31 July 2004

WMDs, right here, in East Anglia

By Rupert Read

The "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of … a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances", is a crime against peace (Nuremberg Principle VI.a).

Sixty five years ago, Nazi Germany initiated a war of aggression. Two years later, Japan did the same. Their rulers were rightly found guilty of crimes against peace at Nuremberg and elsewhere.

Fifty nine years ago, next week, the first true weapons of mass destruction dropped on the unsuspecting civilian population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the most appalling results. Opinions differ about whether this was a war crime, for which the American President and military should have been held criminally responsible, under the Nuremberg principles. I believe it was, but I can see the counter-arguments.

Two years ago, the British people were told that Iraq had WMDs, and that therefore we should support the Americans in their pre-emptive war against Iraq.

Given that we now know that there was no reliable intelligence that Iraq had any WMDs, what is the difference between a war of aggression and a 'pre-emptive' war?

We were seriously misled over Iraq's alleged WMDs. With 40 MPs writing to Kofi Annan, this week, calling for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on the UK involvement in Iraq, this unprovoked attack on Iraq may yet be judged internationally for what is was - a war crime.

But it gets worse. Iraq had no WMDs, only lots of oil. But America and Britain DO have WMDs. Hundreds - thousands - of them. Where? All over Britain, in nuclear bases. Like the pretty village of Lakenheath, where the EDP is sold next door to an ugly American military base.

Last month, some brave friends of mine, most of them former UEA students, decided to inspect Britain's WMDs. They cut their way into Burghfield , near Aldermaston, distributing leaflets informing the base personnel of the criminality of the Trident nuclear weapons at Burghfield.

Why is Trident illegal?

The laws of war require military force to be proportionate to the objective. The use of nuclear weapons can never be justified. They cannot distinguish between civilians and military targets. The horrific effects of nuclear weapons cross borders. In 1996, the ICJ ruled that even the 'mere' threat of use of nuclear weapons would be unlawful except possibly if the very survival of the State was at stake.

The Trident weapons system threatens the rest of the world. It says, even to countries which, like Iraq, pose no threat to the survival of Britain, "You!: Damn well do as we, and our American allies, say; otherwise, you're dead." In March 2002, our Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, threatened explicitly to use nuclear weapons against Iraq.

Trident is a war crime waiting to happen - its possession without any serious attempt to negotiate it away, is illegal, for exactly the same reason that it was illegal for Hitler to plan to attack Poland, for Japan to plan to attack Pearl Harbour, and for America and Britain to plan to attack Iraq.

The UK signed the (nuclear) Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, agreeing "in good faith" to work to cease the nuclear arms race leading to complete disarmament. That's probably the same "good faith" that Tony Bliar has shown, over Iraq's supposed WMDs! But, I hear you ask, if we do not keep our "deterrent", how will we stop the threats of 'terrorism' and of 'rogue states'?

The first step would be to stop terrorising the world, ourselves. To stop being the poodle - or rather, rottweiler - of the world's leading rogue state, a state that shows no interest whatsoever in abiding by any international agreements, be they on climate change, WMDs, or Iraq. I am referring, of course, to the USA.

It is time for, we, the citizens of Britain to say "We will not be hypocrites any longer". If we are to deny Iraq the right to hold onto its (non-existent!) WMDs, we must give up our own.

The 'Burghfield six' go on trial in September. You can go to court, listen to their powerful arguments for why they should be found 'Not Guilty'. Or: you can do as they did. If our government will not let go of its WMDs, oughtn't we to take matters into our own hands? Isn't that what our shared humanity calls us to do? If we believe in the rule of international law, mustn't we take all necessary measures to rid the world of WMDs that might one day be used - in our name?

Thanks to Maggie Charnley, Zina Zelter and Kathryn Amos for research - and inspiration - for this column.

24 July 2004

'Celebrate humanity' - the sporting way

By Marguerite Finn

Readers of a certain age may remember the hit song of the Kinks, "Dedicated Follower of Fashion":
    'They seek him here, they seek him there,
    His clothes are loud, but never square,
    It will make or break him so he's got to buy the best,
    'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.'
With the 2004 Olympic Games only a few days away, these words are a poignant reminder of the enormous power of peer pressure and targeted marketing. Garments bearing leading brand names and the Olympic logo will be sought after fashion items. Perhaps this is the time to think about what happens to the people who make these clothes.

The promotional caption for the 2004 Olympics is "Celebrate Humanity". It is a noble motto and it reflects the aim of the Olympic Charter : "everywhere to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity". The International Olympic Committee (IOC) exists to see that all connected with the Olympics abide by the principles of the Charter.

