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Amnesty International

The February issue of Living Marxism carried an open letter to Amnesty International from Joan Phillips ('Whose side is Amnesty on?') in response to that organisation's newspaper advertising campaign about the war in the former Yugoslavia. This is Amnesty's reply.

I am sure that your readers and Joan Phillips share our desire to see an immediate end to the appalling human rights violations perpetrated by Serbian forces detailed in our report (Bosnia-Herzegovina: Gross Abuses of Basic Human Rights) though this is not evident from your open letter. I am pleased to see, however, that you agree our facts are correct.

Rather the letter attacks us for the impression that Joan received mediated by her particular viewpoint. Throughout Amnesty's history we have been similarly accused by right-wing governments of being a left-wing organisation and by left-wing governments of being part of a right-wing conspiracy. The last few paragraphs enter the realms of the absurd asking (I trust rhetorically) if we are really saying we need more human misery.

Yes, human rights abuses have been committed by other participants in the various conflicts in former Yugoslavia and Amnesty has publicised all those it has details of and will continue to do so wherever this is within its Mandate.

Our advertisement sought to give the opportunity to men and women who were not currently Amnesty members to play a part in ending the abuses by all sides. Naturally we cannot print the full report in our advertisements without buying the whole paper. Neither does an advertisement calling for positive action read like an academic thesis if it is to be successful in mobilising people. The power of public opinion harnessed like this does matter and has in countless cases made a real difference. Giving people the opportunity to do something is important.

You may like to know that Amnesty is also publishing paid advertisements in the main newspapers throughout the various republics stressing the primacy and universality of human rights, calling on those involved in the conflict to ensure the maintenance of basic, minimum standards.

The recommendations from our Bosnia report are:
  • Leaders of all parties to the conflict within Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as the governments of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Croatia, share responsibility for the gross human rights abuses.

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) must be granted full access to all places of detention. All civilians detained solely because of their national origin or held as hostages must be released, with adequate protection for their safety following release.

  • All parties to the conflict must carry out thorough and impartial investigations into all reports of gross human rights abuses, including deliberate and arbitrary killings of non-combatants and torture and ill-treatment. Anyone who ordered or carried out such abuses must be brought to justice.

  • All parties to the conflict should give unimpeded access to all areas under their control to missions dispatched by inter-governmental organisations and humanitarian organisations, with guarantees that people who provide information to these missions will not suffer reprisals.
In its recently released report on rape and sexual abuse by armed forces Amnesty International also recommends that the international community offers established expertise or resources in the field of information-gathering and counselling of rape victims either through inter-governmental and non-governmental bodies working in the region or through support for local initiatives.

I am sure that your readers will join with us seeking an end to abuses by all sides involved in the conflict.

John Baguley Head of Fundraising, Amnesty International, British Section

Don't desert Serbian left

How long are you going to stab the Serbian left in the back by your opportunistic support for greater Serb hegemonism? Don't you think it ludicrous to be on the same side as the Thatcherite union-basher David Hart or the monetarist Sir Alfred Sherman on a foreign policy issue?

Socialist ideas caught on early in Serbia, introduced by Svetocar Markovic (who died in 1887). He called for the creation of a federal Yugoslav state. Dimitrije Tucovic (1881-1914) called for a federal Yugoslavia, founded the Serbian Social Democratic Party, published a pamphlet berating his fellow countrymen's brutality towards the Kosovan Albanians, saying 'the historic task of Serbia is a big lie'. As for the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, right from its origins in 1920, it called for a federal Yugoslav state and opposed the centralist beliefs of the Serbian (and first Yugoslav) premier Pasic in the Constituent Assembly, and was banned for its pains in 1921.

The trouble with the Serbs is that although they number only 40 per cent of the Yugoslav population, they wish to give themselves the same airs as Englishmen, who number 80 per cent of the population of these islands. You don't want the English to rule Wales, Scotland or any part of Ireland, so stop sucking up to the Serbs when they seek to brutalise Slovenes, Croats, Albanians or Bosnians.

If you were to push your hatred for the so-called New World Order to its logical conclusion, you would end up rehabilitating Nicolae Ceausescu. In his day he never had any time for it. By the way, the Romanian fascists Eugen Barbu (who admired Ceausescu when he was alive) and Gheorghe Favar (who still admires him) are both very fond of the Serbs, and a person is known by the company he keeps.

Tom Carter BA (South-East European Regional Studies) Somerset

Undemocratic USA

In his article 'Corrupting democracy' (January), James Heartfield implies that popular democracy exists in the United States. Not!

It can't really be Heartfield's suggestion that the legislative branch (congress) somehow represents the public interest in the face of attacks on the working class by the executive branch (the president). Agreed, term limits for congress would restrict voters' rights to decide who should represent them, and for that reason should be opposed. But although members of congress are elected directly by popular vote and the president is elected somewhat less directly (by the electoral college), it does not mean that congress represents the interests of ordinary people.

Heartfield goes too far by describing what would be curbed as 'popular democracy'. Certainly, the introduction of a line-item vote, an unlikely event as it would have to be approved by congress and accepted by the supreme court (the judicial branch), would increase the powers of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative branch. But what real difference would that make to the working class? How can you 'further restrict' democracy that doesn't exist? Can you reduce zero by 10 per cent?

