From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, Autumn 2008
"So long as the United Nation's mandate is to observe but never to intervene, it raises false hopes and it colludes in the death of freedom" ...
In honour of the 60th birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Intelligent Life asked 11 eminent people from different walks of life to look back over their adult lifetime and name the freedom we have gained and lost that means the most to them. They were free to take freedom in any sense, political or cultural, social or technological. What mattered was that it mattered to them. For our final instalment, we highlight the freedoms relished and missed by Daphne Park.
THE FORMER SPYMASTER: DAPHNE PARK
Aged 87, former British diplomat and senior MI6 officer, then principal of Somerville College, Oxford
Britain helped to found the United Nations after fighting a long war against Nazi tyranny. We had to see such allies as the Poles and Czechs swallowed up by the Soviet Union. Only the temporary absence of the USSR from the United Nations, when the vote was taken on Korea in 1948, enabled us to fight and win, under United Nations auspices, the war in Korea where both the USSR and China were engaged against us. From 1945 we could not travel freely or talk to anyone behind the Iron Curtain. I felt deep anger, serving for two years in Moscow in the 1950s, because I could not talk to Russians. For them, any foreign contact meant the gulag.
In all that time the United Nations, because we failed to foresee the flaws in its constitution, and how it could be manipulated, has been powerless to intervene in the Sudan, in Myanmar, and in Zimbabwe and, because of its appalling unwieldiness, it failed to save Rwanda and was totally ineffective in Sierra Leone. Declarations which cannot be made good are worse than useless. So long as the UN's mandate is to observe but never to intervene, it raises false hopes and it colludes in the death of freedom.
In my life therefore I have seen access to freedom of speech and action denied to a wide range of brave and valuable human beings, my contemporaries in a rapidly changing world, where people and ideas are a vital resource. We have been powerless to change their situation. (The new world of the internet has made it, however, more difficult to cut any country off from free communications.) At the same time the state, in most countries, has become more powerful, and more insistent that we should accept a multicultural regime which often inhibits honest comment on the social evils which confront us.
Women matter today. They have always played a significant part in society but in the last 50 years their overt power and status has greatly increased in many, though not all, countries. They are recognised now as equal players (even in the armed forces in some countries) and certainly in the world of work.
There are important regional variations. Sharia law still effectively denies access to many of their most important rights as citizens in our society in the field of education, and in marital matters. But in general women have been accorded the more powerful voice in many societies that they deserve and that has had a significant result in the field of education, science, the media and indeed politics. Aid works best when it is given directly to women. Finally, I have known two women prime ministers, both Somervillians!
Co-ordinated by Horatia Lawson