Author Archives: Rebecca Tinsley

The Rosalynn Carter I knew

Years ago in Plains, Georgia, people had to stand in two separate lines, for Republicans and for Democrats, when they registered to vote. Rosalynn Carter told me she used to be the only white person standing in the Democratic line.

The world has lost a tireless campaigner for justice and peace with the passing of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, age 96. She never lost sight of the moral calling to give a voice to the world’s voiceless and persecuted, and she advocated for those with mental illness decades before it became a more socially acceptable subject.

I had the honour of knowing Mrs Carter through the work of the Carter Center, which she and her husband Jimmy established after they left the White House in 1980. Rather than making money from corporate directorships or after dinner speeches, the Carters threw themselves into creating an NGO to fight disease and poverty in the developing world, and to ensure elections were free and fair.

In the early 2000s, my husband Henry and I were invited to a dinner in London to meet Mrs Carter who was on her way to see their projects in Africa. We were unenthusiastic, assuming we would be stuck on a table at the back of a banqueting room, there to be squeezed for money.

Posted in Obituaries and Op-eds | 4 Comments

Time for a Distinctive Liberal Democrat Policy on Ending Conflict

The Foreign Office has an unspoken strategy: whenever possible, it frames conflict as a humanitarian disaster, not a political problem requiring a political solution. Supporting UN aid efforts is laudable, but it is also easier than devoting diplomatic time and capital confronting deep-seated issues like systemic corruption, the persecution of minorities or the marginalisation of ethnic groups. No wonder so many civil wars defy our efforts to secure a genuine sustainable peace.  

The current violence in Sudan is an example of how officials respond to conflict as if it were an earthquake rather than a man-made disaster. Twenty years ago, officials treated the ethnic cleansing in Darfur like a disease rather than a racist expression of the Sudanese regime’s policy to eliminate its Black African civilians. The ideology behind the slaughter in Darfur was never acknowledged, just as Milosevic’s plans for Greater Serbia and the Interahamwe’s genocidal ambitions to erase Rwanda’s Tutsi minority were ignored by diplomats at the time. 

Another Foreign Office strategy is to cling to the old, discredited elites when searching for a negotiated settlement. In Sudan, the architects of the violence were seen as the international community’s partners in the search for peace. Over the last two decades, the voices of civilians were largely ignored, while the elite – and the men with guns – made promises they were never asked to keep. No benchmarks were set, and there was no mechanism to deliver consequences for failure to fulfil commitments made to negotiators. It was Bosnia all over again.

Posted in News | Tagged , , , and | 5 Comments

Power to the people

A book about hydropower in Zambia might not make your list of “must read” titles, but if you care about the climate emergency, then there are two reasons to take note. First, we need practical and sustainable global solutions to power generation in the developing world. Second, “The Political Economy of Hydropower Dependent Nations: a case study of Zambia” is written by Liberal Democrat Dr. Imaduddin Ahmed and therefore worthy of your attention.

This book makes grim reading for hydropower enthusiasts: climate change is causing drought and emptying reservoirs. Drought is therefore causing power supply disruption, making it hard for nations wishing to diversify into manufacturing and away from relying on mining or subsistence agriculture. When there are frequent outages, manufacturers and others use highly polluting diesel generators. (Anyone spending time in Africa will be familiar to the rattling drone and greasy smell of generators that supply as much as a fifth of the continent’s energy).

Hydro plants can also have a devastating effect on biodiversity and communities living in the way of projects. Anyone following the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam saga will know that trying to monopolise the Nile (or Turkey’s plans for the Tigris and Euphrates) has brought several countries downstream to the brink of violence.

For decades the World Bank applied a template for development based on the Tennessee Valley Authority, an FDR-era project that revolutionized the lives of millions of poor Americans. Put simply, the TVA stimulated a consumer boom for US-made products and created employment. The World Bank then imposed the TVA model on countries with no domestic manufacturing base, meaning that America had new export markets for its goods.

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Look beyond local politics to attract new activists

In crude, self-interested terms, Liberal Democrats owe a great deal to pavement politics. In many areas, our credibility rests on our engagement with local issues that matter to people beyond the bubble of the chattering classes. Yet, we are missing an opportunity to recruit new, motivated activist members while our only profile on global issues revolves around EU membership.