Though I was taught in school that American parliamentary democracy was the best system ever devised because of its ingenious system of checks and balances between the three branches, as a Marxist I no longer hold this to be self-evident. Heartfield implies a distinction between the different branches of government, suggesting that one is defensible over the other, when in fact all three are branches of the same tree; one that serves only the interests of the ruling class and needs to be cut down, not pruned.

Daniel Bryan New York

What's the point?

I am at a loss to see the point of your 'What's in store before 1994?' extravaganza. Where your serious articles seek to identify the mediations between underlying trends and current events - and have thus been able to anticipate developments in Britain and throughout the world - we have here a series of snippets taken out of any theoretical context. Instead of collective thinking about underlying tendencies, we have what looks like a bunch of individuals sounding off 'on anything you like', as your preface to the column helpfully puts it.

Contributions from Neil Joseph and Mike Belbin are simply a recycling of observations which will be familiar to any reader of Living Marxism. The only thing 'new' here is the whining tone and the occasional excruciating attempt at satire. Mark Reilly's contribution on Ireland, on the other hand, launches us into the future with a vengeance giving us a whole doomsday scenario for 1993. How is such an exercise supposed to advance our political understanding of the current situation in Ireland as analysed by Mick Kennedy in the same issue of the magazine?

The common denominator in all the contributions is fatalism. We are passive spectators to events that evolve - slowly or rapidly - according to some immanent logic. The calendar cut-outs at the top of these pages, with their curious resemblance to bingo cards, remind us that we are dealing here more with a game of chance - in which you can choose shorter or longer odds - than with Marxist science.

Even Living Marxism is bound to run the occasional sub-standard article - but here we have the prospect of another 10 months of this ballyhoo. Ann Bradley remarks that 'there is intense pressure on space' in the magazine. Surely the answer must be obvious.

Louis Roche Paris

Casement Park showtrials

An attempt is being made to criminalise the nationalist people of West Belfast. In an extraordinary perversion of the legal doctrine of common purpose, the British state through a series of cases known as the Casement Park Trials has imprisoned people whose only crime was to defend themselves.

In March 1988, following the SAS shooting of the Gibraltar Three, their funeral was attacked by the Loyalist Michael Stone. Three mourners were killed. During the funeral of one of the victims, Kevin Brady, two undercover soldiers drove at high speed into the cortege and began brandishing their revolvers. Fearing another Loyalist killing spree some of the mourners courageously disarmed the soldiers and removed them to nearby Casement Park. Later they were shot by the IRA.

Since then 41 people have been charged in relation to these events. Five have received life sentences although none have been accused of shooting the soldiers. Indeed three of the accused, Pat Kane, Michael Timmons and Sean Kelly weren't even accused of being present at the shootings. They were convicted on the basis of an alarming interpretation of the legal doctrine of common purpose.

The traditional interpretation of common purpose means that a person can be convicted of, say, murder if, together with others, they formulate a criminal plan resulting in a killing. Kane, Timmons and Kelly were not alleged to have formed any such plan with those who actually did the shooting. Nonetheless they were convicted of abetting murder. The courts have thus extended the meaning of the law to say, in effect, that anyone present at Casement Park or indeed in the funeral cortege can be taken to have assisted in the killings. If these judgements are not reversed, anyone participating in a march, picket or other demonstration runs the risk of criminal prosecution simply for being present. This is a product of the state's attempt to criminalise the entire nationalist community of British-occupied Ireland.

A Justice for the Casement Park Accused campaign has been formed to raise this and other issues thrown up by these series of vindictive trials. They can be contacted c/o Green Ink Bookshop, 8 Archway Mall, London N19 5RG.

Steven Hepburn Middlesex

Taking offence

So Dame Jill Knight is offended. Oh dear! Apparently she is worried that the friends and relatives of serial killer Dennis Nilsen's victims will be offended at his televised descriptions of the murders. How charming of her to be so concerned for the sensibilities of what...100 people? Maybe 200?

While no-one would wish to minimise the anguish of such people, perhaps Dame Jill needs reminding of a few other rather larger groups of the population who also have cause to be offended?
The NHS has customers waiting and waiting, hoping it's their area's turn for the share of cash. They are highly offended. Every user of state education is offended when the goal- posts are moved and the rules changed again. Time is running out for our children.

Customers of public transport are offended waiting at bus stops and train platforms for rumbling old stock that may never arrive. That ever-increasing group, the unemployed, outcasts from this government's systematic destruction of our manufacturing base, are quite offended too. As are the ever-growing numbers of bank workers, shop assistants, nurses and teachers being fobbed off with worthless 'voluntary' redundancy.

And lastly that dwindling minority group, that threatened species, the employed. With fewer resources to work with and increasingly menacing threats from management of lower pay and redundancy, it's not difficult to see who wields the knives in our society. Offended? Sure! I just wonder where the opposition is?

Sandy Fox Birmingham

Spot the difference?

I wonder if any of your readers have noticed the resemblance between Quintin Hoare - subject of January's apology after Living Marxism published a letter by Andrew Coates that accused Hoare of Serb-baiting racism - and Attila Hoare, who wrote to Living Marxism some months ago accusing it of 'a vile piece of racist propaganda' in associating present-day Croatian nationalism with the rehabilitation of that republic's Nazi past.

Are these two people related? We should be told.

S Alec Bo'ness

What's in store before 1994?

Due to our special 12-page picture feature on the banned Yugoslav war exhibition, this month's contributions from readers on the likely effects of the slump in 1993 have been postponed until the April issue of Living Marxism.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 53, March 1993



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