Belief and Action: Wales’ Heritage of Opposing Conflict, from WW1 to today

By Craig Owen

In Wales’ National Garden of Peace, between Cardiff’s Temple of Peace and the leafy grounds of Bute Park, stands an imposing stone unveiled in 2005 by peace campaigning group Cynefin y Werin, and dedicated to Wales’ Conscientious Objectors of all wars. Inscribed upon it is a challenge to all generations:

“If the right to life is the first of all human rights

Being the one on which all other rights depend

The right to refuse to kill must be the second.” 

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Conscientious Objectors Stone, Welsh National Garden of Peace. Craig Owen / WCIA

15 May every year has been recognised since 1985 as International Conscientious Objectors Day – remembering generations of individuals who have opposed conflict by refusing to bear arms.

Conscientious Objection is one of many ways in which generations of peace builders have put their ‘beliefs into action’ by opposing conflict. From the 930+ Welsh objectors imprisoned in WW1 for refusing to kill, to the anti-Nuclear campaigners of the 1960s-now, and ‘Stop the War’ protestors of recent years, Wales has a strong ‘peace heritage’ of speaking out against war.

–> Gain an overview from WCIA’s Opposing Conflict / Belief and Action pages.

–> To find out more about Wales’ WW1 Objectors, read our WCIA Voices May 2019 review of Dr Aled Eirug’s seminal book on ‘The Opposition to the Great War in Wales‘, published by University of Wales Press 2019.

Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors

You can discover hidden histories of over 930 WW1 COs from communities Wales-wide, using the Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors on WCIA’s Wales Peace Map.

WCIA are indebted to Prof Cyril Pearce of Leeds University for making his “life’s work” available to future researchers through our Belief & Action project.

Hidden Histories of Objectors

From 2014-18, Wales for Peace supported many volunteers, community groups and schools to explore ‘hidden histories’ of peace builders from WW1 to today. The following selection is a fitting tribute for this WW100 COs Memorial Day:

View also some of the short films / digital stories created by young people working with  Wales for Peace community projects over 2014-18, below.

‘Belief and Action’ Exhibition Tour

In 2016, WCIA worked with the Quakers in Wales and a steering group of Welsh experts to develop the ‘Belief and Action’ exhibition, which from 2016-19 has travelled to 15 communities Wales-wide and been visited by many thousands of people. Funded by Cymru’n Cofio / Wales Remembers and launched with an excellent community partnership event between WCIA and the United Reform Church in Pontypridd, the tour aimed to explore the stories and motivations of WW1 Conscientious Objectors, but with a key focus on reflecting on issues of Conscience ‘Then and Now’ during the WW100 centenary period.

–> View WCIA’s 2018 ‘Belief and Action’ Report

Maeydderwen Belief & Action Exhibition

Young Peacemakers launch ‘Belief & Action’ at Ysgol Maesydderwen, May 2018

Last year, for 2018 Conscientious Objectors Day, Wales for Peace worked with Ysgol Maesydderwen in Swansea Valley to stage a Belief and Action exhibition, and also to launch WCIA’s Learning Pack ‘Standing up for your Beliefs’, downloadable from Hwb.

Objection_Then_Now_-_Cover_Eng

Learning Resources

WCIA, the National Library of Wales and Quakers / Friends in Wales have all produced substantial Curriculum Resources on Objection to War , including critical thinking materials and schools projects, available from the Welsh Government’s ‘Hwb’ Education Resources site for schools and teachers.

Find Out More / Take Action

Short Films by Young Peacemakers

Over 2014-18, Wales for Peace was privileged to work with schools and community groups to explore hidden histories of peace with creative responses – including  digital stories and short films

Short Film ‘Without the Scales’ by Merthyr Tydfil students of Coleg y Cymoedd / Uni of Glamorgan, with Cyfarthfa Castle Trust (displayed for Wales for Peace exhibition, Oct 2018), used records to re-enact the Conscientious Objectors Tribunals of WW1.

Short Film ‘Niclas y Glais’ by Ysgol Gyfun Llangynwyd, Bridgend (displayed for Pontypridd Belief and Action exhibition, Oct 2017) looked at the life of Thomas Even Niclas.

Digital Story ‘Conscientious Objectors’ by Crickhowell High School, Monmouthshire (displayed for Women War & Peace exhibition at the Senedd, August 2017) considered the feelings and experiences that led some WW1 soldiers to become objectors to war.

