Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Congo

The Death of Dag

dag

 

This article was published in the Sunday Island on September 3, 2011 

 

We saw and felt the bare fangs of commercial interests cornered on a patch of gold.

 
The UN seems to have a lot of enemies in Sri Lanka. I find this sad because I have felt a sort of affinity for the organisation because we share the same birthday, although the UN is a year older than I. Also, Ireland has, over the years, lent its troops to many UN peace-keeping operations.

 
In the early sixties, I was staying at the Grand Union Hotel in Cobh, County Cork. The hotel was run and owned by the Allen family. Captain Allen of the Irish Army was home on leave from service with the UN force in the Congo. He gave us a slide show presentation about the Congo. He did not go into the atrocities that occurred during that time of the assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and the secession of Katanga province under Moise Tshombe.

 
The Grand Union Hotel long ago succumbed to recession and subsidence. It was located in Casement Square. The square was named after Sir Roger Casement who exposed Belgian atrocities in the Congo and was executed for his part in the Irish rebellion of 1916. (See: https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/sir-roger-casement/)

 
In the pages of the Island itself some criticism of the UN has centred on the incumbent Secretary General. K Godage on August 21 declared “Moon has prostituted himself and brought this great office, graced by the likes of Trygve Lee, Dag Hammarskjold, U Thant, Peres De Cuellar, Kurt Waldheim, Butros Ghali and Kofi Annan into disgrace and disgraced his country in the process”.

 
Ghali’s reputation became entangled in Yugoslavian horrors and larger controversies over the effectiveness of the UN and the role of the US; Waldheim concealed his complicity in Nazi war crimes at Banja Luka in Yugoslavia. Hammarskjöld had a good reputation. In these pages, Jayantha Dhanapala, a past potential Secretary General wrote: “By common consent no one has enlarged the scope and stature of the job as much as Dag Hammarskjold (1953-61) did. Was his exemplary character pre-judged?”
Only last week The Guardian claimed that “new evidence” had come to light that Hammarskjold’s plane had been shot down over Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and that British colonial authorities had arranged a cover-up of the assassination. Residents of Ndola said Hammarskjöld’s DC6 was shot down by a smaller aircraft and the crash site was sealed off by Northern Rhodesian security forces.

 
Unpublished telegrams show US and British anger at an abortive UN military operation that the secretary general ordered on behalf of the Congolese government against a rebellion in mineral-rich Katanga . Katanga’s secession, which had followed the Congo’s independence from Belgium in June 1960, was engineered by Belgium-based mining interests keen to continue mineral extraction in the province. Tshombe was, as Conor Cruise O’Brien said, their “black stooge”. Belgian settlers, white mercenaries and former Belgian Army officers provided military support. Hammarskjöld suspected British diplomats secretly supported the Katanga rebellion and had obstructed a bid to arrange a truce.

 
Hammarskjöld upset the major powers on the UN security council with his support for decolonisation, but his re-election was virtually guaranteed by support from developing nations. Days before his death, Hammarskjöld authorised a UN offensive on Katanga – codenamed Operation Morthor – despite reservations of the UN legal adviser (British) , and the fury of the US and Britain.

 
In 1992, George Ivan Smith and Conor Cruise O’Brien, who in 1961 were UN representatives in Katanga, wrote to The Guardian: “Vividly we were made aware of the brutal work of mercenaries, hired guns employed by European industrialists to prevent the UN from resolving a crisis at the heart of Africa …We saw and felt the bare fangs of commercial interests cornered on a patch of gold”. George Ivan Smith was himself beaten in a failed attempt to kidnap him. O’Brien was convinced that the industrialists sent two planes to intercept Hammarskjöld before he met Tshombe. O’Brien does not believe they meant to kill. Ivan Smith claimed to have evidence that the industrialist gave their agents permission to fire across the bows.