Lib Dems have a great Parliamentary team on international issues: Layla Moran and Baroness Northover (FCDO shadows), Sarah Olney and Lord Purvis (international trade), with Alistair Carmichael relentlessly raising Hong Kong and the Uighurs in China. Yet, judging from the motions submitted to the conference committee, constituency branches seems to have little interest in the world beyond domestic UK politics.

Why should we care what is happening in Yemen, Syria, Venezuela, Belarus or Myanmar? In the narrowest terms, we know these issues won’t win us votes. But speaking out on matters of conscience can benefit the Liberal Democrats. Many of us joined the Party precisely because of principled stands taken by our representatives: David Steel on the Kenyan Asian crisis and immigration in the 1960s, Jeremy Thorpe on Apartheid in the 1970s, Paddy Ashdown on Bosnia in the 1990s, and Charles Kennedy on Iraq in 2003.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 14 Comments

Trade deals reveal Tory contempt for human rights and Parliamentary scrutiny

During the referendum, voters were promised Westminster would have greater power to scrutinise legislation. Liberal Democrats recently made valiant attempts to hold the government to account for its post-Brexit trade deals.

European Union era deals are being “rolled over” by the government. These recycled deals contain review mechanisms that can be triggered if parties breach human rights and democracy clauses. Yet, in the case of the Cameroon deal, those mechanisms were not triggered despite decades of election-rigging, corruption and more recent human rights abuses. What hope is there that the Conservatives will consider current atrocities as sufficient to suspend the rolled over deal? When Lib Dems asked why Parliament was allowed no scrutiny, they were told that MPs had a 14-minute debate in 2010. So much for post-Brexit sovereignty.

In addition, a new report by Global Rights Index finds that five of the 10 countries rated as the ‘worst in the world for workers’ have been given trade deals by Britain in the past two years. The UK-Australia deal has been widely condemned by environmentalists, animal welfare charities and farmers.

The debates initiated by Sarah Olney and Lord Purvis revealed the time warp in which the Foreign Office and Department for International Trade exist. The trade ministers, Graham Stewart MP and Lord Grimstone, gave a masterclass in arrogance and delusional 1950s thinking. They assume that foreign governments respectfully take notice when visiting British ministers raise human rights issues. But in the absence of the carrots and sticks of diplomatic persuasion, the UK’s pompous words have little effect.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 4 Comments

A Crisis in Cameroon Crying Out for a Lib Dem Solution

The central African nation of Cameroon is better known for football, but its bloody, under-reported conflict deserves the attention of Liberal Democrats. The rights of minorities to determine their future, and the need for a new constitutional settlement based on devolution or federalism are key issues. A Liberal International British Group webinar on April 19th explores the issues.

The former colonial powers, the UK and France, offer bland calls for the respect for international human rights law, but neither government will apply pressure on Cameroon to attend inclusive mediated peace talks

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 Comments

Webinar: What on earth can we do about the United Nations?

Most Liberal Democrats would agree that as the UN turns 75, the need for strong, multilateral institutions is as important as ever. But even the most enthusiastic UN booster is bewildered by the Security Council’s inability to act in the face of human rights atrocities, pandemics and climate devastation.

Please join the Liberal international British Group’s webinar on October 12th at 6.30pm, as UN insiders and critics discuss how the UN can be strengthened.

We will hear from the former Canadian cabinet minister (and more recently ambassador to the UN) Allan Rock who was in Jean Chretien’s Liberal government; Aicha Elbasri, who sacrificed her UN career by blowing the whistle when the organisation pandered to the genocidal regime of Omar Bashir in Sudan; and Hillel Neuer, from UN Watch, an NGO which catalogues the UN’s hypocrisy and failings.

The webinar will be chaired by Myles Wickstead from the Liberal Democrats in International Development group.

Please click here to register. Thank you.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 7 Comments

Opinion: Khartoum’s Omar Bashir should not be let off the hook

As people across North Africa and the Middle East rise up against their oppressive regimes, the international community is preparing to let Sudan’s dictator, Field Marshall Omar Bashir, off the hook for killing millions of his own citizens.

In 2009 the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Bashir for genocide in Sudan’s remote western region of Darfur where his policy of ethnic cleansing led to the deaths of 300,000 people. For years Khartoum used the same tactic, arming poor Arab nomads to kill their black Africa neighbours to similar effect in South Sudan, where an estimated two million died. …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 4 Comments

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