Letters: Amnesty

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Amnesty fights only for the rights of the living, not the unborn

Sir: High-profile resignations from Amnesty International capture the headlines ("Scottish Cardinal quits Amnesty over abortion", report, 29 August), but the decision taken by the movement to support abortion in certain circumstances is already being felt acutely at local level.

Amnesty's strength lies in its dedicated local activists who tirelessly campaign and fund-raise. At least three local groups in this area, including my own, have been affected by the decision either through resignation or by putting under severe strain a relationship they have with their founding church.

Consultation with members has been at best cursory and without apparent understanding of how divisive the consequences may be; for a movement founded on "conscience" this is extraordinary. Many of us are dismayed and disillusioned, but will go on supporting Amnesty only because the greater good of its founding vision outweighs our despair at the movement's crass and inadequate leadership.

Neville White

Chair, Bromley & Orpington Amnesty Group, Kent

Sir: Mairtin O'Maolruaidh's claim (letter, 29 August) that Amnesty International has betrayed the "vision of its founders" by supporting abortion is completely wrong.

First, Amnesty International was not set up to protect the rights of the unborn but to prevent human rights abuses, so allowing abortion does not go against the "vision of its founders". Second, the European Court of Human Rights stated in the case of Vo vs France (2004) that the right to life applies only postnatally. Abortion does not violate the right to life.

Thomas Wiggins

Wokingham, Berkshire

Sir: I have just signed up for membership of Amnesty International as a direct result of Cardinal Keith O'Brien's remarks of yesterday. I would like to thank him for bringing this important issue to my attention.

Peter Evans


Like it or not, Iraq war is the future

Sir: The Iraq war has become a disaster and is rightly criticised. However, intervention by international forces in the running of sovereign states is an inevitable part of our future.

Climate change and globalisation have taught us (among other things) that the behaviour of one nation impacts on all nations. Corrupt third-world politicians starve and torture their people and destroy their environment while they enjoy a sumptuous lifestyle. Where negotiations fail, international military action becomes necessary: playground bullies don't always listen to advice.

Our history is full of greedy empire-builders, and we naturally shy away from the idea of military intervention. However, the organisation that is required to give the world's burgeoning population a basic standard of living and to protect our environment and climate from further damage may require it.

Although George Bush and Tony Blair have been pelted with criticisms for the Iraq war, they could also be called visionaries: the concept of remedial action by a responsible international military force must be a part of our future.

Daniel Emlyn-Jones


Sir: We are told that we going to be in Afghanistan for a long time, probably years. Our Regular, Reserve and Territorial armies are being overworked, wrongly employed and operating below their proper effectiveness. Has the time come to raise and train "hostilities only" units for the Afghan War?

Regular potential senior non-commissioned officers will provide the skilled and disciplined sergeant-majors, artificers and sergeants needed by these units. Historically the British Army has always produced such men and they make it possible for the Regular army to expand enormously and quickly.

Yes, it will cost money. Who says victory is cheap? The alternatives are conscription or defeat. I presume nobody will call for the cheapskate, scruffy and incompetent mercenaries of the US-Iraq debacle.

J P C Bannerman


Sir: "When Iraq becomes strong enough in our opinion to stand alone, we shall be in a position to state that our task has been fulfilled, and that Iraq is an independent sovereign state. But this cannot be said while we are forced year after year to spend very large sums of money on helping the Iraqi government to defend itself and maintain order." – Winston Churchill, 1922.

Would that quote be in the Churchill biography that Bush was given?

Jenny Backwell


The Sahara could be our power-house

Sir: Hydro-electric power (HEP) is not the long-term way to increase access to electricity in Africa ("Lighting up Africa", report, 28 August). In Addis Ababa in the dry season, industry is already sometimes stopped by the failure of the HEP supply from reduced power output because of lower water-levels. In Zimbabwe, I have seen completely empty reservoirs.

Apart from the gradual reduction in rainfall in Africa over the Sahel and the south, the evaporation rate from a reservoir is 1cm a day, or 3.65m a year, in places such as Botswana.

But Africa has a resource which is increasing: solar power. Your article says, "it is still too costly". To reduce the price of photovoltaic (PV) panels, solar-thermal water-heating panels and solar-powered steam turbines, we need massive investment from the World Bank to reduce unit costs.

For decades, Botswana has used PV panels to power its telecommunications, to pump water out of the semi-desert, and to charge batteries for the night-time television. In Ethiopia, I saw no photovoltaic panels in use.

Africa could also install coastal solar power to desalinate sea-water, and use the boiling water to run turbines. A Sahara fringed with these and with millions of PV units in its interior could become the powerhouse of North Africa, and of Europe when our fossil fuels run out.

I applaud the World Bank's backing for LED lighting; but the low generating capacity of Africa is the key problem. The Bank needs to look a century ahead, not a decade.

John D Anderson

Shipley, West Yorkshire

Teaching a nation the danger of Aids

Sir: The HIV and Aids catastrophe in Papua New Guinea, described in Kathy Marks' article "Aids victims 'buried alive' in Papua New Guinea" (28 August), will come as no surprise to VSO volunteers working with some of the country's hardest-to-reach communities.

Reliable information about HIV and Aids is in such scarce supply that awareness levels remain alarmingly low, particularly among women and young people. With over 800 languages and strong traditional and religious beliefs, raising this level of awareness and challenging social taboos is no easy task. VSO volunteers are working hard to change this. Some are using the country's rich history of visual performances and theatre to bring information about HIV and Aids to mountainous and rural communities.

