu priest rescued her and took her to a doctor: she had been cut with a machete twice on her head, and on her back and arms, and left for dead. The priest’s mother took the girl over the border into DRC, cared for her for two years and on her return re-united her with her brother. Gratien now lives with his surviving siblings and cousins, and they help each other to solve daily problems and to make sense of their experiences, he said. “We have formed a community, and we stick together”.

At the Peace Village I also met Gihozo Christian (aged 4) who is the first child in the village to be born to an orphan. Perhaps Gihozo represents new life for such a traumatised country.

Forgive But Remember

I was visiting the country just after Rwanda had commemorated the 10th Anniversary of the genocide. It was also during the week of the feast of the three archangels: the healer, the defender and the messenger.

As it looks to its future, Rwanda will need all the healing that Raphael can bring, and it will need the vigilant protection of Michael, too. For the rest of us, Garbiel, the messenger needs to show us to heed the message that ignoring ethnic violence can ultimately lead to colossal loss of life..

Throughout Rwanda, at many of the sites where the killings occurred, I saw the words “Never Again”.

If these horrific events are never to be repeated Rwandans will truly need to forgive one another. But Rwanda should never be asked to simple “Forgive and Forget”. Rwanda does need to forgive but it must also remember. The international community also needs to remember.

If we learn nothing from our failure to prevent the deaths of 800,000 people – and from what I saw in DRC and in Darfur that seems to be the case – it truly will be unforgivable. It would also make a mockery of the cry of the dead if such crimes against humanity are allowed to happen again.

David Alton’s full report on Rwanda, and details of what you can do to help the country’s children can be obtained from the charity, Jubilee Action,

http://www.jubileeaction.co.uk (01483 894 787). Jubilee Campaign (www.jubileecampaign.co.uk) champions human rights issues and advocacy while Jubilee Dialogues is involved in facilitating conflict resolution.

Sister Love – and a story from the Burma Border

SISTER LOVE

The Crossbench peer, David Alton has been to the Burma-Thai border to look at the condition of the 116,000 refugees who have fled there.from Burma’s military regime. He has also been looking at the trade in children which is estimated to have drawn more than 200,000 children into lives of prostitution in Thailand . During his visit he met a remarkable Thai woman who has decided it is time to take a stand.

February 25th 1998, Bangkok. 2,812 words.

Sister Love is a builder, a farmer, a teacher, and an employer. Sister Love is also protector to hundreds of vulnerable children, their last line of defence against men who want to steal them from their families. To hundreds of destitute Thais and Karens she is also their modo (ital) – Karen for big mother.

High in the remote hillside forests of the border area which separates Thailand from Burma, organised syndicates ply an evil trade. They steal children.

Tiny, vulnerable children are stolen from the villages leaving grieving parents with broken hearts – knowing they will never see their youngsters again. Others, driven by destitution and poverty simply sell their children into sexual slavery – taken by Thai Mafia gangs to satisfy the cravings of Bangkok’s teaming brothels.

Coming across Sister Love in the midst of all this is like stumbling across a good deed in a nasty world.

After years of working as a Catholic missionary in Chimbote, Peru, and in Africa, in the Cameroon’s, Laurence Pautinet suddenly knew that it was time to return home and to take a stand.

The deciding moment which brought her back to her homeland was when she met Thai girls from remote villages working in Madrid, Paris and Rome.: “It was time to go home and do something about it. Meeting those young women gave me the courage to begin. I knew that if I had not been fortunate enough to have had an education and good protection by my parents, any of them could have been me. It was time to begin.”

“ People often wonder what I am doing here in such a remote place but we must be everywhere,” she told me,”we are the sisters of the universe.”

Today her universe revolves around villages like Mae To, where she told me that when the sisters first began their work with them “the children were frightened to look into our eyes. They were afraid we would take them away. They assume that all strangers want to take them away. Little by little they learn that we are not here for politics but that we are here for love.”

Her projects have been supported by the wives of several Thai government ministers and by the Thai’s Queen Sirikit – who has expressed concern about the plight of children drawn into sexual slavery. The Queen was herself educated at one of the schools run by the sisters.

In addition to what they are doing in villages like Mae To, the sisters have opened projects in the north of the country. Chaw Far School has been paid for by a society of former pupils of their schools The project, at Chiang Dao, houses three hundred girls: “Probably all of them would have become prostitutes if we did not take them in” says Sister Laurence.

“Little by little they learn that we are moral; that we love them.” Now she is their much loved modo (ital),

Sister Laurence Pautinet is a Thai sister of St.Paul of Chartres – who educate 66,000 children in 36schools and care for the sick in 2 hospitals in Thailand. Sister Laurence was raised a Buddhist but chose the life of a Catholic nun, and she was professed thirty years ago.

Displaying all of the characteristics of the New Testament women – steadfastness, endurance, patience, determination and compassion, she says “Christians must teach by example..”

Her simple distinctive white habit stands as a rebuke to the dark world against which she is pitted. When she visited Europe she says some people laughed at her for continuing to wear a religious habit but she sees it as a sign to the world of her motives and her ideals: “A woman who chooses this life must be humble and patient. It is the beauty of the mother deer.,” she says.

Thirty years ago another indomitable Thai sister, Sister St.Maurice, first came to Mae To – a village of a few dozen homes in a district of about five hundred people. It took her eight days of walking to get there. Eventually, with the help of some German Catholics, they built a small wooden shelter, made of teak. Syndicates have been felling vast numbers of trees for the black market.

This week the local bishop made the journey to Mae To. He blessed the new stone built church which has now been raised in the village. Sister Laurence has planned every detail

Paid for by Thai benefactors and friends of Sister Laurence, the beautiful church is dedicated to the Virgin of Lourdes. Below its floors is a school room and accommodation for teachers who will work with the children.

“We are preparing the children for reality. We educate each child to know the value of life.”

. She showed me how they had introduced basic hygiene into villagers’ lives, improved living conditions, and showed them how to care for pigs and fowl.

Sister Laurence goes about her business like a clerk of works – overseeing every detail, ensuring that nothing is left to chance. She swept around the village with all the energy of a gale force wind – but leaving a trail of love behind her.

One little girl, Naw Gah, says she would one day like to be a doctor – and come back to the village to care for the sick. Su Loi, a 14-year-old boy, sporting a millennium tee-shirt with the emblazoned motif “Follow me” wants to be a musician. The sisters have taught him since he was six, and he now plays the guitar.

The traditional Karen instruments, the harp and the mandolin, are nowdays rarely seen or heard – as western influences bring ravages with their progress.

Sister Laurence runs her border child protection sanctuary from Mae Ramat, which is an hour’s drive to the north of the Thai town of Mae Sot, and a further hour away from Mae To. The Burma border is two or three miles to the west, while the biggest Karen refugee camp on the border, Bekhlo, is another ten miles to the north.

Bekhlo has been home to 20,000 Karen refugees – fleeing Burma’s brutally repressive regime – for more than ten years.

Last year Burmese military crossed the border and launched a grenade attack. They killed an 85-year-old woman, injured a ten year old girl, and burnt 16 refugee homes to the ground The little girl, Hsa Gler Mu, told me that she is terrified by nightmares that the soldiers will come back and shell them again.

If you survive the Burmese military, the next deadly foe is malaria. The virulent PF strain has become drug resistant and is the region’s biggest killer. This is the backdrop against which Sister Laurence lives out her life

.Yet the greatest danger which stalks these remote villages remain the thieves of life itself, who massacre innocence and destroy childhood dreams: “We are here for the sake of the children” she says.

The enormity of the problem was brought home to me by a chance question. I asked a Karen friend why there were never any children playing in the beautiful children’s playground which we had passed on several occasions.: “Parents are frightened to let their children play there in case they are seized and sold into prostitution” he said.

In an area nearby,we took evidence as part of the Jubilee Campaign’s investigation into human rights abuses from people who said that the syndicates were run by Thais who sold the children on to brothels or to foreigners. We obtained photographs showing the house of a senior Thai official from which he was alleged to be collecting young women some of whom would be taken on to the cities for prostitution.. We have passed these to the Thai authorities and will see what action, if any, is taken.

It is not only Thailand. According to Ron O’Grady of ECPAT – the international organisation committed to fighting sexual slavery – there are one million children trapped in the slavery of prostitution. O’Grady’s book, The Rape of The Innocent, details the consequences of this. In Thailand alone, he says that by the year 2,000 one out of every three funerals will be for an AIDS victim.

When the child prostitutes become sick with sexually transmitted diseases or HIV they often try to return home to remote rural areas. This has led to the virus spreading dramatically throughout the population. One estimate puts the figure at as many as 500,000 AIDs carriers. Children kept in brothels are abused day in and day out. They are bound to rapidly become infected

At one rural church in Chiang Mai two of their young people have already returned home to endure the long drawn out agony of dying from AIDS. In one centre for 20 Burmese girls rescued from a Thai brothel, more than half tested HIV positive.

The Thai authorities say they take the problems seriously but unlike the high profile role which President Ramos of the Philippines has played in spearheading the campaign to end child prostitution the Thai Prime Minister, Chuan Leekpai does not appear to understand the gravity or urgency of this crisis. At the very minimum Thailand’s reputation – “Amazing Thailand” – will be left in tatters – with devastating consequences for the genuine tourism which the country needs and deserves to have.

One survey by the Thai Foundation for Women found that in 9 villages in 3 northern provinces only 5 girls between the ages of 13 and 16 remained in the village. 10% had entered prostitution willingly; 90% because of family poverty. They were either sold, deceived or pressurised by parents into believing that they were fulfilling their family obligations by leaving home to join a brothel. In one village in the Chiang Rai province, 41 out of 170 households had sold their daughters; another study revealed that 63% of girls in a northern area had been sold directly by their parents, 21% by neighbours or friends, and 16% by agents.

Thailand’s role is also pivotal as the staging post in trafficking women and children from Laos, Cambodia, China, Vietnam and Burma

Child prostitution destroys the life of the child and destroys self esteem and basic human dignity. It is every bit as bad as the slavery which William Wilberforce helped to banish 160 years ago. The links with poverty, economic development and international exploitation are inescapable

The Thai Prime Minister’s apparent indifference sends all the wrong signals to corrupt officials and police officers who believe they can continue to run their rackets with impunity. Thailand desperately needs an independent law enforcement unit to monitor paedophiles and sex tourism. It needs real teeth. Eight years ago a special independent unit to deal with violence against women and children was proposed by Senator Saisuree Chutikul, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Youth and the Elderly, but, she says angrily, “it has never been established.”

Similarly she says that for the past ten years Britain has talked about sharing the list it has of known sex offenders – so that the Thais can take more effective action at ports of entry but “nothing has materialised. We need the pictures and names and a lot more co-operation.” she adds. When the Home Office Minister, Lord Williams of Mostyn, visits Thailand next month she will have the chance to ask him directly why Britain has dragged its feet. She could start by telling him about the case of a Briton who was convicted for sex offences at a north of England school. As soon as he completed his 20 month prison sentence, he set off for Bagkok where he took up a teaching post in one of the country’s best schools.

Thailand has a Coalition To Fight Against Child Exploitation (FACE). Its General Secretary, Ms.Sudarat Sereewat, along with officials in the Attorney General’s office have been fighting a brave and lonely battle to stamp out the scandal and shame of child sex slavery. FACE says new witness protection programmes and fast track procedures are urgently needed. Too often they have to fight their own police as well as the abusers and the racketeers. They applaud Britain’s decision to allow British nationals and residents who abuse children overseas to stand trial in British courts but they ask why a man convicted of abusing a child in Thailand does not have his name entered onto the British sex offences register. Another question for the Home Office Minister.

Worst still was the action of the French Embassy concerning one of their nationals, Michel Tyrogalas, aged 47. He was arrested in November 1993 after he abducted two children from their parents. The arresting police officers also confiscated child pornography.

The French Embassy asked the Thais to return his passport when bail was granted in early 1994. He was subsequently convicted in December 1994 and sentenced to four years imprisonment .He was given one month to lodge an appeal. During that time he flew out of the country and needless-to-say no appeal has ever been lodged. The collaboration of the Embassy makes a mockery of international attempts to stamp out organised child abuse.

From Europe, Britons form the second largest group of westerners who travel to Thailand. Many use the prostitutes who have made Bangkok the world’s premiere red light area. Senator Saisuree Chutikul, told me that an estimated one quarter of the prostitutes are children. Some non-governmental organizations quadruple the figures.But why do men do it?

Sister Laurence says “I understand the needs of men. But there is something lacking when they steal a child or use a prostitute. There must be a problem of lack of love in their lives. Then they seek out a girl or a boy to try and find their happiness.

“Thais have a warm heart and a traditional affection and respect for foreigners, but they have been ignorant of their true intentions. People wrongly believed that if they went with foreigners, they would become like them.

“Some were forced into prostitution. Others wanted the money so that they might help their parents.

“Little by little, Thai people are beginning to diagnose the sickness. Our task is to prepare them to withstand the cruelties of life.”

Sister Laurence quotes Pope John Paul II’s words that: “the future of the world depends on the young. Our young people have the power to change the world.”

She adds that “we each have the power to kill or cure the minds of young people..”

From Mae Ramat a network of six village centres, like that at Mae To, have been created. In each, thirty to fifty young children are being taught and cared for. When they are older many come to Mae Ramat. Most are desperately poor and pay nothing. Families bring food and materials to help with the building as their contribution.

Mae Ramat is the hub. 320 children are being cared for there. They live in during term time, breaking for holidays from mid March to mid May. But the sisters desperately need money to pay for the projects and to pay their thirty teachers. At the moment they rely on Providence with Sister Laurence recalling the words of Mother Teresa that “God has lots of money.” She would like to see undergraduates and young teachers from Britain giving up a few months at a time to come and teach English and sport. She will provide the accommodation and some food, they must provide their time.: “This is the way in which our young people will learn that not all foreigners want to abuse them and hurt them.”

At Mae Ramat Sister Laurence has built a hard core basketball and soccer pitch. Her latest project is another church – now one of the most beautiful buildings to be seen for many miles. On its lower floors is more accommodation for children and for their visitors and families.

And are there more where she comes from? She laughs.

Her Order was once heavily made up of foreign women. There were three Irish sisters among them. One, well-remembered and much loved, Sister Veronica, died ten years ago. But the seeds they planted have blossomed in Thai abundance. There are now more than two hundred Thai sisters in her Order and the vocations continue to increase.

As you leave Mae Ramat there is a mural which Sister Laurence has painted on a school wall. It depicts leaves falling from trees. The leaves are in the shape of hearts – what better way to remember Sister Love?

Donations to Sister Laurence may be sent to her at St.Joseph’s School, Mae Ramat, Tak, 63140, Thailand or via The Jubilee Campaign, St.John’s Catholic Seminary, Wonersh, Guildford, Surrey. Envelopes should be marked Sister Love ( British bank cheques should be made payable to the charity Jubilee Action, who will pass on the money to Sister Laurence).

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The Karen: A Case Study In International Indifference. March 2nd 1998.

- 116,000 mainly Karen refugees are in camps along the Burmese-Thai border. The Crossbench peer, David Alton, has been visiting the camps and says that the West has failed the Karen people.

by David Alton.

When the Burmese refugees began arriving on the Thai border fourteen years ago there was zero international interest . Today there are 116,000 people – mainly Karen – in refugees camps – with thousands more desperately trying to flee the Burmese jungles where an estimated 20,000 Karen have died in recent years. Inside Burma villages continue to be destroyed, women raped, and men conscripted as forced labour or used as human mine sweepers. Churches and mosques have been raised to the ground and international indifference continues to be the order of the day.

When the first refugees arrived the Thai Government were not unhappy about the low profile and did not wish to see the status of refugees – or displaced persons as the Thais would have it – formerly designated or internationalised. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was given no automatic rights of access to the camps and the delivery of basic relief was left in the hands of a loosely organised group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The UNHCR have to seek permission before they can enter any of the camps and have no permanent presence on the border. UNHCR is also feared by many refugees who believe that its objective is repatriation – although it denies this. Aid workers criticise it for “lack of transparency”, for refusing to share its reports and information on camp conditions – and they say that it has an inflexibile mandate.

If it had not been for the work of Christain missionary groups based in the region the world would never have learnt of the plight of the Karen, Shan and Karenni refugees who made up the bulk of the forced migrants.

In 1984 these NGOs came together in a Consortium consisting of the Church-based agencies. They operated on a $14,000 dollar programme meeting the needs of 10,000 people. Today, the budget of the Burmese Border Consortium (BBC) is $20 million dollar with 116,000 refugees in their care. In the absence of a United Nations presence the Consortium do the job for them.

A glance at the Consortium’s accounts for 1197 reveals a continuing committment by churches and humanitarian organisations. The Swedish Baptist Union, the International Rescue Committee, Christian Aid, World Vision, and the Catholic agencies, Caritas, Cafod, Catholic Relief Service, Jesuit Refugee Service and the Irish agnecy, Trocaire, are all making significant contributions.

Before the Burmese military regime pushed the Karen (who make up 95,000 of the refugees) out of Karen state, they had their own schools, hospitals, and government agencies – funded through the black markets of Thailand. It was always going to be a losing war – with impossible odds stacked against them. The Burmese military number some 350,000 and the Karen fighting force consists of about 5,000 guerillas.

Over the past 14 years the border territory has been systematically occupied by Burmese military with the nadir coming in 1995 when the Karen military headquarters of Manerplaw fell. For the first time, Burma now has control of the entire border.

Control has allowed the Burmese to ruthless drive out villagers from their homes and begin the foreced relocation of people to areas approved by te regime. In Romania Ceaucescu called it systematisation. Stalin and Hitler had other names for it.

The Burmese military arrive and give the villagers three days to relocate. Many flee into the jungle and relief workers estimate that there are now tens of thousands of people in the jungle – many desperate to enter the camps on the Thai side of the border.

Before 1995 the Karen, Shan and Karenni buffer states made the camps safe. It also quietly suited the Thai military to have a zone between them and the Burmese military – who are provided with weapons and logistical support by the Chinese. The Thais have always been fearful of Burma’s long term military ambitions within the region. In February they made a rare protest when Thai officials and a Minister were themselves fired on in an incident at a border river – presumably the Burmese military thought that they were refugees.

In many ways – as refugee camps go – the border camps were idyllic. Although refugees could not grow rice they did had a lot of freedom – freedom of movement, freedom to work on local Thai farms, freedom to forage in the forrest. Unlike the dependency which camp usually breeds these refugees were not reliant on hand outs and the Consortium only needed three people to distribute food to the entire 100,000 refugees who were then in the camps.

The refugees organised and dispersed the food themselves. This fostered dignity and self respect. They may have been in camps, but life in many respects resembled the lives they had lived just a few miles away before the Burmese military took away their freedom.

All of this changed when the Burmese took control of the borders. Conditions radically deteriorated – with harsh restrictions imposed on movement . Close proximity of the Burmese military has also meant that, for the first time, security has become an issue. Burmese military have come over the border and attacked the camps – killing and injuring refugees and burning down hundreds of their make-shift homes. In turn, the refugees have become aid dependent and the non gopvernmental agencies complain that their costs have escallated and will continue to rise exponentially if a political slution is not found.

The refugees have been sold out by the international community – who have failed to protect them or to monitor the abuse of their human rights – and they were quite literally sold out by the former Thai Government.

In the 1980s General Chaovalit, then Thailand’s leader, saw the economic opportunities which were in the forests and he seized his chance. Knowing that if there wasn’t quite gold in the hills there was money to be made from teak.

After the bloody massacres in Burma in 1988, the first foreign delegation to darken their doors was led by the General – who left pledging brotherly love. Since then, the Thais have been heavily involved in major economic links with Burma, involving everything from teak to gas pipe lines.

By 1995 two other ethnic monorities, the Karenni and Mon, had given in and signed cease fires with the junta. The Karen have never capitulated and they are pledged to fight on. This has become a source of irritation to the Thais, who wanted to get on with business as usual with the Burmese. They have become increasingly insistent that the refugees will all eventually be repatriated.

Over the weekend of November 14th, 1997, three events occurred which re-opened the debate about the plight of the refugees. This was the weekend when both the Thai and Burmese Government changed (although change is a very relative word in the Burmese context). It was also the weekend of the Umphang Incident – when Thai soldier fired on a group of refugees and a baby died after its frightened mother dropped it. Two other people wee wounded and a statement which I took in one of the refugee camps claims that a further baby also died. A United States diplomat was nearby and alerted UNHCR ( who sent a representative from Bangkok to investigate). International pressure was immediately placed on the new government of Chuan Leekpai – who promised that his government would develop a policy based on the upholding of human rights.

Chuan Leekpai – who has a reputation for honesty and humanity – pledged himself to combat corruption and has exposed the link between the former Government and the teak trade. For his sins he is now facing a no-confidence motion in the Thai Parliament.

The Prime Minister believes that the refugees had acted as a cover for the trade in drugs and illegal logging. The camps are also home for families who were involved in the Karen National Liberation Army. The Government says that the camps should be moved away from sensitive border points – and particularly out of Thailand’s National Park.

The refugees have been offered the choice of being moved further away from the border areas from which they came, or of returning. The consolidated camps are inevitably much larger and a far less human environment. Aid workers say that it is much easier to repatriate from a few large camps and that the decision of the Thai Government to impose new internal restrictions in the camps is to make them less habitable and to impose a new pressure onto the refugees. Repatriation is assumed to be a given. The only question is, when?

No-one has asked the refugees themsleves what they want and out of desperation some will certainly make the return journey. No-one knows what their fate will be and there will be no-one on hand to monitor their treatment. When other camps have been consolidated up to 30% of refugees have simply disappeared – most taking their chances with the hundreds of thousands of other economic migrants who have fled to Bangkok and other parts of Thailand.

While Thailand’s economy was propspering the illegals were a useful pool of cheap labour. Now they are rounded back and returned to the border: no longer with even the minimal protection afforded to camp residents.. What happens to them on the other side is anybody’s guess.

The Karen National Union (KNU) has pledged itself to continue its struggle. But its leaders are isolated and without friends in the international community. It has suffered from in-fighting and factionalism which has been cleverly exploited by the Burmese military.

The KNU must know that its best hope is that Aung San Suu Kyi will eventually replace the generals and that she will support a federal structure allowing regional autonomy for the major ethnic minorities. Her difficulty is that the moment she expressed such a willingness it would be used against her by the country’s xenophobic generals. Her reported remark, that “the sufferings of our Karen brothers and sisters are our very own sufferings” will not, however, have been lost on the Karen leaders.

The West continues to think of Burma as a country struggling for democracy. This is a misunderstanding. The struggle of the ethnic minorities for self determination is an even bigger battle. It is the root issue, the fundamental issue. Even if Suu Kyi came to power on a democratic ticket failure to address the half a century of injustice against the Karen people and the country’s many other minorities would leave Burma no further forward.

ALTON REVEALS SHOCKING EVIDENCE OF GENOCIDE IN BURMA

The cross-bench peer, Lord Alton of Liverpool has returned from the Thai-Burma border last weekend with shocking evidence of the continuing genocide against Burma’s ethnic minorities.

The evidence includes a photo of an eight-year-old girl who still been fired upon by the Burmese military on 30th October 2002. During this attack her uncle was killed and four members of her family wounded. The bullet is still inside her body. A further photo is of a Karen village that has been burnt to the ground as part of the junta’s ‘four cuts’ policy to destabilise civilian life for the ethnic minorities. Finally, another shot shows a medical team removing land mine shrapnel from a village girl on 8th January 2003.

Lord Alton travelled with American Congressman, Joseph Pitts, on behalf of Jubilee Campaign to the refugee camps in Thailand, where many of the 130,000 Karen people have fled to escape Burma’s genocide. An estimated 30,000 Karen, Karenni and Shan have been killed as a direct or indirect result of military action.

March 9th has been dedicated as the global day of prayer for Burma when voices will be raised in the earnest prayer that 53 years of conflict will finally come to an end.

Commenting after his trip, David Alton said ‘Along with prayer, we need to redouble the political pressure on western governments and on the Burmese military junta. There are also a host of initiatives that individuals and church groups can take to help those who are suffering. The evidence was truly shocking of the latest violations of human rights. Although the British Government still refuses to categorise these crimes as genocide there is no doubt in my mind that no other word adequately to describes the realities in Burma’s Karen State.’

The last time Lord Alton visited this region, about four years ago, he illegally crossed the border and entered the Karen State. He heard and saw evidence of the internally displaced people – estimated now at 600,000; of the scorched earth policy that has depopulated and destroyed countless villages; and of brutality unequalled anywhere in the world.

The story of one small child at a refugee camp near Mae Sot illustrates how the brutality and violence of this perfidious regime continues.

Saw Naing Gae is just eight years old. He saw the Burmese military shoot dead his mother and his father. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Desperately unhappy he managed to escape and made his way to the camp, where he is staying with a group of thirty other orphans. Every trace of joy and innocence had been stamped out of him; and all of this by the age of 8.

At Htee Tha Blu village, further violations of human rights were carried out by Light Infantry Battalions 301 and 78. They beat and tortured villagers, stole their belongings and burnt down their church and their homes.

At Mae Sot Lord Alton took evidence from the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People. They provided a 100-page report of carefully documented examples of human rights violations committed by Burmese military over the past twelve months alone. It is a carefully chronicled account of looting, burning, torture, rape and murder. The SPDC routinely plant landmines indiscriminately and in areas where landmines have been laid by their opponents the SPDC use people as human landmine sweepers.

Further evidence came from the victims – people whose limbs have been severed from their bodies, whose skin has been peppered with shrapnel, and others who have been left blind. The delegation also talked to the families of people whose loved ones – men and women – had been seized and used as porters and construction workers, and who have never returned.

