Monthly Archives: January 2014

Remembering Rwanda – twenty years on: kwibuka20

A gerbera bloomed in the convent garden, next to a simple cross. A fly, buzzing, crawled up the cross. Images like this one, or the grove of eucalyptus trees outside the town, where the twenty children who had taken shelter in the convent had been taken, been murdered and buried. Or the doorway through which I saw the nun still sitting, after our interview, perfectly outlined, head bowed, as she remembered those dead.

I’m one of the many journalists who was privileged to visit Rwanda and chronicle some of the aftermath of the genocide. I was there twice, once in 1997, three years after the genocide, with Panorama, as a young assistant producer, with Fergal Keane, Tony Wende, Mike Spooner and Mike Robinson. We travelled back to Nyarubuye, the scene of one of the many horrifying massacres, where men, women and children were murdered after taking sanctuary in a church. Fergal had been there shortly after the massacre and we went back to find one of the child survivors, Valentina. The story we had almost told – a general story about the genocide, all over Rwanda – was ditched. It became Valentina’s Story (the title of the documentary). Valentina became our Everywoman. After it was screened, we got letters and emails from all over the world – some with cheques in them. I ended up being Valentina’s banker for a while and eventually handed over the money to the Survivor’s Charity to administer for her. It put Valentina through nursing college. A very small consolation for the genocide, but a lovely and heartfelt gesture, that people all over the world sent that money. We also gave a more general donation to the village from other donors who wanted a less specific donation.

I went back with Fergal with Newsnight, in 1999, this time as his producer. Again, images remain from the visit. At some point on one of these trips we interviewed a journalist from Rwandan TV, who pulled me into an edit suite with the cameraman (the wonderful Ian Pritchard) and asked us to look at some footage. It was the stuff of nightmares. A woman, lying by a roadside, throat cut, filmed as she lay dying. There were other such images, but she has remained with me. The journalist told us that this was done to encourage the killing. The plan was to transmit the images – but the TV station was captured before it could be done.

So, in the year when we remember the 20th genocide, I hope my attempt to honour the dead – and I should stress that I am intending to give much of the sales to Rwandan charities – in the short story I have written about the aftermath of such horror, is useful, respectful.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00GM01ZD8

Kwibuka20.

Advertisements

Migration Stories – From Belgrade, Brussels and Barcelona (and Tehran) – to Bungay and Beccles

I wrote this blog a couple of weeks ago for the think-tank Respublica and was pleased to see how many positive comments it got on Twitter and other social media sites. It’s essentially a slice of family history – both my mother (adoptive) and I have roots both in the UK and abroad. My mum comes from a long line of international trouble-makers. Her grandfather, Kosta Bozic, a Serbian cleric, stood trial along at Banja Luka in 1916, in an infamous trial connected to the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand, was sentenced to death, and eventually died of TB, a national hero. Her other grand-father was a Spanish socialist MP, Fernando Garrido, who also spent much time hopping across European borders to escape arrest (not always successfully). Such histories are one that curdle the blood of our more anti-immigration politicians, of course. They think that such people or their descendants -my mum in this case – should never be allowed to settle here. Judge for yourself. 

Immigration week: Stories, statistics and stereotyping

Katharine Quarmby calls for greater perspective in the Immigration debate

In 1946 a young, half Serbian, quarter Spanish girl arrived in the UK on a Cessna plane from Belgrade. She spoke only Serbo-Croat. She had seen her Jewish friends carted off to the concentration camps and her mother’s hair had turned white with the effort of keeping her alive during the wartime years in Yugoslavia. Her mother had left her husband behind in Yugoslavia and flown, pregnant, to the UK. Mara Bozic, as she was called then, and her mother Isabel, had but a tenuous claim on British citizenship, according to the Home Office. Isabel’s mother was English by birth, but her father had been a Spanish artist (and his father before him a well-known Spanish Republic MP). The Home Office was not convinced of their claim to reside in the UK. The resident English family offered to pay a bond, and thus Mara Bozic, age 10, became a British citizen, lost a father and her first language, gained a newborn sister and became Mary Bozic. She grew up in Cambridge. Her mother, now a lone parent with a tiny baby, somehow managed to support both her girls by teaching at the Convent School and other jobs, such as, rather improbably, typing up one of Wittgenstein’s manuscripts. Later, that older daughter attended teacher-training college and, one summer, worked at Chivers jam factory in Cambridge as an 18 year old to earn much needed money. She met a young Yorkshire man, a Cambridge student also in need of money. They fell in love over an assembly line of Christmas pudding trays. Later they got married.

