Letters: Defence of human rights

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Sir: "Foreign Policy can be a delicate subject" wrote Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Opinion, 7 October). I agree: and what it doesn't need is the hyperbole that often grips politicians talking on this subject. Sir Malcolm is wrong to say the UK has no policy on Europe. Last week, the UK negotiated a framework document for the accession of Turkey in the face of considerable opposition. The UK has developed the EU agenda to work on climate change and Africa. We cannot achieve reform of the CAP, a stronger budget, and reform of the political institutions of the EU by having a "looser relationship" as he suggests.

He mentions the stance that John Major took on Bosnia. While Malcolm Rifkind and his cabinet colleagues dithered over ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the Labour government sent a strong message to dictators by repelling Slobodan Milosevic's brutal invasion of Kosovo. I believe, as the Foreign Policy Centre has argued (such as in a pamphlet authored by John Bercow MP), that there is a moral imperative for the international community to intervene in cases of genocide and the systematic abuse of human rights.

I do agree, however, that Britain is well placed to play a key role in the Israel-Palestinian crisis. Britain has an opportunity as a third party that is not seen by either party to be either too pro-Palestinian or too pro-Israeli. Britain has always had a strong relationship with Israel, but is also one of the biggest givers of financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. The key objective is to create a framework in which to normalise the relationship between Israel and Palestine.

The nature of foreign policy has changed in the 21st century. It is not enough to say that a successful international approach is achieved by simply defending the British interest at the expense of all else. There must be room for some compromise if multilateral organisations are to function. Our guiding principles must be the defence of human rights, managing globalisation in a changing world, reducing poverty and promoting peace and security rather than simply defending the status quo.



Alarming trend of authoritarian control

Sir: Thank goodness for The Independent. Heather Brooke's article (13 October) referring to the trend towards Orwellian controls, along with Adrian Hamilton's article about the growing authoritarian rule of Ken Livingstone over Londoners, as well as your own leader on the illiberal proposed legislation on terrorism, show us all too alarmingly the growing trend towards governmental control.

Livingstone has ignored the wishes of a very large majority of people and businesses in west London and is pressing ahead with his money-raising scheme to tax Londoners even further with an unwanted extension of his Congestion Zone - where there is no congestion. It is no wonder that the same Blair who once condemned Livingstone as a potential disaster for London should now welcome and support him: the authoritarian mindset is their common ground.

This also shows why, as Robert Fisk reports on another page, exporting our "democracy" to Iraq is doomed to failure.

Please keep up your defence of our fragile rights, local and national.



Sir: Your leading article (13 October) is both timely and necessary.

In his History of England Macaulay wrote: "As we cannot, without the risk of evils from which the imagination recoils, employ physical force as a check on misgovernment, it is evidently our wisdom to keep all the constitutional checks on misgovernment in the highest state of efficiency, to watch with jealousy the first beginnings of encroachment, and never to suffer irregularities, even when harmless in themselves, to pass unchallenged, lest they acquire the force of precedents."

As true now as it was then, if government by fiat is not to replace parliamentary democracy.



Sir: If I were to make phone calls or e-mails to my friends about setting up demonstrations for, say, a pro-hunt protest, anti-arms sales, a New Labour meeting, anti-vivisection, pro-abortion, or arrest of Blair for war crimes, all of which may or may not be preliminary to acts of violence, at what point are these conversations (or even the tone of this letter to you) deemed by the police to be grounds for the dawn raid with dogs and machine guns? Are my friends also implicated?

Unfortunately readers of the tabloids love the frisson of summary arrests and the identification of racial or religious scapegoats for the Iraq war, bombs in the underground and tortures at Guantanamo Bay; and readers of the old broadsheets just want to enjoy their rich lifestyle in peace. Blair and his cabal, like Hitler with his Emergency Decree of 28 February 1933, suspending habeas corpus, know this all to well.



Immigration limits for a crowded island

Sir: I refer to John Bercow's article "Conservative immigration policy is simply wrong" (Opinion, 10 October) in which he says: "The call for an annual limit on immigration was a mistake".

England is four times more densely populated than China. Where land is available the question arises, constantly, as to whether it should be conserved as countryside for human recreation and health, or covered in concrete and asphalt to provide more houses, factories, shops, offices and motorways. With an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants in the UK already - a figure equivalent to more than two cities the size of Southampton - only an irresponsible fool would advocate unlimited immigration as a policy for Briton.

He also states that "as our population shrinks and ages immigration is vital to staving off a pensions crisis". Our population isn't shrinking, thanks to immigration. But there is no rational basis for the fear of an ageing population. Children as well as old people have to be supported by people of working age and are just as much a "burden" on society. Unlimited immigration and including people seeking asylum can also be a serious burden on society.



The value of 'snobbish' rules

Sir: Like Janet R Holland (Letters, 11 October), I grew up in an aspirational working class family. My father especially was ever-vigilant in clamping down on any language or behaviour that he thought "common". Thus, for example, the words "bike" and "street" (rather than "road") were proscribed. "What?", "pardon?" or "pardon me" earned an instant reprimand: the correct responses were "what did you say?" or "I beg your pardon".

In the Fifties and Sixties, my brother and I had the freedom to play out in the road from dawn to dusk, except on Sunday evenings, when this was thought disrespectful. We were never allowed to accompany our parents to greet visitors at the door, and meal times were an agony of nagging if knives and forks were held fractionally incorrectly. And I can't be the only one who remembers the ritual of "Please may I leave the table?".

