Q & A: Peter Tatchell
The Guardian – London – 17 October 2009
‘My hope for the next 10 years is that humanity will come to its moral senses and cease tolerating a world where billions of people live in abject poverty’
Peter Tatchell has been campaigning for human rights for more than 40 years, on issues of democracy, civil liberties, social equality, environmental protection, peace and global justice. He is the Green party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East.
Note: Answers edited out of the published version are included here in brackets [……]
Is the world a better place than it was 10 years ago?
Yes and no. Some human rights abusers, such as Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, were put on trial. But not Robert Mugabe, George W Bush or Omar al-Bashir. Selective justice is not justice at all.
What has been the most significant event of the decade?
The global recession. It burst the capitalist bubble and it took us to the brink of worldwide economic catastrophe.
What has been the high point of the decade?
The International Criminal Court, operational since 2002, is the first permanent body for the prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Although its powers need strengthening, the ICC is a historic beginning.
[It creates a mechanism to bring human rights abusers to justice and, very significantly, it ends immunity from prosecution for serving heads of state.]
And the low point?
The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Congo and Darfur, and the failure of the international community to protect the civilian populations.
What is your greatest regret of the decade?
That the Israel-Palestine conflict remains unsolved. As well as the injustice of Palestinians being forced off their land and the illegal Israeli settlements, the conflict is fuelling Islamist terrorism and has the potential to spark a major war, even nuclear conflagration.
[Israel’s leaders have betrayed the Jewish people. They act like double agents working for Hamas and the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran. Their hardline stance plays into the hands of fundamentalists. Israel should unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank and recognise an independent Palestinian state. This would undermine Hamas and Ahmadinejad, win over most ordinary Palestinians and begin peace and reconciliation.]
What is the greatest lesson we’ve learned?
The financial crisis and recession has shown us that free market capitalism is inherently unstable and morally flawed. We need a new economic system that is democratic, accountable and socially responsible.
[Corporate negligence and recklessness shoud be a criminal offence, to ensure ethical decision-making by banks and other businesses. Companies should be required to have consumer and union representatives on their boards to act as independent watchdogs and to defend the interests of employees and the wider public.]
What was your proudest moment of the past 10 years?
The UN’s adoption in 2005 of Responsibility To Protect (R2P) – this humanitarian milestone empowers the UN to intervene in countries to stop human rights abuses.
[Despite its frequent non-enforcement, R2P establishes an important principle: that protection of human rights trumps national sovereignty and that tyrants can no longer terrorise their own people with impunity.]
What is your greatest hope for the next 10 years?
That humanity will come to its moral senses and cease tolerating a world where billions of people live in abject poverty – a billion malnourished, a billion with no safe drinking water and a billion living in slums. If every nation agreed to cut military spending by 10%, this would raise $100,000 million a year – enough to eliminate malnutrition, dirty drinking water, poor sanitation, illiteracy, homelessness and preventable illness worldwide.
What is the greatest danger we face?
Climate destruction. It threatens rising sea levels, creating hundreds of millions of homeless, jobless and hungry refugees.
[Major cities like London and New York could flood. Fertile low-lying delta regions will disappear under the ocean waves and the most productive agricultural regions of the US, Australia and Europe will become semi-desert. This is likley to result in food shortages, food price hikes and food riots; possibly leading to authoritarian crack downs and new wars for control of diminishing food stocks.]
How will the decade be remembered?
Economic meltdown, inaction on climate change, terrorism and the abuse of human rights in the name of fighting terrorism.