International Scandal As Escaping Christians Continue To Suffer -Ijaz Paras Masih died in Detention Centre. Read report on”The United Nations: Missing In Action.” Also – Celebration in Parliament of the 126th Birthday of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar and the campaign to Make Caste History.

International Scandal As Escaping Christians Continue To Suffer

 

Thailand’s Government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Bangkok have been accused of “negligence” after a Pakistani Christian asylum seeker died in a detention centre last month.

 

https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2017/06/unhcr-accused-negligence-pakistani-christian-dies-thai-detention-centre/

 

I contacted UNHCR about the death of Mr. Ijaz Paras Masih, the Pakistani Christian asylum seeker who died while in the Immigration Detention. They simply said that “UNHCR’s position globally, as enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, is that no refugee or asylum seeker should be prosecuted or detained merely on grounds of illegal entry or overstay of a visa, save in the most exceptional situations.  While Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, we continue to advocate for alternatives to detention for person of concern to UNHCR based upon existing Thai law. We also look forward at least to enhanced access to bail as stated by the Royal Thai Government in its 15 November 2016 responses (paragraph 130) to the Human Rights Committee’s List of Issues in Relation to the Second Period Report of Thailand under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

 

I have asked them what progress they are making with enhanced access and how many more Christians escaping persecution in Pakistan are still held in these atrocious conditions. I have personally been inside this detention centre and you can read my report at: https://davidalton.net/2015/09/04/international-scandal-of-95-detainees-held-in-one-cell-including-children/

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The United Nations:  Missing In Action:  June 2017

https://www.gisreportsonline.com/opinion-the-united-nations-missing-in-action,politics,2232.html

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The United Nations – missing in action

Dag Hammarskjold was one of the great secretaries-general of the United Nations.

The Swedish economist turned diplomat began work at the UN in 1950, serving as the organization’s second secretary-general from 1953 until 1961. That year, while trying to negotiate a ceasefire in the Congo, he was killed in a plane crash in Zambia. Questions remain about the circumstances in which this courageous man died.

 

Today, different questions are being asked about the future of the Organization he once led.

 

Why, as the world confronts so many challenges, is the UN so often missing in action?  What can be done to reform the organization so that Hammarskjold’s successors might reconnect with its mission?

 

A different world

The UN was created in 1945 following the collapse of the League of Nations (1920-46). The world had come through the Great Depression, the Second World War and the Holocaust. In a flurry of hopefulness at the end of these horrors, the international community promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention. It also created a raft of international organizations – all with the avowed intention that international cooperation would prevent such catastrophes occurring ever again.

 

This was also the era of the Truman Doctrine and the United States government’s astoundingly generous $13 billion Marshall Plan (worth $189 billion today) – although the rationale behind the plan was more than simple altruism.

 

Truman told Congress that “the seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. We must keep that hope alive.”

 

Truman’s world would be one of free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.”

 

In 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall had insisted that “it is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.”

 

In parallel, this repudiation of isolationism and xenophobia gave birth to the Bretton Woods principles, which provided an international architecture governing investment, free trade and the flow of money.

 

This euphoria of internationalism was echoed, in 1951, by the creation of a common market, the European Coal and Steel Community, which would ultimately morph into the European Union.

 

In 1950, Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister, said the community’s purpose – especially in controlling coal and steel, the main ingredients of war – was to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.”

 

Taken together, this remarkable period of enlightened statesmanship enabled the regeneration and economic renewal of Europe’s fractured cities and regions.

 

Truman saw it as the best hope of defeating new forms of National Socialism, creating prosperity on the Western side of Stalin’s Iron Curtain, and offering ways forward for the emerging new postcolonial nations in Africa and Asia.

 

This, then, was the hopeful climate in which Dag Hammarskjold assumed leadership of the United Nations in 1953.

 

Road from hell

Profoundly aware of the League of Nations’ ultimate failure, Hammarskjold had a realistic view of what the UN might achieve, declaring that the organization “was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.”

 

In his Inferno, the 14th-century poet Dante Alighieri depicted hell as nine concentric circles of suffering located within the Earth. This accurately represents the post-Hiroshima 20th-century world in which Hammarskjold’s UN found itself.

 

Every century and every generation is confronted by those same concentric circles – torments of mankind’s own making. In saving us from hell, Hammarskjold believed that the UN had to take the international community beyond the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia and the conduct of international relations through the nation state.

The UN was to be an instrument that encouraged dialogue and cooperation in resolving conflict.

 

Today, in a world facing powerful political, technological, environmental and social challenges, the United Nations seems to talk endlessly and at best gets to apply bandages to the world’s wounds.

 

The hellish intractability of many crises facing the contemporary world is underlined by a cursory look at the issues high on Hammarskjold’s agenda in 1953. These included attempts to smooth relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors; a 1955 visit to China to negotiate the release of U.S. pilots captured in the Korean War; and the creation of an Emergency Force geared to resolving violent crises in countries like the Congo.

 

Interestingly, and following his belief that if you didn’t understand religion you couldn’t understand the world, Hammarskojold overcame opposition in allowing the Holy See to participate at the UN. He had a profound understanding of the enduring significance of religion in a world where, even today, 84 percent say they have a religious affiliation.

 

Overwhelmed by demons

More than 60 years on, Hammarskjold would surely question the UN’s effectiveness in addressing the dangers facing humanity today: resurgent nationalism; varying forms of totalitarianism; ideologies hostile to free societies; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the abject failure to resolve conflicts, whether in Sudan, Syria or Afghanistan; and the blights of famine, poverty and inequality.

 

Does the UN remain the linchpin of a rules-based international order? Has it moved us beyond Westphalia, by encouraging cooperative resolution of conflicts?

 

Why does it struggle so badly to relate its work to religion (with more than 1 billion Catholics and 1 billion Muslims in the world) and fail to understand the role of the great faiths in human development and the fight against terror?

 

The UN’s effectiveness must be measured against the challenges posed by Islamist terrorism; refugees and mass migration; globalization; nuclear proliferation; digital technology and cyber warfare; and a crisis of confidence in the political elites and institutions that are supposed to meet these threats.

 

While the demons of hell have been upping their game, it appears that the UN’s angels have been at least temporarily overwhelmed.

 

Yet, Hammarskjold’s fundamental proposition still holds true: not one of these challenges can be resolved on a national basis, without international cooperation.

 

Reform or die

Part of the UN’s problem has been an inability to come to terms with a world in which 45 percent of the population is aged 25 or under.

 

Hammarskjold lived in a pre-internet age and would be amazed to see how cyberspace shapes, for good and ill, our transnational relationships – be they personal, political, social or economic.

 

For example, recall the role of social media in the Arab Spring, in connecting pro-democracy campaigners in countries like Burma, in cyber warfare, fake news, in hate speech, in coded messages inciting Islamist terror, or in the hands of a tweeting president. The UN’s own narrative seems missing in this dangerous new world.

 

And beyond cyber space, transnationalism has been reinforced by the unprecedented ease of travel. Globalization allows assets and taxable income to be transferred across the world by legal or illegal means, the same way people can be transported by a low-cost airline or a human smuggler.

 

This is the world that Hammarskjold’s successor, Antonio Guterres, must come to grips with after taking office on January 1. Mr. Guterres set out with three top priorities: peacekeeping, sustainable development, and reform of the UN’s internal management.

 

The new secretary-general is right about the urgent need for restructuring and renewal – without which the UN may suffer the fate of the League of Nations. If he fails, the Security Council’s five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. – will bear a great deal of the responsibility.

 

The omens do not look particularly favorable.

 

Losing America

As Guterres assumed office, a new occupant arrived at the White House.

 

Throughout his election campaign, Donald Trump had only negative things to say about the UN, describing it as a “club” for people to “have a good time.”

 

By signaling support for the use of torture, a disinclination to finance the UN’s peacekeeping budgets, lack of support for the International Criminal Court, and an unwillingness to help to fund obligations to refugees, President Trump has set the U.S. on the path of disconnection.

 

Simultaneously, however, Mr. Trump has understood popular disillusionment with the political classes and their chosen priorities. He correctly identified the misuse of international funds to promote coercive population control and abortion programs.

 

In the past, UN agencies indirectly aided and abetted China’s grotesque one child policy. In Africa, politicians complain that UN agencies blackmail recipients of aid by threatening to cancel other programs. That is neither a moral nor a practical choice – and President Trump is right about that.

 

By behaving like arrogant neocolonialists, unaccountable elites gradually lose public and political support. That can cost an institution dearly, as the European Union, Britain’s Left and American Democrats have discovered.

 

Affront to values

The reason so many Americans – especially Republicans – are skeptical (and even worse) about the UN is that it appears incapable of resolving big issues while taking up minor causes that affront deeply held American values.

 

For instance, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that Jews are entitled to live in safety in their homeland – and that it is a miracle of God’s providence that the land of Israel was restored. They therefore find it unconscionable that the UN endlessly criticizes the only pluralist, liberal society in the Middle East – even if it is a deeply flawed one.

 

Last December, the UN General Assembly ended its annual legislative session by adopting 20 resolutions against Israel and only six resolutions on the rest of the world combined – three on Syria, and one each on Iran, North Korea and Crimea.

 

In April 2016, the UNESCO Executive Board in Paris adopted a resolution that ignored Jewish ties to its holy site of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall area in Jerusalem’s Old City. It referred to the Temple Mount area solely as Al-Aksa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif, except for two references to the Western Wall Plaza that were put in parenthesis. This just makes UNESCO look anti-Semitic.

 

Not only are these decisions unjust, they make the UN irrelevant in the eyes of Americans – whether they are Democrats (a party with a historically strong Jewish constituency) or evangelical Republicans. Ignore religious sensibilities and you become a waste of time for decision-makers in Washington.

 

The UN should never forget that it relies on assessed and voluntary contributions from member states. It should never forget why it was set up – principally to maintain international peace, to promote security, to champion human rights, to encourage sustainable development, to safeguard the world’s environment and heritage, and to provide relief where natural disasters, famine or violent conflict occur.

 

If it wants to retain support, it should stick to its day job, not try to peddle an ideology.

 

Root and branch

As part of a fundamental reform, the UN needs to examine how secretaries-general are elected. The point is to find contemporary Hammarskjolds – men or women of talent – rather than rotating through the usual suspects.

 

There is a great deal to be said for a seven-year, nonrenewable term of office.

 

The current arrangement of reelection after five years, perhaps by design, makes the incumbent more susceptible to pressure from those with the power to propel or block his or her candidacy (and so far, it has always been “his”).  Secretaries-general should also have better things to do than canvassing for votes.

 

Leadership positions at the UN should be based on qualifications and the ability to do the job. The 17 members of the Geneva Group (the UN’s major funders) should be driving forward this urgently needed reform. Many posts will come vacant during Mr. Guterres’ first term, presenting an opportunity to do things differently.

 

The UN seeks to halt our slide into hell through its main organs –the deliberative General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice – and through its agencies, which include the

World Bank Group, UNESCO, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme and the Human Rights Council.

 

These agencies have a very mixed record.

 

In Nairobi, for instance, I challenged an indifferent UN official about funds that had been embezzled from phantom projects for much-needed water catchment dams and reservoirs in northern Kenya.

 

In the Congo and South Sudan, I protested about the role of so-called UN peacekeepers whose actions had ranged from incompetent to illegal.

 

Policing the peacekeepers

Mr. Guterres would do well to examine the recommendations of the Westminster Committee on Sexual Violence in Conflict, which called for an international jurisdiction to root out and hold to account peacekeepers accused of sexual violence against the people they were supposed to protect. Such misconduct brings peacekeeping into terrible disrepute.

 

At present, responsibility for deal with these matters rests with the countries contributing the troops. Some – among them Uruguay, Pakistan and South Africa – have court-martialed soldiers charged with offences on peacekeeping missions, but these actions have only scratched the surface.

 

Nor does any of this come cheap.

 

The UN spends more than $8 billion a year to deploy 86,000 troops. With civilian employees, the total personnel on peacekeeping missions is around 120,000.

 

President Trump’s proposal to cut $1 billion in funding from UN peacekeeping work would jeopardize these operations. It is not unreasonable, however, to demand value for money and better outcomes.

 

In assessing the future role of its blue helmets, the UN should also place greater emphasis on training them to prevent conflict in the first place.

 

When Dag Hammarskjöld was found dead in his plane, in his briefcase they found a copy of Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ.  He would have been familiar with Jesus’s admonition: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

 

The UN should be putting more resources and time into making peace and preventing conflict rather than keeping peace and boots on the ground. This also points to the need for the secretary-general to open channels to non-state actors such as the free Kurdish cantons of northern Syria.

 

Failure to do this will bring new horrors. Consider the world’s newest country, South Sudan, where the abject failure to prevent conflict has produced a catastrophic famine, entirely man-made and wholly avoidable.

 

Confronting inertia

Here we must say something about the Security Council. More than any other arm of the UN, its success or failure will determine whether we slide into the abyss.

 

At the end of the Cold War, it was rather naively assumed that Security Council would overcome the incapacitating effect of the veto (often by Russia), which had frequently stymied coherent and coordinated action.

 

Instead, communism gave way to the Vladimir Putin era, and the tensions and divisions within the Security Council have continued.

 

Most recently, in February and April 2017, Russia used its veto to block UN sanctions over the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. An effective response was left to President Trump, who ordered a Tomahawk missile strike against the Syrian airbase from which the chemical attack was launched.

 

In dealing with an evident war crime, the UN was again found missing in action. Its statisticians, however, have been very active – busily counting the dead.

 

They estimate that some 400,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 5 million have fled the country since the war began in 2011. Another 6.3 million people are internally displaced.

 

The UN has failed to end the war, failed to protect civilians, and failed to bring the perpetrators to justice. What does the agony of Aleppo say about the impotence of the UN and the collective shame which this war has brought on the international community?

 

It is not only the colossal loss of life and the vast displacements of people that shame us, but also the UN’s failure to set in motion Nuremburg-style trials for those responsible for crimes against humanity and genocide.

 

Scourge of genocide

This scandalous failure to provide justice – or even to establish mechanisms for trying those responsible for mass executions, sexual slavery, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, torture, mutilation and the enlistment and forced recruitment of children – shames the UN and its members. That is, all of us.

 

Genocide – as the UN itself has declared – is never a word to be used lightly. It is not determined by the number of people killed, but by specific genocidal intent.

 

In 1948, in the wake of some of the worst atrocities in history, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

 

The culmination of years of campaigning by the Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, it laid upon the signatories a moral and legal duty to “undertake to prevent and to punish” genocide – the crime above all crimes.

 

Once it is recognized that genocide is being committed, serious legal obligations follow, but in our own times states have been reluctant to accept their responsibility to prevent a recurrence of this “odious scourge.”

 

Notwithstanding resolutions by the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the British House of Commons and the U.S. Congress identifying atrocities against Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities in Syria and Iraq as genocide, the UN has conspicuously failed to act.