They had three sons, and that young Yorkshire history graduate, the first in his family to attend university, became a promising teacher. Later, the young woman became a talented teacher too. They wanted to put something back into society, and they wanted a girl, so they decided to adopt a daughter. They didn’t care what colour the baby was, they told the adoption society, so they were offered a three-month-old ‘coloured’ child, a half Persian girl who was, at that time, ‘hard to place’. (Most adoptive parents then didn’t want a child of uncertain racial heritage. Most ended up in children’s’ homes.) The birth father, an Iranian sailor who desperately wanted to keep the child and take her back to Iran, was not allowed to do so. He was forced to relinquish her and later he experienced imprisonment and torture during the Iranian Revolution. Luckily for me – that baby –  those two young idealists became my parents, and those boys, my brothers – although I count myself very lucky to have met my birth family too.

So there are two generations with somewhat tenuous claims to citizenship, in our family, although it must seem very British to the casual observer. My parents are pillars of the local community – retired teachers now, who still volunteer at local schools and who have given selflessly of their time throughout their entire lives, to public service. My parents are churchgoers and bell-ringers – the very bedrock of rural society. My mum has even served on the planning committee of the parish council, striking fear into the heart of many a local builder with her forensic attention to their plans. Britain – by way of Belgrade and Barcelona.

And yet – in many ways my grandmother brought my mother here because she was, in the words of our tabloids, an ‘economic migrant’. My grandmother was desperate. She was pregnant. She had nowhere else to go. I, too, was a ‘half-caste’ child with just half a hand on British citizenship when I was born. Our right to be here was perhaps a little questionable – and yet I think we have served our country pretty well – as many who pitch up here do. And while our stories might seem a little strange, the story of why each family or individual ends up on these shores is probably equally extraordinary or even more so. To give but one more example, there’s my dear Ethiopian friend, a singer, who fled the civil war as a child of 14, when her parents were killed, and was brought here by another family – and then abandoned on a tube. On a tube. At fourteen. At night. When my fourteen-year-old daughter slopes off to bed, in a comfortable house, surrounded by those who love her, I remember that. My friend has done so much for other people since she arrived here, yet some people would – and do – write her off as a scrounger who has no right to be here. I disagree. I think all of us have served the community in which we live well. Many migrants and refugees do so – and will continue to do so, given half a chance.

Behind every phrase that belittles every migrant and every refugee is a family and a history that seeks to be told. Often, as in my case, there are links with the UK. Sometimes there are not, but there is often a wish to forge links, or to work hard to make them. When my Spanish great-grandfather first came to the UK as an artist, he painted with the Staines group of artists. We still have the letters of condolence to his wife, when he died of TB in Switzerland, from British artists who had met him here and recognized his talent. There is nothing wrong with having a generous and international view of the world, of travelling beyond the shores where one is born. Is there? I sometimes think that this insularity that is gaining ground here is a hangover from the war, and that we have never recovered from winning that conflict. One of the prizes of victory has been a most unfortunate one – a rupture with continental European culture that has been profound and that has left us unable to understand and appreciate what we gain from mixing with other cultures, and that we have become increasingly xenophobic as a result. This is not why we went to war – to fear and dislike other cultures. This is not why my mother lost her Yugoslavian uncle, the Jewish friends she used to dance ballet with, or indeed the family lands in what was Yugoslavia. This is not why millions of people were murdered or gave their lives fighting for freedom and human rights for all – to safeguard the rights of disabled people, the Roma, Jewish people and gay people to live alongside other citizens as equals in a new Europe. But it seems to be an unintended and negative consequence of that victory.

We seem to have forgotten, in our latest moral panic, that we are one of the richest nations in the world, and that the migrants who do arrive on our shores are far more likely to want to work hard for their living than draw benefits – far more, in fact, than many British citizens. Many employers bear witness to this. There is nothing wrong with wiping bottoms, laying out the dead, cleaning toilets, collecting scrap and working in the fields. But if some British workers don’t want to do it, you cannot blame British employers for looking elsewhere for an eager workforce (although you can blame them if they then exploit that workforce).

In January visa restrictions will be lifted for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to come here. Cue the rising moral panic about chaos in our schools, rocketing crime, baby-stealing and general anti-Roma rhetoric – both by journalists and politicians. The Roma and the way that they are talked about is the litmus paper for how all immigration is talked about (although it’s worth noting, by the by, that C4’s Homeland, now openly stirs up dislike of Iranians). I will be watching how politicians and the media report on the Roma very carefully over the next few months and will be doing what I can to redress the balance, as will the Romani journalists I’ve worked with over the last seven years, as I researched my latest book, No Place to Call Home. Suffice it to say that a nation of several million people can’t be lazily stereotyped, as it has been so far, here in the UK, without distorting reality. The truth about the Roma people is far more interesting, more layered – and full of rich, individual stories – than we’ve heard so far. We would do well, for a start, to remember the Roma history – which includes slavery in Eastern Europe, the gas ovens during the Holocaust, hangings, floggings and deportations here in the UK, enforced adoption here and in Scotland and enforced sterilization in Eastern Europe.