 

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Immigration Blues

Amin Rali

Immigration is a problem everywhere. (Source: Fibonacci Blue, CC BY-SA 4.0, Flickr)

The “I am an immigrant” poster campaign is an initiative taken by Movement Against Xenophobia, part of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, to battle the ever-strengthening bout of displeasure against immigrants that has become a rather serious issue in developed countries in modern times. Continue reading

The Crisis of Ignorance and Apathy

UNMISS

UN Humanitarian Chief Valarie Amos on visit to South Sudan on Feb. 9, 2015 in UNOCHA

Following a morning when the hype over the Ebola epidemic dominated the headlines, and the airwaves had buzzed with renewed scrutiny of the conflict in Syria, UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Baroness Valerie Amos stopped off in Cardiff to deliver the Welsh Centre for International Affairs 41st anniversary lecture.

Continue reading

#BringBackOurGirls: Millions More Missing

UNIC persons in Nigeria rally for the Nigerian schoolgirls.

UNIC persons in Nigeria rally for the Nigerian schoolgirls.

The abduction of over two hundred Nigerian schoolgirls this April has received overwhelming international attention. The US, UK, France and China have sent expert teams to help with the search, the UN Security Council has condemned the act absolutely, and the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign has gone viral. Thanks to the admirable efforts of these girls’ families and friends, the whole world shares the agonizing wait for further news, and hope for their safe return.

But how many more women are missing whose names don’t make the papers? Twenty-five years since Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen first claimed there are 100 million women missing in the world, the United Nations Development Programme concedes that the global issue of missing women is ‘increasing in absolute terms’.[1] This calculation of 100 million missing refers to the number of women who have died due to discriminatory treatment, including abortion, unequal access to nutrition and healthcare or severe neglect.

Sen argued that excess female mortality due to gender discrimination was one of the worst catastrophes of the last century; subsequent debate, refutations and revisions ensued.[2] More recently, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky has attracted publicity to the issue. Today, whilst the culture of ‘boy preference’ found in all corners of the world is well known, the repercussions of such a phenomenon remains largely unacknowledged. The sheer scale of Sen’s estimate is enormous – equivalent to the entire population of the Philippines, the twelfth most populous nation in the world.

Reports show that the most recent threat to the natural gender balance is the aborting of female foetuses – a particularly serious problem in the Asia-Pacific. Here the male-female sex ratio is suspiciously high, instead of 105 males being born for every 100 females, in some countries there are as many as 118 males born. As ultrasound technology becomes increasingly available in both China and India, (the two countries responsible for over 80% of the world’s missing women) this gender imbalance can be expected to escalate.

There are many factors that could account for this serious discrepancy in the normal sex ratio. For one, China’s one-child government policy places a huge amount of pressure on families to have sons in order to continue the ‘family line’.[3] In India the culture of providing dowries for brides compels many to abort female foetuses to avoid crippling future expenses, recalling the notorious advertisement suggesting parents abort females to ‘spend 500 rupees now and save 500,000 later’.[4] The market for sex determination is estimated to be worth at least £70 million annually, and is still growing.

The second, and most long-standing reason for the millions of missing women worldwide is their neglect in education, nutrition and medical care. UNICEF claims that in India, for example, the mortality for girls under 5 years old is 40% higher than for boys of the same age.[5] Numerous studies confirm that in many developing countries, girls are admitted to hospital at a far later stage in their illness than boys. Thus not only are females are more likely to be malnourished, their families may also act with less concern when they’re taken ill.

Thus the fight against extreme poverty and hunger, and the fight for universal gender equality remain intertwined. These two issues have proven to be a mammoth task for the UN. Gender based mortality, similarly to endemic poverty and deprivation, go ‘largely unnoticed’ because they seem to be too large an issue; too overwhelming to tackle. They simply do not generate ‘the moral outrage and flurry of activity and intervention that the more ‘‘sensational’’ catastrophes such as famines, floods, earthquakes, wars, and refugee crises typically create’.[6]

Moreover, in the case of sex selective abortions, murders, and death due to severe neglect, the families of the missing women don’t want the loss to be recognized. A combination of these two factors might begin to explain why these women who are missing in their millions are not making front page news.

