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Tuesday 15 September 2009
Letters: Mugabe and sanctions
Keep up the pressure on Mugabe and his clique
At least the EU troika mission to Zimbabwe seems to have drawn the right conclusions from its visit ("EU won't let Mugabe off", 14 September). The restrictive measures imposed on the clique of kleptocrats which surround Mugabe must remain in place until real change has been observed on the ground. I have been dismayed to hear from contacts in Zimbabwe that political violence remains commonplace, and that the army and police continue to attack activists of the Movement for Democratic Change. These allegations have now been confirmed.
As Morgan Tsvangirai pointed out at the weekend, Zanu-PF remains in breach of key parts of the Global Political Agreement, such as freedom of assembly, free political activity and impartiality of state organs.
I would agree with statements made by Swedish Development Minister Gunilla Carlsson that despite the existence of a unity government, "much more needs to be done". Morgan Tsvangirai reiterated to the international community that restrictions should not be removed until real progress is made in implementing the GPA. This is the basis of the agreement reached with the EU in Brussels in June, even though this may cause consternation among Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state, who have just called for the removal of restrictions.
I share the MDC's concerns that a recent $510m IMF loan could be misused by Zanu-PF party members, particularly as Mugabe loyalist Gideon Gono remains governor of the reserve bank. In the light of such concerns, I welcome the decision to continue to withhold all non-humanitarian aid until there is reliable evidence that such funds are not likely to be misappropriated by those close to Mugabe or used to keep his clique in power.
The international community must not forget the unscrupulous nature of the characters that populate the senior ranks of Zanu-PF and the security services in Zimbabwe, as the EU troika no doubt found at first hand. Renewed effort now needs to be made to enlist the support of South Africa and other SADC governments in bringing about real change in Zimbabwe.
Geoffrey Van Orden MEP
Conservative Defence & Security Spokesman
Talking about child abuse
The Government is to be applauded for taking the issue of child protection so seriously. However, the bureaucratic approach chosen in the vetting and barring scheme raises fears that the underlying motive is less about child protection than it is about extending the reach of state surveillance.
More effective ways to tackle child sexual abuse would include campaigns to target specific cultural attitudes currently preventing children and adults coming forward for help. For example, children who "tell" on others are frequently sneered at for being a tell-tale, a sneak or a "grass": then, on the rare occasion when abuse does become public knowledge, we adults ask in astonishment, "Why on earth didn't you tell someone?" Children need us to show them that talking about things which are painful is socially acceptable.
Also, my research has demonstrated that there are men who are sexually attracted to children who choose not to act on that attraction. In some cases this will mean lifelong voluntary celibacy – a tall order at any time, and especially in a society as sexually hedonistic as ours. We all know men hate asking for help, and certainly about something as stigmatised as sexual attraction to children. But we must make it acceptable for these men to talk about their feelings so we can support them in taking responsibility for their actions and keeping children safe.
Vetting and barring procedures may make it less likely that people will come forward voluntarily for support in non-offending. Making it easier for children and adults to talk openly about painful emotions and experiences is perhaps the most effective way to break through the silence and prevent the sexual abuse of children.
Dr Sarah Goode
Director, Research and Policy, Centre for the Study of Wellbeing in Communities,
University of Winchester
The requirement that anyone working with children or vulnerable adults has to obtain clearance from the Independent Safeguarding Authority could well produce the opposite of its intended purpose.
As long as somebody intending physical or sexual harm has no previous conviction, they can now gain access to children on paying a fee of £64. Should any sensible head teacher or other person in a position of responsibility use their experience or common sense to deny access to children by permit-holding applicants whose motives they suspect, will they be liable to claims for unfair discrimination? How long will it be before somebody with full government clearance is arrested for abusing children?
Could this vetting process turn into a paedophile's charter?
When religion denies rights
I believe Charly Leach (letters, 14 September) is right to call for a wider debate about the recent unrest outside the Harrow mosque. As a non-believer I'm concerned about many facets of organised religions, and see the worst of these as unashamedly fascistic.
I know I'm not alone. We are constantly being reassured that faiths are forces for good, and I'm sure that for the most part they are, but we also keep reading about those on the receiving end of inhuman acts sanctioned by ancient texts.
As someone who sees himself as a bit of an old leftie, I am also confused by the perceived politics of the issue. People who share my reservations are being branded right-wing or racist. The only racists I see are those who think rights for women, homosexuals, atheists and apostates belong to white westerners rather than their brown-skinned counterparts both here and abroad.
I believe it's the downtrodden who need respect, not the doctrines that persecute them. Religion should stop getting such a free ride.
