Cllr Helen Carr has requested that Wembley Matters publishes this farewell statement. Publication does not indicate agreement with the views expressed but given the lack of other public platforms in Brent I have agreed to publication.
As you know, I was elected in 2014 under exceptional circumstances and in an extraordinary situation and am now standing down. Thank you everyone – residents, the staff at Brent and political veterans on all sides of the spectrum for their unfailing advice, support and good humour. The indefatigable Martin Frances’ ‘Wembley Matters’ is the go to place for matters of Brent, even for someone like me who avoids social media. I look forward to seeing the Green’s Scott Bartle, who stood against me in 2014, at his first Council meeting in May. Every Council needs a Green.
What you may not be aware of is my work on the Council of Europe Congress – I was appointed a UK Delegate and last year elected by my European peers Vice President of the Independent, Liberal and Democrat Group. I was asked recently what I was most proud of achieving and I would say without doubt, being elected Councillor of Mapesbury allowed me to defend human rights at a time when certainties such as freedom of speech and association, freedom of the press, the right to freedom from torture – all rights bitterly fought for but taken for granted – are being insidiously eroded in the name of safety, security and stability. History is now being reconstructed to support the arguments and agendas of today’s fascists, idealists, ideologists, politicians et al. Motives and conspiracy theories vary – Germany and Austria have introduced ‘Holocaust Denial’ laws. France’s Sarkozy was accused of trying to attract the Christian Armenian vote when attempting to criminalise denial of the Armenian genocide. Turkey too – with wars within and on its borders - stifles debate not just about its role in the elimination of one and a half Armenians in the period at the end of World War 1, but its treatment and continued suppression of its Kurdish populations, as well as the recent imprisonment of elected politicians, journalists and educators. Russia criminalizes those who discredit the name of the Red Army and Poland has introduced measures imposing a fine or up to three years in prison for anyone found guilty of blaming the ‘Polish nation’ for the Holocaust. The murder of journalists in Malta and Slovakia. In the UK, Max Mosley - youngest son of wartime leader of the British Union of Fascists Oswold Mosley – is accused of trying to use data protection laws to gag the press. And so on.
Churchill said it is not for those of us who have not been occupied to condemn and judge those who have. But facts do exist and do matter. It is better to methodically and painstakingly disprove with fact and reason, than fines, force or imprisonment. Ostentatious gestures and actions might seem to make a difference, but quiet conviction in the rule of law have greater pervasive, persuasive and profound influence. January 27 is Holocaust Memorial Day – the day in 1945 the Soviets liberated Auschwitz. ‘Genocide’ was first used in 1933 in a paper presented to the League of Nations by Polish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, in response to the murder of the Armenian population by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918. The term was then adopted by the UN convention in 1948, but continues to be controversial – what constitutes a Genocide and who are victims has become a numbers game and a semantic quagmire. Congesting various issues to an existing memorial day undermines the initial intent. Political interests sully the dignity of the event. In 1946, the term ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ was introduced by Lauterpacht, at the time, resident of 104 Walm Lane, Mapesbury. What would he make of us now that Holocaust Memorial Day also includes other ‘Genocides?’ Will Jews stand alongside survivors of the Israeli campaign in Gaza if claims of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Israel has committed Genocide are upheld at the International Criminal Court? What of the Poles or the Kurds? The Irish Famine? Or indeed the Nazis and German minority speakers murdered or transported to Siberia by the vengeful Soviets? January 27 is also the day in 1944 identified as the end of the siege of Leningrad where it is estimated more than one million died. What of those victims? And of course, the most recent Genocides in Europe that took place in the Former Yugoslavia. The twentieth century seems to have ended as it began. What have we practically done to prevent atrocity and protect human rights and the rule of law? Concentration camps were not liberated with daisies.
I am sure we are all familiar with journalist, author and intellectual, George Orwell. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but his was an informed opinion – he fought against Franco’s Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. His statue stands in the BBC’s New Broadcasting House accompanied by one of his many famous quotes ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’
But are we listening? In 1986, the Romanian born Holocaust survivor and campaigner, Elie Weisel, asked the Gypsies for forgiveness for “not listening to your story.” Are we too focused on the minutiae and the quotidian? Founded in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Council of Europe aims to prevent a return to totalitarian regimes and defend fundamental freedoms: human rights, democracy and the rule of law. But have we? Can we? Will we?
Thank you and Goodnight Mapesbury
Dr Helen Carr is Vice President of the Independent Liberal and Democrat Group of the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. She is Leader of the Independent Group of the London Borough of Brent and Councillor for Mapesbury. Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, she is a Freeman of the City of a London.