Letters: The Geneva Convention


Watering down the Geneva Convention would delight al-Qa'ida

Sir: The Defence Minister, Dr John Reid, claims that "the legal constraints upon us have to be set against an enemy that adheres to no constraints whatsoever" (Report, 4 April).

In fact, al-Qa'ida is always elated if we break international law because when we do - as in the invasion of Iraq and torture - they get more supporters, more recruits and more funding.

When our governments order unprovoked attacks on countries that pose no threat to us in breach of the UN Charter; order attacks on cities or air strikes based on suspect intelligence, inevitably killing civilians, or, as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report, tacitly allow torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in breach of the 1984 Convention, then we hand the terrorists a victory.

Changing international law to allow these kinds of acts would not make them any less wrong. Nor would al-Qa'ida gain any less from them.

If we water down the Geneva Convention, the protection it gives our armed forces will be weakened, putting them at greater risk if they end up as prisoners of another country's military. Dr Reid's plan, like our presence in Iraq, needlessly endangers our troops.

If we throw away long-established rights such as habeas corpus, and weaken international law and the Geneva Convention, we will have done what the terrorists cannot do, undermined democracy and the rule of law.



Sir: John Reid should be wary of the company he keeps. He claims there should be a right to mount pre-emptive strikes on a perceived threat, as Hitler did on Poland. He also advocates confronting by force regimes brutalising their inhabitants, an excuse used by Hitler for the invasion of Czechoslovakia and Poland. Dr Reid's motives are undoubtedly honorable, but changing the rules governing warfare could play into the hands of tyrants.



NHS apathy on the environment

Sir: I work as an SRN in the NHS, in what was our local hospital which now operates as a minor injuries unit, a day surgery and out-patients clinics, with two elderly-care units.

I was asked by Matron to flag up green issues relevant to our NHS Trust. This I am doing but the apathy encountered toward recycling is frustrating to the point of almost despair, with little or no awareness of the need to recycle and lack of facilities to do so for those who do care.

Under the guise of "infection control", the teapot has become redundant, as are cups and saucers, replaced by a hot-drinks trolley with cardboard cups. The patients use 144 cups a day, 1,008 a week and 51,416 a year.

There has been no kitchen for years. Patients' food is cooked in Bristol (Avon), sent to and stored in Bridport (Dorset) and delivered 17 miles to us every day. Our county's main hospital is seven miles from us and has cooking facilities to serve all catering needs for patients, staff and visitors. Could they not serve our needs, too? No provision is made for staff food requirements, not even a sandwich-vending machine. The patients' food yields a waste of at least 25 large aluminium foil containers a day.

During four drug rounds every day, we use a minimum of 96 plastic medicine pots, 34,944 a year. Individual food packaging - butter portions, jam, marmalade, Marmite, salt and pepper sachets etc - seem more a case of portion control rather than infection control. All of the above statistics relate solely to one ward of 24 beds.

The apparent apathy or/and ignorance is frightening. I am trying to highlight these issues to our Trust managers but they seem bemused and surprised. I feel change will be very slow, if it comes at all.

I am writing this in the hope that it may encourage individuals, families and large organisations to sit up, take notice and join the fight to save and protect our environment for ourselves and generations come.



Sir: I have been reading your articles about climate change with an increasing sense of puzzlement. Why are nearly all commentators ignoring the issue of population growth as the single biggest cause of climate change? Is it because the issues are just too hard for governments and civilised society to deal with?

Perhaps we are discomfited by the unpleasant side-effects of the "one child" policy in China, or by the recognition that marginal land in Africa, Bangladesh and other areas really cannot support the growing human populations trying to subsist in those locations.

The world's population is growing by 200,000 a day. The absence of organised efforts by the UN and leading nations to tackle population growth while we still have the opportunity to do it in a civilised way makes it more likely that the world ecosystem will reduce human population in a disruptive and unpleasant way. Hopefully, this will not be large-scale conflict, but it seems increasingly likely that it will include massive food and water shortages, leading to disruption of economies and uncontrolled migration.

Of course, it could also be a major pandemic; maybe bird flu could be the salvation of the human race.



Sir: Jemima Lewis (Opinion, 1 April) just doesn't get it; or maybe she does, but finds the consequences too awful to contemplate. So it's "shop we must", even if the icecaps melt and the poor starve.

Nature is bringing us to our senses. It won't let us "carry on shopping"; if we do, it will really be shop till you drop for a disturbingly large proportion of humanity. Are we prepared to live with the knowledge that the system we're addicted to will benefit only a minority; that it's designed to channel ever greater amounts of money into ever fewer hands?

Everything we need (not want) depends only on the availability of natural resources plus human creativity and labour. Art, music, architecture, poetry, theatre were not invented by capitalist societies. All these - and a much more fulfilling way of life - are possible with little or no money. But only as long as we cease to accept that the relative few have a right to corner most of the riches of the earth for themselves.



Costs and benefits of immigration

Sir: The argument that millions of jobs would go unfilled if it were not for immigration ignores the basic law of supply and demand (Report, 31 March). What would happen, in the absence of a pool of immigrants willing to undertake unpleasant jobs for low pay, is that those hiring for such jobs would be forced to offer prospective employees higher wages and better working conditions. We should recognise that while many of us win by more liberal immigration policies, some of us lose by them.