Sportswear is big business. In 2002 it was worth more than $58 billion worldwide. Not surprising that all the top brands are vying for a slice of that market - and its profits! Customers constantly demand goods at ever lower prices, forcing companies to choose suppliers who can manufacture at low cost - whatever the 'knock-on' effects on the workers. The majority of workers in the sportswear industry are women whose health, children and family life are suffering from long hours, poor working conditions and low pay. In peak seasons, 7-day working is the norm and in some factories it is common to find workers doing 16-18 hour shifts without proper breaks. One factory in Thailand resorted to distributing amphetamine tablets to workers so that they could work on through the night after their day shift! Human dignity ?

Many factories employ workers on short-term contracts or without contracts at all, thus denying them the legal minimum wage, statutory overtime payments or sickness allowances and banning trade unions. This story is repeated in almost all of the traditional garment-producing countries. Further along the supply-chain, the situation is as bad. The textile bleaching and dying processes carried out in the Tirupur area of Southern India create serious threats to human health and the environment. The people of Tirupur depend on water, which, according to World Health Organisation standards, is not fit for consumption or for irrigation purposes. The treatment of waste water is wholly inadequate. There are 800 bleaching and dyeing units in Tirupur, using 60,000 kilos of chemicals and over 115 million litres of fresh water per day.

What can be done about this appalling situation ? There are two sets of people who can change the way things are done: the buyers for the major sports brands and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The intense competition between companies to deliver constantly changing fashion at ever lower prices has put pressure on suppliers who, in turn, have responded by pushing their workers to work faster and longer. Factory managers claim that buyers use the threat of 're-location' to keep prices down, consequently workers are hired and fired at will and factories have no spare money to invest in health, education or safe working conditions.

In March 2004, Norwich-based Labour Behind the Label, together with Oxfam and TUC, launched the Play Fair at the Olympics Campaign calling on global sportswear retailers and Olympic institutions to respect workers' rights. Labour Behind the Label acknowledges that certain big brands have made progress but others have done too little to meet their responsibilities. Fair Play at the Olympics calls on the British Olympic Association (BOA) to use its voice as the UK representative on the IOC to ensure respect for workers' rights in Olympic-related contracts.

The most influential set of people who can improve the lives of the sportswear workers are ourselves - the customers. Big Brands, unwilling to lose market share, will listen to what their customers want. So, be a 'dedicated follower of fashion' but also be a dedicated questioner about the labour behind the fashionable label.

Contact Labour Behind the Label at 38, Exchange Street, Norwich NR2 1AX. Tel: 01603-610993; e-mail lbl@gn.apc.org ; website: http://www.fairolympics.org/.

I would like to thank Chantal Finney (LBL) and Pamela Lowe (UNA) for the inspiration for this article.

17 July 2004

How 'Active Peace' can abolish war

By Andrew Boswell

It seems violence is everywhere. Never ending. Countless wars in the last 50 years. Women and children often suffering the most. Human created disasters are an icon of our time. Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and the Sudan just the latest.

Yet the Seville Statement on Violence, published in 1986, by 20 leading scientists and states no gene, brain mechanism or pre-determined behaviour pattern has been found to suggest an innate violence in humanity.

So why doesn't peace break out? For the last 8000 years, a dominance culture has prevailed that values the 'masculine' over the 'feminine'. Our culture accepts waging war, perceiving it as dynamic, active and masculine - 'doing something'. Violent activity has prospered and become institutionalized. Just look around - excessively militarised societies, economies bankrolled by the huge global arms trade, and media obsessed with sensationalizing conflict.

As long as we accept this silently, we are passively colluding with this violence. Great practitioners of non-violent resistance to dominance, like Gandhi, have taught that peace is an active process. Now, the proliferation of atomic weapons demands that we all become practitioners of 'Active Peace'.

This means, first, waking up and weaning ourselves as individuals from the cultural grip of violence. Pervasive violence must then be transformed to dynamic peace from the local to the global, the individual to the species. As the Movement for the Abolition War (MAW) chair, Bruce Kent, says "I live in a fairly multiracial, turbulent area … but we manage to live together … and I believe that that image - of the small London street living together harmoniously - is the one we should try to transpose to the world community."

Around the world, this is what people want - a Culture of Peace. More than 1% of humanity, 75 million people, signed Manifesto 2000 and made the commitment to cultivate peace in their daily lives.

The 1999 UN Declaration on a Culture of Peace emphasised starting with children and peace education to address the cultural causes of violence. Children suffer an ever increasing pressure to be consumers and to become the cogs of future economic expansion. The essential space and time of childhood to touch and grow peace within must be cultivated rather than being eroded further. Urgently needed peace education can be simply learning to share, to listen and to understand others, helping to make conflict resolution a way of life from an early age.

