#RedWednesday – 23rd November 2016 Pictures of some of the buildings and some of the people who have stood up for the persecuted. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrich Bonheoffer. House of Commons Red Wednesday Debate and House of Lords Questions on Red Wednesday and Genocide. The ‘Religious Freedom in the World’ 2016 report’ launched at Westminster and presented to HRH Prince Charles – download at www.religion-freedom-report.org The gates of Valletta go red in solidarity

#RedWednesday – 23rd November 2016

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On #RedWednesdayWednesday 23rd Novemberall  over the UK people came together to honour those who have suffered because of their religion, and to stand in solidarity with millions of people, targeted for their beliefs and living in fear. 

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/colour.of.blood.london.turns.red.for.millions.killed.in.religious.persecution/101829.htm

http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/6420/0/international-criminal-court-must-hold-islamic-state-extremists-to-account-for-barbaric-genocide-against-christians-says-catholic-peer-

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 UK’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral Goes Red –

Listen to His Grace, Archbishop  Angaelos, General Bishop Coptic Orthodox Church United Kingdom: click here: http://bit.ly/2fnfLg2

November 23rd 2016: Under the shadow of IS: Iraqi Christians tell of crucifixions, torture… 

Read the full article on HRWF website

Also see: David Alton’s most recent comment on Genocide Against Christians and other minorities, November 25th 2016: 

http://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/We-re-failing-ISIS-victims.-If-we-don-t-act-now-we-ll-have-blood-on-our-hands

Malta’s Gates of Valletta Go red In Solidarity

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Following Red Wednesday: Religious Freedom in The World Report Launched at Westminster – November 24th 2016  

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Pictured in Westminster Hall where St.Thomas More – Lord Chancellor and former  Speaker of the House of Commons was tried and ordered to be executed. 

  • Father Dominic Robinson, Jesuit priest, ACN (UK) Ecclesiastical Assistant
  • Father Ziad Hilal, Jesuit priest – ACN Projects Co-ordinator for Syria
  • Baroness Cox of Queensbury
  • Paul Marsden, Member of the Board of Trustees of ACN (UK)
  • Sister Helen Haigh RJM, Provincial of the Religious of Jesus and Mary
  • Shaykh Dr Mohammad Umar Al-Qadri, Chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council and Head Imam of the Islamic Centre of Ireland
  • Dr Sarah Bernstein, Director-General of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, Israel
  • Lord Alton of Liverpool, Chairman of the Parliamentary launch of the Religious Freedom in the World 2016 Report
  • John Pontifex, Editor-in-Chief, ACN Religious Freedom in the World 2016 Report, Head of Press and Information ACN (UK)

Report warns of global impact of religious “hyper-extremism”

Survey blames religious hatred for increased instability around the world 

RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM – more lethal than ever seen before – is unleashing death, destruction, displacement and instability at unprecedented levels, according to a report out yesterday (Thursday).

The Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report, produced by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, warns of the global impact of “a new phenomenon of religiously-motivated violence”, which it terms “Islamist hyper-extremism”.

In defining this new ultra-extremism, the report highlights distinguishing features which are described as evidence of the radicals’ threat to world peace, stability and social harmony in the West.

Key characteristics of “Islamist hyper-extremism” include systematic attempts to drive out all dissenting groups – including moderates, unprecedented levels of cruelty, global reach and the effective use of social media, often used to glamorise violence. 

The report was launched yesterday (Thursday) and the evening before landmark buildings around the country were flood lit in red to highlight the significance of religious freedom and to remember the thousands of people who die because of hatred against their beliefs.

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Later that day, a copy of the Religious Freedom in the World 2016 Report, produced by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), was presented to HRH The Prince of Wales at Clarence House, London.

Present at the meeting were religious leaders who had spoken at the parliamentary launch event and senior ACN staff.

The Prince – who had given a video statement at the launch of the Religious Freedom in the World 2014 Report – met Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, Chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, Jesuit Father Ziad Hilal from Aleppo, Syria, Dr Sarah Bernstein, Director-General of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations and Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK).

Yesterday, the Prince met the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch, Ignatius Aphrem II, who travlled from Damascus, and spoke earlier at the launch of the Religious Freedom report  http://www.aina.org/news/20161124130319.htm and at the Westminster Cathedral Red Wednesday event.

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The Prince of Wales has used his speech at the consecration of a Syriac Orthodox Church in west London to highlight the plight of Christians in Syria.

His Royal Highness described the ceremony at the Cathedral of St Thomas in Acton as a “notable sign of hope for the future”, amid the ongoing six year civil war.

Prince Charles said: “It is surely deeply encouraging, at a time when the members of the Syriac Orthodox Church in their homelands of Syria and Iraq are undergoing such desperate trials and such appalling suffering, that in Britain the Syriac Church is able to expand and gain in strength.”

As part of the Red Wednesday initiative, London buildings lit up in red included: Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and Lambeth Palace.

Also flood lit was the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London’s St John’s Wood.

Churches around the country were lit up – in Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire – as well as Bolton Town Hall, Birmingham University Clock Tower and Liverpool Hope University.

The Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report, whose launch Red Wednesday marked, reiterated calls for Daesh (ISIS) persecution to be recognised as genocide.

The report’s authors warn of a widespread attempt to replace pluralism with a religious mono-culture.

The report, which assesses the situation regarding religious freedom in each of the world’s 196 countries, concludes: “In parts of the Middle East including Iraq and Syria, this hyper-extremism is eliminating all forms of religious diversity and is threatening to do so in parts of African and the Asian Sub-Continent.”

This is echoed in the report’s foreword by Father Jacques Mourad, a Christian monk who was held by Daesh in Syria for five months before escaping in October 2015.

Fr Mourad writes: “Our world teeters on the brink of complete catastrophe as extremism threatens to wipe out all trace of diversity in society.”

The biennial report, which draws on research by journalists, academics and clergy, records that in the two-year period under review which ended in June, attacks linked to “hyper-extremism” had taken place in one out of five countries worldwide – from Australia to Sweden as well as 17 African countries.

Countering the popular view that governments are mostly to blame for persecution, the report puts the blame on non-state militants in 12 of the 23 worst-offending countries.

With refugee numbers at a new high of 65.3 million according to the UN, the report describes extremist Islamism as a “key driver” in the massive displacement of people fleeing countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.

The Aid to the Church in Need report goes on to highlight the knock-on effect on countries in the West whose socio-religious fabric is being destabilised by the arrival of unprecedented numbers of refugees.

Such problems are, according to the report, compounded by the West falling victim to a sudden increase in fundamentalist Islamist attacks.

But, according to the report, not all problems regarding religious freedom are to do with militant Islam – with a “renewed crackdown” on religious groups reported in China and Turkmenistan and an ongoing denial of human rights for people of faith in worst-offending North Korea and Eritrea.

Nor is the outlook universally bleak – looking at Bhutan, Egypt and Qatar, countries notorious for religious freedom violations, the report found that the situation had improved for faith minorities during the period under review.

John Pontifex, London-based Editor-in-Chief of the report, said: “A core finding of our research is the emergence of a form of religious hyper-extremism which has left many parts of the world scarred by its savagery, which is the hallmark of its evident genocidal intent.

“Our report is a wake-up call both to highlight that extremism has entered a new and entirely more dangerous phase, and the role of the West

“If there is just one finding of the Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report it is that faith groups need to tackle hatred within their own ranks.

“What prospects are there for peace when powerful sections within specific faith groups have nothing but contempt for those who do not share their world view – and who deny the right to life not just to people of other faiths but also to moderates from among their own community?”

“The other problem borne out in the report is that Western policy makers frequently just don’t get religion and need to rethink their whole outlook.

“It’s no longer compatible to say that traditional faith practice belongs to the past when the evidence shows that for millions and millions of people – a new generation – religion is at the centre of their lives, driving everything they do.

This is the 13th edition of the report, which is produced by Aid to the Church in Need.

The charity provides emergency aid and help for persecuted and other suffering Christians in 140 countries around the world.  

The ‘Religious Freedom in the World’ 2016 report’ will be available for download   at www.religion-freedom-report.org

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Buildings going red in solidarity…

The Houses of Parliament

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London Routemaster Bus and the London Eye

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Westminster Cathedral

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Canon Christopher Tuckwell, Westminster Cathedral – His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Damascus, Syria and the Rt Revd & Rt Hon Dr Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London

The North West of England

  
    1. Peace between faiths means a shared commitment to love, truth and human dignity. May Christ give us grace to set an example

      Lambeth Palace

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    2. Bolton Town Hall
    3. Wrexham

Stonyhurst College Lancashire 

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Immaculate Conception Church in Flint – one of the first churches to take up the Red Wednesday challenge…

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Liverpool Hope University

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Stockport Focus School

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Birmingham University: Old Joe Clock Tower

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http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2016/11/Old-Joe-turns-red-for-global-victims-of-faith-persecution.aspx

Blackfriars Oxford

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#RedWednesday – 23rd November 2016

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Also see:

http://www.jesuit.org.uk/stonyhursts-red-witness-worlds-persecuted

 Red Wednesday – Wednesday November 23rd was a moment to focus on the dramatic increase in religious persecution worldwide which has occurred in the past six years. 5.3 billion people (76 per cent of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion. From Bangladesh, where atheists are murdered with impunity to Saudi Arabia where churches are banned and converts are criminalised, to Burma, where Muslim Rohinga are denied citizenship, to Iran where Bahais are executed, to China, where bishops are imprisoned and churches demolished, to countries like Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and North Korea, where believers are subjected to genocide, crimes against humanity, persecution or discrimination, lives are literally soaked in blood. Red Wednesday was a chance to show solidarity and to demonstrate that their suffering is not forgotten; a chance for people of all faiths and none to shine a light on global suffering.

 

Iconic buildings like the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral will be bathed in red light, so will an Orthodox cathedral, a London synagogue, a Methodist church in Greater Manchester, and the world’s oldest Jesuit school, in Lancashire. Many people wore something red, others lit up their Facebook sites in red, others found their own way to identify with the one in five who suffer somewhere in the world for their faith.

 

Pass these details to others and ask them to play some small part in the continuing struggle to create greater awareness of the scale of persecution.       

https://davidalton.net/2016/10/26/redwednesday-23rd-november-2016-circulate-details-to-others-so-that-red-wednesday-becomes-a-day-when-people-stand-together-for-the-persecuted-and-forgotten-silence-in-the-face-of-evil/

Further details: Johnny Dowling on 0208 661 5154 or john.dowling@acnuk.org

 “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrich Bonheofferdietrich-bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrich Bonheoffer

Launch of Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report

Grand Committee Room

Thursday, 24th November 2016 at 11am

 

It is with great pleasure that I write to invite you to the launch of our Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report. Produced every two years by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need the report assesses the prospects for religious liberty in every country worldwide. Examining the role of extremism in society, the report looks at key concerns such as law and order, economic forces and culture. Sponsored by Sir Edward Leigh MP and Rob Flello MP, the launch will be chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool with guest speakers including:

 

cid:image002.png@01D22AB8.E85F1460His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II

Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, based in Damascus, Syria

 

 

 

cid:image004.png@01D22AB8.E85F1460Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri

Ameer of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Educational & Cultural Centre, Ireland

 

 

DrDr Sarah Bernstein

Director-General of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, Israel

 

 

 


Standing up for faith and freedom – On ‘Red Wednesday’ religious buildings will be flood-lit in red

Posted by ACN News on 16/11/2016, 6:10 am

ACN News: Wednesday, 16th November 2016 – UK

Standing up for faith and freedom
• On ‘Red Wednesday’ – 23rd November – Muslims, Christians and Jews will be uniting against religious persecution
• Key religious buildings will be flood-lit in red

By Murcadha O Flaherty

CHURCH communities and other faith groups are coming together in an act of solidarity with those around the world suffering persecution because of their faith.

The Red Wednesday event co-ordinated by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need will involve lighting up Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in red. Also being floodlit in red on the day (Wednesday, 23rd November) are religious buildings around the country – including Brentwood Cathedral and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood.

That same day, a red Routemaster London bus emblazoned with the words “Stand up for Faith and Freedom #RedWednesday” will be making its way through London stopping at the Imam Khoei Islamic Centre, St Paul’s Cathedral, and St John’s Wood Synagogue and Westminster Abbey. The bus is due to set off from Westminster Cathedral and will be waved off by youngsters from the nearby St Vincent de Paul Primary School. Students from schools in many parts of the UK will be marking Red Wednesday by wearing an item of red clothing and holding prayer services and other activities in support of people suffering for their faith.

Coming to London to support Red Wednesday will be His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, based in Damascus, Syria, Dr Sarah Bernstein, Director-General of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, Israel and Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri Ameer, Head-Imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Educational & Cultural Centre, Ireland.

The following day (Thursday, 24th November), they will be speaking at the launch of Aid to the Church in Need’s 2016 Religious Freedom in the World report which assesses the situation for different faith communities in 196 countries – every nation on earth. The launch will take place in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons and will be chaired by Lord David Alton of Liverpool.

Aid to the Church in Need UK National Director, Neville Kyrke-Smith, said: “We hope that the ACN red bus as it travels London on Red Wednesday will highlight the very real and pressing issue of those suffering because they are persecuted today for their peacefully held beliefs. We will invite all those, whether Christian or other faiths to attend and show their support for the right of a person to practise their religion in peace”.
Describing the plans for Red Wednesday, event coordinator Patricia Hatton said: “We are delighted that a growing number of parishes, schools and groups around the country are pledging their support including Catholic, Church of England and Free Churches who are lighting red. We are also inviting everyone, and especially schools, groups, and university students to wear red – as a symbol of the suffering today of people of faith. Priests too can get involved by wearing red vestments to celebrate the Feast of St Clement, Pope and Martyr.”

Mrs Hatton encouraged people to support Red Wednesday by coming to see the bus and meet those on board and people of different faiths involved in the event. The Routemaster is due to depart Westminster Cathedral at 11.30am, arriving at noon at the Imam Khoei Islamic Centre. The bus will then travel to the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood arriving at about 12.45pm, before moving on to St Paul’s Cathedral around 3pm. Depending on traffic, the bus may stop at Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and the London Eye. It will arrive at Westminster Abbey at 4:30pm for photographs to be taken with dignitaries including Lord Alton of Liverpool. The ACN red bus will go on to Westminster Cathedral, where it will remain at from 5pm until 7:30pm.

In the evening, Holy Mass is available in the cathedral from 5.30pm – 6.30pm. A Prayer service will be led by Westminster Youth Ministry team in the Cathedral Piazza alongside film and music including Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir and violinist, Cathy Fox. Westminster Cathedral will be among the buildings being lit up in red from 6:30pm until midnight.

Throughout the world people are being persecuted because of their Faith. The young, the old, women and children, priests, Sisters and religious leaders are victims of kidnap , torture and death.

In partnership with Aid to the Church in Need, on the evening of #RedWednesday 23rd November 2016, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, will light up their iconic facades Red. This profound act of solidarity will be joined by other faith groups as a tribute to all who, in recent times, suffer injustice and risk their lives for their faith.

Be part of Red Wednesday and make a stand against religious persecution and stand for peace and tolerance

 

 How You Can Support Red Wednesday:

Red Wednesday is a big opportunity to stand up for faith and freedom and to put pressure on the UK government and the international community to protect people of faithfind solutions to the problems that are fuelling extremist violence and to make our world a safer place.

#1 Wear Red on Wednesday 23rd November
#2 Share your #RedWednesday selfies
#3 Pray for Christians suffering around the world

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 Support #Redwednesday:  stand up for Faith and Freedom

Download your #RedWednesday twitter and facebook headers.

Download your #RedWednesday poster.

Pledge your support for #RedWednesday

November 23rd 2016: Under the shadow of IS: Iraqi Christians tell of crucifixions, torture, sex

Read the full article on HRWF website

World Watch Monitor (21.11.2016) – http://bit.ly/2fkeMxm – Islamic State (IS) jihadists hung Karlus, a 29-year-old cook, from the ceiling of the jail he was held in, by a rope attached to his left foot. As blood poured from his foot, they beat and kicked him, rubbing salt into his wounds. He was sexually abused in prison by three women wearing niqabs. He was told he would be shot dead; but for reasons he still does not understand, on the day his execution was due to take place, 26 September 2014, he was released.

When IS seized control of Iraqi territory in the summer of 2014, they gave Christians, as “People of the Book”, four options: leave, convert to Islam, pay a protection tax (jiyza) or be killed. The vast majority fled – an estimated 120,000 in a few short weeks that summer. But those left behind were subjected to torture, forced conversion, sexual slavery and even crucifixion, according to testimonies collected from Iraqi refugees in Jordan by the religious freedom charity ADF International.

Karlus told its researchers he had been unable to flee his home in Batnaya, a village outside Mosul, because he was looking after his disabled father. When the terrorists came to his house, they destroyed a cross and a picture of Jesus.

“They even destroyed a piece from the Quran that was given to me by a friend,” he said.

Karlus was taken to a police station unconscious after retaliating when one of the jihadists hit him in the face. There began his seven-week ordeal at the hands of IS, after which he fled to Kurdistan, was treated in Spain for the injuries to his leg, and sought asylum in Jordan. Unknown to Karlus, his father had meantime managed to travel to Baghdad, but died there in August 2015.

Esam, a father-of-three from outside the town of Qaraqosh, said two of his wife’s relatives had not managed to flee Qaraqosh before IS arrived. They were abducted; the husband has not been heard of since and the wife “now lives with one of the Daesh [IS] amirs“. While reports have focused on Yezidi women being taken into sex slavery, Esam’s account suggests that Christian women and girls may have been targeted as well.

“We heard of 12 Christian girls who are with Daesh. They may be more. Our bishop told people not to tell if they lose their girls: it is a shame on the family,” he said.

Karlus and Esam are among the thousands of Iraqi Christians who have sought refuge in neighbouring Jordan. While Iraqi and Kurdish forces and militias, with US and UK air support, are embroiled in the push to liberate Mosul from IS, many Christians from the city and its surrounding villages are too traumatised by their experiences to countenance returning. Some say they feel betrayed by neighbours who supported IS, and are no longer sure whom they can trust. Instead, many have applied for asylum in Western countries such as Sweden, Canada and Australia.

One family recovering in Sweden is that of Esam’s brother-in-law.

“My wife’s brother was crucified by Daesh,” Esam said. “He was crucified and tortured in front of his wife and children, who were forced to watch. They told him that if he loved Jesus that much, he would die like Jesus.”

Esam said the fighters tortured his relative from 6pm until 11pm; they cut his stomach open and shot him before leaving him hanging, crucified.

My wife’s brother was crucified by Daesh. He was crucified and tortured in front of his wife and children, who were forced to watch. They told him that if he loved Jesus that much, he would die like Jesus.

“A Swedish organisation helped his wife and the children; they are now in Sweden.” He added: “His wife has cancer.”

In the ongoing instability in Iraq, Christians are not necessarily safe even if they escape areas held by IS. Baghdad has been home to the country’s largest Christian community for decades, but numbers have plummeted as sectarian militia violence sporadically ripped the capital apart and targeted non-Muslims in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion. Twice in 2014, Alaa, a father-of-two living in the city, received death threats. The first was by phone; the second time, “someone wrote on our door, ‘Your day is coming to die, you infidels'”. Alaa knew these were no empty threats.

“My wife’s cousin was killed in 2010, in an explosion at a church. Another family member was abducted in 2009,” he said. The family left Iraq in November 2014 and flew to Jordan to register as refugees.

Amid the ongoing violence and political instability in Iraq, Alaa sees little future for his family. “It is impossible to go back to Baghdad,” he said. “It is not possible to go back to Iraq. I can’t build a life there. I hope to go to Australia, but any country that will accept me, I will go there. I want to build a life and a future for my children.”

Some of the damage done by IS has already begun to be reversed. Esam said friends of his who escaped Mosul after being forcibly converted to Islam had been “baptised back to Christianity”. Other aspects will take far longer. Iraqi Christians who end up returning to Iraq know they return to a country whose sectarian fault-lines have been activated to lethal levels. Aid workers have warned that extensive reconciliation work will be vital if Iraq’s many different faith and ethnic communities are to cohere again, especially as levels of trauma among all sectors of the population are thought to be extremely high. In Jordan, Karlus reflects on his ordeal at the hands of IS members in Mosul.

He concludes: “What happened is not easy, but in the end we must forgive. This is my destiny; maybe God is planning something for me.”

Read the full article on HRWF website

View all ” Freedom of Religion or Belief” Newsletters: 

http://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/

View this newsletter: 

http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Iraq2016.pdf 

 Join with  others who have signed the petition or make your pledge to support RED WEDNESDAY at:   http://www.acnuk.org/redwednesday

 

Red Wednesday House of Commons Debate: November 15th 2016.

[Robert Flello in the Chair]

4.00 pm

Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Red Wednesday campaign against religious persecution.

It is a pleasure to speak on this very important subject under your chairmanship, Mr Flello. All over the world, thousands of people are persecuted because of their faith, through false imprisonment, physical and mental torture, rape, slavery and, more subtly, discrimination in education and employment. For some, their faith can cost them their lives.

In partnership with the charity Aid to the Church in Need, on Wednesday 23 November Westminster abbey and Westminster cathedral will be lighting up their iconic buildings in red. Other faiths will join in that act of solidarity as a tribute to the people worldwide who are suffering injustice and risking their lives for their faith. I have written to Bolton Council to ask it to join this movement and light up Bolton’s historic town hall in red on 23 November to promote solidarity with those who are suffering. Aid to the Church in Need is also encouraging smaller, more personal acts of recognition on that day that everyone can take part in—for example, simply wearing red for Red Wednesday or using the hashtag #RedWednesday on social media to raise awareness of the plight of others. Having greater awareness and understanding will help to ensure that we never take our freedoms for granted.

This year, I joined colleagues from both sides of the House on a visit to northern Iraq to meet persecuted Christians fleeing the terrorist group Islamic State. In Mosul and elsewhere, Christians have been systematically targeted and the noon symbol, the Arabic equivalent of the Latin N for Nasara or Nazarene, has been daubed on their homes. They have been given the grim choice of paying the jizya tax, converting to Islam or being put to death. Many chose to flee, especially when their money had run out and they could no longer pay the extortion. That persecution, along with that of the Yazidi and many Muslims, led last April to the debate, granted by the Backbench Business Committee and led by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), on recognition of the genocide perpetrated by ISIL in the region.

The Christian community in Iraq is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the first century. There were thought to be 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before the invasion in 2003. However, that number is reported to have fallen now to about 230,000. Although many people have been persecuted and have fled the region, that figure shows the targeted nature of the persecution and, if it carries on in that direction, we will soon see the end of Christianity in much of the middle east.

We know that there is a civil war in Syria and Iraq, but sometimes the religious context is overlooked or obscured by more dramatic events. When we met His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II, the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, he gave us a sense of how overlooked many people feel. He used the example of the protection given to eight frogs in Australia. The pond in which the frogs lived was the subject of a huge local campaign, and a small fortune was spent to save them. He said that, in comparison, many Christians in Iraq felt ignored. Of course we have to protect our natural environment, but I am sure that many colleagues would be as concerned as I am about the scarcity of letters and emails on religious persecution compared with, say, badgers and bees.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on initiating this timely debate. Is he aware of the persecution faced by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan? Since they faced criminalisation in 1984, hundreds of Ahmadis have been murdered in sectarian hate crimes. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government must continue dialogue with countries such as Pakistan to better promote religious tolerance?

I agree wholeheartedly with what the hon. Lady has said. It is so important now to reflect on the effects of increased globalisation. What goes on in one country, especially if endorsed by the Government—I am thinking of the Ahmadiyya community no longer being recognised as Muslim and being proscribed from describing themselves as such—is transmitted around the world as an idea and does not help to foster community relations here, so the hon. Lady makes a superb point.

In October 2016, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, Pakistan, told a Foreign and Commonwealth Office conference about his niece’s first year at school. That Christian girl was required to memorise a lesson that she was a Muslim and all non-Muslims were infidels. He spoke about how some textbooks in Pakistan’s schools foster prejudice against members of religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Jews and Sikhs.

Studies of the problem have been carried out both by the Catholic Church in Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace and by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The report, which covered the Punjab and Sindh provinces, noted more than 50 hate references against religious minorities in those provinces’ textbooks. That is a very important example of religious persecution not always being about death and destruction. It can be found in all kinds of other measures, including ones that normalise the sense of persecution in schools. That kind of literature or information and that kind of understanding can be developed in schools and the wider community. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister included in his reply what steps the Government are taking to stop that happening, particularly in nations that receive British aid to provide not just education but security in the region and beyond. I think that that is an aspect of what the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) was highlighting.

Oppression of religious communities is not always due to conflict between religions; it can also be part of state oppression, particularly in the remaining communist countries. North Korea is perhaps the most notorious, but we can also see the oppressive treatment of Christians in Cuba and of Muslim Uyghurs in western China.

Britain has her own problems with religious persecution, so it is not just an international problem. The case of Nissar Hussain from Bradford is a particularly shocking example and has gained widespread public attention only after 20 years of suffering following his conversion from Islam to Christianity. Violent punishment for apostasy has no place in any society.

Organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need and Christian Solidarity Worldwide have done a huge amount of work to improve the lives of the persecuted across the world, but we are looking for long-term solutions and, especially for the middle east, one that does not lead to the disappearance of Christianity or other religious groups.

I encourage colleagues and people watching the debate to take part in Red Wednesday next week, to read the report, which will be released on 24 November, or to write to their local council to turn a local monument red. The importance of raising awareness of this issue cannot be overstated.

I will conclude with the words of an Iraqi Christian.

 

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this very important issue to Westminster Hall. The Red Wednesday campaign against religious persecution is very important. The hon. Gentleman and I were together on a trip to Iraq just in September, so we know very well about the persecution. It is good to remember such persecution on Red Wednesday, because this year 100,000 Christians will be killed because of their faith; 200 million Christians live in a persecuted neighbourhood; and 2 billion will face persecution and discrimination. If ever there was a good cause to follow and to recognise, Red Wednesday is it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree? I am sure he does, but let us see what he says.

I absolutely agree. The figures that the hon. Gentleman highlighted show how widespread concerns about persecution across the world are. On every continent, people of all religions suffer in so many different ways. I will conclude with the quotation, which sums up the way many Christians feel at the moment:

“The attacks on Christians continue and the world remains totally silent. It’s as if we’ve been swallowed up by the night.”

4.10 pm

It is a pleasure to work under your chairmanship, Mr Flello, and an honour to respond to this important debate by spelling out our approach to human rights. I am pleased to see hon. Members here in the Chamber who have gained a reputation for raising these matters and for holding the Executive to account to see what we can do to make sure we underline the values that are important to us in the United Kingdom.

After the last election, we had a rethink about how best to consolidate our international approach to promoting human rights and democracy abroad. Our manifesto commitment was:

“We will stand up for the freedom of people of all religions—and non-religious people—to practise their beliefs in peace and safety”.

Before the election, we had eight themes, which I think was a bit too cumbersome. They have been narrowed down to three core pillars. They are, first, the values, including democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the media, freedom of religion or belief and women’s rights; secondly, the rules-based international system, supporting human rights as one of the UN’s three pillars that help to provide a nominative framework for the prevention of conflict and instability; and finally, human rights for a stable world—so, managing the risks of UK engagement in countries with poor human rights records, which includes our overseas security and justice assistance framework and contributing to tackling extremism.

4.12 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

4.37 pm

On resuming—

Before we were interrupted by the Divisions, I was explaining that in this House we often ask ourselves what is the value of international aid. We can contextualise the support we give and the trade we do with other countries in terms of the influence we derive when we have questions about their democratic values, concerns about how they follow the rules-based international system or, indeed, worries about whether they are following human rights. I make it clear that, where we can, our support and financial assistance go to non-governmental organisations, rather than directly to Governments. When we provide support to Governments directly, we try to ensure that they abide by our shared commitments and standards.