ENDS

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Burma: The Great British Betrayal

and another tragedy is waiting to happen -

Bangkok, 24th February 1998.

A member of the British House of Lords, David Alton, has just returned from the Thai-Burma border where he visited refugee camps and a military base of the Karen resistance inside Burma’s jungle, on behalf of the British human rights group, The Jubilee Campaign.. As Thai military officials reiterated their determination to uproot 10,000 of the 116,000 refugees Lord Alton warns that another tragedy in the saga of the long suffering Karen people may be about to occur.

January 4th, 1998, marked the fiftieth anniversary of Burmese independence from Britain. A flag-hoisting ceremony was suitably subdued as Myanmar, or Burma as most of the world still knows it, commemorated half a century of human rights abuses and oppressive authoritarian government. Without any sense of irony, another ritual ceremony will take place next month of the occasion of armed forces day.

I have just returned from a human rights visit to refugee camps on the Burmese-Thai border, a visit which took me into an anti-government military base in Burma . From all I saw and heard I was left in no doubt that this half a century represents fifty tragically wasted years. Britain needs to examine its conscience about the role which it played in the genesis of this tragedy and urgently challenge the repatriation of refugees to a country where torture, rape, slavery and death await them. Burma is a pariah nation. It is unconscionable that huge European and American investments should continue to be made in a country where the abuse of human rights is a daily pastime.

Eco-tourism ventures, the Ye-Tavoy railway, the Yadana pipeline – operated by the French company, Total, and the US-based Unocal (and which is due to supply natural gas to Thailand) are just some of the infrastructure projects which have involved the use of forced labour, including children and pregnant women, according to reports by Agence France Presse International.

Britain was reported, with US$600 million of trade under the last Government, to be one of Burma’s biggest trading partners. The present Government has signaled its distaste for such investments and a Foreign Office Minister, Baroness Symons, told Parliament last June that “we have not ruled out the possibility of further measures, including economic sanctions” in line with those already imposed by the United States..

The ugly sounding, ugly acting, SLORC (State Law And Order Restoration Council) are now the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – although God knows there is precious little peace or development of democracy or human rights of which to boast .

Burma’s democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was freed from house arrest by the SLORC in July 1995 but her movements remain severely circumscribed. Notwithstanding these restrictions the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, and daughter of General Aung San, who led the struggle against British colonial rule, remains a potent symbol for democrats. Her father was assassinated in July 1947, aged 32. She was just two years old.

Corruption And Drugs.

The military junta which has governed the country since 1962 has done its best to destroy the NLD. Following the massacre of thousands of people during student led riots in 1988, SLORC allowed free elections in 1990. But when the NLD achieved an overwhelming victory the military junta set aside the results. Following Aung San Suu Kyi’s six years of house arrest, mean spirited and provocative acts continue to be directed against her. At Christmas, for instance, her husband, the Oxford academic, Michael Aris, and her younger son, Kim, were denied visitor’s visas.

Even by its own feckless standards the Burmese Government has excelled in combining repression with corruption. In December last a group of high ranking military officers were placed under house arrest amidst charges of corruption. The seedy world of illegal drugs and racketeering involving foreign investment is umbilically linked to the highest reaches of government. A former American intelligence officer told me that half of the entire American heroin market comes from Burma’s Wa State alone Many believe that the systematic clearance of the border areas is to give greater control of the lucrative drugs trade to the country’s murdering drugs peddling leaders

Muslim Humiliations And Ethnic Cleansing.

Less well known and less well documented than the odious behaviour of the evil clique who – aided and abetted by China’s Communists – terrorise Burma, is the relentless forced submission and assimilation of its ethnic minorities.

Muslims are just one example. 10,000 Muslims from all over Burma now live in the border refugee camps. The Burmese military have destroyed 42 of their mosques in all parts of the country. Mr.Mohammed Yaseen, General Secretary of the All Burma Muslim Union and Dr.Abdul Razzak, its Chairman, told me that no one had ever been to see them before to establish how they had been treated or how they are faring. Since 1996 Muslim people have been arrested and pressed into forced labour. The Burmese military have subjected them to humiliations such as forcing them to eat pork. And they have been cleared out of whole villages, such as Kyaikdon, Pahkloni, Maekatita, Sakhathat, and Mabu.: “occupants were evicted, animals and possessions taken away.” said Dr.Razzak.

Another group are the long-necked Karen women-the Padaung- who recently caught the public eye when a Thai businessmen turned these refugees into a human zoo. Exploitation is just another burden for the refugees to bear.

Statements which I have gathered in Burma’s refugee camps reveal a story of ethnic cleansing every bit as terrible as Bosnia and genocide every bit as cruel as Rwanda. Through our indifference we are repeating a betrayal every bit as great as that which occurred some fifty years ago.

Another Anniversary: Britain’s Forgotten Allies.

A BBC television doccumentary,made by the respected S.E.Asia Foreign Correspondent of The Times, Andrew Drummond., was entitled “Britain’s Forgotten Allies.” It is a phrase on the lips of all the Karen leaders I met.

On January 31st the Karen commemorated their Revolution Day – and forty-nine years of fighting the Burmese military government. This must surely be one of the world’s longest running civil wars – and one in which we played an undistinguished and even treacherous role.

The leader of the seven million Burmese Karen is the veteran General Saw Bo Mya. President of the KNU (Karen National Union). He has served in the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) since being demobilised from Britain’s Force 136 which bravely and valiantly resisted the Japanese during World War Two.

The General’s two sons are today engaged in active service deep in Burma’s jungles in the continuing war of attrition against SPDC forces.The Myas are a closely knit family. Major Ner Dah Mya, aged 31, the General’s second son, combines a gentle spirit with steely determination. This highly articulate American educated major, will carry the Karen torch for the next generation

The Karen are the largest ethnic group in South East Asia without their own country. The General lays the blame firmly at the door of the British. He told me that the British gave a cast-iron promise of independence to their war time allies but “we are the allies you have abandoned and forgotten” he says. Betrayal has led to enslavement.

Return To The River Kwai

In scenes reminiscent of the construction of the bridge over the River Kwai when the Japanese used British servicemen as their navvies, throughout the country millions of people from the ethnic minorities are being used as forced labour to build roads, railways and amenities – up to a standard suitable for the visiting tourists whom the Burmese are so keen to attract as a boost for their devastated economy.

Since the fall of their military headquarters at Manerplaw, in 1995, the KNLA has been forced deeper still into the jungles where it continues to fight a guerrilla war against the Burmese military. As David stalks Goliath – 5,000 troops pitted against 350,000 Burmese military – they know that this epic struggle is against a regime which routinely practices genocide, which takes no prisoners, and which will not rest until Karen people and culture are obliterated.

Army’s Mind Bending Drugs.

But they do at least have a cause: self determination within an autonomous Karen state in a federal Burma. The Burmese solders, by contrast, are conscripts who are often demoralised and resentful. I met a deserter who had crossed the lines four days earlier. He told me how alcohol and mind bending drugs are given to the soldiers before they go into battle to hype their courage. The Karen leaders report incidents where Burmese military keep advancing even in the face of machine gun fire. The drugs may temporarily mask fear and pain but they do not stop death.

San Hla Maung was a corporal in the 119th battalion, 33rd division, of the Burmese army. He told me that “there is widespread disillusionment inside the Burmese military forces. Many don’t like doing the regime’s dirty work. If civilians refuse to become porters for the army and soldiers were made to beat them or kill them. All this for 6 dollars a month.”

He spoke about the use of forced labour to build Burma’s new roads, railways and hotels: “Men are used as buffaloes. How can western tourists consider coming to stay in these facilities when they have been built with our blood?” he asked me.

When there is a general uprising against the military regime he believes that most Burmese soldiers would rather “drown with the people” than obey orders to annihilate them and he says that many soldiers “are secret NLD supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Trail of Desolation

The regime’s forces have left a trail of desolation behind them. One American missionary told me: “Desolation is everywhere. I saw abandoned rice fields, empty villages, destroyed homes. Field upon empty field. The land was desolate. Not even the birds sing.”

The burning of the villages and the widespread desolation has also led to 116,000 refugees fleeing across the border into Thailand. The Thai government provided sites for the refugees but has never allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to administer the camps or even to have a permanent presence there. Thailand will not admit that they are even entitled to formal refugees status living “in reasonable fear of persecution.” Quite what criteria have to be satisfied to achieve such status cannot be imagined.

The UNHCR’s formidable Director for Relief Operations, Amelia Bonifacio, says that whatever the Thais think these are not merely displaced persons.

But she is consigned to an office hundreds of miles away in Bangkok. She has to content herself with sending two officials to each camp once a month: “we have no-one on the border at all; we have no permanent presence” she told me. “It is not a satisfactory arrangement because we have to seek authorisation from the Thai government every time we wish to visit.”

10,000 Hiding In The Jungle

If the situation is unsatisfactory for the refugees in the camps consider the plight of the 10,000 Karen refugees whom Major Ner Dah Mya estimates are desperately lying low in remote parts of the jungle hoping to make the dangerous border crossing: “Many of them are dying of malaria or from dehydration. There are gross, enormous violations of human rights. We are desperate” he says. .

The situation has become extremely dangerous in the most northerly of the refugee camps because of what is known in Thailand as the logging scandal.

The Mae Hong Song Province is home to the northerly refugee camps and also to Thailand’s Salween National Park which is rich in teak – or at least it used to be. When no one was looking 13,000 trees were cut down and the rare and highly prized wood mysteriously ended up on the international markets. Initially the refugees were alleged to have been the culprits – a convenient scapegoat – but as the story unfolded the sawdust trail has led to the door of Thai and Burmese military, and to high ranking Thai officials and politicians.

Corrupt informal deals vie with the official trade and investment being cultivated by Thailand and Burma and other Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries In another betrayal of those whose human rights have been so badly degraded, Burma was admitted to full membership of ASEAN last year.

The latest twist in the logging scandal involves the deputy chief forestry official who said last week that he had been sent an anonymous 5 million baht kickback which he wanted to hand over to the Government as a token of his honourable intentions. They have so far declined the brown envelope. But where does this leave the refugees?

Thai Pressure To Return

Under the cover of the logging scandal the Thai government has issued an ultimatum: go back to Burma or move to another camp a great distance away. The occupants of the three camps involved, Mae Ye Hta, Klo Pa and U Da Hta have all been told that they will be transported to Mae Ra Ma Luang camp if they choose not to return to Burma. This “choice” is already forcing some families back across the border. The British Embassy in Bangkok has intervened on their behalf and told me, on Monday, that at least twenty families are going to make the return journey imminently. Thai military announced the same day that they had postponed the removal of the 10,490 refugees for “humanitarian reasons”.The Bangkok English language newspaper, The Nation (24.2.98) said this was because senior officers feared “media attention.” The military source told the newspaper that the deadline for removal had now been shifted to March 15th or “the very last date for the refugees’ removal would be the start of the rainy season in April.”

Amelia Bonifacio is in no doubt that “they will face persecution.” She admits that UNHCR will have no way of monitoring what happens to them and that without unhindered access to returning refugees; without the ability to monitor and to assist them; and without a cessation of hostilities, any return is premature. This is a disaster just waiting to happen.

Repatriation Is A Daily Occurrence.

As the world stands by refugees are already regularly evicted from Thailand.. An elderly refugee at Bekhlo camp described to me how any refugee crossing the perimeter without permission is taken to a bamboo pen. There they are humiliatingly stripped to their underclothes and left to stand in the scorching sun for the remainder of the day. Relatives or friends have to pay the Thai soldiers 3-400 baht to redeem them If they are unfortunate enough not to be collected they are sometimes tossed into a truck and taken to the River Moi – which separates the two countries – and, according to the refugee, “tipped into the river and left to their own fate.”

Last November the Thai military deliberately fired over the heads of Karen refugees In December, in letters to me and to other British parliamentarians, the Thai Ambassador in London, Vidhya Rayananonda, insists that “the attack was not the intention of the Thai soldiers.” Two people were wounded and there was a report that a child had died. The Ambassador says there “is no report” of such a death.

I have taken statements that two tiny babies died as a result of the attack. One was dropped by its mother and the other fell as panicking parents fled from the soldiers. Unarmed refugees, women and babies hardly constitute a grave military threat to the Thai army but the Ambassador says “This situation was beyond their control.”

Atrocities Abound.

But this is not to be compared with the Burmese – to whom the refugees are being returned – and who do far far worse things than this. The stories which I will recount underline the terrible danger in which refugees find themselves when they are repatriated.

I visited Hway Ka Loke camp – the camp of the river and skull – , situated five kilometers from the border. Burmese military attacked it in January 1997. 107 troops, accompanied by 50 porters, crossed the river and ignited the hospital. The Burmese arsonists burnt down 678 homes .

Naw Ku Ser – whose name I have changed to protect her identity – is a Karen refugee whose husband and son-in-law were conscripted by the Burmans in 1996 as porters.When it was found that they could no longer continue due to malaria, they were simply shot dead.

Naw Paw Wah, whose name is also changed, said her husband was brutally gunned down in identical circumstances: “he couldn’t go on carrying the loads any more, so they shot him,” she said.

Lets be clear about the scale of the genocide which is underway.

Burma Star Veteran ‘s Medal Protest.

In one camp I met a British-Karen family from the north west of England, who were visiting relatives and friends.

Bruce Humphrey-Taylor, is of British-Karen extraction. His father was a British inspector of excises in the notorious Golden Triangle – still the heart of the Burmese sponsored drugs trade, which claims so many young European and American lives.

Humphrey-Taylor married an English woman, Mary, and settled in Great Sutton on the Wirral. He was one of the 50,000 Karen troops who fought for the British. A holder of the Burma Star, he says “I put my badges and medals in the bin. I refused to join the Burma Star Association because the British betrayed us. It would dishonour the thousands of dead.”

Humphrey-Taylor alleges that the British Government failed to provide Karen troops, who as Britain’s allies were systematically persecuted by the Japanese, with even a pension. He adds that:”in 1948 a one-off payment was made by the Attlee Government to the Burmans but the money was never made over to the Karen.”.

Until the mid-fifties Humphrey-Taylor fought alongside KNLA forces and has devoted the rest of his life to ensuring that the world is not allowed to forget.

He has personally seen Karen women who have been “spiked” by pushing a bamboo pole through their bodies The Burman soldiers just stood there and laughed.” He insists that “torture and rape is practiced to this day.” And dozens of human rights reports bear him out.

Raped And Killed.

A camp leader told me how four women were killed in Papun District two years ago. They were first raped. Two, who were pregnant, had their stomachs stamped upon by the Burmese soldiers – first killing their unborn babies and then their mothers. The other two women were stabbed to death.

After the 1988 uprising students were burnt alive in cremation executions and others were buried alive as they screamed their final protests

Last year the Bekhlo refugee camp was attacked by Burmese militia. One of the defenceless victims was a little girl aged ten. Hsa Gler Mu was hit in the stomach by rocket propelled grenade fragments. She will bear the physical scars for the rest of her life. Emotionally, she was terrified and is haunted by the nightmare that the Burmese” will return and do it again.”

On that same morning, Naw Bway Tee, aged 85, had risen to cook the rice and fish paste provided by the foreign aid groups – without whom the Karen would starve and go without education, health, and clean water. Naw Bway Tee had four children and nine grandchildren, and despite her age she was always the first to rise. Her son, Hsa Law Lah – wonderful star – told me how the deadening boom of the attack woke the sleeping family. Fragments of the shells played on the bamboo screens like monsoon water in the rainy season. Engulfed by panic the family scrambled for shelter emerging to find the family’s matriarch dead by her cooking pot. She had been killed instantly by shrapnel which struck her spinal chord. Theirs and sixteen other homes were raised to the ground.

The Evidence.

I have in my possession, and will hand over to the British Government, the casing from the RPG7 (Rocket Propelled Grenade) used in that attack. Like much of Burma;s military hardware it was made in China. On Friday I will meet the Thai Interior Minister and will present photographic evidence of the cases which I have described.

Landmines And Malaria.

In another development China has provided many of the anti-personnel landmines which now litter the border area. Major Ner Dah Mya estimates that 10,000 mines have already been laid by both sides. In total contravention of the Geneva Convention these have been laid indiscriminately in rural areas without any warnings being posted and without any mapping of where the mines have been laid. At the prosthesis centre in Bekhlo camp I saw some of the consequences.

Maw Kehk lost his leg to a Burmese mine – now he skilfully makes artficial limbs for those who make it to the camps after detonating a mine on the other side of the border. Since April last he has provided artificial limbs for 130 people – and the daily toll is rising. Maw Kehk says “The Burmese don’t care about human beings.” Their mines come from China and from the former Soviet Union – and the Burmese make their own. He says that because of the use of plastics and because of their tiny size the mines are often impossible to detect: “when children come across them they are fatally attracted” he says.

Ko Lah, now aged 27, was 21 years old when he stumbled on a mine in the jungle village of Shwe Kwin , in the Myang District. He lost a leg. How does he feel about the Burmese?: “I feel nothing” he says stoically.

And, as if all of this were not bad enough, there is the jungle’s most ancient of enemies awaiting repatriated refugees: mosquitoes.

Daniel Kuypers of the Mae Sot Malaria Research Centre at Mae Sot told me that the border area is officially the world’s epicentre for the virulent P.F. drug resistant strain of malaria. The disease is the region’s biggest killer and away from the camps it is difficult to see what medical support or care returning refugees will have.

Genocide On A Par With Bosnia And Rwanda.

What is happening in Burma today is every bit as evil as the atrocities committed by the Bosnian war lords. The Karen people have a rich culture. It is being destroyed. Cultural and physical genocide has been compounded by betrayal and manipulation.

Atrocities in Bosnia shocked European sensibilities because courageous reporters ensured that the story was told. Politicians reacted with international and judicial sanctions. Trials for war crimes have been established at the Hague.

Compare that with our reaction to Burma or to Cambodia. What is intolerable in Europe should not be any more tolerable because it is in South East Asia. Is a life in South East Asia worth less than a life in South East Europe?

The creation of an international War Crimes Tribunal to try Burma’s military junta should be established without delay. Every European and American company – such as the oil giant, Total – who continue to invest in Burma should be subjected to massive disinvestment campaigns. The UNHCR should be given joint authority over the refugee camps with the Thais. And governments should become serious about attacking the military junta which has caused all this misery – not the refugees who deserve every protection which we can give them.

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The Release of James Mawdsley -Article For The Tablet by David Alton

James Mawdsley - who suffered imprisonment in Burma for demonstrating against military rule and for the rights of the ethnic minorities
James Mawdsley – who suffered imprisonment in Burma for demonstrating against military rule and for the rights of the ethnic minorities

James Mawdsley’s welcome release from his Burmese incarceration should serve to spur us all into a tougher stand against one of the world’s remaining pariah states.

It would be a mistake to see the decision to free James as an act of generous compassion. In achieving his objective of forcing the world to take note of the plight of the indigenous Burmese James had simply become too much trouble to them. Despite beating him up and cruelly leaving him for over a year in isolation they hoped to break his remarkable spirit. Having failed to do that they simply calculated that he would be less trouble outside than inside the country.

In the long term this may prove to be yet another miscalculation by a regime notorious for its use of brute force rather than finesse. This extraordinarily articulate young man, driven by his deep faith and belief in justice and human rights, will become an authoritative moral voice which will now have access to millions of hearts and minds. And what will he use his voice to say? He will focus, as he has done throughout, not on his own privations and mistreatment but on the denial of basic democratic rights to the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and on the genocide inflicted on ethnic minorities such as the Karen, the Karenni and the Shan.

Two years ago I visited the refugee camps on the Burma border. It was after this that James made contact with me.

I took evidence on both sides of the border from our former World War Two allies, the Karen. Since then, I have maintained regular contact with the Karen and the Shan. What I heard and saw then has left me in no doubt that Burma is experiencing genocide – and I use that word, not as exaggerated hyperbole, but in the strict sense laid out in Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Crime of Genocide.

Over 30,000 Karen civilians have died as a result of Burmese military action since 1992 alone; over 300,000 Karen and a similar number of Shan are internally displaced. Many are normally killed on sight when discovered. About 120,000 Karen and 100,000 Shan have been forced to flee to Thailand to escape the atrocities of the Burmese Army. Yet there is no concerted attempt to bring those responsible to justice.

Last year I went to the American Congress and presented evidence to their Human Rights Committee, urging the US Administration to press for genocide charges to be laid. The Americans are sympathetic to this argument but regrettably the UK Government has thus far declined to support it.

Instead, we have simply lobbied for the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – good in itself but wholly irrelevant in the case of Burma. As yet, only a handful of countries have ratified the statute setting up the court. These twenty need to be joined by a further forty countries before anything can happen. It is therefore impossible to say when it will begin to function. It will

not, in any event, have retrospective jurisdiction and it

would be an appalling travesty if a well intentioned initiative were to become the tool used by the perpetrators of mass murder to evade prosecution.

A former Labour Solicitor General, Lord Archer of Sandwell, put it well when he said “It is good to know that we may soon have a fire brigade but, if one’s house is burning, a fire extinguisher now is more important than a fire brigade next year.”

The ICC is not an effective solution. Instead the Government should be lobbying at the UN Security Council for the creation of an International Criminal Tribunal to try the Burmese regime and their subordinates for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. It is extraordinarily defeatist and feeble to argue that because the Chinese might veto such an attempt that it is not worth trying.

Last week the UN Special Rappporteur on Burma, Mr.Rajsoomer Lallah QC, detailed further evidence of terrible atrocities in Burma. An earlier report, in 1998, by the International Labour Organisation(ILO) was a 254-page horror story.

All credit to the ILO and the UN but wasn’t it rather inconsistent to appoint Burma’s Ambassador to the UN as the chairman of the UN General Assembly Committee on Disarmament and International Security (with the support of HMG)? Either this is a pariah state or it is not.

An earlier submission by Mr.Lallah was placed before the UN General Assembly. At paragraph 59 he said: “…violations include extrajudicial and arbitrary executions (not sparing women and children), rape, torture, inhuman treatment, forced labour and denial of freedom of movement. These violations have been so numerous and consistent over the past years as to suggest that they are not simply isolated acts of individual misbehaviour of middle and lower rank officers but are rather the result of policy at the highest level entailing political and legal responsibility.” If this is so, why does the world then keep its eyes closed when it comes to trying those responsible or even indicating that one day they may be held to account? Why is the world so supine when it comes to organising a coherent policy of economic sanctions? With body language composed of shut eyes and muted mouths it is little wonder that the Burmese military believe that the international community is not serious in its prosecution of the case against their regime.

There is no coherent approach to the prosecution of genocide charges or to the imposition of world wide sanctions. The publishers of The Lonely Planet continue to encourage British tourists to travel there – and to stay in hotels built by slave labour. The American Administration, which has a total ban on Burmese investment, has been badly let down by its European allies who permit their companies to exploit the withdrawl of American petroleum companies. The Catholic human rights lawyer, Lord Brennan, put his finger on this point when he said: “For the sake of the people of Burma we should stop trading with that country. People in Parliament and in this nation felt in past years that South Africa indulged in an outrageous system called apartheid. Is Burma any different?” Lord Brennan was this week pursuing his argument in Geneva, raising the use of child labour in Burma. The ILO say that the widespread use of forced labour is “a crime against humanity that is punishable under the terms of the statutes setting up the four ad hoc international criminal tribunals established since the Second World War to try those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

In their conclusions they state that “There is abundant evidence before the Commission showing the pervasive use of forced labour imposed on the civilian population of Myanmar by the authorities and the military.”

Why then do we not do something about it?

Two weeks ago I initiated a debate in Parliament pressing for genocide charges to be brought. My call was supported by Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, Lord Archer of Sandwell and the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Lord Weatherill, among others.

Richard Harries said that “the Karen, Karenni and Shan people need international support now before thousands more are relocated and killed.” And what will be the implications for us if we fail to act?

Quite recently the Organisation of African Unity demanded payment of significant reparations to Rwandans by the countries who failed to prevent the genocide there in 1994. Everything that happened in Rwanda – and the subsequent successful prosecution of individuals on genocide charges -, everything which has happened in the Balkans, and all we know of the Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, teaches us that tyrants are emboldened when free nations fail to act. What point is there in Britain maintaining its claim to a seat at the United Nations Security Council unless it uses it to pursue the high political themes of human rights and justice?

My hope now is that James Mawdsley will use his newly gained freedom to campaign throughout Britain raising moral awareness and pressing home the argument for the preferment of genocide charges. His is the voice of one who has paid a personal price and who was prepared to put his own life on the line. It is the voice of a man motivated by deep faith and belief in what the Pope has called “the unity of life.” It is the voice of courage and integrity. It will be a voice which will ensure we do not forget the 1,500 political prisoners who remain in Burmese jails and the hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities whose suffering continues unabated.

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Investing Ethically?

A Wake Up Call For Executives And Trustees

David Alton.

I want to begin, this morning, with an illustration of how we make simple things complicated and how we often fail to see the blindingly obvious:

As part of a training scheme for professional people Anderson Consulting Worldwide asked four questions. Around 90% of the professionals tested got all the questions wrong. The reason? We look for the complicated rather than the obvious.

These were Anderson’s four questions:

1. How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?

Most people chose to dissect the animal or said it couldn’t be done.

The correct answer is: Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe, and close the door. This question tests whether you tend to do simple things in an overly complicated way.

The second question asks:

2. How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator? In answer, did you say, open the refrigerator, put in the elephant, and close the refrigerator? This is the wrong answer.

The correct answer is: open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in

the elephant and close the door. This tests your ability to think through the repercussions of your previous actions.

The third question is this:

3. The Lion King is hosting an animal conference. All the animals

attend… except one. Which animal does not attend?

The correct answer is: The Elephant. The elephant is in the refrigerator.