The UK citizenship curriculum is a good step, but, Charles Clarke please note, it needs to be self development and exploration, rather than more study. The practical 'peace keys' in Manifesto 2000 provide a brilliant backbone for exploring citizenship - this needs to be given a much greater priority by our educators.

However, the primary cultural priority of endless economic growth leads to exploitation of people and nature alike. A future global society of real freedom, social justice, sustainable development, and human rights - the One World - can not be built for our children without an urgent change in mainstream values and corporate behaviour.

'Active Peace' requires that governments initiate high priority and challenging programmes in disarmament, environmental protection, poverty elimination, conflict resolution, peace building. Ministries for Peace" in Government, and independent Commissions for Peace, could oversee the necessary social and political transformations. We do not lack the skills - there are plenty experts to start this and train others. However, we urgently need a new political will, and much greater resources, to develop this to a working reality. The well established campaign in the UK (see http://www.ministryforpeace.org.uk/) has already included discussions in Parliament.

The aim is the abolition of War before it is too late. MAW has recently created an inspiring short video called 'War, No More', including our local Martin Bell, the broadcaster Jon Snow, and the Green MEP Caroline Lucas on this topic.

We are on the edge of the abyss, yet, the potential for 'Active Peace' has never been greater. As the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said "The 21st century is a green, beautiful hill with … all the wonders of life. Let us climb [this hill] … not as separate individuals … humans can live together in true harmony with each other and with nature, … as cells live together in the same body, all in a real spirit of democracy and equality."

Active Peace is thriving in Norfolk with an exhibition hosted by Norwich Cathedral, "From Hiroshima to World Peace - exploring many paths to peace", from August 4th to 17th.

10 July 2004

'Iraqi Sovereignty' or 'Arab Façade'?

By Ian Sinclair

The recent handover of 'full sovereignty' to the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) begs too many questions.

Why would the west be pumping billions of dollars into the country and risking the lives of their armed forces for project Iraqi Freedom? Are we really that altruistic or is there an ulterior motive? The west imports most of its oil and Iraq just happens to have the world's second largest oil reserves. Saudi Arabia, our constant and ruthless ally in the oil business, is now threatened by instability. As former US Assistant Secretary of Defence Lawrence Korb said regarding the area in 1991 "If [it] grew carrots we wouldn't give a damn."

If we are helping to create a democratic and free Iraq why is the 'coalition' sending thousands more troops? South Korea, the UK and the US have pledged up to 10,000 this summer, bringing the total in Iraq to around 160,000 - there at the "request" of the IIG, apparently. Do they really need that many troops in a country which has been "liberated from tyranny"? Surely they should have been welcomed with "open arms" as the Bush Administration predicted. And why that many troops if, as pro-occupation politicians insist, the "terrorists" are a small minority comprised of former "Ba'ath party remnants" and "foreigner fighters"? In an agreement already made, the Coalition forces are exempt from prosecution in Iraq. Operating above the law of the land they will be free to commit any crime, torture or rape without fear of prosecution; only by their own governments.

Why, in a country liberated from tyranny is there now at least 4,000 to 5,000 Iraqis held in detention camps across the country without charge or legal representation? The dark shadow of Abu Ghraib and Saddam Hussein's feared secret police, originally recruited by the 'coalition', will continue to operate under the IIG. To further darken the picture the IIG, with the agreement of the US, is proposing the imposition of martial law - the calling card of every respectable Arab dictatorship. No prizes for guessing who the last person was to impose martial law on Iraq.

The oil revenues placed in trust for the Iraqi people are being spent on reconstruction contracts handed to mainly US firms. These contracts for reconstruction - running the oil industries, and privatizing water and electricity - were already signed off before the "handover of power".

Why, when the Iraqi people were polled and the majority chose Ayatollah Ali Sistani as their most popular leader has he been sidelined and Prime Minister Allawi been placed in power? Is it because the popular Sistani represents the Shia majority in Iraq and might create a powerful alliance with the Shia population in Iran - part of Bush's so called "axis of evil"?

Who is Allawi and how was he selected? Once a Ba'ath Party member, Allawi was exiled from Iraq in the 1970s and has been on the payroll of the CIA and MI6. He headed the CIA-funded Iraqi National Accord, which, we should not forget, was the source for the discredited claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. Originally the members of the IIG were to be chosen by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in consultation with the US and the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. However, Brahimi publicly noted his ability to choose the IIG had been "sharply limited" by American officials. Brahimi also called Paul Bremner, the US occupation administrator, "the dictator" of Iraq, arguing "nothing happens without his agreement in this country."