When the Minister has discussions about international trade and aid in relation to human rights, for example, what sort of response does he get? More importantly, what is the role of the United Nations? Does it make much progress?

The hon. Gentleman speaks of the United Nations as if it were another organisation. We are part of the United Nations. We affect the approach of the United Nations on such matters. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, we are concerned not only about security matters but about improving standards of life, democratic values, the rule of law and humanitarian rights across the world. We want to use the UN as a vehicle through which we can leverage change.

Let us look at our own history. Without going into detail, it took us time before monarchs did not have their head removed, before people were not sent up chimneys and before the slave trade was abolished. I am not making an excuse for not pushing such things but, ultimately, we have to effect cultural change at a pace that works, rather than galvanising the opposite message from the one we want to push.

The Minister knows, as he said earlier, that I am one of those who have spoken out many times in this House on behalf of Christians. The all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief, which I chair, speaks out for those of the Christian religion, those of other religions and those of no religion. When it comes to human rights, we want Muslims to speak up for Christians and Christians to speak up for Muslims. Has the Minister seen much evidence of that taking place around the world, when he has had an opportunity to speak to other countries?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to stress that. We want believers and non-believers to allow freedom of belief. That is what we are pursuing, and it is exactly Britain’s approach when we have dialogues with other countries. The fact that we have an economic relationship with other countries allows us to have necessary frank conversations, sometimes behind closed doors; I appreciate that many hon. Members might feel that they do not hear enough of what we are saying and what pace of change we expect from other countries as they raise their game. A great example, which I know the hon. Gentleman has raised on many occasions, is the use of the death penalty. We abhor it, we ourselves have moved through it and we encourage other countries that use the death penalty to meet EU guidelines and ultimately to remove it.

If there are no further interventions, I will move on. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) on securing this important debate. It is an opportunity to confirm the Government’s commitment to the right to freedom of religion or belief. It is understandable that his speech focused on the harrowing situation faced by Christians in parts of the middle east. I certainly share his concern. As I mentioned earlier, this Government have a manifesto commitment to support freedom of religion or belief for people of all religions and non-religious people, which is exactly the point raised by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). In particular, we are working internationally to deliver our commitment for Christians in the middle east.

The Minister will recall the debate held on 20 April this year, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) referred and to which the Minister responded. The House unanimously called on the Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council, with a view to conferring jurisdiction on the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators could be brought to justice. I was pleased that the Minister said in that debate that the Government were

“supporting the gathering and preservation of evidence that could in future be used in a court to hold Daesh to account”

and

“will do everything we can to help gather evidence that could be used by the judicial bodies”.—[Official Report, 20 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 996.]

I have two questions for the Minister. How have the Government been facilitating the gathering and preservation of evidence of crimes, as they promised, and what steps are they taking to ensure that members of the global coalition, united to defeat Daesh, are also gathering and preserving such evidence? Given that Daesh is now rapidly losing ground in Syria and Iraq, and with the battle of Mosul raging, does he not agree that the Government should make clear how they intend to deal with the perpetrators when they are caught, and should do so with a sense of urgency?

I remember the debate well. I made it clear—I think that I was the first Minister to do so—that I believe that war crimes have been committed in Iraq and Syria and that crimes against humanity have been committed by Daesh and other extremists in that location, but it is not my opinion or the Government’s opinion that counts, because it is not a political judgment. It must be a legal judgment, and there is a process that must be approved. We cannot get a UN Security Council resolution passed until the evidence is gathered. There is a mechanism to get to the International Criminal Court, and it includes the collection and collation of evidence, as my hon. Friend highlighted.

I will not go into too much detail, other than to say that gathering the evidence, by its nature, requires people to expose themselves to dangerous circumstances. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said on a number of occasions, the wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind fine. As we saw in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia, it can take many years until those people end up in The Hague, but they are held to account. That is why the Foreign Secretary, when he visited Washington DC in July, made the case and encouraged others to support his view that we must not allow the issue to be missed. We must collect the evidence. If I may, I will speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) outside the Chamber and familiarise her with a bit more of the detail, but I hope that she understands the sensitivities of spelling out too much, simply because of the dangers entailed.

I welcome that, because evidence has come to my attention that several prominent leaders of Daesh are individuals in respect of whom the ICC has the ability to exercise its jurisdiction now, due to their nationality. I would be grateful if the Minister met with me to discuss it further.

I would be delighted to do so. I simply make the case that the Foreign Secretary is extremely passionate about the issue. Indeed, it came from the voices in the Chamber saying, “What is Britain doing to hold these perpetrators to account?” We must work with the Iraqi Government, UN organisations and other members of the international community to deliver justice and promote the rights of all minorities, as well as to hold perpetrators to account.

It is also worth mentioning that we are working further afield than the middle east, as well. In Pakistan, we regularly raise concerns about the freedom of religion or belief. In March 2016, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, the then Foreign Secretary, raised the importance of safeguarding the rights of all minorities, including religious minorities. In Nigeria, we are providing a substantial package of intelligence, military development and humanitarian support in the fight against Boko Haram, including training and advice on counter-insurgency, and £5 million in support for a regional military taskforce.

Promoting religious tolerance is critical to reconciliation and securing a lasting peace in any combat area, but particularly in Syria and Iraq. That is why we developed the Magna Carta fund, which is being used to support several projects to promote freedom of religion or belief. In Iraq, we have funded a series of grassroots meetings between religious leaders of all faiths to promote religious tolerance. Over the past year, we have supported a project promoting legal and social protection for freedom of religion or belief in Iraq. The project aims to prevent intolerance and violence towards religious communities by inspiring key leaders in Iraqi society to become defenders of freedom of religion or belief.

Our commitment to promoting freedom of religion or belief is not confined to the middle east but extends right across the piece. It is integral to our diplomatic network in promoting fundamental human rights around the globe through our conversations with host Governments and other influential actors such as faith leaders, and through our project work and organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union and the OSCE.

Is the promotion of religious tolerance in Iraq being done from primary school age? I have seen some documentaries in which certain charities run schools to promote better understanding between different religions. Has there been much success with that?

Yes. I can write to the hon. Gentleman with more detail, but he is absolutely right that that is the age at which messages about understanding, reconciliation and recognition of the various pressures and influences are most received. Our work involves primary and secondary schools as well.

The foreign and commonwealth conference on this matter, which took place last month, was a ground-breaking conference on how protecting freedom of religion or belief can help combat violent extremism by helping make societies more inclusive and respectful of religious diversity. The conference brought together a range of experts and high-profile speakers. All participants, including many Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, shared and benefited from practical and innovative ideas to advance the cause. We have also updated and reprinted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s “Freedom of Religion or Belief” toolkit, which provides officers with guidelines on how to identify violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief and what to do about them, and with further sources of information for those who wish to examine the subject in more depth.

In conclusion, the Government will continue to fight for the freedom of religion or belief internationally. We do so not only because it is right and is enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights and in article 18 of the international covenant on civil and political rights but because extending freedom of religion or belief to more countries and more societies helps to make the world safer and more prosperous, which is in all our interests. We recognise that progress requires a response from the whole of society, so we welcome the opportunity to work with this Parliament and other Parliaments, with religious groups and with civil society partners such as Aid to the Church in Need, Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide. We believe that freedom of religion or belief is a universal human right and we will continue towards the ambitious goal of ensuring that it is enjoyed by everyone everywhere.

Question put and agreed to.

 

Red Wednesday Questions in Parliament

Wednesday November 23rd 2016

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what priority is given within the Department for International Development (DfID) to issues related to religious liberty; how many staff, and what percentage of DfID’s budget, are allocated to faith-related issues; who is the designated lead official on faith-related issues; and whether there are any plans to increase the staff resources allocated by DfID to deal with faith and faith communities.   HL3418

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they consider that the mainstreaming of gender-related issues within the Department for International Development has been successful; what priority is given to it; what funding and how many officials are specifically dedicated to working on it; and what assessment they have made of whether it can be used as a successful model for the mainstreaming of support for minorities suffering persecution on grounds of freedom of religion or belief.   HL3419

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce protection and support for minorities suffering persecution on grounds of freedom of religion or belief into every level of planning within the Department for International Development; whether they intend to make this a priority; and what measures they intend to introduce to track the impact of programmes aimed at reducing levels of religious persecution, hatred, and intolerance.   HL3420

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have made an assessment of research demonstrating the links between the promotion of freedom of religion and belief and those societies which are the most prosperous and stable; and whether such research informs the priorities and policies of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.   HL3421

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in relation to humanitarian assistance provided to Iraq, a record is kept to track what support is given to religious minorities; what priority is being given to such groups in the plans for the reconstruction of the country; and what consideration is taken of the needs of such groups in military planning in theatres of war such as Mosul.   HL3422

Syria and Iraq: Genocide

22 November 2016

Question

2.51 pm

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in bringing to justice those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity, particularly against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities, in Syria and Iraq.

My Lords, the Government believe that there needs to be accountability for the crimes committed in Syria and Iraq. We continue to support the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and have launched a global campaign to bring Daesh to justice. We are working with the Government of Iraq to bring a proposal before the UN to gather and preserve evidence in Iraq as a first step.

My Lords, tomorrow is Red Wednesday, when Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, a synagogue in north London and many other public buildings, including the Palace of Westminster, will be floodlit in red to commemorate all those who have been subjected to genocide or persecuted for their faith. Does the Minister recall that on 20 April the House of Commons declared that ISIS is responsible for genocide, the crime above all crimes? Can she therefore tell us how many British-born ISIS recruits have been brought to justice in British courts? Further, with Russia’s withdrawal last week from the International Criminal Court, are we talking to other Governments about the creation of a freestanding regional tribunal to bring to justice those who have been responsible for these crimes of genocide?

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked several important questions and I will try to encapsulate them. Perhaps I may first comment with regard to Russia. When Russia grabbed the headlines about leaving the ICC, it was when I was going to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. I was perfectly well aware that the Russians had never ratified, although they had signed, the initial treaty—they made a play of the headlines, but there we are.

As regards the prosecution of Daesh fighters, it is the case that these have already begun, and I can certainly write to the noble Lord with details of the cases that have been taken in this country. However, around 60 countries have legislation in place to prosecute and penalise foreign terrorist fighters for their activities, and to date at least 50 countries have prosecuted or arrested such fighters or facilitators. On the matter of how a tribunal might be set up, it is possible of course that some form of international or hybrid justice mechanism may prove to be appropriate, but it is too early—and not for us alone—to prejudge that.

My Lords, as the order of scale of the genocidal crimes perpetrated by Daesh becomes ever clearer, are Her Majesty’s Government aware that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recently called on the International Criminal Court to accept the existing jurisdiction that it has to prosecute foreign fighters complicit in the atrocities? Can my noble friend tell me whether Her Majesty’s Government will assist the International Criminal Court in that endeavour?

My Lords, my noble friend is right about the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. When I was in The Hague last week, I made it clear both to the president of the ICC and the chief prosecutor that the UK continues fully to respect the independence of the Office of the Prosecutor to determine which situations are subject to preliminary examination. I emphasised, both publicly and privately, that the United Kingdom has a fully co-operative relationship with the ICC and an obligation to respond to all requests for assistance from the Office of the Prosecutor, and will do so.

My Lords, as well as punishing existing genocide, is there not a case for trying to prevent genocide in the future by tackling its precursor, which is frequently an education system that actively preaches discrimination against minorities? Can the Minister use her influence with DfID to ensure that our aid budget is used positively to help countries preach tolerance within their communities but at the very least to ensure that none of it is used actively to preach discrimination against minorities?

My Lords, the DfID aid budget is indeed used to ensure that those who need humanitarian aid receive it but also to address the issue of education. For example, a preliminary project in Iraq is looking at how to ensure that teachers are able to deliver education in a way that means that the next generation will not have some of the prejudices that have unfortunately been seen in some—only some—of the present generation. The Government of Iraq work very closely with us for peace and reconciliation.

My Lords, what further discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with other members of the Security Council, particularly Russia and China, about the suffering of minorities at the hands of Daesh? What discussions do they plan to have with the incoming United States Administration?

My Lords, following the launch by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in September of the global campaign to bring Daesh to justice, we ensured that we had discussions with the other members of the Security Council—who were already aware of what was about to happen. We are making good progress in discussions across the United Nations on designing a system whereby evidence can be collected to bring Daesh to justice. Although I know that we have our differences with Russia over the way in which it has carried out some of its activities in Syria, I am hopeful that it may be in a position to support a process of bringing forward evidence in conjunction with the Government of Iraq—because it is Iraq led—so that the United Nations can then have a resolution before it which could be accepted by all.

I welcome what the Minister has said regarding the commission of inquiry. Just to amplify the last point, how are the Government building a consensus for that? I acknowledge the difficulty at the United Nations, but is not the first step surely to get wider support for that commission of inquiry?

My Lords, I think that I must be clearer in my answer and differentiate between the commission of inquiry, which we fully support and which continues as it is, and the work that we will now undertake with the Government of Iraq to present a resolution to the United Nations which would focus on collecting an evidence base. That is a different process. Our diplomats both in the United Nations and around the world are working hard to achieve support for that, including with our allies in the United States.

My Lords, while members of ISIS responsible for open slave markets and the systematic humiliation of Yazidi and Christian women must be brought to justice, does the Minister agree that the systematic bombing—to near extinction—of the people of Syria by both Russia and the West is also a war crime for supposed strategic interests? Does she also agree that the constant repetition of the mantra that Assad must go does nothing whatever to address the underlying religious tensions?

No, my Lords, I do not agree. It is the case that 68 members of the global coalition have come together in a signal of international intent to ensure that there is a government in Syria chosen by the Syrian people. It is Assad who is the block upon that: he is the major cause of the conflict and the major cause of death for those who have died—between 85% and 90%. He provides a rallying cry for Daesh. I am afraid that on this occasion, although on many others I can agree with the noble Lord, he and I will have to have different opinions.

Successful Conclusion of Campaign To Provide BBC World Service Transmissions to The Korean Peninsula. Also reports on human rights violations in North Korea

Lord Alton of Liverpool, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea:

 

As Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, I welcome today’s announcement by the BBC of a Korean-language World Service. The announcement follows many years of work by the APPG and others, and we congratulate the BBC and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on making the correct decision for the people of North Korea.

This is a practical and overdue step in breaking the information blockade that engulfs North Korea – and fulfils our duties under Article 19 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights – to ensure unimpeded free access to information and news.

Whether in the dark days of Nazi occupied Europe or in remote parts of the world today, the BBC World Service has always provides access to truthful reporting and given people hope in times of oppression and despair. Mikael Gorbachev once said that even he relied on the BBC to learn what was really going on in the world while Aung San Suu Kyi said that the BBC World Service kept hope alive during her years of house arrest in Burma.

In July 2014, I initiated a wide-ranging House of Lords debate on the BBC World Service. In that speech, my colleague, Lord Eames, stated:

‘I visited North Korea…From a most unlikely source, there was a remark that will live with me for a very long time. Obviously, I cannot disclose the complete circumstances, but the words speak for themselves. “Where”, he said to me, “is the BBC?”. If you knew the person who said that, the circumstances and the position that he held, it would set the balance right of many of the impressions that we have of what is going on in North Korea. Those words speak louder than statistics, transmission problems and the facilities needed, and I convey them to the House with great feeling’.

North Korea is a country where access to foreign media is prohibited and accessing such media is punishable by barbaric sentences. Today, the BBC and the United Kingdom Government have taken a stand against the censorship and repression practiced by the North Korean Government. Free speech, objective news, and voices from the outside world will now travel from London to the darkest corners of North Korea.
Over the past decade, the APPG has listened to many calls from exiled North Koreans to send information to their compatriots north of the 38th parallel. This call has now been heard. A mistake which has often been made is to believe that to engage with North Koreans, one must deal with the North Korean Government. Our approach at the APPG has differed. We have instead listened to the knowledge and stories of the 30,000 North Koreans who have escaped their homeland. Some of these exiles have bravely addressed our group in Parliament and their stories have undoubtedly inspired today’s BBC service and will go on to challenge a sixty year old status-quo on the Korean peninsula.

The work of the APPG has long-established the increasing desire of North Koreans to know what is happening in the world outside. Escapees say that significant numbers risk imprisonment and even execution to consume foreign media. But try as they may, the North Korean Government has been unable to put the information genie back in the bottle.

In 2014, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Justice Michael Kirby, detailed ‘an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought’ as well as ‘the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association’ in North Korea. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists that citizens have a right to access news and information.

For the people of North Korea, I am pleased that breaking their information blockade and upholding their given rights is to become a central pillar of UK foreign policy and BBC practice. From the Soviet Union to Burma, the BBC has shown that broadcasting can inspire and broaden the horizons of the repressed.

Facing the challenge of North Korea is an urgent diplomatic and political problem, but it is also a moral obligation. A BBC World Service in the Korean-language should come as a sledgehammer to the North Korean Government’s information blockade and inspire those who will one day lead a new North Korea into the light.

Link: https://appgnk.org/2016/11/16/lord-alton-bbc-world-service-and-north-korea/

 ———————————————————————————————————————-

November 2016:

  • NORTH KOREA: Over 75 percent of Christians persecuted in North Korea don’t survive their punishments
  • By Czarina Ong
  • Reports obtained from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, a South Korean non-profit organisation, showed that over 65,000 people have already been persecuted for their faith in North Korea. From that number, close to 99 percent of the 11,370 defectors confirmed that there is absolutely no religious freedom under Kim Jong-un’s leadership.Meanwhile, the group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) released a report called “Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea” in September revealing that members of religious minorities suspected of state crimes are “being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot.”“A policy of guilt by association applies, meaning that the relatives of Christians are also detained regardless of whether they share the Christian belief. Even North Koreans who have escaped to China, and who are or become Christians, are often repatriated and subsequently imprisoned in a political prison camp,” the CSW report stated.As a result, North Koreans don’t enjoy the freedom of expressing their religious beliefs. If they try to do so, they are subjected to discrimination, detention, and all sorts of inhumane treatment.
  • The report added that Kim Jong-un sees religious belief as a major threat to his leadership. Thus, he requires people to acknowledge him as their nation’s “supreme leader.”
  • As if the torture isn’t bad enough, the North Korean government even goes a step further by punishing the relatives of these Christians and members of other religious groups.
  • What’s worse, over 75 percent of Christians persecuted from their faith do not survive their punishments, The Christian Post reported. This is why only 1.2 percent of the defectors engaged in secret religious activities while they were still in North Korea.
  • Christian Today (12.11.2016) – http://bit.ly/2fBKxDq – Christians don’t fare very well in North Korea. Human rights groups are giving grim reports on the treatment of religious minorities in the East Asian country, saying that over 75 percent of those who are subjected to torture, imprisonment and all sorts of punishment do not live to tell their tales.
  • Posted In Freedom of Religion and Belief
  • ———————————————————————-

Chilling testimony of the evils of North Korea’s regime

Also see the web site of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea:

http://appgnk.org/

New report launched at Westminster on the lack of religious freedom in North Korea:

Read the full report and executive summary at:

https://freedomdeclared.org/news/appgs-report-persecution-north-korea-published/

Human rights 4

On 10 December – international human rights day – the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG) published the findings of its Parliamentary Inquiry into persecution in North Korea. The report, Religion and Belief in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, includes witness accounts of the horrific human rights abuses suffered by religious and belief minorities in the country, which often go unheard because of the secrecy of the regime.
It concludes: “The DPRK systematically oppresses freedom of religion or belief, and Christians in particular are targeted by the regime and subjected to chronic human rights abuses, amounting to crimes against humanity.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to the British Government, including that it continue pursuing the referral of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea to the International Criminal Court to account for its treatment of its citizens.

It also recommends that the UK invest in long-term strategic engagement with North Korea. Some of the practical suggestions include: educational exchanges, investing in the 30,000 North Korean people who have managed to escape, breaking the information blockade, critical engagement on human rights and the re-instigation of the ‘Six Party Talks’. Further, it urges the BBC World Service to establish a radio broadcast to the Korean Peninsula, in both English and Korean languages, giving citizens a window out of their closed world.

The report was launched at a meeting chaired by Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Vice Chair of the APPG on North Korea. Those present heard of routine, horrific suffering at the hands of the DPRK state, with the Rev. Stuart Windsor, of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, sharing that “Between 1997 and 2007 an estimated one million North Koreans died or were killed in prison while the West has been silent”. The meeting also heard of the ingrained suspicion of religion from Kim, Joo-il, who told how “In North Korea, anti-religious education starts at six-seven years – people are taught to antagonise religion”. While Zoe Smith, of Open Doors UK & Ireland, highlighted a strong message of the APPG’s report, that the current situation in the DPRK “needs the ‘world citizen’ to step up to the table and say ‘enough’s enough’. Change is needed.”

Baroness Berridge, chairman of the APPG, commented: “For the past sixty-plus years, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has committed egregious human rights violations – the details of which would turn the stomach of even the most hardened person.

This includes banishing those who follow a religion to remote places, incarcerating them, subjecting them to torture in labour camps, and murdering Christians for merely possessing a Bible…For many years North Korea has been viewed as an impossible case, but now the international community is finally beginning to afford the country the attention its people so desperately need.”

Lord Alton, chairman of the APPG on North Korea and Vice-chair of the APPG on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, highlighted that “Christmas spent in a North Korean gulag will be just another day of grotesque suffering”, concluding that “We who enjoy political and religious freedom; free to practice our faith; free to celebrate Christmas with our loved ones, must speak out and take practical actions to help bring the long winter of oppression to an end. This Report should be essential Christmas reading for Governments, MPs, and policy makers”.

December 11th – Evidence Given at Westminster on the Plight of Disabled People in north Korea: Testimony of a Disabled North Korean Escapee

Ji-Seong-Ho-a-former-North-Korean-defector

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/11288881/British-Government-duped-into-funding-North-Korean-athletes-at-London-2012-Paralympics.html


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/11286517/North-Korea-leaves-disabled-to-die.html

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/north-korea-castrates-dwarfs-makes-4790278

Also visit the web site of the All Party Parliamentary group on North Korea: http://appgnk.org/

The unprecedented publication of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report calling for the prosecution of North Korea’s leaders for crimes against humanity.

The unprecedented publication of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report calling for the prosecution of North Korea’s leaders for crimes against humanity.

400,000 are estimated to have died in North Korea's camps over the past 30 years.

400,000 are estimated to have died in North Korea’s camps over the past 30 years.

A United Nations Commission of Inquiry has called for the leaders of North Korea to be
prosecuted at The Hague for crimes against humanity. Lord Alton of Liverpool has
chaired a parliamentary committee on North Korea for 10 years. The COI report
underlines and corroborates the witness statements about unspeakable cruelty that Lord
Alton’s committee has heard. This report may be the catalyst for global action to force
change in North Korea.
His reaction follows details of two forthcoming meetings at Westminster, where you can learn more:
——————————————————————————————————
Tuesday 4th March 4-5pm Committee Room 15 (note change from CR 18)
APPG North Korea and Open Doors

Fiona Bruce MP is a Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea

Fiona Bruce MP is a Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea

A briefing on Christians in North Korea, chaired by Fiona Bruce MP, with speakers including a survivor of a North Korean prison camp and a field expert on North Korea. It is very timely to draw attention to North Korea following the publication of the UN’s first ever report on human rights abuses in North Korea.

Please RSVP to

advocacy@opendoorsuk.org or for further enquires please call 01993 777300

Then on Tuesday 11 March at 5.30pm in Committee Room 4A.

Following the publication this week of the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea will hold a discussion focused on the way forward, chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool.

The speakers will include:∙

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, former chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic;∙

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC will be among the speakers

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC will be among the speakers

Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch;∙

Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and a co-founder of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK)

There will also be a screening of a new film on North Korea produced by Human Rights Watch.

Please come, and invite others. Both meetings are open to the public

——————————————————————————————————

North Korea and the United Nations Commission of Inquiry

Two recent events, inextricably linked, are harbingers of significant change in North Korea, and they pose significant questions to the international community about how best to respond.

First, in December last, came the execution of Chang Song-thaek, the uncle of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

Chang’s death was both a sign of Kim Jong-un’s ruthlessness but also a sign of weakness and fear.

Chang’s death was both a sign of Kim Jong-un’s ruthlessness but also a sign of weakness and fear.

Chang’s death was both a sign of Kim Jong-un’s ruthlessness but also a sign of weakness and fear.

Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong Un

Chang Song-thaek had to be killed because he had questioned an ideology which has paralysed economic development, incarcerated hundreds of thousands of its citizens, and which has conferred pariah status on the country. His execution became the most high profile of a succession of killings, symptomatic of a system which routinely murders and imprisons its own people, and which subjugates them through indoctrination and propaganda.

One million men under arms. Military expenditure could be used for development and for feeding a malnourished people.

One million men under arms. Military expenditure could be used for development and for feeding a malnourished people.

Now, two months later comes the unprecedented publication of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report calling for the prosecution of North Korea’s leaders for crimes against humanity.

After a year collecting evidence from North Korean escapees, the COI compared the country’s egregious violations of human rights with those of the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s and has called for their referral to the International Criminal Court. Despite their angry protestations, the leadership should be fearfully reflecting that, as at Nuremberg and at the Hague, a day of reckoning may one day come.

The ICC - Despite angry protestations, the leadership should be fearfully reflecting that, as at Nuremberg and at the Hague, a day of reckoning may one day come.

The ICC – Despite angry protestations, the leadership should be fearfully reflecting that, as at Nuremberg and at the Hague, a day of reckoning may one day come.

Unlike their former allies in Burma – who have also faced allegations of crimes against humanity but have begun to alter course – the North Korean regime has eschewed the path of reform, staking their future on the world’s indifference. It is a huge miscalculation.

Mr. Justice Kirby, the highly respected Australian Judge, who chaired the Commission, and his fellow Commissioners, say in their 400-page report that North Korea’s crimes against humanity are sui generis: “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”

Judge Michael Kirby

Judge Michael Kirby

They detail what they describe as “unspeakable atrocities” and spell out their scope in graphic detail:

“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

Judge Kirby has drawn parallels with Auschwitz, with Hitler and with Stalin and says that the country’s leadership and the system which it sustains – “policies established at the highest level of State” – must be held to account and brought to justice.

Judge Kirby has drawn parallels with Auschwitz, with Hitler and with Stalin and says that the country’s leadership and the system which it sustains - “policies established at the highest level of State” – must be held to account and brought to justice.

Judge Kirby has drawn parallels with Auschwitz, with Hitler and with Stalin and says that the country’s leadership and the system which it sustains – “policies established at the highest level of State” – must be held to account and brought to justice.

Chang Song-thaek high profile execution is certainly redolent of the period to which Michael Kirby alludes.

Chang was seen as a potential alternative. He had been the power behind the throne and was close to China and admiring of its reform programme. China’s anger at his killing sits alongside their barely concealed contempt for an “ally” which routinely aborts North Korean babies, fathered by Chinese men, who are regarded as a contamination of Korean blood line.

Chang’s execution – some unsubstantiated reports in China allege that he was thrown to the dogs ; the purges; the reign of terror; the falsifying of history; the show trials; the network of gulags which incarcerate between 200,000 and 300,000 people; the estimated 400,000 people who have died in the prison camps in the last 30 years; and the attempt to obliterate religious belief and all political dissent; all bear all the hallmarks of a regime which has carefully studied, admires and imitates the visceral brutality of Joseph Stalin.

North Korea's Gulags

North Korea’s Gulags

Not for nothing, on a visit to North Korea, was I shown the bullet proof railway carriage which Stalin gave as a gift to Kim Il Sung.