Half the Sky goes so far to claim that ‘more girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they are girls, than men killed in all the wars of the twentieth century’.[7] Armistice Day, memorials and history lessons will continue to recognise the losses incurred by the tragedy of war: and more than ever as the centenary of the First World War approaches. Press coverage, celebrity appeals and political discussion will, we hope, continue to fuel a successful search for the missing Nigerian schoolgirls. But when will something be done for the millions of missing women across the globe, who should exist, but don’t?[8]

 


[1] UNDP, ‘Power, Voice and Rights’, (Macmillan: 2010) [http://sites.asiasociety.org/womenleaders/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Powervoiceandrights.pdf] p. 34.

[2] Amartya Sen, ‘More than 100 Million Women are Missing’, The New York Review of Books, (December 20, 1990).

[3] Siwan Anderson and Debraj Ray, ‘Missing Women: Age and Disease’ Review of Economic Studies (2010) p. 1293.

[4] Fred Arnold, Sunita Kishor and T K Royd, ‘Sex-selective abortions in India’ in Population and Development Review 28 (December 2002) p. 783.

[5] UNICEF, ‘The State of the World’s Children: South Asia Edition’ (2007) p. 10.

[6] Stephan Klasen and Claudia Wink, ‘“Missing Women”: Revisiting the debate’, Feminist Economics 9 (2003) p. 264.

[7] Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky, (Hachette UK: 2010)

[8] BBC World News, ‘Killed for being female?’ (25 April 2014) [http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/moreorless

Immigration: Austerity’s Trojan Horse

The crowds inch slowly towards the Tunisian border and immigration and customs officials. UNHCR/A.Duclos

The crowds inch slowly towards the Tunisian border and immigration and customs officials. UNHCR/A.Duclos

According to Mr. Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs: “Migration, when governed fairly, can make a very important contribution to social and economic development both in the countries of origin and in the countries of destination.” In 2013, 3.2% of the global population migrated, a figure which continues to grow. It appears that the migration culture is developing. Community has become an international phenomena so the world has packed its bags and has moved abroad.

In the UK the ex-pat culture is aspirational. Those who have braved broadening their horizons and migrated towards a sunnier climate, are something of a hero to the Britton’s battling through the bad weather and its inherent gloom. However it seems that those who look upon Britain as something to aspire to, are unwelcome. This is a not a uniquely national polemic, but unlike other nations, it is something around which our politicians and press circle like vultures.

Our banks have not only donated a rather generous debt to the British tax payer, but also continue to financially pat themselves on the back for doing so. Instead of condemning the banks by enforcing strict austerity measures upon their bonus cultures, instead of introducing controls over the British finance sector, the government has dipped in to the public purse to bail out the bankers. Of course to make this painfully clear to voters would compromise the already dwindling support for government in this country, so this austerity requires a scapegoat , ‘immigration.’

Immigration is the action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country, a term which has developed into a political swear word, offending nationalists ‘left, right and centre.’ But who are these immigrants supposedly invading our country? Bulgarians, Romanians and Poles are the à la mode culprits. The tabloids which have helped shape the contemporary British media are fanning the flames of fear and British tolerance is at stake. They sell papers based on the extremity of the hatred they spew, because the average reader it seems has developed an immunity to important debates, and a fetish for cynicism, and newspapers need to make money. This has been confirmed by a recent report by the Hansard Society (2012), which found those who didn’t read any newspapers, to be less negative than those that do. As a result of this, articles are often factually inaccurate, and this is dangerous. It creates a perception of reality that is not real, and this is happening with the immigration debate in the UK.

In reality, immigration is declining:

Home Office (2013)

Home Office (2013)

The phenomenon Britain has come to refer to as ‘immigration’ is actually migration. This is the impermanent movement from one country to another. This has been assisted by the Schengen Agreement which permits the free movement for EU citizens between member states. According to studies carried out by Europa, migration is benefiting the economies of host states.

Admittedly, the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the press is not entirely based in fiction, foreign nationals can claim benefits. However, EU citizens’ access to benefits is restricted, and stopped after 3 months. After this period migrants’ have their right to stay in the UK removed if they are not self-sufficient. Most non-EU citizens must work to earn the right to reside in the UK. It is also important to acknowledge here that such benefits are mutual. British citizens are equally entitled to the same deal in wealthier countries like Norway and Denmark. This might not seem such a bizarre idea given that these two countries were found to be the happiest in the world by the 2013 UN World Happiness Report.