 

The Security Council’s failure to refer evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) – or for any other court to act ­­– has become a scandalous circular argument. Some 124 states are signatories to the ICC’s Rome Statute, but the Court’s authority is fatally undermined when great nations do not demonstrate their belief in the rule of law. Already we see some states withdrawing from the ICC.

 

Who’s to blame?

The West says that Russia will use its veto to prevent any referral on atrocities in Syria.

 

The same diplomats say that China will use its veto if an attempt is made to bring North Korea before the ICC.

 

This comes after a UN report in 2014 found that North Korea’s violations of human rights and crimes against humanity make it “a state without parallel.”

 

The Commission of Inquiry called for the ICC to bring to trial those responsible for “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.”

 

On reading the report, it is difficult to identify any of the 30 articles comprising the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that are not violated every day in North Korea.

 

Yet, three years after the report’s publication (and as the world watches nervously while Pyongyang contemplates a sixth nuclear test), the regime wallows in impunity – making a mockery of the UN’s proclaimed doctrine of a “duty to protect.”

 

Veto versus duty

Not to act is to act. It sends a very dangerous message that state and non-state actors can behave as they wish, since international institutions are incapable of holding perpetrators to account.

 

Changing the veto powers of the Security Council’s permanent members is no simple business. Such a step would be resisted by those who wield the veto, and it would require amendment of the UN Charter. But Mr. Guterres needs to consider the question, and perhaps referral of crimes to the ICC could be exempted from the veto.

 

It is true that the permanent members are unlikely to take measures to curb their own influence. Gaining a two-thirds vote in the General Assembly will not be easy, either ­– but this is not an issue Mr. Guterres can dodge if he wants to fundamentally reform the UN.

 

Imperfect and indispensable

Dag Hammarskjold was not naïve about the UN’s capacity. As he once said: “We should … recognize the United Nations for what it is – an admittedly imperfect but indispensable instrument of nations working for a peaceful evolution towards a more just and secure world.”

 

He also had some hopeful words that Mr. Guterres might want to pin above his desk: “Setbacks in trying to realize the ideal do not prove that the ideal is at fault.”

 

The UN may be missing in action, but it is not in our interest to confirm reports of its death.

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Remarks by David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool, at a meeting on April 26th 29017, in the British House of Lords, to celebrate the 126th Anniversary of the birth of Dr.Babasaheb Ambbedkar

 Also, listen to this BBC radio programme about Dr.Ambedkar.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b090wtq1

 

Dalit voice Dr.Ambedkar2

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891

 

On a visit to West Bengal I was once given a small terracotta pot, which I keep on a shelf in my study.

Such pots must be broken once a Dalit – an untouchable – has drunk out of them so as not to pollute or contaminate other castes.

This is the 21st century. It is not the pots which need to be broken, not the people, but the system which ensnares them.

Two hundred years ago, on 22 June 1813, six years after he had successfully led the parliamentary campaign to end the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, William Wilberforce made a major speech in the House of Commons about India.

He said that the caste system,

“must surely appear to every heart of true British temper to be a system at war with truth and nature; a detestable expedient for keeping the lower orders of the community bowed down in an abject state of hopelessness and irremediable vassalage. It is justly, Sir, the glory of this country, that no member of our free community is naturally precluded from rising into the highest classes in society”.

 

Two centuries later the caste system which Wilberforce said should be abolished – and which the British during the colonial period signally failed to end and used to entrench its rule – still disfigures the lives of vast swathes of humanity.

Lest you think that these are historic questions let me make absolutely clear that hardly a day passes without some new horror being perpetrated against the Dalits.

Take Dalits and Tribals together, both of whom fall outside the caste system and experience discrimination: they comprise a quarter of India’s population and one twenty fourth of the world’s population.

It is estimated that every day three Dalit women are raped; Dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside; on average every hour two Dalit houses are burnt down; every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; each day two Dalits are murdered; 11 Dalits are beaten; many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12% die before their fifth birthday; 56 per cent of Dalit children under the age of four are malnourished; their infant mortality rate is close to 10 %; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write; in one recent year alone, 25,455 crimes were committed against Dalits, although many more went unreported, let alone investigated or prosecuted; 70 per cent are denied the right to worship in local temples; 60 million Dalits are used as forced labourers, often reduced to carrying out menial and degrading forms of work;

Segregated and oppressed, the Dalits are frequently the victims of violent crime. In one case, 23 Dalit agricultural workers, including women and children, were murdered by the private army of high-caste landlords. What was their crime? It was listening to a local political party, whose views threatened the landlords’ hold on local Dalits as cheap labour. The list of atrocities and violence is exponential.

If you are a Dalit in India you are 27 times more likely to be trafficked or exploited in another form of modern slavery than anyone else.

 

Caste should be recognised as a root cause of this misery and a root cause of trafficking, of modern day slavery and poverty and unless we raise the profile of the oppressed Dalits nothing will change.

dalits cast out caste

Cast out Caste – Make Caste History

Dalits are trafficked and exploited. Who will raise their voice on their behalf?

Voice of Dalit International were good enough to send me a copy of Dhananjay Keer’s admirable biography of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891 and the anniversary of  whose 126 th birthday we celebrate today.

Dalit voice Dr.Ambedkar

Dr.Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891

When Dr. Ambedkar died on December 7th, 1956, Prime Minster Nehru adjourned the Lok Sabha for the remainder of the day having told parliamentarians that Ambedkar had been controversial but had revolted against something which everybody should revolt against – all the oppressing features of Hindu society.

Nehru with Ambdekar

Nehru with Ambdekar

 

Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution once remarked that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

Ambedkar’s life was a life of relentless struggle for human rights. Born on a dunghill and condemned to a childhood of social leprosy, ejected from hotels, barber shops, temples and offices; facing starvation while studying to secure his education; elected to high political office and leadership without dynastic patronage; and to achieve fame as a lawyer and law maker, constitutionalist, educator, professor, economist and writer, illustrates what the human spirit can overcome.

In 1927, the young Ambedkar famously led a march to the Chavdar reservoir, a place prohibited to Dalits. On arriving at the reservoir, he bent down, cupped his hands, scooped up some water, and drank—an act completely forbidden by the caste system. The Brahmins, or upper castes, responded by furiously pouring 108 pots of curd, milk, cow dung, and cow urine into the reservoir – a ritual act which they claimed would “purify” the water polluted and defiled by untouchables.

 

Ambedkar could so easily have taken the path of violent revolution, spurred on by bitter hatred or a need for revenge – but although others regarded his shadow as a sacrilege and his touch as a pollutant, he demonstrated why it is the caste system which deserves to be put beyond human touch not the men, women and children condemned by it.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question. Among untouchables themselves he awakened a sense of human dignity and self respect. He repudiated the helplessness of fate, the impotent, demoralised incapacity that insisted that everything is pre-ordained and irretrievable.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question.

He began a war against a social order that allowed caste to condemn millions to a life of irreversible servitude and social ostracism. This was an existence he had shared. “You have no idea of my sufferings” he once said. Having personally experienced life below the starvation line, the effects of destitution and squalor, the humiliation of ejection, segregation, and rank discrimination, “having passed through crushing miseries and endless trouble” 

 

Ambedkar determined to challenge these evils by entering political life: becoming renowned as a scholar-politician, sadly, a combination so little in evidence today.

 

Ambedkar understood that the great nation of India would never achieve its potential if it remained disfigured and divided by caste. Without freedom to marry, who they would; to live with, who they would; to dine with, who they would; to embrace or touch, who they would; or to work with, who they would, the nation could – and can – never be fully united or able to fulfil its extraordinary potential.

“the roots of democracy” are to be found “in social relationships and in the associate life of the people who form the society.” He said that “if you give education…the caste system will be blown up. This will improve the prospect of democracy in India and put democracy in safer hands.”

He believed that “the roots of democracy” are to be found “in social relationships and in the associate life of the people who form the society.” He said that “if you give education…the caste system will be blown up. This will improve the prospect of democracy in India and put democracy in safer hands.”

Education is still the best hope for social transformation. Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes.

Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes

 

While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.”

dalit advice to educate, organise and agitate, Dr.Ambedkar

While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.” He said dalits should “educate, agitate and organise.”

He said the challenge was to “educate, agitate and organise.”

 

Ambedkar rightly perceived the negative effects which caste has on economic development – and in his booklet “Annihilation of Caste” he argued that caste deadens, paralyses and cripples the people, undermining productive activity by frequently denying opportunities to those with natural aptitude and through the entrenchment of servitude. Caste amounts to the vivisection of society.

annihilation of caste

The Annihilation of Caste b y Dr.Ambedkar

In India you can’t make poverty history unless you make caste history. 

 

Through Dr.Ambedkar’s colossal labours caste began to decay but even now it has not died.

 

Although untouchability was barred by the constitution, the system was not dismantled. Most of the worst forms of exploitation are proscribed by statute, but all too often the laws are simply not implemented and the police further entrench, rather than protect against, caste prejudice.

Tens of millions of India’s citizens are subject to many forms of highly exploitative forms of labour and modern-day slavery. This often plays into the problem of debt bondage and bonded labour, which affects tens of millions. It perpetuates a cycle of despair and hopelessness, as generations are bonded to the family debt, unable to be educated and unable to escape. Tragically, the debt is often the result of a loan taken out for something as simple and essential as a medical bill.

 

At times, Britain and India have had a turbulent relationship; but what is often called “the idea of India” is one that continues to captivate and enthral anyone who has been fortunate enough to travel there and in 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace.

 

India is the world’s largest democracy—home to one-sixth of the world’s population. It can be proud of its many fine achievements. Like all our democracies, it is a work in progress, and there are many bright spots. India produced one of the first female Heads of Government; a Dalit, Dr.Ambedkar, wrote the constitution; a female Dalit became a powerful politician; a Muslim has been head of state four times; and a Jew and a Sikh are two of India’s greatest war heroes. So an astounding amount has been achieved.

 

However, India cannot be proud of the more general fate of the Dalits, the caste system, or the extremism which feeds off ostracism and alienation and which threatens modern India.

Although Dr. Ambedkar was able to have India’s Constitution and the laws framed to end untouchability, for millions and millions of people, many of those provisions have not been worth the paper on which they are written.

Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Dalit rally Dr.Ambedkar

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question.

Dalit voice Dr.Ambedkar

Dr.Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Roscoe Lectures – Forthcoming Lectures June 2014

The 120th Roscoe Lecture will take place in Liverpool on Monday June 9th. It will be delivered by the Mexican Ambassador.

 

As part of series of encounters with Ambassadors accredited to the Court of St.James we will be staging some “Meet the Ambassadors” Roscoe Lecture lunchtime events.

These are in collaboration with the Liverpool Consular Corps, who sponsor our Liverpool John Moores University Good Citizenship award for international initiatives.
The first of these will be on Monday June 9th when the new Mexican Ambassador Diego Gómez Pickering, who recently presented his credentials to her Majesty the Queen, will speak. Details of the time and venue available from Mrs.Barbara Mace at b.mace@ljmu.ac.uk <a href=” b.mace@ljmu.ac.uk”></a>&nbsp;

 

Mexican Ambassador Diego Gómez Pickering presents his credentials to H.M.The Queen

Mexican Ambassador Diego Gómez Pickering presents his credentials to H.M.The Queen

20114 is the eightieth anniversary of the creation of UK and Mexican diplomatic relations, in 1934, and 2015 has officially been designated as BritMex “The year of Mexico in the United Kingdom” and “The year of the United Kingdom in Mexico”, where the theme of innovation will be at the foreground of planned events. Commercial and business ties have significantly increased in recent years with trade generating revenues of around £4 billion – double the 2008 figure.

 

Liverpool’s own links with Mexico can be traced back over 200 years. In 1795 , a contemporary of William Roscoe, William Bullock , founded a Museum of Natural Curiosities at 24 Lord Street and later travelled to Mexico. Some of the artefacts he collected are listed in “ Companion to the Liverpool Museum, containing a brief description of … natural & foreign curiosities, antiquities & productions of the fine arts, open for public inspection … at the house of William Bullock”
More recently, Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery and Museum hosted a disturbing exhibition highlighting one of the most challenging questions facing modern Mexico. The exhibition, “Remember Them’ featured work by a group of international artists drawing attention to the huge amount of mainly female disappearances and murders committed in Ciudad Juárez in Northern Mexico, a city described as one of the most violent in the world.
The exhibition, premiered in Liverpool, featured work by Mexican photographer, Julián Cardona, Irish painter, Brian Maguire, Norwegian artist, Lise Bjørne Linnert and Mexican artist, Teresa Margolles.
Ambassador Diego Gómez Pickering will talk about life in Mexico and be in conversation with David Alton – followed by questions from the audience.

Later in the week, on Thursday June 12th, the Rt.Hon Charles Kennedy MP, Member of Parliament for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and former leader of his Party, will speak on The Case Against Scottish Independence.

rt.Hon Charles Kennedy MP will put the case against a Yes vote in the Scottish Referendum

rt.Hon Charles Kennedy MP will put the case against a Yes vote in the Scottish Referendum

 

This follows the earlier Roscoe Lecture by the Rt.Hon Alex Salmond MSP, who put the case for a Yes vote in September’s independence referendum.
Mr.Kennedy represents the UK’s largest constituency – stretching coast to coast, from Cromarty to Ardnamurchan – and was elected to Parliament as its youngest member in 1983.
As a student he was elected as President of the Glasgow University Union and won the Observer Mace debating competition. In 2008 and 2011 he was elected as Rector of Glasgow University. He is author of The Future of Politics (2000) and has been a prominent member of Scotland’s “Better Together” campaign for a No vote in the 2014 referendum. The Lecture will take place at the Adelphi Hotel. Details and tickets available from Mrs.Barbara <Mace at b.mace@ljmu.ac.uk

 

 

———————————————————————————————————————————————

Among recent Roscoe lectures have been those of Vasily Petrenko (119), Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Baroness (Sheila) Hollins (118).

Vasily Petrenko

Vasily Petrenko

Baroness Sheila

Baroness Sheila

 

To hear them go to:

http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/roscoe/101110.htm

Wednesday 14 May 2014 – Mr Vasily Petrenko, Chief Conductor, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – in conversation with Darren Henley, Managing Director of Classic FM | download audio | Stream video

Thursday 27 March 2014 – Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins – Talking about Mental Health | download audio | PowerPoint presentation

 

Previously, the Liverpool John Moores Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship staged the a Roscoe Lecture by Vava Tampa, founder of Save The Congo, spoke on the history of conflict and human rights abuses in the DRC and about the role of the early twentieth century human rights campaigned, E.D.Morel and Morel’s Liverpool connections:http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/NewsUpdate/viewarticle/1097/Audio Link to Vava Tampa’s Lecture

http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/roscoe/101110.htm

Visit Vava Tampa’s Save The Congo web site:

http://www.savethecongo.org.uk/#

E.D.Morel

E.D.Morel

Vava Tampa

Vava Tampa

sAVE THE CONGO

Link to an article on Morel from Nerve Magazine issue 7, Winter 2005:

http://www.catalystmedia.org.uk/issues/nerve7/edmund_morel.htm

Link to E D Morel’s Maiden speech of 1922 (featured in Hansard’s Centenary anthology of historic and memorable speeches) warning of the punitive reparations imposed on Germany:
http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1922/nov/24/foreign-affairsAll Parliamentary contributions from E D Morel can be found here:
http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/people/mr-edmund-morel/

https://lordalton.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/congos-holocaust-120708-by-khalil-bendib.jpg”&gt;congos-holocaust-120708-by-khalil-bendibCongo2jpg

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…and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, Paralympic athlete, spoke on Overcoming Disability and Adversity.

Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE

Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE

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On Thursday November 28th, Ms.Diane Lees, Director General of the Imperial War Museum  spoke on 1914: Why Remembering the Great War Matters. The lecture will be held at the Philharmonic Hall at 6.oopm.

Monday 11 November 2013 – Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE – Overcoming Disability and Adversity | download audio (please note: the beginning of this talk is missing due to a technical issue) http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/roscoe

/101110.htm

Tickets are free and available from Mrs.Barbara Mace at b.mace@ljmu.ac.uk

Zdenka Fantlova’s The Tin Ring and Vasily Grossman’s The Road – remembering the realities of the Holocaust.

Before attending a performance of the powerful drama, The Tin Ring, brilliantly brought to life by Jane Arnfield in the intimacy of Mr.Speaker’s House at Westminster, I hadn’t known that Zdenka Fantlova would be in the audience.

Zdenka Fantlova with Jane Arnfield

Zdenka Fantlova with Jane Arnfield

It would be impossible not to be profoundly moved by the poignant and harrowing story of this now elderly woman. And where better to be challenged to affirm life over death and love over hate, than in the heart of the British Parliament – a building which also survived Nazi attempts to destroy it, along with the democratic values it represents.

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring

As The Tin Ring unfolds we learn that, somehow, the remarkable Zdenka defied all the odds, all the horrors of the concentration camps, and somehow survived.

Somehow, she had retained and never been separated from the tin ring which Arno, the boy she loved, had secretly passed to her in the camp.

And, somehow, this troth serves as a repudiation of the visceral hatred and violence represented by Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen Belsen and all the other monstrous Nazi extermination centres.

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring takes us into Dante’s Hell but here is someone who has survived and emerged to give the lie to Hitler’s confident belief that he could act with impunity and never be held to account; someone who is able to speak for the countless mothers, sisters, wives, and lovers whose kith and kin were slaughtered; someone able to channel the suffering, pain, and their shocking loss into a defiant testimony.

Zdenka’s story reminds us how great is the power of true humanity; the greatness of the power of love; the triumph of life over the ideology and culture of death. Here is a love story to rebuke the evil hate story of the Shoah.

Arno’s tin ring comes to represent love, hope, truth and life itself.

The narrative reminds an all too easily forgetful world of the savagery of the Holocaust: the indifference, the silence, or collaboration of so many; and the danger of “never again” happening all over again in our own times.

The political and moral consequences of this collective amnesia – let alone the catastrophic human consequences – are appalling.

The Tin Ring uses the powerful medium of drama to address this danger of collective forgetfulness and obscene attempts to rewrite or minimise the history of those times.

But if collective memory is to have any purpose it must surely prompt us to reflect on reports, at home, of anti-Semitism and the scapegoating of minorities.

What, too, does it say to us about contemporary and horrific genocidal events overseas, from Sudan to North Korea, from Syria to Burma. Or do we mimic Neville Chamberlain’s infamous remark, as Hitler invaded Zdenka’s Czechoslovakia, that it was “a far away country about which we know very little.”

After the Holocaust world leaders declared “never again” – and after every subsequent genocide, in Cambodia, Rwanda, Congo, Burma, Kosovo, and the rest, they have said exactly the same thing.

We need to understand gross inhumanity precisely because it has, does, and will happen all over again.

Not long after watching the Tin Ring a friend gave me a copy of Vasily Grossman’s book, The Road.

It’s a collection of essays and short stories. Some were written after he had written first hand reports of the Battle of Stalingrad for the Soviet press. Grossman – from a Russian secular Jewish background – sees the Communist USSR as the only hope in the struggle against Nazism. After Stalingrad he travels West with the Red Army and takes first hand accounts of the  industrial scale inhumanity which characterised Treblinka. My friend rightly says that The Road “should be compulsory reading for those for whom World War Two is ancient history – as a reminder of how lucky we are to be living in era of relative tranquillity.”

The Road is an amazingly powerful account of the sheer depths of evil to which man can sink. The Treblinka narrative is poignant and disturbing and Grossman’s belief in the Red Army and Lenin’s legacy, now entrusted to Stalin, is touched by a naively optimistic view of Communism. The later stories in his collection, affected by Stalin’s Great Terror and Purges, the Gulags, and the suppression of his own writing, leaves Grossman with a more realistic view of Stalin’s Soviet Union: and he was fortunate that Stalin died just before Grossman himself was about to be arrested.

Stalin died just before Grossman's intended arrest

Stalin died just before Grossman’s intended arrest

 

In reading The Road and watching The Tin Ring I was reminded of the remark of Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, who said “do not ask where was God at Auschwitz, ask where was man.” That same question is at the heart of Zdenka’s story, and Grossman story.

If we are to find the correct answer t0 Sack’s question “where was man?”  we will need to immerse ourselves in accounts like those contained in The Road and how good it would be if  plays like The Tin Ring were staged more widely and seen in universities, civic halls, churches and popular venues – prompting us to raise our voices and to take action on behalf of today’s Zdenkas and Arnos and challenging those who promote their own versions of twentieth century xenophobia and hatred of minorities.

Why Britain Needs The Sharp Compassion of the Healer’s Art Maranatha Lecture October 3rd 2012. Manchester.

  https://davidalton.net/media/  

Click on this link for the power pont presentation which accompanies this lecture and which is in the Media section of the web site.

Click on the linkbelow for a link to the video recording of the lecture:

http://maranathacommunity.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/maranatha-lecture/

Why Britain Needs The Sharp Compassion of the Healer’s Art

Maranatha Lecture October 3rd 2012. Manchester.

David Alton

Thanks

I am very pleased to have been asked to deliver this Maranatha Lecture tonight, especially as it gives me the opportunity to thank Dennis and Sheila Wrigley for their friendship and encouragement over these past 40 years.

Let me also thank Kevin McKenna for his work in organising tonight’s event.

Maranatha’s call for unity, renewal and healing has always been close to my heart and although all three of those words are each worth an entire lecture I have chosen tonight to concentrate on the damaged and wounded world in which we live and the need for healing in our own lives; in our families; in our communities and in our nation.

 

Explaining the title of the Lecture

 

For the lecture’s title I have used a phrase which appears in T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets – the second of which is called East Coker.

East Coker is a village in Somerset, mentioned in the Doomsday Book and with evidence of Roman habitation.   Eliot’s ancestors came from the village and his ashes were brought there after his death in 1965.

Eliot, an American who took British citizenship and went on to win the Nobel Prize for poetry,  visited the village in 1940, as war raged throughout Europe; and it was against this fiery and chaotic background, and in this context of a nation facing catastrophe, that Eliot composed  East Coker:

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art”

The Four Quartets  (“Burnt Norton,” “East Coker,” “The Dry Salvages,” and “Little Gidding”) are the clearest and richest exposition of Eliot’s Christianity and move us beyond the spiritual desiccation and sense of defeat represented in  his 1922 poem, “The Waste Land” and deftly take the reader from chaos to renewal, from damage to healing, from despair to hope.

The wounded, bleeding, surgeon capable of treating the distempers and afflictions visited upon us is Christ, the true physician: the wounded healer who applies the hard steel of the scalpel to cut away the infected and gangrenous decaying tissue.

Bloody and risky though it can be, exposing ourselves to this sharp compassion is the only way to new life and new hope.   East Coker is a call to put ourselves trustingly into God’s hands.

Anyone who has undergone surgery will concur – and I had surgery on my spine last year – the decision to place yourself in the healer’s hands requires careful deliberation and total trust. This is easier said than done in a world which encourages us to be autonomous and to believe that your destiny is in your own hands alone.

A twelfth century Welshman, Walter Map, understood that the hard sharpness of the surgeon’s implements is a prerequisite in the accomplishment of healing: “Dura est manus cirurgi, sed sanans:  The hand of the surgeon is hard, but healing.”

That Eliot had the healing of the nation in mind, as well as each of us as individuals, is clear from the war time context in which the poem was written. It contains profound insights into the human condition and the suffering from which none of us is immune.

East Coker is a poem about agonised redemption.

The Problem of Pain

 

It was written in the same year that his contemporary, C.S.Lewis, composed “The Problem of Pain”.   Like Eliot, Lewis, too, was trying to make sense of the troubling and unsettling perennial question of how belief in a loving and omnipotent God may be reconciled with the existence of suffering.

It was a problem which particularly disturbed my father, who fought at El Alemain and Monte Casino, and whose brother, an airman, was killed in 1942. How could God allow such terrible suffering? The temptation is always to blame God.

Why do some people die in car accidents and others do not? Why does a child get abducted or abused, and others do not?  Why do some families face starvation, civil war, life as refugees or become homeless, and others do not? Why were some of us among the tube passengers killed on July 7th 2005 by terrorists but others not?  Why Hitler, why Stalin, why Syria, or Congo?  Last week I stood at the River Tumen, in North East China. It’s the border with North Korea, where escapees are shot dead by border guards if they try to cross the river. Why them and not us? Why are Christians persecuted in Nigeria, Sudan, and 60 other countries, but not us?  Why do terrible things happen to good people but not others?

Straightforwardly, none of us know the answer to this “why” question. Our faith is simply incapable of giving us all the answers to these and other vexed questions.

In St.Matthew’s Gospel we are told He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt: 5, 45) and no explanation is given as to why this is so. Our faith simply gives us the strength to live with the unanswered and unmediated questions which besiege us.

Even if we did know the answers, our loved ones would still be sick or dead, others would be hungry or living in fear, and evil would still be stalking the world.

It could be that we have been looking in the wrong place and asking the wrong questions.

Asking the Right Questions

Discovering the healer and His art enables us to find peace about the questions which cannot be resolved while questions like “what”, “how” and “who” – as in “what can I do to help?; “how should I put my private faith into public action?” and “who is my brother and my sister?” will deliver answers worth having.

It is against a questioning and doubting backdrop that Eliot writes the memorable stanzas of The Four Quartets – his last poem.

East Coker encourages us to spend less time wrestling with the question “why?” and to place ourselves instead in the hands of a “wounded surgeon” who is bloodied and wounded so that we might experience healing. The powerful metaphor of Christ as the wounded surgeon is accompanied by the metaphor of “the dying nurse” to   describe a Church which helps us pass through birth, life and death into Christ’s promise of eternal life.

Eliot understands that “time is no healer: the patient is no longer here” and that some questions are beyond answer.

Against the loss and pain experienced by so many, Eliot tells us that “in my beginning is my end” and that “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again”.

None of this may seem propitious but the poet reflects that “perhaps neither gain nor loss, For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

Eliot concludes East Coker with words drawn from the fourteenth century English mystic and anchoress, Julian of Norwich, who at the age of 31, while suffering from a severe illness and believing she was on her deathbed, had a series of intense visions of Jesus. Eliot writes that despite the unanswered questions:

“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one”

 

East Coker was written at a time of utter uncertainty for this nation.It was composed as Winston Churchill was telling the House of Commons, on June 18th 1940, that “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

It was written as the German High Command announced that ‘The British army is encircled and our troops are proceeding to its annihilation’.

It was written as King George VI, on May 26th called the nation to prayer and repentance – following which Hitler ended his general advance; a storm of great fury grounded the Luftwaffe; and, as calm settled on the Channel, some 335,000 men of the British army were evacuated from Dunkirk.

It was written as the German Air Force, that summer,  would send 800 aircraft to begin their systematic and lethal bombardment of our cities.

The survival of Christian civilisation.

 

In preparing the nation for the battle which lay ahead, Churchill cast up what he called “this dread balance sheet” which pulled no punches in carefully assessing the scale and the nature of the threat which faced our country at the hands of the Nazis:

“Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.  Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.”

In every generation new battles have to fought; new enemies to be faced.  Eliot wrote that “Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation.”  Healing and renewal will go together.

Facing Today’s Challenges

The challenge today may not be aerial bombardment  but what Churchill called the survival of Christian civilisation, our British way of life, the freedoms and liberties which we cherish, must be defended in our own and in every time.

In the debris of wrecked and ruined homes, of prematurely ended lives, of embattled and frightened communities, must come the same desire to move towards the sunlit uplands and to do this we will need more than ever “the sharp compassion of the healer’s art.” Only then shall in Mother Julian’s phrase shall“all manner of things be well.”

So much, then, for the ispiration behind the title of this lecture. What if, like Churchill, we were to examine the dread balance sheet of Britain today?

 

Christianity and Social Order

 

In 1942, while we remained at war, Archbishop William Temple published his “Christianity and Social Order”.  He insisted that “The Church must announce Christian principles and point out where the existing social order at any time is in conflict with them. It must then pass on to Christian citizens…the task of re-shaping the existing order in closer conformity to the principles.”

That is the challenge, too, for this generation.

The Dread Balance Sheet in 2012

 

To utilise Churchill’s phrase, if we carried out an evaluation of Britain today how would our Dread Balance Sheet appear?

A faithless society has become an atomised, lonely, and selfish society; a faithless society has become a culturally diminished society; a faithless society has become a fatherless society and a broken family society. What has been done in the name of freedom has created a world of CCTV cameras; to high streets which have become no go areas after dark; and to binge drinking and shelves full of anti depressants. How has this made us freer or happier? In 2006 a report by University College, London stated that “The UK has the worst problem with anti-social behaviour in Europe.”   It has increasingly felt like a world rapidly going to hell in a basket.

 

The Children Test

A good place to begin in examining the Dread Balance Sheet would be to ask how British children fare in Britain 2012.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked that “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children”
The Dread Balance Sheet would reveal that three-quarters of a million British children have no contact with their fathers following the breakdown of their relationships.

A quarter of our children live with one parent, not two, and a third of these live below the poverty line. Many single parents struggle valiantly – and some very successfully – to bring up their children. But I doubt that many believe their situation is better than having two parents to shoulder the responsibility.

Men particularly need to understand that you may be able to walk away from your girlfriend or to divorce your wife but you can’t divorce your children and to them you have an unending responsibility.

In 2002 the think tank, Civitas, in a report entitled “Experiments in living: the fatherless family”, found that children being brought up without a father are more likely to live in poverty and deprivation; to have emotional or mental problems; to have trouble at school; to have trouble getting along with others; to have a higher risk of health problems; that they are more likely to run away from home and are likely to be at greater risk of suffering physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals that, according to the Children’s Society, 100,000 children run away from home every year.

Save the Children says that 3.9 million children are living in poverty and that a staggering 1.7 million children are living in severe, persistent poverty in the UK-which is, after all, one of the richest countries in the world. Every day 4,000 children call Childline. Since it was founded in 1986, it has counselled more than a million children.