But the regime has more recent heroes and I was also shown the gifts of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. My guide seemed blissfully unaware of the fate of the Ceaușescus, asking me “are they unwell?” when I asked her if she knew what had happened to them.

My guide seemed blissfully unaware of the fate of the Ceaușescus, asking me “are they unwell?” when I asked her if she knew what had happened to them.

My guide seemed blissfully unaware of the fate of the Ceaușescus, asking me “are they unwell?” when I asked her if she knew what had happened to them.

Unlike the North Korean public – sadly denied access to BBC World Service broadcasts, as they do not broadcast to the Korean Peninsula – the whole world knows what happened to the Ceaușescus. Thanks to the COI, the free world can no longer claim that it had no idea of what happens inside North Korea or the scale of the depredations in North Korea.

One of the relatively new factors which has made possible the COI’s report are the first-hand witness statement s to which the Commission has had access.

  One of the relatively new factors which has made possible the COI’s report are the first-hand witness statement s to which the Commission has had access.

One of the relatively new factors which has made possible the COI’s report are the first-hand witness statement s to which the Commission has had access.

Just as North Korea can no longer completely keep out information and contact from beyond its borders, so the presence of around 30,000 North Koreans living in democratic countries has been a game-changer. The first-hand evidence of escapees has opened the eyes of the world and aroused the anger of many who were previously disinterested.

The first-hand evidence of escapees has opened the eyes of the world and aroused the anger of many who were  previously disinterested.

The first-hand evidence of escapees has opened the eyes of the world and aroused the anger of many who were previously disinterested.

It is now ten years since I urged the British Parliament to highlight human rights violations in North Korea with the same emphasis we place on security issues. Perhaps the COI report will finally make this happen.

As the world discovered during the Helsinki Process, after the West and the Soviet Bloc had reached a military stalemate, human rights engagement (at a number of different levels) tipped the scales and brought fundamental change.

The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 linked foreign policy to basic human rights principles. A firm stand on human rights, linked to a strong non-appeasement military policy, is the catalyst for change. That is why I have argued for Helsinki with a Korean face, and why I strongly welcome the COI’s report.

We should enter negotiations which guarantee human rights, such as free exchange of people and religious liberties ... By linking the present crisis with the human rights violations, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. To do nothing about North Korea would be the most dangerous option of all.”

We should enter negotiations which guarantee human rights, such as free exchange of people and religious liberties … By linking the present crisis with the human rights violations, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. To do nothing about North Korea would be the most dangerous option of all.”

Ten years ago I told the House of Lords that:

“By championing the cause of those who are suffering in North Korea, the international community will create the conditions for the establishment of democracy ….Learning the lessons of [the] Helsinki [process], we must do nothing to licence the regime in Pyongyang to commit further atrocities against its own people. We should enter negotiations which guarantee human rights, such as free exchange of people and religious liberties … By linking the present crisis with the human rights violations, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. To do nothing about North Korea would be the most dangerous option of all.”

During the intervening decade I have chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea and have often felt frustrated that we have pursued that dangerous option of doing nothing at all. As Judge Kirby discovered once confronted by the personal accounts of those who have suffered at the regime’s hands doing nothing cannot be an option.

North Korean Poet, Mr.Jang, has broadcast on BBC World Service - which cannot be heard on the Korean peninsula.

North Korean Poet, Mr.Jang, has broadcast on BBC World Service – which cannot be heard on the Korean peninsula.

Part Two of the COI report relies heavily on personal stories. It cites evidence given by individual victims and witnesses, including the harrowing treatment meted out to political prisoners, some of whom said they would catch snakes and mice to feed malnourished babies. Others told of watching family members being murdered in prison camps, and of defenceless inmates being used for martial arts practice.

This is of a piece with the accounts which my Committee has been given.

It is more than ten years since I met Yoo Sang-joon. Yoo’s story was particularly harrowing and disturbing. He told me how he had seen his wife, and all bar one of his children shot dead. He subsequently escaped across the border to China with his one remaining son. The boy died en route.

The bravery of Yoo Sang-joon

The bravery of Yoo Sang-joon

Yoo Sang-joon himself became an Asian Raoul Wallenberg – the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Yoo Sang-joon bravely re-entered North Korea and has helped many people flee across the border. This led to his arrest in China in 2007, but, on compassionate grounds, China relented, allowing him to be repatriated to Seoul knowing that in the North he would be executed.

My Committee heard the story of Lee Keumsoon. Her death camp supervisors stripped off Lee’s clothes to establish whether she was pregnant. Like others who have become pregnant in China she was forcibly aborted.

The dignity, integrity and bearing of the women and men who have suffered so much is striking.

  Shin Dong Hyok told my Parliamentary Committee that as a child, he witnessed fellow child prisoners being killed through accidents and beatings. He saw his mother and brother executed in Camp 14.

Shin Dong Hyok told my Parliamentary Committee that as a child, he witnessed fellow child prisoners being killed through accidents and beatings. He saw his mother and brother executed in Camp 14.

None more so that Shin Dong-Hyok, whose story is movingly told by Blaine Harden in “Escape from Camp 14”, extracts of which were serialised in 2012 by BBC Radio Four. I have now met Shin several times. It would be impossible not to be deeply affected by both his story and by his demeanour. Despite everything that has been done to him and his family he still loves his country and wants the best for North Korea and its people.

Shin is nearly thirty and spent the first 23 years of his life in North Korea’s Political prison Camp 14, where he was born. Camp 14 is one of five sprawling prison camps in the mountains of North Korea, about fifty five miles north of Pyongyang. No one born in Camp 14 or any other political prison camp – “the absolute control zone” – had previously escaped from North Korea. These are places where the hard labour, the malnutrition, or freezing conditions, minus 20 Celsius in winter, will often get you before the firing squad.

Shin told my Parliamentary Committee that as a child, he witnessed fellow child prisoners being killed through accidents and beatings. He told me that children and parents were required to watch and report on one another. He was forced to work from the age of 10 or 11.

His parents were sent to the camp in 1965 as political prisoners. Thirty years later, after family members tried to escape from the camp, Shin was interrogated in an underground torture chamber.

Following this failed escape attempt, he was forced, on April 6th 1996, to watch as his mother and brother were publicly executed – common in the camps.

Guards bound the hands and feet of the 13-year-old boy and roasted him over a fire. The burns still scar Shin’s back, the memories have indelibly scarred his mind; and he remains haunted by the double life he was forced to lead and the lies he had to tell to survive.

In 2005, having been tortured, mistreated and discriminated against as the son and brother of a declared traitor – and suffering from constant hunger – Shin and a compatriot tried to escape.
His friend died on the barbed wire – not realising that it carried a high electric current – but, although he was badly burnt, Shin literally climbed over the corpse of his friend and for 25 days he secretly travelled towards the Yalu River and over the border into China.

In Shanghai he found a way over the wall of the South Korean Consulate and, after 6 months there, he was allowed to travel to Seoul. Physically and emotionally Shin was deeply scarred.
NKShin
Shin Dong Hyok: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/un-witness-describes-horrors-of-north-korea/
and also scroll down to watch “Becoming Human: Shin’s New Life” halfway down.

Shin was joined at our Parliamentary Hearing by Ahn Myeong-Cheol, aged 37, who worked as a prison guard at four political prison camps – also within the “absolute control zone” between 1987 and 1994.

He described how his father killed himself when he realised that he had been heard criticising the regime; his mother and brothers were sent to prison camps; Ahn was re-educated and became a prison guard in the “absolute control zones.

Vividly and harrowingly he described how he witnessed guard dogs imported from Russia tear three children to pieces and how the camp warden congratulated the guard who had trained the dogs; he said that even when prisoners died they are punished- their corpses and remains simply left to disintegrate and rot away on the open ground.

Particularly harrowing was the evidence given by two diminutive North Korean women who, speaking through an interpreter, recounted their experiences. From time to time their stories were interrupted as the women wept.

One escapee told parliamentarians: “I couldn’t bear to die with my children in my arms. As long as I was alive I couldn’t just watch them die.”

One escapee told parliamentarians: “I couldn’t bear to die with my children in my arms. As long as I was alive I couldn’t just watch them die.”

Jeon Young-Ok is 40. When she was a little girl her mother took the family across the Tumen River to try and flee to China. They were caught and her father and brother imprisoned. Her mother died of a heart disease and left her three children alone. Years later, now married with three children of her own, Jeon managed to make furtive forays from North Korea into China to secure money and food for her children. Twice she was apprehended and jailed.

Movingly she told the parliamentary hearing: “I couldn’t bear to die with my children in my arms. As long as I was alive I couldn’t just watch them die.” This was an allusion to the starvation of the 1990s when anything from 1 to 2 million North Koreans starved to death.

In China Mrs.Jeon remained at risk “nowhere was safe.” If she was caught the Chinese would send her back. And this is exactly what happened to her. Caught in 1997 and again in 2001 – she was sent to Northern Pyeong-an Detention Camp.

“I was put in a camp where I saw and experienced unimaginable things. We were made to pull the beards from the faces of elderly people. Prison guards treated them like animals. The women were forced to strip. A group of us were thrown just one blanket and we were forced to pull it from one another as we tried to hide our shame. I felt like an animal, no better than a pig. I didn’t want to live.”

“I felt like an animal, no better than a pig. I didn’t want to live.”

Jeon Young-Ok added: “They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it.”

“They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it.

“They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it.”

Despite all this, she harbours no hatred for her country and shows extraordinary fortitude and equanimity: “The past is not important but these terrible things are still happening in North Korea. These camps should be abolished forever.”

In 2011 Mrs Kim Hye Sook gave evidence to my committee and described a normal working day in “Camp 18″. She recounted the manual labour undertaken by prisoners and scarcity of food provisions and the regular public executions and cannibalism which she saw over her 27 years imprisonment during which she saw the death of her son in the camp.

Here are the stories of religious persecution, the lack of freedom of movement, the lack of labour rights, the non-implementation of legal codes, the lack of a fair trial, the lack of judicial oversight of detention facilities and the severe mistreatment of repatriated persons- mainly repatriated from China.

Park Ji says she was sold to a Chinese farmer. Any woman who becomes pregnant and is carrying a child with a Chinese father will be forcibly aborted so as not to

Park Ji says she was sold to a Chinese farmer. Any woman who becomes pregnant and is carrying a child with a Chinese father will be forcibly aborted so as not to “pollute the blood line.”

Throughout the hearings which I have chaired I have been struck by the consistent picture which has emerged of appalling violence against women in detention facilities and the chilling accounts of life in prisons and labour camps. The individual stories bring home the enormity of the suffering that lies behind individual statistics. The COI report brings many of these dark stories into the light.

Professor Muntarbhorn described North Korea’s human rights record as “abysmal” due to “the repressive nature of the power base: at once cloistered, controlled and callous.” The exploitation of ordinary people, he said, “has become the pernicious prerogative of the ruling elite”.

Professor Muntarbhorn described North Korea’s human rights record as “abysmal” due to “the repressive nature of the power base: at once cloistered, controlled and callous.” The exploitation of ordinary people, he said, “has become the pernicious prerogative of the ruling elite”.

My Committee also took evidence from Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the previous United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea. Like his successor, Indonesia’s former Attorney General Marzuki Darusman and, like the COI, they were refused all access to North Korea. It is often said that the North Korean regime has managed to exist behind a wall of secrecy; that it treats the international community with contempt by refusing to allow outside observers into the country

Professor Muntarbhorn described North Korea’s human rights record as “abysmal” due to “the repressive nature of the power base: at once cloistered, controlled and callous.” The exploitation of ordinary people, he said, “has become the pernicious prerogative of the ruling elite”.

All eight of Muntarbhorn’s reports to the UN detailed an extraordinarily grave situation, in which he says the abuses are “both systematic and pervasive” and “egregious and endemic”, and he has concluded that “it is incumbent upon the national authorities and the international community to address the impunity factor which has enabled such violations to exist and/or persist for a long time.”

The COI  comments in its conclusions that “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity. This raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community” and it trenchantly tells the international community that it “must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the DPRK has manifestly failed to do so.”

The COI comments in its conclusions that “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity. This raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community” and it trenchantly tells the international community that it “must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the DPRK has manifestly failed to do so.”

Little wonder the COI comments in its conclusions that “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity. This raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community” and it trenchantly tells the international community that it “must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the DPRK has manifestly failed to do so.”

If we are to accept the responsibility which the COI places upon us, the Korean Diaspora (which includes 3-4 million Korean Americans) must take a more prominent role. Just as the Jewish community galvanised international opinion about life in the Soviet Gulags, the Korean Diaspora needs to catch our collective imagination and create a worldwide movement for change.

Alexander Solzhynytsyn.Solzhenitsyn remarked that “someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free”

Alexander Solzhynytsyn.Solzhenitsyn remarked that “someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free”

In thinking about the harrowing accounts in the COI report it is hard not to be reminded of life in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago – the archipelago of labour camps and prison camps spread across the USSR – which were known only to those who were unfortunate enough to enter them.

Solzhenitsyn remarked that “someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free” and that is undoubtedly the case with those who have bravely risked so much in telling their stories to the UN Commission of Inquiry.

As it comes to consider the COI report, the question for the United Nations Security Council – and perhaps especially for China – is whether it will continue to be the silent witness to evil deeds. Before deliberating it should re-read the 1948 Universal declaration of Human Rights. It would find that in North Korea is in breach of virtually every one of its articles.

Whether, by referring the findings to the International Criminal Court, sequestrating assets, setting up reparation funds, using economic leverage, and doing all it can to break the information blockade into the country, it deserves to be held in universal contempt if it now fails to show the necessary resolve to act on the findings of its own Commission of Inquiry .

NK Human Rights are Not Optional

The United Nations deserves to be held in universal contempt if it now fails to show the necessary resolve to act on the findings of its own Commission of Inquiry .

The United Nations deserves to be held in universal contempt if it now fails to show the necessary resolve to act on the findings of its own Commission of Inquiry .

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Also see:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA0ObXx60Ng&feature=youtu.be

http://amnesty.org/en/news/north-korea-un-security-council-must-act-crimes-against-humanity-2014-02-17

http://www.hrw.org/node/123287

For Immediate Release
***To view video feature and download raw footage:
http://multimedia.hrw.org/distribute/gixryujock

North Korea: UN Should Act on Atrocities Report
New Video Shows Horrors of North Korea Through Eyewitness Testimony

(Geneva, February 17, 2014) – A new United Nations report has found that crimes against humanity are occurring in North Korea and calls for an international tribunal to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, Human Rights Watch said today.

The report, by a UN Commission of Inquiry appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013, recommends that the UN Security Council refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights carry out investigations. The three person commission, which was chaired by Australian jurist Michael Kirby, will formally present its findings to the Human Rights Council on or around March 17, 2014. The council will then consider a resolution to act on the commission’s recommendations.

“This shocking report should open the eyes of the UN Security Council to the atrocities that plague the people of North Korea and threaten stability in the region,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch. “By focusing only on the nuclear threat in North Korea, the Security Council is overlooking the crimes of North Korean leaders who have overseen a brutal system of gulags, public executions, disappearances, and mass starvation.”

The commission’s report finds that crimes against humanity were committed in North Korea over a multi-decade period “pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State,” and included “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, forcible transfer of persons, enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” The report notes in particular “a systematic and widespread attack against all populations that are considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership.”

New video features eyewitness accounts of atrocities

To coincide with the release of the commission’s report, Human Rights Watch today released a video, “North Korea: Tales from Camp Survivors,” with interviews of North Koreans who survived years of abuse while incarcerated in political prison camps (kwanliso), including systematic use of beatings, food deprivation and starvation, and public executions, to control those held there. The film includes interviews with former camp guards detailing camp administration and atrocities. Regarding these types of camps, the commission found: “The unspeakable atrocities that are being committed against inmates of the kwanliso political prison camps resemble the horrors of camps that totalitarian states established during the 20th century.”

The commission’s report also finds that crimes against humanity were committed “against starving populations” in the context of mass famines in the 1990s, through “decisions and policies taken for the purposes of sustaining the present political system, in full awareness that such decisions would exacerbate starvation and related deaths amongst much of the population.” In addition, the report finds that a widespread campaign of abductions of South Korean and Japanese citizens by North Korean agents, primarily during the 1970s and early 1980s, constitutes crimes against humanity.

“The devastating findings of this inquiry should not be ignored,” Roth said. “Since the crimes were perpetrated by state actors, only an international tribunal can properly carry out criminal investigations aimed at holding perpetrators accountable.”

Human Rights Watch urged the Human Rights Council to endorse the commission’s recommendations by adopting a strong resolution on North Korea during its March session, and task the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with transmitting the report directly to the UN Security Council and General Assembly for action.

The report concludes that information it collected constitutes “reasonable grounds. . .to merit a criminal investigation by a competent national or international organ of justice,” which could include the ICC, or an ad hoc tribunal created by the UN Security Council or by the consent of UN member states.

Besides referring North Korea to the ICC, the report notes that the UN Security Council has the power to set up a special tribunal for North Korea. This would be an appropriate step since many of the crimes documented by the commission occurred before 2002, when the ICC statute came into force, Human Rights Watch said. Tribunals created with UN Security Council resolutions have been set up for crimes committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Independent of the Security Council, the report notes that the UN General Assembly could pass a resolution aimed at establishing an ad hoc tribunal operated by a set of willing countries. Such a tribunal, set up by UN member states without Security Council authorization, would lack compulsory power under the UN Charter but could carry out many of the same functions as a Security Council-authorized tribunal.

Human Rights Watch urged Security Council members to immediately invite the Commission of Inquiry to brief them on their findings, and called on other countries to support efforts to achieve accountability for crimes committed in North Korea.

“The UN was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War precisely to address this kind of massive abuse,” Roth said. “The atrocities described in this report are a profound challenge to the founding ideals of the UN and should shock the organization into bold action. The suffering and loss endured by victims demand swift and definitive action aimed at bringing those responsible to justice.”

For Selected accounts from the UN report, please see below.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on North Korea, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/nkorea

For more information, please contact:

In Geneva, Juliette de Rivero (English, French, Spanish): +41-79-640-1649 (mobile); or derivej@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @juliederivero

In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-7908-728-333 (mobile); or adamsb@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @BradAdamsHRW

In Boston, Phil Robertson (English, Thai): +1-617-698-1230 or robertp@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @Reaproy

In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or siftonj@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @johnsifton

In Tokyo, Kanae Doi (English, Japanese): +81-3-5575-3774; or +81-90-2301-4372 (mobile); or doik@hrw.org

In Brussels, Lotte Leicht (French, German, Danish, English): +32-0273-714-82; or +32-475-681-708 (mobile); or leichtl@hrw.org

Selected accounts from the UN Commission of Inquiry Report

A former guard in a prison for political prisoners told the commission: “Inmates in the [political prison camps] are not treated like human beings. They are never meant to be released […] their record is permanently erased. They are supposed to die in the camp from hard labour. And we were trained to think that those inmates are enemies. So we didn’t perceive them as human beings.”

One prisoner told the commission that he was forced to dispose of over 300 bodies during his 10 years in a camp at Yodok, and described how camp authorities once bulldozed a hill that had been used to bury dead prisoners, to turn it into a corn field: “As the machines tore up the soil, scraps of human flesh reemerged from the final resting place; arms and legs and feet, some still some still stockinged, rolled in waves before the bulldozer. I was terrified. One of friends vomited. …. The guards then hollowed out a ditch and ordered a few detainees to toss in all the corpses and body parts that were visible on the surface.”

The commission found that political prison camp prisoners, which included children and even babies born to prisoners, were only be able to survive “by hunting and gathering insects, rodents and wild plants or finding ways to divert food meant for the guards and farm animals.” One prisoner, describing the effects of the deprivation of food, said: “[The] babies [had] bloated stomachs. [We] cooked snakes and mice to feed these babies and if there was a day that we were able to have a mouse, this was a special diet for us. We had to eat everything alive, every type of meat that we could find; anything that flew, that crawled on the ground. Any grass that grew in the field, we had to eat. That’s the reality of the prison camp.”

A witness, describing what the commission found to be deliberate famine in the 1990s, stated: “We would eat tree bark, and we would get the roots of the cabbage under the ground, but that was just not enough. As time passed, our grandmother and other weak people were just not able to move at all.”

Another said: “So many people died that we didn’t have enough coffins so we borrowed [traditional burial boards] to give them burials. We didn’t have any wood to even give tombstones. That’s how many people died.”

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Calls in Parliament for BBC World Service Transmissions to the Korea Peninsula

Calls in Parliament for the BBC World Service to transmit to the Korean Pensinsula

Calls in Parliament for the BBC World Service to transmit to the Korean Pensinsula


BBC World Service
Questions
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, before handing over to the BBC control of decisions involving future BBC World Service transmissions, they undertook any research into the benefit of broadcasting to all 75 million people on the Korean peninsula and the Korean-speaking Chinese province of Jilin; what is their response to internal research by the BBC that “The more business leaders know and consume the BBC, the more likely they are to trade with the UK”; and whether they will ask the BBC to evaluate the additional trade the United Kingdom would gain from a new service.[HL6002]

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): There has been and will be no change to the decision making process on BBC World Service language services as a result of the 1 April 2014 transfer to Licence Fee funding. As I said in my 12 March answer (Official Report, 12 March 2014, column 1753), the BBC World Service is editorially, managerially and operationally independent. It is therefore for the World Service, not for the Government, to look into possible benefits of broadcasting to any particular region or in any particular language, and to make proposals on that basis.
When, on 1 April, the World Service moves to Licence Fee funding, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), will continue to approve the opening and closing of the World

25 Mar 2014 : Column WA93

Service’s language services, as he does at present, based on recommendations put to him by the World Service.
The BBC World Service reviewed options for establishment of a Korean language service in late 2013, concluding, as a result of questions of likely audience reach, cost and technical feasibility, that establishment of a Korean language service was not appropriate at this stage.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the reply by the Deputy Prime Minister on 12 March (HC Deb, cols 315–6) concerning proposals to initiate BBC World Service transmissions to the Korean peninsula, and his remark that “I understand that at the end of last year it (the BBC) decided, following a review, that it could not continue to offer an effective and affordable Korean language service”, what Korean language service had previously been offered to the Korean people; for how long it had made such transmissions; what it cost; and what savings were made following the review. [HL6003]
Baroness Warsi:I would like to clarify the answer given by the Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Hallam (Mr Clegg) (HC Deb, cols 315–6) concerning proposals to initiate BBC World Service transmissions to the Korean peninsula and his remarks on a review of that. The Review carried out in 2013 was into the viability of a BBC World Service Korean language service. There has not previously been a Korean language service offered by the BBC World Service, so the question of savings from its discontinuation has never arisen.

BBC World Service
Question
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the reply by the Deputy Prime Minister on 12 March (HC Deb, cols 315–6) concerning proposals to initiate BBC World Service transmissions to the Korean peninsula, whether the approval of “new services” remains the prerogative of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.[HL6004]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): As stated in my response to an oral question on 12 March, Official report, column 1753, the Secretary for State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), will continue to approve the opening and closing of the World Service language services, as he does at present, based on recommendations put to him by the World Service.

BBC World Service
Question
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will reconsider their decision not to ask the BBC to transmit the World Service to the Korean Peninsula if the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recommends that they meet their obligations under Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in respect of the broadcast of news and commentary about human rights and democracy to people trapped by an information blockade. [HL4977]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): The British Broadcasting Corporation World Service (BBC WS) is editorially, managerially and operationally independent of Government, so decisions on which new language services they wish to introduce are for them to consider and, if appropriate, to put to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague). As the noble Lord is aware the BBC WS recently reviewed the options for the introduction of a Korean language service and concluded, for a number of reasons, that they could not offer a meaningful, impactful and cost effective service.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea is due to report to the Human Rights Council in March 2014. It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the content of the report before it has been published and until we have had the opportunity to consider its findings and recommendations in full.
BBC World Service
Question
3.06 pm
12 Mar 2014 : Column 1754
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, did the Minister see the comments in yesterday’s edition of the Independent by Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the recent commission of inquiry established by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in North Korea? He said that the extension of BBC World Service transmissions to North Korea—
“a country that has been largely cut off from the rest of the world”—
would make a considerable difference in fighting against those abuses of human rights. Given our Article 19 obligations and the BBC’s historic role in promoting democratic values above the heads of dictators, is this not a moment for the Government to urge the BBC World Service to play its part?
Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord has asked me this question on a number of occasions; indeed I have answered it here from the Dispatch Box and also written to him. As he and other noble Lords may be aware, in 2013 the World Service reviewed the possible options for a Korean language service and concluded after a fact-finding mission that questions of likely audience reach, cost and technical feasibility meant that such a service was not appropriate at this stage. I am aware of the UN commissioner’s report. The noble Lord will be aware that that contained two quite specific approaches to how engagement could happen: the first was through the broadcasting route and the second through encouraging people-to-people contact. We are one of the few countries that has extensive people-to-people contract because of our embassy in North Korea. The UN report also recognised that that is one of the ways in which we can engage in dialogue.

Q9. [902972] Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): On Monday, South Korean newspapers said that North Korea was due to execute 33 people for having had contact with a Christian missionary. Given that a quarter of a million people are in North Korean prison camps, will the Deputy Prime Minister urge the BBC World Service to use its existing transmitters to broadcast into North Korea, especially as more and more North Koreans now have access to radios?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. As he knows, our embassy in Pyongyang continues to engage critically with the
12 Mar 2014 : Column 316
North Korean regime and tries to ensure that there are as many opportunities for dialogue as possible, including information coming into the country. The BBC World Service is of course operationally, editorially and managerially independent. I understand that at the end of last year it decided, following a review, that it could not continue to offer an effective and affordable Korean language service. That is of course a matter for the BBC World Service itself.

Subject: Independent today: BBC World Service – Mr. Justice Kirby intervenes

To view the Video launched at the APPG on North Korea on March 11th 2014 – what BBC World Service Korea might look like – logon as follows:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywDAUhb7POA&feature=youtu.be

Also see:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bbc-can-make-a-difference-in-north-korea–by-broadcasting-world-service-programmes-in-korean-9182594.html

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, did the Minister see the comments in yesterday’s edition of the Independent by Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the recent commission of inquiry established by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in North Korea? He said that the extension of BBC World Service transmissions to North Korea— “a country that has been largely cut off from the rest of the world”— would make a considerable difference in fighting against those abuses of human rights. Given our Article 19 obligations and the BBC’s historic role in promoting democratic values above the heads of dictators, is this not a moment for the Government to urge the BBC World Service to play its part?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord has asked me this question on a number of occasions; indeed I have answered it here from the Dispatch Box and also written to him. As he and other noble Lords may be aware, in 2013 the World Service reviewed the possible options for a Korean language service and concluded after a fact-finding mission that questions of likely audience reach, cost and technical feasibility meant that such a service was not appropriate at this stage. I am aware of the UN commissioner’s report. The noble Lord will be aware that that contained two quite specific approaches to how engagement could happen: the first was through the broadcasting route and the second through encouraging people-to-people contact. We are one of the few countries that has extensive people-to-people contract because of our embassy in North Korea. The UN report also recognised that that is one of the ways in which we can engage in dialogue.

Q9. [902972] Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): On Monday, South Korean newspapers said that North Korea was due to execute 33 people for having had contact with a Christian missionary. Given that a quarter of a million people are in North Korean prison camps, will the Deputy Prime Minister urge the BBC World Service to use its existing transmitters to broadcast into North Korea, especially as more and more North Koreans now have access to radios? The Deputy Prime Minister:

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. As he knows, our embassy in Pyongyang continues to engage critically with the 12 Mar 2014 : Column 316 North Korean regime and tries to ensure that there are as many opportunities for dialogue as possible, including information coming into the country. The BBC World Service is of course operationally, editorially and managerially independent. I understand that at the end of last year it decided, following a review, that it could not continue to offer an effective and affordable Korean language service. That is of course a matter for the BBC World Service itself.