 
Matthew Hughes has examined Smith’s papers, including accounts of meetings with former mercenaries in the Congo, in the Bodleian and written about it in the London Review of Books (August 2001):

 
“According to Smith…‘The fear was that Tshombe, left free to negotiate with the United Nations, would understand the principles on which it was operating, i.e. non-interference in the domestic affairs of the Congo, but under obligation to encourage actions to integrate the country by the Congolese at the behest of the Security Council . . . The decision was taken by the control group at Kolwezi (the European industrialists) to attempt to reach Hammarskjöld before he could get to talk with Tshombe at Ndola.’ If Tshombe came to terms with the UN, he goes on, ‘it would put in jeopardy the position of Europeans not only in the Congo, but also in the Rhodesias and in all parts of Africa . . . where white minorities still held immense power.’ The objective thus was to kidnap Hammarskjöld.”

 
Harry Truman is reported to have said that “Dag Hammarskjöld was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said, ‘when they killed him’.”

 
Desmond Tutu wrote that the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission “discovered, during the course of other investigations, documents purporting to be from an institution called the SA Institute of Maritime Research discussing the sabotage of the aircraft in which the UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, died on the night of September 17/18, 1961.” One TRC letter said that a bomb in the aircraft’s wheel bay was set to detonate when the wheels came down for a landing.

 
A counter-view is that Hammarskjöld travelled from Léopoldville to Ndola in the middle of the night in order to prevent a full-scale war caused by the UN in the Congo, defying the Security Council and instigating a botched military coup in Katanga. Hammarskjöld was on his way to Ndola to apologize personally to Moise Tshombe at the insistence of the British government. Pilot error involved flying to Ndolo instead Ndola and misjudging the altitude. In this view, it was more convenient for the UN to have Hammarskjöld portrayed as a saint and instigate rumors about an assassination than to have the world know that he was to apologize for a military coup where 155 civilians, UN “peace-keepers” and Belgian soldiers were killed.

 
A book by Susan Williams is soon to be published, Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa. Williams recounts that: “British High Commissioner Lord Alport was waiting at the airport when the aircraft crashed nearby. He bizarrely insisted to the airport management that Hammarskjöld had flown elsewhere – even though his aircraft was reported overhead. This postponed a search for so long that the wreckage of the plane was not found for fifteen hours. White mercenaries were at the airport that night too, including the South African pilot Jerry Puren, whose bombing of Congolese villages led, in his own words, to ‘flaming huts …destruction and death’. These soldiers of fortune were backed by Sir Roy Welensky, Prime Minister of the Rhodesian Federation, who was ready to stop at nothing to maintain white rule and thought the United Nations was synonymous with the Nazis.”

 

 

 

Sir Roger Casement Part2

Irish Patriot

Although one normally thinks of Irish Nationalist Republicans as being Catholic, Casement was not the first to come from the Protestant Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. Wolfe Tone, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Emmett, John Mitchel, Charles Stewart Parnell and Erskine Childers were heroes of the Nationalist pantheon who were Protestants.

In the 1970s the leader of the Provisional IRA had the impressively Gaelic name of Sean Mc Stíofáin. He was in fact an Englishman called John Stephenson.

Casement had long been interested in Irish history and believed that the Irish had a distinctive character which could not thrive within the existing constitutional framework and relationship with Britain. His interest was transformed from a hobby into a passion by his friendship with Alice Green. She was the widow of the distinguished English historian, JR Green, and built a substantial reputation as a historian in her own right. Her main thesis in her writings was that the English, far from civilizing the savage Irish, had imposed a destructive alien rule on a highly cultured community.

Casement connected his Congo experiences with his analysis of the colonization of Ireland by the English. The English had not only parcelled Irish  land out as property, they had distributed it among themselves and appropriated most of its produce. The population of Ireland had been drastically reduced by undernourishment, disease or emigration. This was particularly devastating in the 1840s when the failure of the monoculture crop caused by recurrent potato blight led to widespread famine compounded by doctrinaire economic policies based on ‘free’ trade.

