I was in Simile today – where ancestors of ISIS cut the throats of up to 3000 men, women and children. No memorial has ever been erected to these Assyrian Christians and the site of their bloody end is shamefully littered with garbage and rubbish. Historians are uncertain whether corpses were taken away to a mass grave but you can still see evidence of fragments of bone protruding from broken walls of what was once a police station. Dindar William of the Assyrian Democratic Movement accompanied me on my visit and said that “the desecration of the site is deliberateadding insult to injury.”
At the time, the British authorities rejected calls for an international inquiry into the killings, cravenly arguing that it might lead to further massacres against Christians. They did not support calls to punish the offenders as they had become national heroes.
The Simile Genocide of 1933 was preceded by demonstrations in the city of Mosul where frenzied mobs decorated the city with melons pierced with daggers, symbolising the heads of murdered Assyrians. Even Iraq’ Crown Prince came to encourage the blood letting.
Fast forward 81 years to Mosul 2014.
This is when ISIS took Mosul, daubed in red the homes of Christians with N (Nazarene) and the homes of Shia Muslims with R (Rafidah – Reject). Refusal to convert or to yield to extortion led to confiscation, forced conversion, exile or worse.
I met two men whose families fled from Mosul and another whose home was burnt down in Sinjar. No one from the international community or the Governments in Baghdad or Erbil has ever asked to meet them or to take their statements. Yet we are endlessly told we are “collecting evidence “ and that perpetrators will “be brought to justice”.
Standing in the ruins of Simile, and listening later to the heirs of those silenced victims,is a challenging rebuke to our generation who have done little better than the British authorities of 1933.Little wonder that never again happens all over again.
Today in the Nineveh Plains, and in the nearby mountains, the stories of two ancient communities rang out as a rebuke to the international community and its failure to protect, prevent, and to punish those responsible for Genocide and crimes against humanity.
I visited Lalash, the holiest place of Yazidism – an ancient religion grossly misrepresented by those who hate it and seek to destroy it.
Nearby, in Shikhan, a Yazidi town in Kurdistan’s Nineveh the Baba Shieikh– the 87-year-old spiritual leader of the Yazidis – told me thathis pleas for help from the international community had fallen on deaf ears.
2,893 women, girls and children, abducted, raped and enslaved by ISIS remain missing. He says many are living in Iraq and Turkey but even when their whereabouts is known “the Governments in Baghdad and Ankara have refused to reunite the abducted with their families.”
In one case armed Yazidi men went to a village and freed a captive girl. Without the help of a senior Kurdish military officer, the Iraqi authorities would have arrested the Yazidis, not the abductors.
Yazidis say that international organisations claiming to help them employ local staff who work with or are sympathetic to Jihadists: “They do nothing for us and we do not trust them. In one case they told an abducted terrified Yazidi child “don’t say you are a Yazidi, they will kill you.”
The Baba Sheikh says officials in Baghdad are “corrupt and complicit.” He says “five years after the horror of Sinjar we have people living in tents and camps – our betrayed people remain betrayed. This is our ancient homeland and we were here long before anyone else but today no body wants us here.”
In their history the Yazidis have experienced 74 genocides and the Baba Sheikh says “When we needed them, the international community failed us and failed the Christian minorities.
“The failure to return our loved ones, to restore our homes In Sinjar, to provide security and protection makes a mockery of all their claims to care about our betrayed and abandoned people”
He says: “We cannot achieve peace without justice. Many of the ISIS terrorists are living among us but no one is held to account. Corrupt Ministers in Baghdad are like thieves and a thief cannot apply justice.”
The Baba Sheikh described how he went to Washington to see President Obama to plead for help. “I told him we had 73 genocides directed at us. Nothing happened. Now we have had 74 and are on the verge of extinction.”
With their Yazidi neighbours, the Christians are another ancient community who face extinction. They have lived in this Mesopotamian “cradle of civilisation “ for two thousand years.
Mor Matte monastery was founded in the fourth century and sits like an eagle’s nest on Mount Alfaf – 35 kilometres north of Mosul. In 2O14, ISIS came within 4 kilometres, within eyesight and shooting distance of this Syriac mountain eyrie.Thanks to brave Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers the attack was halted and this hugely symbolic representation of historic diversity and pluralism was saved.
1600 years ago Mor Matte was founded as a hub for the Christian hermits who lived in a honeycomb of caves. The presence of Abbot Matte (Matthew) in one of these caves was revealed by an angel to Prince Behnam, son of King Sennacherib. The Prince’s sister, Sarah, had incurable leprosy. Matte was taken to her, prayed over her, and she was cured. She and, later, her father, were baptised and many people followed them establishing Christianity in many parts of today’s Iraq.
But the intervening centuries have not always been kind to this community and their fortunes have waxed and waned – and Mor Matte has been looted, desecrated, ruined and despoiled, always to rise again like a Phoenix from the ashes.
In seeking the destruction of this community ISIS follow in the footsteps of the Mongols and Tartars and men who have hated them, from Tamerlane to Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurayshi, the Iraqi-born leader of ISIS.
One of the community told me “what happened to us was beyond imagination.”
Sometimes Mor Matte was abandoned for years on end but it has always refused to die.
With great resilience they say “we are now building a new facility to give hope for the future and we have created three villages for our refugees on our land, and a quarry with jobs, so people don’t have to emigrate.”