My suggestion, therefore, in the coming months, for politicians and journalists would be two-fold: use statistics wisely and not mendaciously. Thus far many statistics about immigration are hotly argued. Surely it’s possible to agree on numbers, prevalence, data, and move on from there. And, secondly, if you are going to make generalisations about people, please go and talk to them. It is the height of incivility to stereotype a whole nation, as both journalists and politicians have done about the Roma people, for instance, without actually meeting them and spending time with them. In conclusion, therefore, get both your stories and your statistics straight. Then we can have the debate we should have about immigration. At the moment we’re not having a debate; too many in this arena are indulging in dirty propaganda wars. That’s not the same thing at all. And it belittles our reputation for honesty, integrity and generosity as a nation – and our place in Europe – if we don’t mend our ways.

– See more at: http://www.respublica.org.uk/item/A-week-of-Immigration-Stories-statistics-and-stereotyping#sthash.ab6Gl0B6.dpuf

Attorney General’s Letter to Disability Hate Crime Network re Bijan Ebrahimi case

This is the letter I received (on behalf of the Disability Hate Crime Network) from the Attorney General, in which he explains his reasons not to refer the sentences imposed on those involved with the case of Bijan Ebrahimi to the Court of Appeal.

I’m glad it’s a comprehensive reply, but I’m sorry the sentences were not referred. I’ve thought a lot about this case over the last few weeks, and have a few observations. One is, as I’ve said before, that we need good quality perpetrator analysis of disability hate crime offenders to understand motivation better. Secondly, I would advocate FBI style information on the crimes and offenders being more readily available – locations, ethnicities, etc etc. This would enable potential victims to conduct their own risk analysis of situations more readily. Perhaps it would even lead to better intelligence led policing.

Most importantly, however, I think that this case should lead to a major police reform whereby if a police force considers that it may have failed a murder victim and refers itself to the IPCC after death it should then have the murder investigation removed from it. This would mean that the investigation could be more wide-ranging. In the Avon and Somerset case the police force stated that it could find no evidence that the crime was motivated by disability hatred. If it had found such evidence, of course, that would have damned the force yet further. So it had a direct interest in not looking for such evidence – if it was there. That meant it did not ask for Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act to be applied either for race or disability hatred which would have led to longer sentences. So I think in future cases a neighbouring force should take over the ensuing investigation to look for all evidence that might show evidence of the police not doing their job properly before the murder and missing repeated harassment. One to ponder.

LETTER FROM THE ATTORNEY GENERAL – DATED 3 JANUARY 2014

Dear Ms Quarmby

Thank you for your email on behalf of the Disability Hate Crime Network asking the Attorney General to review the sentences imposed on Lee James and Stephen Norley. James pleaded guilty to the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 18 years. Norley pleaded guilty to assisting an offender and was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.

The Attorney General has carefully considered the sentences imposed and has decided not to refer either sentence to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient because he does not think the Court would increase the sentences.

As you may know, the Attorney General has the power to refer sentences imposed in the Crown Court for certain offences to the Court of Appeal if he considers they are unduly lenient. It is then for the Court of Appeal to determine whether the sentence is unduly lenient and, if so, whether to increase it. The Court of Appeal will not interfere with a sentence unless it is outside the range of sentences it was reasonable for the judge to have passed.

The Court of Appeal’s review of a sentence is based on the material which was before the sentencing judge and the Attorney General has to take that into account when he reviews a sentence. In other words he has to look at the basis on which the case was presented to the court below. In this case the prosecution made it clear that there was no evidence that the offenders were motivated by hostility towards Mr Ebrahimi’s race or disability when the offence was committed. The prosecution did not consider there was any evidence in this case that the false accusation against Mr Ebrahimi that he was a paedophile was related to his disability. There was therefore no basis on which to argue that the offences ought to have been treated as hate crime.

The sentencing judge did find that this was a vigilante crime characterised by bullying and victimisation and he increased the sentences to take account of that, and other aggravating factors. The Attorney General concluded that the judge approached the sentencing exercise properly and took all relevant factors into account.

I hope this helps to explain why the Attorney General decided that it would not be appropriate to refer these sentences to the Court of Appeal.

Yours sincerely

Correspondence Unit