Bill's Archived Comments

for the week beginning: Monday, 18th March 2002

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Contents of this page (scroll down the page to see the full text of the article which interests you)

- Britain to Send Additional 1,700 Troops to Afghanistan (19 March 2002)

- Gibraltarians Demonstrate Against UK/Spanish Deal on 'Sell-out' (19 March 2002)

- Leadership Accountability for Inhuman Policies - Why so Tenuous? (19 March 2002)

- Zimbabwe is Suspended (at long last!) from the Commonwealth (19 March 2002)

- The Sickness at the Heart of the Catholic Church (20 March 2002)

- Francis Maude Warns That Conservative Party Faces Oblivion (22 March 2002)


Britain to Send Additional 1,700 Troops to Afghanistan (19 March 2002)

It was announced yesterday that the UK is to send a 1,700-strong commando force to Afghanistan to help American troops root out remnants of al-Qaa'ida and the Taliban. Apparently, according to Defence sources, the Americans have asked specifically for 45 Commando because of its expertise in mountain warfare (they train regularly in Norway). The new British contingent will bring to about 6,400 the number of UK military personnel in Afghanistan.

The work to be done in Afghanistan is likely to be long and hard - and it is unfortunately all too likely that there will be a price to pay in casualties; the decision to deploy more troops is hard, but the consequences of not doing so would likely be even less palatable, specially in the longer term. Good luck to them, and a speedy and safe return!

Gibraltarians Demonstrate Against UK/Spanish Deal on 'Sell-out' (19 March 2002)

The reasons why Gibraltar is British are rooted in history; briefly, under the Treaty of Utrecht 1713, Spain ceded sovereignty of the Rock of Gibraltar to the British. Ever since, this has been a bone of contention in UK/Spanish relations, but for the last 40 or 50 years it is probably true to say that the restrictions placed on relations with Gibraltar by Spain have become more numerous and divisive.

Until now, the position of the British Government has been that the UK will retain sovereignty over Gibraltar for as long as the people of the territory wish it; a referendum was held in Gibraltar in 1967 and resulted in an overwhelmingly pro-British vote (12,138 votes to 44). It now appears that the UK Government is in process of signing an agreement with the Spanish Government that the UK accepts Spanish sovereignty, with the proviso that this will not come into effect until the people of Gibraltar agree to it. On the surface, perhaps a subtle change.

But not so subtle as all that, because it is reported that a package of EU investment amounting to roughly £35 million will be made available should the Gibraltarians accept the change. That is the carrot. The stick is that should they not accept the change they will continue to suffer the consequences of Spanish anger (border restrictions, etc) with only minimal - if that - support from Britain. Under the British Nationality Act 1981, Gibraltarians were granted full British citizenship - and this is how they are now treated; it is an outrage.

Yesterday a significant proportion of the whole population, somewhere between 15,000 and 24,000 in all according to reports, demonstrated their opposition to the proposed deal and their desire for Gibraltar to remain what it has been for almost 300 years - British.

Both Spain and the UK (including Gibraltar) are members of the EU and there was a temporary respite from Spanish pettiness when it was applying to join the EEC (as it then was), because Britain agreed not to block Spain's entry as a sign of goodwill - this all appears to have been forgotten. Personally, if the Gibraltarians ever do choose to become Spanish, and for Gibraltar itself to become Spanish, I will be perfectly happy, but this crude attempt to coerce British citizens to choose this change is sickening.

Leadership Accountability for Inhuman Policies - Why so Tenuous? (19 March 2002)

Slobodan Milosevic, former 'tyrant' of Serbia, is currently on trial at The Hague for 'crimes against humanity'; it is by no means certain that the prosecution against him will succeed, although it seems clear that even if he did not personally kill, he was at the very least aware of what was going on in the territory he controlled and was more than likely the creator of the climate there that allowed such things to happen.

