Monuments to Famine

On March 4, 2019 By

Since 1995, more than a hundred memorials to the Irish famine have been erected, from St Stephen’s Green in Dublin to sites in Sydney and Toronto. There are modest memorials in Liverpool and Cardiff – but nothing in London. The closest Britain has come to an apology was in 1997, when Tony Blair acknowledged the ‘deep scars’ of the famine. But the famines in India and Ireland are not yet part of our national story. A public monument, in White- hall, opposite the Treasury, or in St James’s Park, near the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, would be a first step – one we could take actively, rather than prevaricating until apologies are demanded by formerly colonised peoples. The memorial should leave space available to inscribe the names of famines in which British government complicity might come to play a part. ‘Yemen’ will be the first to be added.

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In a briefing paper, “Movement towards accountability for Starvation,” published today by the World Peace Foundation and Global Rights Compliance, we review two key advances that occurred in 2018, and indicate areas where more work is required. Below is from the executive summary:

Can starvation be prosecuted? While international criminal law (‘ICL’) has become increasingly sophisticated […]

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This month’s winner is the global network of barricade builders, an international class of leaders—nationalized this month through the example of Australia –dedicated to governing by creating zones of privilege, predicated on the simultaneous creation of zones of deprivation. Our attention was drawn to Australia when the country’s highest literary award was granted in 2019 […]

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Think the word ‘famine’ and pay attention to what scenes come to mind. The enormous eyes and distended stomach of a suffering child; a parched landscaped; the rush of humanitarian actors, beating back the tide of death? Perhaps, it is a more specific image: from Sudan, Kevin Carter’s infamous image of a bird of prey, […]

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Protestors in Sudan are calling for the resignation of President Bashir. Will he listen? Alex de Waal joins an expert panel for an hour-long discussion on BBC’s, The Real Story.

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The history of twenty-five years of international criminal tribunals suggests that few culprits of starvation crimes would be indicted and fewer still tried and convicted. Even a successful prosecution would be mostly symbolic, as most perpetrators would escape. But this should not discourage us. Criminalizing starvation has many ramifications. It allows us to shift the shame of starvation from the victim to the perpetrator, to explore restorative justice including reparations, and to develop guarantees of non-recurrence.

The ultimate objective isn’t putting a villain in jail, but making the infliction of starvation so morally toxic that it is unthinkable.

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