Subject: Independent today: BBC World Service – Mr. Justice Kirby intervenes To view the Video launched at the APPG on North Korea on March 11th 2014 – what BBC World Service Korea might look like – logon as follows:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywDAUhb7POA&feature=youtu.be Also see: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bbc-can-make-a-difference-in-north-korea–by-broadcasting-world-service-programmes-in-korean-9182594.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/opinion/ian-burrell-news-the-north-koreans-can-trust-9179941.html

One of the world’s experts on North Korea has called on the BBC to “be part of the solution” in fighting human rights abuses under Kim Jong-un’s repressive regime by initiating Korean-language broadcasts by the BBC World Service. Michael Kirby, the eminent retired Australian judge who chaired a recent Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea for the United Nations Human Rights Council, told
The Independent that the BBC could make a difference to the lives of people in “a country that has been largely cut off from the rest of the world”.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Mr Kirby said the BBC was in a position to make a difference in North Korea. “Because the BBC World Service is still such a globally respected voice, the revelations in the recent UN COI report demonstrate the special needs, and particular utility, of providing the BBC to the Korean peninsula,” he said.

The COI’s report last month identified “unspeakable atrocities” in North Korea and found there was “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” in the state. The findings, which Mr Kirby said demanded “attention from the international community”, made headlines around the world. He told The Independent: “The strict controls on sources of information in North Korea, revealed in the COI report, surely add to the arguments for an increased outreach by the civilised world to the people of North Korea.

With its hard won reputation for truthful reporting, fair coverage and proper priorities, the BBC has a special potential to be part of the solution.” There is a growing voice in Westminster for a BBC Korea service, broadcasting from South Korea, and on Tuesday at a meeting in the House of Commons a “pilot” BBC Korean show will be played to demonstrate how such a service might sound. Funding of the World Service has passed from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to the BBC.

Previous BBC studies have identified problems in providing a Korean service, especially in relation to the difficulties of the North Korean population tuning in and defying the ban on listening to foreign broadcasts. Foreign Secretary William Hague said recently that it was “not currently possible for the World Service to offer a meaningful, effective and cost-effective service”. But last week Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire gave renewed hope to campaigners for a Korean service when he said: “We have approached the BBC and are waiting for its detailed response.”

The Independent has seen a confidential report on the viability of a BBC Korean service written by the investigative journalist John Sweeney, who infiltrated the country last year by posing as an academic and filming a documentary for Panorama. “The humanitarian need for a BBC Korea Service broadcasting to the whole peninsular is clear,” he concluded. Mr Kirby said his appreciation of the impact of the BBC’s reporting stemmed from his own experience of listening to the “Radio Newsreel” as a schoolboy in Sydney in the 1950s. “It rescued me from a purely national or local perspective of news that was of concern to me.

It helped to make me a citizen of the world,” he said. Although he acknowledged that he had “no knowledge of the competing priorities of the BBC and the cost factors involved”, Mr Kirby said the BBC had the potential to reduce human rights violations in North Korea. “The path to greater human rights respect lies through greater awareness of the world, and of their own country, on the part of the population of North Korea.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool, one of those campaigning for a BBC Korea Service, said: “It seems unbelievable that the BBC World Service, which has been a game changer from the former Soviet bloc to Burma, does not play its part in breaking this information blockade. I hope they will hear Michael Kirby’s message and respond positively.”

The BBC said: “We agree that there is a severe lack of media freedom in North Korea and an acute need for more choice and variety of media content. However, the available research suggests that there are strict controls in the North on what people are allowed to listen to or watch, difficulty in obtaining radios and a complete lack of internet access – which we confirmed when a senior delegation visited South Korea earlier this year expressly to investigate the possibilities Given these significant barriers and having given this careful consideration, we do not believe it would be cost effective and viable to broadcast existing or new content to North Korea at the present time but we will keep our position under review and look seriously at any new opportunities that emerge.”

Extend the BBC World Service to North and South Korea – Change.org http://www.change.org/…/lord-patten-of-barnes-extend-the-bbc-world-service-…‎ o Cached

We, the undersigned students and residents of Oxford, are deeply concerned by the refusal of the BBC to extend its World Service to the Korean Peninsula, and …

Led by the senior Conservative MP, Gary Streeter, 15 MPs from all political parties have tabled a House of Commons Motion calling for the extension of BBC World Service Broadcasts to the Korean Peninsula.

Mr.Streeter is Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. You can ask your MP to add their name.

BBC WORLD BROADCASTS TO THE KOREAN PENINSULA • Session: 2012-13 • Date tabled: 07.02.2013 • Primary sponsor: Streeter, Gary • Sponsors: o Bottomley, Peter o George, Andrew o Meale, Alan o Russell, Bob o Shannon, Jim That this House endorses the recent calls made to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to the BBC World Service that World Service transmissions should be extended to the Korean Peninsula; welcomes the recent remarks of the hon. Member for East Devon and Peter Horrocks of BBC World Service, made at meetings in Parliament, which rightly recognised the role which the BBC can play in promoting human rights, democracy, culture and language; and believes that an extension of transmissions to the Korean Peninsula would be an appropriate way to celebrate both the 80th anniversary of the BBC World Service and to recognise Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds the right of all citizens to freely listen to broadcasts and to exchange ideas.”>http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/opinion/ian-burrell-news-the-north-koreans-can-trust-9179941.html

One of the world’s experts on North Korea has called on the BBC to “be part of the solution” in fighting human rights abuses under Kim Jong-un’s repressive regime by initiating Korean-language broadcasts by the BBC World Service.

Michael Kirby, the eminent retired Australian judge who chaired a recent Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea for the United Nations Human Rights Council, told The Independent that the BBC could make a difference to the lives of people in “a country that has been largely cut off from the rest of the world”.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Mr Kirby said the BBC was in a position to make a difference in North Korea.
“Because the BBC World Service is still such a globally respected voice, the revelations in the recent UN COI report demonstrate the special needs, and particular utility, of providing the BBC to the Korean peninsula,” he said.

The COI’s report last month identified “unspeakable atrocities” in North Korea and found there was “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” in the state. The findings, which Mr Kirby said demanded “attention from the international community”, made headlines around the world.

He told The Independent: “The strict controls on sources of information in North Korea, revealed in the COI report, surely add to the arguments for an increased outreach by the civilised world to the people of North Korea. With its hard won reputation for truthful reporting, fair coverage and proper priorities, the BBC has a special potential to be part of the solution.”
There is a growing voice in Westminster for a BBC Korea service, broadcasting from South Korea, and on Tuesday at a meeting in the House of Commons a “pilot” BBC Korean show will be played to demonstrate how such a service might sound.
Funding of the World Service has passed from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to the BBC. Previous BBC studies have identified problems in providing a Korean service, especially in relation to the difficulties of the North Korean population tuning in and defying the ban on listening to foreign broadcasts.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said recently that it was “not currently possible for the World Service to offer a meaningful, effective and cost-effective service”. But last week Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire gave renewed hope to campaigners for a Korean service when he said: “We have approached the BBC and are waiting for its detailed response.”

The Independent has seen a confidential report on the viability of a BBC Korean service written by the investigative journalist John Sweeney, who infiltrated the country last year by posing as an academic and filming a documentary for Panorama. “The humanitarian need for a BBC Korea Service broadcasting to the whole peninsular is clear,” he concluded.

Mr Kirby said his appreciation of the impact of the BBC’s reporting stemmed from his own experience of listening to the “Radio Newsreel” as a schoolboy in Sydney in the 1950s. “It rescued me from a purely national or local perspective of news that was of concern to me. It helped to make me a citizen of the world,” he said.

Although he acknowledged that he had “no knowledge of the competing priorities of the BBC and the cost factors involved”, Mr Kirby said the BBC had the potential to reduce human rights violations in North Korea. “The path to greater human rights respect lies through greater awareness of the world, and of their own country, on the part of the population of North Korea.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool, one of those campaigning for a BBC Korea Service, said: “It seems unbelievable that the BBC World Service, which has been a game changer from the former Soviet bloc to Burma, does not play its part in breaking this information blockade. I hope they will hear Michael Kirby’s message and respond positively.”

The BBC said: “We agree that there is a severe lack of media freedom in North Korea and an acute need for more choice and variety of media content. However, the available research suggests that there are strict controls in the North on what people are allowed to listen to or watch, difficulty in obtaining radios and a complete lack of internet access – which we confirmed when a senior delegation visited South Korea earlier this year expressly to investigate the possibilities Given these significant barriers and having given this careful consideration, we do not believe it would be cost effective and viable to broadcast existing or new content to North Korea at the present time but we will keep our position under review and look seriously at any new opportunities that emerge.”
1. Extend the BBC World Service to North and South Korea – Change.org
http://www.change.org/…/lord-patten-of-barnes-extend-the-bbc-world-service-…‎
o Cached
We, the undersigned students and residents of Oxford, are deeply concerned by the refusal of the BBC to extend its World Service to the Korean Peninsula, and …

Led by the senior Conservative MP, Gary Streeter, 15 MPs from all political parties have tabled a House of Commons Motion calling for the extension of BBC World Service Broadcasts to the Korean Peninsula. Mr.Streeter is Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. You can ask your MP to add their name.
BBC WORLD BROADCASTS TO THE KOREAN PENINSULA
• Session: 2012-13
• Date tabled: 07.02.2013
• Primary sponsor: Streeter, Gary
• Sponsors:
o Bottomley, Peter
o George, Andrew
o Meale, Alan
o Russell, Bob
o Shannon, Jim
That this House endorses the recent calls made to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to the BBC World Service that World Service transmissions should be extended to the Korean Peninsula; welcomes the recent remarks of the hon. Member for East Devon and Peter Horrocks of BBC World Service, made at meetings in Parliament, which rightly recognised the role which the BBC can play in promoting human rights, democracy, culture and language; and believes that an extension of transmissions to the Korean Peninsula would be an appropriate way to celebrate both the 80th anniversary of the BBC World Service and to recognise Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds the right of all citizens to freely listen to broadcasts and to exchange ideas.

BBC WS 4
——————————————————————————————————-

Human Rights in North Korea
Refugee Testimonies and other online videos

The following selection of online talks, videos and documentaries provide informative first-hand accounts of human rights violations in North Korea. WTthese videos are worth watching for moving and informative background. There are others available on youtube.com as well, but the following is a selection.

Secret State of North Korea – PBS (53.41 minutes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnBUDYQxhaw and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/secret-state-of-north-korea/
An up-to-date, very informative, secretly filmed documentary on life in North Korea.

Breaking the Silence – Journeyman Pictures (12.17 minutes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlEvL0ld8D8
Background to the UN Commission of Inquiry into human rights in North Korea

Hyeonseo Lee – Ted talk (12mins)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdxPCeWw75k
Growing up she thought her country was the best in the world, although she often wondered about the outside world. She escaped North Korea during the famine in the 1990’s. Her story focuses on her escape and resettlement, and the struggle to later get her family out of North Korea.

Joseph Kim – Ted talk (14 mins)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLeeTVmVrtA
“Hunger is humiliation. Hunger is hopelessness…” He became an orphan after his father died and his mother disappeared. He went to China to look for his sister and crossed the border during the day because he was scared of the dark. Joseph Kim talks of his escape and resettlement in America, and how a chicken wing changed his life.

Seong Ho Ji – (9mins)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zrebN7mV8o
Seong Ho Ji and his brother fled North Korea in 2006 and travelled 6,000 miles across Asia before reaching South Korea. His only remaining possession from North Korea is a pair of crutches – he only has one leg.

Shin Dong-hyuk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms4NIB6xroc (Google tech talk – 1.06 hours)
http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/media/ (shorter version, Ted talk – 12 mins).
http://www.youtube.com/movie?v=9FZMwoY7DyM (Journeyman Pictures – 19.29 minutes)

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a special prison zone and ‘had no real feelings as a kid’. He saw his mother as the cause of his suffering. These accounts tell of his life growing up in the prison. He later escaped North Korea and described how even the North Korea outside the prison seemed amazing.

Yoon Hee and Anon – CNN Digital Originals (4.5 mins)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72KHZguk-WE

Yoon Hee lived on the streets from 8 years old. For her, food is life. She was abandoned by her parents because they couldn’t look after her. Her story as a defector portrays how life outside North Korea isn’t easy to adjust to and not necessarily safe.
Anon described the struggles in adjusting to a new life in South Korea and the disadvantages faced by students who are North Korean refugees, but how, through special programmes, the ‘country is supporting him, like a parent.

Han-sol Kim (nephew of Kim Jong-Un) – interview with Elizabeth Rehn, in two parts
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_uSuCkKa3k (Part 1 – 15 minutes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSfVOf4OACs (Part 2 – 14.32 minutes)

A fascinating interview with the nephew of Kim Jong-Un, who has bravely spoken out while studying in Europe.

LINK – Liberty in North Korea:
http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/media/ (Various)

Danny’s Story (30mins)
He describes living under oppression and in fear, in a country where he is denied freedom of speech, religion and access to information (among other things). He tells of his escape and recalls the moment when his eyes were opened to outside world for first time and to the lies that he had been told. He dreams of being able to go back to North Korea and capture his homeland in pictures.

North Korean Refugee Crisis (3mins)
Successfully fleeing North Korea is just the beginning. This short video outlines the fears and troubles of being a North Korean refugee in China.

The People’s History (4mins)
A brief history behind the current political situation in North Korea.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

—————————————————————————————————–
Michael Kirby gave a brilliant speech in Geneva, and various countries, including the UK and the EU, explicitly backed an ICC referral as well as the wider COI recommendations – see http://webtv.un.org/watch/id-commission-of-inquiry-on-dprk-31st-meeting-25th-regular-session-of-human-rights-council/3350537718001/

Matthew Jones spoke, representing both Jubilee Campaign and CSW – http://webtv.un.org/watch/id-commission-of-inquiry-on-dprk-31st-meeting-25th-regular-session-of-human-rights-council/3350537718001/

Fiona Bruce has tabled the following EDM in the Commons – see http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/1184

—————————————————————————————————-
New Movie on religious persecution in North Korea…. from Amnesty International UK and the INKAHRD(International North Korean’s Association for Human Rights and Democracy)

To those who are working hard to improve the human rights situation in North Korea
Have you had a chance to read the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry(COI), chaired by the Honourable Michael Kirby, highlighting North Korea’s human rights abuses?

We believe the most important lesson from the 400-page UN COI report is that North Korea must change. And we must remember, as Sir Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”.

In this effort, Amnesty International UK and the INKAHRD(International North Korean’s Association for Human Rights and Democracy) are screening a film that reveals the reality of underground church in North Korea. I look forward to welcoming you at this film screening event and seeking ways to further protect and promote human rights in North Korea.
Film title – The Apostle: he was anointed by God(2014)
Location – Amnesty International UK Human Rights Action Centre(17-25 New Inn Yard London EC2A 3EA)

초대장

지금도 북한인권운동에 헌신하는 여러분, 혹시 M Kirby 위원장의 UN COI 보고서를 읽어 보셨습니까?
400페이지가 넘는 그 보고서는 북한에 변화를 주어야 한다는 말로 요약될 수 있지 않을까 합니다. 처칠경은 이렇게 말했습니다. ‘무엇인가 개선을 한다는 것은 변화를 한다는 말이며 완벽해 진다는 것은 그 변화가 자주 일어나야 한다는 말이다’라고
그래서 저희 국제탈북민연대와 AI는 이러한 노력의 일환으로 북한지하기독교 실상을 다룬 북한인권영화 시사회를 아래와 같이 개최할 예정이오니 여러분들의 많은 관심과 참여로 북한인권운동의 새로운 도약을 모색해 보았으면 합니다.
– 영화 제목 ; 신이보낸 사람
– 일시ㆍ장소 ; 2014.3.20(목) 19;00, AI內 Human Rights Action Center
Amnesty International•국제탈북민연대(INKAHRD)

——————————————————————————-
Susie Younger Never Ending Flower 2

Susie Younger’s book “Never Ending Flower” was published in 1967. She was a young Scot who read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Oxford. While she was a student she became a Christian and, in 1960, went to Korea, learnt the language, and decided to work among the poor for the rest of her life. Her book was published in 1967 by Collins and Harvill. It’s an inspiring account – not unlike the stories of Gladys Aylward and Jackie Pullinger, who also found their way to the Orient. See: https://davidalton.net/2013/05/11/gladys-aylward-the-little-woman-and-chinas-inn-of-the-sixth-happiness/

Having arrived in Korea with a young Austrian companion, Maria Heissenberger, they set up a house for young street children, bootblacks whose employers exploited them at took most of their earnings from them. It was a tiny house and they lived with those they cared for, sleeping on the floors and living of a simple diet of rice, barley and vegetables.

The project was an early recipient of help from OXFAM and CAFOD and it led to a second house being created in Taegu where Susie set up a home for country girls. They had come to the city looking for work and had been ensnared into prostitution. Susie Younger records some profoundly moving stories of girls who rediscover themselves and who find security, love, employment and, often, marriage.

In the later part of the book Susie Younger describes the creation of a 200 acre co-operative farm at Muhak. It was the brain child of a Korean priest, Fr.Lee, and part of its purpose was to create produce and resources to support Susie’s work. This was when she also met Fr.Stephen Kim – who would, in due course become the Bishop of Masan and eventually the Cardinal Archbishop of Seoul. It was he who stood against the military junta and protected the student protestors who had gathered in his Seoul cathedral. It is fascinating to discover him here, in a book written twenty year earlier, giving so much encouragement to a young Scot from Oxford University.

The book takes its title from the national flower of Korea, the Syrian hibiscus – the Biblical Rose of Sharon. Susie Younger says that because it blossoms from spring until late autumn this tenacious plant is known in Korea as “the never ending flower.”

Although, at the height of summer, the sun scorches and destroys its blossoms, the following day it is resplendent with new flowers. In the case of Korea – whether struggling in the 1960s from the after effects of the Korean War and military dictatorship or, in the North, from decades of totalitarianism – the resilience and the ability, in adversity, to renew and restore damaged beauty seems very apt.

The book concludes with an appendix in which Susie Younger sets out her personal testimony and her hope to stay among the people she felt called to serve for the rest of her life. The book was published in 1967 and it would be intriguing to know how the story continued.

Tolkien: Faith and Fiction – Liverpool Hope University Lecture marking the fiftieth anniversary of J.R.R.Tolkien’s involvement in the translation of the Jerusalem Bible and the link between his faith and his fiction. Accompanying presentation slides and full text may be viewed here.

tolkien

lord-of-the-rings

Tolkien: Faith and Fiction

click here to view the power point presentation which accompanies the following lecture:

faith-in-the-work-of-tolkien – view full powerpoint presentation accompanying the lecture

tolkien-faith-and-fiction-liverpool-2016 Text

 Liverpool Hope University, November 2016.

David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool.

tolkien-books-2tolkien2

This year, 2016, marks 50 years since, in 1966, the English edition of the Jerusalem Bible was published.

 jbjonahjerusalem-bible-with-fr-alexander-jones

The translation was undertaken here at Hope, at what was Christ’s College, my old College. The work was led by the brilliant scripture scholar, Fr.Alexander Jones.

J.R.R.Tolkien was one of those who contributed to the translation and it includes his translation of the Book of Jonah and an acknowledgement of his role.

Fr.Henry Wansborough OSB said “It was the first translation of the whole Bible into modern English to appear. It was an iconic presentation of the best of Catholic biblical scholarship in the previous half century.”

When, in 1969, I came here as a student, my first purchase was a still greatly prized and now well-worn copy of the JB, the Jerusalem Bible.

Jonah is among the books of the prophets – and once given the Word they are compelled to speak it: Amos cries “The Lord Yahweh speaks, who can refuse to prophesy?”

And of Jonah and the other prophets, Alexander Jones said “At a point in each of their lives each received an irresistible divine call and was chosen as God’s envoy. The price of attempting to elude this vocation is stated in the early part of the story of Jonah.”

He says Jonah is unlike the other prophetic books because “this short work is entirely narrative. It tells the story of a disobedient prophet who first struggles to evade his divine mission and then complains to God that his mission has, against his expectations, been successful.”

I can’t help speculating that Alexander Jones may have had another reluctant hero in his mind when he asked the creator of home-loving risk-averse reluctant-hero Hobbits to collaborate in the translation of the Book of Jonah.

And like many aspects of Tolkien’s work, Fr.Jones reminds us that the story of Jonah which he describes as a droll adventure, taking us from the “the belly of Sheol” – to the city of Nineveh, is precisely that – a story, not history; a “didactic work” that is “intended to amuse and instruct” and which “proclaims an astonishingly broadminded catholicity.”  

God is merciful to all, even to the rebellious Jonah. The lessons of mercy, humility and repentance are given to the Chosen People at the hands of their sworn enemies.

You can see why Tolkien would have been entirely at home with this Book and these themes.

The Book of Jonah concludes with God explaining, with great love mixed with some gentle irony, that He will not only be merciful to Jonah, the reluctant prophet, but also to the repentant Ninevehites and their little children “who cannot tell their right hand from their left,” and proclaiming still further, His love of all His Creation “to say nothing of all the animals.” 

 

The story of Jonah is also a dramatic prefiguring of the only story which really matters: Jonah’s three days in the belly of the great fish prepares us for Christ’s three days in the tomb. Fr.Jones says that at this moment in the Old Testament “We are on the threshold of the Gospel.”

Tolkien would describe such a turn of events in a story as a “eucatastrophe,”   – a word to which I will return at the conclusion of my remarks.

I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth.” 

 

For Tolkien the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ of human history was the resurrection of Christ from the tomb. So its preconfiguration in the biblical Book of Jonah is a pretty good place to start when considering Tolkien, Faith and Fiction.

 

Tolkien, himself, said that The Lord of the Rings was “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”. What did he mean by that and what clues are there in the characters, the tales within the tale, and within the plot itself?  

 lord-of-the-rings2

Let me divide my remarks into 3 parts:

  1. How Tolkien’s experiences shaped his beliefs;
  2. What Tolkien tells us himself; and
  3.  How faith shapes the characters, and the story lines.

 

 

  • 1. How Tolkien’s experiences shaped his beliefs.

 

Born in Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State, in 1892, his father died in 1896, and his mother, Mabel Suffield, returned to England, to the Midlands. Her conversion to Catholicism, in 1900, led to her rejection by her mixed Baptist, Unitarian and Anglican relatives. She was reduced to poverty.

Struggling as a widow, and shunned by her family, Mabel sought solace and help from the Catholic community of the Birmingham Oratory.

the-birmingham-oratory

The Birmingham Oratory – whose full title is the Congregation of the Oratory of St.Philip Neri and is located in the Edgbaston district of Birmingham, was founded in 1849 by Blessed John Henry Newman, who died in 1890, two years before Tolkien’s birth. 

It was the first house of that Congregation in England and Newman, a celebrated Catholic convert, had been given permission by Pope Pius IX to establish a community of Oratorians in England and Newman lived a secluded life there for the best part of four decades.

newman

Newman had died only ten years before Tolkien, in his childhood, spent nine years as a parishioner of St. Philip’s and attended the parish school before winning his scholarship to the Birmingham’s King Edward’s school.

In 1904, after the death of his mother at the age of 34, a death “hastened by the persecution of her faith”, as Tolkien remarked in 1941, he was shunted between relatives until a lodging was found for him by an Oratorian priest, Father Francis Morgan, who was his legal guardian.

In 1963 Tolkien wrote about the effect that these experiences and formative years had on him: “I witnessed (half comprehending) the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the Church.”

His great closeness and devotion to the Theotokos – Mary, the Mother of God – began with the premature death of his own mother. He said that Mary “refined so much of our gross manly natures and emotions as well as warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion.”

Of Fr.Francis he wrote: “I first learnt charity and forgiveness from him” and he said that he taught him the story of his Faith “piercing even the ‘liberal’ darkness out of which I came, knowing more about ‘Bloody Mary’ than the Mother of Jesus – who was never mentioned except as an object of wicked worship by the Romanists.”

The backdrop to Tolkien’s childhood was rejection and sectarianism but his connection with the Oratory gave him a love of the mystery of the sacraments but it also taught him to honour Scripture and tradition along with the teaching authority of the Church, grounded in the apostolic succession. He believed that Christ was, in the words of Newman’s hymn, Praise to the Holiest in the Heights, the Second Adam who to the rescue had come – sanctifying history and saving each of us.

And can we not see in Tolkien’s fiction, and the quest and mission of the Hobbit, something of Newman’s belief that:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. ..I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons….”

Newman had been the most influential Catholic in the English speaking world during the nineteenth century and his Apologia and love of St.Augustine were the scaffold on which Tolkien’ s faith was hung.

Newman had insisted that “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”; that “We are answerable for what we choose to believe.” that “Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it”; that Growth is the only evidence of life.” That “fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning” and that “The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men”.

 

The young Tolkien would have heard a great deal about Newman and studied him carefully – not least his famous treatise on the purpose of a university – the world in which he would spend his professional life:

“The University’s…. function is intellectual culture… It educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.”

 

   While at King Edward’s, Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman formed a secret society which they called the “T.C.B.S.” – the acronym meaning “Tea Club and Barrovian Society”. The name had its origins in their fondness for drinking tea at the nearby Barrow’s Stores and, illicitly, in the library of their school.

   From King Edward’s, Tolkien won an exhibition to Exeter College, Oxford in 1910, and graduated with First Class Honours in 1915.

    He showed early promise as a philologist and gifted linguist with a remarkable facility to decode ancient languages. He used these gifts in scholarship and in prose and the study of legend, folklore and poetry.

   In 1914 he read a poem by the Anglo-Saxon Christian poet, Cynewulf. He wrote later about how two lines of the poem Crist (Christ) remained with him:

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast

Ofer middangeard monnum sended!

Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,

Above the middle-earth sent unto men!

 

The friends of the T.C.B.S stayed in touch after leaving school, and in that same year, 1914, met at Wiseman’s London home for a “Council.” 

In many respects the T.C.B.S foreshadowed the Kolbitar (Coalbiters) which Tolkien would form at Oxford in 1925 – and which was devoted to reading Icelandic sagas. Lewis attended their meetings and, in the 1930s, from this fellowship of friends would finally emerge the Inklings – more of which, later.

 

In Birmingham Tolkien had met Edith Bratt, with whom he fell in love; he also commenced his practice of daily Mass attendance, which he continued throughout his life.

Fr.Morgan counselled him not to rush into marriage but, having been commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers, he feared that he might be killed. He and Edith, who was received into the Catholic Church, married in 1916.

 After seeing action in the Somme, acting as Battalion Signalling Officer – and, having contracted trench fever, Tolkien spent the rest of the war as an invalid.

The news from his friends in the TCBS was bleak. On July 15, 1916, Geoffrey Smith wrote to tell Tolkien of Rob Gilson’s death: My Dear John Ronald, I saw in the paper this morning that Rob has been killed. I am safe but what does that matter? Do please stick to me, you and Christopher. I am very tired and most frightfully depressed at this worst news. Now one realises in despair what the T.C.B.S. really was. O my dear John Ronald whatever are we going to do?  Yours ever.    G. B. S.

  

 Five months later, Christopher Wiseman wrote to Tolkien to say that Smith had died in a mission. Just before seeing this final action Smith wrote these words to Tolkien: 

My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight – I am off on duty in a few minutes – there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! A discovery I am going to communicate to Rob before I go off tonight. And do you write it also to Christopher. May God bless you my dear John Ronald and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them if such be my lot.” – Yours ever, G.B.S.

 c-s-lewis

Like C.S.Lewis, and so many of his generation, Tolkien was deeply affected by World War One and the death of his friends.