Crucial to the immigration debate is our British colonial heritage. Using barbaric methods, the British State sanctioned theft on a grand scale. Long before the era of tabloids and Twitter, Britain asserted itself as an empire and robbed countries like China, South Africa, and the Indian Empire of their resources, territory and culture. Since, many of these peoples have fought in our wars and rightly, have claimed British citizenship. However, for the ignorant, often anyone without a regional accent and white face can get caught up in the cross-fire of hatred, fueled by the press.

Meet Tina and her wonderful family. She is a dear friend, who happens to be Iraqi. Her family escaped civil unrest, the potential of persecution for their Christian faith and arrived in the UK with nothing. Through hard work, they built a life here in the UK. Her father, a surgeon has saved a number of lives and paid taxes in the process. We may have problems in this country. We may struggle to afford the material goods that the media have told us are so important, but are we still as barbaric as we once were during the empire as to dismiss the vulnerable from seeking refuge here? What makes the lives of Britons more important than the lives of foreign citizens? In a nanny-state, plagued by a sense of entitlement, their is a danger of becoming too selfish to realise how lucky we are.

Learn more about the WCIA’s the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) campaign which seeks to raise awareness and cause discussion of R2P issues. You can also get involved by using leaflets and teaching resources provided by UNA Wales.

References

Helliwell. J, Layard. R and Sachs, J. (2013). World Happiness Report. UNSDN [online]. Available at: http://unsdsn.org/files/2013/09/WorldHappinessReport2013_online.pdf . (Last accessed: 12.02.2014).

Hansard Society. (2012). Audit of Political Engagement. Hansard Society [online]. Available at: http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Audit-of-Political-Engagement-9-Part-Two-2012.pdf . (Last accessed: 12.02.2014).

Home Office. (2013). Immigration Statistics July to September 2013. Home Office [online]. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-july-to-september-2013/immigration-statistics-july-to-september-2013 . (Last accessed: 12.02.2014).

Home Office. (2013). Romanian and Bulgarian Nationals. Home Office [online]. Available at: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsarticles/2013/december/100-bulgaria-romania . (Last accessed: 12.02.2014).

NI Direct. (No date). Benefits for Non-UK Nationals. NI Direct [online]. Available at: http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/benefits-for-non-uk-nationals . (Last accessed: 12.02.2014).

OECD. (2013). International migration policies and data International Migration Outlook 2013. OECD [online]. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/els/mig/imo2013.htm . (Last accessed: 12.02.2014).

UN. (2013). UN Migration. UN [online]. Available at: http://esa.un.org/unmigration/wallchart2013.htm . (Last accessed: 12.02.2014).

The Realities of Peacekeeping

Ceremony for Fallen Peacekeepers of MINUSMA

The recent deaths of two Senegalese peacekeepers in the Northern Malian Town of Kidal and the on-going violence in South Sudan has brought the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations [UNDPKO], and the United Nations [UN] back into the media spotlight. The UNDPKO and particularly the UN face criticisms by academics and global figures on a regular basis. Even Thomas Weiss wrote a book called ‘What’s wrong with the United Nations and How To Fix It’.  However, after a recent visit to the UN headquarters in Geneva, I felt inspired to write this post to highlight the challenges that the UNDPKO have to overcome in an attempt to construct a securer world for us to live in. It is not easy trying to create a safe and peaceful world, it comes with many constraints and challenges that the UNDPKO face on a daily basis.

The UNDPKO was established because of the agencies importance to global security, which is at the centre of the UN mandate. The first purpose of the UN as stated in Article 1 of its Charter is to “maintain international peace and security”[1] thus making peacekeeping an integral part of the UNDPKO mandate. The agency was established in 1948 when the Security Council deployed UN military observers in the Middle East. The mission was to monitor the Armistice Agreement signed between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, later known as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation[2]. The UNDPKO will be the first to highlight and hold responsibility for humanitarian disasters such as the highly visible and tragic failures of the UN missions in Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s[3]. However, the UNDPKO are constantly trying to improve their agency through countless reports and resolutions such as the Brahimi Report in 2000 and the New Horizon Initiative in 2010. The UNDPKO recognise their mistakes and target to progression, but still face outside challenges that restrict the agency.

The approved budget for the agency for the fiscal year 2013-2014 is $7.54 billion [4]. The budgets of peacekeeping operations are based on the missions mandate from the Security Council, which is spread over various sectors within the agency, such as wages, equipment and transport. The highest amount of expenditure is  $2.8 billion, which is spent on military and police personnel costs, and $1.7 billion on civilian personnel costs[5]. The budget is created through financial contributions from donor states. The highest providers are the USA providing 28.38% of the budget, Japan contributing 10.83%, and France with 7.22%.