The Child In The Womb

Before they are born, each day we abort 600 of our children, some up to birth if they have a disability or defect such as a cleft palate or Down’s Syndrome. Blessed John Paul II once observed that “a nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope” and that “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying,”

The latest abortion statistics reveal that taxpayers spent £118m on abortions in 2010, of which £75m went to private clinics; that of 6.3 million abortions, just 143 were where a woman’s life was in danger; and that 48,000 people have had more than one abortion– some as many as eight. In the north west of England 24,933 people had between 2 and 10 abortions.

And consider three recent reports.

The first concerns a group of ethicists linked to Oxford University who argue that newborn babies are not “actual persons”, don’t have “a moral right to life” and can legitimately be killed after they are born. It’s called infanticide although they prefer the euphemism “after birth abortion.” A child is then represented as a threat rather than as a blessing:  

 

   The second, the result of investigative journalism at its best, revealed how nine British abortion clinics were willing to abort babies on the grounds of their gender. The Health Secretary branded it immoral and illegal but The British Medical Journal blog carried an article stating that sex-selection abortions were justified on the grounds of “choice”.

   The blog asserts that “health professionals, and everyone who is pro-choice on abortion, should support pro-choice doctors and women seeking abortions, whatever their reasons, even when sex selection may be involved.”

 “Our Kingdom” – a group which includes doctors, writes supporting this view: “… sex selective abortion is not gender discrimination. Gender discrimination applies only to living people.”

 

   Once more there’s a chilling logic. It just a question of “my right to choose” – the slogan against which all our values are now shaped. The mantra puts “me” centre stage, not the needs of another; it promotes “rights” not duties; and it admires “choice” without a thought for the consequences. 

 

  Personal choice has eclipsed the sacredness, or otherness, of life itself. It is profoundly disturbing, indeed shocking, to see the way in which opinion formers within the medical profession have ditched the traditional belief of the healer to care for two patients, the child and its mother, and to unfailingly uphold the sanctity of human life.  Gender abortions are justified by this choice-driven, impoverished, and inhumane defence of child destruction.  

  The third story concerns a Court ruling that Catholic midwives may not object, on grounds of conscience, to being required to supervise or assist staff involved in abortions.

For me, forcing unwilling people to be complicit in the taking of innocent life smacks of neo-fascism, not intelligent or tolerant liberalism.

All we need to comprehend about abortion can be found in the words of the Fifth Commandment.

Apply those words to the eugenics used to kill 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome in the womb – 90% of whom are now hunted down and aborted before their births. Now we’re now seeing attempts to eliminate them and to let them die rather than treat them in our NHS Hospitals.

Is this the same NHS that we were celebrating in the Olympic Stadium? What a contrast, too, with the inspirational achievements of disabled athletes, during the Paralympics celebrated in the same stadium, and who have taught us so much about courage and the overcoming of seemingly impossible odds.

As we rush pell-mell into Nietzschean-style eugenics and ethics, we should recall those inspirational moments, remembering that people with Down’s Syndrome are human beings – not “a drain on public finances”; that disabled people would not be “better off dead” and that by allowing the elimination of the weak it is we who expose ourselves as the truly weak

Remember the sharp compassion of the healer’s art not the surgeon’s knife, or hypodermic syringe, used to hunt you down and kill you. Doctors should always be defenders of life not its destroyers.

Victor Frankl in The Doctor and the Soul said “sometimes the unfinished are among the most beautiful of symphonies.”  One in five of our children remain“unfinished”, not making it to birth and many of those who do, never experience the beauty of innocence or hope.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals that if you abuse and kill the child in the womb you are unlikely to have much respect for the child after birth.

Life After Birth

 

Consider that five million images of child abuse are in circulation on the internet, featuring some 400,000 children. In Edinburgh, figures published in 2010 showed a 75 per cent increase in the number of babies addicted to drugs because of their mothers’ addiction.

Last year, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in despair, which is one call every seven seconds.  Samaritans say that ‘A conservative estimate is that there are 24,000 cases of attempted suicide by adolescents (10-19 years) each year in England and Wales, which is one attempt every 20 minutes” As they grow up suicide accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths among young people aged 15 to 24.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet would reveal that more than 140,000 people attempt to commit suicide every year; that 29.4 million anti-depressants were dispensed in one recent year – a 334 % increase since 1985 at a cost to the National Health Service of £338 million; that 7 million are now living alone in Great Britain – entirely unprecedented in our history.

26% of British households comprise just one person and on present trends, by 2016, 36% of all homes will be inhabited by a single person – a trend accelerated by family breakdown and phenomenal divorce rates – the highest in Europe.

This has led to huge pressures for additional accommodation and to toxic loneliness.

 

How we treat the elderly: better off dead

 

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet also reveals that our treatment of elderly people is fast becoming a national scandal, with an estimated 1 million elderly people who do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week.

I was in China last week a country which still shows respect for the elderly. Here we talk endlessly about making it easier to kill the elderly by legalising euthanasia.

Instead of the sharp compassion of the healer’s art many legislators now believe that a lethal injection would be preferable.

A new Bill to legalise assisted dying is to come before Parliament and last week the Liberal Democrats said that we should introduce Dutch and Belgian style euthanasia laws.

Consider what this will mean.

In Belgium there are calls for euthanasia for prisoners and it is reported that they have been harvesting organs from people who have been euthanized.

In Holland statistics indicate that the number of euthanasia deaths in 2011 in the Netherlands increased by 18% to 3,695. This follows increases of 13% in 2009 and 19% in 2010. Euthanasia now accounts for 2.8% of all Dutch deaths. A House of Lords Inquiry in 2005 predicted  that Dutch-style Liberal Democrat laws would lead to 13,000 euthanasia deaths annually in Britain.

The proposed new British law would use the framework and provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act as a template – paving the way for the same outcomes. Instead of approaching seven million unborn children, it will be legions of disabled, sick and elderly people whose lives will be ended.

The proposals will be disguised with words like compassion and dignity but the reality will be doctors who will be required in future to kill patients; disabled people made to believe they would be better off dead; patient safety compromised; and politicians using the new law as a pretext to withdraw resources from the care of the sick.

Far from providing dignity in dying these proposals will sound the death knell for Britain’s outstanding hospice movement and palliative care. To die with dignity we don’t need doctors to kill us. The so-called right to die will soon become a duty to die quickly!
The Bill is to be based on the findings of Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying.
Hopelessly biased and distorted, the Falconer Commission was stacked full of euthanasia sympathisers and was established by Dignity in Dying (formerly The Voluntary Euthanasia Society).
The British Medical Association (BMA) – who oppose any change in the law – passed a 5 point resolution that undermined the Commission credibility by questioning its impartiality and independence.

The euthanasia lobby decided to set up their Commission because when two genuinely independent Parliamentary Select Committees carefully examined the issue they did not recommend a change of law.

When votes were then taken in the House of Lords it resulted in large defeats for their proposals (148-100 and 194-141). The last attempt at legalization in Scotland also resulted in a heavy defeat (85-16) for Margo Macdonald’s Bill in 2010.

For the record, and to give some idea of the scale of the parliamentary Inquiry, the Select Committee covered some 246 Hansard columns and two volumes of 744 pages and 116 pages respectively, 15 oral sessions, 48 groups or individuals giving evidence, with 88 witnesses giving written evidence; 2,460 questions were asked and the committee receiving 14,000 letters. Compare the coverage given by the BBC and others to the parliamentary Inquiry with the media circus and feeding frenzy generated by the Falconer Commission.

An unbiased and impartial account of this debate might mention the opposition to a change in the law expressed in Parliament – predominantly on the grounds of public safety – and by the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges, the hospices and Disability Rights Organisations – who eloquently set out all the negative outcomes which would result from a change in the law.

There is a systematic propaganda campaign being orchestrated by the media aimed at changing the law and for several years we have been treated to a barrage of propaganda. Even the BBC’s Radio Times joined the pack, claiming on its cover that watching a man die in Switzerland would be “5 minutes of television that will change our lives”.

The sub editor who chose that caption perhaps failed to appreciate its irony: that the 5 minutes it took to change our lives, irredeemably ended another’s life.

The BBC are in danger of being reduced to the role of mere cheerleaders, producing five programmes in the past three years in favour of a change, while signally failing to present the other side of the argument. But this isn’t just about bias.
The BBC’s recent programmes celebrating assisted suicide not only break their own Code about providing balance when discussing ethical issues but, even more seriously, they also breach the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines, published in 2000.
The WHO clearly set out the responsibilities and duties of the media. Consider some of these strictures in the context of the programme featuring Terry Pratchett and the euthanasia centre in Switzerland.
The WHO begin by reminding the media of the incredible impact which it can have in informing attitudes and behaviour:
“Media strongly influence community attitudes… media can also play an active role in the prevention of suicide.”

The WHO points to the way in which television can negatively influence suicidal behaviour. One study showed an increase in the number of suicides for up to 10 days after television news reports of cases of suicide.

They also warn against publicising suicide stories where celebrities are involved and warn against sensational coverage – which they argue should be assiduously avoided. The coverage should be minimized to the greatest possible extent possible. The WHO is right when it says:
“Suicide is perhaps the most tragic way of ending one’s life. The majority of people who consider suicide are ambivalent. They are not sure that they want to die. One of the many factors that may lead a vulnerable individual to suicide could be publicity about suicides in the media. How the media report on suicide cases can influence other suicides.”

A person’s death should not be a form of prime time entertainment, part of the battle for programme ratings – dressed up in the name of a hollow compassion.

In this country 550,000 people die each year. Very rarely do any make the newspapers or the media. Why does one lethal cocktail – but not 549,999 deaths – warrant wall to wall campaigning coverage?

Macmillan nurses, hospices and palliative care give the overwhelming majority in Britain a dignified death which does not involve commissioning doctors and nurses as patient killers. By all means agitate for improvement where the provision or practice isn’t good enough but let the BBC end this one sided and relentless campaign.

Consider what is at stake.
Chillingly, Baroness Warnock, who shaped the laws which have led to the destruction of millions of human embryos, has said that the sick are “wasting people’s lives” because of the care they require: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.” Suggesting that we have a “duty to die” she said “I think that’s the way the future will go, putting it rather brutally, you’d be licensing people to put others down.”
This turns the argument into a worth based on someone’s economic value rather than on their true human value and their human dignity.

In case you think “putting people down” just “couldn’t happen here” consider the situation in Holland.

Just before Christmas the Dutch announced that they are considering mobile units to kill people in their own homes. 1,000 of the 4,000 euthanasia deaths in Holland each year are now done without the patient’s consent.

Not content with this, the Dutch say that 80% of people with dementia or mental illnesses are being ‘missed’ by the country’s euthanasia laws. They say that the death-on-wheels mobile units are necessary because some GPs have refused to administer lethal drugs to their patients.  And, in March this year euthanasia clinic launched six mobile euthanasia teams in the anticipation that they will achieve 1,000 deaths per year.

These mobile death units are targeted at “unmet need” including people with chronic depression, disabilities, Alzheimer’s, loneliness and those whose request to be killed has been refused by their doctors. It’s as if the Dutch have forgotten the last time mobile death squads were deployed in Europe.
This isn’t giving people “dignity in dying”. Sending out mobile units to administer lethal injections, to “put people down”, will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable.

It diminishes the dignity and humanity of the sick and elderly and diminishes those of us who condone it.
Imagine what will happen in Britain if the proposed laws are implemented. You have a terminal incurable disease. You have the option of palliative care at £1,000 a week or a glass of barbiturates at £5. What will happen if we accept Lady Warnock’s proposition that “you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”

How many relatives would put an inheritance before a life? One in eight current cases of elder abuse currently involves financial abuse by relatives and it would inevitably increase if we change the law. And health ministers, counting their pennies in a recession, will be tempted to go for the cheaper option – one Conservative Health Minister has already announced her support for assisted dying. A Bill allowing assisted suicide will carry the seeds of its own extension. If we allow it for some why deny it to others?

So how long before the Dutch mobile killing units arrive in a street near you?

To imitate Holland is unnecessary, dangerous and unethical.

As the distinguished lawyer, Lord Carlile QC, puts it we have “a hard law, with a kind face.” We should keep it that way.

Lord Carlile says: “The real concern was, and remains, public safety — the potential for collateral harm to the great majority of terminally ill people from giving a few individuals a “right” to prescription suicide pills. The so-called safeguards… were paper thin.”
Baroness (Ilora) Finlay – herself a professor of palliative says we don’t understand the difference between euthanasia and indefinitely continuing inappropriate treatment:
“Doctors regularly discontinue futile treatment. But they don’t do it in order to end a patient’s life: they are simply recognising that death cannot be prevented by treatment… end-of-life decisions, which are made every day by doctors, aren’t the same thing as ending-life decisions.”
When the physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs of the patient are met, requests for euthanasia are actually extremely rare. Less than 1,000 people persistently ask for it. 95% of Palliative Medicine Specialists are opposed to a change in the law. The Association of British Neurologists warn that severe depression will lead to cases of assisted dying  and that a law which says two doctors can determine such cases will offer few safeguards.

There will be no requirement that either of the two doctors should have any knowledge of the patient concerned. It isn’t required that they should have seen the patient’s case notes – or even examined the patient. The whole casual process could take place over the phone.

There is no requirement that either of these doctors should have any expertise in, or experience of, the medical condition in question. And yet this is an essential pre-requisite for determining the presence of a terminal illness and for giving a prognosis of its course.

There are no arrangements for seeking an expert opinion in cases of doubt – what will happen, for instance, if a patient is suffering from cognitive impairment or their judgement is clouded by depression?

To suggest that vulnerable people could be protected by two doctors being “of the opinion in good faith” is dangerously naïve at best and deceptive at worst.

Such a casual system of assessment is totally out of proportion with the gravity of the decision that is being taken.
Proponents of change insist that public opinion favours such a change. But public opinion probably would re-introduce capital punishment, too, and are we to suspend prudent judgement in that case too?
Rather than imitating the Dutch, we need to get behind groups like the admirable Care Not Killing Alliance, to defend and care for the sick and elderly and to put our energy into extending compassionate palliative care and hospice provision, and practical loving support – let’s demand “dignity in living” with the same fervour as those who want to license the routine killing of the most vulnerable in society

Recall, too, the story that when Mother Teresa was the guest of the White House at the National Prayer Breakfast she described to President Clinton and his guests how she had visited a home for the elderly where they had no shortage of material conveniences, but “why” she asked “does everyone sit looking at the door?”

She received the reply “It is because they are looking for the relatives who never come to visit them and who have no time for them”. Care and kill should never be used as synonyms and have no place in the healer’s art.

