Kafka Has a Rival

The UK Foreign Office Lectures Us on Human Rights

Today (December 1), a surreal event will take place in the center of London. The Foreign Office is holding an open day “to highlight the importance of Human Rights in our work as part of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” There will be various “stalls” and “panel discussions” and Foreign Secretary David Miliband will present a human rights prize. Is this a spoof? No. The Foreign Office wants to raise our “human rights awareness.” Kafka and Heller have many counterfeits.

There will be no stall for the Chagos islanders, the 2,000 British citizens expelled from their Indian Ocean homeland, which Miliband’s government has fought to prevent from returning to what is now a US military base and suspected CIA torture center. The High Court has repeatedly restored this fundamental human right to the islanders, the essence of Magna Carta, describing the Foreign Office actions as “outrageous”, “repugnant” and “illegal”. No matter. Miliband’s lawyers refused to give up and were rescued on 22 October by the transparently political judgments of three law lords.

There will be no stall for the victims of a systemic British policy of exporting arms and military equipment to ten out of 14 of Africa’s most war-bloodied and impoverished countries. In his speech today, with the good people of Amnesty and Save the Children in attendance, shamefully, what will Miliband say to the sufferers of this British-sponsored violence? Perhaps he will make mention, as he often does, of the need for “good governance” in faraway places while his own regime suppresses a Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE’s £43 arms deals with the corrupt tyranny in Saudi Arabia — with which, noted the Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells in 2007, the British had “shared values”.

There will be no stall for those Iraqis whose social, cultural and real lives have been smashed by an unprovoked invasion based on proven lies. Will the foreign secretary apologize for the cluster bombs the British have scattered, still blowing legs off children, and the depleted uranium and other toxics that have seen cancer consume swathes of southern Iraq? Will he speak about the universal human right to knowledge and announce a diversion of a fraction of the billions bailing out the City of London to the restoration of what was one of the finest school systems in the Middle East, obliterated as a consequence of the Anglo-American invasion, along with museums and publishing houses and bookstores, and teachers and historians and anthropologists and surgeons? Will he announce the dispatch of simple painkillers and syringes to hospitals that once had almost everything and now have nothing, in a country where British governments, especially his own, took the lead in blocking humanitarian aid, including Kim Howells’ ban on vaccines to protect children from preventable diseases?

There will be no stall for the people of Gaza of whom, says the International Red Cross, starvation threatens the majority, mostly children. In pursuing a policy of reducing one and a half million people to a Hobbesian existence, the Israelis have cut most lifelines. David Miliband was in Jerusalem recently within a short helicopter flight of the captive people of Gaza. He did not go and said nothing about their human rights, preferring weasel words about a “truce” between tormentor and victims.

There will be no stall for the trade unionists, students, journalists and human rights defenders assassinated in Colombia, a country where the government’s “security forces” are trained by the British and Americans and responsible for 90 per cent of torture, says a new study by the British human rights group, Justice for Colombia. The Foreign Office says it is “improving the human rights record of the military and combating drug trafficking”. The study finds not a shred of evidence to support this. Colombian officers implicated in murder are welcomed to Britain for “seminars”.

There will be no stall for history, for our memory. Stored in the great British libraries and record offices, unclassified official files tell the truth about British policy and human rights, from officially condoned atrocities in the concentration camps of colonial Kenya and the arming of the genocidal General Suharto in Indonesia, to the supply of and biological weapons to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. As we hear the moralizing drone of ex British military “security experts” telling us what to think about terrible events in Mumbai, we might recall Britain’s historic role as midwife to violent extremism in modern Islam, from the rise of the Moslem brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s and the overthrow of Iran’s liberal democratic government to MI6’s arming of the Afghan muhijadeen, the Taliban in waiting. The aim was, and remains, the denial of nationalism to peoples struggling to be free, especially in the Middle East where oil, says a secret Foreign Office document from 1947, is “a vital prize for any power interested in world influence and domination”. Human rights are almost entirely absent from this official memory, unlike fear of being found out. The secret expulsion of the Chagos islanders, says a 1964 Foreign Office memorandum of guidance, “should be timed to attract the least attention and should have some logical cover [so as not to] arouse suspicions as to their purpose.”

How is this wonderland perpetuated? The media play its historic role, following the line of power, censoring by omission. Roland Challis, who was the BBC’s Southeast Asia correspondent when Suharto was slaughtering hundreds of thousands of alleged communists in the 1960s, told me, “It was a triumph for western propaganda. My British sources purported not to know what was going on, but they knew … British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so they could take part in this terrible holocaust.”