A couple of years ago Augusto Pinochet was arrested whilst visiting London because of allegations covering the period when he was the head of the Chilean Government; he is believed to have presided over a regime which flagrantly flouted civil liberties within the country even though this period formed the foundation for the economic success Chile has enjoyed since. Eventually he was deported to Chile, but the 'punishment' he has received has been minor.

This article has been prompted by a programme on television on Sunday (17 March) - it comprised an interview with Nuon Chea, formerly 'Brother Number Two' in the Khmer Rouge regime which governed Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 when, according to best estimates, roughly 1.7 million people (approximately one quarter of the total population) were killed or starved to death. This odious individual denied all knowledge of the 'alleged' (his words) atrocities, but still appeared to believe that the 'revolution' could have succeeded were it not for the 'enemies of the people' who had betrayed it.

I believe strongly in 'due process', but this monster calmly stated that he was unaware of the activities conducted at the Tol Sleng detention centre (S.21) in central Phnom Penh, which I have visited, where large numbers of victims were tortured and killed in efforts to make them 'confess' - it was all most carefully documented by the Khmer Rouge governor who ran this place, a former high school in happier days. It is inconceivable to me that Pol Pot's immediate deputy could have been unaware of this. Testimony from one of the prison guards who carried out torture regularly at this centre was delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, betraying little overt sorrow; the man simply stated that he was 'acting under orders' and that he would have been killed had he not complied - that much is credible, I think, and fortunately very few of us are called upon to make the moral choices people like him were (and it is difficult to judge with any accuracy how one might react in the same situation), so I would hesitate to criticise him too harshly for having followed said orders. But as for the political and military leaders such as Nuon Chea, it is truly sickening that he should be permitted to live out his declining years at liberty - I hope fervently that the reporter, Phil Rees, succeeds in gathering sufficient proof against Nuon Chea to justify an indictment for crimes against humanity so that he is forced to answer for his crimes.

Zimbabwe is Suspended (at long last!) from the Commonwealth (19 March 2002)

Today, at a meeting in London of the 'triumvirate' designated to deal with the matter (comprising the Presidents of South Africa and Nigeria and the Prime Minister of Australia), the decision was taken to suspend Zimbabwe from Commonwealth councils for a year.

This is certainly welcome, but it seems to me somewhat overdue (I'm trying to put this as politely as I can).

Since his election 'victory' (theft?), President Mugabe has signed into law legislation which had to be postponed because of the pending Presidential election, which requires journalists to be licensed before they can exercise their trade. On top of all his other abuses of power, this measure will make it extremely difficult for journalists within Zimbabwe to maintain their ability to report freely on what they see going on around them, which they have managed to do with great courage until now, and the difficulties placed in the way of foreign journalists reporting from within Zimbabwe or gleaning information from outside, will mean that independent reporting of what is occurring in Zimbabwe will be even scarcer than it has been recently.

And what will happen after the year of suspension is over? One must hope, I suppose, that South Africa is exerting influence through private diplomacy to try and rein in President Mugabe. I am not sanguine.

The Sickness at the Heart of the Catholic Church (20 March 2002)

Over the past year or two there have been regular revelations in the media about misconduct by Roman Catholic personnel, amongst whom priests, bishops and archbishops, involving their sexual misconduct and amounting, in many cases, to straight criminal offences, coupled with administrative neglect on the part of the more senior personnel.

Recently, for example, there has been a furore in Boston concerning a Bishop who failed to act when he became aware of paedophile behaviour amongst his priests.

In the UK, too, at the time of the recent ordination of the current Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, it was revealed that he had on a number of occasions, whilst a Bishop, moved priests around within his diocese who had committed paedophile offences and that they had subsequently committed further similar offences. I recall listening to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor trying to explain why he had done what he had - this very intelligent gentleman was obviously extremely embarrassed at the revelations and could only give what sounded like a rather weak apology. It makes me very sad when I recall what a good man was his predecessor, Cardinal Archbishop George Basil Hume OSB. Also in the UK, there were persistent stories (difficult for the Church to rebut because there existed too much supporting evidence) relating to the late Cardinal Archbishop of Glasgow, Cardinal Thomas Joseph Winning, who had on a number of occasions moved priests to different parishes in the wake of paedophile offences which they had committed, and allowed them to continue with their ministry.