A commission of inquiry investigating the financial relationship between England and Ireland concluded that, since the Act of Union of 1800, the Irish had actually been overtaxed relative to the English. Even the fiercely loyalist Ulster unionist leader, Colonel Saunderson, said, “When Englishmen set to work to wipe the tear out of Ireland’s eye, they always buy the pocket handkerchief at Ireland’s expense.”

It was easy to see the parallels with Leopold’s ‘system’ in the Congo. In 1904, Casement was not anti-English and continued to be employed by the British crown. However, his passion for Ireland led him to start learning the Irish language in that year and he met the Irish nationalist writer, Stephen Gwynn at the Festival of the Glens. He contributed financially to Irish cultural causes. Gwynn described him thus: “What remains in my mind is chiefly the impression of his personal charm and beauty…Figure and face he seemed to me to be one of the finest-looking creatures I had ever seen; and his countenance had charm, distinction, and a high chivalry. Knight-errant he was; clear-sighted, cool-headed, knowing as well as any that ever lived how to strengthen his case by temperate statement, yet always charged with passion.”

Casement resigned from the consular service in 1912. The following year, he helped form the Irish Volunteers. He worked hard to raise funds for the Irish independence movement but was distrusted by some because of his background serving the Crown and because he was too moderate. However, the extreme Clann na Gael leader, McGarrity was devoted to him. A gunrunning enterprise in late July 1914 which he had helped to organise and finance further improved Casement’s reputation.

In September 1914, Casement met the German Ambassador to the US in New York and attempted to secure German aid for Irish independence. In November 1914, Casement negotiated a declaration by Germany which stated, “The Imperial Government formally declares that under no circumstances would Germany invade Ireland with a view to its conquest or the overthrow of any native institutions in that country. Should the fortune of this great war, that was not of Germany’s seeking,  ever bring in its course German troops to the shores of Ireland, they would land there not as an army of invaders to pillage and destroy but as the forces of a Government that is inspired by goodwill towards a country and people for whom Germany desires only national prosperity and national freedom.” Casement  travelled to Germany and negotiated with Under Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, Arthur Zimmermann and with the Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg.

The main purpose of his visit to Germany was to talk to Irishmen who were prisoners of war. The plan failed because all Irishmen fighting in the British army did so voluntarily. The Germans, who were skeptical about  Casement but nonetheless were aware of the military advantage they could gain from an Irish rebellion against England They  offered the Irish 20,000 rifles and ten machine guns with accompanying ammunition. This was a mere fraction of what Casement had hoped for.

Casement did not get much thanks from the Irish Republican Brotherhood for his efforts. They deliberately kept him in the dark and even tried to replace him. He did not learn about the 1916 Easter Rising until the plan was fully developed. The German weapons were never landed in Ireland. The British  had intercepted German communications out of Washington and knew there was going to be an attempt to land arms even if the Royal Navy was not precisely aware of where. The arms ship under was apprehended by HMS Bluebell on the late afternoon of Good Friday. About to be escorted into Queenstown (present day Cobh, birthplace of my father) in County Cork on the morning of Saturday 22 April, after surrendering, the ship was scuttled by pre-set explosive charges. Her crew became prisoners-of-war. Casement was put ashore at Banna Strand in County Kerry on 21 April, 1916, three days before the Easter Rising began. He was too weak to travel and was soon arrested on charges of treason, espionage and sabotage and taken straight to London.

Trial and Execution

The trial was something of an embarrassment to the British government. The Treason Act seemed to apply only to treasonous activities conducted on British soil and Casement’s crimes had been committed in Germany. The court decided that a comma be read into the text allowing a broader interpretation.

In his speech from the dock, Casement said that he was being tried by a foreign power which exerted its rights over him and his countrymen by conquest.