Today, public relations propaganda dressed up as scholarship promotes the same rapacious British power while seeking to fix the boundaries of public discussion. A report was released last week by the Institute for Public Policy Research, which describes itself as “the UK’s leading progressive think tank.” Having been emptied of its dictionary meaning, the once noble term “progressive” joins “democracy” and “center-left” as deception. Lord George Robertson, the New Labour warmonger, Trident devotee and ex NATO boss, has his moniker at the front, along with Paddy Ashdown, ex viceroy of the Balkans. Couched in crisis management clichés, the IPPR report (“Shared Destinies”) is a “call to action” because “weak, corrupt and failing states have become bigger security risks than strong, competitive ones.” With western state terror unmentionable, the “call” is for NATO in Africa and military intervention “if deemed necessary”.

There is a nod to the “perception” that the current Anglo-American “intervention” in Muslim lands beckons terrorism in Britain: that which is blindingly obvious to most people. In February 2003, almost 80 percent of Londoners surveyed said they believed that a British attack on Iraq “would make a terrorist attack on London more likely.” This was precisely the warning given Blair by the Joint Intelligence Committee. The warning is no less urgent while “we” continue to assault other people’s countries and allow false champions to steal the human rights of us all.

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 2nd, 2008 at 10:40am #

    another evil empire w. its own horror story in the house of horrors (planet).
    i do not know much ab UK media but i know a lot more ab canadian and US media.
    both r parts of the gangs w.o. pangs and in forefront of violence against darkies. thnx

  2. DavidG. said on December 2nd, 2008 at 5:41pm #

    The entrenched forces which are manipulating and exploiting us for their own ends are indeed formidable. They seem to have the game sewn up, seem to hold all the cards. They support each other, the politicians, the media, the corporations, the religious fundamentalists, the mega-wealthy.

    I despair that we, the little people, will ever break free and find peace.

  3. Giorgio said on December 2nd, 2008 at 6:03pm #

    Holy Moses! What a long list of dirty tricks!
    And I, poor me, always thought that the Queen and her British government were such paragons of virtue! Oh, yes, there was also that other war, the Boer war, when the Brits had a sniff that there was gold to be dug out in the Transvaal…they just had to get their hands into it…and Apartheid had its fledgelings…

  4. John Hatch said on December 2nd, 2008 at 6:04pm #

    John Pilger is an eloquent and tireless seeker of truth. More power to him, and thanks.

  5. john andrews said on December 3rd, 2008 at 3:17am #

    Free Democracy is a solution


  6. bozh said on December 3rd, 2008 at 10:24am #

    john andrews,
    an org. or a party that wld adopt following wld be of great value:
    higher education available to all
    an apodictic principle that no land/emire has the moral/legal right to attack another land under no known circumstance
    corollary arising out of this principle wld obviate collective punishment for individual crimes
    healthcare for all
    changing basic structure of governance.
    such a party wld as much as possible shun politics and religions.

  7. Sam said on December 3rd, 2008 at 1:41pm #

    I love reading your comments bozh.
    I don’t know what your intent is, but they make me smile.

  8. bozh said on December 4th, 2008 at 7:18am #

    my aim is too have all countries adopt the principle of nonaggression.
    and if we wld provide free higher education for all who want it, we wld tap into a lotof unused talent which may improve our lot.
    the more people get educated (and not ‘educated’ by the ruling class) the better it wld be for all of us. thnx

  9. john andrews said on December 5th, 2008 at 12:37am #


    Contact me and I’ll send you a copy of our People’s Constitution – I think you’ll like it.

  10. Josie Michel-Brüning said on December 5th, 2008 at 6:07am #

    Yes, you have a wonderful constitution, and I think our German created after World War II is it as well.
    Moreover, we do agree “to highlight the importance of Human Rights in our work as part of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” don’t we.
    According to our international agreements we have to appeal to our governments for applying them.
    Just now, there is an opportunity to do so.
    The attorneys of the “Cuban Five” are filing a petition to your Supreme Court for reviewing the injust opinion of the 11th Circuit Court of Atlanta. The chance of being recognized by the Supreme Court is only up to 1.5 %. You could help the “Cuban Five” so that the Supreme Court can get aware of the case, at all.
    Please, contact http://www.freethefive.org to inform you.
    There had been several violations of your constitution and international law, as well, there is a lot of misinformation circulating so far, but they can tell you all about it.