 

As his closest intimates were cut down, it put an end to the circle of friends and, challenged by Smith’s haunting words: “may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them”, Tolkien began to write his epic mythology on a notebook entitled “The Book of Lost Tales.” The tales would come to be known as “The Silmarillion.”

 

The hobbits entered his imagination in 1929, while marking examination papers, when Tolkien started to jot down some words for a story to read to his children – of whom there were now four:  “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”. Tolkien would later say of himself: “I am in fact a Hobbit, in all but size…I like gardens, trees…I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking…” 

 Tolkien was like his hobbits, dreaming of eggs and bacon.

 Like the Book of Jonah, Tolkien’s tales have an extraordinary catholicity – an equal appeal to the Deist, atheist, agnostic or Pagan reader, of all ages and backgrounds. Like Jonah it is not about historical truth – although Middle Earth feels like a place that once existed – it is a story which provides sign posts to the ultimate Truth as well as sign posts about how we should relate to one another, about friendship, courage, honesty, integrity and the seemingly endless battles that we are each destined to fight on our journeys; how the ring is representative of tyrannical power, pride, temptation, addiction and sin.  In this sense The Lord of the Rings is a “true” story.

 

   It resonates with Tolkien’s own experiences and the time in which it was written – although he always insisted it was not allegory but rather might have applicability to those times and to all times.

 straford-caldecott

     In his wonderful book, “The Power of the Ring” the late Stratford Caldecott, said of Tolkien’s work “at an even deeper level it is about the reality and value of beauty…the homely beauty of firelight and good cheer, the rich natural beauty of tree and forest, the awesome majesty of mountains, the charm of babbling stream, the high and remote glimmer of the stars…recalling the mystery that lies beyond the beauties of this world, and awaken a longing in the human heart that will never be quite content in Middle-earth.”

 

By contrast, Edmund Wilson described The Lord of the Rings as “juvenile trash” while that angry atheist, Philip Pullman, author of “His Dark Materials” has called The Lord of the Rings “trivial”:

“Tolkien was a Catholic, for whom the basic issues of life were not in question… So nowhere in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is there a moment’s doubt about those big questions. No-one is in any doubt about what’s good or bad; everyone knows where the good is, and what to do about the bad. Enormous as it is, TLOTR is consequently trivial”

When the first volume of The Lord of the Rings was published Tolkien knew that he was leaving himself open to inevitable scorn, writing, “I have expressed my heart to be shot at”.

Last year was the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of the Return of the King – the third and final volume of Lord of The Rings.

Pullman and others might note that the trilogy has sold a phenomenal 150 million copies worldwide; in 1997 it was Voted Amazon’s Best Book of the Century emerged as the most popular work of fiction in surveys by Waterstones and Channel Four and was second only to the Bible in its readership.

The Lord of the Rings sits alongside his wonderful short stories and The Silmarillion, posthumously brought to publication by his son, Christopher.

Pullman’s assessment was wrong about the book’s deep and abiding appeal and it is far from “trivial” – quite the reverse – and he was also wrong in stating that Tolkien’s was an unquestioning faith and that he had no doubts.

Referring to his doubts during a particularly arid period in the 1920s he said it was the Blessed Sacrament that kept his then flickering faith alive. He told his son, Michael “I brought you all up ill and talked to you too little. Out of wickedness and sloth I almost ceased to practice my religion…Not for me the Hound of Heaven but the never ceasing silent appeal to the Tabernacle and the sense of starving hunger.”

To consolidate his faith, he practiced and recommended frequent Confession and the frequent reception of Holy Communion, telling his son, Michael, who taught Classics at Stonyhurst College and St Mary’s Hall in Lancashire, “I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity and the true way of all your loves upon earth.” 

In Oxford, he served Mass every day at Blackfriars. The Mass was celebrated by his fellow Inkling, Fr.Gervase Matthew OP. It is said that  Whitacres’s Roman soldier, nailing Jesus to the Cross in the Stations of the Cross at Blackfriars is modelled on Tolkien’s orc.

 

Tolkien taught his children to love the Created world, especially the trees, and he persuaded Michael, to plant a copse in his Stonyhurst garden, evidence of which can still be seen today.

From 1939, after Mussolini joined forces with Hitler, Tolkien became a regular visitor to Stonyhurst when his oldest son, John, returned to England from seminary in Rome to continue his training as a priest. Stonyhurst – with its connections to the Shireburn family, to the recusants and Catholic martyrs, complete with its own Shire Lane in its village, with its two rivers and ancient forest and views of Pendle Hill, with its occult history, was an inspiring setting for Tolkien – captured beautifully today in the Ribble Valley Tolkien Trail.

tolkien-trail

Tolkien passed on his love of the Catholic faith to each of his children and encouraged his son, Christopher, to memorise some of the most tried and trusted prayers but also the entire text of the Latin Mass, saying that “If you have these by heart you never need for words of joy”; and he prayed the rosary, keeping a rosary by his bed and in his hands as he looked for Nazi bombers while part of the Oxford Watch during World War Two. 

Towards the end of his life – even while the Jerusalem Bible was in the final stages of composition –Tolkien recoiled at liturgical changes and at what he regarded as a loss of beauty in both reverence for the Holy Eucharist and the sacraments and for the liturgy itself.

He was saddened but became reconciled to the use of the vernacular rather than Latin for the celebration of Mass but he deplored the use of sloppy language.  He said that the encouragement of the faithful to receive Communion regularly and to attend daily Mass would have had a more profound effect on the Church than the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

The changes led him to say “the Church which once felt like a refuge now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! I think there is nothing to do but pray for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it.”  His grandson, Simon, wrote that he could “vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth.” He said that his grandfather didn’t agree with the liturgical changes “and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right.”

His belief in the sacrament of marriage and the love of family remained with him until the very end.  When Tolkien died, on September 2nd, 1973 aged 81, he underscored that inseparability and indissolubility, by being interred in the same grave as his wife, Edith, who had died two years earlier.  The names of Luthien and Beren appear on their tombstone.

tolkien-and-edith

In Tolkien’s Middle Earth Legendarium Luthien was the most beautiful of all the children of Iluvatar and forsook her immortality for her love of the mortal warrior Beren. The Silmarillion

The Hobbit

G.K.Chesterton

Fr.Robert Murray SJ

H.G.Wells

So much then for the experiences that shaped Tolkien. 

  1. What does Tolkien Tells Us Himself about his faith?

While once on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament he personally experienced in a vision the blinding presence of God: “I perceived or thought of the Light of God” and saw his own Guardian Angel as a manifestation of “God’s very attention”. 

As a Catholic he believed God is the Creator of the universe and that God had made the world out of nothing. Whether in the Bible or in Tolkien’s Silmarillion all that is has been created by the Word of God when, as we learn in the Book of Job, “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God made a joyful melody.”

But as we also learn from The Silmarillion – as in the biblical story of Creation – we see the creativity  of Iluvatar, the One, and his first creations, the Ainur, the Holy Ones, contested by Melkor, “the greatest of the Ainur” who, like Lucifer, falls as he succumbs to the sin of pride and seeks to subvert both men and elves.

As G.K.Chesterton said of such pride, and as Tolkien himself believed: “Pride does not go before a fall, pride is the fall.”

That Tolkien’s faith was based on personal encounter with God and a deep spirituality is revealed in an exchange that he had with a stranger (whom he identified with Gandalf) and who said to him “Of course, you don’t suppose, do you, that you wrote all that book yourself?” Tolkien replied “Pure Gandalf!…I think I said “No, I don’t suppose so any longer.” I have never since been able to suppose so. An alarming conclusion for an old philologist to draw concerning his private amusement. But not one that should puff up anyone who considers the imperfections of “chosen instruments”, and indeed what sometimes seems their lamentable unfitness for the purpose.”  

    All the elements, from the genesis and “the great music” of “The Silmarillion” to the awesome climax at Mount Doom, take us from the alpha of creation to the omega of judgement. This is a story that exists for itself. 

 

    Tolkien tells us that: 

 

“The Lord of The Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision”. Elsewhere he states “I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and in fact a Roman Catholic”. In 1958 he wrote that The Lord of the Rings is “a tale, which is built on or out of certain ‘religious’ ideas, but is not an allegory of them.”

 

In 1956 in a letter to Amy Ronald he wrote:

 

“I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect “history” to be anything but a long defeat – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” 

 

Tolkien also said that his writing reflected his beliefs about death, immortality and resurrection.

 

In 1958, in a letter to Rhona Beare, Tolkien wrote:

 

“I might say that if the tale is ‘about’ anything it is not as seems widely supposed about ‘power.’ …It is mainly concerned with Death and Immortality.”

 

The Ring Rhyme that opens each volume of The Lord of the Rings reminds us of the order of Creation and that we cannot cheat our maker:

 

“Three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die…”

 

The Silmarillion reminds us:

 

“Death is their fate, the gift of Iluvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy. But Melkor has cast his shadow upon it, and confounded it with darkness, and brought evil out of good and fear out of hope.”

 

Tolkien believed in the Catholic concept of Natural Law and in the natural order of things; that we must be good stewards of creation and guardians of the beauty that God has bestowed upon the created world.

 

He foresaw the battles over euthanasia, genetics and the immortality sought and craved through genetics and human cloning – the powerful temptation (shared by some of the men and elves of Tolkien’s realm) to artificially manipulate our allotted span of life and to upend Natural Law and to usurp the role of the Creator. 

 chesterton-eugenics-and-other-evils

Tolkien and C.S.Lewis had read and were inspired by the writings of the Catholic convert G.K.Chesterton, who died in 1936, the year in which The Hobbit was completed.  In 1922 Chesterton’s last book before becoming a Catholic was “Eugenics and Other Evils” in which he stood against Margaret Sanger and the other early cheer leaders for the Nazis and who literally argued for “More Children for the Fit. Less for the Unfit.” Sanger made it clear whom she considered unfit: “Hebrews, Slavs, Catholics, and Negroes.”

 picture1

Chesterton argued that if people dared to challenge science without ethics, such as eugenics or cloning, attempts are made to belittle them with “the same stuffy science, the same bullying bureaucracy, and the same terrorism by tenth-rate professors.” 

 

Tolkien shared Chesterton’s loathing of eugenics and in 1938 condemned Nazi “race-doctrine” as “wholly pernicious and unscientific”. And, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he described the scientists who had created the atomic bomb as “these lunatic physicists” and “Babel-builders.”

 

Three years after Eugenics and Other Evils, Chesterton published his “The Everlasting Man” (1925) which disputed H.G.Wells’ view that civilisation was merely an extension of animal life and that Christ was no more than a charismatic figure. In contesting this, Chesterton said Christianity had “died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.” Neither he nor Tolkien had any doubt about the Divinity of Christ, the Son of God.

 

In The Everlasting Man Chesterton paints the canvas of humanity’s spiritual journey and portrays Christianity as the bedrock of western civilisation.

 chesterton

Later, C.S.Lewis said that the combination of Chesterton’s apologetics and George MacDonald’s stories had between them shaped his intellect and imagination.

 

In 1947 Lewis wrote to Rhonda Bodle that   “the [very] best popular defence of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.”  Having abandoned his atheism Lewis wryly remarked that a young man who is serious about his atheism cannot be too careful about what he reads.

 

Tolkien and Lewis were also influenced by Chesterton’s belief in Merrie England as an antidote to the pernicious dehumanisation represented by over industrialisation and the servile State.  

 

The culture of the Shire is the culture of Merrie England. 

 

Victorian Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics saw Merrie England as representing the abundance and generosity of gifts we so easily squander or spoil. There was something here of Thomas More’s Utopia and a desire to return to an idyllic pastoral way of life that had been superseded by the smoking chimneys and crushed character of 1930s Britain.

 

Chesterton saw Merrie England in the guise of the country inn, the Sunday roast, conversation around the fireside, through the medieval Guilds, arts and crafts. Tolkien captured these ideas in the people of the Shire.

 

He always made clear his intense hatred of the rapacious destruction of the English countryside and the desirability of the simple life.  For most of his life Tolkien used a bicycle rather than a car, of which he though there were too many although it is unclear whether, like his Hobbits, he looked forward to two breakfasts

 

Tolkien and Lewis took from Chesterton their profound belief in the human dignity of every person, each made in the likeness and image of God. The castrating unmanning of men (“men without chests”) was captured by Lewis in “The Abolition of Man” (1943) and grotesque scientific brutalism is the theme of his novel “That Hideous Strength” (1945).

 

In 1930 Chesterton had observed that When people begin to ignore human dignity, it will not be long before they begin to ignore human rights.”

 

And in his Autobiography (1936) he wrote this:

“I did not really understand what I meant by Liberty, until I heard it called by the new name of Human Dignity. It was a new name to me; though it was part of a creed nearly two thousand years old. In short, I had blindly desired that a man should be in possession of something, if it were only his own body. In so far as materialistic concentration proceeds, a man will be in possession of nothing; not even his own body. Already there hover on the horizon sweeping scourges of sterilisation or social hygiene, applied to everybody and imposed by nobody. At least I will not argue here with what are quaintly called the scientific authorities on the other side. I have found one authority on my side.”

 

Like Chesterton, Tolkien also insisted on the teaching authority of the Church and the Pope.

 

He said of the papacy: “I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims…for me the Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. “Feed my sheep” was his last charge to St.Peter.”

 

 

Chesterton and Tolkien also had a shared love of the Virgin Mary. In his poem “The Black Virgin” Chesterton describes Mary “a morning star” – “sunlight and moonlight are thy luminous shadows, starlight and twilight thy refractions are, lights and half-lights and all lights turn about thee.”

 

Tolkien gives his elves an invocation to Elbereth “We still remember, we who dwell in this far land beneath the trees, The Starlight on the Western seas” words redolent of a Marian hymn which describes Mary as the “guide of the wanderer”, as “the ocean star”, “mother of Christ, star of the sea”.

 

In a letter to Fr. Robert Murray SJ, Tolkien said of the Virgin Mary “Our Lady, upon which all my own small perceptions of beauty, both in majesty and simplicity is founded”. Elsewhere he had said: “I attribute whatever there is of beauty and goodness in my work to the Holy Mother of God.”

 

Tolkien saw Mary as the closest of all beings to Christ, as literally “full of grace” describing her as “unstained” and that “she had committed no evil deeds.” He saw her as the Christ bearer who paves the way for the Incarnation: about which he says “the Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write.”

 

As well as is love of Mary, Tolkien had a traditional Catholic belief in the Communion of Saints – the companions of Christ throughout all the ages. He would have been delighted by the beatification in Birmingham, in 2010, by Pope Benedict of John Henry Newman. The collegiality – the fellowship – of Newman’s Oratorians appealed to Tolkien.

 newman-images

Newman insisted – and Tolkien believed – that there is some unique task assigned to each of us that has not been assigned to any other. The challenge is to discern it.

 

Newman’s prayer on “Purpose” emphasises each person’s unique gifts, their unique talents, and their unique destiny. he emphasised that we do not need to be perfect before using those talents. He said this about the use of gifts:

 

“What are great gifts but the correlative of great work? We are not born for ourselves, but for our kind, for our neighbours, for our country: it is but selfishness, indolence, a perverse fastidiousness, an unmanliness, and no virtue or praise, to bury our talent in a napkin.”

 

Or, for that matter, hide them in a private hobbit hole.

 

Tolkien loved the feasts and seasons of the Church and the ever growing company of saints. In 1925, when Tolkien was 33, the little flower” – the Carmelite nun, Saint Therese of Lisieux, was canonised. Her “little way” contradicted the elevation of power and the mobilisation of vast armies: “I only love simplicity. I have a horror of pretence” she said. “It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new.”

 

It sounds like a manifesto for Hobbiton.

 

Central, too, to Tolkien’s faith was his love of the Blessed Sacrament. He told his son Michael that “The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion….frequency is of the highest effect.” He described the Holy Eucharist as “the one great thing to love on earth” and that in “the Blessed Sacrament you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that….eternal endurance which every man’s heart desires.”

 

 tolkien-and-the-blessed-sacrament

 

And in all these battles Tolkien seeks the Viaticum which is given through the last of the seven Sacraments and which is provided as daily sustenance through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist stating:

 

 “I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again”

 

 

These then are some of the “certain ‘religious’ ideas” that inspired Tolkien.

 bird-and-baby

 

Doubtless, all of these beliefs and ideas were the subject of discussion when the Inklings met at the Eagle and Child – the Bird and Baby – between the 1930s and 1949. The group was led by Tolkien and Lewis but also included Tolkien’s son, Christopher, Roger Lancelyn Green, Hugo Dyson, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams and Lord David Cecil.

 

But it was particularly the companionship of C.S.Lewis that strengthened the faith of both men.

 

It is now 90 years since J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S.Lewis met as Oxford academics.

It was the beginning of a friendship kindled by common experiences and which produced some of the most wonderful fiction of the twentieth century but which had its origins in the shared horrors of the Great War.

   Lewis once wrote that “There’s no sound I like better than male laughter” – and it was in the early 1930s that he began to cultivate his friendship with the new Professor of Anglo-Saxon, appointed in 1925. Throughout those highly productive years – and as he journeyed from atheism to Christian belief – Lewis became close to Tolkien.       

 

   In 1933 they began to hold meetings in college rooms and on Tuesday mornings at The Eagle and Child. Tolkien later wrote that “CSL had a passion for hearing things read aloud.” The Inklings met regularly during the next two decades.

 

   Although Tolkien would later be displaced in Lewis’ affections, and a rift opened between them, these gatherings inestimably enriched them both.

 

Lewis would write of the importance of such friendship in “The Four Loves”: “He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest or funniest in all the others.”

 

The Inklings were conceived as a circle of friends which would practice solidarity and engender camaraderie; intuitively and challengingly counter cultural.

 

For Lewis the Inklings also provided a familial intimacy which his own family could not. Tolkien was crucial in his own journey to faith.

 

He recorded the moment when, in 1931, he decided to embrace Christianity: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ – in Christianity. …My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.”

 

Two year earlier he had come to believe in God: 

 

   “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England…The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”  

 

Lewis and Tolkien did not believe Christians needed to be morose or detached.  In 1944 The Daily Telegraph misleadingly referred to Lewis as “an ascetic”.  Tolkien scoffed at this in a letter to his son: “Ascetic Mr. Lewis!!! I ask you! He put away three pints in a very short session we had this morning and said he was ‘going short for Lent.’”

 

Their friendship was based on the joy to which Lewis gave so much emphasis in his writing and captured by Tolkien in this verse from Lord of the Rings

“Ho! Ho! Ho!

To the bottle I go To heal my heart and drown my woe Rain may fall, and wind may blow And many miles be still to go But under a tall tree will I lie And let the clouds go sailing by”

 tolkien4

For two men formed in the harrowing trenches of the Great War, who had seen so many of their friends pay the ultimate price, pain and suffering did not disable or incapacitate them. Both believed that beyond the pain and the suffering of today is the certainty of eternity. Both believed that through their story telling they could encourage their readers to see beyond the catastrophic and destructive effects of war and the evil in our world to a hopeful and joyous future.

 

 lord-of-the-rings2

So much, then, for Tolkien’s beliefs and the experiences which shaped him.

 

  • 2.  How does that faith shape the characters, and the story lines?

 

 

Although Tolkien despised simple allegory he invites us to use the stories, the plots, the characters, and to examine their “applicability.” He said that his objective had been to “make a body of more or less connected legend…drawing splendour from vast backcloths…The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.”  He said that his work should be “dedicated simply to England, to my country.”

 

This suggests that he wants us to explore his amazing and extraordinary landscape to discover things that are important about how we live and behave towards one another.

 

Tolkien insisted that notwithstanding the Redemption of man “the Christian still has to work, with mind as well as body” and he said that “in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.”

 

We are being invited to decipher his elvish runes and games of riddles, leaving us scope to draw what conclusions we may but this is an invitation to meet our Creator through legend and myth, fantasy and story-telling.

 

And the Lord of the Rings is riddled with wisdom and common sense about everything from the nature of friendship to the place of courage:

 

 

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

 

“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

 

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”

 

“Little by little, one travels far.”

 

“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate”

 

 “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”

 

“It’s a dangerous business going out your front door.”

 

“Courage is found in unlikely places.”

 tolkien3

But central must be an understanding of power and evil represented by the Ring itself:

“The Board is set, the pieces are moving. we come to it at last, the great battle of our time.”

 Stratford Caldecott believed that the Ring exemplifies “the dark magic of the corrupted will, the assertion of self in disobedience to God. It appears to give freedom, but its true function is to enslave the wearer to the Fallen Angel. It corrodes the human will of the wearer, rendering him increasingly “thin” and unreal; indeed, its gift of invisibility symbolizes this ability to destroy all natural human relationships and identity. You could say the Ring is sin itself: tempting and seemingly harmless to begin with, increasingly hard to give up and corrupting in the long run

 the-ring

The Ring and the forces at work capture the endless contest between good and evil. It represents naked power and crude evil bringing with it temptation and corruption, violence and death.

 

 

 

As the ring bearer struggles towards his destiny many die before the evil forces of Sauron are at last subdued; and even then Saruman remains at large in the Shire – evil and sin are still at work, waiting to ensnare us.

 

For the Christian, the use of evil to overcome evil is a frequent temptation. Frodo, Gandalf and the Lady Galadriel all understand that if they use the ring to overcome the Dark Lord then they too will become enslaved by evil.

 

The general weakness of humanity (which can be taken to cover not only mankind, but all creatures in The Lord of the Rings) reminds us that humanity is fundamentally good, but that those who fall turn to evil. 

 

All that is evil was once good – Elrond says, “Nothing was evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”  In this commentary and in the fallen orcs – which were themselves once elves – we can surely see the story of the fall.

 

Temptation appears first in The Hobbit as the travellers are warned as they enter Mirkwood, don’t drink the water and don’t stray from the path. How like the descendants of Adam, who when urged not to eat at the forbidden tree choose do so anyway.

 

The temptation of the Serpent is reflected in Boromir’s temptation by the Ring, as well as in Gollum’s.  In Gollum we also see the idea of a conscience – he fights with himself and with his conscience while he is being tempted.  The theologian Colin Gunton was of the opinion that the way in which the Ring tempts people to use its power is analogous to Jesus’ temptation by the devil.

 

Other aspects of evil also recur in the book.  The destructive nature of evil is there in the Scouring of the Shire, and in the way in which Saruman’s troops destroy the trees and the timeless quality of Shire life, something especially abhorrent to Tolkien. The orcs themselves are cannibals, and are hideous – showing how evil corrupts. The dark and barren lands of Mordor are the very face of evil.

 

Connected with this is the self-destructive nature of evil. Inherent in evil is the desire to dominate, rule and have power over others.

 

 

After Gollum falls to the power of the Ring, he is consumed by its power, and he becomes weakened to such an extent that he can no longer resist it. Even getting close to evil has a subverting effect: take Bilbo’s reluctance to give up the Ring, and its disappearance from the mantle piece and reappearance in his pocket. Or, despite his epic and heroic journey into darkness, Frodo ultimately fails to throw the ring into the furnace. Here is the powerful mixture of the intoxicating allure of the forbidden with our human weakness and frailty.

 

Yet, despite his failure, in Frodo’s “little way” of self-sacrifice and willingness to take on seemingly impossible odds we see a central tenet of Christian belief.  And think of those unlikely victories over seemingly intractable and daunting odds such as at Helm’s Deep. Even when evil appears to be triumphing – such as when Sauron gloats over what he considers to be the foolhardiness of Aragorn’s troops as they march towards Mordor, he is defeated by them.

 

 

Evil also brings with it desolation, barrenness and the destruction of beauty.

 

Compare the destruction of Isengard, and the brutality of the orcs, with the simple homely life of the Shire. An image that Tolkien repeatedly uses is that of dark and light.  Contrast the Shire and Mordor (“where the shadows lie”) – The Shire which contains so much of the England Tolkien loved, and Mordor, the dark and sinister land where Sauron and Mount Doom are to be found, and which contains so much of the England that Tolkien hated.

 

Compare, too, the man-eating trolls and orcs with the elves – the disfigured (fallen) creatures and the beautiful and immortal elves – comparable to the angelic hosts. Recall the crucial role of the eagles and remember Isaiah 40:31 that “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

 

 

Even in his use of names Tolkien’s sign posts take us to places and people that seem good or bad – Galadriel, Aragorn, Frodo and Arwen are beautiful-sounding names, whereas Wormtongue, the Balrog, Mordor and Mount Doom -all unlikely to be forces for good.

 

But although we encounter evil we are encouraged never to lose sight of what is good:

 

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

 

In the Lady Galadriel the reader can be allowed to see something of the purity and beauty of the Virgin Mary; Galadriel’s grand-daughter, Arwen, also has a Marian role, saving both Frodo’s life and soul as she utters the words – not in the original text but crafted by Peter Jackson, who in his use of the word grace makes a more explicitly religious statement than even Tolkien himself –

“What grace is given me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared.”

 

Galadriel bestows upon the Fellowship seven mystical gifts, which are surely analogous to the seven sacraments, and as such are real signs of grace, and not mere symbols.

 

In the provision of lembas, we can see the Holy Eucharist. Before the Fellowship depart from Lorien they have a final supper where the mystical elvish bread lembas is shared, and they all drink from a common cup. The immortal elves are nourished by the lembas, the mystical bread – the bread of angels – which both nourishes and heals.

 lembas

Lembas, we are told, “had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone, and did not mingle it with other goods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure.” This allusion reminds us of the manna that fed the people of Israel or the German mystic, Theresa Neumann, who survived by eating nothing other than the Holy Eucharist.  

  

We can see Christ-like qualities in Aragorn. He has a kingdom to come into, a bride to wed. One powerful image is of the “Hands of the Healer” – in the Houses of Healing: Aragorn, the King, has the ability to heal people by touching them with his hands. Another King had the touch that healed Jairus’ daughter, the centurion’s servant, the lepers, the blind man and the sick who were lowered through the roof at Capaernum. 

 lord-of-the-rings-collage

Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo all have Christ like marks – with Aragorn the king entering his kingdom, the return of whom everyone is expecting;

 

In Gandalf we are also confronted by Resurrection –a life beyond the present is evoked as  Gandalf dies after he fights the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum; but returns – and is initially unrecognised, strengthened as Gandalf the White; recalling Gethsemane and Emmaus.

 

Gandalf’s transformation tells us something about the Christian idea of justice, which is at the heart of the book. In the end, everyone gets what they deserve.  Saruman starts off as Saruman the White, but following his fall, ends up as Saruman of Many Colours. The order of “rank” in the wizard hierarchy holds white as the highest, followed by grey and then brown; they almost sound like orders of monks and friars with Gandalf the Grey becoming Gandalf the White.

 

There is even a sort of papacy in the wizard Gandalf – after all, he acts as leader to the free and faithful people, and he even crowns kings, as did popes of old. And as a spiritual father to Frodo, who tells Gandalf that he wishes he had not been born into such a time as this that “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

 gandalf

 

There is the further thought that along with Galdalf’s papal colour of white, the name of the Pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, is translated into English as Gandolf’s Castle. Perhaps it means nothing; perhaps it is another elvish rune.

 

 

In Boromir we see a willingness to lay down his life for his friends (made all the more remarkable because of his earlier attempt to seize the ring by force and by his subsequent repentance). Boromir is rewarded for his repentance by dying a hero’s death by an orc’s arrow and being given a hero’s funeral.  All of the fallen characters are given a chance to repent, although most of them– such as Wormtongue, Gollum and Saruman – unlike Boromir, do not.