Echoing what the Baba Sheikh said about corruption, I was told “The international community have brought us all the thieves from all over the world. What are we to think when we hear a President say “we only care about the oil.” 25 billion barrels of oil in Nineveh is a curse not a blessing. Meanwhile our people can’t even get kerosene or fuel for their homes. Our country’s assets are stripped and given to Iran or Assad. Meanwhile, a people who have experienced genocide are left unprotected as new waves of Shabak militias replace ISIS.”
Iraq is the ancient homeland of minorities such as Yazidis and Christians.
There are other vulnerable minorities such as Iraq’s Mandaeans- who are down to their last few thousand people. Theirs is a monotheistic Gnostic religion. Iraqi Kurdistan has also been home to Zoroastrianism and the Kakai faith, (Yarsanism) with synchronisticmystical beliefs.
The deliberate destruction of these ancient religious communities is a tragedy for their adherents. It is also a tragedy for Iraq’s majority Muslim community.
A country devoid of diversity and pluralism, unable to secure a future for its minorities, would be a less tolerant and more impoverished society for all its citizens.
I am glad that as an advocacy organisation, CSW, has been speaking out for all those who have suffered for their faith or beliefs – and grateful to them for helping me see the situation on the ground.
Genocide in Iraq was also about attempts to destroy identity, memory, language, and the ethnicity and beliefs of ancient peoples. But there are signs of hope as brave communities refuse to die or let their remarkable history be eradicated in the contemporary Dark Ages of ISIS.
Ankawa was once an Iraqi Christian village in Kurdistan and is close to Irbil. Today, it is home to around 50,000 Christians – many with a Syriac heritage and many who fled the depredations of ISIS.
In response to their needs around 3500 students are learning the Syriac language in 50 schools in Dohuk, Ancawa and Irbil. This has been possible because of what one teacher in a school I visited today described as “the unique situation in the districts administered by the Kurdish Regional Government.”
Not only is the Syriac language being taught in that school but all subjects in the national curriculum are taught in Syriac too.
ISIS tried to destroy any sense of identity and heritage that was not their own. I heard heroic stories of the rescue of people but saw examples of stunning artefacts also saved from wanton destruction.
Kaldo Ramzi showed me Ancawa’s small museum – if which he is Director – and which records the story of the region’s Syriac peoples. He reminds you that Alexander the Great passed here to fight Darius and the Persians.
I also spent several hours with one of these guardians. He reminded me of the monk-scholars of Europe’s Dark Ages who meticulously copied and secretly saved ancient manuscripts that the barbarians would have otherwise saved.
He talked about “the horrible ideology” that seeks to erase memory and said that “ISIS talk of “the ignorance period” but theirs is the greatest ignorance.” He has digitalised and saved remarkable things – including the Islamic Hadith, the Jewish Torah, Yazidi holy books and ancient Christian manuscripts.
Having blown up a Syriac church in Mosul, imagine the consternation of ISIS on discovering in the foundations a rich Assyrian palace predating their narrow ideology by thousands of years.
Eradicating history and people’s stories and heritage – their version of Pol Pot’s Year Zero – is a crime for which they should be held accountable.
Their genocide shed much blood but also involved the central objective of blowing up of buildings, the elimination of language, culture, identity and difference. I heard how they even fired volleys of billets into paintings, targeting eyes and mouths.
And they reserved a special place in their version of hell for women. They raped, forcibly converted, enslaved and deny women and girls an education.
ISIS ally, Boko Haram ( which means destroy western education) have particularly targeted girls, abducting and enslaving them and forbid education.
They are frightened of women like Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai who reminds us that one book, one teacher, one pen can change the world.
By contrast, formidable women like Bahija Nisho , Secretary General of the Assyrian Women’s Union, and her team of women volunteers, have been setting up projects to empower women- including workshops and kindergartens.
They told me the story of Christine, a 3 year old girl abducted by ISIS, in Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plains, and kept in captivity for 3 years. An Arab bought her and brought her up with his his children and with the Women’s Union she was ultimately reunited with her family and is now in Germany.
They and young people from the Syrian Student and Youth Movement – founded in 1991 – are determined not to be forcibly assimilated and forced to renounce their ancient identity. Significantly, not a penny of the UK’s aid programmes reaches these vulnerable minorities. Yet another example of the unwillingness to look at creed when assessing need.
Yet, despite all this, never forget the story of Pandora’s Box. When everything else had been emptied out, the one thing that remained was hope.
And within the Kurdistan Regional area of Northern Iraq there are things to celebrate and admire. There are signs of hope – especially in its schools – which are like an oasis where coexistence and respect are increasingly promoted – not least because they know that, if we cannot learn to live together, the alternative is a bleak and brutal world.
Knowing Their Own Story, Self Governing Kurds in Iraq Have Been An Oasis Of Stability And Provided Sanctuary For Persecuted Minorities
In 1991 John Major’s Government intervened in Iraq, established a no fly zone, stopped a Genocide, and paved the way for Kurdish regional government . Today, at the Kurdish Regional Parliament, I met the Kurdish Speaker, Rewaz Faye Hussein and her Deputy, Mr.Hawarmi.