 

The loss of human dignity and corrupted values

 

If we have scandalous concern for human dignity at the beginning and end of life Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet shows that the deficit is not much better when it comes to other vulnerable groups. 2,000 people  are sleeping rough in England the number increased by a fifth last year;  84,900 households (which may contain more than one person) are classified as homeless; the prison population has increased by 85 per cent since 1993 with 87,673 men and women are in our jails; gun crime in the United Kingdom claims 30 victims every day; the average lifespan for people who get involved in gun crime in Manchester is a mere 24 years; that one woman in every four will be the victim of violence in her own home during the course of her lifetime.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet   reveals that individuals now owe more in debt than the wealth generated by the entire country in a year.  At the end of July 2012 total UK personal debt stood at a revised £1.410 trillion – up from £1.406 trillion at the end of July 2011.

331 people every day of the year will be declared insolvent or bankrupt. This is equivalent to 1 person every 60 seconds during a working day.  Almost 30 of every 10,000 people living in the north west of England are destined for insolvency.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals a society where too many people think they owe nothing to anyone except the pursuit of their own desires.  We increasingly fail to participate.

Opting Out of Society

 

The Caravan Club and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have more members than all of the UK’s political parties combined. Just 1% of the population are members of a political party in the UK. We have come a long way since the Liberal, Conservative or Labour Club sat in the heart of every community. Trimdon Labour Club – the scene of Tony Blair’s Sedgefield triumphs – closed a year ago.

In 1951 the Conservative Party had 2.9 million members, Labour, 876,000; today they have 177,000 and 190,000 respectively and the Liberal Democrats have seen a reduction of their membership by 30,000 to 66,000.

Involvement in church life has also declined. While almost 2 out of 3 still identify themselves as Christians around 15%, 4 million people, go to church at least once a month – the fourth lowest attendance rate in Europe. Intriguingly many still claim a personal relationship with God but decline to make the effort to take part in church life. They believe without belonging; believe without participating.

There has also been a decline in membership of trades unions from 13million to 7 million in little over 30 years; and representative organisations, such as Women’s Leagues and the Mother’s Unions, also experiencing significant falls.

For a society to be healthy we have to be participators and the trustees, not the owners, of what we possess. Social, political and economic activity must ultimately centre on the common good rather than individual acquisitiveness or the hegemony of the state.

Living and partly living: the abolition of man

TS Eliot could have had our diminished and dehumanised society in mind when he suggested that we are “living and partly living”, while CS Lewis prophetically foresaw a society where we would see what he famously called “The Abolition of Man”.

And how do we intend to address the deficit on Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet?

What can we learn from what has gone before?

During the eighteenth century men like John and Charles Wesley, their hearts warmed, as they said, by the Holy Spirit, stepped into the quagmire that was Britain then. Their new enthusiasm so alarmed the church authorities that church doors were literally barred against them.

In the fields and at make shift venues the re-evangelisation of England began.  The Wesleys, George Whitfield, and others, deepened the religious renewal – followed in the nineteenth century by the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians, and then by the Catholic Spring and Cardinal John Henry Newman and Cardinal Manning.  The religious awakening was accompanied by a commensurate awakening of social virtue and work for the common good,and among the achievements of Christian social reformers such as William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury were the abolition of slavery, the ending of child labour, public health legislation, ragged free schools, and significant social progress.

A century later, in 1904, Joseph Jenkins led an extraordinary Welsh religious revival which brought 100,000 converts in a year. Many became the flag bearers for political and social activism. The chapel spearheaded reform and deterred revolution.

Through these examples of religious and spiritual revival we can trace personal renewal and then national reconstruction.  We can also see the path we need to take.  Having understood the Dread Balance Sheet and analysed the root causes we then need to commit ourselves to act.

Be clear: a nation or State will not survive for long if its communities and civil structures are decaying or if its rulers do not pursue civic virtues. A society where individual autonomy and individual choice become trump cards in every game lives dangerously close to the edge.   A respect for law, a sense of personal responsibility, public spirit and munificence, firmness of purpose, discernment and foresight, perseverance, and a sense of duty might be chief among the civic qualities to which we aspire; and our gifts must be used for the common good.

It is self evident that our civil society has become increasingly uncivil as modern citizenship has revolved around the flaccid language of rights alone and with a weakened sense of ethics and a lack of virtue, and with no shared framework for reaching conclusions because there are so few shared values.

We have created a dehumanised society where we breed unrealisable demands, a cult of selfishness and materialism. The Jewish sage Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”

 

And what will be the fate of those who are only for themselves?  Eliot puts it like this in East Coker:

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark…

…And we all go with them, into the silent funeral…”

 

Does it have to be like this?

When Europe was facing the challenge of Nazism the Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, prophetically wrote: “The most important question for the future is how we can find a basis for human life together, what spiritual laws we accept as the foundation of a meaningful human life.”    

And to meet this challenge Bonhoeffer argued that we each have a duty to take a stand:  “We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds. What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.”

 Bonheoffer also warned that “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself” while Dr.Matin Luther King said Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”

In every sphere of life today we need plain, honest, straightforward men and women willing to speak up about the condition of our nation.

Like Bonhoeffer, St.Edith Stein died at the hands of the Nazis.

A German-Jewish philosopher, who became a Catholic nun she died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. At a time when the Nazi State was stifling dissent and corralling its citizens into conformism with the tenets of National Socialism, Stein wrote tellingly about the responsibility of every citizen to be an agent for good or ill; and about  the way in which the values of the individual citizen determine the nature of the State in which they live. Both society and the State consist entirely of persons. These are not mysterious entities.  They are made up of men, women and children whose strengths and weaknesses, talents and needs, are all too real.

“The state is not an abstract entity. It acts and suffers only as those individual agents through whose actions the functions of the state are discharged act and suffer… Moral predicates apply to the state only insofar as they apply to the relevant individuals.’  

The State, then, takes its inspiration from the values of its citizens.

If Britain is to be remade it will require a huge effort to persuade every citizen to take seriously the promotion of the commons good.Out of the present malaise and crisis is an opportunity to proclaim a belief in human dignity, the worth of each life; the duty we each have to the communities of which we are a part: a call for an outpouring for the common good.

Crisis or Opportunity?

The Chinese calligraphy for the word crisis can also be used for the word opportunity.  Dire situations can be turned around.

Winston Churchill wept when he saw the destruction of the East End of London by Nazi bombardment. He understood the importance of drawing a whole nation around a common cause:  “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.”

Today, our nation faces a new common enemy and a new peril. It is both external and internal.  But it can also become a common cause; and one of the best weapons we have remains Churchill’s belief in those single words which we in Great Britain cherish: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.

Britain urgently needs to feel the sharp compassion of the healer’s art – and think what our country would be like if healing became a central mission of the Church in every family, neighbourhood and across the nation.

In the Four Quartets Eliot tells us that “The only hope, or else despair, Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre- To be redeemed from fire by fire.”

He is referring to the fire of the Holy Spirit and to “The dove descending breaks the air,  With flame of incandescent terror,  Of which the tongues declare,  The one discharge from sin and error … Love is the unfamiliar Name, Behind the hands that wove, The intolerable shirt of flame, Which human power cannot remove, We only live, only suspire, Consumed by either fire or fire.”

Touched by the sharp compassion of the healer’s art our hearts can be repaired and as we are healed we may then heal our families, our communities and our nation.

There is no other way and our task must surely be to persuade our fellow citizens to join us in seeking the balm of the wounded healer.

Yanbian University of Science and Technology Lecture, September 2012. Turning Dreams Into Realities.

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“Turning Visions Into Reality – Dream, Plan, Achieve.” Yanbian University of Science and Technology, Jilin, September 2012. Delivered on the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the university at Yanji in North East China.

 https://davidalton.net/media/  – click here for power point presentation to accompany talk (scroll down list to Yanbian (YUST)  Lecture.

http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/NewsUpdate/index_124527.htm

It is a great pleasure for me to be at Yanbian today at the invitation of your founder and President, Dr. James Kim – for whom I have the highest admiration.

Dr.Kim says “I believe in the power of education”– and so do I. Dr.Kim believes that “education can plant seeds of the values that are critical in reaching our desired end. These values include understanding; respect; sacrifice and reconciliation.” I believe that too.

We also both know the truth of the Chinese proverb that says “if you want to plant for one season, plant a seed; if you want to plant for ten years, plant a tree; but if you want to plant for life, give a young man or woman an education.”

 The purpose of education must be – as my own university in Liverpool puts it – to help young people dream, plan and achieve – to turn your dreams into realities.

What Has Gone Before

Almost three thousand years ago, in the Book of Joel (2:28) comes the prediction that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions.”

   And in the Book of Proverbs (29:18) it states that “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

   What those sentiments anticipate is a generation of leaders who will speak with insight, have a clear vision of the future, govern wisely and act justly in both promoting the common good and in providing security and protection for their people.

Writing in the same millennium as Joel, Confucius offered sage advice about how anyone hoping to enter public life should first prepare:

  “To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”

A similar thought was captured by Mahatma Gandhi who said:You must be the change you want to see in the world”

   The Nobel Peace Laureate and eighth President of South Korea, Kim Dae Jung, understood the importance of personal transformation as the preparation for political life. In his Prison Letters, he wrote that:

“We have to be reborn every day and make fresh progress every day. The object of our conquest is ourselves. We have to fight and conquer that self that is complacent, the self that tries to escape, the self that is arrogant and the self that is carried away by a single moment of success.”  

   For tomorrow’s leaders – that is your generation – facing today’s challenges – what Gandhi was signifying was the centrality of personal transformation.

 

Life Without Values

  Without such change, political life can be a game of charades where its participants are seduced by the allure of power; where, in a Faustian Pact to obtain self advancement, they trade the principles they once espoused and the ideals they once embraced.

  A key objective for tomorrow’s leaders must be the promotion of harmony: harmony in our world, between nations, between cultures, between beliefs, between mankind and the natural world. When we bring together of our thoughts, our words and our actions, that is harmony.

Harmony and Peace

The Asian belief in the centrality of harmony is something which the West needs to understand and embrace. In ancient Chinese Taoist thought all reality is determined by constantly changing relationships and by the harmonious complementarity of the two primal principles of Ying (the receptive, feminine, the earth) and Yang (the creative, masculine, heaven).

Hinduism sees the idea of ahimsa as pivotal.  Ahimsa proclaims a rejection of the use of force and all that is harmful. For Mahatma Gandhi the ancient ahimsa was promoted as non-violence in all spheres of life including the political realm.

A second objective must be compassion and the promotion of peace.

For the Buddhist all life is suffering.  But karuna – the concept of compassion in Buddhism – mitigates the suffering through an outpouring of compassion and encourages each encounter with humanity and nature to be based on loving-kindness.

For Jews the Hebrew word shalom (like the Arabic word salaam derived from the same word stem) has a more substantive meaning than the English word peace. Jews use the word as a benediction or a blessing and the implicit prayer that the person so greeted will reach a place of contentment, happiness wholeness and inner peace.

The New Testament develops this understanding of the Old Testament message of peace.  Jesus’ nativity is proclaimed as peace on earth; God’s kingdom is to be the kingdom of peace and righteousness; the Beatitudes praise the peacemakers as blessed and Jesus intensifies this message through the command to love one’s enemies. The disciples are told to speak peace in the name of Jesus after His Resurrection He greets the disciples with the words:”Peace be with you!”

Without this inner peace, and inner calm, which so many of the world religions foster, it is not possible to promote peace among the nations or within a nation; or to forestall chaotic anarchy and conflict.  But, once you have experienced this inner pace and inner harmony the challenge is to take it into the service of the world.

Service Not Power

 Political life should revolve around the concept of service, not power.

  Politics needn’t be a dirty game of power hungry self-seeking, personal gain, manipulation and deceit. If it does become an avaricious dirty game it will be because those who are playing it do not have clean hands. Politics is only as good as the people who enter it; only as good as their vision; only as good as their conduct.  The quality of what they do will depend on their willingness and capacity to become the change they wish to see in the world. 

  The sophistry is sometimes offered to the aspiring politician that, if only they can climb a little higher up what the nineteenth century British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli described as “the greasy pole” of politics (“I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole”), and then they will be in a position to change things.   But, by then, usually, the only thing which has changed is the would-be leader him or herself – and not in the manner which Ghandi had in mind.   If they have failed to master themselves, the effect of power on an individual can be disastrous.  

 

 

 

 

Politics As A High Calling

Aristotle, the author of the classical work “Politics”, saw political leadership as a high calling and the father of democracy held that shame would attach to those who refuse to play their part.

Aristotle insisted that that everyone should pursue virtue and work for the common good – koinonia – a rich word which implies active participation, common unity, relationships and sharing of gifts.

 Koinonia is not about constitutions or civic structures of government but about the qualities in mankind which made civic co-existence a possibility. It is about our inter-connectedness with Aristotle writing in “Politics” we are “not like solitary pieces in chequers”.

 

 

 

The Ancient Virtues

Aristotle’s ancient virtues remain for me the key to building a civil society:

Justice

Wisdom

Temperance

Courage

Magnanimity

Tolerance

Munificence

Prudence; and

Gentleness

But these were not theoretical qualities. Koinoinia requires action and through engagement and deeds we both learn and change.

From Virtue To Action

Let me give an example from British history of one man who entered political life and who, although he never became Prime Minister or the leader of a political party, made a profound difference to the koinonia – to the common good.William Wilberforce lived from 1759 to 1833 and entered Parliament as the youngest MP. Wilberforce was motivated by his religious beliefs but once said that “A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.”

He identified the slave trade – traffic in human beings, sold for profit into lives of abject misery – as the greatest humanitarian cause of the day.  For forty years he dedicated himself to the abolition, first, of the Trans Atlantic slave trade and then to slavery itself. When he was on his death bed he was finally brought the news that the law had been changed by Parliament and that the trade had been abolished.

By and large, those who led the campaign for abolition of the trade were men and women of deep religious conviction, notably the Quakers, Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharpe, Olaudah Equiano, Josiah Wedgewood – who created the medallion “Am I Not a Man and Brother”, John Newton, the Liverpool ship’s captain and slave trader who changed his mind and last composed “Amazing Grace” – the Liverpool MP William Roscoe and William Wilberforce himself.

Estimates of the numbers of Africans sold into slavery vary but over nearly four centuries about 12 million people were forcibly transported into bondage.

 Between 1701 and 1810 around 5.7 million people were taken into slavery, 2 million coming from the Slave Coast, where Benin is situated.  Around 39% went to the Caribbean, 38% to Brazil, 17% to South America and 6% to North America.

 Many of the slaves shipped out of Africa from the Bight of Benin were taken to the port of Ouidah, which is situated near Cotonou, the present capital and which I visited .Not since I visited the holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel had I experienced such harrowing emotions.

 In the total Atlantic trade, British ships are estimated to have made 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.6 million slaves.

 In his Journal of a Slave-trader, John Newton wrote:  “I have no sufficient data to warrant calculation but I suppose not less than one hundred thousand slaves are exported annually from all parts of Africa, and that more than one half of these are exported in English ships.”

 The last letter written by the great John Wesley was to Wilberforce and asked “what villainy is this?” which allowed the enslavement of Africans. Wesley told Wilberforce to put his trust in God and to work for an end to such evil – “a scandal of England of religion and of human nature.”He told him to be a force for change and an “Athanasius contra mundum”literally to be like the 4th century Christian Bishop, Athanasius, “Athanasius against the world.”  Take a stand: be willing to pay a price. Take on the whole world if necessary. Be a sign of contradiction.

