Thursday, 29 August 2013

Financial Times letter: Regret is of little use if lessons are not learnt

This letter appears in the Financial Times on Friday 30 August 2013 and can be read here.

Sir, The appalling events near Damascus may be the worst use of chemical weapons since Saddam Hussein’s attack on Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan. When I attended a 25th anniversary commemoration in Halabja earlier this year, the phrase “never again”, was used often. These defiant and hopeful words, first associated with the Holocaust, are uttered with a chilling regularity after subsequent crimes against humanity. This should teach us that the world normally chooses to tolerate such crimes, pausing only to express regret at our inadequate action or outright inaction.

For example, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the UK former defence and foreign secretary, has said: “One of my great regrets of the Bosnian conflict was the UN global arms embargo on Yugoslavia and its successor states ... its effect was to make Bosnian Muslim communities much weaker in the face of the Bosnian Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing.” Speaking about the Rwanda genocide, US president Bill Clinton said: “I regret it ... If we’d gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost.” After the Darfur genocide, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said: “I have regrets about Darfur, real regrets.”

Sentiments such as “never again” and expressions of regret are of little use unless they influence us to take the right decisions in the future. The defenceless men, women and children of Syria today, and similar people elsewhere in the world who may face similar attack in the future, require our action, not words.

John Slinger

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