You just put him in there. This tests your memory. Even if

you failed to answer the first three questions correctly, you still have one more chance to show your true abilities.

The fourth question asks:

4. There is a river you must cross but it is used by crocodiles, and you do not have a boat. How do you manage it? Of course, the correct answer is that you jump into the river and swim across. Have you not been paying attention? All the crocodiles are attending the Animal Conference. This tests whether you learn quickly from your mistakes.

I liked this story because it illustrates the importance of simplicity, of thinking through repercussions and not forgetting too easily the things we have done before.

Just 10% of those who were asked managed to give the right answers (and I would not have been among them). However, many pre-school four-year-olds did get several correct answers.

The simple question I want to put to you today is do you want your charities to be an oasis of influence, in a desert of indifference, do you want charities to raise their game and to become real agents for fundamental change?

John Ruskin once wrote that “a nation cannot last as a money making mob.” Most of us would concur with that view and would want to see wealth used ethically and creatively.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, puts it like this:

“Today, corporate social responsibility goes far beyond the old philanthropy of the past – donating money to good causes at the end of the financial year – and is instead an all year round responsibility….Now we need to move towards a challenging measure of corporate responsibility, where we judge results, not just by the input but by its outcomes: the difference we make to the world in which we live, and the contribution we make to poverty reduction.”

The movement in favour of the ethical use of money and socially responsible investment has taken that impulse and turned it into corporate mission statements, government policies, and investment decisions. Ruskin would surely have approved.

Throughout the 1990s a range of organisations campaigned for this change to come about. The Ethical Investment Research Service (EIRIS) and the UK Social Investment Forum – through their “Tomorrow’s Company” campaign deserve to be mentioned in despatches but so do those charities and pressure groups who have been involved in promoting a combination of ethical consumerism and disinvestment campaigns. And so do singular individuals, such as Russell Sparkes, whose authoritative writing on these issues has given the argument clear definition. Russell cogently demolishes the myth that investing ethically and acting in a socially responsible manner is incompatible with good business returns. Indeed, the reverse is often true.

There is no doubt that there has been a sea change and that many more companies and institutions do now routinely consider their responsibility to their stakeholders and the wider community.

Even so, although more people are asking the simple question, how do you get the giraffe into the refrigerator, or more, precisely, how do we best use the funds under our stewardship to achieve greater equity and fairness, never-the-less, there still remains a gap between the impulse and the practice, the rhetoric and the reality.

For those who are lagging behind the question is not whether ethical investment is a good or bad thing.

As Charity Times reported in May: “Engagement or divestment?” it asked “Not an either/or option.”

The Charity Commission requires charities to report on whether their investments are taking into account social, environmental or ethical issues. Trustees and supporters of charities no longer have a choice about this and, in reality, they are simply engaging in an exercise that – as I have said – has become widespread in many other parts of society over the past decade.

To make this approach effective it is crucial to have a well-thought out strategy. We have to be clear about what issues are being identified and why. We need to set up specific objectives for engagement and we need to extract specific and meaningful commitments from companies we decide to engage with. If we are not going to disinvest then we need to set up a mechanism for tracking and following up promises that companies give to modify or alter their own practices. We also have to have a clear idea of what the next steps will be if, having engaged and used our corporate leverage, the company does not adequately address the issues we have raised.

It could also be that by understanding the real sea change that has occurred that we could harness this impulse by creating alliances among charities and other investors to work together on particular issues – thus enabling them to increase their leverage and impact.

As we think how best implement a socially responsible approach we should not simply go for the easiest options. Companies with forward-thinking policies – on issues like the sale of arms or environmental depredations – obviously make attractive partners but the less forward-looking companies can make even more attractive targets. When most charities were formed they had as a basic mandate the desire to bring about change – so shouldn’t they be using their leverage to challenge and to change.

WWF has sometimes been criticised for their partnership with the Lafarge Group – who are the one of the biggest producers of building materials. Yet, as Robert Napier, of WWF UK says: “This relationship has helped us not only in our conservation work but also in promoting environmentally sound business practices. We receive funds for forestry projects and quarry rehabilitation initiatives and help to bring about significant environmental commitments, such as reducing Lafarge’s carbon dioxide emissions.”

So, of course, organisations like WWF have to have a care for their reputation but properly explained, their strategy of engagement can actually have highly desirable outcomes – outcomes that would be explicable and acceptable to their supporters when seen as part of a strategy for social engagement.

Let me give another example.

I have just returned from Africa – where I visited the Congo, Rwanda and Darfur, in Sudan. Congo is rich in minerals. Every company that has worked there has simply exploited and stolen every asset they could lay their hands on. The other contribution of European companies has been the sale of arms in Congo, Rwanda and Darfur. The result? In Darfur, 70,000 dead; in Rwanda, 800,000 killed in the genocide and in Congo a corrupt and chaotic society robbed of its natural wealth. Since 1998 more than 3 million have been killed: that’s 2,000 people every day. So what can we do? Only when companies are there who are committed to helping end the conflict and build a civil society will we see fundamental change.

Let me give an example of what I mean and how charities can play their part.

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. 20 years ago famine killed 1 million people. Oxfam have chosen Ethiopia as the focus of their first collaboration with a multinational company. This is in the shape of Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee retail chain.

Starbucks – in return – are contributing £100,000 to Oxfam’s rural development programme – and will be used to improve irrigation, to provide seeds and tools and to support women’s literacy projects. Scott Keiller, Starbuck’s UK head of corporate social responsibility and communications (that they even have such a post shows how much every big company now needs to engage in such issues), says: “By working together we realised we could achieve more than by working alone.”

Simultaneously, Oxfam have criticised Nestle, Kraft and other coffee producers for failing to safeguard the countless African casualties who have been hit by the crisis in world coffee prices. Nestle have now responded by announcing that they plan to launch their own fair-trade coffee brand. Good. It shows once again how far corporate and social responsibility has moved up the agenda.

Oxfam recognise that they will be accused of “selling out”, of jeopardising their “independence” and of being “exploited” buy a high profile company. That’s why they signed a memorandum of understanding with Starbucks. If the company renege on their undertakings – or try to wear a merit badge of virtuous but unfulfilled intentions – then Oxfam will be free to say so. They are also committed to continuing their campaign for Fair Trade and to speak out against rigged rules and double standards in world trade. Oxfam will also be measuring the success of their joint venture – by assessing the amount of land brought intro use and the number of women given literacy training.

What Oxfam and Starbucks have done is to recognise that keeping an arms length relationship might preserve purity but would not effect change. What a contrast between this genuine attempt at social responsibility and the aggregates company that put up an owl nesting box on a patch of land at the edge of acres of devastated farmland. We have to be wary of empty owl boxes and empty gestures.

The need to challenge many other companies to do the same as Starbucks is illustrated by figures published this week that show that only 44 of the FTSE 100 companies and 26 of the FTSE 250 provide a direct link on their web site from their annual report or investor-relations pages to sections on the web dedicated to corporate and social responsibility. Among the Fortune 100 companies only two, Coca Cola and Johnson and Johnson – have clear links from their investor pages to CSR information.

The challenge to companies and charities who don’t take these issues seriously is growing day by day. A straw in the wind was the decision of The Sunday Times, in March, to launch its Companies that Count campaign – a corporate responsibility index devised by Business in the Community. It aims to encourage firms to measure and control their impact on society and the environment in which they operate. Yet we all know that bandwagons can roll along at a cracking pace – and that the sincerity of the commitment of some of the passengers is open to doubt and that there often remains a gap between the impulse and the practice, the rhetoric and the reality.

For many companies and even charities thinking about CSR we know that we would have a lot of sympathy with St.Augustine’s request to the Lord “To make me virtuous: but not just yet.” Conversion may be delayed and it can also be synthetic.

We all know that SRI can very easily become just another piece of public relations and window dressing; that, as Stuart McGreevy has argued, it can be seen as a “nice to do” rather than as a “must do activity”. That would be to misunderstand both the public mood and the new legal obligations that no longer leave SRI as an optional extra.

This is especially true for those of us involved in charities and non-governmental voluntary organisations. I speak to you today as someone who is himself a trustee and patron of several charities: and therefore acutely aware of the conflicting pressures, priorities and competing demands that those who run charities have to face.

Yet, for the reasons I will adumbrate it would be a huge error to leave SRI compliance as a subsidiary issue relegated to the backwaters of long agendas. Nor is it an issue that can be abdicated to the fund manager with trustees washing their hands of their own responsibility to ensure SRI compliance. The Trustee Act and Charity Commissioners now impose a duty on charities to include ethical as well as financial considerations with their standard investment criteria. Yet, this time last year, some 60% of the UK’s top 100 charities still had no written ethical or socially responsible investment policy, and two thirds of those were unable to say what plans they had to address the issue.

Because of the new statutory obligations every trustee needs to know how SRI impacts the objects of their charity: they need to appraise investment performance, legal obligations, the moral standpoint, compliance obligations and risk management.

Trustees have to lead on this issue by example – and also consider carefully the implications of not doing so. On the down side, a failure to engage properly in SRI will back-fire on disengaged charities, and will jeopardise their reputations, standing, donations and goodwill.

Many of you will have followed the recent debate about the decision of Campaign Against The Arms Trade to name 63 charities who own shares in arms exporters. These include major players in the charity world, including Cancer Research UK, the MS Society and the RNLI.

It was deeply revealing to hear the explanation given by the MS Society: “We never made a conscious decision to invest in the arms trade. We simply have a discretionary portfolio which means that our fund managers decide our investments for us. We can’t exclude any investment because our constitution doesn’t allow us to.”

Another charity said: “We don’t knowingly invest in any shares. Our investment managers manage our portfolio to the returns that we want, but how they invest it is down to them.”

But is it?

And can trustees any longer legitimately try to pass the buck?

In the past trustees have simply cited their fiduciary duty to get the best possible returns. But times and the laws have changed.

Sophie Chapman, speaking on behalf of the Charity Finance Directors’ Group says that “The Charity Commission now accepts that an ethical investment policy may be entirely consistent with the principle of seeking the best returns. For instance, trustees may be of the view that companies that adhere to ethical criteria are less risky and will perform better in the long term.”

In fact, Charity Commission guidance quite specifically permits a charity to exclude investments that “might hamper its work by making potential beneficiaries unwilling to be helped because of the source of the charity’s money or by alienating supporters.”

Failure to take SRI seriously can become a public relations disaster. For instance, following Campaign Against The Arms Trade’s disclosure about RNLI, the agency who organise al of their street fundraising, Dialogue Direct, have terminated their contract with RNLI.

The RSPB also fell foul – if I can use that phrase – of a decision to invest in a company responsible for an oil spill that killed thousands of birds.

I was recently in correspondence with a major national charity who have been leading calls for disinvestment in The Sudan while some of their own pension fund investments are

tied up with major interests in that country. Clearly this is extremely damaging for a charity’s reputation and, of course, donors may well move their donations to other charities if they feel aggrieved.

Nor is the old shibboleth about SRI producing far lower returns true. Half of Barnardo’s pension fund has been invested ethically since 1999 when the charity introduced changes to its general investment policy. Their finance director says: “We monitor the returns carefully and it’s actually been running slightly ahead of the market as a whole.” A 2002 report by West LB Panmure into the SRI market found that there was no sign of “systematic performance disadvantage.” Richard Stroud, the Chief Executive of The Pensions Trust adds: “Trustees must recognise ethical investment will give a different – which isn’t to say worse – return than conventional funds.”

For today’s discussion Stuart has identified six key barriers which have stood in the way of pushing SRI up the charity agenda. I hope that what I have said this morning helps to overcome some of the barriers and reinforces the urgency of taking SRI seriously.

The answer to the question, how do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator is a simple one and the initial answer to the question, how can we operate ethically and effectively, is equally simple. And EIC can easily provide you with the answers.

If, as John Ruskin put it, our only interest is in being “a money making mob”, it will diminish the vitality of the charity, disillusion supporters, and be significantly out of step with the mood of most people in this country. Surely we can do better than that.

Column on Ethical investment:

When most charities were formed they had as a basic mandate the desire to bring about change – so shouldn’t they be using their leverage to challenge and to change? Yet, there is always a nervousness that by collaborating with commercial interests you can become tainted.

World Wildlife Fund has sometimes been criticised for their partnership with the Lafarge Group – who are the one of the biggest producers of building materials. Yet, as Robert Napier, of WWF UK says: “This relationship has helped us not only in our conservation work but also in promoting environmentally sound business practices. We receive funds for forestry projects and quarry rehabilitation initiatives and help to bring about significant environmental commitments, such as reducing Lafarge’s carbon dioxide emissions.”

When I was recently in Africa I visited the Congo, Rwanda and Dafur, in Sudan. Congo is rich in minerals. Every company that has worked there has simply exploited and stolen every asset they could lay their hands on. The other contribution of European companies has been the sale of arms in Congo, Rwanda and Darfur. The result? In Darfur, 70,000 dead; in Rwanda, 800,000 killed in the genocide and in Congo a corrupt and chaotic society robbed of its natural wealth. Since 1998 more than 3 million have been killed: that’s 2,000 people every day. So what can we do? Only when companies are there who are committed to helping end the conflict and build a civil society will we see fundamental change.

Investors, pension funds and charities can all play their part in making this happen. Take the example of Starbucks and Oxfam.

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. 20 years ago famine killed 1 million people. Oxfam have chosen Ethiopia as the focus of their first collaboration with a multinational company. This is in the shape of Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee retail chain.

Starbucks – in return – are contributing £100,000 to Oxfam’s rural development programme – and will be used to improve irrigation, to provide seeds and tools and to support women’s literacy projects. Scott Keiller, Starbuck’s UK head of corporate social responsibility and communications (that they even have such a post shows how much every big company now needs to engage in such issues), says: “By working together we realised we could achieve more than by working alone.”

Simultaneously, Oxfam have criticised Nestle, Kraft and other coffee producers for failing to safeguard the countless African casualties who have been hit by the crisis in world coffee prices. Nestle have now responded by announcing that they plan to launch their own fair-trade coffee brand. Good. It shows once again how far corporate and social responsibility has moved up the agenda.

Oxfam recognise that they will be accused of “selling out”, of jeopardising their “independence” and of being “exploited” buy a high profile company. That’s why they signed a memorandum of understanding with Starbucks. If the company renege on their undertakings then Oxfam will be free to say so. They are also committed to continuing their campaign for Fair Trade and to speak out against rigged rules and double standards in world trade. Oxfam will also be measuring the success of their joint venture – by assessing the amount of land brought intro use and the number of women given literacy training.

What Oxfam and Starbucks have done is to recognise that keeping an arms length relationship might preserve purity but would not effect change.

Bandwagons – like ethical and social responsibility campaigns – can roll along at a cracking pace – and the sincerity of the commitment of some of the passengers is open to doubt.

Many companies would have a lot of sympathy with St.Augustine’s request to the Lord “To make me virtuous: but not just yet.” But as Oxfam and Starbucks have shown we can’t go on waiting for change for ever. We need many more to follow their lead.

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January 10th 2005

Speech by Lord Alton of Liverpool on the 2nd Reading of The Mental Capacity Bill.

My Lords,

I support the principle of creating a statutory framework to protect those individuals who lack mental capacity. Those organisations that have been campaigning for this Bill are rightly concerned with the deficiencies in the law in this area which have left people open to abuse and exploitation. As far as day to day care of the mentally incapacitated is concerned, there is much to do. Tightening up oversight of the financial affairs of those lacking mental capacity has been long delayed. Giving carers greater confidence in their legal standing when looking after those who lack capacity – dressing, washing, providing medication – is also welcome. The Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Incapacity Bill did some very valuable pioneering work in addressing many of these concerns.

This Bill represents a once in a generation opportunity to remedy the deficiencies that currently exist and safeguard the rights and interests of adults lacking mental capacity. That is why it is so important that we get it right.

In my contribution to the debate today I would like to flag up three key areas that I hope your Lordships House will give detailed consideration to at Committee and Report stages:

Most of my remarks will be about the withholding and withdrawing of medical treatment, including nutrition and hydration delivered by artificial means; often called euthanasia by omission.

I would also like to then briefly mention

The definition of “best interests” in the Bill; and, thirdly,

Medical research on the mentally incapacitated.

The noble Baroness, Baroness Ashton of Up Holland, who will reply to the debate, will be aware of my longstanding interest in this Bill.

On a number of occasions over the past year or so I met with her predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on a number of occasions. These meetings have been extremely useful and I am grateful to the Government, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, to whom I pay tribute, for the painstaking and sensitive way in which he addressed many outstanding anxieties.

During the Bill’s passage in another place the debate was was dominated by this issue of euthanasia.

Supporters of the Bill have expressed concern about this, describing these fears as ill-informed or misguided and arguing that the positive elements in the Bill are being neglected.

At times it has even been implied that anyone who expresses any reservations about the Bill is guilty of trying to wreck it.

My Lords, the issues before us are central questions concerning life and death and it is the proper role of parliamentarians to scrutines legislation and to revise where necessary.

Putting to one side the euthanasia issue for a moment, there are other areas of the Bill that are deficient and that can be improved upon – not least the inadequate provision of independent advocacy; the need for regular reporting of how the lasting powers of attorney and court appointed deputies have been used; and maybe a sunset clause requiring the efficacy of the enacted legislation to be assessed in due course.

But, my Lords, when we reach Third Reading I and many other noble Lords would not want to be feel forced to vote against the Bill – and the positive aspects to which I have already alluded – because of any ambguities about euthanasia. Those concerns were well debated on December 14th in another place and are also set out in the all-party Early Day Motion336 tabled by Mr.Iain Duncan Smith, and supported by Mrs.Claire Curtis-Thomas and Mr.Paul Burstow. More than 106 Members had signed that Motion by this morning.

Let me turn, then, in detail to this first area of concern.

Like many others I am troubled by those clauses in the Mental Capacity Bill which, if unamended, might become a vehicle for euthanasia by omission. The Joint Committee and the Government have trenchantly argued that such creeping change – and euthansia by default – would be wholly ubnacceptable. In particular, I strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s recent remark that “we will not in any shape of form countenace the deliberate killing of people.” He went on to offer the hope that “ would have thought that that position would recommend itself to everyone.” Sadly, as we know from the unremitting campaign being waged by the proponents of euthanasia – and even supported by some members of your Lordships House – we know that it is not a position that recommends itself to everyone and that we must therefore particularly guard against euthanasia by stealth. Many will have read with concern the reported comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on December 12th last, that it would be better for the elderly and frail to kill themselves rather than become a burden. She remarked that “Maybe it has come down to saying: Okay, they can stay alive, but the famnily will have to pay for it. Otherwise it will be an awful drain on public resources.”

She went on to say “I don’t see why the rest of us should be sacrificed to the scruples of the medical porfession.”

So the Prime Minister’s position does not “recommend itself to everyone” and these arguments about a person’s economic worth and about the subjugation of medical ethics must be clearly seen in the context of a Bill that gives legal backing to measures that may make frightened, sick or depressed people feel they have “a duty to die” and to sign a living will accordingly. While the Bill containsan excellent declaratory provision, at Clause 58, against euthanaisa by commission, the Lord Chacellor and his Ministers know that many highly respected observers have warned that it could indeed lead to euthanasia by ommission.

It would be disastrous if the Mental Capacity Bill, which has the laudable aim of seeking to transform the lives of mentally incapacitated individuals and their carers, were to become a vehicle for the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide. This could happen by the omission or withdrawal of medical treatment, including nutrition and hydration delivered by artificial means. Vulnerable adults who are supposed to be protected by this Bill would be placed at grave risk.

My Lords, I strongly welcome some of the important changes the Government have made to the Bill, in particular clause 58 and clause 26(2) on advance decisions. These are not “cosmetic” changes as has been suggested by some. From what the noble Lord, the Lord Chancellor has indicated today it is the Government’s intention to follow through both the logic of Clause 58 and the Prime Minister’s trenchant statement with safeguards on the issue of euthanasia by omission.

The withholding and withdrawing of medical treatment in the context of end of life decision making is an incredibly fraught and complex area. Those sections of the Bill that seek to regulate this – legally binding advance decisions to refuse treatment (including life sustaining treatment) and the appointment of proxy decision makers with power to direct medical professionals not to treat a patient – these are the provisions most feared by those of us who regard the Bill as an unintentional vehicle for euthanasia by omission.

My Lords we are not legislating for some utopian society where people make rational, informed decisions, where carers always have the best interests of patients at heart and where medical professionals operate in well managed and resourced hospitals. If media reports are to be believed, we are told that the Mental Capacity Bill will legalise so-called “living wills” and will allow attorneys or proxy decision makers to order doctors not to treat patients. In these circumstances it is incumbent upon the Government to clarify exactly what the Bill will, and will not, allow.

In particular I would draw the Minister’s attention to the excellent speech of her honourable friend, Mr.Brian Iddon, on December 14th who quoted official documents from other jurisdictions that approvingly stated that “the cost-saving from a nation-wide push towards living will is likely to be enormous” and the equally chilling remark of Dr.Helga Kusha, a supporter of euthanasia, who has publicly advised her colleagues that “if we can get people to accept the removal of all treatment and care – especially removal of food and fluids – they will see what a painful way this is to die ad then, in the patient’s best interests, they will accept the lethal injection.” So the strategy is clear.

I was struck by the briefing I received from the “I Decide” coalition, a group of disabled people’s organisations who are concerned about the negative impact of the Bill on their lives. They say; “the Mental Capacity Bill will make it harder for disabled people to protect our right to life if the decisions about our lives and our access to medical treatment are taken away from us and put in the hands of self appointed decision-makers. We are very worried that decisions will be made to withdraw medical treatment (which includes food and water), based on incorrect assumptions about the quality of our lives.”

So, ,My Lords, just as Clause 58 makes a welcome declaratory provision about euthanasia by commission, it is clear that the Bill needs to do the same thing in regard to euthanasia by omission will, as Mr.David Lammy – the Minister in another place – promised at column `1580 on December 14th in another place:

“We want to ensure, however, that under the Bill it is not possible for someone by omission to act to assist suicide or euthanasia.”

Many people have well-grounded fears that once the Bill is enacted, food and fluid delivered by artificial means will be withdrawn from non-dying mentally incapacitated patients. The inevitable result is that patients will die. The Mental Capacity Bill adopts professional guidance from the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council by classifying food and fluid delivered by artificial means as medical treatment. My Lords, since when have hunger and thirst been classed as illnesses requiring medical treatment?

I would draw the attention of the House to the recent High Court judgement in the recent case of Leslie Burke (R (Burke) v The General Medical Council) declared that current professional guidance on the withdrawal and/or withholding of food and fluid delivered by artificial means is unlawful in some cases. The judge in this case, Mr. Justice Munby, also referred to the suffering of patients caused by dehydration and starvation. He said; “I find it hard to envisage any circumstances…in which a withdrawal of ANH (artificial nutrition and hydration) in such circumstances – that is from a sentient patient, whether competent or incompetent – could be compatible with the (European) Convention (on Human Rights).” Mr. Justice Munby also went on to hold that where it is proposed to withhold or withdraw food and fluid delivered by artificial means prior judicial authorisation must be obtained in most circumstances.

The Mental Capacity Bill does not provide for this. Rather, it reflects current professional guidance on the withdrawal and/or withholding of treatment and food and fluids delivered by artificial means. As this has now been declared unlawful the Bill clearly requires amendment.

By conferring on proxies, and on patients making advance decisions, the statutory power to refuse treatment – and in that sense making treatment statutorily unlawful in various circumstances — and by granting these proxies the right to make determinations about the patient’s “best interests” by a new and highly subjective statutory approach, the Bill will have a profound and far-reaching effect on the context in which the existing law on homicide and suicide by omission will operate in practice. The weight of the Act will favour both (a) omitting treatment in a range of cases where hitherto it would have been omitted only if the patient refused consent, and (b) in many cases ceasing to provide food and water, in circumstances where but for the Act such treatment and sustenance might well have been given.

An attorney, presuming he or she is given authority in the Lasting Power of Attorney over life-sustaining treatment, can direct medical professionals not to treat a patient. The attorney’s decision must be respected even though it is the patient, not the attorney, who stands to suffer from the decision. Of course, in theory medical professionals will be able to challenge the decision of an attorney that they believe to be questionable and/or contrary to the patient’s best interests but how many medical professionals (and NHS Trusts) will have the time, energy, motivation and money to ask a court to override an attorney, particularly when the attorney has statutory authority to direct medical professionals as though he/she were the patient?

The Joint Committee of Human Rights, in its twenty-third report of session 2003-04 was severely critical of sections of the Bill dealing with the withholding and withdrawal or medical treatment. It concluded that the presumption in favour of life-sustaining treatment (including nutrition and hydration delivered by artificial means) is not sufficiently strong in the Bill to satisfy the requirements of Articles 2, 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

At Report stage in the other place a cross-party amendment was tabled to remedy this problem. Supporters included Mr.Iain Duncan-Smith MP and the Liberal Democrats Health spokesman, Paul Burstow MP. It would not have affected the court’s existing Bland jurisdiction – an important point as far as the Government is concerned – even though some of us remain opposed to the Bland judgement and the dangerous precedent set by your Lordships House in this case.

Although the Government resisted the amendment, the Lord Chancellor gave a welcome assurance to the Archbishop of Cardiff, and if suitably worded on the face of the Bill will assuage my fears about the Bill’s provisions on the withholding and withdrawing of medical treatment being a vehicle for euthanasia by omission would be assuaged.

What matters here are not the Government’s good intentions, or the good intentions of the Making Decisions Alliance. What matters is how health professionals and the courts will interpret the statute. Any vagueness or ambiguity in its provisions is bound, in practice, to be put to the test by the pro-euthanasia lobby. Clarity is vita; the devil will be in the detail.