 What We Can Learn From Wilberforce

 

  Wilberforce’s story has great relevance to anyone interested in entering public or political life. His was the first great campaign for human rights and human dignity. It involved painstaking research; the production of newsletters and leaflets; fundraising; the creation of logos and eye-catching public awareness; posters; press reports;  public meetings; marketing and publicity; lobbying; petitions; boycotts; and parliamentary and political action at every level.

Wilberforce needed persistence – it took 40 years – and tempted though he was, he didn’t give up at the first discouragement and defeat. He couldn’t have done it by himself – it needed coalitions and alliances. It needed intelligence and passion. He invoked the importance of combining pressure and prayer. Wilberforce identified a priority – what he believed to be the greatest injustice and a cause to which he should give his life in political service and he made it his chief concern – rather than the gadfly’s approach, jumping from one fashionable or faddish cause to another.

The Relevance Of This Story For Today

 

If we want to put principles of common humanity and the pursuit of the common good into practice today we should first identify the cause to which we should devote ourselves. For some it will be the freeing of people’s held in oppression; for others it will be the safeguarding of the created world; for others it will be standing up for the dignity and sanctity of human life or opposition to the capricious use of capital punishment, arbitrary detentions or corrupted legal processes; for some it will be the championing of people with disabilities, or a despised minority, or an economically or socially disadvantaged group; for others it will be holding leaders to account, opposing corruption, working for democracy or freedom of expression, belief or conscience.

Wilberforce once said “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”

If he were here today he would return to the cause of the suffering of his fellow creatures and to the question of slavery. Consider the following:

  • 27 million people enslaved today
  • ILO say this includes 8.4 million children
  • 700,000 trafficked every year
  • Debt Bondage affects 20 million people
  • Forced labour, child labour, economic servitude, racially motivated and caste based slavery all still persist throughout the world At least 12.3 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide
  • 80% of the 700,000 people trafficked annually are women and children
  • Human trafficking is the third largest source of income for organised crime (after arms and drugs)
  • Trafficking generates  an average of $7 billion per year: one year it was put at $32 billion

The popular myth is that slavery is a thing of the past, but more people are trafficked today than were enslaved in the entire history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Most people assume that the slave trade was long since consigned to the dustbin of history by William Wilberforce.

In reality the trade in human beings is a rapidly growing scourge that affects countries and families on every continent.

Those trafficked may be forced into prostitution or to work as domestics, as labourers, or market traders and in a variety of other jobs. Recent research suggests that, at an absolute minimum, hundreds of women and children are being trafficked into the UK each year.

The UN believes it is the second largest criminal activity in the world, second only to drug smuggling; that it nets $36 billion a year to the traffickers; and that 100,000 Modern Day Slaves are trafficked around the European Union each year.

. People have been transported into many forms of slavery and not from choice.

They include children who are pawns in debt bondage whose alcoholic or drug dependent parents get a lump sum payment from traffickers to take their children to London or other cities to ‘educate them’. In fact the education is in how to commit ATM theft, pick-pocketing and shop lifting.

Then there is sex trafficking. Girls mostly, with threats of violence to themselves and their families if they try to escape or keep money from their ‘clients’ (2,200 brothels in London alone); and the cannabis factory boys – many brought in from Vietnam.

Of the 15,000 domestic workers coming to Britain a year, approaching 700 are likely to have been abused in some way.

Without political pressure from the highest level, fighting human trafficking will continue to be a low priority for the police. If the police find a gang that deals with arms or drugs, they are likely to be dealing with human trafficking as well. The criminal gangs are sophisticated, flexible, and not short of money. Demand and abuse go hand in hand. There is big money to be made by trading in people who – unlike drugs or arms – are recyclable.

 

Human Rights, Human Life, Human Dignity

 

But human rights abuses come in many forms and closer to home, in China there will be situations crying out for a twenty first century William Wilberforce- champions of human dignity, of good ethics, of the safeguarding of precious resources, of the principle of duty, and many other noble and good causes which promote the common good. Your task is to find the cause which needs you to champion it.

While you are students at YUST you must be equipped to reach beyond academic attainment. Young people must have the opportunity to think, enquire, debate and understand how decisions will affect their lives and the future of their nation. They need to have lain before them potential ethical dilemmas, moral conundrums, technological and scientific challenges, the rapidly changing pace of living – and world crises, ranging from hunger, to global warming, to the exploitation of finite resources.

Education of the citizen must above all underline the moral significance of self-knowledge – as agents in the way we live and affect others. We need citizens who embrace the idea of individual moral responsibility for their actions.

Unless we are able to conceive of ourselves as an agent or agents with regard to how we behave, it will be impossible to develop any sense of responsibility or judgement in the way in which we use science.

Gaining that sense is important, for it is often the case that a new scientific discovery can be put to good, ethical uses that can improve our lives, but will also have more sinister, unethical applications that will cause harm. In other cases a technology may be clearly beneficial in principal, but must be deployed with care, lest unintended side effects end up doing more harm than good. This is why it is important that the next generation of scientists are given a good moral education, so that they can be mindful of and differentiate between the different applications of their work, and carefully consider the ethical implications of the discoveries they make.

Let me give one example of what I mean.

In the last few decades, climate change has become a serious issue for the international community. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the planet is changing in ways that will adversely affect lives everywhere, but particularly those in less well developed countries, such as the equatorial African states where droughts are set to increase in frequency – we need only consider the events of this year, where many lives have been lost in countries like Somalia and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa – where I have travelled  – to understand the devastation this will cause – or the island nations of the Pacific, who could be swallowed up by the ocean entirely if sea levels rise as many scientists predict they will. Make no mistake, this is an issue that respects no borders and that all nations ignore at their peril.

Climate change is an unfortunate side-effect of the industrial age, a product of our short-sightedness in seizing short term benefits at the expense of the future. But just as it arose from the products of scientific progress, so the answers will come from the scientific community and from your generation. But you must always guard against corruption and the debasing of ethics.

It is a sobering thought that more than half of the participants at Hitler’s 1942 Wannsee Conference, which planned what was called “the final solution to the Jewish question” – that is the extermination and murder of Europe’s Jewish people – were either medical practitioners or in receipt of other academic doctorates. Nazi collaborators included a cast of scientists, doctors, judges, lawyers, philosophers and academics. It’s so very easy to be corrupted.

In other cases, scientists may feel that what they are doing will lead to a useful outcome – a new treatment, a better understanding of the disease. Yet this does not mean that all methods are acceptable.

The seductive scientific argument that “if only” you would permit us to do this or that experiment we might make any number of useful discoveries gets dangerously close to a form of blackmail. It relies on the old canard that the end will justify the means; that unethical experiments may be used for seemingly ethical reasons. There is also an assumption that modern man is far too sophisticated and far too decent to fall into the sort of monstrosities characterised by the Nazi scientists. Yet, history teaches us that vain gloriousness and hubris attended by vanity and conceit are often the trump cards when men seek to justify their unethical actions.

So, you need to be champions of change whilst preserving the highest ethical standards and ideals. Nothing in science – whether it be physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology or neuroscience – can lead to the conclusion that the universe is bereft of meaning or intelligence or that we can be other than guardians and custodians during our brief sojourn on our small part of this great creation.

Einstein asserted that misuse of science could only be countered “by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. …I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.”

The first words of the Confucian classic, “The Great Learning”, says that “The way of great learning consists in manifesting one’s bright virtue, consists in loving the people, consists in stopping in perfect goodness.”

That love of the “the great learning” at the service of humanity should inform all that you do at YUST and inform your lives as you seek to turn your visions into reality and to change the world.

Let me draw to a conclusion.

Change doesn’t just happen by itself; and it may come at a price.

 

Change Doesn’t Happen By Itself

As a teenager I felt especially challenged by the killing at Memphis on April 4th 1968 of Dr. Martin Luther King, then aged 39, who five years earlier had given his landmark speech – “I Have a Dream” – in which he described the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence as a promissory note:

“A promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “inalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned.”

Fundamental change in the USA, Europe, and in South Africa’s apartheid regime – how we view colour and race – was ushered in by King’s sacrificial entry into political life. But he understood the price that would be paid to bring change:

“Change,”he said, “does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

Those who believe that politics is about grandstanding, sound-bites, personal aggrandisement, the pursuit of power, or a charmed life will rarely develop King’s bent back but nor will they have the satisfaction of bringing an idea or a great cause to birth.

Two months after Dr.King’s assassination Robert Kennedy also paid the ultimate price in championing civil rights and opposing racial segregation. Kennedy’s religious faith led him to a profound belief in the importance of individual actions, that each of us is made in God’s image (Imago Dei), is, therefore, of inestimable worth, and that we should neither be discouraged by seemingly impossible odds or by the intractable nature of the challenges we face:       

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.” (Robert Kennedy).

Looking at the world today, there are no shortage of great challenges:  – 800 million people racked by starvation or despair, living below any definition of human decency; at egregious violations of human rights,  from Iran to North Korea – where I have travelled several times; famine in Somalia and the Sahel; unspeakable violence in Syria and Nigeria, Congo and the Sudan; and at the domestic challenges in Britain which I describe in a lecture entitled “The Condition of England Question”, which include 1 million young people not in education, employment , or training,  and over 2.6 million without work – a 17 year high in a flat-lining economy and 1 million elderly living in toxic loneliness who don’t see a friend or a neighbour during the course of a typical week.

 We can very easily overawed – like the boy in Louis Stephenson’s rhyme who is dejected by the one-damn-thing-after-anotherness of life and despairs that “the world is so big and I am so small I do not like it at all at all”.   As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “In this life, we cannot do great things, we can only do small things with great love.”

I often remark that we are not great boulders but small stones – and that it is small stones that must first move for a landslide to happen.  To take up this challenge, as Gandhi had it, we must become the change that we desire to see; and be encouraged by Winston Churchill’s observation that “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Politics should always be a campaign of service where the love of power is replaced by the power to love. Politics should always be about service not self-seeking; virtue not vanity; speaking up for the powerless, not narrow partisanship; respectful of opponents, not the silencing of dissent; tolerant of difference, not the crushing conscience and not blindly accept the dog whistle of people who want you to follow them.

 

A Price To Be Paid

There may also be a price to be paid if you commit yourself to political service. Think of Kim Dae Jung’s years in prison. In the end he was not executed but political leaders may well have to pay the ultimate price.

Think of the fate, 18 months ago, of Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti and the Punjab’s Governor, Salman Taseer. One was a Christian, the other a Muslim. They stood together in opposing prejudice, terror and intolerance. Both were murdered.

Bhatti sensed the almost inevitable consequence of his courageous words and actions.

He said that his stand would “send a message of hope to the people living a life of disappointment, disillusionment and despair” adding that his life was dedicated to “the oppressed, the down-trodden and the marginalised” and to “the struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom and the empowerment of religious minorities’ communities.”

 The story of Shahbaz Bhatti is a one which should inspire us all. He was called to a political life and in the end he laid down his life for his friends: standing against a world which he knew to be unjust and which needs to change.

Shahbaz Bhatti life and death reminds us that change comes at a price. John Henry Newman captured this though when he reflected that:

 “Good is never accomplished except at the cost of those who do it, truth never breaks through except through the sacrifice of those who spread it.” 

  Like Dr.King and Robert Kennedy or Kim Dae Jung, Shahbaz Bhatti sacrificed himself for his beliefs and in the service of others.  Like Gandhi, his own life represented the change he wanted to see.  Most of us will never be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice but let us never forget Aristotle’s warning that shame will attach to those who refuse to play their part; and that evil triumphs when good men and women do nothing.  As Dr.Martin Luther King once observed: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” while Dietrich Bonheoffer, who died at the hands of the Nazis warned that “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

So, to turn today’s dreams into tomorrow’s realities you will need courage and determination; you may need to go against the tide; to speak out and behave with intelligence and compassion.

You will need to cherish your dreams: to dream; to plan; and then to achieve.   I can think of few places where you will receive a better preparation to meet those challenges than Yanbian University of Science and Technology.

 

Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and has served in both Houses of the British parliament for the past 33 years. Image

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImagehttps://davidalton.net/2011/10/14/report-on-the-first-international-conference-to-be-held-at-pyongyang-university-of-science-and-technology-and-how-the-university-came-into-being/

Letter To the British Government About Rwanda’s Role in Eastern Congo


Lord Howell of Guildford,
Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Dear David,

Following our exchange during last Thursday’s oral question I referred to Rwanda’s support for rebel groups operating in eastern DRC. I am writing to elaborate on the concerns that I expressed.

Firstly, may I welcome the Government’s statement that the elements disclosed by the addendum to the report of the UN Group of Experts on DRC are credible; just as I welcome the Government’s assessment that there is indeed a danger of the situation spreading and generating increasing instability.

I was also happy to hear that the Government accept that you have both the authority and potential leverage to influence the situation through aid and that they were, according to your statement, using this leverage.

However, I wished to ask you for some clarification over how the Government were using this leverage; as well as some clarification over your statement that “the way [we] do it obviously varies from country to country”.

If it is to be understood that, in the case of Rwanda, a more collaborative and less confrontational approach is deemed more appropriate and/or efficient, especially as Rwanda has achieved such satisfying results following the provision of British aid, I would be grateful to learn about the Government’s assessment on the effectiveness of such approach in this particular case?

Ms. Mushikiwabo, similarly to Mr. Kagame, has unceasingly denied all evidence presented by the UN Group of Experts – and still does so following the exchanges that she had with your colleagues and yourself – and claimed on 27 June that the Rwandan Government was in possession of evidence proving these allegations wrong.

I would be interested to hear whether you asked Minister Mushikiwabo to disclose some of this counter-evidence to you when you met with her. I am also keen to know whether the UK Government really does consider that, in the face of such absolute denials, representations are having any some substantial impact?

Rwanda’s support for armed militias, viewed as defending its own interests, and its involvement in the traffic of minerals on Congolese territory has long and consistently been evidenced, including the Report of the UN Group of Experts. They have been pointing out these very activities in each of their annual reports since its inception.

I would be keen to learn the UK Government’s assessment of what they feel can now be realistically expected from further discussions with a government that has been involved in supporting destabilising operations for the entire decade that followed its war with Congo? Isn’t this repetitive pattern, in spite of public denunciation made by the UN Committee and by many other organisations, a sign that soft behind-closed-doors diplomacy in general, and the UK Government’s in particular, has proved ineffective and insufficient? On the contrary, would you not agree that this pattern illustrates that Rwanda feels the preferential treatment it receives from the UK – its principal donor and ally – protects it from any real threat of sanctions, including withdrawal or conditionality of aid?

Their actions, which contravene many rules of international law, as well as bilateral and multilateral agreements, appear not to unduly trouble the UK Government. At the very minimum surely you would want to make some firm and official statement acknowledging and condemning Rwanda’s long-standing support to forces destabilising the DRC and the region?