At a time when liberal interventionism is so despised,it is worth recalling that following Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons attacks in 1988 at Halabja – killing at least 5000 people – the 1991 UN Security Council Resolution 688 enabled the no-fly zone which protected the Kurds for 12 years.
The Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal subsequently defined Halabja as a genocidal massacre. It constituted the largest ever chemical attack on a civilian population.
Two million Kurds had fled to the mountains to escape Saddam Hussein’s aerial bombardment. But, thanks to international intervention the Kurds survived Saddam’s genocidal campaign and returned home to establish today’s flourish democracy and, in Irbil, a place of safetyYazidis, Christians and other minorities fleeing ISIS.
Madam Speaker Rewaz Faye Hussein told me that unlike the monochrome ideology of ISIS “ we welcome difference in our region.
This shows the beauty of our region and our Parliament, with members from the Turkmen, Christian and Armenian minorities reflects this welcome of difference. We have enshrined the rights and culture of minorities in law.”
Deputy Speaker Hawarmi, who comes from Halabja,reinforced her message stating that tolerance and mutual respect had to “become deep rooted, part of genes.”
Challenges such as the confiscation of property owned by minorities and the upholding of education in languages such as Syriac had to be entrenched.
Later at Irbil’s unique new not-for-profit Catholic university – which provides funded education for all, regardless of background – including 12 new scholarships for Yazidis – I saw a wonderful sign of hope.
CUE’s Chancellor, Professor Dr. Almaleh, whose early jobs were in Liverpool universities – unashamedly says their mission is to form “Learners Today, Leaders Tomorrow’”.
Working with a new hospital they will develop a medical school, research projects and a life long learning centre. The university’s mantra is “we have survived, now we want to thrive.”
Today I also met some of the spiritual leaders of the ancient churches, heard their stories of acute persecution and loss – especially in the city of Mosul, stripped bare of its minorities – but also saw signs of hope.
Bishop Nicodemus, Syrian OrthodoxBishop of Mosul,told me “ISIS destroyers our homes, our churches, our monasteries, our dignity. They destroyed everything. But failed to destroy the faith that is in our hearts. Few of our families have been able to go back, because the spirit of ISIS is still in Mosul.”
But Nicodemus refuses to be crushed. He is building a kindergarten and school: “We cannot predict the future but we must work like we will be here forever.”
The Kurds, Assyrians, Syriacs, Chaldeans and Yazidis all have suffering, pain and betrayal in their life blood. But they also have an indomitable spirit and you cannot encounter them without hoping that the future- with international support- will help their peoples create a respectful and diverse society which is the antidote to the visceral hatred offered by the ideology of ISIS.
Traveling at present in Kurdistan and Northern Iraq, I’ve been meeting some of the groups who have been subjected to genocide and crimes against humanity.
I was very struck by the way Assyrians, Syriacs, and Chaldeans have been systematically targeted – over decades and even centuries. Pre dating Christianity and Islam, these ancient peoples have been decimated in systematic campaigns to eradicate and eliminate them, their culture, and their way of life. Their crime is simply to dare to be different.
One Assyrian told me “Pre 2003 our intellectuals, elites and scholars were exiled, imprisoned, tortured and some martyred. Ironically, since then, under the name of democracy, persecution has become institutionalised.” ISIS, of course, then posed an existential threat.
This contemporary Genocide began at Simele in 1933 when Iraq’s armed forces led by Bakr Sidqi massacred up to 3000 people in 63 villages in the areas around Dohuk and Mosul.
A young Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, studied Simile and the Armenian Genocide and coined the word genocide. He later saw over 40 if his family killed in the Holocaust.
In our own times, as the world looked the other way, these same communities, who told me “we feel abandoned by the international community”, have experienced more systematic killing and now say “we feel unsafe, politically disempowered, and excluded.”
The seeds of genocide are planted in a climate of indifference and impunity.
Northern Iraq and North East Syria provide the text book that proves it.
Carrie Lam has complained that she hasn’t known who to speak to about the calls for reform made by the pro democracy campaigners.
Well now she has elected councils and elected councillors and she should urgently convene a consultation with them.
The District Council elections were a moment of elation, but they point to the dire need for reform.
Pessimists would have us believe that it’s inevitable that Hong Kong returns to the disfigurement and paralysis of cannonades of tear gas, volleys of rubber bullets, and Molotov cocktails.
Fighting the wrong battle in the last ditch, and surrendering to a sense of inevitability, would be a terrible defeat for all sides and not worthy of the popular and peaceful upsurge represented by ballots rather than bullets. Hong Kong and Beijing both need a fresh start rather than a resumption of paralysis.
Boldly turn these councils into something more than parish pumps – give them an immediate consultative role – devolve decisions and opportunities to them – pioneer reforms – and the Hong Kong government may come to see last Sunday’s elections as a decisive turning point, replacing the need for protest with the leadership and commitment demanded by the voters and indelibly printed on a landslide of ballot papers.
Chris Patten forensically sets out the arguments in favour of supporting pro democracy campaigners in Hong Kong – and why they are living on the equivalent of California’s San Andreas Fault fault line between autocratic totalitarianism and the free air of democracy. And the tectonic plates are moving.