And now, in a television documentary about the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, it is revealed that over a period of almost TWENTY YEARS a priest by the name of Fr Sean Fortune committed serial paedophile offences against youths and young men, if the 66 indictments against him prior to his death by suicide recently are any guide. Furthermore, and perhaps even more shocking, it is revealed that the Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, took no action for six years (until he was forced to do so by persistent complaints from victims and their parents) against Fr Fortune. It appears that Fr Fortune exploited the respect normally granted to priests in Ireland to bully and intimidate many of his victims into silence, and even where this was not effective the Church authorities, in the person of Bishop Comiskey, declined to give any [apparent] credence to what he had been told by some of these victims and their parents; when action was eventually taken, Fr Fortune fled (taking a substantial amount of Church funds with him) to Belgium and when extradited back to Ireland, succeeded in committing suicide while released on bail. [One could not make this up - truth is sometimes even more bizarre than fiction).

One of the victims, now a man in his twenties (I think), explained very cogently what had happened to him and the effect of the assaults he suffered at the hands of Fr Fortune - he also related how he had been threatened by the 'good' Father that he would pay for it if he ever spoke about it; when he assured Fr Fortune that we would remain silent, provided the Father assured HIM that he would not commit similar acts against other people, the father indicated he had no real intention of stopping. So the young man decided to act and the Police were informed. This young man and a number of others are now suing Bishop Comiskey, the Catholic Church in the form of the Papal Nuncio (Ambassador) in Ireland and His Holiness the Pope - and the response of the Vatican is - what do you think? Well, the Catholic Church is claiming 'diplomatic immunity'.

As the young interviewee said, 'it is simply not good enough' and he repeated this phrase three times in a mixture of anger and anguish about the hurt he had been caused.

It appears from these cases, and many more I have heard about over the years, that there exists a sickness at the heart of the Catholic Church, and that this sickness is longstanding and spread through the Church in many countries - and the Church tries to claim 'diplomatic immunity'. It disgusts me.  (Click here to read about later developments.)

Francis Maude Warns That Conservative Party Faces Oblivion (22 March 2002)

Writing in the Spectator, Francis Maude, the former shadow foreign secretary and shadow chancellor, says that the Conservative party faces oblivion unless it changes its approach to society. He writes that the party has teetered on the brink of oblivion several times in its history and might this time not survive. He says that despite signs of change under Iain Duncan Smith - including a new approach to public services and home affairs - the party's deep-rooted problems have yet to be overcome. "Stagnation and oblivion or radicalism and revival? Modernise or die? It's obvious, isn't it?," he writes. In a stark message to the party leadership ahead of this weekend's Conservative spring conference he says that "time is not on our side. It is five to midnight."

He said the party must reflect the face of contemporary Britain and practise grown-up politics. "In the days of the cold war, when socialism was serious, a grand canyon separated the parties. There remain sharp differences, but they are not such that the old adversarial politics are appropriate." Mr Maude said the party must concentrate on "groupism", supporting what people do, in groups and communities in the "fantastically complex tapestry of voluntary organisations"; social justice, with proper ideas for welfare reform; "localism", dispersing power away from the centre; and "internationalism", an outlook which meant the Tories could not be depicted as narrow, xenophobic, or Little Englanders. He added: "As Conservatives we believe in choice and we now have the starkest possible choice: we can retreat further into a reactionary redoubt and try to hold the modern world at bay, or we can rise up and embrace it."

Whilst I admire Mr Maude for trying to wake the Conservative Party up to the danger it faces, I suspect that the rot has now gone so far, with the largely elderly Party membership unwilling, perhaps unable, to contemplate the policy changes which would be necessary for the Party to prosper again, that it will continue on its merry way, thinking that Iain Duncan Smith is doing a fine job, rather than (as I see it) leading the Party down a cul de sac.


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Copyright © 2002 William Cameron