Rwanda’s actions in the DRC in the last decade following the war have indeed breached the UN sanction regime, the UN arms embargo, but also the principles of non-aggression and non-intervention, the respect for the sovereignty of States – all principles of conventional and customary law – and is also accountable for the crime of pillage of natural resources, while government’s officials are accountable for the war crime of recruiting children.

Rwanda’s actions also contravene the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between the UK government, acting through DfID, and the Rwandan Government in 2006 (and that will be applicable until 2016), by which Rwanda’s government committed to “the promotion of peace and stability in the Great Lakes region”. Section 6 of the MoU also states that one of the “circumstances in which the UK will consider reducing, interrupting, changing the modalities of, or terminating aid” is if “the Government of Rwanda is in significant violation of human rights or other international obligations, especially those relating to regional peace and security”. It further states that “the UK will take a long term perspective and is more likely to respond to a systematic pattern of events over time. However, a single event might trigger a response if sufficiently serious in nature.”

I would be grateful to learn the Government’s assessment as to whether supporting an armed mutiny and seeking secession of a neighbouring country do constitute events sufficiently serious in nature.

More broadly speaking, I wonder what message the UK is sending to other countries, especially to other recipients of UK’s aid, if the UK does not in any way enforce or strive to have these agreements and rules enforced?

The necessity to adopt a conciliatory approach with a long-time ally is understandable. However, ignoring blatant breaches of bilateral agreements between partners not only undermines the UK’s authority and credibility, but also ignores the question of accountability owed to British tax-payers.

If, indeed, the UK is using its leverage and influence differently from one country to the next (as you said I your reply to me last Thursday), is there not a risk of double standards and thereby risk undermining the legitimacy of UK’s diplomacy and international relations? Isn’t this approach contrary to the standards of transparency claimed, if not by the FCO, at a least certainly by DfID? I will copy this to Andrew Mitchell so that he can also comment on the role of aid in this matter.

Both the legitimacy and the effectiveness of deploying double standards where there have been breaches to international law is questionable. Although I agree that every case should be considered on its merits, I would welcome clarification on the criteria used by the Government in determining its approach. You will recall that in the case of Sudan
I recently questioned the continuation of a normal full diplomatic presence with a regime headed by someone indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. It would be helpful to have spelt out what factors determine our policy, even when this is on a case by case basis.

Moreover, in light of the destabilising actions leading to incalculable loss of life and to abhorrent and egregious violations of human rights – not, least against women and children – not only supported but also instigated by Rwanda, I would be grateful to learn what assessment the UK Government has made of the impact of such actions on UK’s assistance to and investment in the DRC and in the entire region.

The UK government has indeed invested considerable amounts of aid in DRC alone – almost £200 million a year given in aid to the DRC; £135 million of humanitarian assistance that will be provided for the next 5 years. In terms of peacekeeping, and additionally to our legally-binding commitments to the $1.5 billion a year UN peacekeeping mission, we also provide discretionary funding for programmes undertaken by the FCO, DfID and the Ministry of Defence.

Granting this amount of aid and at the same turning a blind eye to destabilising actions from another partnering country seems to make little sense. I would be grateful to learn the Government’s appraisal of this question.

Similarly, and considering that the UK provides 45% of its £83m-a-year aid to Rwanda through general budget support, I would like to know what steps the Government has taken to ensure that no British aid is provided to armed groups destabilising the region and promoting secession of the Congolese territory.

In this respect, I would encourage the UK government to take similar steps to those taken by the US Government, which has confirmed its decision to cut its military aid to Rwanda. Have you made an assessment of the American policy and do we have any plans to follow suit?

I am grateful to you for your consideration of these questions. In the light of their interest in this issue I will copy this note to Lord Chidgey, Baroness Kinnock, Lord Boateng and Baroness King.

With kind regards,

DavidDavid Alton
(Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool)
House of Lords,
London SW1A OPW

http://www.davidalton.net


https://davidalton.net/2012/07/20/congo-question-and-column-killing-in-the-kivus-continues-with-rwandan-complicity-and-bosco-ntaganda-like-jospeh-kony-continues-to-escape-with-impunity-and-to-recruit-children-while-the-world/

Congo – Question and Column – Killing in the Kivus Continues – with Rwandan Complicity – and Bosco Ntaganda, like Jospeh Kony, continues to escape with impunity and to recruit children while the world looks on

Democratic Republic of Congo

Question: July 19th 2012
11.06 am

Asked by
Lord Chidgey

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that mutineers in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo have received assistance from foreign military officials.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford):

My Lords, we have studied the United Nations Group of Experts report and believe it to be credible. We call on the countries named in the report to seek a sustainable resolution to the conflict, and one that breaks the cycle of violence.

Lord Chidgey:

I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer, but is he aware that Presidents Kabila and Kagame have agreed that the 11-nation International Conference on the Great Lakes Region should work with the AU and the UN to establish a neutral force along the Rwanda-Congo border? Has President Kagame discussed with our Prime Minister which countries are offering to commit troops while Rwanda withdraws its support from the M23 rebels? Secondly, the Tutsi leader, Senator Mwangachuchu, claims that the M23 rebellion resulted from the ICC judgment against Thomas Lubanga and the indictment of Bosco Ntaganda for recruiting child soldiers and other crimes. Has the Prime Minister offered UK assistance, or has any other agency offered assistance in the pursuit and capture of Bosco Ntaganda?

Lord Howell of Guildford:

In answer to my noble friend’s questions, yes I am aware of the Great Lakes conference agreement by Presidents Kabila and Kagame and others that they should consider the idea of a border force, but it is still only at the thinking stage. Did my right honourable friend the Prime Minister discuss this with President Kagame when he saw him a few weeks ago? The answer is no, because the propositions of the Great Lakes group had not come forward at that point. The Prime Minister expressed extreme concern at the Group of Experts report that Rwanda might be involved in backing the M23, but other developments have taken place since.
Has the ICC judgment against Thomas Lubanga created an atmosphere in which the M23 rebellion and breakaway from the Congolese army has taken place? I have to say that it may have played a part, but it is very hard to say. It may have been one of the reasons why Bosco Ntaganda and others retreated from their previous co-operation with the Congo army and have set up a mutineers’ group again. Have we offered, and has my right honourable friend offered, UK assistance in the pursuit and capture of Bosco, who is of course indicted by the ICC? No, because it is the responsibility of the DRC itself to co-operate fully with the ICC, and that is what we constantly urge.
Lord Boateng:
Given the importance of the African Union and South Africa and their good offices to the future of the DRC, would the Minister welcome the accession of the former Foreign Minister of South Africa, Mrs Dlamini-Zuma, to the leadership of the African Union? Her good offices are going to be absolutely crucial at this time if we are to bring peace and security to that area.
Lord Howell of Guildford:
The noble Lord is absolutely right, and I certainly welcome that accession. The African Union is playing an increasingly positive part in facing up to the regional issues in the centre of Africa and at the centre of its concerns. We certainly welcome that. Obviously the African Union has played a key part in the International Conference on the Great Lakes, which was in the margins of the meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa the other day. It is a very good prospect that South Africa is playing a leading part, as the noble Lord describes.

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

My Lords, was the Minister’s reply to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, an acceptance that Rwanda has been aiding and abetting not only M23 but the other six rebel groups that have led to 1.4 million people being displaced in the Kivu in eastern Congo? That being the case, why are we not using the £344 million of aid which we are providing to Rwanda as leverage to persuade Rwanda not to aid and abet these insurgent groups, and to do rather more to bring to justice people such as Bosco Ntaganda, who has been responsible for the recruitment of child soldiers, which has led to the deaths of countless numbers of people—a haemorrhaging loss of life that dwarfs even the terrible and tragic events in Syria by comparison?

Lord Howell of Guildford:

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, no one questions the atrocities and misery of these various armies. I have counted five different armies and groups involved in killing and fighting each other in the region, and there is an extreme danger of this spreading and creating mayhem more widely on both humanitarian and security grounds. That is certainly the case.

As to our leverage, our aid programme is not quite as large as the sum mentioned by the noble Lord. I have a figure of £198 million a year to the DRC, and £83 million a year to Rwanda. Certainly our judgment is that, through that aid, we have the authority and the leverage to influence the situation. I spoke to the Foreign Minister of Rwanda, Louise Mushikiwabo, about three weeks ago, as did my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Development and my honourable friend Mr Bellingham. We all impressed on her and her colleagues the necessity of facing up to the reality, and of Rwanda’s activity, as reported in the Group of Experts, to cease and to make way for a proper solution to the conflict. We are using our leverage and influence in a very nasty situation, but the way we do it obviously varies from country to country.

The Archbishop of Canterbury:

My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to ask a question in this particular context, because I think the plight of the Congo is well known to everyone in this House. The issue of regional co-operation has already been flagged indirectly in what has been said. One of the questions I would like to ask is to do with what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to foster a broader regional strategic engagement involving more than simply the Governments of Rwanda and Congo. As part of that regional question, I am very concerned about a cross-border issue in the region: the plight of the indigenous peoples and indigenous minorities such as the Batwa. Twelve months ago I met the Batwa community in Congo and was dismayed to find what little attention some local authorities, especially by the United Nations, give to their plight. Are the Government aware of this?

Lord Howell of Guildford:

I am very grateful to the most reverend Primate for his question about the regional aspects, which are vital. May I answer him in this way? First, my honourable friend Mr Bellingham, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary concerned with African matters, was at the African Union conference last week and talked to regional leaders in detail all the time. Secondly, we have been promoting the idea of regional dialogue between the countries concerned. Thirdly, we are the third largest humanitarian donor trying to grapple with the situation. Fourthly, there is the matter, which my noble friend raised, of the Great Lakes group and its movement towards the idea of detailed regional co-operation and the involvement of all the key players in the region in solving this problem themselves. The regional aspect is very important, and I fully agree with the most reverend Primate that this is what we should concentrate on.
As to the cross-border issue, which was his other question—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Howell of Guildford:
I have been asked many questions, which produces many answers. The cross-border issue is very serious and we are looking at it very closely.

Baroness King of Bow:
My Lords—
Lord Avebury:
My Lords—
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde):

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady King, has been trying very hard to get in.

Baroness King of Bow:

My Lords, I have visited the Great Lakes region on 10 occasions over a decade and I have never ceased to be amazed by the resilience and dignity of the local populations and the barbarity and scale of the atrocities visited on them, such as a nine month-old baby who was raped with a military-issue rifle and who then sustained terrible gunshot wounds. Does the Minister agree that we need to hold Rwanda to account, and that we should also hold the Congolese army to account? Could he press for more military tribunals so that we can play our role in ensuring that innocent victims such as that nine month-old baby girl get the justice they deserve?

Lord Howell of Guildford:

Yes. Obviously we encourage the bringing to account of the very evil people who are committing these atrocities; there is no question at all about that. Bosco Ntaganda has been indicted by the ICC, and Rwanda has its own tribunal and court for assessing the horrors of the past. In all other aspects of bringing those involved to account, we will certainly press as hard as we can in the ways I have described in detail to your Lordships over the past five minutes.


Universe Column‬

David Alton‬

According to the International Rescue Committee, since 1998 almost five and a half million people have died from war-related causes in the Congo (the DRC). Many have died violently but even more have died from diseases which have attacked displaced people left without sanitation, homes or food. The IRC say that up to 45,000 people continue to die every month. Although this makes the Congo the world’s deadliest conflict since the Second World War, it rarely makes our TV screens or news reports.‬ ‪

The scandalous conflict in the Congo and the haemorrhaging loss of life – often driven by power hungry militias and the pillaging of the country’s natural resources – dwarfs even the barbarism in Syria. It exposes the West to two things – the accusation that it considers a life in Africa to be worth far less than a life in other places; and the accusation that it has aided and abetted some of those responsible for this carnage.‬

‪‬

‪The worst of the conflict is in the east of the country – especially North and South Kivu.‬ ‪‬


There are now 1.4 million internally displaced people in the Kivus – including 220,000 new IDPs. Since April 1st around 200,000 people have been forced to flee in North Kivu; and in South Kivu, 225,000 people were displaced between January and March, a 235% increase compared to the same period in 2011‬.
‪‬


Rwanda has been accused of deliberately destabilising the region so that it can pillage rich mineral resources, weaken its Congolese neighbour, and ultimate encourage a secession from the DRC. Last month a leaked United Nations report by the Group of Experts pointed the finger at Rwanda implicating it in what has become known as the M23 Mutiny.‬ ‪

Last April 300 soldiers in the DRC’s army mutinied, forming the

Child Soldiers in the Kivus

Bosco Ntaganda – indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2008 and despite the presence of 17,000 UN soldiers still at large in 2012 and still recruiting child soldiers

Rape is routinely used as a weapon of war in the Kivus

Women are terrorised and raped along with their children

– popularly called M23. Led by Bosco Ntaganda, a former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army he was indicted in May 2008 by the International Criminal Court for enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them as child soldiers.‬

News reports suggest that M23 has actively conscripted children into the latest upsurge of violence. They quote Jean Claver Rukomeza, a resident of Runyonyi, one of the strongholds of the M23 rebellion, as stating: “I saw at least three or four little fighters accompanying each adult soldier.”‬

‪‬


Lambert Mende, the Congolese Minister for Communications, has said that “Between March and April 2012, Rwanda recruited around 200 very young children which it trained and sent out as combat troops in M23.”‬ ‪The same Minister has, meanwhile, had to deny reports that the DRC has armed and equipped groups hostile to Rwanda and encouraged them to take part in tit-for-tat reprisals.‬

‪‬


The US State Department’s assessment points to Rwanda’s role in precipitating these latest killings: “We are deeply concerned about the report’s findings that Rwanda is implicated in the provision of support to Congolese rebel groups, including mutinous elements now operating as the M23 armed group. Any such support threatens to further undermine security and fuel displacement in the region. We are also concerned about the report’s findings that the mutineers have forcibly recruited child soldiers.”‬ ‪‬


The Congolese army has responded to the mutiny by withdrawing units from other parts of the Kivus (an area the size of California) to fight the mutineers. This has left vast areas without security and unprotected. In a lawless and dangerous part of the world this has allowed some of the other militias to capitalise on this situation and, in the vacuum, opportunistically to seek to impose their control.‬ ‪‬

‪So, beyond the obvious concern that we should have for the phenomenal loss of life, what has this got do with us? A great deal.‬

‪First, we are Rwanda’s biggest bilateral donor of aid. Between now and 2015 we will have given them £344 million. We encouraged them to join the Commonwealth and we have upheld President Paul Kagame as a model leader for Africa.‬

‪‬

‪I have visited Rwanda and met President Kagame.

