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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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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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A British Member of Parliament has proposed starving Ireland as a negotiating tactic.

If this remark were on the historical record for the 1840s, when the British government administered mass starvation in Ireland, it would join the black book of infamy, evidence for the inhumanity of the British establishment.

But last week, Priti Patel, MP […]

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