“The Chinese authorities’ insulting suggestion that Hong Kong’s citizens were being manipulated was plainly ludicrous. The not-so-silent majority made its views known. The China Dream does not seem to have many takers in Hong Kong” .Lord Patten of Barnes
Speaking tonight (November 28th 2019) at Oxford University’s Keble College, David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) said:
“political parties and their candidates gravely underestimate millions of the quiet people of Britain when they assume that no-one reads the small print of their manifestos – and cast their votes accordingly.
“They have read the Labour Party’s commitment to bring in a new law to permit abortion up to birth and the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy. This is a licence to kill babies which can be born and live.
“Combined with the delisting and deselection of candidates, because they dare to question the humanity of ending the lives of 9 million babies in the womb, this trespasses into an area which was once entirely a matter of conscience and a subject worthy of free speech.
“Along with the Conservative Party, the Opposition parties have also supported the imposition of abortion in Northern Ireland – making a mockery of devolution.
“ All of this, and their combined refusal to support legislation to strengthen conscience provision – for people like midwives who do not want to be involved in one abortion every three minutes – reveals an illiberalism that discredits democratic politics.
“Conscience, constituents, country should come before conformism to Party dogma.
“I salute those brave candidates, from all parties, who have signalled their willingness to be politically courageous rather than politically correct, to insist that both lives matter, and to speak truth to power, and to vote accordingly in Parliament.
“I hope that before casting their votes electors will establish where their local candidates stand and put the very right to life above all other considerations.”
Today is Red Wednesday – when we think about the millions around the world who are persecuted because of their religion or belief. Today, spare a thought for the Uighur Muslims incarcerated in China, for the ancient Christian churches and Yazidis still facing genocide in the Middle East, for the non-believers persecuted for their atheism and the 250 million Christians persecuted worldwide.
You can read more in this article:
Lambeth Palace has been lit up red by Archbishop Justin Welby. See:
Independent Electoral Observation Mission Presents Findings on the 2019 District Council Election in Hong Kong
On 25 Nov 2019, members of the Independent Electoral Observation Mission (‘EOM’) have presented their findings (please see attached) on the 2019 District Council Elections at a Press Conference co-organized by “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” and “Hong Kong Story.”
David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) said that the election had generally been organised and fought fairly but that, for the future some irregularities needed to be tacked (see below). He said that Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, needed to hear the clear message of the voters who has “given a thumbs up to democracy and who want more democracy not less.” He said that “a window of opportunity has been opened. The Hong Kong authorities must respond and not squander the opportunity to end the political paralysis.”
The EOM consisted of a team of leading politicians and experts, including Dr. Mantas Adomėnas (Lithuania), Mr Kenny Chiu (Canada), Mr Andrew Khoo (Malaysia), Professor Kenji Isezaki (Japan), and Ms. Vicki Dunne (Australia), and observers from other countries including the US, UK, Denmark, Sweden and Slovakia. The delegation announced that it found that the District Council Election was smooth-running, peaceful and orderly, notwithstanding the current socio-political climate. Members noted the unprecedented voting turnout, with about 2,940,000 votes cast and a 71.2% voting turnout rate, as a sign that the people of Hong Kong were active participants in democratic elections. The delegation remarked that the disqualification of Joshua Wong was ungrounded and an act of political censorship and suppression. It noted that numerous candidates were assaulted during the campaigning period. During the observation, the delegates witnessed that uniformed police were present inside the polling stations, including those armed with pepper spray and guns. Members also noted inconsistencies in the handling of queues at different polling stations, and criticised the undesirable nature of the registration system for voters’ addresses, and instances of alleged bribery across the territory.
A member of the delegation said: “By participating in district-level election in such numbers, Hongkongers across the city have shown their insistence in finding a political solution to the current impasse.” The delegation also noted that in light of the ongoing political crisis, the turnout may reflect Hongkongers’ quest for democracy to elect their own representatives, be it the District, Legislative Council level or beyond.”
One spokesperson from Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong., one of the co-organizers of the EOM, said: “The historic turnout and landslide victory of the District Council Elections remind us that democracy is crucial to enabling peaceful political change. But these election results should not blind us, nor the international community, to the fact that Hongkongers are paying an incredibly high price in their fight for political reform within the framework of meaningful autonomy. A truly sustainable solution to the future of Hong Kong must be built upon true democracy based on genuine universal suffrage.” One spokesperson from Hong Kong Story said: “We have promised our fallen brothers and sisters to carry on their fight. We will continue the struggle for the fundamental values of liberty, justice, and autonomy as long as it takes to set them, and our city, free.”
Joint remarks from the Independent Election Observation Mission (“EOM” or “Mission”)
as announced at the Press Conference at 10am on 25 Nov 2019 at W Hotel, Hong Kong.
Lord Alton commented:
Although there were some irregularities, the elections generally proceeded efficiently and fairly and demonstrated the huge appetite in Hong Kong for more democracy, not less.
The most glaring example of improper interference in the democratic process was the heavy handed and characteristically ill judged decision to ban Joshua Wong from standing as a candidate. Uniquely singled out because of his ardent support for democratic institutions and the rule of law, this decision reflects very badly on the Hong Kong Government.
Banning candidates or parties or limiting free speech emasculates democracy.
Notwithstanding this, Joshua and the pro democracy campaigners had urged protest groups to ensure that the opportunity was given to vote in a peaceful environment.
In the light of his extraordinary example of bravery and commitment, we presented Joshua with the Westminster Award for Human Rights, Human Life and Human Dignity.