Christina Patterson (12 September) has transmuted the widely reported fact that Mohammed is now the second or third most popular name for boys in the UK into "a third of male babies are now called Mohammed". This is very, very wrong, and the sort of thing that can only fuel the anti-Muslim sentiments reported in your paper that same day.
About 3 per cent of the population of the UK professes to be Muslim. Perhaps Ms Patterson could calculate the birthrate that British Muslims would need to achieve her "third of male babies".
Opportunity for voting reform
That the Government is at last considering a referendum on our voting system is great news (11 September). It is a shame that Labour did not act earlier on its 1997 promise, and that there is now no chance of changing the voting system before the next general election. However, a referendum that could make the next election the last under current rules, and that allows us to vote for a better form of politics, must be welcomed.
The choice of question, however, is important. A referendum on only a change to the alternative vote (AV) system would not offer a chance to make Parliament more effective and representative, and it would still leave us with too many wasted votes and too many MPs in the comfort of safe seats. A referendum on AV would be a wasted opportunity.
The Jenkins Commission recommended AV-plus, not to produce proportional representation but to overcome the worst defects of our present system. It is therefore preferable to AV.
But if the Government wants a referendum that could change the culture of our politics, it needs to re-read the reports of the Kerley, Sutherland and Richard Commissions, all set up by Labour-led administrations in Scotland and Wales, and all of which recommended the single transferable vote.
Dr Ken Ritchie
Electoral Reform Society
At last, a little good news on climate
Most scientific opinions we see about the natural feedback from human-created global warming concentrate on areas where the feedback will exacerbate the warming effect – frozen marshes releasing methane, for example.
Your report on the high rainfall in Scotland this year (12 September) suggests another possibility. The high rainfall may come from "more water evaporating from the sea surface". More cloud cover means less warming. So it's possible that some of the natural feedback may actually ameliorate the warming effects. Some good news about global warning, in The Independent. Whatever next?
Mark Lynas's article (10 September) on refraining from flying, as a method of combating climate change, infuriates the reader because of its frustrating requirement to do what is impossible for the individual citizen.
To refrain from making a journey by air does not, in fact, save any fuel. The flight goes ahead anyway. Only if so many people refrain from making a flight that it becomes unprofitable for the airline to continue does it become likely that a service will be withdrawn from the schedules and so save fuel. There isn't an individual solution, as with insulating homes or leaving the car in the garage.
With all of the current comment on the environment it seems that there is a ghost at the feast: population.
Every single person on the planet will use up some of the planet's resources; this is an unavoidable consequence of being alive. We simply must have a debate on worldwide population controls if we are to achieve equilibrium between life and nature.
This may well offend some, such as Catholics, Muslims and the "human rights" brigade, but the sooner politicians have the courage to face up to this, and debate it, the sooner we will be able to guarantee a decent living for all of the world's population.
Ian Quale writes (letter, 11 September) that nothing will push politicians into action until their electorates are directly affected by climate change.
So why is the media so full of information about submerging Bangladesh and Pacific islands while saying nothing of regions where those electorates live – Florida, the Thames estuary? Will Hampstead and Mill Hill be islands? Can we see a map?
David Cameron is proposing to cut the cost of politics with measures including realistic bar prices at the House of Commons. I didn't notice any propsal to introduce pro-rata salaries for all the part-time MPs. Could that be because so many of the Conservative MPs also rely on directorships?
They were warned
You are too generous when you describe the silencing effects of the 2003 Licensing Act, the 2003 Antisocial Behaviour Act and the 2005 Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act as "unintended consequences" (leading article, 12 September). The effects were pointed out, loudly, but the Government just went ahead. Labour, since it came to power, has constantly claimed to be legislating to solve "problems", but in reality creates laws that are drawn too widely, catch innocent behaviour or simply create hypothecated taxes.
Surely Nick Griffin will not dare to face a Question Time audience if he knows they will only ask him: where exactly does he plan to find homes and jobs on this small island for all the repatriated descendants of white British immigrants to North America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand?
It is not only independent and grammar schools rejecting pupils who might spoil their A-level reputation (letter, 14 September). Our local high-achieving comprehensive school has been gradually raising its sixth-form entry requirements, making it more difficult for pupils to remain at their own school. Oh for a time when schools could be allowed to foster all pupils rather than being pressured to improve their position in the league tables.
Out of time
I grudgingly accept "going forward", a usage that has annoyed some of your correspondents, but why do people keep disappointing me by telling me that a certain outcome will occur "at the end of the day"? Even when I stay up until midnight, nothing seems to happen.
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