The second area I would briefly like to flag up is that of “best interests”. All decisions taken in respect of the personal welfare of a mentally incapacitated patient must be in his or her “best interests” but this fails to calm my fears about the negative impact of this Bill. “Best interests” is the pivotal principle in the Bill therefore we must get the definition of “best interests” right.

There has been widespread concern about the subjective nature of the Bill’s definition of “best interests”. In response the Government supported and incorporated amendments at Report stage in another place so that where the determination of a person’s “best interests” relates to life-sustaining treatment any decision maker must now “begin by assuming that it will be in that person’s interests for his life to continue.” My Lords, I ask you to consider the full import of those well-intention words.

Far from making the situation better, this change actually makes the situation worse by encouraging decision makers to adopt a euthanasiast approach to decision making. It invites the wrong question to be asked, namely ‘Is it in this person’s best interests for his life to continue?’ The right question to be asking is ‘Is it in this person’s best interests to be provided with this treatment?’ Focus is placed on the worthwhile ness of the treatment rather than the worthwhile ness of the person’s life. This recalls again the emphasis in the remarks of the noble lady, Baroness Warnock, of the economic costs of treating the sick.

I hope that the Government will look again at this matter in Committee. From the start I have argued that it should be made explicit on the face of the Bill that when taking decisions about another individual’s personal welfare the decision maker must consider – as one factor along with many others – the person’s life and health as basic to that welfare. This is perfectly reasonable and I have to confess to being slightly confused as to why the Government has not agreed to such an amendment.

The third and final area that I would like to briefly flag up is that of medical research on the mentally incapacitated. The Joint Committee on Human Rights severely criticised the Bill’s proposals on medical research on the mentally incapacitated – particularly the controversial area of non-therapeutic research. The Joint Committee pointed out that the provisions in the Bill did not match those of the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. The UK has not yet ratified the Convention, but accepts in relation to its provisions on research that it represents “long-standing international consensus”.

“We find it impossible to avoid the conclusion that the nature of the benefit from the research required in clause 31(4) of the Bill has the effect of lowering the threshold of when research will be permissible compared to the standards contained in the Convention. The absence of a reference to the potential benefit being “real and direct” in clause 31(4)(a), the breadth of the test for whether the research is intended to add to the sum of general knowledge on the subject under clause 31(4)(b) and the absence of a structure in which it is only in exceptional cases that research may be conducted which does not have the potential to confer a direct benefit on the person concerned, all amount to relaxations of the standards contained in the Convention.

It is surely incumbent upon the Government to ensure, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights suggests, that the provisions on research are in accordance with internationally agreed standards. It is difficult to comprehend why a Bill, which purports to safeguard the rights of the mentally incapacitated, should allow research to take place on incapacitated people without their consent and without benefit to the person being experimented upon. Assurances from the BMA and others that everything will be in order and we just have to trust the researchers do not really wash with the general public in the light of recent medical scandals.

The World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki provides a useful model for the Government to adopt, in particular the final section on non-therapeutic research:

1. In the purely scientific application of medical research carried out on a human being, it is the duty of the physician to remain the protector of the life and health of that person on whom biomedical research is being carried out…..

4. In research on man, the interest of science and society should never take precedence over consideration related to the well-being of the subject. “

This final paragraph is particularly relevant. If this form of words could be incorporated into the Bill it would assuage a lot of the fears surrounding medical research on the mentally incapacitated. The Government could also help by giving us some clear examples of the types of non-therapeutic research on the mentally incapacitated it envisages being approved under the Bill’s provisions.

These three areas of concern – euthanasia by omission, best interests, and medical research can all be addressed successfully by the Government and enable its passage at Third Reading and through the final stages in another place.

The amendments I and other noble lords propose would strengthen protection for vulnerable adults who fall under the Bill’s jurisdiction. I hope that the Government will accept the spirit of this constructive criticism and engagement and feel able to respond when we reach Committee and Report stages.

Westminster Abbey – a place of pilgrimage not just a tourist attraction.- 2006

People go to some fairly exotic destinations when they travel on pilgrimage. Closer to home there are some wonderful opportunities for deepening our faith. Right in the heart of London it’s easy to pass the well known landmarks without pausing to think about their significance.

Westminster Abbey, for instance, a stone’s thrown from Parliament, has been central to the life of our nation for centuries. One of our greatest saints, Edward the Confessor, is buried there.

Less well known than the Abbeys’ association with monarchs, the great poets, and lofty statesmen is its association with personal sacrifice.

In 1992, the Abbey set up an organising committee to examine ways of commemorating the breadth and intensity of Christian sacrifice in the twentieth century. The outcome of their deliberations are the thought-provoking statues which should cause any pilgrim to stop, stand, and ponder the lives of ten exceptional men and women.

On arriving at the west front of Westminster Abbey the pilgrim should look for the plinths now occupied by the modern martyrs. They sit in niches below the twin towers, which were a late addition to the abbey church and were designed by Christopher Wren, modified by Nicholas Hawksmoor and completed by his successor as architect, John James.

Dr.George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, and the late Cardinal Basil Hume, unveiled statues of these ten modern martyrs. They help today’s pilgrim to remember that more Christians perished in the twentieth century than in all the preceding centuries combined.

The ten niches had been empty since the Middle Ages. Now they have been conspicuously filled by statues designed and carved by Tim Crawley. Using French Richemont limestone the statues are traditional in style and in sympathy with the Abbey’s religious art. They appear slightly lighter in shade than the Abbey’s walls and the higher statues of the Virgin Mary and St.John the Evangelist. At a concert to commemorate the unveiling the Abbey Choir performed “O Vos Omnes” by the cellist Pablo Casals, whom Franco threatened with death. The choir’s tenors exhorted the crowds: “is it nothing to all ye that pass by?” Many were moved by Elizabeth Maconchy’s setting of Dylan Thomas’s “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”, by the opening of Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” and by the Latin of Penderecki’s “Agnus Dei” and Bach’s “O Jesu Christ Meins Lebens Licht”. The concert’s climax was the world premiere of John Hardy’s powerful “De Profundis”, a setting of scripture and martyrs’ writings.

The modern occupants of the medieval niches were selected for having “shown openness to death for the glory of Christ.” Some are not martyrs in the traditional sense but all died as a result of injustice, bigotry or oppression – such as Martin Luther King . The prime motive in his assassination, for instance, was not specifically his Christian faith but a hatred driven by racism and a rejection of the belief that all of us are precious in the eyes of God, regardless of our race. Next week I will describe in greater detail the occupants of these plinths.

But, for now, it’s worth just thinking about the timelessness of the Abbey.

Since the days of William the Conqueror, all but two monarchs have been crowned here. Among the statesmen, both the Pitts, Disraeli, Gladstone and Palmerston are honoured here. Chaucer was the first poet to be buried in the Abbey – in 1400 – leading to that part of the south transept to be known as Poets Corner. Some, like Tennyson, are buried here; others are commemorated. It was not until 1740 that Shakespeare was recognised and William Blake had to wait until 1957, two hundred years after his birth. One of the more recent stones recalls the great Victorian Jesuit poet, Fr.Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The abbey has also been at the heart of the great national dramas: victories and tragedies. The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior commemorates those who were slaughtered in World War One. The unknown soldier’s body was brought from France in November 1920. Science, too, has its place: there is a monument to Newton and the physicists, Rutherford and Kelvin, are commemorated. On any visit to London, the Abbey should be high on the list of places to visit.

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Pope John Paul II The Lasting Impact of The Pope of Freedom

Pope John Paul II said: "Any semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign to authentic human solidarity, a threat to genuine spirituality"
Pope John Paul II said: “Any semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign to authentic human solidarity, a threat to genuine spirituality”

David Alton

Words like greatness should not be used lightly lest they be devalued. We can all think of learned people, of courageous people, of dynamic people, of virtuous people, and even of saintly people. But surely greatness is when these gifts come together in one rare man or woman. For Christians from the Catholic tradition – and for many others – John Paul II was such a man.

The twentieth century was in need of great men. It was a time of extraordinary extremes, producing singular men capable of great evil but also heroic figures who stood against them. John Paul II well understood the nature of describing this as a period when “man was set against man, class against class, in useless conflicts.”

Just before he died, a book based on a series of conversations was published. These had taken place between the Pope and leading intellectuals at his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, from 1993 onwards. In “Memory and Identity” (italics) he powerfully invokes the thought of St Paul “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” He passionately insists that “God can always draw good from evil, he wills that all should be saved and come to knowledge of the truth…The Paschal Mystery confirms that good is ultimately victorious; that life conquers death and that love triumphs over hate.”

He held that “the just use of freedom is closely linked with reflection on the topic of good and evil…If ethics is the branch of philosophy concerned with moral good and evil, then it has to draw its fundamental criterion of evaluation from the essential property of the human will, in other words, freedom.” The misuse of freedom, ill-considered choices based on nothing more than utilitarianism, and the subversion of objective goodness were all themes to which John Paul frequently returned.

A century which spawned fanatical secular ideologies – such as those of Stalin and Hitler and saw monstrous genocides against Jews, Armenians, Cambodians, Rwandan Tutsis and countless others – needed men capable of redeeming and explaining those savage times.

John Paul’s personal narrative stands as a rebuke to those individuals, institutions and governments who appeased or accommodated tyranny. It also serves to challenge and inspire those who cherish freedom and who believe that beyond the suffering and pain of our fleeting time in this domain stands a Judge who will hold us all to account for our actions.

The Pope’s personal experience of what he memorably described as “the culture of death” began with Nazism and socialist totalitarianism. It developed through his encounters with anti-Semitism, along with the personal pain and hardships of his early life. It evolved into revulsion at the exploitation of the poor and the mass eugenic killing of the unborn and infirm for reasons of social convenience. All of these events shaped his attitudes and character. How could it be otherwise, coming as, he put it “from the country, on whose living body Auschwitz was constructed?”

John Paul believed passionately in human freedom and free will but he also understood how quickly freedom can become oppression: “…it is clear that the issue of human freedom is fundamental. Freedom is properly so called to the extent that it implements the truth regarding good. Only then does it become a good in itself. If freedom ceases to be linked with truth and begins to make truth dependent on freedom, it sets the premises for dangerous moral consequences, which can assume incalculable dimensions. When this happens, the abuse of freedom provokes a reaction which takes the form of one totalitarian system another. This is another form of the corruption of freedom, the consequences of which we have experienced in the twentieth century and beyond.2 (Memory and Identity (italics)).

During his remarkable 26-year Pontificate John Paul was at various turns an Evangelist, a Pilgrim, a Pastor and a Prophet.

None of that was clear when he was elected in the autumn of 1978. The Catholic-world wondered aloud about the kind of man who had been chosen to lead them. This was, after all, the first non-Italian pope since 1523.

As Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla came from a country occupied by Soviet troops and governed by hard-line Communist leaders. He was elected as Cold War tensions were reaching new heights, as the nuclear arms race was escalating, and as the world entered unchartered and dangerous waters.

From his first utterance from the balcony at St.Peter’s – where he famously encouraged Christians not to be afraid – it became clear that there was a profound interplay between John Paul’s religious beliefs and the working out of politics.

An Old Testament prophet gave their message openly and with God’s authority and the message was given with the purpose of bringing about change. John Paul was firmly in this tradition.

In Biblical times the compact between the prophet and the king did not try to divorce the sacred from the daily fare of life. That understanding held God to be both central and concerned with human affairs. Prophets often made rulers uncomfortable and sometimes had to pay a price, even death.

This ability to make people feel uncomfortable – as well as the ability to touch millions of people in a profoundly personal way – were the marks of a man who did not compromise his beliefs.

In assessing him there has undoubtedly been some unalloyed hagiography but already there are the predictable attempts to assassinate his character. Perhaps that is why in death his teaching is proving to be durable and influential. As time passes his legacy of encyclicals and letters will continue to challenge and provoke. Some Christians, let alone our deeply secular western society, find the way in which he exercised his clear teaching authority uncomfortable, preferring to live as neutrals in a sort of spiritual Switzerland. But, whether it was his uncompromising challenge to the tyranny of the old ideologies or to the new challenges of materialism and relativism, John Paul offered a life enhancing alternative.

His critics regularly accused him of imposing a harsh form of authoritarianism on members of his Church but as the sight of the millions of young people, in particular, who flocked to St.Peter’s Square as he was dying, underscores, that this was a man who was loved not feared. The great English writer G.K.Chesterton said that at the heart of Christianity lies the paradox that its adherents do indeed give up some notional freedoms, but they also gain a greater one. The paradox is also based on free choice and free will; no-one is forced to be a Catholic. Even when the church’s sons and daughters fall painfully short of the ideals to which the she calls us, we know that the ideals are worth striving for.

We are also aware of the appeal of false freedoms. Yes, we are free to take what we want, to plunder the good things of the earth, to take the life of an inconvenient unborn baby, here, or a costly infirm relative, there, but does that make us truly free? Freedom for the pike is death for the minnow; freedom for the hunter is death for the hunted. John Paul’s teaching, which sets the dignity of the each human being at it’s heart, always puts us on the side of the weak or the vulnerable, not on the side of simply obtaining our own desires.

John Paul’s view of politics – whether characterised by the communist tyranny of his native Poland, the rampant materialism of the West, or the poverty and lack of human dignity of the Latin American favellas and shanty towns of the developing world – was based on universal transcendent principles which he believed could guide statecraft, diplomacy, politics and economics. His belief in the value of the human person – from the womb to the tomb – led him to take an uncompromising stand against all that degrades the human being – from abortion to euthanasia, from exploitation to servitude. This prophetic role is intrinsically different from “religious meddling” in the detail of the political process.

Pope John Paul based his call to “true freedom” on the Old and New Testaments. In the Book of Genesis is the fundamental assertion that every man and woman is made in the image and likeness of God Himself. This “Imago Dei” (italics) is not conditional on ability, wealth, social position, orientation, gender, race or class. This radical belief in the intrinsic worth of every human being is the core position. In the New Testament we see this idea developed in the way we treat “the least among you” and Christ admonishes those who fail to see Him in the image of the poor, the weak, the naked, the sick or the homeless. In the letters to the early Church and through the Acts of the Apostles this Christian humanism deepens itself and there are further admonitions to match belief with deeds; to translate into practical actions God’s love gift of faith.

Throughout the centuries that followed its foundation, the Church frequently became ensnared and more than once has lost her way. But, through great giants of the faith, from Augustine to Aquinas, from Benedict to Francis, from Dominic to Ignatius, from More to Maritain – and, in our own times, from Mother Teresa of Calcutta to Pope John Paul II, we see men and women who have stood against the tide and challenged their contemporaries see again the face of God in their neighbour.

The Pope’s position was always to place himself alongside Scripture and Tradition (after which the two fountains in St.Peter’s Square are appropriately named). But he also declared himself a Catholic of the Second Vatican Council – with its emphasis on renewal and openness – without surrendering to every passing whim and fancy. The exaggerated emphasis which we place on personal choice and individualism – as the ultimate expression of personal freedom – is an example of this. “My right to choose” – putting me not you, rights not duties, choices not consequences centre stage -could be the epitaph of our hapless generation.

Addressing the reductionism which, for instace, says that it is merely a mater of choice to end the life of an unborn child, the Pope said: “If a person’s right to life is violated at the moment in which they are first conceived in their mother’s womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole of the moral order which serves to ensure the inviolable rights of man. Among those goods, life occupies the first place”.

The Scripture which says that each of is of inestimable worth is a non-negotiable: “We must not tamper with God’s word. We must strive to apply the Good News to the ever-changing conditions of the world but, courageously and at all costs, we must resist the temptation to alter its content or re-interpret it in order to make it fit the spirit of the present age.”

Pope John Paul’s understanding of the sanctity and dignity of human life, of human freedom, and democracy have an unerring logic and powerful consistency. They literally have their beginnings in the Book of Genesis but can be seen at their most potent in the development of Natural Law. During the first part of the twentieth century the greatest exponent of these ideas was the French Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, who had a huge influence on the young Karol Wojtyla.

Writing about the fanatical racially motivated secular ideologies that drove on the extermination of millions of people Maritain wrote (in Christianity and Democracy (italics)) that “The Christian spirit is threatened today in its very existence by implacable enemies, fanatics of race and blood, of pride, domination and hate. At the core of the horrible ordeal, everything indicates that in the depths of human conscience a powerful religious renewal is in preparation, which concerns and will restore to their vital sources all the persecuted, all the believers of the great Judaeo-Christian family, not only the faithful of the Catholic Church and those of the Protestant Churches, but also those of Judaism, whose abandonment to nameless suffering and iniquity and to the sword of vile exterminators would be an unbearable scandal for the soul if we did not see in it a terrible reminder of the promise of their God….a common action will bring forth common fruits.”

For Maritain, and John Paul, all secular events needed to be interpreted by a deep spiritual understanding. Common to them was a real love of the Jewish people and the Jewish narrative. Freedom for John Paul was always to be glimpsed through the epic of the Exodus story and the hatred that drove on anti-Semitism and the Shoah.

He believed that freedom could best express itself in democratic forms of government but was never deluded by the way in which democracy can be subverted by vested interest groups; and politics itself can never become a substitute for God. “We need” he said “to ask ourselves what a democracy ought to be.” For instance, he adds “When a Parliament authorises the elimination of the unborn child, it commits a grave abuse against an innocent human being, utterly unable to defend itself. Parliaments which approve and promulgate such laws must be aware that they are exceeding their proper competence and placing themselves in open conflict with God’s law and the law of nature.” (Memory and Identity” (Italics)).

Christianity, he held, is not dependent for its survival on democracy but, conversely, democracy is dependent on religious inspiration. Maritain wrote that “Democracy, too, is threatened in its very existence, and by the same enemies” but he maintained that “a great renewal of spirit is taking place which tends to restore democracy to its true essence and purify its principles.” Maritain’s greatest disciple, John Paul II, would have entirely agreed with the philosopher’s conclusion that what he called “the pagan empire2 is seeking to liquidate “Christianity and democracy at the same stroke…freedom’s chances coincide with the evangelical message.”

This is not the recreation of a medieval Christendom but a sophisticated understanding of where the legitimate divisions occur between the temporal and spiritual. It also shows an appreciation of the indispensable dependence of secular society on deep religious impulses.

As I have argued, central to these teachings is the Imago Dei (ital). In all his writings John Paul proclaimed a consistent and complex understanding of human dignity, exhorting all of us to defend human dignity and to serve the human being, not to erect new tyrannies and ideologies in the place of the old hegemonies.

Imago Dei (ital) is applicable in every situation. It can be the reason to assert justice for the poor or the basis for rejecting racism. At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, the Pope said “The church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every human being.”

He held that Imago Dei (ital) can also be the basis of the call to defend life. Serving the cause of life is serving a truth bound by the biblical injunction “Thou shalt not kill” but it is also bolstered by the belief that people are most fulfilled by helping others when life is at its weakest: in giving we receive. Towards the end of his life, when some of his critics were calling on him to retire and abdicate, the Pope’s own infirmity and disability became his final teaching legacy. Using the ravages of his own broken body he taught until the very end that every life is of intrinsic worth; that every episode of our human existence carries its own merit.

John Paul particularly cherished disabled people, believing that through solidarity with disabled people the able bodied among us are inspired to live less selfishly. Cicero held that virtue came through activity; de Tocqueville argued that an impressive practical wisdom comes from simply playing our part; John Paul pursued the same thought: believing that true freedom comes through solidarity and altruism.

I recall particularly the emphasis he placed on learning strength through weakness when he visited the Marian shrine of Knock, in the West of Ireland, on September 30th 1979. He concelebrated Mass in the open air and an estimated crowd of 500,000 were in attendance. He entitled his homily “The Goal of my Journey to Ireland: the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock.” He used the opportunity at knock to reiterate his message about the intrinsic worth of disabled people and their inalienable right to life itself.

He said that since he first learned of the centenary of the shrine “I have felt a strong desire to come here, the desire to make yet another pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Mother of Christ, the Mother of the Church, the Queen of Peace”.

He told his Irish audience: “Do not be surprised at this desire of mine. It has been my custom to make pilgrimages to the shrines of Our Lady, starting with my earliest youth and in my own country. I made such pilgrimages also as a Bishop and as a Cardinal.”

John Paul went on to emphasise the importance of pilgrimage in every country and in every locality: “I know very well that every people, every country, indeed every diocese, has its holy places in which the heart of the whole people of God beats, one could say, in more lively fashion: places of special encounter between God and human beings; places in which Christ dwells in a special way in our midst.”

He saw pilgrimage as an unthreatening way in which Christians from many and varied backgrounds could stand alongside one another. He also rooted the tradition of pilgrimage into the Old and New Testaments, into the experiences of the wandering Jewish people, and into the pilgrim guides that both Moses and Jesus became: “Do we not confess with all our brethren, even with those with whom we are not yet linked in full unity, that we are a pilgrim people? As once this people travelled on its pilgrimage under the guidance of Moses, so we, the People of God of the New Covenant, are travelling on our pilgrim way under the guidance of Christ.”

The Pope said that he was in Knock as a pilgrim “a sign of the pilgrim church throughout the world participating, through my presence as Peter’s successor, in a very special way.”

He said it is unsurprising that many of these special places of pilgrimage have traditionally been dedicated to the Mother of Christ; that his own devotion to Mary united him in a very special way with the people of Ireland; and to the weak and vulnerable. When her Son is crucified Mary is only able to stand in solidarity and weep: John Paul believed that in the face of so much human suffering this may often be all that we can do.

At Knock, the Pope singled out disabled and sick people – and those who care for them and work for them – with words of special encouragement. He explained that his visit “brings back many happy memories of the many pilgrimages in which I took part in my homeland at the Shrine of Jasna Gora, the Bright Mountain, in Czestochowa and at the other sites throughout Poland; it also recalls my visits to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Mexico.” These places, he said, underlined the importance of learning how to serve others and to put their needs first. This is the freedom of time and service voluntarily given.

Pope John Paul II said that the Gospel is full of instances where Jesus showed his love and concern for those who are sick or in pain. He loved those who suffered – and that attitude was one which the Church, too, must strike: “To love the sick is something that the Church has learnt from Christ.”

John Paul said he was in Knock to give witness to Christ’s love for the sick, and to tell them that the Church and the Pope loved them too.” They reverence and esteem you. They are convinced that there is something very special about your mission in the Church.”

It is yet another Christian paradox that while the secular world elevates strength, wealth and power the Christian must seek to become smaller, less tied to worldly things and be willing to become vulnerable. In teaching this, John Paul was paraphrasing the words of his apostolic namesake who said that “the truth will set you free.”

Christians believe that by His suffering Jesus took all human suffering on to Himself and gave it a new value. By linking pain and suffering with His own suffering and death, and to His sacrifice on the Cross, Christ makes some sense of what for most people is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in coming to faith: what C.S.Lewis called “the problem of pain.” John Paul did not try to sentimentalise pain or explain it away in cosy language. He told his audience that: “Your call to suffering requires strong faith and patience. Yes, it means that you are called to love with a special intensity. But remember that Our Blessed Mother Mary is close to you, just as she was close to Jesus at the foot of the cross. And she will never leave you alone.”

When he proclaimed freedom to the oppressed peoples of Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia or Africa, his message was popularly understood and even western liberals applauded. When upholding the freedom that comes from self sacrifice, or by colonising pain or suffering, or by urging the voluntary surrender of a cherished liberty in order to serve, enable, equip or encourage another, John Paul II was proclaiming a message which engendered hostility in the same quarters. You know it when your liberty is denied by the grip of an iron fist or your freedom is eviscerated by the roll of an onward coming tank, you are less likely to notice when your freedom is emasculated by the beguiling hand of materialism. Yet, as this modern prophet warned, both scenarios lead to personal loss and both scenarios create what the Pope memorably described as our contemporary “culture of death.”

Challenging this culture of death is a truly prophetic role – not least because of its unpopularity. In this and so many other respects John Paul stood in the tradition of Moses and the Old Testament prophets, at different turns correcting, rebuking, challenging and encouraging.

Pope John Paul accomplished the prophetic role in our modern world through his encyclicals and speeches, by his proclamation of human dignity, through his evangelisation and by his call for reconciliation.

The great teaching documents of his pontificate – which include (italics for each title) Laborem Ezercens, Fides et Ratio, Sollicicitudo Rei Socialis, Evangelium Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, Redemptor Hominis, Mulieris Dignitatem, Veritatis Splendor, and Centisimus Annus- will go on teaching us for generations to come. Prophetically, he asserted in Fides et Ratio (ital) that “Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.” He passionately argued that much that passes for freedom has been constructed over the edifice of a lie.

Elsewhere, in Familiaris Consortio (ital) he wrote that “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” The chaotic destruction of family life through widespread repudiation of marriage is specifically based on the lie that walking away from a wife or husband is a freedom, a right, and that if you have become unhappy it is almost a duty. The consequences for rejected partners and children have, as John Paul predicted, been incalculable.

His writings on what he called “the theology of the body”, on the sanctity of human life, and on “being” rather than “having” are particularly challenging to our ideas of freedom. Paradoxically, it is the younger generation who have embraced them. They seem more inclined to give up some freedom and autonomy to gain a greater freedom. In Evangelium Vitae (ital) the Pope wrote: “Respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, freedom, peace and happiness.” These teachings have radicalised young Catholics worldwide and will remain a tool kit for that and future generations.

It is worth noting that John Paul’s starting point was always personal sanctification and prayer. From this rock-like foundation he believed that all challenges may be faced. He taught that if we experience deep religious renewal and change at a personal level then whole societies may be changed.

The Pope believed that the church had no partisan role to play in politics: “This idea of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive man from Nazareth, does not tally with the Church’s catechesis.” His opposition to Marxist liberation theology was founded on his personal experience that Marxism does not create free societies but simply enslaves those who have previously been oppressed. Instead, the Church must “counter materialistic, atheistic, and repressive ideologies by evangelisation” and “establish Christian-based economics and politics.”