After five months of protests, against the Beijing appointed Administration of Carrie Lam, and massive social unrest, the people clearly saw this as an opportunity to send her a message to strengthen democracy and to listen to their voice.
She should now recognise that violence begets violence, that political solutions are needed, that an independent inquiry should examine the causes of the violence and who was responsible, and consider ways of creating a clean slate so that the new district councillors can make a fresh start. She must be very careful not to squander this opportunity.
The pan-democratic alliance fought the campaign on the basis of the five demands of the protest movement while the incumbent pro-Beijing parties oppose the calls for reform.
One of Asia’s greatest cities, many of Hong Kong’s reformers want the same opportunity to elect a city mayor – like London, Paris, New York, Berlin or Paris – instead of having a Chief Executive imposed upon them by the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
The unprecedented enthusiasm for the district council elections proves there is a real desire for the election of effective politicians committed to finding peaceful political solutions to the challenges facing Hong Kong.
Many people expressed their desire to me of being given more opportunities to hold to account the city’s leaders, through the ballot box – especially in preserving basic freedoms, autonomy and the rule of law – not rule by law.
Such was the scale of the turnout that I saw long queues at polling stations as people waited patiently to vote.
Police officers should not have been so prominent inside polling stations but I saw no attempt to openly intimidate or prevent people from voting.
Other irregularities could be better addressed by the establishment of a fully independent Electoral Commission ( to replace the government department that currently deals with complaints) and to which complaints may be made and investigated. More than 4,800 complaints had been lodged before yesterday’s elections and I met no one who expressed confidence that the Government would investigate them properly.
An independent authority would stop the Government from marking its own homework and inspire and command greater confidence .
There were some reports on social media of some voters being given material inducements to vote for Pro-Beijing candidates and the Sunday Morning Post reported suggestions of personation occurring because voters do not have to be registered at a residential address.
False voter registration is a serious issue which needs to be addressed.
An application for a judicial review into potential vote rigging, access to the electoral register, and false registration should be expedited and reforms made.
Unverifiable allegations should be taken seriously, properly investigated, findings reported and lessons learnt for the future.
At one polling station in Sha Tin I was particularly impressed by the team who were issuing ballots, by the professionalism and openness of the Presiding Officer, and by the enthusiastic and calm atmosphere which prevailed.
One of the candidates I met was Jimmy Sham, who was brutally attacked a few weeks ago – and whose story I had told in a Parliamentary Debate. He assured me that he had faced no violence during the election and it was encouraging to hear that he and his opponent had been able to put opposing views respectfully and without rancour. Jimmy was successfully elected.
This could bode well for the future but if the Administration will waste the moment and lose a rare opportunity if it fails to respond to the elections in a positive manner.
Although only vested with limited powers the district councils are the building blocks for democracy and a place where a new generation of politicians can show their worth. Hong Kong does not have full democracy but this unprecedented turn out underlined the desire for more say, not less. The Hong Kong Government and Beijing need to hear the people’s voice, to seize and not squander the opportunity to build on these welcome foundations.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 25 Nov 2019
Organizers’ remarks What started as a protest against the Extradition Bill has evolved into a grassroots social movement for the protesters’ five stated goals founded on justice, democracy, freedom, and autonomy. In spite of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments’ attempts to silence dissent through increasingly repressive tactics, the people of Hong Kong remain steadfast in seeking a political solution with their resolve strengthened by the injustices they experience.
In recent months, we have seen escalating human rights violations caused by severe abuse of power by the Hong Kong Police Force, resulting in severe injuries and death. Nonetheless, against this backdrop of suppression, intimidation, and threats, Hongkongers have made it clear that we will not be silenced. We have shown our desire for genuine democracy through unprecedented levels of political participation. Over 70% of Hong Kong’s eligible voters, including the so-called ‘silent majority’, have spoken. They have given a landslide victory to the pro-democracy parties, by 351 seats to 45 seats today as of 8:00am. None of these victories would have been possible without the sacrifices of the thousands of protesters who have been arbitrarily arrested, assaulted, and subject to political prosecution throughout the last five months. As we deliver these remarks, Polytechnic University remains under siege by the Hong Kong Police Force, with the situation of protesters trapped on site amounting to a humanitarian crisis.
The will of the people is clear.
Hongkongers want genuine universal suffrage to elect their own representatives, which is not a gift but a promise yet to be fulfilled by Beijing. This historic District Council Election has provided a rare glimpse of optimism during these months of despair.
The landmark turnout and landslide victory remind us that democracy is crucial to enabling peaceful political change. But these election results should not blind us, nor the international community, to the fact that Hongkongers are paying an incredibly high price in their fight for political reform within the framework of meaningful autonomy. That fight is ongoing and our city remains on a cliff-edge. A truly sustainable solution to the future of Hong Kong must be built upon the principle of liberal democracy. The international community often implores ‘both sides’ of the Hong Kong protests to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve the current political impasse. Hongkongers have chosen democracy; now, it is up to the government and Beijing to respond in a way that honours the will of the people. We implore your government to join our fight for freedom, and to stand with Hongkongers. We have promised our fallen brothers and sisters to carry on their fight. We will continue the struggle for the fundamental values of liberty, justice, and autonomy as long as it takes to set them, and our city, free.