 

 

In Frodo, we see a willingness both to serve and to carry his burden. The very future of Middle Earth is at stake, and it is the Fellowship which wins salvation for Middle Earth, although not without cost, including self-sacrifice.

 

Elrond tells Frodo that it is his destiny to be a ring bearer; but this is no pleasurable occupation. Frodo, like Christ, takes up his cross.

 

Throughout the quest Frodo’s strength in increasingly sapped by the burden he carries and of which he seeks to be rid.  His stumbling approach to Mordor, under the Eye of Sauron, is like the faltering steps of Christ weighed down by his Cross as he repeatedly falls on the path to Golgotha; and, like Christ, Frodo is tempted by despair.

 

 

Indeed, Frodo does succumb. His free will, hitherto so strong in resisting the powers of the Ring, gives way to the power of the Ring, and he cannot bring himself to throw it down into the fires of Mount Doom. Despite all his inner strength Frodo gradually succumbs to a dark fascination with the ring and he loses his free spirit and free will the closer he comes in proximity to Mount Doom

 

Enter here the Christian foot soldier, Samwise Gamgee.

 sam-gamgee

My own favourite character in The Lord of the Rings is based on the private soldiers Tolkien encountered at the Somme in 1916:

 

“My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 War, and recognised as so far superior to myself.”

 

Sam’s humility turns him into the greatest hero in the book.  Although he is only Frodo’s gardener, it is he who saves Frodo and ultimately the Shire. Mary Magdalene, in her first resurrection encounter with the Lord mistakes Jesus, thinking that he too is only a gardener.  Tolkien is reminding us that so often we miss what is important about the people we meet, what matters most, and too frequently judge them by the job they do or their social origins.

 

Sam is like Simon of Cyrene, sharing his Master’s burden and at the climax his devoted loyalty in following Frodo to the very end is rewarded as the burden is lightened and he is transfigured. 

 

Stratford Caldecott quotes Tolkien as saying that the plot is concerned with ‘the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble’ – and the meek Sam certainly inherits the earth.  

 

At a crucial moment in Mordor he must carry the Ringbearer, and even the Ring itself.  He moves from immature innocence to mature innocence: and finally, in his own world (that is, in Tolkien’s inner world of the Shire), this ‘gardener’ becomes a ‘king’ or at least a Mayor.  The fact is that Frodo could not have fulfilled his task without the continuing presence of Sam, and he relies utterly on him; yet Sam remains humble always and faithful to his master.

sam-gamgee2 

Through Sam Tolkien also reminds us of the Christian virtue of mercy and the role of Providence. Sam would have gladly disposed of Gollum whom he sees as a threat to Frodo. Gandalf commends Frodo for showing mercy and tells us that even Gollum may one day have his moment. As the ring is committed to the depths that Providence comes to pass.

 

As Sam, who begins the story by eavesdropping, returns to the Shire there is something of the Catholic love of order, tradition and a longing for restoration of that which has been lost.

 

Sam insists “there is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.” 

 

The fight culminates on a specific date: March 25th. It is the day on which the Ring is finally destroyed at Mount Doom. Gandalf tells Frodo “the New Year will always now begin on the 25th of March when Sauron fell, and you were brought out of the fire to the King.”  

 

Tom Shippey, in “The Road to Middle Earth”, says that in “Anglo-Saxon belief, and in European popular tradition both before and after that, March 25th is the date of the Crucifixion”, and it is also the date of the Annunciation.  Days to recall beginnings and endings.

 

 

The Lord of the Rings then is a story with many stories concealed within it. Tolkien’s subtlety is that he lays a trail of clues for his readers.

 

His final hidden clue – the last elvish rune – is the word Tolkien invented to describe what he saw as a good quality in a fairy-story – and that word was eucatastrophe, this being the notion that there is a “sudden joyous ‘turn’” in the story, where everything is going well, “giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy”, whilst not denying the “existence of dyscatastrophe – of sorrow and failure”.

 

Tolkien said:

 

“I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.

 tolkien2lord-of-the-rings2

That is what shaped his life, what shaped his beliefs, where faith and fiction are joined as one – and why his work is a great spiritual adventure as well as high fantasy at its very best.

 

 

 David Alton, November 2016.          

 

 

 

 

 

Recent Parliamentary Interventions: Refugee Children; Travellers and Roma; Polygamous Marriages and protection of Muslim women; Shelter’s campaign on housing standards; Debate on Mesothelioma: 40,000 British people have died of this fatal disease – and continue to do so. Pressure Continues for a National Mesothelioma Research Centre

  • November 17th 2016: Shelter’s Campaign on Housing Standards

    My Lords, the noble Lord rightly said that the 39 attributes of Shelter’s Living Home Standard are a useful benchmark against which to measure perceptions about the housing stock in Britain. However, will he give the House—if not today then in writing subsequently—details of the number of homes in Britain that are formally sub-standard, the number that are still not properly insulated and the number that still have no inside sanitation in the way of running hot water or bathrooms?

    My Lords, the noble Lord is right to concentrate on what is important in relation to the standard of homes. I can tell him that in 2014 20% of homes were regarded as below standard by the English Housing Survey, which is the recognised gold standard. That is a considerable improvement on the position in 2006, when, using the same measure, the figure was 35%.

    ——————————————————————–

  • November 16th 2016 Question on Unaccompanied Minors
    • Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)My Lords, Section 67(3) says that this will,“be in addition to … children under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme”.
    • Will the Minister tell us how many children have been received under that provision thus far? In additional, will she say something about the criteria she mentioned? She said that children at risk of sexual exploitation will be included, but why does that not extend to children who might be trafficked, or involved in labour exploitation or other provisions of the modern slavery legislation?
    •  
    • Baroness Williams of Trafford
    • My Lords, to answer the noble Lord’s last question first, any child at risk of sexual exploitation—that might include trafficking—will be a top priority, no matter what country they are from; ditto any child aged 12 or under. On the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, there have thus far been more than 3,000 people transferred, and half of those are children.
  • ———————————————————————–
  • Travellers and Roma – November 16th 2016

My Lords, I add my support to the powerful arguments that have been put before the Committee today by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in her excellent speech. Her amendment would include Gypsy and Irish Travellers in the ethnic monitoring systems used in youth justice. The argument for ethnic inclusion was put best by the then Commission for Racial Equality, which likened having an equality policy without ethnic monitoring to,

“aiming for good financial management without keeping financial records”.

Evidence has long suggested that Gypsies and Travellers suffer worse health outcomes, and are at more risk of suicide, than other ethnic groups. Research suggests that they are three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and over twice as likely to be depressed. This is consistent with findings by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, which has found similarly high levels of mental health issues experienced by Travellers and Gypsies in prison, with them also being twice as likely to experience mental health problems compared to other prisoners. As is common with most ethnic minorities, Gypsies and Travellers find it difficult to open up to people outside their community and are therefore far less likely to report issues to prison staff. These findings underline why ethnic monitoring is urgently needed in the youth justice system, as the noble Baroness has explained.

The Gypsy and Traveller groups that have developed in adult prisons as a consequence of ethnic monitoring have made an enormous difference to Gypsies’ and Travellers’ experiences inside those prisons. These act as a safe space where they can talk about how they are coping in prison and, more importantly, receive support from their own community. A Traveller forum in HM Prison Chelmsford, supported by the Brentwood Ursulines, is testament to this. The forum meetings are now attended by around 40 Gypsies and Travellers and acts a platform for Gypsies and Travellers to speak openly about the challenges that they face.

The forum has also helped to improve the literacy of Gypsies and Travellers. In order to secure a prison job, you are required to pass level 2 literacy, a threshold that many Gypsies and Travellers in prison are, sadly, unable to meet. As is often the case with people who struggle with reading and writing, they fear stigmatisation and ridicule if they admit they cannot read and write. This prevents many Gypsies and Travellers from engaging in education programmes. It is the ultimate Catch-22, a finding that is confirmed by the Irish Chaplaincy’s Traveller Equality Project.

Happily, however, I can report that as a consequence of the forum’s work many of those Gypsies and Travellers have started to take part in the Shannon Trust’s Turning Pages project, which assists prisoners who wish to learn how to read. This has had some significant outcomes, including the possibility of securing jobs. Equally importantly, the forum has also greatly improved the relations between the Gypsy and Traveller prisoners and the prison staff who attend the meetings, and address issues that have been raised. Without the introduction of ethnic monitoring, it is hard to imagine how some of those things would have been achieved.

8.15 pm

Such groups are even more important in the youth justice system, where the young people and children are more vulnerable and at greater risk. I know that the right honourable Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, is considering a sign-off of the 18+1 annual data requirements, requiring police forces to include the categories of “Gypsy or Irish Traveller” and indeed “Arab” in the collection of data. The current arrangements are discretionary and therefore haphazard and random, with some constabularies collecting data and others not.

The National Police Chiefs Council’s lead for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, Deputy Chief Constable Janette McCormick from Cheshire, where such data collection is done—I know the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, will be aware of this work—is strongly supportive of the change. In fact, Cheshire Constabulary has used the 18+1 ethnicity classification system since 2004. In support of the change, DCC McCormick has said:

“I believe that ethnic monitoring by all public services works best when it builds on the Census data, which remains the bedrock of all statistical information. Not recording Gypsy and Traveller ethnicity makes it difficult to ensure that agencies are providing needed services in a fair way and that they are fulfilling their obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty”.

In addition, the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association, a support network for police personnel who are from such backgrounds, is fully supportive of the proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the College of Policing has recently established a Valuing Difference and Inclusion programme. Adopting 18+1 would be in tune with that strategy and would set standards for forces about being inclusive to all points of difference both within and beyond the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, of which ethnicity is one. By recording ethnicity along with all the other data collected, the police could then use that information to see where and why inequalities were occurring. Even more importantly, forces could then use that knowledge to remove any unfairness or disadvantage.

When I looked at the constabularies that were collecting this information, I was surprised to find that the Metropolitan Police was not among them. I wrote to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, and subsequently had an excellent meeting with him. I was delighted to receive a letter back from him saying:

“I note your concerns regarding the MPS system of collecting ethnicity data, and your request that Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers are included in the collection of data. I agree to the change in principle as I believe key community partners would welcome the change and it would be a positive signal from the Metropolitan Police to other forces. I have asked for an implementation plan to be devised looking into the practicalities of implementing this as soon as possible”.

We should welcome that. It is a very positive signal that here in the capital such data collection will be done in future. I hope that other police forces follow suit and that when the Minister comes to reply to this debate, she will give a fair wind to this excellent amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.


 

Polygamous Marriages and the Protection of Muslim Women – November 16th 2016

My Lords, I welcome this amendment and congratulate my noble friend Lady Cox both on her persistence in raising these issues and on her courage. I have had the privilege of travelling with my noble friend to some out-of-the-way places such as North Korea; but—perhaps more importantly in the context of this debate—before my daughter went up to university, I told her that the person she should travel with, and get to know a little of, if ever she wanted to think about going into public or political life, was my noble friend Lady Cox. She therefore accompanied my noble friend to Nagorno-Karabakh—a war zone—and I hope that she will one day be a chip off my noble friend’s block.

The House might not be aware of it, but my noble friend has arrived back today from Nigeria, which is not such a bad place to start, because we know that my noble friend travels to dangerous places to see things for herself. In Nigeria, look how Boko Haram—words that mean “eradicate western education”—treats young women. Look at what happened in Chibok. Look at the seizure of those girls. Look at the denial of education for young girls, such as those who were seized in Chibok, and then ask yourself some serious questions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, did in her remarks a few moments ago. Look at the nature of sharia law, and ask, “Is that something we would want to have operating as a parallel law system in the United Kingdom?” It is a system, after all, that says that a woman’s evidence in a court of law is worth only half that of a man. That is surely intolerable in our society and we should resist it with every means available to us.

I attended a meeting organised by my noble friend Lady Cox a few weeks ago and became interested in this issue as a result of that meeting, which was held here in your Lordships’ House and was addressed by some formidable Muslim women and others. They highlighted the risks of having parallel systems of law in the same jurisdiction, a situation that put at risk the equality of Muslim women and failed to protect them. The principle of equality before the law should always be a central pillar of our democracy, yet we know from countless testimonies—such as those I heard that evening and others alluded to today by my noble friend—that many Muslim women in Britain are not experiencing the legal rights by which they should be protected. We heard that in the context of things such as polygamy a few moments ago. They are not treated equally; they are not living freely, and they are inhibited from getting the help they really need.

Take, for example, the story of A’aisha—a pseudonym, of course—from the West Midlands. Upon the breakdown of her own Islamic marriage, she discovered that she was not entitled to the same rights afforded to other British divorcees. Like so many others, she had wrongly assumed that, because her religious wedding ceremony had taken place in the UK, it did not need to be accompanied by a civil marriage in order for it to be recognised under English law. As my noble friend Lady Cox has already said, this amendment seeks to protect women such as A’aisha, and to help those who might be duped into believing that they were married under the law of the land, only to find upon divorce that they have few rights in respect of finance or property. It is intolerable that women should be treated in this way.

I recognise, as my noble friend has said, that this is a probing amendment. It may well indeed need tweaking and improving, but I trust it will promote a positive response from the Front Bench. I hope that when the Minister replies, we might at least start to think about how we can bring forward more comprehensive measures to address effectively concerns such as those raised by my noble friend Lady Cox and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in your Lordships’ House this evening.

mesotheliomameso uk2meso 3meso uk BLF

 

Debate on Mesothelioma: October 27th 2016

https://davidalton.net/2016/03/01/mesothelioma-why-are-servicemen-and-women-excluded-from-help-call-in-the-house-of-lords-for-an-annual-impact-statement-to-monitor-the-number-of-fatalities-and-progress-on-research-into-causes-an/

Also see:

https://davidalton.net/2014/10/11/liverpool-conference-on-mesotheioma-and-the-law/

October 27th 2016

5.20 pm

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to support the noble Lord, Lord Wills. It gives me the chance to say how much I have appreciated working with him, the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and other noble Lords in trying to push this issue up the list of political priorities. An indication that the message is bearing fruit was contained in the former Chancellor’s Budget announcement on 16 March that £5 million would be approved for a national mesothelioma centre, which I greatly welcome.

This is also a chance to say that after the Second Reading of my Private Member’s Bill on mesothelioma research the Minister has been unstinting in his efforts to draw together the medical and scientific community, the insurance industry and diverse political interests. It is good to be able to put on record my appreciation of his commitment and engagement. That Private Member’s Bill emerged from a narrowly defeated amendment in your Lordships’ House that would have required the more than 120 insurance companies to contribute to mesothelioma research. The former Minister told the House that he was confident that the four insurance companies that were then voluntarily supporting research would be joined by others. The sad reality, as we have heard, is that the four fell to two, Aviva and Zurich.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, just told us, insurance companies that represent employers whose employees were exposed to fatal asbestos must recognise their moral obligation, but it is also in their own self-interest to help find the causes of and cures for mesothelioma—a public health disaster that should never have happened. I recently heard from a patient support group that is concerned by media reports that Companies House proposes to destroy defunct company files after a period of five years. Perhaps the Minister will either say a word about this or agree to write to me.

The admirable British Lung Foundation says that we are now at a point in mesothelioma research where we can see real potential. For example, Dr Sarah Martin at Barts Cancer Institute has found that 50% of mesotheliomas lose the enzyme ASS1, which makes the amino acid arginine. As these mesotheliomas depend on a steady supply of arginine from the bloodstream and other cells to grow, Dr Martin is exploring the potential of using existing drugs to block the flow of arginine to these cells, in turn starving them.

Resourcing this and innovatory adult stem cell work, which the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and I heard about more than two years ago and which we were told would require £2.5 million to bring to clinical trials, is imperative in a country that has the highest recorded incidence of mesothelioma in the world, with 40,000 recorded deaths already, and, as we have heard, a further 2,500 deaths annually. One in five work-related deaths are attributed to mesothelioma. What is the Government’s current estimate of the cumulative number of British people who will die of mesothelioma over the next 30 years? Perhaps we can also be told how many of the 3,000 cancer nurse specialists specialise in mesothelioma care.

With tens of thousands destined to succumb to this fatal disease, it greatly disturbs me that we have no national programme, plan or timetable for the removal of asbestos from our environment, although, by contrast, we have devised one for the Palace of Westminster. Significant quantities of asbestos remain in our homes, workplaces and public buildings, not least in the schools referred to by my noble friend Lady Finlay, and there is a growing incidence of mesothelioma among schoolteachers. As my noble friend said, we should carefully consider the effects on children.

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will refer to the need for a national strategy and to what he might be able to do to draw cross-departmental Ministers together to consider what it should consist of. I hope too that he will look at properly resourced research in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, described, as well as at an examination within his own department of the significant variations in the levels of care, treatment and support, which have been referred to during this short debate.

5.25 pm

Full debate follows:

Mesothelioma – Hansard Online

Mesothelioma

 27 October 2016
Volume 776
 Question for Short Debate
 5.00 pm

Asked by

      • To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to support those who have contracted mesothelioma.

      • My Lords, I asked for this debate to highlight, again, the urgent need for progress in research into effective treatments for mesothelioma. This is not a new topic for your Lordships’ House, and the fact that we are returning to it again, and that so many of your Lordships signed up for this short debate, indicates its importance.

        As your Lordships’ House has heard many times before, mesothelioma is a terrible disease, among the most cruel of all fatal illnesses. It is inflicted too often on those who contracted it through their occupation which exposed them to the asbestos which causes it, and too often through public service, so members of the armed services and teachers as well as factory workers have been disproportionately affected by it. Yet those suffering from it, and their families, were appallingly treated for decades. It took years of struggle to force insurance companies to discharge their obligations to pay compensation, in the end taking legislation by the previous Labour Government—I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord McKenzie on the Front Bench today, as he was the Minister who did so much to make that happen—and the coalition Government to force them to do this.

        There have been inexcusable delays in providing adequate resourcing for research into effective treatments for this dreadful illness. More than twice as much is spent on breast cancer research per sufferer, for example, than on mesothelioma. This matters. Although these are projections and, given the long gestation periods for this illness, they could well be underestimates, more than 50,000 people are projected to die in this country alone. There will be many more times that number in the rest of the world. Mesothelioma is a global problem. It affects almost everywhere in the world, including some of the poorest countries in Asia and Africa, countries ill-equipped to develop such research on their own.

        However, for all these problems, in the past few months since the last time the House debated the issue, there has been significant progress. The most recent Budget allocated £5 million towards research and the setting up of a national mesothelioma centre. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister who did so much to make that possible and who has always been a stalwart supporter of efforts to improve the situation of those suffering from this disease. There is also now the possibility of matching funds from a charitable donor, thanks in large part to the efforts of my noble friends Lord Giddens and Lord Alton and the British Lung Foundation, and two insurance companies, Aviva and Zurich, have over the past two years, to their credit, donated a combined £1 million to the British Lung Foundation’s mesothelioma research programme. However, all this is only a start. It has been estimated that a national centre for mesothelioma research, on a hub-and-spoke model, will need set-up costs of £15 million to £20 million and projected running costs of £3 million to £5 million annually. So much could be done with this funding. Medical science has made extraordinary progress in the past decades. Once-dread diseases have become manageable through the efforts of brilliant and dedicated researchers, and the combination of developments in genomic science and the dazzling new power to process data digitally promises so much more.

        We have the infrastructure in the form of the MesobanK, a biobank unique in Europe and one of only two worldwide, which collects tissue, blood samples and clinical data from mesothelioma patients to help accelerate research across the UK and internationally. Sequencing technology is being used to observe gene mutations in mesothelioma which will support the development of future therapies. Advances are being made in immunotherapy and radiotherapy. Other developments in genetic research could produce advances in treatment if sufficient funding is found to run appropriate clinical trials. So where is the extra money going to come from to build on these developments and make further progress possible?

        The Government obviously have it in their power to provide it by increasing the sums of money available for research, and the arguments for doing so are compelling. I shall run through them briefly. Apart from the alleviation of terrible suffering in patients, it would save taxpayers money. Of course, there is no guarantee that any research will produce results, but the experience of research into other cancers suggests that a combination of money and time will produce significant advances in treatment, saving taxpayers some of the huge sums involved in treating mesothelioma sufferers, currently upwards of £75,000 per patient, with total annual costs exceeding £185 million. By 2050, the total is likely to rise above £5 billion. Investing in mesothelioma research can only help to build on our world lead in biomedical research.

        Even in these difficult times, £3 million a year would more than treble the amount currently spent and fund a national centre to co-ordinate and develop research. Perhaps a little of all those savings that leading figures in the Government promised us would result from leaving the EU could be made available for research into this terrible disease. I suspect that this will not be the last time the Minister hears that particular argument in the months ahead.

        If not from government, where else might funding come from? The insurance industry has historically been implicated in the way mesothelioma sufferers and their families have been failed over generations, but the Mesothelioma Act 2014 offers an opportunity to start a new chapter in that relationship, building on the good examples set by Aviva and Zurich. Surely, the time has come for others in the industry to stand beside them in providing the relatively small sums, in terms of their turnover and profits, to fund research. After all, the more effective treatments can be found, the less they will need to pay out in the long run.

        Perhaps the time has come also to look to another business sector that has been heavily involved in these issues over the years. Law firms have received huge sums in fee income from mesothelioma claims over the years. Of course, much of this has been justified, as they fought for justice for sufferers, and no one should ever want to see the victims of this disease denied appropriate legal representation. However, the Mesothelioma Act has streamlined the process for compensation, so perhaps the time has come to look at those fees, with a view either to fixing them, and thereby releasing more funds that could be made available for research, or for the legal industry to step up beside insurers to ensure that research is adequately funded.

        Progress is waiting to be made, and there are ways of making it quickly and relatively painlessly, but, if none of these things happen, this campaign will still continue. As we have seen over and over again over the past 10 years, neither your Lordships’ House nor the other place will accept the status quo. I hope that there is action that the Government can and will take, and I hope that the Minister will indicate today that they will at least be prepared to explore one or more of the ways that I have suggested to ensure that the funds so desperately needed for research into this cruel disease will be made available, and soon.

5.08 pm

      • My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for introducing this very important topic. Unfortunately, at the beginning of this year, someone I know extremely well was diagnosed with mesothelioma. She is a middle-aged woman who does not have any connection to the building industry and has not lived or worked in a building under renovation—and nor has any of her family. As noble Lords can imagine, therefore, it was an incredible shock. Over this year, I have become quite familiar with the disease and its treatments, so this afternoon I am speaking from the point of view of the patient.

        What has really struck me is the stark contrast in the drugs you receive if you treated under the NHS and those you can receive if you are being treated under private healthcare and are wealthy enough to be able to afford the best possible treatment available. Those treatments can extend life expectancy, which on diagnosis if you undergo all the chemotherapy, is on average about 18 months. The NHS provides the chemotherapy and does an absolutely wonderful job. An operation can be undertaken, although it is a very complex one, to remove the multiple tumours associated with mesothelioma. It can involve removing the diaphragm, the pleura around the lungs and the membrane around the heart. Skilled surgeons are required to undertake the operation and some healthcare companies provide cover for it, although the NHS will not. The cover that most healthcare providers offer does not necessarily meet the full costs of the surgeons, who have to be very highly skilled. Undertaking the operation means that you can double the life expectancy of an individual.

        At the end of chemotherapy, what are the options? You can continue with a drug called Avastin, which is licensed for breast cancer but not for mesothelioma. It can be taken in conjunction with the rest of the chemotherapy. It costs £5,000 a pop. Some health insurance companies and providers will cover it, but the NHS will not. You take it once every three weeks, so more than £86,000 a year is required to cover the cost. Some patients have been on it for more than two years without recurrence. Its success varies as people vary, but there have been some great successes.

        If—or unfortunately more like when—the mesothelioma returns, what are the options? You can try the chemo again, although sadly it is not always effective. The NHS will provide that chemo. What health insurance companies and the NHS do not cover is access to the latest drugs. The one that is most recommended costs a quarter of a million pounds—it is a one-off treatment and it has to be funded. Under the NHS you have access to UK trials, but because this disease is incredibly rare and has multiple sub-types, the trial you would be best suited to is not necessarily taking place in the UK, so if you want to get on a trial you have to fund your own transport and accommodation costs, possibly for several months while you undergo the trial. Life expectancy can and has been proven to be extended in people who have been fortunate enough to be able to afford this.

        As the noble Lord, Lord Wills, mentioned earlier, there are many civil suits as people are able to identify the source of asbestos that triggered their mesothelioma. However, a group of people are unable to identify the source and are totally reliant on the Government’s compensation scheme, which goes nowhere near covering the costs that will prolong their lives. I therefore ask the Government to please look at the compensation scheme to see whether the payments can be upped so that everybody, regardless of their own wealth, can have access to these drugs. It involves a relatively small number of people because only about 2,500 a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, and only a percentage will not have a civil action. It therefore should not cost the Government that much. It seems only right and fair to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to prolong their life as far as possible.

5.12 pm

      • My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for securing this important debate, and the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, for outlining the clinical scenarios that people face, often when they are young, as they suddenly realise that they have this devastating disease. More than 2,500 cases are diagnosed each year.

        I will focus initially on the iceberg effect; we are seeing just the tip because of asbestos in schools and the worry about that. Some 94% of cases of mesothelioma are effectively preventable because they are associated with chronic exposure to asbestos in one way or another, and we know that three-quarters of our schools have asbestos in place. The number of teachers dying of mesothelioma has been going up from around three a year in the early 1980s to 22 in 2012 alone. That is a marker of developing mesothelioma following chronic exposure.

        The Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment has pointed out that we do not know whether children are intrinsically more susceptible to developing mesothelioma following asbestos exposure. However, it seems that the lifetime risk if they are exposed at the age of five is about five times that of someone aged 30 who is exposed to the same amount of asbestos. Therefore it seems that exposing children is storing up problems for the future.

        I would like to coin the term “pre-mesothelioma” for the number of people in the population who will probably go on to develop mesothelioma but have no idea about it at all. If we are undertaking research, we have to get to earlier diagnosis, so we have to find ways much earlier on of picking up the markers of transformation to malignancy in the areas where asbestos fibres are stored. At the moment we do not know of any actionable drivers of the disease in order to pick up and identify early markers. There are multicentre trials, as the noble Baroness has just outlined, but the problem is that they are very disparate. That is why there is a desperate need for a single centre in the UK to co-ordinate them. That reminds me of when I was a very junior doctor and the MRC co-ordinated trials into the leukaemias, and it was from those that some advances were made. There needs to be a driver with just about everybody being recruited into a trial if that is at all possible. Currently, patients have to find out about trials and they do not really know where to go. They want to contribute because they do not want the same thing to happen to other people. The other problem is that of course while the MesobanK is in place and the cell lines are coming along, they are not there yet. We need to identify how tumour surface antigens are expressed and detect better markers of early disease.

        I remind noble Lords that 60% of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are dead within a year; in other words, they are palliative care patients. I am afraid that some clinical commissioning groups are not commissioning specialist palliative care services adequately, not at a level that allows them to be integrated with cancer and chest disease services. That is essential to provide psychosocial support as well as support for the rest of the family, and to deal with the devastating symptoms of the disease. Those groups of specialists also want to research some of the effects of the disease when it is not curable.

        Lastly, we need data. I declare an interest as chairman of the National Council for Palliative Care. I was very concerned to discover that Public Health England does not plan to carry on collecting a minimum dataset from specialist palliative care services. Without that data we will not know whether what we are doing is improving services for patients. It would cost only £200,000 to refresh the collection and data management process, which in the greater order of things is nothing. Without good data on the number of patients, the people who transform from what I would call pre-mesothelioma into mesothelioma, and the numbers that need palliative care services, we will have no idea whether we are improving.