John Paul also had a message for the illiberal liberals who hide behind the cover of democratic structures. He correctly argued that “Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making it a substitute for morality…Its moral value is not automatic…the value of democracy stands or falls with the values it embodies and promotes. The basis of these values cannot be provisional and changeable “majority” opinions but the objective moral law, the natural law…It is the obligatory point of reference for civil law itself.” Authentic democracy for the Pope had to consist of state power based on law, balanced by subsidiarity; be grounded in superior values; and respectful of the freedom and dignity of humanity.

This counter cultural argument is of course counter intuitive to many North Americans and to Western Europeans. Yet surely it is not unreasonable to ask where this atheistic humanism of these societies has led. Narrow secularism in Europe produced two world wars, three totalitarian systems, Gulags, Nazi concentration camps, the Cold War, and a cult of hedonism and materialism. Western Europe’s fascination with its own entrails has created narcissism and self-centredness which plays itself out in any number of ways – distorted bioethics, the killing of sick and disabled people, and an anti-child attitude that is today leading to a failure to reproduce. George Weigel,, Pope John Paul’s finest biographer, points out, in “The Cube and The Cathedral”, that Europe’s current depopulation is worse today that during the Black Death.

Throughout these challenging times John Paul II left ringing in our ears his exhortations to be “signs of contradiction”, to be “counter-cultural”, to “put out into the deep” and, above all, never to be afraid. He asserted that there could be no true “politics”, with true deliberation about the common good and a robust defence of freedom – if God was missing from the equation. Cultures without spiritual aspirations ultimately crumble. The enervation of Europe through the sapping of its spiritual strength is cataclysmic in its consequences. This is Samson at the hands of Delilah.

For John Paul there was no discontinuity in proclaiming this uncompromisingly frank message to secular Europe while simultaneously urging social justice and material advancement for the spiritually rich parts of our world. What held his teaching together was a core belief in the upholding and proper use of freedom – whether by the State, communal organisations or individuals.

To be truly catholic – universal – he had to face the daunting task of reconciling the discrepant and varying needs of some one billion Catholics – most predominantly living in poorer parts of the world. He achieved that objective through unerring fidelity to the gospel and to the Lord he served. And, undoubtedly, his refusal to trim his message touched the hearts and minds of many.

Our memories of John Paul II may be of a particular event, a particular journey or a particular encyclical. Perhaps it is the 1981 assassination attempt by Mehmet Ali Agca, – or the Pope’s subsequent visit to his would-be assassin’s prison and his prayer of forgiveness

Maybe it is the recollection of one of his remarkable journeys – to Jerusalem’s Western Wall to pray for forgiveness for the crimes of Christians against Jews, or his visit to the Synagogue in Rome, or his journey to Athens to seek healing and reconciliation between Orthodox and Catholic Christians. Or maybe it will be the first visit of a Pope to a Mosque, or the gathering he called, at Assisi, of the world’s spiritual leaders. None of this was about syncretism; it was about learning to respect one another’s different traditions and learning the way of co-existence.

For many of us in Britain, our abiding memory will be the Papal visit to Britain during the Falklands War, in 1982, first to Canterbury Cathedral and later to Liverpool’s Anglican and Catholic cathedrals. After all, in the sixth century it was his predecessor, Gregory the Great, who sent Augustine to plant the church in Canterbury.

I was especially moved by the Pope’s visit to my own city of Liverpool – which had once been divided by deep religious hatreds and bitter sectarianism. He journeyed between the City’s two cathedrals along Hope Street with the Anglican Bishop, David Sheppard, and the Catholic Archbishop, Derek Worlock. I was privileged to be present at both these events and believe that Archbishop Runcie accurately summed up the historic importance of these encounters when he said that the road back had been sealed off. Anglicans and Catholics may continue to disagree on a number of questions – and some may sadly never be resolved – but our relationships were now based on a better understanding and a fuller appreciation of one another.

To be free of past hatreds and free of the divisions of Christianity – which hobbles its message in a hostile world – motivated John Paul to reach out again and again. His openness in seeking forgiveness for past wrongs has opened up the possibilities of healing. In Tertio Milenio Adveniente (ital) he wrote:

“The sins of the past still burden us…It is necessary to make amends for them, and earnestly beseech Christ’s forgiveness…One painful chapter of history to which the church must return with a spirit of repentance is that of the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth….

“The consideration of mitigating factors does not exonerate the church from the obligation to express profound regret for the weakness of so many of her sons and daughters who sullied her face, preventing her from mirroring the image of her crucified Lord…”

This call from the Pope of Freedom to be liberated from the chains of history has been nowhere more challenging in the north of Ireland. Communal violence between Catholics and Protestants was a daily reality. I do not believe it an over-statement to argue that the British-Irish peace process began in earnest when Pope John Paul made his pilgrimage to Drogheda, in 1979. He said to the people of Ireland: “I come as a pilgrim of peace. To Catholics and Protestants my message is peace and love.” To those engaged in violence he said: “I appeal to you in language of passionate pleading. On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace. You may claim to seek justice. I too believe in justice and seek justice. But violence only delays the day of justice. Violence destroys the work of justice.” Surely it was the day these words were uttered that we see the first glimmer of Northern Ireland’s Peace Process?

But whatever our personal memory or encounter with John Paul, the death of this first truly global pope was a strangely personal and deeply emotional experience. It was as if the whole world was his parish and everyone wanted to affirm the memory of their much loved priest.

I was struck by the Scouser, the Liverpudlian, who told me he had brought his little boy to the cathedral in Liverpool because he wanted him to know that this was where the Pope had preached and where, he, the boy’s father, had been present on that day ; by the Jewish woman who recalled how Karol Wojtyla had cradled and fed her when, as a small child, she had lost her parents at Auschwitz; by Polish Catholics, especially, who saw him not only as their spiritual leader but also as the de facto founder of their modern democratic State; and by the young people who crowded the square in front of his apartment to pray that this good and faithful servant might depart in peace. Was this a man who had threatened their freedom or a man who had inspired them to use their freedom for the common good?

The secular world was genuinely staggered by the out-pouring of real grief for a man who had come to symbolise deeply felt aspirations of oppressed and suffering people. One Indian man interviewed on a television programme put it succinctly when he said “He loved us and cared about us and we knew it.” History will judge whether the verdict of The Times of London that “he was the most extraordinary figure – the most significant pontiff since St.Peter” turns out top be true. But, for many Catholics the verdict of history is unnecessary: John Paul was simply their dearly loved spiritual father and they mourned him as they would mourn an intimate of their family.

In 1995 I was with a small group who presented the Pope with the findings of the human rights group, the Jubilee Campaign, on the plight of the persecuted church and the exploitation of street children. We were invited to join the Popes’ early morning Mass in his private chapel. When we arrived he was deep in private prayer, kneeling at his prie-dieu. All the troubles of the world seemed to be bearing down upon his shoulders. Etched on his body were the lines of personal experience – his endurance through the tyrannies of Nazism and Communism, his acceptance of suffering and pain, his willingness to say the opposite of what the world wants to hear, his fidelity, faithfulness and total trust in God.

I had that memory in mind as with millions of others I watched the final dramatic days of his life. Teaching us until the very end, perhaps his final legacy will be the gift of showing us how to prepare for a good death and to prepare ourselves to meet God. Prophet, pilgrim, pastor and teacher – until the very end.

The bishop of Rome is the successor of St.Peter, the rock on which the church was to be built. He wears the fisherman’s ring. He is Claviger – the bearer of the keys to the Kingdom and he is Pontifex, the bridge to help us on our way. Popes are called the servant of the servants of the Lord. Like the rest of us, not all have lived up to their calling. But that was not so with Karol Wojtyla. John Paul II was different.

Many of us feely deeply privileged to have lived through the pontificate of John Paul II. In this man were all the marks that make a man worthy to be called great. Above all else he Let will be remembered as the apostle of true freedom.

Ends.

archives1

Article for The Church of England Newspaper
By Lord Alton of Liverpool
What Pope John Paul II Meant To Catholics
Words like greatness should not be used lightly lest they be devalued. We can all think of learned people, of courageous people, of dynamic people, of virtuous people, and even of saintly people. But surely greatness is when these gifts come together in one rare man or woman. For Christians from the Catholic tradition – and for many others – John Paul II was such a man.
Whether at the Solemn Vespers for the Dead at Westminster Cathedral on Monday last – at which Archbishop Rowan Williams read from St.Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians – or in the services relayed from remote parts of South America, Africa and Asia, or in the faces of the crowds of predominantly young people gathered in vigil in St.Peter’s Square, there has been an extraordinary outpouring of affection and respect for this singular man.
During his remarkable 26-year Pontificate John Paul has been the Evangelist, Pilgrim and Prophet. I have been privileged to meet some remarkable people but John Paul was undoubtedly in a league all of his own.
When he was elected in the autumn of 1978 the Catholic-world wondered aloud about the kind of man who had been chosen to lead them. This was, after all, the first non-Italian pope since 1523.
As Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla came from a country occupied by Soviet troops and governed by hard-line Communist leaders. He was elected as Cold War tensions were reaching new heights, as the nuclear arms race was escalating, and as the world entered unchartered and dangerous waters.
From his first utterance from the balcony at St.Peter’s – where he famously encouraged Christians not to be afraid – it became clear that there was a profound interplay between John Paul’s religious beliefs and the working out of politics.
An Old Testament prophet gave their message openly and with God’s authority and the message was given with the purpose of bringing about change. John Paul was firmly in this tradition.
In Biblical times the compact between the prophet and the king did not try to divorce the sacred from the daily fare of life. That understanding held God to be both central and concerned with human affairs. Prophets often made rulers uncomfortable and sometimes had to pay a price, even death.
This ability to make people feel uncomfortable – as well as the ability to touch millions of people in a profoundly personal way – was the mark of a man who did not compromise his beliefs.
In assessing him there has undoubtedly been some unalloyed hagiography but already there are the predictable attempts to assassinate his character. In death he is still teaching and still has the capacity to challenge and provoke. Some Christians, let alone our deeply secular western society, find the exercise of clear teaching authority uncomfortable and would prefer to live as neutrals in a sort of spiritual Switzerland.
John Paul’s view of politics – whether characterised by the communist tyranny of his native Poland, the rampant materialism of the West, or the poverty and lack of human dignity of the Latin American favellas and shanty towns of the developing world – was based on universal transcendent principles which he believed could guide statecraft, diplomacy, politics and economics. His belief in the value of the human person – from the womb to the tomb – led him to take an uncompromising stand against all that degrades the human being – from abortion to euthanasia, from exploitation to servitude. This prophetic role is intrinsically different from “religious meddling” in the detail of the political process.
Pope John Paul has accomplished the prophetic role in our modern world through his encyclicals and speeches, by his proclamation of human dignity, through his evangelisation and by his call for reconciliation.
The great teaching documents of his pontificate – which include Laborem Ezercens, Fides et Ratio, Sollicicitudo Rei Socialis, Evangelium Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, Redemptor Hominis, Mulieris Dignitatem, Veritatis Splendor, and Centisimus Annus- will go on teaching us for generations to come. Prophetically, he asserted in Fides et Ratio that “Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery” and in Familiaris Consortio that “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.”
His writings on what he called “the theology of the body”, on the sanctity of human life, and on “being” rather than “having” are particularly challenging and, paradoxically, it is the younger generation who have embraced them. They seem more inclined to give up some freedom and autonomy to gain a greater freedom. In Evangelium Vitae the Pope wrote: “Respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, freedom, peace and happiness.” These teachings have radicalised young Catholics worldwide and will remain a tool kit for that generation and for challenging what John Paul memorably described as our “culture of death.”
The Pope’s personal experience of that culture began with Nazism and socialist totalitarianism. It developed through his encounters with anti-Semitism, along with the personal pain and hardships of his early life. This all shaped his attitudes and character. How could it be otherwise, coming as, he put it “from the country, on whose living body Auschwitz was constructed?”
John Paul’s starting point was always personal sanctification and prayer. From this rock-like foundation he believed that all challenges may be faced. He taught that if we experience deep religious renewal and change at a personal level then whole societies may be changed.
As we approach a General Election it is worth noting that that the Pope believed that the church had no partisan role to play in politics: instead it must “counter materialistic, atheistic, and repressive ideologies by evangelisation” and “establish Christian-based economics and politics.” Central to this teaching is the Imago Dei (ital) question, that is, that because we are all created in God’s image we are all worthy of respect. In all his writings and teachings John Paul has proclaimed a consistent and complex understanding of human dignity, exhorting all of us to defend human dignity and to serve the human being.

Imago Dei (ital) can be applied in every situation. It can, for instance, be the reason to assert justice for the poor or the basis for rejecting racism. At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, the Pope said “The church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every human being.”
He held that Imago Dei (ital) can also be the basis of the call to defend life. Serving the cause of life is serving a truth bound by the biblical injunction “Thou shalt not kill” but it is also bolstered by the belief that people are most fulfilled by helping others when life is at its weakest: in giving we receive.
Challenging the culture of death is a truly prophetic role – not least because of its unpopularity. In this and so many other respects John Paul did stand in the tradition of Moses and the Old Testament prophets, at different turns correcting, rebuking, challenging and encouraging.
John Paul also had a message for the illiberal liberals who hide behind the cover of democratic structures. He correctly argued that “Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making it a substitute for morality…Its moral value is not automatic…the value of democracy stands or falls with the values it embodies and promotes. The basis of these values cannot be provisional and changeable “majority” opinions but the objective moral law, the natural law…It is the obligatory point of reference for civil law itself.” Authentic democracy for the Pope had to consist of state power based on law, balanced by subsidiarity; be grounded in superior values; and respectful of the freedom and dignity of humanity.
Throughout these challenging times John Paul II left ringing in our ears his exhortations to be “signs of contradiction”, to be “counter-cultural”, to “put out into the deep” and, above all, never to be afraid.
To be truly catholic – universal – he had to face the daunting task of reconciling the discrepant and varying needs of some one billion Catholics – most predominantly living in poorer parts of the world. He achieved that objective through unerring fidelity to the gospel and to the Lord he served.
Our memories of this Pope may be of a particular event, a particular journey or a particular encyclical. Perhaps it is the 1981 assassination attempt by Mehmet Ali Agca, – or the Pope’s subsequent visit to his would-be assassin’s prison and his prayer of forgiveness
Maybe it is the recollection of one of his remarkable journeys – to Jerusalem’s Western Wall to pray for forgiveness for the crimes of Christians against Jews, or his visit to the Synagogue in Rome, or his journey to Athens to seek healing and reconciliation between Orthodox and Catholic Christians. Or maybe it will be the first visit of a Pope to a Mosque, or the gathering he called, at Assisi, of the world’s spiritual leaders. None of this was about syncretism; it was about learning to respect one another’s different traditions and learning the way of co-existence.
For some of us, the abiding memory will be the Papal visit to Britain during the Falklands War, in 1982, first to Canterbury Cathedral and later to Liverpool’s Anglican and Catholic cathedrals, and his journey down the city’s Hope Street with Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Warlock. I was privileged to be present at both these events and believe that Archbishop Runcie accurately summed up the historic importance of these encounters when he said that the road back had been sealed off. Anglicans and Catholics may continue to disagree on a number of questions – and some may sadly never be resolved – but our relationships were now based on a better understanding and a fuller appreciation of one another.
In Britain I think we should especially recall with gratitude John Paul’s pilgrimage to Drogheda, in 1979, when he said to the people of Ireland: “I come as a pilgrim of peace. To Catholics and Protestants my message is peace and love.” To those engaged in violence he said: “I appeal to you in language of passionate pleading. On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace. You may claim to seek justice. I too believe in justice and seek justice. But violence only delays the day of justice. Violence destroys the work of justice.” Surely it was the day these words were uttered that we see the first glimmer of Northern Ireland’s Peace Process?
The Pope’s death has been a deeply emotional experience for many who met him or felt that they knew him. It was as though the whole world was his parish and everyone wanted to affirm the memory of their much loved priest. I was struck by the Scouser who told me he had brought his little boy to the cathedral in Liverpool because he wanted him to know that this was where the Pope had preached; by the Jewish woman who recalled how Karol Wojtyla had cradled and fed her when, as a small child, she had lost her parents at Auschwitz; by Polish Catholics, especially, who saw him not only as their spiritual leader but also as the de facto founder of their modern democratic State; and by the young people who crowded the square in front of his apartment to pray that this good and faithful servant might depart in peace.

I think that the secular world has genuinely been staggered by the out-pouring of real grief for a man who had come to symbolise deeply felt aspirations of oppressed and suffering people. An Indian interviewed on a television programme put it succinctly when he said “He loved us and cared about us and we knew it.” History will judge whether the verdict of The Times that “he was the most extraordinary figure – the most significant pontiff since St.Peter” turns out top be true. But, for many Catholics the verdict of history is unnecessary: John Paul was simply their dearly loved spiritual father and they are mourning him as they would mourn an intimate of their family.
I have one personal enduring memory of this Pope. In 1995 I was with a small group who presented the Pope with the Jubilee Campaign’s findings on the persecuted church and the exploitation of children. We were invited to join the Popes’ early morning Mass in his private chapel. When we arrived he was deep in private prayer, kneeling at his prie-dieu. All the troubles of the world seemed to be bearing down upon his shoulders. Etched on his body were the lines of personal experience – his endurance through the tyrannies of Nazism and Communism, his acceptance of suffering and pain, his willingness to say the opposite of what the world wants to hear, his fidelity, faithfulness and total trust in God.
I had that memory in mind as with millions of others I watched the final dramatic days of his life. Teaching us until the very end, perhaps his final legacy will be the gift of showing us how to prepare for a good death and to prepare ourselves to meet God. Prophet, pilgrim, and teacher – until the very end.
All of these characteristics are surely the attributes that make a man great; and in John Paul are all the marks of greatness.
Ends
The debate about Drugs: 2003

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. Having sat through the entire debate and listened to all the contributions, I think that the controversial nature of the contributions that have been made and the divided opinions that we have heard in your Lordships’ House this evening should at least give us all pause for thought. Timid though the amendment may be, I think it is the right one, because at least it gives us the chance to reconsider before taking what I regard as a pretty momentous step.
In introducing the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said—this remark has been quoted by several of my noble friends on the Cross Benches—that, mercifully, most cannabis users do not move on. On Friday last, I was in Liverpool, in part of the area I represented at one level or another for some 25 years. Earlier this year, in that same neighbourhood, I attended the funeral of a young man in his early twenties who had died of a heroin overdose. His mother was at the meeting on Friday last, and I put the proposition to her that not everyone who takes cannabis ends up as a heroin user. She responded to me by saying that she had never met anyone who was using heroin who did not start on cannabis. That is the key to this issue.
There is clearly a link between the use of drugs, and although it is true that alcohol and other factors must also be taken into account, it would be absurd to dispute that link and to move forward without any degree of consensus on these questions. The order before us will reclassify cannabis as a class C drug, putting it into the same category as sleeping tablets and anabolic steroids.
The Home Office website states that reclassification of cannabis should help the Government to convey an effective and credible message—to young people in particular—about the dangers of misusing drugs. But contrary to that statement and to everything the Minister has said this evening, reclassification sends the message that cannabis is harmless and not addictive, and that is okay to take it. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, said, it also cultivates the common belief that it already has been legalised.
Following the Home Secretary’s announcement last July that he intended to reclassify cannabis, Life Education Centres performed a survey among pupils. Some 86 per cent of primary school children thought that cannabis was now legal, and 79 per cent thought it was safe.
The Government claim that reclassification is based on the medical evidence. However, the most recent evidence was not, and could not have been, taken into account when they came to this conclusion. The advice to reclassify cannabis was based on a report in 2001 by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. That report was commissioned by the Home Office.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs does not have a balanced membership, and only a few scientists are among its members. There are around 32 members of the ACMD. Thirteen are leading members of pro-liberalisation organisations. It does not have a single member from any organisation opposed to the liberalisation of drugs, so no one can argue that this was a balanced committee taking all the evidence into account.
The ACMD reported in 2001, recommending reclassification. However, since then, significant new evidence has emerged linking cannabis with serious mental illness. That point was made very powerfully tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who has so much experience as a former Home Secretary. The majority of psychiatrists now accept a link between cannabis and serious mental illness. Two years ago, that was not the case.
I give a brief summary of the new evidence. Schizophrenia, psychotic symptoms, depression and anxiety are strongly associated with cannabis abuse. Recent research confirms that cannabis can trigger psychosis even in those with no previous disposition to mental illness. The earlier cannabis use begins, the greater the risks. Eighteen year-olds who have used cannabis 50 times have a nearly seven-fold increased risk of developing psychosis over the next 15 years. Teenagers who use cannabis by age 15 have more than a four-fold increased risk of developing schizophrenia symptoms by the age of 26. Early cannabis use by the age of 15 increases the risk of schizophrenia compared to later cannabis use by the age of 18. Furthermore, a recently published study examined patients with recent onset of psychosis. It was found that patients with recent onset are twice as likely to have used cannabis compared with a population without psychosis. While alcohol consumption and consumption of illicit drugs other than cannabis was roughly equal in both groups, cannabis was used by 39 per cent of psychotic patients, but only 22 per cent of non-psychotic controls. That new evidence was produced by Professor Robin Murray of the Institute of Psychiatry.
It is clear that cannabis, far more than other illicit drugs, including class A drugs, is associated with mental illness. To claim that cannabis should be only a class C drug is simply not compatible with the medical evidence. As the evidence was published only last year, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs could not take that into account when reconsidering reclassification in 2001.
I know that it is late, but I should like to express my grave concern that the Home Secretary has so far refused to meet eminent scientists and leading researchers on cannabis, including four professors who want to present new research evidence to the Home Secretary. The scientists who have asked to meet the Home Secretary are Professor Robin Murray, Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry in London; Professor John Henry, who was cited earlier, from Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine; Professor Heather Ashton, from the School of Neurosciences at the University of Newcastle; Professor Colin Drummond, Professor of Addiction Psychiatry at St George’s Hospital Medical School.
Will the Minister tell us why the requests for such meetings have not been acceded to? Surely, before reclassifying, the Home Office should examine the likely effects of reclassification on society, public health, driving, and the health service. Reclassification is very likely to lead to increased cannabis use. If a drug is perceived to be harmless—and reclassification will send the message that it is harmless—its use will undoubtedly increase. It is downright irresponsible to proceed with these orders tonight. I would rarely speak so strongly on a subject in your Lordships’ House, but I support the amendment laid before us and I hope that, when we divide, the House will support it.
Debate on Drugs Misuse, June 11th 2003.