In a letter to Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) told her that the group of international monitors, present in Hong Kong for the elections, were unanimous in their view that an independent Electoral Commission needs to be established (to replace the State run Authority, which is seen as “marking its own homework”) and that residential registration of voters would help to prevent personation and election rigging:
Among our findings we said the following:
The delegation believes that the registration system for voters’ addresses is undesirable. They noted that voters did not previously have to submit proof of address to be registered in a constituency until early 2018; the implementation of such a policy gives rise to the possibility of vote rigging, and cases of vote planting were known to have existed. It has come to the delegation’s attention that the Final Registers of Electors/Voters is originally accessible to the general public. However, the public can no longer access it due to an interim injunction order issued by the High Court. The delegation was shown a footage, originally captured by Stand News, showing how an uninformed voter was directed to vote for a particular candidate. Videos, news reports and sources related to alleged activities such as the offer of presents or red packets to voters who voted for a designated specific candidate were also shown to the delegation.
Given the aforementioned observations, coupled with the lack of an independent entity to verify the electoral procedure, the delegation therefore recognises that the Hong Kong electoral system is inadequate to instil confidence in the general public. There are existing loopholes, such as the lack of cross validation for registration system, within the current framework that render the electoral system prone to exploitation.
The EOM delegation offers the following recommendations for consideration and action of the HKSAR Government:
Uphold the freedom of speech, which is fundamental to any free and fair election;
Assess the feasibility of the establishment of an independent electoral committee to oversee elections;
Review and clarify the role of domestic and international observers, and empower these observers to conduct impartial observations and give recommendations to enhance transparency;
Regulate the discretionary power of officers presiding over polling stations by issuing a stringent and rigorous set of standards and protocols, in line with international standards;
Minimize the waiting and queuing time for voting by increasing the number of polling stations in a constituency; and
Prohibit the entry of police into polling stations.
Perhaps you will feel able to pursue some of these recommendations with the Hong Kong Government?
On a very positive note, we concluded that:
The delegates are pleased to witness such an unprecedented voting turnout for the Sixth District Council Election. The delegations believe that such an impressive turnout indicates an unmistakable desire on the part of the people of Hong Kong to make their voices heard within a partially democratic system, notwithstanding the current socio-political climate. By participating in district-level election in such numbers, Hongkongers across the city have shown their insistence in finding a political solution to the current impasse. The delegation also noted that in light of the ongoing political crisis, the turnout may reflect Hongkongers’ quest for democracy to elect their own representatives, be it the Legislative Council level or beyond.
He also drewMs. Lam’s attention to the following posts:
China and Hong Kong – David and Goliath Struggle – 176 Parliamentarians in the UK say that the Commonwealth should guarantee the citizenship, resettlement rights and right of abode of Hong Kong people in Commonwealth countries. See –
A recent poll by ComRes found almost eight in 10 British citizens believe Parliament is in need of reform (source: dpa)
David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool
David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons (MP) in the United Kingdom for 18 years and is now an Independent Crossbench Life Peer.
Most British voters now believe that their Parliament does not reflect the nation’s views
This loss of trust points to a growing divide between the concerns of the political classes and those of British citizens
Political elites would do well to consider the forgotten communities who struggle with crippling debt
There is a story about an ardent and rather self-important member of Parliament who, chasing after every vote he can get, visits a home for the elderly in his constituency. Many of the residents have experienced memory loss. One confused elderly lady tells him to go away: “But don’t you know who I am?” he asks. “No, I don’t,’‘ she replies, “but if you ask the head nurse, she may be able to tell you.”
Notwithstanding the well-deserved deflation of an overly self-important MP, memory loss is a shocking thing.
In the United Kingdom some 850,000 people have conditions associated with memory loss and the number will rise to over 1 million by 2025. Every three minutes someone else joins their number. And no one has yet come up with a cure.
Anyone who has experienced the sadness of a loved one failing to recognize them knows how shattering it can be. But collective, communal, memory loss is an acute condition too.
King Croesus reputedly asked the Oracle at Delphi what is the most important thing that a man should know, and the Oracle told him “know who you are.” True for us as individuals but true for whole nations too.
The realities of identity loss have been cruelly exposed to the light during the excruciatingly painful battles around Brexit. Divided families, communities, regions and nations have been bewildered by the spectacle of their Parliament, of which they were once fiercely proud, being reduced to chaos.
In the face of this alienation, and rather than searching for a cure, the United Kingdom’s political classes are in danger of behaving like the self-important MP in my story. For our self-regarding political classes to simply ask the public, “But don’t you know who we are?” will not suffice.
The breakdown in trust between the political classes and the public has never been greater.
Loss of trust
A recent poll by market research consultancy ComRes found that seven in 10 Britons think that Parliament fails to reflect the nation’s views and three-quarters believe that, overseas, the behaviour of British politicians damages the country’s reputation. Almost eight in 10 believe Parliament is in desperate need of reform with 74 percent believing it is not fit for the 21st century.
I am no great fan of referenda and old-fashioned enough to believe that representative democracy is better than plebiscitary democracy; that parliamentary representatives have a duty to consider complex issues and to use their judgement and wisdom in resolving those challenges.
Yes/no referenda do not do this and can become a convenient device to shirk responsibility. By contrast, if an MP fails to act wisely and justly, their constituents can evict them at the following General Election.