Ironically, in Britain the downward pressure on wages and conditions brought about by immigration is felt most keenly by exactly those groups whose pay and conditions have been damaged the most by the "flexible labour market" policies pursued by both major political parties since the early 1980s; young workers (often unskilled) and those disadvantaged by reasons of class or race.

The benefits from immigration have accrued more broadly to consumers and taxpayers of all classes, who, as a result of lower labour costs, pay less for goods and services than would otherwise be the case.

In light of this, a good first step in promoting more liberal attitudes towards immigration may be to acknowledge that the costs and benefits of immigration have not been shared equally to this point, and to seek ways to redress this imbalance.



Council has learnt from its mistakes

Sir: Your article"Biography of Shirley Porter lays bare her abuse of power" (23 March), wrongly claims that the settlement between Westminster council and Dame Shirley Porter was "cheap" and the council was reluctant to pursue the cash.

It was endorsed by the Audit Commission in 2004, which noted the council's "persistence and determination". The council is satisfied that it acted appropriately, and with due rigour, at all times in seeking recovery of the surcharge.

The BBC Today programme was helpful in putting third-party information into the public domain, which proved useful, but this was only one part of a wider picture of disclosure orders and other investigations that led to the recovery of more than £12m.

This council has learnt from the mistakes made many years ago.



Help for the Aids orphans of Zambia

Sir: In response to Basil Eastwood's letter concerning the neglected Aids orphans of Zambia (20 March), I would like to stress that the EU remains committed to the millennium development goal of universal primary education.

EU funding for the NGO scheme supporting education for orphans was stopped after a decision by the Zambian government to provide free basic education. In line with the Zambian government's wishes, the EU now provides support to the education sector through its new five-year education strategic plan. As a result of this plan and the EU's support, Zambia has had a significant increase in net enrolment of children in schools, and equality between girls and boys.

Although the orphan project was universally recognised as being very successful, to avoid duplications and ensure EU funds are used to maximum effect, it was not possible for the EU to continue to provide funding under the new strategy.

NGOs such as Mr Eastwood's Cecily's Fund are still able to access other sources of EU funding for educational initiatives. In particular, the European Commission has created a special budget line for NGO funding. I understand the EU delegation in Zambia has advised Cecily's Fund of such alternative funding and I sincerely hope they take up this advice and continue their useful work.



Memories of a great escaper

Sir: I was very pleased with Jonathan Brown's tribute to Squadron-Leader Eric Foster (Report, 28 March).

In October 2004, a small group from the RAF Association and Aircrew Association in Dorset were invited by the Luftwaffe Association to join them for their annual remembrance service at Geisenheim, near Rudesheim, for all aircrew who lost their lives in the Second World War.

Thirteen nations were represented, among them Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Poland, Russia, British Commonwealth and the United States.

We were privileged to share the occasion with Sqdn-Ldr Foster at the age of 101, a most charming and energetic man for his years. At the celebratory dinner, on board a Rhine river cruiser, Luftwaffe Colonel Wilhelm Gobel paid tribute to their honoured guest Eric by admitting: "During the war, we could not keep him in. Now we cannot keep him out."

He will be missed but long remembered by both associations.



Sex and the single girl

Sir: Catherine Townsend might do well to reflect that she is benefiting very nicely from the double standards she bemoans (Column, 4 April). I accept that promiscuous women tend to be judged more harshly than their male counterparts, but I also suspect it unlikely that The Independent would have employed a male journalist to pen a weekly column with no more substance than an account of his recent sexual conquests. Double standards they may be, but at least they ensure that Ms Townsend is able to pay her way on a date.



High prices to see Judi

Sir: David Lister's article about the cost of tickets to see Dame Judi at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (The Week in Arts, 1 April) needs a postscript. People who book by phone will have a £3.10 service charge added. Per ticket. Four tickets for us to visit the Haymarket came to £180, plus an additional £12.40. Letters to the manager of the theatre and the Kenwright organisation asking for justification of these costs has not elicited a response.



An Olympic effort

Sir: To say I have not consulted on the Olympics is completely wrong (Letter, 30 March). For the past three years, I have consistently kept Londoners up to date on the benefits and costs of staging the 2012 Games and my position on this matter was clear during the mayoral election in 2004. Londoners' support for the 2012 Games has never been stronger as the latest MORI survey shows, with 74 per cent saying they believe the Olympics will be good for London.



Blunkett bares all

Sir: Isn't life strange? Only months ago, David Blunkett was battling heroically against an intrusive press for his right to privacy. And now we await the imminent release of his "rigorously honest autobiography", sold to Bloomsbury Publishing for a mere £440,000. One more testament to political integrity for the collection.



Thumbs up

Sir Louis Nizer got it slightly wrong, with his four fingers pointing at himself, when he points at his neighbour (Thought of the Day, 3 April). Since the thumb points skywards, should it not be three fingers?



Briefs encountered

Sir: I am so not interested in how David Beckham arranges his refrigerator, (Report, 3 April) but I think the nation should know why he needs 780 pairs of underpants per annum. A case of being grossly over-underpanted?



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