Despite the Odd Murmur about Human Rights, Britain Remains the Kimberley Quinn of Torturers and Despots in South-East Asia

By Thomas, Mark | New Statesman (1996), May 23, 2005 | Go to article overview

Despite the Odd Murmur about Human Rights, Britain Remains the Kimberley Quinn of Torturers and Despots in South-East Asia


Thomas, Mark, New Statesman (1996)


The war on drugs was a difficult war to fight, as essentially it was a war on plants. Notoriously hard to suppress and tricky to negotiate with, the plants have won. Fortunately, they have been unable to articulate their victory, saving numerous governments from embarrassment. Now we have the "war on terror". Again, difficult to fight conventionally, as "terror" is a concept, an emotion and a tactic: we might as well declare war on the variable speed of light, uncertainty and approaching people from behind. I just don't think George W Bush has understood the nature of terrorism. When asked recently how he felt about the increase of suicide bombings in Iraq, he replied: "Bring it on." Which is surely the worst way to react: the last thing you want to shout at people prepared to blow themselves up is, "Oi, jihadi, you're all mouth! You ain't got the bottle."

Whatever the semantics and propaganda of the "war on terror" one thing is reassuringly familiar--the west's choice of strange bedfellows. Our government's ability to jump into the sack with human rights abusers and undemocratic states that are "onside" or "strategically important" has not been more pronounced since ... well, since we sold arms to Saddam Hussein. And, despite the odd murmur about human rights, Britain remains the Kimberley Quinn of torturers and despots.

Jack Straw might condemn Uzbekistan as hundreds are murdered, but, true to form, Britain armed that country. The Uzbek security services killed at least one opponent by boiling him alive, and I wouldn't be shocked it Britain sold them the kettles, too--all the while claiming that "if we didn't do it Tefal would".

Less reported, but no less disturbing, are the actions of Indonesia in West Papua. Indonesia is another ally in the "war on terror" and therefore "onside". Which, if previous form is anything to go by, means Britain sells it weapons, which will be used against a bunch of people on whose behalf some of us will be screaming at the UN, asking it to intervene, at some point in the future.

Here is the briefest history of West Papua. The Dutch colonial masters leave. Shortly afterwards, in 1961, West Papua declares the first moves to independence. It is promptly invaded by Indonesia. In 1969 a referendum on independence takes place, not with the territory's million or so inhabitants voting in free and fair elections, but with 1,022 Papuans, hand-picked by Indonesia, being forced to vote at gunpoint.

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Despite the Odd Murmur about Human Rights, Britain Remains the Kimberley Quinn of Torturers and Despots in South-East Asia
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