If, however, like David Cameron, you are rash enough to set in motion the juggernaut of a referendum, there is little choice but to abide by its outcome. To do otherwise is to inflict a mortal blow on the trust which is central to government by consent. As someone who voted Remain, this grieves me, but for the political classes who set these events in motion to try and ignore a majority decision grieves me even more.
This loss of trust points to a more fundamental alienation – one which has been fed by the obsessions of the political classes with fringe issues and by their unwillingness to hear alternative views. Working people are far more interested in work, their families, economic justice, their locality, social cohesion, their country, rather than gender ideology and the like. The failure to address those core concerns simply adds to the sense of alienation
The political elites should take a walk away from the self-serving and self-important Westminster Village
That alienation is fed by the no-platforming of speakers in universities who question today’s received wisdom. It borders on oppression when the feminist writer Germaine Greer is accused of being “transphobic” for challenging gender ideology.
Where does virtue-signaling leave academic freedom or the independence of academia to explore social and ethical issues? Where does it leave the search for truth and the testing of alternative views? How does all this play into how people see themselves and those who govern them?
The political elites should take a walk away from the self-serving and self-important Westminster Village, where smoke and mirrors and political theatre have replaced leadership and the national interest, and, instead, take a walk through a “rust-belt” town in the north of England, pervaded by hopelessness and despair, lived in by people who say no one is interested in them or the challenges they face.
We have burdened these communities with crippling debts. The average household debt stands at GBP 58,540 while, overall in the United Kingdom, people owe nearly GBP 1.6 trillion – almost as big as the GBP 1.786 trillion of national debt (85.2 percent of GDP). Future generations will call this “intergenerational theft.”
But they will probably forgive their indebtedness when they compare it with what they have lost through our destruction of the once strong communities and families that held those places together.
The urban landscape is littered with the consequences of 800,000 children who have no contact with their fathers and feel abandoned and robbed of a more fundamental security. We have to live with the consequences of women being forced into abortions by men, which some doctors say may be much more common than we think. In Britain that is one every three minutes.
In every respect, we have created a de-Christianized throwaway culture.
Everything from a human life to precious food can be chucked away because we have a “right” to do it. Never mind that 30 percent of food produced globally is currently dumped (accounting for up to 10 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions) and that it could feed all 800 million people in the world whom the World Bank says are smitten by starvation or do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. And that is to say nothing of another 1 billion who could be fed if we tackled the obesity and overeating affecting 2 billion of the world’s population
If people in developing nations suffer through our irresponsibility and greed, those living in material prosperity have lives too often blighted by the trauma of family breakdown, mental illness, drugs and despair. National life has been marred by outrageous misappropriation of money in huge bonuses, by misselling and illegal dealing by banks – which brought our economy to its knees. It is tainted by the neglect of the elderly, by institutional corruption, by too much inequality, by hateful and scapegoating language and by the politicization of judges.
Take the trouble to ask people what they think of the political classes and a clue would emerge as to why they voted as they did in the EU referendum. As much as anything it was a chance to kick the elites who have ceased to govern them: elites who look remote and out of touch.
A chasm has long been opening between the populace and the politicians
A chasm has long been opening between the populace and the politicians but those who govern them have been too busy with their obsessions to have even noticed.The same people who can spend 700 hours of parliamentary time arguing about the rights of foxes would be better employed worrying about why millions of people have shed their political identities and allegiances, deserted mainline political parties, and abandoned lifelong political loyalties, sometimes embraced by their families for generations.
If the politicians were to ask the right questions, they would be confronted by a far more significant identity crisis than gender identity or animal rights. They need to put right the relationship between them and their constituents and remember the high calling of political life.
It is still the case that in those same communities that, if you scratch the surface, you will find millions of British people who still affirm the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law – with its origins in the 800-year-old Magna Carta – freedom of speech and the rights of all men and women to live without fear of persecution.
These values did not come out of nowhere and British people are well aware that our history, culture, and identity have all been shaped by Judeo-Christian beliefs and honed by continuous struggle – evidenced in everything from the role of Christians in ending the slave trade; in upholding the right to conscience; the creation of myriad schools, universities, hospitals and charities. They did all these things because they believed in a generous and loving society: a culture of giving.
They did all this recognizing the importance of Prophet Isaiah’s injunction to “remember the rock from which you are hewn; remember the quarry from which you were dug.”
That rock, on which our societies have traditionally been built, upheld the sanctity of human life; the central place of our families in giving cohesion to society; the role of parents in caring for their children; the community’s duty toward the vulnerable, the needy, the widow, the orphan and the stranger within your land. It emphasized the importance of cultivating virtue; of public duty; of seeking the common good rather than merely elevating personal gain; of accepting social responsibilities.
Religious faith can animate a society when it teaches that we are not made for ourselves but for others, sharing with that great sage, Hillel, the belief that “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?”
The delicate balance between the individual and the civic groups which constitute our society is crucial to its identity and efficacy and is as vital to its survival as a body’s need for oxygen. We do not lose identity by engaging in civic and community life – quite the reverse. When we are secure in our identities, we can imagine ourselves in the other person’s shoes and have the confidence to consider how they might see the world.
But our survival also depends on trust.