In all meaningful senses then, the occupation will continue under what Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary from 1919-22, called an "Arab façade ruled and administered under British guidance and controlled by a native Mohammedan and, as far as possible, by an Arab staff." The new ruler of Iraq in the real world is John Negroponte, the new US ambassador, who will head the largest US embassy in the world, fittingly situated in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.

If we really want a democratic Iraq, the mantra that Tony Blair is fond of repeating, then we should gradually withdraw troops, not escalate their numbers, offer the mechanism of a democratic election process via advice through the UN or NGOs (should the majority wish that) and allow the Iraqi people to choose for themselves. However, this does not suit the aims of the Bush Administration or its appointed IIG because the majority, as the polls show, would choose Sistani above Allawi, and favour restoring Iraq's resources under its own true sovereignty.

I would like to thank Peter Offord for the inspiration and much of the content of this column.

3 July 2004

Why does this new apartheid thrive?

By Rupert Read

There is a new obscenity in the Middle East, spreading like a disease across the landscape of Palestine, systematically cutting Palestinians off from each other, blasting houses and olive groves out of its way.

It is the 'apartheid wall', four times as high as the Berlin wall, designed to keep Israelis from ever meeting a real live Palestinian person, designed to make ordinary life impossible for Palestinians in the West Bank, and designed to smash the chances of there ever being a meaningful Palestinian state.

Remember the 'bantustans' in South Africa? Pathetic microscopic enclaves, surrounded by South African border guards? There you see the future of Palestine, if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his armed forces get their way. Palestine's best land and its water resources will continue be stolen by the Israeli 'settlers'; the rest of the country will be divided into Bantustan-like-areas.

What a tragedy that Israel, founded as a result of the most disgusting and ruthless racism in history, is now itself a practitioner of a new apartheid. What a tragedy that the Jewish state of Israel - some of whose citizens, as Holocaust survivors, were so utterly oppressed - has now become the oppressor. What a tragedy that, under the terms of this new apartheid, there are spanking-new roads, all over Palestine, that are for 'Israelis only'. It is no coincidence that Nelson Mandela is one of the foremost international spokespeople for the Palestinian people, and against their oppression at the hands of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and its US backers.

Many people in Israel do not support the policies of Sharon's Likud party, yet the systematic destruction of the Palestinian people continues because the people consent by silence to these atrocities.

Our silence, too, is not just consent, but allows the Israeli apartheid state to thrive. But there is hope in a sizeable and growing campaign of non-violent resistance to this obscenity. Large numbers of Palestinians are engaged in a struggle against the building of this wall. They are supported by a number of brave and determined Jewish-Israeli people, and by a growing 'International Solidarity Movement' (ISM), a kind of non-violent version of the international brigade that went to Spain in the late 1930s. This work is not for the faint hearted - a young American, Rachel Corrie, stood in front of bulldozer which was destroying Palestinian homes - she was literally, intentionally bulldozed to death. Earlier this year, a young British photographer, Tom Hurndall died after many months in coma - he was shot in the head by a soldier whilst with a peace group in Gaza. Just last month, three British parliamentarians on a UN sponsored visit and came under Israeli army fire themselves. They later said "If the IDF treat the UN in this fashion it is scarcely surprising that over 100 Palestinians died and over 400 were wounded in Gaza in the month of May alone."

There's a direct Norfolk link - Angie Zelter from north Norfolk co-leads the 'International Women's Peace Service', which plays a leading role in the ISM. They help the local people to continue living in this hell, in Salfit, an area of Palestine's occupied West Bank. For example, olives and olive oil are by far the largest agricultural products in the Palestinian economy, but due to violence and intimidation from Israeli settlers and army, it has been impossible for farmers to complete their harvest. The presence of the IWPS women observers helps reduce tension and intimidation so the villagers can make their harvest. (Such Palestinian Olive Oil may be bought locally - call 01603-722898.)

Non-violence works - take Gandhi's peaceful resistance in India; Martin Luther's King's defeat of racism in the American South; the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. These peaceful campaigns worked because they had wide popular support. This campaign too needs your support.

Don't just take my word for it; check out the graphic pictures of the apartheid wall, and bear witness to the video clip showing the gassing of elderly Palestinians who lay down in front of a bulldozer just two weeks ago, at http://www.iwps.info/.

Unfortunately, sometimes it seems as though the mainstream media are only interested in violent resistance to Israeli violence. The occasional suicide bombing gets huge coverage; the brave and difficult day-to-day campaign of non-violent resistance to the Israeli bulldozers gets very little. What's worse, the Israeli army seems to speak no language other than violence. So there's one more thing you can do, to support the oppressed people of Palestine. Write in to the media, why not start locally with this newspaper - and tell them that you want to hear more about the ISM and about the Palestinians' struggle against the apartheid wall.