The agency faces challenges regarding the budget, the Brahimi Report recognized the need for change within the agency, the key to the development of the agency was continued sustained funding.

 One of the obstacles the department have to overcome is partially met-funding[6]. An estimated $3.26 billion is owed to agency from the states. This responsibility falls to the individual nations to fulfil their commitments, nevertheless it shows the lack of accountability the agency has over the states. Nonetheless, it is noted that the agency is cost effective. The approved budget represents 0.4% of global military spending. Military intervention is the most-cost effective means of preventing a return to conflict in post-conflict societies[7]. Even though the agency is financially beneficial, it is still unable to hold states accountable for not fulfilling their financial contributions, which is a serious challenge that constrains the UNDPKO.

It is clear that the UNDPKO struggles to hold states accountable for their commitments. The agency finds it difficult to motivate states into action when the state has no political interest in the conflict. The UN is still not able to take the leading role with regional superpowers who find it difficult to compromise their strategic, political and economic interests for the sake of regional peace and security[8]. Therefore “UN peacekeeping depends completely on the willingness of states to offer troops and police for operations, which imposes key limitations on those operations”[9]. The agency is powerless in controlling peacekeeper contributions; with the states dictating how many peacekeepers they donate to the UNDPKO. Furthermore, the state will control which missions their troops take part in, leaving the UNDPKO powerless in governing the deployment of peacekeepers.

Overall, the UNDPKO has a unique role in fundamentally creating global security. The mandate aims to create peace through political frameworks, conducting and applying ceasefires and helping countries through the transition to peace; something that no other entity can do. Ultimately, the UNDPKO is restricted due to the lack of power it has to hold states accountable for fulfilling their financial contributions. As a result, the agency has the correct mandate and direction, but is constantly restricted by states within the UN who only participate when the situation abides to their political, social and economic interests.  These challenges highlight the difficulty the UNDPKO has to overcome regularly in an attempt to create a securer world. It seems that individual states do not make it easy for the UNDPKO to function, thus increasing the ability of individuals to criticise the agency.

 

 Thomas Edwards

 

References:

 

Durch, W., Holt, V., Earle, C,.& Shanahan, M. (2003). The Brahimi Report and the Future of UN Peace Operations. Washington, USA: The Henry L. Stimson Centre.

 

Francis, D., Faal, M., Kabia, J., & Ramsbotham. (2005). Dangers of Co-Deployment: UN Co-Operative Peacekeeping in Africa. Aldershot, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing.

 

Pitta, R. (2005). UN Forces 1948-1994. Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing.

 

United Nations. (1945). Charter of the United Nations. Retrieved from:

http://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/CTC/uncharter.pdff

 

United Nations. (2012). Civil Affairs Handbook. Retrieved from:

http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/civilhandbook/Civil_Affairs_Handbook.pdf

 

United Nations. (2012). United Nations Department of Public Information. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/backgroundnote.pdf

United Nations. (2013). Approved resources for peacekeeping operations for the period from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014. Retrieved from

http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/C.5/67/19


[1] United Nations. (1945). Charter of the United Nations. Retrieved from:

http://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/CTC/uncharter.pdff

 

[2] Pitta, R. (2005). UN Forces 1948-1994. Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing.

 

[3] United Nations. (2012). United Nations Department of Public Information. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/backgroundnote.pdf

 

[4] United Nations. (2013). Approved resources for peacekeeping operations for the period from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014. Retrieved from

http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/C.5/67/19

 

[5] United Nations. (2013). Approved resources for peacekeeping operations for the period from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014. Retrieved from

http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/C.5/67/19

 

[6] Durch, W., Holt, V., Earle, C,.& Shanahan, M. (2003). The Brahimi Report and the Future of UN Peace Operations. Washington, USA: The Henry L. Stimson Centre.

 

[7] United Nations. (2012). Civil Affairs Handbook. Retrieved from:

http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/civilhandbook/Civil_Affairs_Handbook.pdf

 

[8] Francis, D., Faal, M., Kabia, J., & Ramsbotham. (2005). Dangers of Co-Deployment: UN Co-Operative Peacekeeping in Africa. Aldershot, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing.

 

[9] Durch, W., Holt, V., Earle, C,.& Shanahan, M. (2003). The Brahimi Report and the Future of UN Peace Operations. Washington, USA: The Henry L. Stimson Centre.