5.16 pm

      • My Lords, I had always associated mesothelioma with the construction trade. It came as a complete shock that a dear friend—Sylvia, a retired maths teacher, an energetic walker and a very active grandmother—should be diagnosed with the disease. It may well have been contracted 50 years ago when she worked as a teacher in west Africa. It was even more of a shock to discover that it was a death sentence. Sylvia died a troubled and dreadful death five months later. As her husband Geoff said, “This cancer doesn’t allow for peace. There are more sorts of pain than those that can be, and were, dulled by opiates”.

        What shocked me almost as much was the struggle of medical researchers to raise money to find improved treatments for the disease. The British Lung Foundation —BLF—and Mesothelioma UK have campaigned tirelessly for more research but with only limited success. Do funders regard it as a marginal cancer? Perhaps they think it will be reduced over time because products containing asbestos were banned in the UK in 1999. How have we become so complacent? Some 2,500 people in the UK are predicted to die each year of mesothelioma. The incidence is increasing, as has been mentioned, for example among schoolteachers. How have we become so blind to the immense suffering of those who contract the disease and of the families who care for them? Although we can hope that the rate will eventually decrease, no such hope is available in developing countries where asbestos continues to be used and where committed people just like my friend Sylvia will continue to work, as will countless members of the local populations.

        Research is key yet the BLF’s figures show that funding is absolutely parlous compared with other cancers that kill a similar number, and even the published figures are thought to be an overestimate. I talked to the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at UCL—I declare an interest as a member of council at UCL. UCL, along with Leicester and Barts, is doing innovative and exciting work with a small amount of funding into genomic damage which might lead to targeted new treatments. Other centres are similarly innovative. How much more could be done if they were better funded?

        Companies such as Hugh James, Simpson Millar and Shield Environmental Services have donated. Insurers have helped in the past. Two which have already been mentioned, Aviva and Zurich, have increased their contribution to £1 million over two years, but the final grant is this year. The £5 million grant from the Government this year for a national centre for research is indeed welcome. I hope it will enable increased collaboration with other centres, but it will take £5 million each year to put mesothelioma on a par with other cancers, such as skin cancers, that have the same mortality levels.

        A more sustainable model is required. Where is the rest of the insurance industry? Insurers are likely to pay out £11 billion in compensation to people who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace. If only a tiny fraction of this were donated to research, it would be transformational. Saving lives by donating to research could potentially save insurers millions. Will the Minister commit to some strong arm-twisting to persuade the industry to make this a comprehensive and permanent commitment, if necessary on a statutory basis?

        I want to make a final point about the carers of those affected. My friend’s husband Geoff said, “Sylvia’s progress wasn’t predictable, no routine could be established, every day involved new challenges”. He was part-retired and had a pension. Supported by the GP and the district nurse, he was able to provide the care that enabled Sylvia to live and die at home as she wanted, where her dignity was preserved in a way she felt it could not have been even in the kindest institution. If he had been on a limited income and had to go out to work, how would that have been managed? Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to make that kind of caring an option for anyone suffering a terminal illness of this kind?

5.20 pm

      • My Lords, I am delighted to be able to support the noble Lord, Lord Wills. It gives me the chance to say how much I have appreciated working with him, the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and other noble Lords in trying to push this issue up the list of political priorities. An indication that the message is bearing fruit was contained in the former Chancellor’s Budget announcement on 16 March that £5 million would be approved for a national mesothelioma centre, which I greatly welcome.

        This is also a chance to say that after the Second Reading of my Private Member’s Bill on mesothelioma research the Minister has been unstinting in his efforts to draw together the medical and scientific community, the insurance industry and diverse political interests. It is good to be able to put on record my appreciation of his commitment and engagement. That Private Member’s Bill emerged from a narrowly defeated amendment in your Lordships’ House that would have required the more than 120 insurance companies to contribute to mesothelioma research. The former Minister told the House that he was confident that the four insurance companies that were then voluntarily supporting research would be joined by others. The sad reality, as we have heard, is that the four fell to two, Aviva and Zurich.

        As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, just told us, insurance companies that represent employers whose employees were exposed to fatal asbestos must recognise their moral obligation, but it is also in their own self-interest to help find the causes of and cures for mesothelioma—a public health disaster that should never have happened. I recently heard from a patient support group that is concerned by media reports that Companies House proposes to destroy defunct company files after a period of five years. Perhaps the Minister will either say a word about this or agree to write to me.

        The admirable British Lung Foundation says that we are now at a point in mesothelioma research where we can see real potential. For example, Dr Sarah Martin at Barts Cancer Institute has found that 50% of mesotheliomas lose the enzyme ASS1, which makes the amino acid arginine. As these mesotheliomas depend on a steady supply of arginine from the bloodstream and other cells to grow, Dr Martin is exploring the potential of using existing drugs to block the flow of arginine to these cells, in turn starving them.

        Resourcing this and innovatory adult stem cell work, which the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and I heard about more than two years ago and which we were told would require £2.5 million to bring to clinical trials, is imperative in a country that has the highest recorded incidence of mesothelioma in the world, with 40,000 recorded deaths already, and, as we have heard, a further 2,500 deaths annually. One in five work-related deaths are attributed to mesothelioma. What is the Government’s current estimate of the cumulative number of British people who will die of mesothelioma over the next 30 years? Perhaps we can also be told how many of the 3,000 cancer nurse specialists specialise in mesothelioma care.

        With tens of thousands destined to succumb to this fatal disease, it greatly disturbs me that we have no national programme, plan or timetable for the removal of asbestos from our environment, although, by contrast, we have devised one for the Palace of Westminster. Significant quantities of asbestos remain in our homes, workplaces and public buildings, not least in the schools referred to by my noble friend Lady Finlay, and there is a growing incidence of mesothelioma among schoolteachers. As my noble friend said, we should carefully consider the effects on children.

        When the Minister replies, I hope that he will refer to the need for a national strategy and to what he might be able to do to draw cross-departmental Ministers together to consider what it should consist of. I hope too that he will look at properly resourced research in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, described, as well as at an examination within his own department of the significant variations in the levels of care, treatment and support, which have been referred to during this short debate.

5.25 pm

      • My Lords, mesothelioma, if I may put it in this way, has a past and a future. The past has seen a long struggle to get the origins of the disease recognised and then to achieve adequate compensation for those suffering from it. That struggle is well documented in the book by Geoffrey Tweedale, Magic Mineral to Killer Dust. Asbestos was originally a magic mineral. He shows in detail just how much industry resistance there was to accepting the link between asbestos and mesothelioma.

        I wish to pay tribute to MPs and noble Lords. If your Lordships will forgive me, I should like to single out—it is like a little boys’ club—the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Wills, with whom I have worked closely, but many have been involved in pressing for proper recognition of the disease and for increased compensation for sufferers. That struggle, of course, continues. The British Lung Foundation has been mentioned, and a range of other, more local groups have had a significant impact. It is good news that former members of the armed services who have contracted mesothelioma will henceforth be entitled to significant compensation. However, on the issues of adequate compensation and giving the disease a higher profile in the public consciousness, plainly a lot more needs to be done. I am afraid that Action Mesothelioma Day, designated as Friday 1 July this year, received only scant coverage in the press.

        When I say that mesothelioma has a past but also a future, I mean that it is time to stop it being seen as simply a legacy disease—a hangover from a time when asbestos was widely used. I believe—and I hope that people who work more directly in medicine than me will agree—that we are entering a period of potential breakthroughs on the frontiers of medical research, especially as concerns the diverse forms of cancer. The awesome algorithmic power of supercomputers is making possible advances in genetics that could not have been achieved before. A good example—perhaps the most well known—is the supercomputer Watson, which won the amazing game of “Jeopardy!” on American television. It is an ordinary-language, everyday knowledge game. At one point, no one thought that it would possible for a computer to win it, as it depends on so much everyday knowledge. In terms of being applied to cancer research, as is now the case, Watson and other supercomputers have massive capacities compared with any human researcher. They may not have the same innovative capacities, but their algorithmic powers are extraordinary. Watson can sift through literally millions of scientific papers and use data-mining to suggest hypotheses to be subject to further tests. One should also mention the supercomputer Beagle at the University of Chicago, which is being used to radically accelerate genome analysis.

        For the first time ever—perhaps because of the digital revolution, which is one of the things we are talking about—there is a truly global community of scientists working at the cutting edge of medical issues once thought to be intractable. As a result of such ongoing research, we now know that mesothelioma shares certain components, on a genetic level, with other types of cancer. Cancers are in general now increasingly identified genetically rather than described on a more macro level. This means that research into the nature of mesothelioma is of broader significance than was once thought to be the case, and that advancing knowledge about other forms of cancer can in turn be brought to bear on mesothelioma. For these reasons, like other noble Lords, I very much welcome the £5 million towards establishing a research centre, which the noble Lord, Lord Prior, has played such an important part in. As the noble Lord knows, I would like us to raise further sums, which I believe one can do once this funding exists. I would like the centre to have a global orientation linked to, for example, the Pacific Mesothelioma Center in Los Angeles. We should drive research onwards to look not just for improved treatments but for something that is perhaps no longer completely impossible: some kind of cure.

5.30 pm

      • My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for securing this debate and giving us an opportunity to discuss this subject once again.

        I shall focus my remarks today on how we might improve mesothelioma surgery in the NHS. It is a subject that rarely gets discussed, but one that deserves much more attention than it gets at present. I was delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, was able today to highlight some of the options available.

        When my sister Annabel was diagnosed with mesothelioma a couple of years ago, one of the treatments available to her was radical surgery. This meant removing her pleura, the lining surrounding each of her lungs. Finding a surgeon with the right experience was not a straightforward process and relied entirely upon a Rolodex network of surgeons that her oncologist had built up over many years, often scattered around the country. Eventually, she found someone to evaluate her, but it took a long time to arrange and the procedure proposed was very risky, which was due in part to the fact that her tumour had grown so rapidly since her original diagnosis. On top of that, the surgeon, although very experienced, had not performed the procedure very often and lacked the familiarity of approach that specialisation usually provides. Given its radical nature and the need for complete tumour removal, should not surgical resection be concentrated at one centre of excellence, where patients can receive immediate attention, new techniques can be researched and surgeons can benefit from training and others’ experience? I am sure that patients will be willing to travel as far as needed to be in the hands of super-specialists.

        Given the highly specialised procedure of removing pleura, what research is currently being carried out on resection methods? How does the NHS plan to optimise its approach to such surgery? Does it, for example, appear in the National Institutes of Health research plan? If not, why not? Again, there is huge scope for improvement here.

        With regard to new drugs, what research is currently taking place on the impact of preoperative non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, given their success in other forms of cancer surgery? This should be another research priority for the NIHR, especially given the chronic inflammation component of mesothelioma. The synergies are such that we ought to be applying the benefits of such cancer research wherever possible. This is a cheap intervention, given that the drugs are generic.

        All these issues point to the need for a specialist surgical registry and surgical outcome transparency in mesothelioma. Even transparency on the basics of annual volume and 30-day mortality by surgeon, centre and surgical approach would allow the supervising oncologists to find experienced surgeons in a timely manner. It will also allow for continuous surgical method improvement and best-practice dissemination. This holds true not only in mesothelioma but in less common and rare cancers requiring radical high-risk surgery. These cancer surgical registries should be a priority for the NIHR and NHS England. We need clarity about which body is responsible for their funding, given that they span both quality control and research. I hope that the Minister will encourage the bodies responsible to outline how they plan to drive and develop surgical registries and associated research in these cancers.

5.34 pm

      • My Lords, I, too, would like to focus on the patients—the 2,500 British people who are expected to die each year of mesothelioma, most of whom have contracted the disease as a result of exposure to asbestos. The use of asbestos in industry and construction, although now banned, was a practice that has had a detrimental effect on many lives, and it is our duty now to offer sufficient aid to those it has affected.

        Asbestos lurks in many strange places, including, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, this very building. My husband and I recently demolished an old cottage on our property, and we discovered that there was asbestos in the floor tiles with which my late mother-in-law had been living for 40 years. We had to have them removed by specialists. In the 1970s, when I lived in an old farmhouse, I used an asbestos product to fill the rather irregular holes that I used to drill in the walls to hang pictures and bookshelves, having no idea that there may be a problem with it. Concerns about the dangers of asbestos were first raised early in the 20th century, but its use was not outlawed until 1999. For the thousands of cases now arising 40 or 50 years after first exposure, it is our responsibility to ensure that they are given the compensation and support they require. Unfortunately, the median survival time for pleural mesothelioma, once it has taken hold, is 12 months from diagnosis, but this time, and beyond for the dependents of those affected, must be made as comfortable as possible for those who need help.

        Over the years, there have been many shortcomings in the handling of asbestos-related cases across the globe, one such case being the fire at the central ordnance depot in Donnington, Shropshire, in 1983. The blaze which released a huge cloud of asbestos into the air has had a huge repercussion which is still being felt today. Paula Ann Nunn, Ellen Paddock, Susan Maughan, Richard George and Marion Groves are just five local people who contracted mesothelioma and unfortunately passed away as a direct result. Mrs Maughan died only last October. Her daughter told the inquest that it took the local authority five days before they told the community so they were exposed to asbestos for all that time. The ash cloud which spread over an area of 15 square miles attracted many small children who played in it as if it were snow which fell in local gardens for days before people were told it was unsafe. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, how very harmful that could be to those children. My colleague and noble friend Lady Pinnock has told me about many cases in her area of Kirklees, resulting from working for a brake linings factory, long since closed down.

        Mesothelioma is generally resistant to conventional cancer treatment. Long-term survival and cures are extremely difficult, but that does not mean that the mistakes of government and industry alike over the past century should not be paid for by compensation to those affected. The current range of available benefits, both lump sums and long-term allowances, must get to the right people at the right time. The Mesothelioma Act 2014, for which we have to congratulate several noble Lords present today, went a long way to help those who had been unable to access compensation because of the passage of time or a lack of effective record-keeping identifying those responsible. Since 2014, a total of £62.2 million has been awarded. However, of those who were unhappy with the result and requested a review of what they were awarded, 25% had their compensation rate altered—I presume upwards. Given that this illness is still an issue affecting thousands of British people every year and that the nature of mesothelioma’s progress means that time is literally of the essence, it is essential that the correct support is awarded without delay in all cases. Given the significant number of cases reviewed since the launch of the scheme, how do the Government intend to learn from those cases and improve the process so that the right decision is made the first time in as many cases as possible?

        Can the Minister also outline the ways in which the Government are promoting the compensation scheme, so that those most in need are fully aware of the support available? Given the vital work done by the charitable organisation, Mesothelioma UK, and its invaluable lung nurse specialists, do the Government intend to follow its lead and introduce more specialist nurses into hospitals to support patients?

        Finally, to safeguard against mesothelioma cases slipping under radar given the disease’s lengthy latency, are the Government willing to begin actively seeking out those involved in previous incidents, such as the Donnington fire, so as to promote early identification of their disease and to get immediate support to them?

5.40 pm

      • My Lords, this has been a brief but exceptionally well-informed debate. We have heard from noble Lords whose understanding of mesothelioma has been driven by a family experience, a colleague’s experience or a friend’s experience. We have also heard from the medical fraternity and its expertise. I thank my noble friend Lord Wills for initiating this debate and acknowledge the work which he, together with the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Giddens, and others, have done since our last debate on this topic a year ago. We should remember, as have others, the tireless efforts of Lord Avebury, who campaigned persistently for the sufferers of mesothelioma.

        Obtaining justice for sufferers of mesothelioma has been a long and tortuous journey. I think that it is fair to say that, until recent times, efforts have been concentrated on seeking to ensure that sufferers and their families have received material support—money—to help them cope with the traumatic effects of this invariably fatal and excruciatingly painful condition. This journey has encompassed access to the industrial injuries disablement benefit; the 1979 compensation Act for work-related mesothelioma where the employer no longer exists or their liability policy cannot be traced; efforts to improve retracement policies; the 2008 diffuse mesothelioma scheme, where there is no nexus; and then the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme, which is funded by insurance companies. Each of these in its own way has made access to support more secure, however inadequate. We have praised before the work of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, in delivering the 2014 payment scheme and condemned the historic reluctance of insurers to meet their moral obligations. We note that the payment scheme was able to raise payment levels to 100% of average civil claims in 2015. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that this has been maintained. It is understood that it is driven by the benefits of better tracing of employer liability insurance policies. Again, perhaps the Minister could confirm that.

        Last year, the Minister acknowledged that it was wrong to look at mesothelioma as a legacy issue. The projections are that it may have peaked, but it will be with us for a very long time. Moreover, the causes of mesothelioma—exposure to asbestos—are still too prevalent in our environment, especially, as we have heard today, in schools. We may be more aware about how it should be managed—the HSE gives advice on it—but we know that practice is not always followed and people will cut corners. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke about the effects of this on children. Seeking a cure remains the imperative. When we discussed the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, there was some disagreement about precisely how much research had been undertaken previously—how much might be generic and how much was specifically focused. The Minister argued that the problem was not lack of funding but a lack of quality research proposals—I think that this was the position asserted by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in the previous debate on that Bill. Can the Minister now bring some clarity to this issue? What has been the outcome of the strategy to stimulate more research projects?

        The Government should be congratulated on their allocation of £5 million of LIBOR fines to establish a national mesothelioma centre. The announcement, of course, made specific reference to service veterans, but this centre is to be a collaboration, it is understood, between four leading institutions which will form a hub—I presume that it will be a virtual hub. It would be good to hear from the Minister, as a practical matter, how the funding of this is to be organised and how it is to go about undertaking and supporting research. It is to be welcomed, but this is still not on equal footing with the rest of cancer research. Nevertheless, “progress is waiting to be made” was the expression, but not without continuing pressure from a range of noble Lords and Members of the other place, those noble Lords who have participated in this debate and, of course, the continuing suffering of those who endure this terrible condition.

5.45 pm

      • My Lords, this has been another really excellent debate on this subject. I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for raising it again—it is really important to keep it in the public eye. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Alton, for collaring me on this subject many times over the last year. It is one of the privileges of being in this House that one is able to take an interest in these issues and try to do something about them—otherwise, what the point of being here? The point is to make a difference. What this has demonstrated is that if there is persistence—real, dogged persistence, often in the face of all kinds of tribulations—you can make progress. It has been a long and tortuous journey, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, but there are signs of progress.

        I shall pick up a few points before I get into my speech. First, I cannot answer the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, in detail today, but the level of compensation is certainly something I shall look at in view of her comments about the cost of these new drugs. This is probably an issue more for NICE and NHS England than the compensation scheme. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked whether we are learning from the reviews of these cases, in view of the importance of time. I will certainly look at both those issues. They are, in a sense, related to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, about the huge benefits of specialisation. I have the guidance from NHS England on the treatment of mesothelioma here. I shall not read it out today, because there is not time, but the noble Lord’s point about having a centre of excellence and looking at the improved outcomes from people doing these things repetitively, many times, rather than spreading very complex surgery over many different sites, is absolutely true. Having proper data in registries which can be made transparent is also a hugely important driver of change.

        The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, raised the issue of data. Data are hugely important. In a way, if one looks at all the advances that are coming along in cell therapy, gene therapy and the like, in health analytics and big data, the artificial intelligence and machine learning that come from these offer huge potential for improving healthcare in this country. I should also mention that it is clear that many people here have been touched, directly or indirectly, by this devastating disease. That adds not just poignancy but urgency to our discussions. It is interesting how often a patient’s story can bring data to life—data on their own are not enough. It is when you hear about individuals who have suffered and whose lives have been changed or who, indeed, have died, that it is brought home to all of us just how important it is.

        We expect the rates of mesothelioma to increase in coming years, due to high exposure to asbestos in the 1960s and 1970s. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, raised the issue of schools. It is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive, as she will know. The advice is often to leave it where it is and not disturb it—it is not dangerous to children if it is left dormant. If anyone has any evidence that the HSE is not doing the rounds or that there are local authorities in the country where schools are in need of repair, they should bring it to my attention and I will ensure that the HSE follows that up.

        Rates of mesothelioma have increased by nearly five times in Great Britain since the late 1970s. In 2014, there were 2,343 registrations of mesothelioma in England: 1,954 men and 389 women. The incidence is expected to peak in the 2020s but, as has been mentioned, it will remain a significant health problem into the 2050s. It is not a legacy disease. It is going to kill many people over the next 30 or 40 years. In 2014, 2,236 deaths were caused by mesothelioma in England, and the latest survival figures suggest that 46% of men survive for one year, compared with 51% for women. Five-year survival is much worse: only 5% for men and 11% for women. It is a death sentence—there is no getting away from that. Others have mentioned that this is a worldwide issue. One research group estimates that, on average, 14,200 cases are diagnosed worldwide every year, and that will be going up, not down.

        On the research aspect, there is some better news. On 16 March, the Chancellor announced an award of £5 million to establish a national centre for mesothelioma research. A number of noble Lords have said how important it is that this is co-ordinated—that various universities and research centres around the country do not all have a crack at it, but there should be a national centre for research. This announcement was in response to an application from Imperial College to urgently address the anticipated imminent high mortality rate among Royal Navy veterans and dockyard workers. The award is one of a series funded by the LIBOR fines that have been made since October 2012.

        It is envisaged that the national centre will be a collaboration between four leading institutions which have a major interest in the treatment of mesothelioma: the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College, the Royal Brompton Hospital, the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital. It is pretty impressive standing here naming four institutions that are absolutely world class. This is an extraordinary country when it comes to research. The Marsden, the Brompton and all these institutions are fantastic. They bring together expertise in the genetics of cancer susceptibility and in targets for treatment. Of course, the work being done in genomics will have a huge impact on this in years to come—not quite yet but soon, I hope.

        The Department of Health has been in discussion with the British Lung Foundation to work together to bring about the establishment of the research network. The plans are not yet finalised, but the aim, which the department supports, is to attract further donations, to be channelled by the British Lung Foundation so that it can continue its role as the body through which voluntary donations for mesothelioma research are being channelled competitively to the best science centres across the UK. As the organisation which currently administers mesothelioma research grants funded from insurance industry donations, the BLF is well placed to do this. I add my thanks to Aviva and Zurich, the only two insurance companies which have lived up, I think, to a very important moral obligation. We should not give up in our talks with the insurance industry to persuade it. It owes a moral duty but, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, it is not just a moral duty; there is also some enlightened self-interest in this. Maybe the lawyers would like to chip in as well; that would be good.

        We understand that on 1 November—next week—the BLF, alongside the Association of British Insurers, will be hosting a seminar in this House on the future of mesothelioma research. The seminar will focus on the previous research which the insurance industry has funded across the UK, how it can be built on, and how to ensure that mesothelioma projects across the country tie into the work of the new national centre. Together, the MRC and the NIHR spend more than £1 billion annually. In 2015-16, they spent more than £3 million on mesothelioma research. I will be sending a copy of this debate to Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, and Chris Whitty, the Chief Scientific Adviser, to ensure that they pick up all the important arguments that have been made today.

        Last month the Government announced £816 million over the next five years for the biomedical research centres across the UK. These centres host the development of ground-breaking new treatments, diagnostics, prevention, and care for patients in a wide range of diseases. Around £118 million of the funding will be for cancer research and we would expect some of that to support mesothelioma research. The fact that we have this £5 million ought to attract more money from the more conventional cancer research programmes.

        In March 2016 the National Cancer Research Institute co-ordinated a meeting with the British Lung Foundation, the MRC, Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health to discuss research opportunities in mesothelioma. This was followed up with a community workshop at the International Mesothelioma Interest Group meeting in Birmingham in May this year and has led to the formulation of a draft research priorities document. This will be further developed at a second workshop currently scheduled to take place in February 2017.

        There is room for hope that some progress is being made here. We have to keep the momentum going and the profile high. I think we all accept that some cancers seem to have caught the public imagination to a greater extent than this one, which in a sense puts a greater obligation on us to keep it in the public eye. I have been delighted to do what I can and will continue to do so. Again, I thank all noble Lords for continuing to raise this very important topic.

Committee adjourned at 5.56 pm.

meso1meso UK

Genocide calls for justice – November 17th article by David Alton, Dr.Pieter Outzigt, and Lars Adaktusson MEP. Parliamentary debate on Anti-Semitism; two posts by Ján Figeľ, EU Special Envoy on Religious Freedom; Letter to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court calling for the prosecution of ISIS for crimes recognised by the Rome Statute

Genocide calls for justice – November 17th 2016

Yazidi women flee ISIS terrorists in Iraq.

[Domenico/Flickr]

<img src=’https://www.euractiv.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/11/Yazidi_Iraq_genocide_CREDITDomenico_Flickr.jpg’ class=’img-responsive’ style=’width:100%’ >

Evidence of genocide committed by ISIS terrorists is mounting, including eye-witness accounts and the group’s own propaganda. The ICC must prosecute foreign fighters to stop them returning to Europe, write Lars Adaktusson, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Pieter Omtzigt.

Lars Adaktusson is a Swedish Christian Democrat MEP (EPP group) and a Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Lord Alton of Liverpool is a UK crossbench peer and the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Pieter Omtzigt is a member of the Dutch House of Representatives and a member of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

As allied forces are struggling to retake Mosul, the largest city in Iraq under the rule of the terrorist organisation ISIS, we begin thinking about the time when the region is finally liberated from the reign of horror. ISIS has tried to brutally purge Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities from the region. Their well-documented atrocities amount to genocide.

As more and more villages around Mosul are liberated, new horror-stories are coming to light. ADF International and many other non-governmental organisations are trying to record these testimonies. Future investigations into the crimes committed by militants of the so-called Islamic State will only be successful if the evidence provided is sound and withstands legal scrutiny.

The International Criminal Court was established precisely to investigate and prosecute these types of crimes. Its very existence is representative of the promise that the international community would never again stand idly by while innocents were exterminated by virtue of their ethnicity, colour or creed.

To date, however, little has been done. The Court has not opened an investigation into the crimes occurring in the region. In April 2015, the prosecutor of the Court stated that the jurisdictional basis was too narrow to open a preliminary examination into the foreign fighters active in the ranks of ISIS. She appeared to infer that a referral from the UN Security Council was in order before any action could be taken.

Since that initial statement, there have been two critical developments. Firstly, the UN Security Council will not make a referral anytime soon given the current fractious relationship existing between its permanent members. Secondly, there is new evidence indicating that the ICC has clear jurisdiction over the foreign fighters engaged in the atrocities, with many of them having high-ranking roles within ISIS. In fact, the terrorist organisation is extensively documenting and boasting about the atrocities it is committing, as well as profiling the members involved. There are more than 5,000 Europeans fighting with ISIS in the Middle East. As countries including Germany, France and the UK are signatories to the Rome Statue, which established the ICC, the Court has jurisdiction over foreign fighters coming from these countries.

In the past year, numerous institutions have recognised that the ongoing situation in Syria and Iraq amounts to genocide: the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the EU Parliament, the US House of Congress, the UK House of Commons, the Australian House of Representatives, and various United Nations Reports among them. There has never been an instance where genocide has been committed so openly, and yet so little has been done to prosecute the most heinous of crimes.

We have a situation where many fingers are being pointed, but very little action is being taken to ensure accountability. So with the jurisdiction for the Court to open a preliminary examination being abundantly clear, the only question is whether the Court will accept it.

And make no mistake, while the ISIS fighters are currently miles away from our homes and perhaps not at the forefront of our minds, there will come a day when they will try to return. As the terrorists continue to lose ground, a failure to identify and punish those responsible for committing atrocities may well lead to them coming to European Soil. The recent tragedies in Brussels, Paris and other locations are a testament to this threat.