“It is a rule derived not from right, but from conquest. Conquest, my lord, gives no title, and if it exists over the body, it fails over the mind. It can exert no empire over men’s reason and judgment and affections; and it is from this law of conquest without title to the reason, judgment, and affection of my own country men that I appeal. I would add that the generous expressions of sympathy extended me from many quarters, particularly from America, have touched me very much. In that country, as in my own, I am sure my motives are understood and not misjudged,  for the achievement of their liberties has been an abiding inspiration to Irishmen and to all men elsewhere rightly struggling to be free in like cause.

We are told that if Irishmen go by the thousand to die, not for Ireland, but for Flanders, for Belgium, for a patch of sand on the deserts of Mesopotamia, or a rocky trench on the heights of Gallipoli, they are winning self-government for Ireland. But if they dare to lay down their lives on their native soil, if they dare to dream even that freedom can be won only at home by men resolved to fight for it there, then they are traitors to their country, and their dream and their deaths alike are phases of a dishonorable phantasy.

If it be treason to fight against such an unnatural fate as this, then I am proud to be a rebel, and shall cling to my “rebellion” with the last drop of my blood. If there be no right of rebellion against a state of things that no savage tribe would endure without resistance, then I am sure that it is better for man to fight and die without right than to live in such a state of right as this.

Where all your rights become only an accumulated wrong; where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to garner the fruits of their own labours—and even while they beg, to see things inexorably withdrawn from them—then surely it is a braver, a saner and a truer thing, to be a rebel in act and deed against such circumstances as these than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men.’

In spite of pleas for clemency from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, WB Yeats, and GB Shaw, Casement was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 3 August 1916 at the age of 51. Casement converted to Catholicism just before his execution. After his execution, Casement’s body was buried in quicklime in the prison cemetery.

In 1965, his remains were repatriated to Ireland. Half a million people filed past his coffin as it lay in state for five days. Thirty thousand Irish citizens, including the frail 85-year-old president, Eamon de Valera, the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, attended a state funeral with full military honors. Casement’s remains were buried in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Casement’s Homosexuality

Even before his execution, a smear campaign was underway with copies of the so-called ‘black diaries’ being circulated. The documents show Casement to have been a promiscuous homosexual with a penchant for boys and young men. There was always a strong lobby arguing that these were forgeries.

In August 1916, the English poet Alfred Noyes (I remember being subjected to his greatest hit, “The Highwayman” at primary school – it was voted England’s 15th favourite poem in 1995),  was working in the News Department of the Foreign Office.

He wrote: “I have seen and read them and they touch the lowest depths that human degradation has ever touched. Page after page of his diary would be an insult to a pig’s trough to let the foul record touch it.”

Later Noyes  was  in Philadelphia to give a lecture on English poets, but before he could utter a word he was confronted by Sir Roger’s sister, Nina. “A  lady of distinguished bearing rose in the audience and asked if she might say a few words… to my horror and that of the audience, she announced that she had come for the express purpose of exposing the speaker of the evening as a ‘blackguardly scoundrel’. ‘Your countrymen,’ she cried, ‘hanged my brother Roger Casement.’ “

He admitted he might have been mistaken and his admission was seized upon by Casement sympathisers. Twenty years later, Yeats named Noyes in a withering attack: “Come, Alfred Noyes, come all the troop That cried it far and wide Come from the forger and his desk Desert the perjurer’s side”.

In 1957, Noyes tried to make amends  when he published The Accusing Ghost or Justice for Casement in which he argued that Casement had indeed been the victim of a British Intelligence plot.

His conversion, and Yeats’s  protest in verse, cemented the idea that the diaries were forgeries. However, an independent forensic  team published the following verdict:

“The unequivocal and confident conclusion which the Giles Document Laboratory has reached is that each of the five documents collectively known as the Black Diaries is exclusively the work of Roger Casement’s hand, without any reason to suspect either forgery or interpolation by any other hand. The Diaries are genuine throughout and in each instance.”