We support Margaret Marabe's call for government and aid agencies to ensure that awareness-raising programmes reach all of those in need. These programmes, which will give access to clear, unbiased information, will help put a stop to the fear and stigma surrounding the disease, enabling those already affected to live full lives and avert further tragedy.

Judith Brodie

DirectorVSO UK London SW15

The fair way to select pupils

Sir: Unlike Peter Devillez's daughter (Letters, 23 August), my eight-year-old son is not academically gifted. He is, however, a lively and enthusiastic child who goes to school wanting to learn and expecting his teacher to deal firmly with any disruptive behaviour in the classroom.

Mr Devillez argues for selection by ability on the basis that very able pupils should not have their learning compromised by the presence of "disruptive elements". The implication is that not only is it acceptable that my son's education should be disproportionately disrupted so that Mr Devillez's daughter and her clever friends can continue blissfully undisturbed in their academic little bubble, but that this is a desirable consequence of selection by ability. This is appallingly unfair: it has nothing to do with any genuine desire for social mobility, but everything to do with preserving an exclusive and elitist culture in education which can serve only to strengthen and compound class division and inequality of opportunity.

The only sensible approach is to organise admissions in such a way that all schools educate a proper cross-section of pupils within a fairly wide radius, so that all have their fair share of able, less able and challenging children.

Jane E Duffield-Bish


Proms do tune in on contemporary music

Sir: Adrian Hamilton ("The Proms must expand or die", Review, 17 August), in saying that "the Proms is no place for the experimental" seriously underestimates the importance of the Proms' contribution to the reception and understanding of contemporary music during the series' long history.

His statement, "The BBC has done its best in recent years to introduce contemporary music into the repertoire – Birtwistle, Adams etc – and if it tends to play it safe, that is no doubt a reflection of the nature of the Proms audience and the size of the venue" implies that contemporary music is a recent addition to the Proms' repertoire.

In fact, new music has been a fundamental part of the Proms from the beginning, when Henry Wood led his audience along many untrodden paths. From the première of Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces in 1912 to the attempt in 1960 to perform Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge (so new that its performance had to be cancelled because the avant-garde technology it required was not available in Britain at that date), the Proms has repeatedly shown that this series is a place for the experimental.

But what is truly astounding about the Proms is the way in which it brings so much to so many. The Proms' audience is unique in its inclusiveness and receptiveness to new ideas.

Alison Garnham

Chigwell, Essex

Food promotions bad for children

Sir: By suggesting that Which? never wants children to eat a biscuit or enjoy a fizzy drink again (Opinion, 22 August), Claire Beale completely misses the point of our kids' food campaign, which is to address the disparity between the diet recommended for children and the diet being promoted to them.

Parents have told Which? that they feel as if their efforts to feed their children healthily are being undermined by the constant promotion of unhealthy foods targeted at kids. The evidence is clear that this practice affects the foods children want to eat, yet there are still no restrictions to stop promotions on packaging or company websites for unhealthy food brands.

Restricting the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt won't on its own solve the UK's diet and health problems, but without it, all the other activities to stem the rising tide of obesity will be undermined. The more progressive members of the industry have recognised this and are changing their practices. It's time the rest of the industry followed suit.

Nick Stace


Enough of Diana

Sir: Thank you, Mark Steel (29 August), for so eloquently expressing much of my personal thinking on "Diana, the soap opera" (Comment, 29 August). Is it too much to hope that after 10 years of hysteria, this storm of irrationality will downgrade from a high-pressure religion to a minor winds-and-whines cult?

Michael Strong

Barnet, Hertfordshire

Don't encourage them

Sir: Amy Winehouse's parents in-law have asked people to stop buying her records, hoping this will help sort out her drug problems (report, 28 August). I would urge people to extend this policy to other "troubled" singers, and add that acting in such a noble way can be very fulfilling. Believe me, not buying records by Pete Doherty or Robbie Williams will enhance your lives as well as theirs.

Sean Cordell

Ranmoor, Sheffield

Tony who?

Sir: Reader John Humphreys ("Where's my peerage", letter, 29 August) has a point. We were all looking forward to Blair's lavender list of footballers and rappers; my guess is that it won't appear. They've probably just forgotten about it. Now is it just my imagination or has Blair disappeared completely, airbrushed out of history like those old Bolsheviks? After 10 years of him, he was in office until a few weeks ago but already Blair seems less memorable than Thatcher. Or even Major.

Chris Payne

Plesidy, France

In praise of Ryanair

Sir: Another tirade against Ryanair, (Philip Hensher, Comment, 28 August). This airline flies to airports that are convenient: Prestwick is nearer my destination than Glasgow, Stansted nearer than Heath-row, Girona nearer than Bar-celona. It is also much cheaper, more likely to be on time and it is quicker to get through smaller airports. And why should people who travel light subsidise those who want to carry all their worldly goods? Philip may resist using use Ryanair, but for others it is almost the perfect delivery company.

Ian Newton

Moscow, Ayrshire

Moving encounter

Sir: Should John Walsh (28 August) ever visit Carnforth station he will learn that the refreshment room wasn't actually used in the filming of Brief Encounter. Only the exterior shots were filmed at the station; the interior of the refreshment room was filmed in the studio. Today, the Carnforth refreshment room is alive and well, and serves exceedingly good scones.

Geoff Thomason