My Lords, I join with others in thanking my noble friend, Lord Cobbold for initiating this timely and welcome debate on the effectiveness or otherwise of current national and international policies on drugs – our first since 1994. The University of York, in research for the Home Office, says that drug use and misuse – and the associated crime – costs the UK between £11 billion and £18 billion p.a. If the economic costs are awesome they pale alongside the social and human costs.
For 25 years, as a local councillor or Member of Parliament in another place, I represented Wards and Constituencies in the City of Liverpool. Over those years I saw the use of drugs escalate – along with the concomitant disastrous effects on individual users, their families and the communities in which they lived. Drugs have destroyed personal identity; destroyed relationships and destroyed lives: a point well made by Mr.Justice Matthewman who says “Perhaps people who say that drugs should be legalised should sit where I do and see the devastation it can cause to other people as well as the defendants.”
The United Nations International Narcotics Board acutely observed that “Persons in favour of legalising illicit drug use argue that drug abusers should not have their basic rights violated; it does not seem to have occurred to them that drug abusers themselves violate the basic rights of their own family members and society. Families and society also have rights that should be respected and upheld.” My lords, it is just another example of the clash between claimed rights and their consequences.
Just six months ago in Liverpool I attended the funeral of a young man in his mid twenties – whose family I have known for the best part of twenty years. His mother had been my constituency chairman. His is not an isolated case. A few weeks earlier a 10 year old girl, from Elle, in Lancashire, died after taking ecstasy; and another boy, aged 15, was stabbed to death by two teenagers over an alleged £10 debt for cannabis.
Joseph had first used drugs, cannabis, at school and graduated onto a lethal cocktail of amphetamines, crack cocaine and heroin. His mother says she knows no-one using heroin who didn’t begin their lives as drugs users by taking heroin: a view held by the American Academy of Padiatrics who say that weekly users of cannabis are 60 times more likely progress to harder drugs and that almost 100% of heroin addicts started on cannabis.
This young man’s life tragically ended on the street where he finally collapsed – after many frequent attempts to beat a habit that ultimately defeated him. But his life will have real purpose if we can understand the public policy implications that arise out of his and similar deaths.
His mother is a supporter of the Coalition Against Cannabis, whose submission to the Home Affairs Committee in another place makes for sobering reading. The Police Federation and the National Drug Prevention Alliance are also part of the Coalition. Their submission reflects the learned views expressed during a symposium that I chaired in the Moses Room last year. Their concerns are underlined by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs who, in their report “Hidden Harm” estimate that some 300,000 children in Engalnd and Wales are now being damaged by their parents drug habit.
I want to share with your Lordships some of the empirical evidence that was presented to the select committee and to the symposium. It has also been given to the Prime Minister. It stands as a rebuke to those who believe we should simply give in and go easy on drug misuse merely because it is so prevalent. It challenges the dangerous approach of “harm reduction” and argues instead for a focused and coherent preventative strategy committed to a drugs free society.
I want to turn first to the effect of drug usage on public health and the dangers to those who use them. According to a survey by Life Education Centres, 86% of primary school children believe that, following reclassification, cannabis is now legal; and 79% thought it was safe. The British Journal of Psychiatry rvealed on May 31st that children as young as 13 who use cannabis regularly are 7 times more likely to suffer a psychiatric disorder. Muddled and confused messages are putting these children’s lives at risk.
The fact is that cannabis today is, on average, 10 times stronger than in the 1960s. The concentration of THC – Tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis has increased from 0.5% to over 5%. Because THC is fat soluble the effect of as little as one or two joints a month means the brain cells are never clear of cannabis. Research in the British Medical Journal published last year suggests that cannabis increases the risk of developing mental illness including schizophrenia, psychosis, depression, suicidal behaviour and anxiety. The risk of developing a suicidal disorder is almost tripled. The same research suggests that young males users are 5 times more likely to be violent. Using cannabis 50 times or more increased the risk of psychosis by a factor of 6.7. Smoking it during pregnancy also harms unborn children.
Our noble friend, Baroness Greenfield, in an article entitled “The real dangers of Cannabis”, in The Observer newspaper on August 18th last year, pointed to the loss of educational opportunities caused as concentration, attention span, damage to brain cells, loss of interest and dampened potential, all emerge as the sad sequaeli of cannabis use. 79% of teachers surveyed by Life Education centres believe that reclassification has made drug prevention in schools even more difficult. The Minister may care to reflect that since the Lambeth Experiment and reclassification, there have been reports of children as young as 10 getting stoned before going to school; the use of cannabis among teenage boys has risen from 19% to 29% – a staggering jump of 50%.
Nor is there anything “soft” about the effects of cannabis on physical health.
Professor Griffith Edwards of the national Addiction centre says “There is enough evidence now to make one seriously worried about the possibility of cannabis producing long-term impairment of brain function.”
The British Lung Foundation’s 2002 report “Cannabis: A Smoking Gun?” pointed to the level of carcinogens in cannabis – 50% more than tobacco smoke. As compared with smoking tobacco, smoking cannabis causes a threefold increase in tar inhaled. They says that lung, head and neck cancers have been observed in young cannabis users. These cancers usually occur in cigarette smokers in their sixties. Last month Professor John Henry and other doctors from Imperial College in St.Mary’s Hospital said cannabis could be a major contributor to United Kingdom deaths – possibly killing more than 30,000 smokers each year.
A report entitled “Circulation”, published in 2002, by Mittleman et al. says cannabis increases the risk of heart attack by a factor of five. Although 10 times as many people drink alcohol, revealingly cannabis is involved in a similar number of vehicle accidents – and it might be of interest to the House if the Minister can tell us how many of our police forces now have the necessary equipment and training for the testing of drug use by motorists.
My Lords, the effects of the misuse of drugs on public health was well summed up by Philip Emafo, President of the United Nations International Narcotics Board. He says “Cannabis is not a harmless drug as advocates of its legalisation tend to portray…The international community decided to control cannabis in the 1961 Convention because of its abuse potential and its ability to produce ill effects. These properties of cannabis have not changed since then.”
According to Eric Carlin, Chief Executive of Mentor “reducing the demand for drugs is the only long term solution to the problem.”
My Lords, this is a view supported by the experience over the past 25 years of Sweden, not Holland – to which we are endlessly pointed in these debates – and which have followed diametrically opposed approaches.
Following decriminalisation of cannabis in Holland the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention noted that acceptance of cannabis use “went parallel with relatively high levels of cannabis consumption…but use of almost all other drugs was increasingly strong in Amsterdam over the last decade. Hard drug use doubled. The strongest growth was observed for ecstasy.”
Holland’s approach of “harm reduction” has led to usage rising from 15% to 44% among 18-20 year olds: a point made by the Home Office in their own evidence to the Select Committee. Holland is also now perceived as a safe haven for drug racketeers and it is estimated that 80% of heroin seized in the UK and France has passed through the Netherlands.
The Police Federation also point to evidence from South Australia where they say a relaxed approach to drug enforcement has actually “increased petty crime” – because of people acting under the influence of drugs. They also say that legalisation “would not end the black markets and organised gangs…they would fight to maintain their lucrative street trading.” They add that “Worrying as the overall increase in the number of young people who have taken drugs may be, if criminal sanctions were to be removed, the numbers would be even higher.”
By contrast with the Dutch approach to accepting drug use, Sweden’s drug policy is based on the goal of creating a drug free society. Drug prevention, education and the criminal justice system all work together to limit any use of illegal drugs. In Sweden this radical approach has led to a much lower use of drugs of all kinds than in Holland. The overall lifetime prevalence of drug abuse among 15-16 year olds is about 29% in Holland and just 8% in Sweden.
My Lords, there are currently 48 different funding streams for drug treatment in Britain. Addiction Today says that, hardly surprisingly, this creates “administrative overload.” There are literally only one or two facilities in the entire country for adolescent drug users. 80% of criminals in prison have drug problems and still have them when they leave. We even have drugs charities – such as Lifeline, funded by lottery grants – offering advice to young people about how to conceal drug taking from their parents and telling them how to inject heroin. The logo reads “Better hits, healthier veins, healthier body.” My Lords, this is downright irresponsible and I for one would like to know what the Government has done about it.
So-called drug education can actually encourage drug use – and is no substitute for a programme of drug prevention Deirdre Boyd, Chief Executive and Editor of “Addiction Today “ says “Current drug education is at best worthless and at worst probably exacerbates drug use. Drug prevention work hardly exists.”
My Lords, public policy has sent out a worrying array of contradictory and confusing messages. At times we have been close to surrender and despair. All of us have personally seen the consequences of a drugs culture. There is nothing soft about drugs – any drugs. The consequences of drug misuse are harsh and they are no respecter of class or background. Rather than appeasing and accommodating this culture I hope that the Government will now resolve to refocus its strategy and instead of “harm reduction” commit its resources to prevention and creating a drugs free society.

Select Committee Report on Stem Cells and Cloning – 2002
by David Alton.

G.K.Chesterton had some scathing things to say about parliamentary select committees. He said that they issued their reports on some difficult subject and after that “everything will be very nice…and political life, if you can call it life, will go on exactly as before.”
Parliament has just been debating the findings of the Select Committee which examined the use of embryonic stem cells for so-called therapeutic cloning. It was established under the chairmanship of the pro-embryo experimentation Bishop of Oxford.
Just in case the select committee developed a mind of its own the Government took the precaution of passing the necessary orders permitting this form of cloning before (ital) the committee deliberated. They needn’t have worried. The findings of the committee were every bit as predictable as this cynical process intended.

When Parliament debated the Human Fertilisation (Research Purposes) Regulations in January 2001 and in particular the proposal to establish a retrospective Select Committee to look into the issues of stem cell research and human cloning I likened this to a situation where a judge were to give “out the verdict and sentence before hearing the defence, the prosecution and the witnesses.” (Hansard; 22.01.01 Col. 23)
During that debate even Baroness Warnock attacked the process being used:
“I deeply wish that there had been time to set up a Select Committee ahead of our having to agree to the regulations. That has been a mistake. We have been bullied and pushed to do things more quickly than we should, which I deplore…….It follows my reading of the moral obligation we have to society to follow every path that will alleviate suffering but at the same time to ensure that people who do not understand the issues, and, even more importantly, people who fear them, are given some hope that their fears may be listened to.” (Hansard; 22.01.01 Col. 45)

My first question, then, is have we listened?

The failure to appoint anyone to the Select Committee who spoke in the debate against reproductive and therapeutic human cloning, and who argues the traditional case for the sanctity of human life, was unlikely to inspire much confidence or to strengthen the impression that anyone was listening. At one time there was an honourable tradition of allowing for robust minority reports and dissenting voices. Even that has been subverted. Determining questions of huge moment in this way will do nothing to convince public opinion; it will simply deepen public cynicism.

All 26 witnesses who were called to appear before the Committee to give evidence from a scientific or medical perspective were from the pro-‘therapeutic’ cloning, pro-embryonic stem cell lobby. I wish it were indeed the case, as the report says at paragraph 3.21, that “of all the scientific issues relevant to our inquiry we have given more attention to recent developments in adult stem cell research than to any other.”

How can this be so when no scientists were specifically called to submit oral evidence from an exclusively adult stem cell perspective? I invited three such scientists to accompany me when I gave my oral evidence before the Select Committee on November 19th 2001 and professor David Prentice’s evidence – he is a senior scientific advisor to the American Congress – is not even referred to..

My principle concerns about the select committee’s report fall into five main areas. They might be categorised as:
1. Procedural
2. Ethical;
3. Scientific;
4. Regulatory; and
5. International.

In September 1999 I debated the ethics and scientific necessity of human cloning in the Parliamentary Scientific Committee. The central issue I identified was the immorality of using human embryos if alternatives existed. The Bishop of Oxford intervened in that debate and accepted that if this could be demonstrated then it would indeed be wrong to use the human embryo. This would be compatible, too, with the view of Lady Warnock’s Committee that the human embryos should at least be accorded “special status.”

Yet, the cursory way in which adult stem cell technology has been investigated was brought home to me by a question put by a member of the select committee at the final public hearing: It betrayed an alarming lack of understanding of adult stem cell science:

“Are you saying that it is possible, certainly as you understand it, to understand the process whereby an adult stem cell, which, as I understand, it is not yet possible to isolate, can be used but not in isolation? Do you believe that it is possible purely by research on adult stem cells to understand the process whereby an adult stem cell could be brought to differentiate itself to the point it can do more that we are currently able to do with stem cells as we know them?”

Not only can they be isolated, but as Professor Prentice, Professor Neil Scolding, Dr.Michael Antoniou argued in evidence, they offer greater potential than embryonic stem cells. Professor Prentice warned of ” the dangers to public health” of using embryonic stem cells.

So much for the science, but what about the ethics of what is proposed in this report..

It is often said that the human embryo is a potential life. This is not so. It is a life with potential; and, as at any other stage of our existence, the actions we take to protect, inhibit or even destroy will determine how far that life and its potential will be fulfilled.

I remain profoundly concerned about the effect on society when we treat nascent human life as a natural resource to be mined, exploited and commodified and about so-called bioethicists who are happy to bestow their moral blessings on the latest innovation – to be sure, not for love, but for money. In a written answer to my parliamentary question the Department of Heath recently confirmed that since the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, 925,747 embryos have been created through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment, 423,153 have been transferred for implantation, 225,627 stored for the patient’s own use, 448 stored for the treatment of others and 53,497 given for research. 294,584 embryos remained unused during the course of IVF treatment cycles, including those considered non-viable for implantation and were therefore destroyed.

In the light of these shocking figures, what remains of the ‘special status’ of the human embryo.

Professor Leon Kass, Chair of the US President’s Council on Bioethics, in an address he gave in London earlier this year that I was privileged to attend, said:

“We are desensitized and denatured by a coarsening of sensibility that comes to regard these practices as natural, ordinary and fully unproblematic. People who can hold nascent human life in their hands unblinkingly and without awe have deadened something in their souls.”

I agree.

I recognise that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 allows embryos to be created for research purposes and that we already accord an inferior value to the human embryo in its first 14 days of life.

However, the absurdly arbitrary 14 day cut off point becomes ever more obsolete in the light of new research demonstrating the sheer wonder of the human embryo.

The significance of conception as the starting point of our human existence is illustrated by an article in ‘Nature’ magazine dated 4th July 2002. Headed, ‘Your destiny, from day one’ the article states, “Your world was shaped in the first 24 hours after conception. Where your head and feet would sprout, and which side would form your back and which your belly, were being defined in the minutes and hours after sperm and egg united.”

Embryologists such as Alan Handyside from the University of Leeds are warning us that meddling with early human embryos might carry series adverse consequence – “It’s possible you could be removing a cell with a predictable fate and causing damage”.

When reading the chapter in this report entitled ‘The Status of the Early Embryo’, one would thing that our understanding of the human embryo has not advanced one iota since 1990. The Bishop of Oxford, who has written engagingly on the subject of Aquinas’ principles of a just war, is perfectly familiar with the precautionary principle of natural law and even if he does not accept the inviolability and sacredness of human life from conception he knows we are duty bound to err on the side of caution wherever there may be any doubt.

I find it incredibe that the select committee report makes no reference to an unprecedented written submission by an ad hoc group of eminent Christian theologians from the Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox and Reformed traditions on the ethical status of the human embryo. There is far more unanimity within the Christian tradition on sanctity of early human life than the Committee and its Chairman have led us to believe.

The Bishop of Oxford has a love of CS Lewis. I would commend to him both “The Abolition of Man” (1943)where Lewis describes “the conditioners” who try to subvert truth and condition rather than educate, and, also, his 1945 novel, “That Hideous Strength” which foresaw a world in which our own species would be experimented upon, manipulated and tampered with; a world devoid of medical ethics and where highly intelligent and good people become collaborators. In explaining the purpose of the National Institute of Co-Ordinated Experiments, the director, Lord Feverstone, says it would do “quite simple and obvious things at first – sterilisation of the unfit, liquidation of backward races, selective breeding” ultimately creating “a new type of man.” Lord Feverstone would feel at home in today’s House of Lords.

I was thinking of these two books as I read the chapter in the report on ‘The Status of the Early Embryo. ’ Curiously it appears after, rather than before, the conclusion that additional destructive embryo research should be permitted. The chronology is seriously askew and demonstrates that the ethics of ‘therapeutic’ cloning and embryonic stem cell research have not been approached with the seriousness they merit.
At paragraph 4.11 the report indulges in its own bout of” conditioning”:

“Claims that the embryo is a person from the moment of fertilisation are hard to reconcile with standard views of human and personal identity. Although a baby’s mental capacity is undeveloped, there is a continuity of identity between the baby and the adult it will become. So we say, looking at a photograph, “That was me as a baby”. When it comes to the undifferentiated cells of the blastocyst, however, such a continuity of identity is less plausible.”

This is ridiculous. From the moment of conception, the starting point of our human existence, we are on a continual process of change and development that only terminates upon our death. I was once a blastocyst, just as I was once a baby. We are all former embryos.
Contrary to what the author(s) of the report may assert, “standard views of human and personal identity” have traditionally accorded moral significance to an individual by virtue of them being a human being. Once we start according moral significance according to mental capacity, we embark on a slippery slope that categorises some individuals as sub-human.
A utilitarian outlook dominates the report. The Committee’s failure to effectively analyse the ethical issues surrounding embryo experimentation reinforces the perception that its conclusions were fixed from the outset and that tricky ethical questions would not be allowed to frustrate matters.
Laymen are easily intimidated in staying out of this debate by the patronising view that the science is so complex that mere mortals cannot understand it or hold valid views about it. I knew that the science was disreputable when one peer with whom I was debating – and who runs his own institute for experimentation – displayed a number of photographs of disabled people and said that anyone who contradicted him was in favour of their suffering and pain, and anti-science.
Everyone in this Parliament wants therapies that alleviate illness. But it is dishonest to suggest that the only way to make this progress is by the creation and destruction of human embryos; and that there can never be any fetters placed on science.

The report inexplicably ignores or obscures the peer reviewed evidence provided on adult stem cells, and bases its opinions and conclusions on the current state and future potential of adult stem cell research on very outdated and inaccurate evidence. The report is already past its sell by date. In July this year ‘Nature’ magazine reported groundbreaking research by Dr Catherine Verfaillie and colleagues at the University of Minnesota. This research showed that bone marrow contains highly malleable stem cells which can be converted into all tissue types.

Look at what the scientists are saying:

“Like stuck records, ministers and policy makers continue to enthuse about therapeutic cloning even though the majority of bench scientists no longer think it’s possible or practicable to treat patients with cells derived from cloned embryos. They have already moved on to investigating the alternatives.” ‘New Scientist’ Editorial – December 2001.

“the idea of ‘therapeutic cloning’ seems to be on the wane…..most now believe that it will be too expensive and cumbersome for regular clinical use.” ‘Nature’ Magazine – December 2001.

Even Professor Alan Trounson, once a leading proponent of embryonic stem cell research and so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning says that stem cell research (both adult and embryonic) has advanced so rapidly in the past few months that ‘therapeutic’ cloning is now unnecessary.

“My view is that there are at least three or four other alternatives that are more attractive already.”

The report implies that no clinical or pre-clinical trials have been carried out with adult stem cells, despite the clear evidence provided from peer-reviewed journals of success in trials using adult stem cells in diabetes, severed spinal cord, demyelinated spinal cord, heart attack, stroke, traumatic brain injury, liver failure, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, various forms of blindness, full-thickness burns, severe bone disease, and so on.

Last month, it was announced that it will soon be possible to use the body’s own stem cells to repair the damage caused by heart attacks.

The select committee report is based on information that was several years out of date.
Inexplicably, the report ignores or obscures the large body of peer-reviewed
evidence that was provided on adult stem cells for the years 2000 and 2001.
Instead, it bases its opinions and conclusions on the current state and future
potential of adult stem cell research on very outdated and inaccurate evidence.

For example, the Wellcome Trust provided a bibliometric analysis of stem cell research from 1996 to 1999 in the UK and internationally. They
state in the evidence that they sent to the Committee, that “This shows which
scientists are publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals and is an indication
of who the leading scientists are in this field and where they are working.”

This is an absolutely extraordinary statement. They genuinely believe that the
years 1996 to 1999 are the relevant years to look at it in terms of what is
happening in the field of stem cell research This displays a lack of awareness of current research in this field. The adult stem cell research which demonstrates such profound capacity of these cells to heal an
astonishing array of very serious diseases, virtually all occurred from the
year 2000 onwards. Most of the adult stem cell research from 1996-1999 would have been related to the rather old-fashioned use of bone marrow to treat cancer and similar diseases. This is completely different from the research that has been carried out after 1999, which demonstrates profound levels of healing using adult stem cells as I have set out.

The report ignores the known serious risks of tumour and cancer formation using embryonic stem cells and, despite all the available evidence and clear warnings from a number of witnesses, claims that embryonic stem cells are safe.

The report obscures both the advances in adult stem cell research and the specific dangers and disadvantages of embryonic stem cells by ascribing specific, unique and profound advantages of adult stem cells also to embryonic stem cells, and ascribing the serious risks and disadvantages of embryonic stem cells also to adult stem cells.

In the attempt to ignore the dangers of embryonic stem cells and to attribute the advantages of adult stem cells to embryonic stem cells, the report commends a procedure that would instantly result in tumour formation with embryonic stem cells, despite having received clear warnings of this.

Even more alarmingly , the report expresses confidence in the work of the HFEA, an organisation in disarray, and entrusts regulation of embryonic stem cell research to this body. Even the HFEA’s most ardent supporters recognise that it is in trouble.
The Committee chose to hear evidence from a succession of cheerleaders for the HFEA including Ruth Deech, Professor Henry Leese and Dr Anne McLaren.

In July this year the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, in its report, “Developments in Human Genetics and Embryology, was highly critical of the HFEA:

“The Lords Stem Cell Research Committee reported that the HFEA’s is ‘highly regarded, both at home and abroad….. [and] has the full confidence of the scientific and medical research community’. We are unclear on what evidence it based this assertion.”

Recent ‘mix-up’ scandals at IVF clinics that the HFEA is supposed to be monitoring, and the shocking disclosures from the embryologist Dr Sammy Lee in the Sunday Telegraph on 10th November demonstrate that the criticisms of the Science and Technology Committee are certainly not unfounded. Dr Lee wrote that he knew of at least six cases where the wrong embryos were put into women. He maintains that it is “galling that the HFEA, which purports to protect patients, has sought to brush aside any meaningful discussion of why mistakes occur in IVF clinics, and how frequently.”

Yet Ministers continue to insist to me that the HFEA still has the Government’s full confidence and that they have no plans to conduct an inquiry into the work of the HFEA? They are simply going to double the money they give the HFEA to £5 million.

The report overlooks the fact that stem cell technology and human cloning are not extensions of assisted reproduction, but involve a multitude of scientific and medical fields which embrace nearly all aspects of disease. We need a new and completely independent organisation to monitor and assess developments in this field.

My last point is that this report, taken with what is already one of the most liberal regimes for embryo experimentation in the world, leaves the United Kingdom isolated internationally.

Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, which the Government has yet to sign, prohibits the creation of embryos for research purposes.

The European Union, recognising the gravity of the issues involved in stem cell research and so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning and aware of the rapid advances being made in the ethically unproblematic field of adult stem cell science, has adopted a one-year moratorium on research with supernumerary embryos from IVF cycles and on human embryonic stem cells.

At the end of last month, the European Parliament voted for a total ban on cloning by a large majority of 271 to 154. The resolution passed read as follows:

“[The European Parliament] Solemnly reaffirms that the life and dignity of all
human beings, whatever their stage of development and state of health, must be respected and is opposed to any form of research or use of life sciences and biotechnology that runs counter to this fundamental principle”.

In the US, the majority of the President’s Council of Bioethics recommended a ban on cloning-to-produce-children combined with a four-year moratorium on cloning-for-biomedical-research. Their conclusions are endorsed by the current US administration.

I look on with a mixture of envy and admiration at the seriousness with which the current US administration and the previous one has sought to handle this sensitive issue. Rather than rush through ill-conceived regulations and then establish a retrospective Select Committee to rubber-stamp them, the President’s Council on Bioethics in the US was convened to thoroughly investigate stem cell research and human cloning and then advise the President. Only then would a decision be made.

Membership of the Committee is balanced, reflecting a number of scientific and ethical perspectives. Unlike us in the UK, our American allies are not afraid of disagreement and the publication of a minority report if unanimity amongst the members of the Committee proves impossible.

In Germany destructive embryo research is prohibited. In Norway the Government has proposed legislation encompassing a ban on all destructive embryo experimentation including ‘therapeutic’ cloning.

The UK has isolated itself from international opinion on this issue. It is therefore wrong to caricature opposition to the report and Government policy as restricted to a narrow group of pro-lifers and religious fundamentalists.

I recognise the impossibility of reclaiming, at present, absolute status for the embryo. However, this does not excuse the inadequate consideration afforded to this vital issue by the Committee.

We are right to express disquiet about the genesis of the select committee, about its attitude towards the ethical, scientific regulatory and international issues that are at stake.

The scientific analysis of stem cell research is deeply flawed and misleading, particularly in its assessment of adult stem cell research. In the absence of unanimity on the ethical status of the human embryo there is a broad consensus that destructive embryo research should not be permitted if there is a viable scientific alternative.

Government Ministers have said that “the 1990 Act already provides the answer to the question of what happens if and when research into adult cells overtakes research using embryos: embryonic research would have to stop because the use of embryos would no longer be necessary for that research.” (Hansard; 22.01.01 Col. 120)

Adult stem cell research is a viable scientific alternative and has clearly overtaken research using human embryos. It is delivering results, not merely demonstrating potential. As a result, 3 out of every four dollars of private investment in the US are going into adult stem cell research and technology. Embryonic stem cell research companies are struggling to survive.

I hope that the Government will fulfil their undertaking to review the regulations; and if the ‘special status’ of the embryo, propounded by Baroness Warnock, stands for anything then we should devote our resources exclusively to adult stem cell research. Among its many flaws, the report’s failure to acknowledge this constitutes its biggest failing.
I began this article by recalling some words of G.K.Chesterton. The process I have outlined more than justifies Chesterton’s scepticism about the political process. But, sadly, although political life might now proceed just as it did before, many nascent lives will not have the same opportunity.
Ends.

Therapeutic Cloning: is research ethical?
Text of a speech given to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, December 13th 1999.

So much of the debate about human cloning has revolved around scientific possibilities and so little has been about the ethics of such procedures. I, therefore, strongly welcome this debate which has been organised by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee and only hope that I can do justice to the awesome issues which this question raises.

