Human Rights

Some do not remember, others cannot forget

See BBC NEWS | World | Europe | World marks Auschwitz liberation

My next door neighbour was an Auschwitz survivor. His name was Abraham, and in the camp he was put on the night shift of forced labour. He survived – he said – because the guards were too tired to beat the prisoners. At one point he was so hungry that he climbed a refuse pile to steal a rotten apple. The punishment beating he was given for this crime was so severe that he suffered from back problems until the day he died.

Abraham was one of the lucky ones. He survived. Every other member of his family was killed.

It’s easy for we who were born years later to think of Auschwitz as something very distant. From time to time people even express irritation about Jews ‘banging on about the Holocaust’.

Perhaps it would be time to forget if we had — as a world — learned the lesson of history. But we have not. After the Holocaust there were the Gulags. The Killing Fields of Cambodia. Rwanda. Kosovo. Darfur. In hope, we still sometimes look back to the Holocaust and say ‘never again’. But it would be truer to say ‘never before’. Because the Holocaust did not end something, it began it.

We may have a UN convention on genocide, but we have not eradicated it. If anything we have institutionalised it. ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ has entered our language.

My friend Abraham died ten years ago. Like all those who endured such things, he could not forget.

As long as such endure, we must not forget either.

The Tsunami brings us all to face ourselves

Today we share three minutes of silence. At 12.00 in Britain. At 11.00 in Europe. We will share a common moment of respect, of memory, of reflection.

This is a disaster unlike others. Vast in scale, an enormous human catastrophe. Television, the internet and world travel bring it very close to us. For many of us, friends lost their lives, or saved them but lost friends and colleagues.

The enormous public move to donate to disaster relief reflects well on us. The undignified spectacle of governments clambering over each other to prove that they led the way in relief does not.

But even our public compassion raises questions. Why do we not respond in this way to the AIDS disaster in Africa? Why do we not respond in this way to civil war in Sudan, or in Congo? Why — as a nation — are we promoting heartless policies towards asylum seekers, presuming them guilty unless they can prove that they are innocent?

In those three minutes, we will be brought face to face with ourselves.

Right Idea – Wrong Target

Lord Falconer threatens regulation of compensation sector. See also BBC NEWS | Politics | Firms warned over accident claims

It was in August that Tory spokesman David Davis took a potshot at human rights legislation. He claimed that it was responsible for the ‘compensation culture’ which was growing up in Britain. Lord Falconer is today to weigh into the debate by at – one and the same time – denying that the compensation culture exists, and simulaneously threatening legislation if ‘No-Win, No Fee’ companies don’t voluntarily clean up their act.

Lord Falconer is merely echoing the ‘Better Regulation Task Force’ which in May dismissed the notion of a Compensation Culture as an Urban Myth, while at the same time presenting evidence for it. The story about the school that made pupils wear goggles to play conkers is merely amusing. But the large council that actually spent more than £2m of its £22m roads budget on tackling compensation claims in 2003-4 is proof positive that the compensation culture is no myth. Claims against schools have risen to £200 million a year, enough for 8,000 new teachers, while claims against the NHS rose to £477 million, the equivalent of 22,700 extra nurses. And then, of course, there is the rising cost of insurance premiums.

Both Wrong

Lord Falconer and David Davis are both wrong – but Falconer is on the right track.

Daytime TV – and the less popular satellite channels – are full of advertisements trying to persuade us to take our bosses to court. Then there’s the youngish people who hang around shopping centres with clip-boards asking anybody who will give them the time if they have had an accident in the last three years. None of these ever mention the human rights act, so it’s acutely unlikely that people who sign up with these companies are doing so out of a sudden desire to test out the limits of new legislation. Sorry, Mr Davis.

At the same time, given the amount of evidence, both in terms of companies that make their money by it and the hard facts of claim costs, to say that it is all just an Urban Myth seems a bit far-fetched. After all, if it is, who is paying the advertising costs? I suppose Lord Falconer doesn’t watch daytime TV and so the question has not struck him in that light.


Regulating the claims industry is not the path to take. Falconer is a lawyer, and sees this as a blight on the legal profession. A better approach would be to go back to daytime TV and ask the question ‘Who is being targetted by this kind of advertising?’ It doesn’t take much analysis to work out that the target audience is the same as for high APR car financing and consolidation loans. The message is a simple one: ‘you may not believe that there’s a large pot of money out there waiting for you, but there is and all you have to do is to contact our company’.

The outcome is also the same: people who are financially unsophisticated sign away their rights or future earnings to companies who will make disproportionate profits on the deal.

It is this kind of predatory commerce, which make its money by preying on the hopes and fears of the financially vulnerable, which needs our attention. The combination of hard sell advertising, bullying sales tactics, and an unfair division of either risk or winnings makes these particular companies unwelcome in our economy.

We can regulate on a sector by sector basis forever. In doing so we penalise genuinely beneficial legal and financial services alongside the sharks. It is time for government to turn its attention to the whole unpleasant spread of businesses that trade on false hopes and real miseries. And we should not be regulating these people. We should be eliminating them permanently from our economic life.

Why Israel is back on the right track, despite the prevailing mood

BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Knesset votes to back Gaza plan

We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We don’t negotiate with terrorists… In these days of internet MPEG downloads, there has to be a new metaphore for what used to be called a broken record.

Sharon’s opponents – previously his allies – have argued forcibly that to pull out of Gaza would be to give the terrorists what they want. It would prove that Israel was weak. That Israel could be worn down.

The mood of the moment is to be tough on the terrorists. War on terror, as George W has put it.

Haven’t we been paying attention for the last two hundred years? As Buffy the Vampire Slayer put it, ‘Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them in summer school.’

We all recognise that no-one yet has the right answer to terrorism. But we should at least have learned what some of the wrong answers are. In any community that feels itself oppressed, there are a range of opinions. Some people want to make the best of the world they are in. Some want to work to improve the lot of all the oppressed. Some will want to protest peacefully. Some will resort to direct action. Some may resort to terror.

‘Getting tough on terror’ sounds fine in principle, but it usually results in getting tough on the whole population. ‘Surgical’ strikes kill more bystanders than they do terrorists. War on terror solidifies opinion. It pushes the whole population towards resistance, direct action, terror.

‘Getting tough on terrorr’ sounds fine in principle. But it is the wrong answer. And, knowing this, it is time that we realise that we need to peal off moderate elements, encourage them, negotiate with them.

This is a hard thing to do if you have taught your population to believe that they are all terrorists.

Sharon has taken a brave step. His allies – formerly his enemies – have done well to put the past behind to support him.

We can all learn from his example.

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