My parents also had standards for themselves. They both smoked, yet my mum would never do so in public, and they observed the convention of men walking on the outside of the pavement when in mixed company.

At least they drummed some good manners into their children, and I still say "please", "thank you", "excuse me" and, yes, "I beg your pardon?". Most of their rules were petty, arbitrary and snobbish, yet they taught us to behave well in any situation, and so enabled us to grow up with no sense of social inferiority. Not bad for a couple of unskilled manual workers who left school at 14.



Booker Prize judges are not alone

Sir: We have had it authoritatively stated by your literary editor that on Monday "the Man Booker judges made possibly the worst, certainly the most perverse, and perhaps the most indefensible choice in the 36-year history of the contest" ("The wrong choice in a list packed with delights", 11 October).

You will, perhaps, consider removing from your electronic archive the two glowing reviews of John Banville's The Sea which it contains. Peter J Conradi informed your readers, on 3 June, that Banville "is prodigiously gifted .... Everything in Banville's books is alive. Bleakly elegant, he is a writer's writer, a new Henry Green." And, for John Tague (4 September), "The Sea confirms Banville's reputation as one of finest prose stylists working in English today and, in the sheer beauty of its achievement, is unlikely to be bettered by any other novel published this year."

The Booker judges evidently agreed.



Treasures saved by the pub trade

Sir: I do rather object to your reporter's use of the word "saved" regarding J D Wetherspoon's failure to turn the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill into a pub (report, 10 October).

The company has many splendid listed buildings in its estate, and is renowned for sensitive treatment of architectural treasures. It has collected more gongs than anyone else in the annual Pub Design Awards scheme that Camra runs with English Heritage, and the judges in these awards are a very stern bunch. One example is the Winter Gardens in Harrogate, saved from dereliction and magnificently restored.



Catholic Church and the spread of Aids

Sir: I wish anti-Catholics like Johann Hari, would study the facts before they write their diatribes against the Catholic Church ("A global war for the soul of Catholicism", 11 October).

The Catholic policy against condoms is not some dark conspiracy to kill as many people as possible. In fact surveys show that it is the policies commended by Mr Hari - of handing people in the Third World packets of cheap condoms and telling them that using these makes it safe to continue a promiscuous lifestyle - that is spreading Aids. Condoms - particularly cheap condoms, poorly used - fail regularly. Holes or no holes, they split, they tear, they fail for various reasons to act as a complete barrier. It only takes one failure in a month of use to pass on the Aids virus.

This is why it is programmes like those in Uganda and the Philippines, which have stressed abstinence, and having one permanent sexual partner, that have succeeded in reducing the spread of Aids. Liberal policies of handing out condoms and saying that these provide "safe" sex have helped fuel a ravaging increase in HIV infection in south-east Asia and southern Africa.



Sir: For Johann Hari to extrapolate from his experience of a Venezuelan shanty town the thesis that the Catholic Church is being overwhelmed by ultramontane neo-conservatives represents a gross distortion of the reality.

Many Catholics, liberals and radicals alike, were deeply disappointed by the election of Cardinal Ratzinger but then many of us have long since learned to distrust the diktats of the Vatican-based hierarchy. Hari blithely assumes that the millions of practising Catholics are, in effect, too obtuse to know what's good for them and are all ignorantly "following its dogmas to the point of death". Such generalisations are not only patronising but also misogynist since the majority of practising Catholics are women.

The experience of myself and other Catholic feminist theologians who have carried out research in Latin America would suggest that far from conniving in and contributing to their own self-oppression, women are quite adept in exercising their own agency in the context of apparently inflexible, patriarchal religious structures.

As for the alleged "global war" - well, the Church has been at odds with itself throughout its two-thousand-year history; it's nothing new and I suspect the vast majority of its congregation, whatever their temporal affiliation, would persevere with a flawed truth rather than flit chameleon-like through a world in constant flux.



Cheap airline behaviour

Sir: As an Irishman, I was horrified to read the headline "Ryanair is attacked for ejecting blind passengers" (13 October). Imagine my relief when I read the accompanying story and learned that the aircraft was on the tarmac at the time.



Exporting the problem

Sir: Britain's jails are becoming so overcrowded that the Government is considering the release of some convicted prisoners before they have completed their sentences. Perhaps the Government could buy space in overseas jails. Vicious murderers could be transferred to jails in Turkey, Egypt or Singapore to serve their time in less liberal regimes than those of Britain - to, I suspect, widespread applause.



Track-side squalor

Sir: In the wake of the Hatfield judgement I note that Network Rail's new slogan is Predict and Prevent. For many years I have been concerned at the amount of trackside debris left by contractors, and the fact that the tracks are accessed by so many disaffected trespassers who cover all Network Rail equipment, bridges and tunnels with graffiti. I am amazed there have not been more accidents. The railway tracks near the capital are corridors of squalor, with litter, redundant equipment and graffiti.



Jealous of genius?

Sir: I cannot help but wonder why the individuals proposed as alternative possible writers of Shakespeare's plays are always well-travelled, well-heeled members of the aristocracy ("Scholars claim a diplomat was the 'real' Shakespeare", 6 October). Perhaps it is simply inconceivable that a man of less wealth from the rural Midlands could have produced theatre and poetry that outshone the works of the cosmopolitan elite.



A hot issue

Sir: Is burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes on Bonfire Night going to be made illegal on the grounds of inciting religious hatred?