Scientific illiteracy is often imputed to those who question or challenge research programmes and it is often assumed that anyone who muses about the desirability of proposed scientific advances is anti-science and are late twentieth century Luddites. When good science and good ethics march hand in hand they can deeply enrich human society.. Science should not run too far ahead of the debate about ethics. Just because something is scientifically possible, ergo, it does not necessarily make it right. At the heart of my argument is the belief that human dignity must be defended against the abuse of scientific techniques; that the creation of human embryos specifically for experimentation and research, and then to destroy them, is unconscionable; that therapeutic cloning inevitably and inexorably paves the way for reproductive cloning; and that here is the bright line that we simply should not cross.
I will argue tonight that the use of embryonic stem cells is not juts wrong ethically, it is also bad science, lazy science, short-sighted science..
I like Lord Winston. He is highly motivated and well intentioned. I am 50% in agreement with him. For, like him, I agree that full pregnancy cloning should never happen, for it will bring in its wake a flood of ethical, philosophical, and psychological problems far beyond our current capabilities in such areas. But the 50-50 position which Lord Winston invites us to take – against reproductive cloning but for therapeutic cloning – is both pellucid and dangerous. Tantalising arguments about possible cures are extraordinarily beguiling, and it is easy to impute disinterest in suffering to those who question them, but there will be no-one in this room who is unaware of the enormities to which “ends versus means” utilitarianism, has led in earlier times.
It wasn’t an ethicist or a politician who said that reproductive technologies now pose a greater threat to mankind than even nuclear weapons. It was the scientist at the heart of the Manhattan Project which fathered atomic warfare, Professor Joseph Rotblatt, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner. I entirely agree with him.
Political debate in Britain has increasingly come to rely on presentational skills and manipulation of language. Clarity is what seekers after truth most need. When it became clear that Parliament and the public did not care for the idea of cloning it was decided to rebrand it as therapeutic cloning. Now we are told it is not really cloning at all. I am reminded of the old rhyming couplet:” O what a tangled webb we weave when we practice to deceive, but when we’ve been at it for quite a while, how we improve our style. Fortunately, the title of tonight’s debate attempts no sleight of hand. It bluntly invites us to treat the two forms of human cloning – therapeutic and reproductive – as independent of one another. The reason why we are now being told that therapeutic cloning is not really cloning is because its proponents have been rumbled and they know that the artificial disntinction makes no logical sense for two good reasons.
First, the ontological status of the two sets of products is from one point of view identical. Both are cloned human beings, different from each other only in regard to the state of their development which they have been permitted to reach. Human life is an unbroken continuum from the time of conception – or, in this case, construction, up until the moment of natural death. The truth we grasp subjectively, in a deeply personal way when we reflect upon the question: “When did I begin?” and its corollary: “Which part of the continuum of life which is me will I reject and disown?…the first 9 months? the first 14 days? Or just the first 48 hours?”
Beyond the dissembling debate about primitive streaks, twinning and the rest lie the legislative reality that Parliament has permitted certain things to take place during the first 14 days – so presumably those who enacted these provisions accept it must be 14 days after something. Legally this is the watershed to which we look and say that is when I began to be me. Human development, culminating in death, continues thereafter.
Dr.Albert Schweitzer, the great 20th century polyglot and polymath, called it“reverence for life.” Such a challenge to the utility and expediency on which Lord Winston’s thesis is based should be crushing enough – at least for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. But, for those who do not, a second challenge must be made.
Simply stated my second challenge is this:
By encouraging the legalisation of human clone farming Lord Winston, knowingly or unknowingly, will aid and abet the creation of the very conditions which will make full pregnancy cloning inevitable. Once our IVF centres and our reproductive technology clinics are awash with cloned human embryos, will it really be possible to erect a cordon sanitaire, ring-fencing such embryos, to categorically ensure that no one breaks the law by implanting some of these cloned human beings into their mother’s wombs?
Of course it will not be possible. Some of those providing the “separationist view” – that you can clone therapeutically but not reproductively – know that this is the only way they will achieve their real objective. The smoke screen of so-called therapeutic cloning will soon give way to the ravaging fire of full pregnancy cloning. I know that Lord Winston genuinely believes that it is possible to separate the two – and he has spoken publicly of his antagonism towards what he has described as the dangers of reproductive cloning – but he is in danger of being used like a Trojan Horse by those who want what might be called the full-monty. Inexorably, inevitably and with calculated determination, proponents of full reproductive cloning will use Lord Winston’s defence of therapeutic cloning to achieve their objectives.
Melanie Phillips, the Sunday Times’ admirable commentator, put it well when she wrote: “Let’s be clear what “therapeutic cloning”means. means. Scientists may say it is different from “reproductive cloning.” But this is slippery. It is reproductive, in that an embryonic human being will be deliberately created for the purpose of research and then thrown away.”
Science has made an outstanding contribution to the alleviation of suffering – not simply that caused by the pain and indignity of disease but also the real and acute anguish caused by infertility. But it does not act in a vacuum and has to weigh the gains against the dangers, the costs against the rewards.
For instance, do we all have a right to a child? Or the child of our choice? Does the child not have rights too? When a child is conceived in a test tube or under a microscope it becomes a girl or a boy with a head or a heart – not just a laboratory experiment. And what of the clones? In this age, when we are schooled in the language of rights and entitlement, what of their rights? Are they to have their organs involuntarily donated and their lives terminated to accomplish this? And shouldn’t rights always be conditioned by duties, responsibilities and obligations?
Unless we are extraordinarily careful personal fulfillment and individual happiness can become a holy grail devoid of reference to any other consideration.
Then we are told that the object of all this experimentation isn’t really human at all: it’s just a tangle of cells. If it’s okay to raid the cadaver of a dead baby or child without the permission of their parents what difference does it make if we snatch a few cells here or a few cells there? The former is bad enough. Witness the revulsion there has been to the news that scientists have been looting corpses in children’s hospitals, such as Alder Hey Children’s hospital in Liverpool. Others have been desecrating the remains of aborted babies. These at least were the remains of the dead. To plunder what is living collapses and destroys any notion of the value we place on human dignity and human existence.
So we manipulate the language and conjure up sufficient sophistry and casuistry to convince ourselves that the embryo is not linked to our humanity at all.. It becomes “stem cell culture” and once we dehumanise it we can do anything at all we want to it or with it. But this process diminishes us all.
It is curious, isn’t it, how when a child is wanted it becomes an unborn baby; when it is not, it becomes a foetus, an embryo, a pre-embryo, a blob of jelly, a clump of tissue, a dot on a microscope slide, or stem cell culture.
Be clear, human cloning involves the deliberate technological creation of tiny twin or triplet copies of sick patients with the sole intention of killing these copies to provide transplant tissue for the original patient. This is technological cannibalism. .
The language of personal choice and the language of the market place have come to dominate human procreation. This commodified view – which treats the human embryo as just another accessory, to be created, bartered, frozen or destroyed – has taken us a long way from the traditional belief that life is a gift from God, and to be treated with reverence and accorded profound and deep respect. Therapeutic cloning would simply treat an embryo as a means to an end, a mere instrument in obtaining knowledge or benefits for others, with no appropriate respect or concern for the embryo itself as a form of individual life.
Cloning shows total contempt for the covenanted love of marriage and the Judaeo-Christian orthodoxy of “two becoming one flesh.”. It replaces it with the asexual process of laboratory manufacture. Do not underestimate the threat this poses at the heart of marriage, to procreation and to the nature of the human family.
Since 1990 utilitarian attitudes have led to the creation and destruction over half a million human embryos. Under the 1986 Animal Welfare legislation the embryos of animals enjoy more protection than those of our own species. The justification for this extraordinary attrition rate was that cure would be piled upon cure . Parliament was told “will us the means and we will give you the ends.” Parliament was duped.
At the time even Lady Warnock’s Committee argued that embryos deserve some degree of respect. It stated: “the embryo of the human species ought to have a special status.”It is hard to see how dismantling them for a therapy is compatible with any concept of respect.
Presumably, also, the Warnock Committee had some reason for arguing for a 14 day deadline. The work of providing organs and tissues may eventually require that human embryos are cultured beyond the 14 day deadline – weeks and months beyond it. How this would meet the Warnock Committee’s restrictions is impossible to comprehend. Even if you do not believe that the embryo has any “right to life” until 14 days after conception, the deliberate creation of a cloned human embryo which will be researched on and then destroyed at 14 days in not consistent with an emerging right to life.
Let’s be clear, if Parliament authorises therapeutic cloning vast numbers of human embryos will have to be manufactured.. Large numbers of human eggs will be required – already in short supply. Presumably the Roslin Institute, who after 277 attempts cloned Dolly the sheep, will renew their earlier application to raid the ovaries of aborted foetuses. It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it that in this brave new world your mother could be an aborted foetus and your grandmother could have authorised the taking of your mother’s life. Not the most auspicious start in life.
New Scientist, on September 4th, 1999, suggested that some researchers see a way out of that difficulty – the lack of available human eggs – by creating human tissue for transplants by fusing cells from people with cow eggs, and then harvesting the stem cells from the resulting embryonic clones.
Kind & Colman, in Seminars in Cell Developmental Biology (vol 10,1999), in a chapter entitled, “Therapeutic Cloning: needs and prospects,” state: “Unless a new source of human oocytes become available, nuclear transfer may be obliged to use animal oocytes, which are more readily available.” This use of animal oocytes for human embryo cloning is controversial in itself, but would be even more so if it were the case that any cow mitochondria remain in the human embryo and stem cell tissue, as seems likely. This would give rise to very significant safety and ethical problems.
But beyond these questions of ethics and safety there is also the question of science itself. Therapeutic cloning is bad science – because alternatives exist which render it unnecessary.
The Wellcome Foundation state in “Public Perspectives on Human Cloning: – a social research study” that “Alternatives research methods, which do not involve the creation of a cloned human embryo, were viewed as preferable as such ethical problems were not raised..” Public disquiet for therapeutic cloning was also well expressed in that document:
First witness: “It frightens me condemning an embryo to being a bunch of cells to experiment with.”
Second witness: “It could be psychologically disastrous if you create an embryo to create a part for yourself and then destroy it.”
Rather than addressing these profound misgivings the industry has instead held seminars to discuss how best to disguise what they are up to by changing the language and dropping any mention of words such as embryo, clone or even therapeutic. They would do better to put their energies into alternatives which are not so ethically fraught.
President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Committee was right when it stated that:
“because of ethical and moral concerns raised by the use of embryos for research purposes it would be far more desirable to explore the direct use of human cells of adult origin to produce specialised cells or tissue for transplantation into patients.”
Or, as the BMJ remarked on January 30th of this year: the use of embryonic stems cells “may soon be eclipsed by the more readily available and less controversial adult stem cells.” The report stated that researchers in Italy and America have turned neural stem cells taken from an adult mouse into new blood cells. If this technique could be applied to humans, it raises the possibility that “adult human stem cells may some day be coached to grow into organs, regenerate damaged tissue or reconstitute the immune system.” The problem of immune rejection may also be circumvented if an individual’s own cells can be used. This would mean that the need for foetal cells as a source of stem cells would be obviated. Although this work is at an early stage, surely this is where good science and good ethics can converge.
Another promising source for repairing and regenerating human tissue is work being done on stem cells taken from bone marrow or even the placenta or umbilical cords in live births. These cells are already used in cancer treatment and in research on leukemia and other diseases. Recent experiments suggest that their versatility is even greater than once thought. For example, bone marrow cells can be used to regenerate muscle tissue, opening up a new avenue of potential therapies for muscular dystrophies.
The merits of embryonically derived stem cells as against those from other sources are heavily criticised at an international level within both the scientific and the commercial literature.
In the April 2nd, 1999 issue of the prestigious journal, Science, progess was announced in obtaining stem cells from adult bone marrow and in directing them to form new bone, cartilage and other needed tissues. A recently published paper in Scientific America reported that adult stem cells and other new technologies would have more immediate benefits than using embryonic cells. Finally the Wall Street Journal (rarely noted for its ethical perspective) summarised the latest information and concluded that “adult stem cells actually have an advantage over embryonic cells in battling disease.”
I raise these issues because there seems to be an unqualified assumption that cloning human embryos is the only realistic solution currently available to society. In reality, we have no idea how realistic the proposed applications actually are, nor the chances of success, nor the real long tern risks (for example, the stem cells becoming cancerous) nor the other non therapeutic uses that are doubtless on someone’s agenda waiting to happen.
I do not argue that no experiment involving human cloning for the production of stem cells could ever lead to a regenerative treatment. What I do say is that such experiments do not appear to be necessary, and that their absence will not prevent progress in this field.
The Human Cloning debate in the UK has, thus far, been insipid and etiolated; starved of the light and oxygen of parliamentary debate (no debate in the Commons and one short debate which I initiated in the Lords); configured by homogenised consultation groups whose collective mind is already decided at the time they are formed to deliberate; distorted by vested interest and unfairly presented in the national media.
The political and ethical process we use to determine these questions is also failing us dismally.
When the HFEA and HGAC asked a Committee of four people to act as an advisory body it appointed them knowing that all four were from scientific backgrounds, that all four had previously expressed support for cloning, and two had links with the pharmaceutical industry. Hardly minds waiting to be made up. They even declined to place a copy of the public responses in the Parliamentary library and my research assistant was told he could take no photocopies of the public submissions and only make notes for two hours under supervision. So much for an open and broad based approach.

Huge sums of money are at stake. Roslin and the American biotech company, Geron, have entered into commercial collaboration. Roslin has already received £12 .5 million.
Nor can I say I am reassured by the presence of the Government’s Science Minister at a recent meeting organised by the Bio Industry Association. He shared the platform with Simon Best, managing director of Geron Bio-Med.Having announced a new consultation process, following the first discredited round, it was quite wrong for the Minister responsible for science to publicly call for human embryos to be produced for cloning purposes. It prejudices any confidence we can have in the objectivity of the process.
That new process is called the Chief Medial Officer’s Expert Working Group on Therapeutic Cloning. It is made up of 14 people – some of whom have voiced their support for therapeutic cloning on several occasions. None are known as dissenting voices?” No-one will be any more convinced by this consultation process than they were by the last.
My last point concerns world wide opinion and the alternative scientific view. France, Germany, Norway and Austria have all banned embryo research. In April 1999, the 90 members of the Council of Europe ruled out any question of human cloning and said that it should not be permitted under any circumstances whatsoever. They have incorporated that protocol into the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. Britain declined to sign.
Daniel Tarchys, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe said:
“At a time when occasional voices are being raised to assert the acceptability of human cloning and even to put it more rapidly into practice, it is important for Europe solemnly to declare its determination to defend human dignity against the abuse of scientific techniques.” It is hameful that Her Majesty’s Government cannot also affirm this.
In Britain Dr.John Wyatt, Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London, expressed this view of therapeutic cloning to me:
“I and many of my fellow health professionals share a profound disquiet about the introduction of therapeutic cloning. Many of us are actively involved in research to find novel therapies for life-threatening , disabling conditions. However, the creation and manipulation of living human embryos for the sole purpose of generating therapeutic tissue seems incompatible with respect for vulnerable human life. The redefinition of human embryos as mere biological material as “totipotent stem cells” in order to allay public concerns, smacks of semantic trickery rather than responsible debate.”
When the possibility of human cloning was first mooted, Lord Winston, quoted in The Times on February 24th 1997, said “There is no medical reason for cloning humans and there are obvious risks. I don’t think anyone seriously believes that there would be any benefit to cloning humans.” By June of this year he was denouncing the Government for postponing a decision on cloning as “immoral.” I would prefer to stick with his earlier view and that of Professor Wyatt.

These then are the questions which we must address: Is the deliberate creation of a human embryo for use in therapies permissible?
Is it necessary?
Are there alternatives?
To what else will it lead?
What can we learn from the use of a human embryo that we cannot learn from other sources?
Are we truly convinced that any benefits will outweigh the considerable dangers posed by the manipulation of the human species?

Are we satisfied with the procedures we have for debating the ethics as well as the science of these huge questions? Are we in step with international opinion?
Those in favour of cloning argue that if we should just permit a little cloning, therapeutic cloning, it will lead to many advances. But this is the bridge across which unethical scientists and pharmaceutical companies will march towards full pregnancy cloning.
To legalise therapeutic cloning is to render inevitable the onset of human pregnancy cloning. Giving the green light to the former will amount to complicity in the latter.
We are hopelessly ill-prepared to answer the complex scientific and sociological questions which are raised by human cloning. Our destiny as a species is the high theme which should engage us today. We will not survive the 21st century with 20th century bioethics.
There is always a compelling desire to eat at the tree of knowledge but before doing so it is wise to consider what the consequences might be.

A Talk At Beaconsfield March 2001.

The Dignity of Man And The Threat of Eugenics

The greatest twentieth century prophet against eugenics is GK Chesterton, and earlier this evening I visited his grave here in Beconsfield.

Let me begin by paying tribute to him. His lovely poem “A Beaconsfield Ballad” celebrated the love of the town where he lived for much of his life. And he is remembered by many as a great story teller and raconteur.

He deserves to be evaluated against a richer tapestry than simply his well-known Father Brown stories. When many others were blind, he stood at the gates of the twentieth century and saw where it was heading. In Chesterton we have the twentieth century’s prophet of life and the most trenchant early opponent of eugenics.

The century was at its dawn when he was identifying these falling shadows. With the century’s setting sun we can now catalogue some of its terrifying infamies; the blood shed of more Christian martyrs than in all the centuries that preceded it; the evils of the holocaust, fascist and socialist totalitarianism; the corrupting of medical ethics and the consequential destruction of life on an unprecedented scale.

In 1912 he took on the Liberal Government’s Mental Deficiency Bill, which advocated compulsory sterilisation of people who were mentally ill. His great ally was the independent MP, Josiah Wedgewood.

Francis Galton (Darwin’s cousin) had identified two main categories of degenerates who should be incarcerated in asylums for life.

Chesterton helped to defeat this particular Bill but, as he predicted, the wau was paved for Hitler, Dachau and the horrors of the holocaust.

Post war, Marie Stopes gave us sanitised eugenics, carefully rebranded in the language of choice, rights and quality of life..

In contemporary Britain this has led to 6 million abortions, abortion ip to birth on a disabled baby, and tests used as the first part of a search and destroy mission..

It has led to the destruction of half a million human embryos, to proposals for Dutch-style euthanasia laws, and it has led to human embryo cloning, and genetics.

Chesterton’s wonderful story, The Man Who was Thursday, is subentitled A Nightmare. It is a story about anarchy. Two other writer, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley made their own contributions in contemplating what the future shape of society might be like.

Surprisingly the most profoundly threatening dystopia of the future is unlikely to be Orwell’s nightmare of 1984 brutal ideological totalitarianism, but more the soulless authoritarianism , and stunted humanity of the manufactured human beings who people Huxley’s Brave New World. We can also glimpse that world without love through Chesterton’s writings.

The new nightmare kingdoms of the 21st century are not creations of fiction but decisions sanctioned in a Parliament which claims to represent us. 21st century eugenics will give state planners undreamed of and unparalleled power. Genetic tests claiming to reveal instability, illness, homosexuality, or a low IQ all pave the way for eugenic abortions. Quality controls and perfection tests will also see the emergence of a genetic underclass of the uninsurable, the unbreedable, the unwanted and the unmanned. In the caste system to come, suitors, partners and predators will be encouraged to envy your genes with envy of contempt. We will become prisoners of heredity and slaves of a manipulated reproductive system.

British birthright will be replaced by the right birth.

Eugenics leads to the repression of variation and difference. Yet, as these awesome developments have occurred there has been hardly a murmur of protest.

Scientific illiteracy is often imputed to those who question or challenge research programmes and it is often assumed that anyone who muses about the desirability of proposed scientific advances is anti-science and are late twentieth century Luddites. When good science and good ethics march hand in hand they can deeply enrich human society.. Science should not run too far ahead of the debate about ethics. Just because something is scientifically possible, ergo, it does not necessarily make it right. At the heart of my argument is the belief that human dignity must be defended against the abuse of scientific techniques; that the creation of human embryos specifically for experimentation and research, and then to destroy them, is unconscionable; that therapeutic cloning inevitably and inexorably paves the way for reproductive cloning; and that here is the bright line that we simply should not cross.
I will argue tonight that the use of embryonic stem cells is not juts wrong ethically, it is also bad science, lazy science, short-sighted science..
Tantalising arguments about possible cures are extraordinarily beguiling, and it is easy to impute disinterest in suffering to those who question them, but there will be no-one in this room who is unaware of the enormities to which “ends versus means” utilitarianism, has led in earlier times.
There are also issues here of public safety. On the back of thalidomide, BSE and the rest it is worth mentioning the recent front page in The Guardian newspaper: Miracle Becomes Catastrophe. It was reporting how the use of foetal cells in Parkinson’s sufferers had failed to cure but had created irreversible symptoms of an even worse disease.

It wasn’t an ethicist or a politician who said that reproductive technologies now pose a greater threat to mankind than even nuclear weapons. It was the scientist at the heart of the Manhattan Project which fathered atomic warfare, Professor Joseph Rotblatt, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner. I entirely agree with him.

Political debate in Britain has increasingly come to rely on presentational skills and manipulation of language. Clarity is what seekers after truth most need. When it became clear that Parliament and the public did not care for the idea of cloning it was decided to rebrand it as therapeutic cloning. Now we are told it is not really cloning at all. I am reminded of the old rhyming couplet:” O what a tangled webb we weave when we practice to deceive, but when we’ve been at it for quite a while, how we improve our style.”
The reason why we are now being told that therapeutic cloning is not really cloning is because its proponents have been rumbled and they know that the artificial distinction makes no logical sense for two good reasons.
First, the ontological status of the two sets of products is from one point of view identical. Both are cloned human beings, different from each other only in regard to the state of their development which they have been permitted to reach. Human life is an unbroken continuum from the time of conception – or, in this case, construction, up until the moment of natural death. The truth we grasp subjectively, in a deeply personal way when we reflect upon the question: “When did I begin?” and its corollary: “Which part of the continuum of life which is me will I reject and disown?…the first 9 months? the first 14 days? Or just the first 48 hours?”
Beyond the dissembling debate about primitive streaks, twinning and the rest lie the legislative reality that Parliament has permitted certain things to take place during the first 14 days – so presumably those who enacted these provisions accept it must be 14 days after something. Legally this is the watershed to which we look and say that is when I began to be me. Human development, culminating in death, continues thereafter.
Dr.Albert Schweitzer, the great 20th century polyglot and polymath, called it“reverence for life.” Such a challenge to the utility and expediency on which Lord Winston’s thesis is based should be crushing enough – at least for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. But, for those who do not, a second challenge must be made.
Simply stated my second challenge is this:
By encouraging the legalisation of human cloning for therapeutic purposes we aid and abet the creation of the very conditions which will make full pregnancy cloning inevitable.
This was borne out at a recent conference in Rome when a scientist said he would now reproduce a human clone because of the decision of the British Parliament to permit therapeutic cloning.

Once our IVF centres and our reproductive technology clinics are awash with cloned human embryos, will it really be possible to erect a cordon sanitaire, ring-fencing such embryos, to categorically ensure that no one breaks the law by implanting some of these cloned human beings into their mother’s wombs?
Of course it will not be possible. Some of those providing the “separationist view” – that you can clone therapeutically but not reproductively – know that this is the only way they will achieve their real objective. The smoke screen of so-called therapeutic cloning will soon give way to the ravaging fire of full pregnancy cloning. I know that some scientists genuinely believes that it is possible to separate the two – and people like Robert Winston have spoken publicly of his antagonism towards what he has described as the dangers of reproductive cloning – but he is in danger of being used like a Trojan Horse. Inexorably, inevitably and with calculated determination, proponents of full reproductive cloning will use Lord Winston’s defence of therapeutic cloning to achieve their objectives.
Melanie Phillips, the Sunday Times’ admirable commentator, put it well when she wrote: “Let’s be clear what “therapeutic cloning” means. Scientists may say it is different from “reproductive cloning.” But this is slippery. It is reproductive, in that an embryonic human being will be deliberately created for the purpose of research and then thrown away.”
Science has made an outstanding contribution to the alleviation of suffering – not simply that caused by the pain and indignity of disease but also the real and acute anguish caused by infertility. But it does not act in a vacuum and has to weigh the gains against the dangers, the costs against the rewards.
For instance, do we all have a right to a child? Or the child of our choice? Does the child not have rights too? When a child is conceived in a test tube or under a microscope it becomes a girl or a boy with a head or a heart – not just a laboratory experiment. And what of the clones? In this age, when we are schooled in the language of rights and entitlement, what of their rights? Are they to have their organs involuntarily donated and their lives terminated to accomplish this? And shouldn’t rights always be conditioned by duties, responsibilities and obligations?
Unless we are extraordinarily careful personal fulfillment and individual happiness can become a holy grail devoid of reference to any other consideration.
Then we are told that the object of all this experimentation isn’t really human at all: it’s just a tangle of cells. If it’s okay to raid the cadaver of a dead baby or child without the permission of their parents what difference does it make if we snatch a few cells here or a few cells there? The former is bad enough. Witness the revulsion there has been to the news that scientists have been looting corpses in children’s hospitals, such as Alder Hey Children’s hospital in Liverpool. Others have been desecrating the remains of aborted babies. These at least were the remains of the dead. To plunder what is living collapses and destroys any notion of the value we place on human dignity and human existence.
So we manipulate the language and conjure up sufficient sophistry and casuistry to convince ourselves that the embryo is not linked to our humanity at all.. It becomes “stem cell culture” and once we dehumanise it we can do anything at all we want to it or with it. But this process diminishes us all.
It is curious, isn’t it, how when a child is wanted it becomes an unborn baby; when it is not, it becomes a foetus, an embryo, a pre-embryo, a blob of jelly, a clump of tissue, a dot on a microscope slide, or stem cell culture.
Be clear, human cloning involves the deliberate technological creation of tiny twin or triplet copies of sick patients with the sole intention of killing these copies to provide transplant tissue for the original patient. This is technological cannibalism. .
The language of personal choice and the language of the market place have come to dominate human procreation. This commodified view – which treats the human embryo as just another accessory, to be created, bartered, frozen or destroyed – has taken us a long way from the traditional belief that life is a gift from God, and to be treated with reverence and accorded profound and deep respect. Therapeutic cloning simply treats an embryo as a means to an end, a mere instrument in obtaining knowledge or benefits for others, with no appropriate respect or concern for the embryo itself as a form of individual life.
Cloning shows total contempt for the covenanted love of marriage and the Judaeo-Christian orthodoxy of “two becoming one flesh.”. It replaces it with the asexual process of laboratory manufacture. Do not underestimate the threat this poses at the heart of marriage, to procreation and to the nature of the human family.
Since 1990 utilitarian attitudes have led to the creation and destruction over half a million human embryos. Under the 1986 Animal Welfare legislation the embryos of animals enjoy more protection than those of our own species. The justification for this extraordinary attrition rate was that cure would be piled upon cure . Parliament was told “will us the means and we will give you the ends.” Parliament was duped.
At the time even Lady Warnock’s Committee argued that embryos deserve some degree of respect. It stated: “the embryo of the human species ought to have a special status.”It is hard to see how dismantling them for a therapy is compatible with any concept of respect.
Presumably, also, the Warnock Committee had some reason for arguing for a 14 day deadline. The work of providing organs and tissues may eventually require that human embryos are cultured beyond the 14 day deadline – weeks and months beyond it. How this would meet the Warnock Committee’s restrictions is impossible to comprehend. Even if you do not believe that the embryo has any “right to life” until 14 days after conception, the deliberate creation of a cloned human embryo which will be researched on and then destroyed at 14 days in not consistent with an emerging right to life.
Let’s be clear, in authorising therapeutic cloning Parliament will allow vast numbers of human embryos to be manufactured.. Large numbers of human eggs will be required – already in short supply. Presumably the Roslin Institute, who after 277 attempts cloned Dolly the sheep, will renew their earlier application to raid the ovaries of aborted foetuses. It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it that in this brave new world your mother could be an aborted foetus and your grandmother could have authorised the taking of your mother’s life. Not the most auspicious start in life.
New Scientist, on September 4th, 1999, suggested that some researchers see a way out of that difficulty – the lack of available human eggs – by creating human tissue for transplants by fusing cells from people with cow eggs, and then harvesting the stem cells from the resulting embryonic clones.
Kind & Colman, in Seminars in Cell Developmental Biology (vol 10,1999), in a chapter entitled, “Therapeutic Cloning: needs and prospects,” state: “Unless a new source of human oocytes become available, nuclear transfer may be obliged to use animal oocytes, which are more readily available.” This use of animal oocytes for human embryo cloning is controversial in itself, but would be even more so if it were the case that any cow mitochondria remain in the human embryo and stem cell tissue, as seems likely. This would give rise to very significant safety and ethical problems.
But beyond these questions of ethics and safety there is also the question of science itself. Therapeutic cloning is bad science – because alternatives exist which render it unnecessary.
The Wellcome Foundation state in “Public Perspectives on Human Cloning: – a social research study” that “Alternatives research methods, which do not involve the creation of a cloned human embryo, were viewed as preferable as such ethical problems were not raised..” Public disquiet for therapeutic cloning was also well expressed in that document:
First witness: “It frightens me condemning an embryo to being a bunch of cells to experiment with.”
Second witness: “It could be psychologically disastrous if you create an embryo to create a part for yourself and then destroy it.”
Rather than addressing these profound misgivings the industry has instead held seminars to discuss how best to disguise what they are up to by changing the language and dropping any mention of words such as embryo, clone or even therapeutic. They would do better to put their energies into alternatives which are not so ethically fraught.
President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Committee was right when it stated that:
“because of ethical and moral concerns raised by the use of embryos for research purposes it would be far more desirable to explore the direct use of human cells of adult origin to produce specialised cells or tissue for transplantation into patients.”