Whether in the market, or in our relationships, it was once understood that our word is our bond and that other words, like courtesy, compassion, reliability, honesty and interdependence, gave meaning to a virtuous society – ideas which had their origins in Aquinas and Aristotle. These are all foundational values, fundamental to the health of our culture, but which, in the de-Christianizing of the United Kingdom’s identity, have been foolishly airbrushed out of our national discourse.
I am with G.K. Chesterton who, while reflecting on attempts to eradicate Christian identity, wrote that, “According to most philosophers, God, in making the world, enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free.”
That love of freedom is to be found wherever you find Judeo-Christian fingerprints. And, depressingly, every time secular humanism takes another step away from its Judeo-Christian roots the more illiberal and the more intolerant it becomes.
At an international level, some of the most important benchmarks for civilized behaviour – from Raphael Lemkin’s Genocide Convention to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – have their inspiration in Judeo-Christian ideals.
At the heart of the UDHR were principles that rely on a notion of universal truth: that humanity has a shared dignity in simply being human; that we are both dependent and autonomous rational subjects; that at the heart of a thriving society, comprised of flourishing individuals, is the liberty to express those religious and spiritual capacities; that we must uphold just laws and defend the vulnerable and weak – and that we are bound, as Rabbi Lord Sacks says, to uphold “the dignity of difference.”
Those who crafted the UDHR were not constructing a declaration for the majority or the powerful – but creating the conditions in which both justice and diversity can thrive.
Some 70 years later, many in contemporary political life now draw their inspiration from Machiavelli rather than Aquinas and have taken The Prince as their handbook. Machiavelli tells us that the ruler should not hesitate to deceive and be prepared to choose evil as the price of power, believing that real virtue emanated from the pursuit of ambition, glory and power.
After the fall of Communism, in his Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (Latin: Splendor of the Truth), published in 1993, the great Polish pope, St. John Paul II, who had experienced both the terrors of Nazism and Marxism, warned that the pursuit of naked power and materialism carried new risks; reflecting that the ending of murderous totalitarian ideologies had not eliminated the threat of “grave dangers” to our societies.
He said that the absence of Judeo-Christian values “to guide and direct political activity” leads to a vacuum: “then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.” Elsewhere, he vividly described “a culture of death.”
As we have discarded our identity, squandered our capital, and plundered our treasure house, we have created a toxic, fragile and uncertain world, a democracy without values. The insecurity is economic and social, political and cultural. Material prosperity and technological advances have left people scratching their heads, and wondering, what was it all for? Too many share the pessimism of Somerset Maugham who wrote, “There is no reason for life and life has no meaning.”
It was in this climate that a people, unsure of who they are, cynical about our politicians and institutions and doubtful about the very purpose of life itself, were given a binary choice about whether the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union.
But, like the people who were being asked to vote, this institution had also lost its way and forgotten on what basis it had been founded.
From their Fascist and Nazi prison cells, Alcide De Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer – inspired by Jacques Maritain – created a postwar endeavour which would put into practice their Judeo-Christian beliefs in reconciliation and respectful coexistence.
Earlier this year, that endeavour was given great poignancy by the 75th-anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings which claimed the lives of 10,000 Allied soldiers who died on Normandy’s beaches in June 1944. We have also been marking the battle of Monte Cassino, in which my late father fought – always deeply admiring, especially, of the bravery and sacrifice of Polish regiments – and which claimed 55,000 lives.
In the aftermath of those events, Winston Churchill called for “the recreation of the European family.”
Robert Schuman, who had been in hiding with the French Resistance and would become President of the European Parliamentary Assembly, also used the metaphor of the family, writing that “The European spirit signifies being conscious of belonging to a cultural family and to have a willingness to serve that community in the spirit of total mutuality, without any hidden motives of hegemony or the selfish exploitation of others.”
The European Union’s determination to march unwilling people out of a cultural family into the uniformity of a single state has been just as much to blame for the repudiation of their new Europe as the sometimes insecure and resentful xenophobia which has characterized the Brexit debate.
Little wonder that the liberal world – devoid of its bedrock values – is facing its greatest crisis since the 1930s
All this has been aided and abetted by the fear engendered by the mass movement of people, by new authoritarian ideology – in evidence all over the world – and by the rise of Islamist extremism. Little wonder that the liberal world – devoid of its bedrock values – is facing its greatest crisis since the 1930s.
When did we lose our sense of historical perspective about the terrible price which had been paid?
When did we lose a belief in reconciliation and replace it with flaccid arguments about backstops and customs duties?
When did our parliamentarians cease to believe in the patriotic and optimistic case for cross-cultural friendship in a cultural family and become trapped in the barbed wire of intolerant and disrespectful catcalling in Brussels and the House of Commons?
When did we forget the long shadow cast across Europe by Hitler’s mass murders and allow anti-Semitism, and new hateful ideologies to rise again? Why did we allow identity politics – which repudiates shared values and shared identity – to supersede the search for the common life; to elevate victimhood and protest politics, while simultaneously failing to recognize the role of social media in inciting culture wars and the superficial status of celebrities in defining national conversations – on everything from euthanasia to the use of drugs?
The tortuous debate about Brexit has thrown up these and many other defining questions about who we are and about our place in the world.
Time will tell if we have discovered any of the answers or whether, like the MP in my story, we are left searching for the head nurse to discover our identity – who we are.