 Photo: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

America’s hypocrisy – was Agent Orange a chemical weapon?

Food and Agriculture: Viet Nam

Nearly 40 years on from the devastating proxy war in Vietnam, the easternmost country on the Indochina peninsula is still plagued with the consequences of war. These are economic, social and medical. These medical consequences largely stem from the effects of chemicals used during warfare by the Americans. The total lack of concern for the effects of chemical use in Vietnam leads me to question their moral platform in current debates such as with regards to Syria.

America actively embraced chemicals for their own use during the Vietnam War, indiscriminately pouring 20 million gallons of defoliant Agent Orange over communities of civilians and whole swathes of forest and farmland. It destroyed crops and sentenced generations of Vietnamese to congenital birth defects and horrific disfigurement. The aim of this operation was to flush out the guerrilla fighters, the Communist Viet Cong, from their forest hideaways which proved to be a major thorn in the side of the American military. The aim of destroying farmland was to force urbanisation, driving the rural communities that formed the basis of Viet Cong support to US held cities. However, little thought was given to the health and lives of civilians. This begs the question, is the dogged pursuit of military intervention in Syria by a state that refuses to accept its own history of chemical weapon use and responsibility to its victims, morally acceptable?

It is estimated by Vietnam Red Cross that around 150,000 Vietnamese children are affected by birth defects due to dioxin, found in Agent Orange. America has refused compensation for Vietnam and claim these figures are unrealistic and exaggerate the effects of dioxin, despite doling out millions of dollars in an out of court settlement for US soldiers and personnel who were responsible for deploying the Agent Orange and providing free healthcare for a wide range of illnesses believed to be due to exposure to the herbicide. Yes, the Vietnamese Red Cross is possibly giving figures that are too high but it is difficult to argue that the problem does not exist at all. Although The US Supreme Court has dismissed a case by Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, arguing that at the time of its use the American Government were unaware of its poisonous effect on humans and that the manufacturers had no control over its use by the government and by extension can enjoy sovereign immunity from litigation, it does not alter the fact that dioxins are known poisons and the one included in Agent Orange is particularly nasty. The US can deny responsibility all they like with Supreme Court decisions backing them up but this does not dismiss the claims that the areas in which Agent Orange was deployed have far higher rates of birth defects than many other places.

The majority of evidence for Agent Orange causing higher than usual rates of birth defects is obviously disputed by the United States of America. This should come as no surprise. The rulings by the Supreme Court in America cemented America’s standpoint and thus, while President Obama condemns the impunity in the Middle East, America is enjoying impunity also due to its status as superpower. In 2005 the a number of courts denied a lawsuit stating there were no grounds due to Agent Orange not being considered a poison in international law at the time of its use, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. As with every controversial issue there are studies on both sides that confirm or deny the effects of chemicals used by the Americans during the Vietnam war but it is with incredulity that I read of the double standards of the US. The Department of Veterans Affairs, since 1991, offers free medical care for recognised illnesses caused by exposure to Agent Orange and dioxins; this is tantamount to admittance of the effects of Agent Orange. Yet it denies that there is any negative health impact in Vietnam, this must mean the Vietnamese biologically immune to poison. Of course.

A UK based charity, ‘Facing the World’, provides life changing craniofacial surgery for children with severe facial deformities from poor and disadvantaged countries where children cannot receive the care they need. One of the biggest successes of this charity has been the Vietnam Project where a team of surgeons have collaborated with Danang General Hospital in Vietnam to provide a training scheme, literature and a telemedicine link with London for local doctors to enable them to provide craniofacial surgery themselves. This is due to the extremely high incidence of deformity within Vietnam where there is stringent belief that Agent Orange is the cause of continued deformity in children. Although the work is in extremely high demand, the charity can only help on average 100 children per year across the world. The Vietnam Project is doing fantastic work in a country abandoned by those who arguably caused the problem. The superpower that is the United States of America denies responsibility for the children affected and denies them compensation that could improve their quality of life. When it comes to this issue doubt is cast on their status as defenders of humanity. See the link below for more information.

My question is whether the United States of America is getting away with impunity in the face of widespread injury to civilians due to the use of chemicals in a place it had no reason to be or whether it was a justifiable act in the course of war and the claims of the Vietnamese are exaggerated?

 

Bex Dunn

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3798581.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/227467.stm

http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/diseases.asp

http://www.iadllaw.org/en/node/482

http://facingtheworld.net/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23632245