John Snow: 'What I knew of war was wrapped up in Little Grey Rabbit'

From a British Institute of Human Rights lunchtime lecture by the television journalist, given at Somerset House, London
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The Independent Online

I am not a lawyer. What little law I studied at the Liverpool University law faculty, before I was cut off in my prime, in my second year, didn't embrace the concept of human rights. Rylands and Fletcher talked of negligence, Donaghue and Stevenson seemed to centre on snails in ginger beer bottles, there was something else that involved Carlill and a carbolic smoke bomb, but raw human rights " I have absolutely no memory of them.

I grew up in sun-kissed southern England somewhere in the verdant heart of the Sussex weald. There were a few apparently comfortable rural poor; there were even one or two Polish war refugees.There were no other ethnic minorities. The further overhang of war was described by the presence of a veterans' home in the village. Men in invalid carts winding their way along the street in grim black buggies with black sheets covering callipered or absent legs, their active arms pushing and pulling the levers that propelled these crude prams. Other men would pass, blind or with a hole in the forehead ... neither my mother nor my father could fully explain this human wreckage beyond the fact that it had happened 'in the war'.

What little I knew of war as a small child was wrapped up in Little Grey Rabbit books. Hare went to war against the weasels with a saucepan on his head for protection " and Little Grey Rabbit stayed at home knitting endless socks. The holocaust, fascism ... too dense and difficult to talk to a child about.

This sheltered childhood was traumatically terminated in my late teens when somehow I found myself, never having been out of England, bound for Entebbe at the start of a year as a VSO in Uganda. Suddenly, I was one of two mzungus, white men, in a rural school on the banks of the Nile, teaching classes of between 60 and 70 African children.

It was in this seedbed that my consciousness " my awareness of rights, oppression, and liberation " were born. And it is from these unlikely beginnings that my own convictions about human rights flow, and from which my sense of the media's relationship with human rights is informed.

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