He had the unenviable job of rebuilding his country after a genocide which claimed the lives of one million Tutus. The shameful failure of the international community to stop that genocide instilled a sense of guilt in Western donor countries. But that has led them to turn a blind eye as Rwanda has restricted democratic rights and, far more dangerously, has become involved in the destabilisation of the Kivus.‬ ‪‬


So, it was surprising, that when President Kagame recently met David Cameron in London, the incursions in the Kivus did not feature in their discussions. Anneke Van Woudenberg from Human Rights Watch says that the UK is “worryingly silent” on the deteriorating situation.‬ ‪‬


After the Prime Minister met President Kagame a Downing Street spokesman initially said: “The Prime Minister made clear to President Kagame the UK’s serious concerns that Rwanda was providing official support to the M23 rebels in Eastern Congo,” She added: “The Prime Minister urged the President to take steps to calm the situation down and build trust in the region.”‬ ‪‬

‪However, the official press briefing made no mention of this and said that the discussion was simply about development issues and population control (the Government’s current obsession).‬ ‪

Britain should make our aid to Rwanda conditional on Rwanda desisting from acting as quartermaster in a conflict which involves the recruitment of hundreds of child soldiers and which has led to death and displacement on a vast scale.‬

‪But if we should be using leverage with Rwanda we should also be using leverage with the Congo.‬

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‪ Western countries simply cannot justify giving a staggering $14 billion to the DRC when only 1% has been used for security sector reform and MONUSCO (the United Nations peace keepers in Congo), with 17,000 troops, seems utterly incapable of providing the security, without which, development aid makes precious little difference for the suffering people of the Congo.‬ ‪‬

 

Democratic Republic of Congo: Atrocities

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    What assessment they have made of atrocities in the Congo in the last two years; whether the level and nature of these atrocities constitute genocide or crimes against humanity; and what initiatives they have taken to raise the situation in the Congo at an international level.[HL4752]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We strongly condemn all acts of violence committed by both sides in the conflict in DRC. We regularly raise these issues with all parties and in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1291 have urged an international investigation into all such events with a view to bringing all those responsible to justice.

 

SLAVERY: A Story Of Pain And Prejudice

There are still concerns about slavery in Africa todayWest African Slavery


Two dark shadows hang over the history of Liverpool: the Irish Famine and the Slave Trade. 1999 finally saw the first memorial erected to the thousands of Irish émigrés who died in the city of typhoid and cholera as they tried to flea the potato famine. It also saw the first public apology issued by the City’s civic leaders, finally recognising Liverpool’s shameful role at the epicenter of the European slave trade. Last week I traveled to West Africa to a gathering organised by President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin. I read the City’s statement to the conference and gave the President a sculpture made by the Liverpool sculptor, Stephen Broadbent. Made of black iron and standing on a piece of white marble it depicts two people locked in an embrace of reconciliation. Beyond the formalities, the Conference brought together Africans, Europeans, and Americans. No-one who went to Benin could come away unaffected. Rooted in the enormities of yesterday, what happened in West Africa in past centuries poses a whole range of questions for today.

The challenge for Africa was summed up by President Kerekou’s own story. Baptised a Catholic he became a Marxist and eventually the military leader of this small West African state. Tucked away between Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and its huge neighbour, Nigeria, this former French colony has a population of about six million people. In 1990 Kerekou called free elections. He lost the election and handed over power to his opponents. It was the first time in Africa that a peaceful democratic transition had occurred in a free election. In 1995 Kerekou received his reward and was voted back into office. He has appointed several evangelical Christians to advisory and ministerial posts and speaks openly of the importance of religious belief to him. The official religion of Benin is voodoo. benin is the birth place of voodoo practice and is still very much in evidence. 55% of the country are said to be followers of traditional African religions; 22% are Catholic; 17% Muslim and 4% Protestant. While on a visit to the United States, Kerekou made a speech describing his own antecedents. He said that his forebears were black slave dealers, capturing and selling other Africans to the white slave traders. Many of the black American delegates present at the Conference said that this was the most shocking part of their own history and the part which they found the most difficult to confront: “How could a black brother sell their brother or their sister to be a slave?” asked Bishop David Perrin. By apologising publicly to the black American Diaspora President Kekekou lanced a festering boil.

The Sellers, The Buyers and the Victims.

Estimates of the numbers of Africans sold into slavery vary but over nearly four centuries about 12 million people were forcibly transported into bondage. Between 1701 and 1810 around 5.7 million people were taken into slavery, 2 million coming from the Slave Coast, where Benin is situated. Around 39% went to the Caribbean, 38% to Brazil, 17% to South America and 6% to North America. Many of the slaves shipped out of Africa from the Bight of Benin were taken to the port of Ouidah, which is situated near Cotonou, the present capital. Not since I visited the holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel have I experienced such harrowing emotions. Captured slaves were brought to Ouidah, where the Portuguese had built a fort (which today houses a small museum where many of the artifacts involved in this revolting trade are exhibited). Inside the fort stands the church of the Immaculate Conception, built by the Portuguese.Voodoo is used to bind girls to their masters

At the nearby Auction Place, under The Whipping Tree, the slaves were sold to European traders. From here the slaves had to walk the slave route to the shores of the Atlantic. I followed in their footsteps to a staging post called Zomai (which means, where the light is not allowed to go). From here, according to the ritual, the slaves would be taken in the dark to the Tree Of Forgetfulness. Men would be made to walk around it nine times, a woman seven times. It was believed that this would strip them of their memory – that they would lose their identity, forget their origins, their families and their country. Slavery is debasing in itself . This forced amnesia was the final assault on a person’s humanity. At Zomai sick, disabled or elderly people were picked out and thrown into a common grave. Some were buried alive. Today, the memorial of Zoungbodji marks this place of holocaust. Here we removed our shoes, stood in silence, candles flickering in a gentle breeze, and silently wondered what atonement would ever put right such inhumanity. The slaves to be deported would then be taken to the Tree Of Return. Here they had to turn three times in the hope that although their bodies would never stand on these shores again that one day their spirits would return. Then, finally on to the Door Of No Return, marked today by an archway, through which men , women and children would pass before boarding a boat waiting for the middle passage of this evil triangular trade plied between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Before leaving the Gate Of No Return some of the American delegates from the Conference started to sing the hymn Amazing Grace. I wondered whether they knew that this hymn had been written by the Liverpool based slave trade captain, John Newton. When he renounced the trade it was his evidence which would significantly help the abolitionist cause led by the Christian campaigner, William Wilberforce.

Europe’s Role: the leaving of Liverpool.

If there are unresolved questions for the sellers of slaves, there remain questions, too, for the buyers and for the victims. In the total Atlantic trade, British ships are estimated to have made 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.6 million slaves. The trade before 1730 was dominated by London but was overtaken by Bristol in the 1730s, only to be eclipsed by Liverpool in the 1750s. In 1797, 1 in 4 ships leaving Liverpool was a slaver. Liverpool merchants handled five eighths of the English slave trade and three sevenths of the slave trade in Europe. In his Journal of a Slave-trader, John Newton wrote: “I have no sufficient data to warrant calculation but I suppose not less than one hundred thousand slaves are exported annually from all parts of Africa, and that more than one half of these are exported in English ships.” The Liverpool historian, Ramsay Muir, estimated that in 1807, a staggering £17 million pounds was generated in Liverpool through the slave trade. This was the darkest chapter in the City’s history. In a letter to the Benin Reconciliation Conference Liverpool’s Lord Mayor, Couincillor Joe Devaney, and the Leader of the City Council, Councillor Mike Storey, not only recognised the scale of Liverpool’s involvement but made the first public apology on behalf of the City. Many people from the black American Diaspora told me how moved they were by the text, which had been unanimously endorsed by the 99 members of the Council. They hoped that many American cities would follow suit – a point I emphasised during interviews for American television. The City Council’s resolution states that “..it is time the City gave expression to its sense of remorse over the effects that the slave trade had on countless millions of people and on the culture of the continent of Africa, the Caribbean and the USA. The Council will co-ordinate the use if all its powers to foster better race relations, greater equality of opportunities and even greater diversity so that the City is itself a celebration of multi-culturalism.” To underline that this was not empty rhetoric or a hollow apology the Council also convened a special extraordinary meeting, with no other business on the agenda, so that as its last formal act of the second millennium Liverpool could formally acknowledge its responsibility, ‘shame and remorse’ and its hope that reconciliation would be the basis on which the City would begin the new millennium.Estimates in Africa say two in five children under 15 are working

Addressing the Black Diaspora.

What struck me most at the Benin Conference was the willingness of people who had suffered so much at the hands of others to recognise that it was time to clean the slate and to forgive. The victims of the slave trade have every right to fell anger and bitterness. Who could blame them for becoming prisoners of their history? – refusing to forgive and hating the heirs of those who pursued this villainous trade. One delegate put it well when he said “We sometimes forget that the white people today are not the same white people who pursued the slave trade. Those are the whites of yesterday, not of today.” I vividly recall the young black woman who said to me at the time of the Toxteth riots in Liverpool in 1981, “Since the slave trade, 200 years ago, we have simply moved half a a mile up the road.” In other words, many of the social injustices, racism, and prejudice on which the slave trade was built continue to manifest themselves in the treatment of minorities today. The consequences of the slave trade for the uprooted black Diaspora have to be addressed in our own times.

How To Move On

If we are to be released from the burden of our involvement in the slave trade we need to find a way to move on. The Benin Conference passed formal resolutions of apology and black leaders formally accepted these. It reminded me of the old Chinese proverb that any journey of a thousand miles begins when you take the first step. It is never too late to say sorry and to seek to make amends, but it is never too soon either. In my address to the Conference I said that this Release would come through Remembrance, Repentance, Reconciliation and Reform.

Remembrance

In remembering the infamies of the slave trade we should also remember those black and white people who saw it for what it was and who refused to collaborate and who denounced it. In the British Parliament, the young William Wilberfoce led the abolitionist cause. He spent forty long years fighting huge vested interests. In 1792, on introducing a Bill for Abolition, Wilberfoce began his speech with this cry from the heart: “Africa, Africa, your sufferings have been the theme that has arrested and engages my heart, Your sufferings no tongue can express, no language impart.” In 1807, Wilbeforce persuaded Parliament to make the trade illegal – against fierce opposition led by men like Captain Hugh Crow of Liverpool, one of a thousand captains who sailed from the port to obtain African slaves. In 1831, as Wilberfoce was dying, the news was brought to him that Parliament had finally abolished slavery throughout all its territories. During the 1807 debate Liverpool’s Member of Parliament was William Roscoe. A Unitarian whose memory is celebrated in his chapel in Liverpool’s Ullet Road, he and the Rathbone family were resolutely opposed to the trade. Roscoe only sat in the Commons for three months but it was during that time that the vote was taken on the Wilberforce Bill. He voted for it and said “I consider it the greatest happiness of my existence to life up my voice on this occasion, with the friends of justice and humanity.” On his return to Liverpool he was assailed by the mob, and pulled from his coach and horses in Castle Street. He spent the remainder of his life working for the abolitionist cause. He penned an epic poem, “The Wrongs of Africa”, in which these lines appear: “Blush ye not to boast your equal laws, your just restraints, your rights defended, your liberties secured, whilst with an iron hand ye crushed to earth the helpless African; and bid him drink that cup of sorrow, which yourselves have dashed indignant, from oppression’s fainting grasp?” He went on to warn his countrymen: “Forget not Britain, higher still than thee, sits the great Judge of nations , who can weigh the wrong and who can repay” The stories of Wilberforce and Roscoe – who both stood against the prevailing climate – remind us that not everyone collaborated or acquiesced in these crimes against humanity. They also remind us that when small stones move, landslides can happen.

Repentence.

In remembering we must not become trapped by events which we cannot now change. Remembrance must be followed by Repentance and by forgiveness. We must repent of attitudes which diminish human dignity and which discriminate against other men and women because of their race. We must repent of laws and political priorities which continue to institutionalise racism, which lead to racist attacks – like the one which led to the brutal dearth of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence – and which perpetuate the presumptions on which the edifice of slavery was first erected. Repentance can easily be ridiculed or attacked – as phony, insincere, tokenistic or an empty gesture. Some say it is impossible to accept any responsibility across the generations for those who failed to atone, either for what they did or for their unwillingness to take a stand and to speak out. Repentance is likely to be thrown back in the case of those who atone. But without it there is no way forward, no way to grow. It is the only way to wipe the slate clean and to move on.

Reconciliation.

From Remembrance and Repentance we can at last move on to reconciliation. First we have to stand in another man or woman’s shoes and to try and see events and issues from their perspective. In Northern Ireland an absence of repentance and an unwillingness to feel the insecurities of the other side has bedeviled the peace process and mad reconciliation extremely difficult. The reconciliation process is obstructed when, as one delegate in Benin put it “the elephant you see, is not the elephant I see.” We have to make sure that we are both on the same page, seeing the same thing. But when forgiveness is sought or is received it leads to incredible healing and cures us of our paralysis. Without reconciliation there can be no progress and no end to the pain. Our problem is that we have created a culture of blame and got into the habit of blaming one another when things go wrong. The opposite of reconciliation is revenge. This means taking an eye for an eye – and the problem with that is that if you go on doing it for long enough, the whole world will become blind. Being reconcilers requires us to * take civic and educational initiatives which teach the truth about past events; * promote programmes which recognise contemporary injustices, social and political, and which tackle poverty and lack of opportunity for black people – in Africa, America and here; and to * seize opportunities to speak out against contemporary slavery and the culture of death in all its guises.

Reform

. Reconciliation is worthless unless it is undergirded by personal, political, civic and institutional reform. When we change ourselves we can change the world. As a boy I was given a jigsaw puzzle. On one side was a picture of a man. On the other was a picture of the world. As a seven year old I could never get the world right; it was simply too complicated. The picture of the man was much easier; but the great thing about the jigsaw puzzle was that when you turned the picture of the man over, the world came right anyway. Getting the man right means moving on from our Caveman’s Culture – a culture which diminishes the uniqueness of each human being and still treats us as materialistic objects.Millions of children work in developing countries

The Future

There are many practical proposals which came out of the Benin Conference – not least the right of people in the Diaspora to have an international African travel document and passport and the opportunity to own land in Africa. Recreating the destroyed identity of millions of people must be addressed. Liverpool’s Maritime Museum is a fine example of what can be done at a communal level but every person and every family will always want answers to the questions “who am I?” and “from whence did I spring?. One woman told me that all she could take home to America was some soil – there were no family trees to trace her genealogy, no knowledge of where her forbears lived and died. It will take a long time to come to terms with the enormity of what people from seemingly civilized countries did to other human beings. As I left West Africa I brought away with me a mixture of emotions. I left behind a small piece of sculpture which bears the legend a gift from the people of Liverpool to the people of West Africa. President Kerekou has asked that the Reconciliation statue should be cast in a much larger form and placed at the Gate of No Return. Perhaps some young people from Liverpool might help in its construction, working alongside the sculptor and Beninoise young people.

Opening The Way

Benin’s President, Mathieu Kerekou, told the Conference that “We owe it to ourselves never to forget, to acknowledge our share of responsibility in the humiliation and opprobrium, to feel shame, to look differently as the false images, to surrender to forgiveness and to start afresh. we must pursue our goal towards progress and free ourselves from misery without succumbing to the vanity of material possession. For Africans this awareness opens the way to forgiveness and reconciliation. For Europeans the challenges are exactly the same.