Or, as the BMJ remarked on January 30th of this year: the use of embryonic stems cells “may soon be eclipsed by the more readily available and less controversial adult stem cells.” The report stated that researchers in Italy and America have turned neural stem cells taken from an adult mouse into new blood cells. If this technique could be applied to humans, it raises the possibility that “adult human stem cells may some day be coached to grow into organs, regenerate damaged tissue or reconstitute the immune system.” The problem of immune rejection may also be circumvented if an individual’s own cells can be used. This would mean that the need for foetal cells as a source of stem cells would be obviated. Although this work is at an early stage, surely this is where good science and good ethics can converge.
Another promising source for repairing and regenerating human tissue is work being done on stem cells taken from bone marrow or even the placenta or umbilical cords in live births. These cells are already used in cancer treatment and in research on leukemia and other diseases. Recent experiments suggest that their versatility is even greater than once thought. For example, bone marrow cells can be used to regenerate muscle tissue, opening up a new avenue of potential therapies for muscular dystrophies.
The merits of embryonically derived stem cells as against those from other sources are heavily criticised at an international level within both the scientific and the commercial literature.
In the April 2nd, 1999 issue of the prestigious journal, Science, progress was announced in obtaining stem cells from adult bone marrow and in directing them to form new bone, cartilage and other needed tissues. A recently published paper in Scientific America reported that adult stem cells and other new technologies would have more immediate benefits than using embryonic cells. Finally the Wall Street Journal (rarely noted for its ethical perspective) summarised the latest information and concluded that “adult stem cells actually have an advantage over embryonic cells in battling disease.”
I raise these issues because there seems to be an unqualified assumption that cloning human embryos is the only realistic solution currently available to society. In reality, we have no idea how realistic the proposed applications actually are, nor the chances of success, nor the real long tern risks (for example, the stem cells becoming cancerous) nor the other non therapeutic uses that are doubtless on someone’s agenda waiting to happen.
I do not argue that no experiment involving human cloning for the production of stem cells could ever lead to a regenerative treatment. What I do say is that such experiments do not appear to be necessary, and that their absence will not prevent progress in this field.
Professor Scolding, Dr.Michael Antoniou, and Dr.Phil Jones have all confirmed this to be the case when speaking to Parliamentarians at Westminster.

The Human Cloning debate in the UK has, thus far, been insipid and etiolated; starved of the light and oxygen of parliamentary debate (no debate in the Commons and one short debate which I initiated in the Lords); configured by homogenised consultation groups whose collective mind is already decided at the time they are formed to deliberate; distorted by vested interest and unfairly presented in the national media.
The political and ethical process we use to determine these questions is also failing us dismally.
When the HFEA and HGAC asked a Committee of four people to act as an advisory body it appointed them knowing that all four were from scientific backgrounds, that all four had previously expressed support for cloning, and two had links with the pharmaceutical industry. Hardly minds waiting to be made up. They even declined to place a copy of the public responses in the Parliamentary library and my research assistant was told he could take no photocopies of the public submissions and only make notes for two hours under supervision. So much for an open and broad based approach.

Huge sums of money are at stake. Roslin and the American biotech company, Geron, have entered into commercial collaboration. Roslin has already received £12 .5 million.
Nor can I say I am reassured by the presence of the Government’s Science Minister at a recent meeting organised by the Bio Industry Association. He shared the platform with Simon Best, managing director of Geron Bio-Med.Having announced a new consultation process, following the first discredited round, it was quite wrong for the Minister responsible for science to publicly call for human embryos to be produced for cloning purposes. It prejudices any confidence we can have in the objectivity of the process.
That new process was called the Chief Medial Officer’s Expert Working Group on Therapeutic Cloning. It was made up of 14 people – some of whom have voiced their support for therapeutic cloning on several occasions. None were known as dissenting voices?” No-one was be any more convinced by this consultation process than they were by the last.

The latest Committee to be established,chaired y a clergyman who almost uniquely among religious leaders has spoken in favour of therapeutic cloning, includes no-one who spoke in parliamentary debate against cloning. It rathers confirms Chesterton’s view of Parliamentary committees – which he described as “very nice” but pretty corrupt.

My last point concerns world wide opinion and the alternative scientific view. France, Germany, Norway and Austria have all banned embryo research. In April 1999, the 90 members of the Council of Europe ruled out any question of human cloning and said that it should not be permitted under any circumstances whatsoever. They have incorporated that protocol into the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. Britain declined to sign.
Daniel Tarchys, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe said:
“At a time when occasional voices are being raised to assert the acceptability of human cloning and even to put it more rapidly into practice, it is important for Europe solemnly to declare its determination to defend human dignity against the abuse of scientific techniques.” It is shameful that Her Majesty’s Government cannot also affirm this.

President Chirac and the German Reichstag’s Ethics Committee hve also spoken out agaisnt cloning..

In Britain Dr.John Wyatt, Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London, expressed this view of therapeutic cloning to me:
“I and many of my fellow health professionals share a profound disquiet about the introduction of therapeutic cloning. Many of us are actively involved in research to find novel therapies for life-threatening , disabling conditions. However, the creation and manipulation of living human embryos for the sole purpose of generating therapeutic tissue seems incompatible with respect for vulnerable human life. The redefinition of human embryos as mere biological material as “totipotent stem cells” in order to allay public concerns, smacks of semantic trickery rather than responsible debate.”
When the possibility of human cloning was first mooted, Lord Winston, quoted in The Times on February 24th 1997, said “There is no medical reason for cloning humans and there are obvious risks. I don’t think anyone seriously believes that there would be any benefit to cloning humans.” By June of this year he was denouncing the Government for postponing a decision on cloning as “immoral.” I would prefer to stick with his earlier view and that of Professor Wyatt.

These then are the questions which we must address:
Is the deliberate creation of a human embryo for use in therapies permissible?
Is it necessary?
Are there alternatives?
To what else will it lead?
What can we learn from the use of a human embryo that we cannot learn from other sources?
Are we truly convinced that any benefits will outweigh the considerable dangers posed by the manipulation of the human species?

Are we satisfied with the procedures we have for debating the ethics as well as the science of these huge questions? Are we in step with international opinion?
Those in favour of cloning argue that if we should just permit a little cloning, therapeutic cloning, it will lead to many advances. But this is the bridge across which unethical scientists and pharmaceutical companies will march towards full pregnancy cloning.
To legalise therapeutic cloning is to render inevitable the onset of human pregnancy cloning. Giving the green light to the former will amount to complicity in the latter.
We are hopelessly ill-prepared to answer the complex scientific and sociological questions which are raised by human cloning. Our destiny as a species is the high theme which should engage us today. We will not survive the 21st century with 20th century bioethics.
There is always a compelling desire to eat at the tree of knowledge but before doing so it is wise to consider what the consequences might be.

Let me end with one of Chesterton’s early poems…one which challenges us to simply allow the child to be born (To The Babe Unborn).

Colombia – Trade Deal that threatens indigenous Colombians, Afro-Colombians, Human Rights Advocates, Natural resources and the Environment – “Good for British business and bad for Colombian human rights”

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The Bilateral Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between the United Kingdom and Colombia

Scroll Down For The Full Debate…

Mgr Héctor Fabio Henao, director of CAFOD’s Colombia partner SNPS, came to the UK with two Colombian community leaders. Mélida Guevara and Jesús Alberto Castilla, whose communities have been torn apart by 50 years of internal conflict, visited the UK to tell the government and CAFOD supporters what they can do to help.
Mgr Héctor Fabio Henao, director of CAFOD’s Colombia partner SNPS, came to the UK with two Colombian community leaders. Mélida Guevara and Jesús Alberto Castilla, whose communities have been torn apart by 50 years of internal conflict, visited the UK to tell the government and CAFOD supporters what they can do to help.

colombia and cafod

The Bilateral Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between the United Kingdom and Colombia

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, whose knowledge of Latin America is probably unparalleled in your Lordships’ House. She and I are both members of the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of CAFOD, for which I serve as treasurer. A few months ago, with the Labour Member of Parliament, the right honourable Tom Clarke, who chairs that group, I met a group of Colombian human rights advocates, indigenous Colombians and Afro-Colombians, who were in the UK as guests of that charity. CAFOD is also part of the coalition ABColombia, which is an alliance of CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, SCIAF and Trocaire. I was profoundly moved by the commitment of those who have put their own lives at risk in working for peace and human rights in Colombia, but also shocked by the scale and nature of some of the egregious violations of human rights which they described. I promised them that, if the opportunity arose, I would try to draw Parliament’s attention to the dangers that they faced. Therefore, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for moving this Motion today, which gives us the opportunity to raise questions and to do just that.

12.15 pm

Although there has been some improvement in the political and economic situation in Colombia, guerrillas and successor groups to paramilitaries have continued to be involved in significant acts of violence. Human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders and IDP leaders regularly face death threats, intimidation and other abuses.

colombia trade union  rights

Although the Administration of President Juan Manuel Santos have consistently condemned threats and attacks against rights defenders, in a culture of impunity, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. After decades of internal conflict, with 220,000 people killed, the Government are now in peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group but, with the exception of Syria, Colombia, with a phenomenal 5.7 million displaced people, has the highest number of internally displaced people in the world. As the advocate whom I met explained to me, the displacements have frequently come about as a direct consequence of corporate investment, when land is wanted for agriculture, oil exploration or coal mining.

 Indigenous Colombian children
Indigenous Colombian children

In 2011, the Colombian Government introduced a welcome law to restore to victims some of the 2.2 million hectares of the 6.8 million forcibly taken from them. To date, according to Colombia’s comptroller general, less than 1% of that land has so far been restored. The continuing conflict has also seen some victims, to whom land has been returned, once again violently displaced. According to the Colombian constitutional court, 34 groups of indigenous peoples are currently at risk of extinction. The court identified forced displacement as the major cause. Colombian indigenous peoples’ land is generally in areas rich in natural resources. To safeguard the people and the land, Colombia will need to legislate to protect them from the huge influx of multinational corporations. As I will argue, instead of protection, the UK has created in this trade treaty something that will benefit British businesses but harm exploited and vulnerable people.

It is not just the people who are at risk—it is also the people who try to protect those at risk. What happens to people who challenge rapacious business interests, international conglomerates or the warlords and guerrillas who have profiteered at the expense of the poor? I would like to give the committee an illustration. In May, Colombia’s Senate enacted an important Bill that is a major step in aiding and protecting sexual violence survivors, especially those who are raped or assaulted by guerrillas, paramilitaries, Colombian forces, or others in the context of the country’s decades-long conflict. Colombia’s new law stipulates that sexual violence can constitute a crime against humanity under the standards provided for in international law. But it is indicative of the country’s lawlessness that Ana Angelica Bello, one of the most vocal advocates of this law, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound under circumstances that still remain unclear. Angelica, from rural Colombia, was forced off her land by armed groups. She was raped by men she believed to be former paramilitary as punishment for her subsequent advocacy and activism.

Today’s welcome debate, triggered by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, should ring alarm bells about human rights in Colombia and particularly alert us, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, to the dangers faced especially by women such as Angelica and by lawyers and human rights defenders. Professor Sara Chandler, on behalf of the UK members of the International Caravana of Jurists points out that the bilateral investment treaty with Colombia ratified on 10 July is in danger of worsening the situation of human rights’ defenders. She particularly draws attention to an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about how we are going to monitor how this treaty works out in practice in future. The Caravana is comprised of international lawyers and includes judges, solicitors, barristers, academics and law students. At the request of its counterparts in Colombia, it has visited the country since 2008 and has gathered first-hand accounts of lawyers who have faced daily threats of violence, kidnapping and death just for undertaking their professional duties. Since January 2012, it has recorded 37 threats directed towards lawyers or human rights defenders operating as legal representatives, with 18 killings during that period. Incidentally, it will be returning to Colombia next month.

Caravana points out that the United Kingdom has significant leverage, as Britain, as we have heard, is second only to the United States in foreign investment in Colombia and that new investment treaties and fair trade agreements such as the BIT offered the opportunity—sadly, not taken—to include safeguards to ensure that British businesses investing in Colombia will never be complicit in serious human rights violations. It also points to the serious imbalance between the significant protection afforded to investors, compared to the lack of protection and resources available to the indigenous people and local communities affected by development, and states that that disparity places the United Kingdom Government in a position of direct inconsistency with their commitments under the United Kingdom action plan Good Business, which implements the Ruggie UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights.

The action plan contains a commitment that,

“agreements facilitating investment overseas by UK or EU companies incorporate the business responsibility to protect human rights, and do not undermine the host country’s ability to meet its international human rights obligations”.

Colombia human rights

The bilateral treaty with Colombia remains, ominously, completely silent about those responsibilities. Why is that? This is one of the first tests of whether the sentiment and rhetoric will be matched by the reality. Therefore, it does not bode well. Are we to be simply what John Ruskin once described as a “money-making mob”?
Specifically, in the peace talks in which the Colombian Government are engaged in, they have committed themselves to the land reforms to which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, referred. Have the Government discussed what impact the treaty will have on the Colombian Government’s ability to return land and to implement the Havana agreement on land reform? Will the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, also confirm that the largest UK investments in Colombia are in mining, with all the land requirements which mining entails? Will he also tell the Committee how much of the land violently seized and confiscated in Colombia’s conflict is in areas rich in natural resources and on land owned by indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians and peasant farmers who are waiting for their land to be restored—the people I referred to at the outset of my remarks? Will he explain to the Committee how restoration is compatible with pursuing Britain’s mining interests, and which will take precedence—as if we do not already have a hint as to the answer? Will he also say how we will guarantee the rights and obligations to which I referred of indigenous peoples in respect of their free, prior and informed consent, their right to self-determination and to their own development, which are guaranteed in United Nations International Labour Organization Convention 169 and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

Are we simply to be a money-making mob, or will the Government insist that human rights which we expect for ourselves will be applied in situations where our monetary clout gives us influence and leverage? It is really unacceptable that we have created a self-serving agreement which incorporates a disparity in providing considerable—some would say, excessive—protection for British investment while the ability of the Colombian state to regulate that investment is restricted. The investor-state dispute settlement provisions could have been used as an opportunity to incorporate human rights provisions and to enable a third party, such as an NGO, to make representations in the dispute process. As things stand, the UK-Colombia BIT has no such safeguard. We could do a lot worse than emulate the EU-Canada free-trade agreement, CETA, which incorporates safeguards affirming the right of states to regulate in pursuance of legitimate public interest objectives.

In another context, the House of Lords EU Committee has expressed doubts about including an investor-state dispute settlement that gives investors the right to challenge measures adopted—in this case, by the UK—in the public interest. The committee recommended that before including an ISDS clause, a number of safeguards should be in place, including to,

“improve transparency around ISDS proceedings, for example by making hearings and documents public, allowing interested third parties to make submissions”.Those safeguards do not seem to form part of the bilateral investment treaty with Colombia.

colombia human rights2

To conclude, I therefore ask the Minister: what plans the Government have to incorporate safeguards to the investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the treaty to enable the UK to ensure that its foreign investments do not make us complicit in serious human rights violations? At the very minimum, will the Government consider creating a system of annual monitoring of the treaty in terms of its human rights impacts and impact on the peace agreements, with the results to be incorporated in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office annual human rights report? What plans are there to incorporate safeguards to the investor-state dispute settlement provision, to ensure that the United Kingdom complies with its human rights obligations and commitments made in Good Business on implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights?

Colombia is listed as one of the countries of concern in the annual FCO human rights report. Instead of promoting policy changes to improve human rights, the bilateral agreement could obstruct Colombia’s ability to promote policies that achieve improvements in human rights. Given the record levels of UK investments in Colombia, there was simply no need for this treaty in the first place. Ministers should give further thought to the consequences of its ratification, along with the ethical implications of its promotion.

colombia map

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The full debate…

Grand Committee
Wednesday, 30 July 2014.

Arrangement of Business
Announcement
Noon

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con): Good afternoon. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
The Bilateral Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between the United Kingdom and Colombia
Motion to Take Note
Noon

Moved by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara

That the Grand Committee takes note of the Bilateral Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between the United Kingdom and Colombia (Cm 8887). 3rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, the UK-Colombia bilateral investment treaty, or BIT, is designed to provide important protections to British investments in Colombia. My purpose in raising the issue today is to draw attention to the fact that these protections are controversial. Without putting down this Motion there would have been no chance to discuss these issues, which many people inside and outside Parliament would like to see raised. These concerns include a feeling that the balance of the treaty may be wrong, in that it gives excessive protection to investors while limiting the ability of the host country to regulate the FDI, and a question about whether the treaty deals with business and human rights, in the light of the growing impact of the UN’s generally accepted principles on business and human rights.

However, it is important to note at the start of the debate that UK business does not appear to need this agreement to encourage investment in Colombia. Colombia is one of UKTI’s 20 high-growth markets and the UK is already the second largest foreign investor, much of it in the extractives industry. Between 2009 and 2012, UK exports of goods and services to Colombia rose by 126%, the highest level of any of our major markets. Over the next four years, it has been predicted that Colombia will invest £50 billion in oil and gas and, over the next eight years, around £60 billion in infrastructure.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livingston, for providing some background information about the treaty, which has been very helpful to me in preparing for this debate. From this I note also that he has been active in working on various other things. I

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think that we all got these documents this morning and it is very good to see them, following a discussion where we felt that more could be done to try to proselytise for TTIP and other work in this area. I am glad to see that these documents have come round. However, the background information supplied suggests that the BIT was actually negotiated during 2008-09 but that ratification has been delayed as the treaty of Lisbon, which transferred exclusive competence for FDI to the European Union, entered into force before the agreed text was signed.

In view of this, some people have argued that the text of the treaty is out of date and should instead reflect the direction of travel as envisaged in more recent treaty negotiations, such as TTIP. It is also the case that during the time that has elapsed since the treaty was negotiated, the UK has embraced the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and is one of the first countries to produce an action plan, which we certainly welcome. However, we accept that the debate on how future BITs should be structured to ensure a satisfactory balance between protection of investments and the right of local Governments to regulate in the public interest is not new. We also accept that the text of the current treaty departs substantially from previous UK practice, although I suspect that some of the changes made are not necessarily going to be made more acceptable as a result.

It is interesting to note that the BIT was ratified by the current Colombian Government in 2013 and that they have subsequently been pressing the UK Government strongly, at both ministerial and official level, to complete their ratification process at the earliest opportunity. This suggests that the Colombian Government view the entry into force of the BIT as positive, bringing benefits to Colombia through helping attract new foreign investment, and have considered that these benefits outweigh the risks of investor claims and impacts on public policy. But in the unlikely event that anyone thinks that these are hypothetical risks, Colombia’s neighbours Ecuador, Peru and Mexico have been the subject of 14, three and 10 claims respectively. I am told that $81.4 million is the average compensation paid to investors over the 83 known ISDS awards in favour of the investor to July 2013. Indeed, last year’s award of $1.17 billion to Occidental from Ecuador was the equivalent of the country’s entire education budget.

I am sure that the Minister will seek to persuade us, when he comes to respond, that despite the time that has elapsed the Government believe that the signed text reflects the current public debate and is fit for purpose in that context. However, some substantial concerns remain and I hope that the debate will help persuade the Government of the need to reflect carefully on whether the treaty correctly balances providing protection for investors and giving the Colombian Government the space they need to regulate in the wider public interests.

Other noble Lords, I am sure, will raise other points around this topic. I will therefore limit myself to two examples. The first is land reform. The treaty includes a form of investor-state dispute mechanism—narrower, as we are told—which will allow Columbia to be sued

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in an international arbitration tribunal. These tribunals take place behind closed doors and grant investors the right to sue democratically elected governments. However, neither the host government nor communities affected by such investments have rights to challenge that investment. As the Minister knows, land issues have been at the heart of the Colombian internal conflict, and nearly 6 million people have been forcibly displaced, so many people think land reform is the key to the peace discussions with FARC, which are currently taking place in Havana.

Will the Minister explain why the treaty will not prove challenging to the Colombian Government in pursuing land reform issues? Will he also reassure us that it will not put at risk implementing the land and victims law passed in 2011, under which land is due to be returned to victims of the recent conflict? Will he also comment on the suggestion that the solution to the problems posed by ISDS mechanisms would be to enact proper domestic legislation to protect FTI investors, as is happening in South Africa?

Secondly, on human rights, because of the long period of gestation of this treaty, it was drafted before the emergence of the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Rightly, the EU is committed to signing treaties only with countries that meet its values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The Colombian Government have made good efforts to strengthen the rule of law, to condemn human rights violations and take action against illegal land appropriation, and there are now significant legislative and public policy initiatives in the field, which we welcome. However, there is more to come and we need to make sure that we support and get behind these initiatives.

Equally, the UK has made significant commitments recently in its action plan to implement the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In particular, the UK has undertaken to ensure that,

“agreements facilitating investment overseas … incorporate the business responsibility to respect human rights, and do not undermine the host country’s ability to meet … its international human rights obligations”.

I do not see that wording in the treaty. When the Minister responds, will he point to where the text reflects that sentiment, and explain how the UK will ensure that this treaty does not undermine Colombia’s ability to meet its international human rights obligations?

Will the Government not go further? Given that the situation on the ground is still developing, and bearing in mind our commitment to the UN guiding principles, does the Minister agree that it might be appropriate if he prepared an annual monitoring of the treaty in terms of its human rights impacts, with the results of this monitoring perhaps incorporated into the FCO annual human rights report?

Finally, when this treaty was considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the instrument was drawn to the special attention of the House on the grounds of policy interest. The committee had some reservations about the effectiveness of the protection for the investors because of the way the treaty is worded, and picked up on the difficulties these arrangements may create in relation to the human rights of certain groups within Colombia.

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The committee’s report goes on:

“We have offered the Government the opportunity to respond and, if received, we will publish the response in our next report”.

I checked the other day and no response had yet been submitted. Will the Minister say whether the Government intend to respond to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and if so, when this might be received? I beg to move.

Baroness Hooper (Con): My Lords, as someone with a strong interest in Latin America and as a member of the European Union Select Committee, it is important to question the Government on this bilateral agreement. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on having spotted the need and opportunity for this debate, and on setting out the background so clearly.

There are three main areas of concern, which have already been referred to and no doubt will arise in other contributions. First, the treaty excludes important reforms currently being considered at European Union level in relation to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the European Union and the United States, on which the European Union Select Committee has reported. These are designed to mitigate some of the serious problems associated with investor-state dispute settlements.

Secondly, it does not contain human rights obligations on investors in spite of the Government committing to this in our recent national action plan on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Thirdly, it creates legal uncertainty and could undermine the land reforms referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, which are vital to the peace process in Colombia. In that, the treaty is inconsistent with other areas of government policy which seek to support human rights and peace in Colombia.

However, I would go further. Although this is a general point which could affect all trade treaties, it has particular significance for Colombia. If we think that United Kingdom companies operate to high levels and standards in other areas which have not been emphasised, we should seek to replicate those standards and levels in our international trade treaties. For example, corporate social responsibility could and should be encouraged, and referenced to in these agreements. A company’s involvement in social issues in its neighbourhood and community are well appreciated and are now the norm in the United Kingdom. UK companies equally should feel obliged to follow similar standards in their operations overseas.

By the same token, environmental interests and concerns should be taken into account. I am interested to see that the department’s leaflet referring to the EU-US trade treaty refers to the fact that the high environmental standards and targets which we now have in place in this country are non-negotiable. I believe that in order to encourage that there should be a system of green points for those companies which commit to action in this area. For example, a project in Colombia with which I have become involved focuses on the Media Magdalena valley, an area which during the difficult terrorist periods was completely closed.

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People moved away and, therefore, flora and fauna had a wonderful time getting on without human interference.

Now that the peace process is proceeding, people are beginning to go back. Illegal gold mining is already taking place, which introduces mercury into the river and waterways