The ICC is a court of last resort, which is intended to complement but not replace the national courts. It must be emphasised that national governments, therefore, have a vital role to play in prosecuting their own citizens who have knowingly and willing joined an organisation which proudly proclaims that it commits genocide. National governments must work in close cooperation with the ICC to ensure that the relevant evidence is preserved, catalogued and deployed in the appropriate proceedings.

It is imperative that we do all we can to begin holding some of the most sadistic criminals this world has seen to account. This is why we have urged the prosecutor of the ICC to revisit her initial decision of April 2015 in an open letter, joining the voice of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in a recent Resolution that was adopted unanimously. The Court simply cannot continue to sit on its hands – it must seek justice for the victims of the most barbaric atrocities imaginable. This is, after all, the very reason for its existence. We, therefore, call upon our governments and the International Criminal Court to start investigating and prosecuting these enemies of humanity.


 

Debate on Anti-Semitism October 27th 2016

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judaism-torah-300dpi-dreamstime_2951922judaism

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend Lady Deech for initiating today’s important short debate, I refer to my interests in higher education. For nearly 20 years, I held a chair in citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University, where I am an honorary fellow, and was director of the Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship. I have also been a visiting fellow at the University of St Andrews.

In September, I was in Jerusalem and Warsaw—two cities which have the toxic story of anti-Semitism written into their DNA.

As we have heard, universities have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to provide a safe and inclusive environment but, as the experience of a Jewish law student at York University illustrates, students have had to use their own resources to seek legal redress and apologies where anti-Semitism has occurred. That should have been done on their behalf by the university authorities. It is the job of an institution’s leaders, and it is a task that they must take very seriously and prioritise without fear or favour. My noble friend is right to remind student leaders of their duties, too, and to insist on monitoring and training.

On our campuses,  in political parties and institutions, contemporary anti-Semitism can often be the wolf concealed in sheep’s clothing. Jihadist attacks in Toulouse, Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen, the burning of kosher shops in the Jewish quarter of Sarcelles, and the sight of Jews fleeing their neighbourhoods and synagogues under siege by thugs brandishing placards threatening death to Jews have uncanny and terrifying echoes of Germany in 1934. We know how that began and to what it led.

I have been particularly disturbed by the growth of online bullying and hate, and by the targeting of opposition Jewish politicians. What is being done to engage the industry and online comment editors in tackling online hate? What response have we had from companies such as Twitter about taking stronger action against hate crimes on their platforms? With around 1,000 anti-Semitic hate crimes every year, it is clear that far more needs to be done, so what assessment have we made of the effectiveness of initiatives such as True Vision and the UK No Hate Speech Movement?

Through counter-narratives and the smart power of aid programmes, the BBC World Service, the British Council and the Commonwealth, we must use every possible outlet to combat internet postings and, among other things, Wahhabi-sponsored school textbooks, funded by Saudi Arabia and distributed worldwide.

The recent death of Sir Sigmund Sternberg brings me to my final point, which is about interfaith relationships, a point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Beith.

My noble friend Lord Sacks has always led by example. His inspiring books about how we build our home together and learn to appreciate the dignity that comes through difference brilliantly show us what needs to be done. Those ideas need to be understood and implemented, especially at grass-roots level.

On this International Religious Freedom Day, when we celebrate Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which had its origins in the horrors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and the other camps, and which promotes the right to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief, we must insist that our Jewish citizens are an essential part of who we are as a nation, and anything which compromises their safety or devalues their place in British society devalues us all.

No one should live in fear because of their beliefs or because of who they are. Difference is to be prized and upheld, and the political imperative which flows from this assertion is that wherever it manifests itself we must counter anti-Semitism.

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See Link To Details of Red Wednesday

https://davidalton.net/2016/10/26/redwednesday-23rd-november-2016-circulate-details-to-others-so-that-red-wednesday-becomes-a-day-when-people-stand-together-for-the-persecuted-and-forgotten-silence-in-the-face-of-evil/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

Also see, by Ján Figeľ, EU Envoy on Religious Freedom:

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/eu.slams.britain.isis.is.committing.genocide.and.youre.doing.nothing/98593.

htmhttp://europeanpost.co/century-of-genocides-end-or-continuity/

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/for-eus-religious-freedom-envoy-middle-east-is-key-arena-56109/

Letter to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court signed by Dr.Pieter Outzigt, Lord (David) Alton,Lars Adaktusson MEP and Ewelina Ochab calling for the prosecution of ISIS for crimes recognised by the Rome Statute

letter-to-the-icc

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Presentation: October 19th 2016 on Why Freedom of Religion and Belief Is Relevant and Urgent and Address give at Nayrouz Service October 20th 2016, St.Margaret’s Church, Westminster, at the conclusion of the Conference.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Presentation: October 19th 2016

 article 18 an orphaned rightPakistan ChristiansIn appealing to hatred, many jihadists cite a seventh-century directive which requires Christians to convert to Islam and pay tribute to Muslim rulers or leave. It is being increasingly enforced by extreme Islamist groups. Those who don't pay up are forced to leave or are murdered.

Why Freedom of Religion and Belief Is  Relevant and Urgent

To View Accompanying Power Point presentation click on: https://davidalton.net/media/

 

The BBC’s courageous chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, reminds us that

“If you don’t understand religion —including the abuse of religion —it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world”.

Understanding its relevance is a sine qua non – both in a domestic and international context, whether fashioning measures to counter extremism or promoting community cohesion or, or in trying to understand global conflict and consequences  like the 55 million people now living as refugees.

Two weeks ago standing on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount – and a few days later in Warsaw –  I reflected on both the Holocaust and, in our generation, the genocide of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities.

Like the canary in the mine, early indications of abuses of freedom or religion or belief are a harbinger of far worse that will come. Conversely, societies that make Article 18 a corner stone see their societies stabilise and prosper.

 

I will divide my remarks today into three parts:

1 The Obligations that Flow From Article 18.

  1. A Snapshot of The State of the World
  2. Some Things We Might Do

 

1 The Obligations that Flow From Article 18.

 

Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights –promulgated in the aftermath of the defining horrors of the Holocaust, and which has acquired a normative character within general international law, insists that:

 

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

 

The declaration’s stated objective was to realise,

“a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the formidable chairman of the drafting committee, argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind an “ international Magna Carta for all mankind”.

She said

“Religious freedom…  must be freedom of all religious people”, and she rejoiced in having friends from all faiths and all races.

Article 18 emerged from the infamies of the 20th century—from the Armenian genocide to the depredations of Stalin’s gulags and Hitler’s concentration camps; from the pestilential nature of persecution, demonisation, scapegoating and hateful prejudice; and, notwithstanding violence associated with religion, it emerged from ideology, nation and race.

The four great murderers of the 20th century—Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot—were united by their hatred of religious faith. It was the bloodiest century in human history with the loss of 100 million lives.

When, in 1948, the 30 articles of the UDHR were adopted by the UN General Assembly, the eight abstentions included the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia.

Although Saudi would argue that there was a conflict with Sharia Law countries like Pakistan believed that there was compatibility and, in 1947,  Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s great founding statesman,  crafted a constitution which promised to uphold plurality and diversity:

Jinnah said: “You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State…Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded…. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed”

Jinnah’s values were also the values of the United Nations Charter, promulgated in 1945, and which committed all States to “promote universal respect” for “fundamental freedoms” “without distinction to race, sex, language or religion” and for the principles enshrined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin – who had lost 49 of his relatives in the Holocaust –developed the concept of genocide based on the experience of Armenian Christians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks and the massacre of Assyrian Christians at Simele, in Iraq, in 1933.

Lemkin argued that “international co-operation” was needed, “to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge”.

Genocide – the crime above all crimes – is defined in Article 2 of the 1948 Convention and the 147 signature countries have a moral and legal duty to, “undertake to prevent and to punish.

Too often, though, never again happens all over again – and it is happening now.

The House of Commons, the American Congress, the European Parliament and many other legislative bodies have all declared today’s crimes in Syria and Iraq, against Christians and Yazidis, to be genocide under the terms of the Convention.

The Times  said the destruction of Christians “now amounts to nothing less than genocide…while  Boris Johnson said “Isis are engaged in what can only be called genocide …..though for some baffling reason the Foreign Office still hesitates to use the term genocide.”

In Hillary Clinton’s view:

“What is happening is genocide,”

Words matter: and words like genocide, persecution, and discrimination all have legal definition, but deeds matter even more.

If there is no basis for enforcement rights become meaningless. Unless those whose rights are being infringed have access to a remedy.

However long it takes, we have a duty to bring to justice those responsible for abhorrent mass executions, sexual slavery, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, torture, mutilation and the enlistment and forced recruitment of children.

William Hague was right to described the “gap between the commitments states have made and the reality of their actions”.

So much for our obligations.

  1. Let me provide a snapshot of the state of the world: 

It is a moral outrage that whole swathes of humanity are being murdered, terrorised, victimised, intimidated, deprived of their belongings and driven from their homes, simply because of the way they worship God or practise their faith. Infringement of freedom of religion and belief morphs into persecution and, as we have seen, can morph into crimes against humanity and genocide.

The annual Pew study found that 74% of the world’s population live in the countries where there are violations of Article 18.

In every country where there are violations an estimated 250 million Christians are persecuted.

Jonathan Sacks says:  “The persecution of Christians throughout much of the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and elsewhere is one of the crimes against humanity of our time, and I am appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked. What is happening to Christians in these places is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing.””

But many others suffer too.

People like Alexander Aan, imprisoned in Indonesia for two years after saying he did not believe in God; or Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian atheist and blogger sentenced to 1,000 public lashes for publicly expressing his atheism.

Or Asia Bibi – condemned to death for so called blasphemy . Having spent five years in prison, her case was again adjourned last week.

One quarter of the world’s countries have blasphemy laws –more than one in 10 have laws penalizing apostasy: both used to falsely accuse, intimidate, and persecute.

Whether judged by Asia Bibi’s case, the Lahore massacre, or the assassination of the country’s Christian Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti – who questioned the blasphemy laws, Pakistan has wallowed in a culture of impunity.

Following a visit I made to a detention centre where escaping Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis are incarcerated, I collected evidence and launched a report cataloguing this systematic campaign.

One escapee recounted how his friend, Basil – a pastor’s son – was targeted by Pakistani Islamists. Having failed to convert him Basil, his wife and child were burnt alive.

The assailants then turned their attention to his friend.

Attacked and beaten, he reported this to the police. They informed the assailants, who threatened to kill him, his wife, and little girl. They fled the country.

UK policy insists that this as “discrimination” not persecution –words, like genocide, that have direct implications for asylum and aid policies.

Note that none of the £1 billion of British aid, given to Pakistan over the past two years, has been specifically used to promote Article 18.

Or think of Iran – with almost 1000 executions last year -including the execution of Baha’is;  or how Saeed Abedini, was imprisoned for 10 years for “undermining national security” by hosting Christian gatherings in his home

Violation of Article 18 has led to Chinese Catholics like Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang, who died last year aged 94, having to spend half his life in prison; to Chinese Protestants, since the beginning of 2016, seeing 49 of their churches defaced or destroyed, crosses removed and a pastor’s wife crushed to death in the rubble as she pleaded with the authorities to desist; and to the harvesting of organs of Falun Gong practitioners.

 

Think, too, of countries like Sudan and Nigeria.

 

In Sudan, Meriam Ibrahim, – a young mother of two was charged, and sentenced to death for apostasy and to 100 lashes for adultery. Refusing to renounce her faith, and before being freed, she was forced to give birth shackled in a prison cell.

Archaic and cruel laws lead to stonings and lashings and there are pastors currently languishing in Khartoum’s jails.

 

Meanwhile, Sudan’s leaders, indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, continue to carry out their bombing of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile – home to many who do not share the regime’s religious ideology.

 

In Nigeria think of the 200 schoolgirls abducted in Chibok by Boko Haram – whose jihadist ideology also seeks to stamp out difference and to eradicate diversity.

And who can ever forget the execution by ISIS of Egyptian Copts in Libya – after they refused to renounce their faith – or the burning or bombing of more than 50 of Egypt’s churches in Egypt’s Kristallnacht?

And then there is North Korea.

I co-chair the All Party Group and have been there four times. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry into North Korea concluded that around 200,000 people are incarcerated. Along with executions and torture “there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and that “Severe punishments are inflicted on people caught practising Christianity”.

One escapee, Hae Woo, a Christian woman gave graphic evidence in Parliament of her time inside a camp -where torture and beatings are routine, and where prisoners were so hungry they were reduced to eating rats, snakes, or even searching for grains in cow dung. She said that in such places “the dignity of human life counted for nothing.”

This Baedekers Guide of discrimination and persecution is by no means comprehensive. But it underlines the scale and the urgency of the task.

 

  1. Some Things We Might Do

Article 18 is a foundational human right—many would say the foundational right. While there should be no hierarchy of rights, and all rights are interdependent, without the freedom to choose, practise, share without coercion and change your beliefs, what freedom is there?

At every opportunity, we must promulgate freedom of religion or belief. When we in the UK say we don’t need a special envoy to promote this because “every ambassador will do so” we need some way of benchmarking the effectiveness of their efforts.

And when the Government say this is “one of the Government’s key human rights priorities”, we need to provide resources which are commensurate with the scale of the challenge – certainly more than one full time FCO desk officer. Compare the £34 billion spent on military operations since the Cold War with the paltry resources deployed in promoting Article 18.

We also need a consistent, coherent international strategy.

It is inconsistent to denounce some countries while appeasing others, complicit in jihaddism, through financial support or the sale of arms.

For example, since the present conflict began in Yemen, we have sold £3.3 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia. We are perceived as hypocrites when business interests determine how offended we are by egregious human rights violations.

And we can be much more proactive in galvanising an international strategy.

Nelson Mandela once said that the Commonwealth makes the world safe for diversity. We need to use it more.

Kofi Anan called the BBC World Service “Britain’s greatest gift to the world” and it now reaches some 265 million people. In deploying smart power what better vehicle is there?

And social media: ruthlessly and grotesquely used by ISIS.

The next generation are being reached via the internet and smartphones – but the religious and secular communities are failing to counter this with common perspectives, common ethical ideals of and underlining how we can learn to live together.

We urgently need a persuasive new narrative capable of forestalling the unceasing incitements to hatred which pour forth from the internet, capturing unformed minds, and manifesting themselves in hate crimes, discrimination, persecution and worse.

 

As General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army observed, the devil needn’t have all the good tunes. The Facebook for the Bible page has 4.5 million followers while the God Wants You To Know app has 2 million active users each month.

Note also that there are 44 countries word wide that censor the internet – and the five worst offenders when measured against the criterion of “an open and free” internet are Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Yemen and Qatar – while North Korea completely bans the internet. Look at the direct correlation with the curtailment of freedom of religion or belief.

If we are to successfully combat this, Jews, Christians, Muslims and others must no longer see one another as an existential threat. The media and scholars must help with this task.

 

People of faith and of no faith must understand and enter in to one another’s stories.

Jonathan Sacks reminds us how the displacement narratives of Isaac and Ismael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, can all be used to promote, mutual respect, coexistence and reconciliation.  As Lord Sacks says: “The great faiths provide meaning and purpose for their adherents. The question is: can they make space for those who are not its adherents, who sing a different song, hear a different music, tell a different story?”

Those societies that make space for those who sing a different song see many blessings.

We should better emphasise – as Dr.Brian Grin has done – the tangible benefits that accrue to a society that protects its minorities, encourages diversity and promotes freedom of religion or belief. In 1965, Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s proclamation on religious freedom, correctly observed that a society which promotes religious freedom will be enlivened and enriched and one that does not will decay

Perhaps we also need a new Convention on Religious Freedom to sit alongside the Convention on Genocide – but if we promote such Conventions let’s dedicate ourselves to upholding and enforcing them too – and with universal application – making sure that words like genocide, persecution and discrimination are matched by deeds and are reflected in the way we do business with; sell arms to; or provide aid programmes to those who violate Article 18.

The urgency of the life and death task facing this conference was starkly underlined by the execution of the 84-year-old French priest Fr. Jacques Hamel and by the murder of the Glasgow shopkeeper, Asad Shah, who often reached out to Christian neighbours and customers. Tanveer Ahmed, allegedly drove up from Bradford to kill Mr. Shah because he said he was disrespectful of Islam. Mr. Shah was an Ahmadi who, in Pakistan, are denied citizenship unless they renounce their description of themselves as Muslims – but this murder took place in the UK. So never suggest that these issues are about far away places that are no concern of ours.

 

In examining the obligations that flow from Article 18; in providing a snapshot of the state of the world and in suggesting some things we might do, I have tried to answer the question posed to us this morning, why is freedom of religion and belief relevant?

It is because, as Lyce Ducet pithily remarked:  If you don’t understand religion —including the abuse of religion — you won’t understand what is happening in our world. 


 

Address give at Nayrouz Service October 20th  2016, St.Margaret’s Church, Westminster, at the conclusion of the Conference.

In the 1990s during my work with the Jubilee Campaign I was asked to write a report on the discrimination and persecution faced by the Coptic Church of Egypt.

I saw plenty of examples of discrimination and persecution but I also discovered the hidden treasures of the Coptic tradition and came away inspired by its extraordinary and remarkable history, its beautiful liturgies, and by its contemporary work – not least by women like Maggie Gobran – Mama Maggie – the Mother of Cairo – working indefatigably in the squalid shanty towns of Cairo.

Coptic, of course, simply means Egyptian in the pre Arabic language of the country.   This ancient church was founded two millennia ago by St.Mark one of the four Gospel writers  – although, Egypt had been home to Jesus Himself, after his refugee family fled the slaughter of the holy innocents and found a safe and secure home in Egypt:  surely a story with significance for these troubled times.     

In 1996 at St.Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo I met His Holiness, Pope Shenouda III. I recall remarking that we in the West had done too little to speak up for the ancient churches. He responded by saying that persecution could be endured – he  had, himself suffered at political hands having been banished for some time to  an ancient desert monastery – but what he did say was that when we Christians living in the affluent West undermine the Faith by our pronouncements and divisions that was a persecution far more difficult to bear.

This remark was a helpful reminder that we need an appropriate sense of humility and that we must listen far more carefully to communities like the Copts, the Chadleans, the Armenians and the Assyrians who have so much wisdom, shaped by experience, to offer us. 

We must listen but we must also speak and act in solidarity.

It is a moral outrage that vast swathes of humanity are being murdered, terrorized, victimized, intimidated, deprived of their homes or belongings – and in places like Mosul – where they had lived in diversity and common respect for 2000 years – see their confiscated homes marked for appropriation with the letter N for Nazarene – simply because of the way they worship God or practice their faith.

After the slaughter of 21 Coptic Christians on February 12th 2015, who died professing their faith, a service of remembrance was held here in the Palace of Westminster. During that service Bishop Angaelos reminded us that “one profound result and gift of this horrific act is that it brought people together.” He added “These men paid the ultimate price, but gave us a cause to advocate for all those who are persecuted. They also showed us that there was a level of evil that we must all stand in solidarity against – and a level of courage, faithfulness and defiance that we must all aspire to.”

Drawn from our different faiths and traditions that insistence that we will faithfully rededicate ourselves to work for universal freedom of religion or belief and be a voice for those who are too often without voices. That is surely the inspiration that we must take away from this Nayrouz Service and from our two day Conference. 

The Shinkwin Bill on equality, discrimination, disability and abortion law has been given a Second Reading – and news of an operation in the womb.

The Shinkwin Bill on equality, discrimination, disability and abortion law has been given a Second Reading

abortion-law-mgn_lord-shinkwin-1

Lord (Kevin) Shinkwin and a supporter of his Bill at Westminster.

To watch the debate go to:

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/3c04ea69-45e3-440e-93a6-07976ac9e1bd

Also, to see this speech(below) on You Tube:
https://youtu.be/At1ZHafjFpg

and Janet Fearns scorn-not-his-simplicity

abortion-and-disabilityabortion-and-disability4

 11.52 am October 21st 2016

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, I support the Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, and congratulate him on bringing this timely piece of legislation to your Lordships’ House and on the eloquent way in which he introduced it. It is hard to overstate my admiration for his courage, his compassion and his integrity.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me for saying so, but I cannot help thinking that if the noble Lord’s Bill had set out to facilitate the assisted suicide of disabled people, it would have been on every national news bulletin. But because it seeks to end the taking of the life of a viable disabled baby, it is being treated very differently. That unwillingness to treat ethical issues with equal respect and impartiality is a disturbing sign of the times—but not as disturbing as the issues of equality, discrimination and the very right to life itself raised by the noble Lord’s important Bill

As the noble Lord observed, our legislation currently affords unborn disabled babies significantly less protection than that which is afforded those who are able bodied. Paradoxically, we will campaign and raise our voices for wheelchair ramps to be placed on public buildings but fail to uphold the innate right to life itself of the disabled person who uses that wheelchair.

Although the able bodied may be aborted up to 24 weeks, those who are disabled may be aborted up to birth. This inevitably implies that these unborn disabled babies are, as the noble Lord said, significantly less valuable than those who are able bodied. What message does this convey about the human dignity and the value—or, rather, the lack of value—of disability in society generally? As the law stands, it is a legal arrangement that invites and encourages discrimination—which is why, in 1990, I spoke and voted against it in another place when this provision was made.

At the time, I was given significant support by a woman called Ellen Wilkie, who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy. In her short 31 years, Ellen gained an honours degree in classics from Bristol University and was a published poet, worker, author, actress, radio and television presenter, journalist and musician. Her parents had been encouraged to abort her but had refused. I particularly commend her autobiography, A Pocketful of Dynamite, to anyone who contests her assertion that, “No one can say what a disabled person will be capable of”.

The arguments that Ellen Wilkie put at that time were set aside by Members of another place, and that legislation was incorporated into statute. It has had a very negative effect on the attitudes that people have. It is a throwback to a time when society had remarkably different attitudes to the inclusion and contribution of people with disabilities. We have moved on as a society and it is time that the law moved on, too. The Disability Rights Commission—now the Equality and Human Rights Commission—has, rightly, argued that this provision,

“is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability and … is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally”.

As the We’re All Equal campaign has pointed out, statute insists that we must not discriminate against people with disabilities, but the 1990 provision runs contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the law.

The net effect of the noble Lord’s Bill would be that the 24-week time limit would apply to all babies, regardless of disability—it has no effect on other grounds detailed in the 1967 Abortion Act. It is hardly a secret that I oppose not just the time limits in our current legislation but the provisions that have led to 8 million nascent lives being prematurely ended in the United Kingdom. But this Bill is not about that; it is solely about a eugenic law that flies in the face of our usual protestations and tips the balance in favour of equality and against discrimination.

That the noble Lord’s Bill is desperately needed may be graphically seen in the abortion statistics provided by the department, which the noble Lord referred to. He specifically referred to the situation of people with Down’s syndrome. We live in a country where around 90% of all Down’s syndrome babies are routinely aborted. I know that I am not alone in having been deeply affected by Sally Phillips’s recent documentary, “A World Without Downs Syndrome?”, and the subsequent debate which the programme inspired. Rosa Monckton, mother of Domenica, born with Down’s, remarked that,

“Sally is entirely right about the relentless pressure to persuade mothers to ‘give up and start again’. I hate to think of what our family would have missed if we had gone down that path”.

What does it say about us and our society when amniocentesis and other tests are used as part of search and destroy mission with barely a murmur of dissent? Sally Phillips brilliantly highlighted the appalling pressure put upon mothers who receive a pre-natal diagnosis to abort their babies, but it also revealed from her own experience that living with Down’s is not a death sentence or incompatible with life. Paradoxically, in seeking to eradicate these wonderful individuals from the human race, it suggests that it is we who have the problem, not them. What does it say to the survivors—those who have been inconsiderate enough to avoid the perfection test and have somehow managed to slip through the net?

The noble Lord’s Bill challenges these negative stereotypes, but it also challenges casual attitudes to the law and to the requirement to keep scrupulous records. In 2014, a Department of Health review found evidence that there is significant underreporting of the number of abortions for some foetal disabilities. I hope that when the noble Baroness comes to reply to the debate, she will say what is going to be done to rectify this. I also have another question, arising from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin. Although we were warned about it in the debates in 1990, not least by Professor John Finnis, who was rubbished at the time and accused of scaremongering, very few people realised that the provision would lead to abortion on babies with, as the noble Lord said, rectifiable disabilities such as cleft palate and hare-lip. What does the Minister have to say about that?

The shocking discrimination that we are witnessing through both what our law says and what it facilitates has devastating practical implications. I will conclude my remarks by returning to the pressures exerted on parents. The United Kingdom’s initial report on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities said:

“Concerns were expressed around the approach to abortion in the UK, where disabled people have suggested a bias towards termination of pregnancies if a child is likely to be disabled”.

This view was backed up by evidence submitted to the 2013 independent parliamentary inquiry, which heard from a number of parents who said that, when it became apparent that their baby was disabled, their doctors expected them to abort. Among a number of contributions that I read, one parent said that her doctor became,

“short-tempered and abrupt with me because he clearly didn’t agree with my decision”.

Another said she felt pressured into an abortion and reported that her doctor,

“threatened that all medical help would be denied”.

The inquiry also heard from parents with disabled children. A representative of the British Academy of Childhood Disability said:

“Parents I have spoken to have said that Doctors treating their children with Down’s Syndrome for example (for heart and other conditions post natal) criticised them for not having abortions, saying their children will not have a good life”.

A parent, meanwhile, said:

“Parents who learn of their baby’s disability after birth are sometimes told that it’s too bad they didn’t find out earlier so they could have ‘taken care of it’”.

Another parent said:

“I have heard views expressed that suggest my child is seen as a drain on resources. A common view is that it was not fair on my other child to bring a disabled child into the world”.

When she comes to reply, I hope that the Minister will reflect for a little while on the department’s attitude to some of the alternatives to this that are available. I have read about and seen some of the extraordinary in utero operations that can take place now on disabilities such as spina bifida, and I have also read the work of Professor KJS Anand, one of the world’s leading experts on foetal pain, whose says that,

“it seems prudent to avoid pain during gestation”,

because of the danger that the unborn child will experience pain. Noble Lords should recall that babies have been born and lived from 23 weeks’ gestation, and this provision permits the ending of a life right up to and even during birth. What pain must it experience in this life-ending procedure?

All of this is very sad, so I am extraordinarily grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, for bringing forward his important equalities Bill. It is specific in its intention and specifically targeted at the issue of discrimination and inequality. I urge your Lordships’ House to give it your support at Second Reading today.

 12.03 pm

abortion-and-disability3The unborn child at 18 weeks gestation. 600 babies are aborted daily in the UK - some, up to and even during birth, with the full force of British law. 7 million have been aborted since abortion was made legal and some have had up to 8 legal abortions.

The Bill Received A Second Reading.

————————————————————————–

Doctors Operate In The Womb To save A Life….

http://www.itv.com/news/2016-10-24/baby-born-twice-doing-well-after-miracle-surgery/

 

“It was an easy decision.  We wanted to give her life.”

 

A baby has been ‘born twice’ after doctors had to take her out of the womb to remove a tumour that was threatening her life.

Lynlee Boemer’s only chance of survival was a risky fetal surgery which involved cutting her out of her mother prematurely, and then putting her back in so that she could be carried full term.

LynLee’s mother Margaret said she was told at 16 weeks that her baby was suffering from a rare birth defect known as sacrococcygeal teratoma – a tumor that grows from a baby’s tailbone…..

When Mrs Boemer was 23 weeks and five days pregnant she was taken into the operating theatre.

Mrs Boemer told CNN: “LynLee didn’t have much of a chance. At 23 weeks, the tumour was shutting her heart down and causing her to go into cardiac failure, so it was a choice of allowing the tumour to take over her body or giving her a chance at life.

‘It was an easy decision for us. We wanted to give her life.”