Jeffrey Dudgeon’s (Dudgeon himself was instrumental in getting homosexual acts decriminalized in Northern Ireland in 1982) annotated 2002 edition of the diaries, accompanied by a perceptive and empathetic biographical treatment, went a long way towards integrating Casement’s nationalist, humanitarian and gay lives.

Sir Roger Casement

Colonialism is rarely totally advantageous to the colonised. The British Empire was not the only villain. Certainly the pre-Nazi German colonial enterprise was not benign to the conquered. The Kaiser’s colonialism was enmeshed with racism. A  fear of guerrilla attacks created  a genocidal mentality and  a policy of total annihilation, including  deliberate starvation. 150,000 Hehe starved in Tanganyika and a further 300,000 people in the Maji-Maji revolt. Sixty  per cent of the Hereros and Nama were exterminated in Namibia.

Little Belgium was particularly vicious.

In a strange episode, Sir Roger Casement, a British diplomat who exposed Belgian crimes in the Congo,  was executed by the British for his part in the Irish rebellion.

In the early sixties, I was staying at the Grand Union Hotel in Cobh, County Cork. The hotel was run and owned by the Allen family. Captain Allen of the Irish Army was home on leave from service with the UN force in the Congo. He gave us a slide show presentation about the Congo. I am glad that he did not go into the atrocities that occurred during that time of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the secession of Katanga province under Moise Tshombe.

The Grand Union Hotel long ago succumbed to recession and subsidence. It was located in Casement Square.

Who was this man Casement?

Roger Casement was brought up in Northern Ireland as a protestant, a Unionist loyal to the Crown. He distinguished himself as an honourable member of the British diplomatic service and was awarded a knighthood.

In 1916 he was hanged by the British as a traitor and his body dumped in a pit of quicklime at Pentonville Prison.

Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa has written a novel about Casement. El sueño del celta (The Dream of the Celt), was published in Spanish on 3 November, 2010. The novel won’t be available in English until early 2012.  “Casement is a figure with a complex historical relationship to the UK establishment and there is bound to be significant interest in this novel from a constituency of readers much broader than fans of Vargas Llosa or, indeed, readers of literary fiction,” said the publisher, Lee Brackstone. “We certainly expect to grow Mario’s sales dramatically in the wake of the Nobel with a novel so fixed in British and Irish political and cultural history.”

The Congo Free State

Casement was initially a willing participant in the colonial project. When he got a job with the Elder Dempster shipping line in Liverpool he did not like the idea of being an office-bound clerk. He persuaded the company to let him go as a purser on one of its ships to Boma in the Congo and once there at the age of 20 joined the unpaid volunteers who were working for Henry Morton Stanley, the man who achieved fame by “finding” David Livingstone.

Stanley’s project of opening up the unmapped regions of Central Africa had attracted  King Leopold II of Belgium. However, the King could not arouse the interest of his subjects in colonial ventures and decided to look for financial support outside Belgium. An International African Association was set up with Leopold as its chairman. He stated that his sole ambition was “to open up to civilisation the only area of our globe to which it has not yet penetrated”.

Leopold was tall and striking in appearance but inspired neither the affection nor respect of his own people nor the friendship of his royal cousins. Leopold was first cousin to Queen Victoria, but her son, the future Edward VII , detested him. He founded the Congo Free State, which covered the entire area of the present day Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he ran as a personal fiefdom and business venture.

After the break-up of Stanley’s team, Casement was recruited to the British diplomatic service and served as consul in a number of African locations.

Many people who met Casement at this time  were impressed by him. Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi : “All I can say from personal experience, and long friendship, is that I have always found him sympathetic, clever and fascinating, and that I have met very few men during my whole life who had such an exceptional personality. He possessed an absolutely genuine, though somewhat exaggerated, idealism: nothing whatever would stop him from assisting the weaker against the stronger, because he simply could not help it.”

Poultney Bigelow was one of the best-known American foreign correspondents of the time. He saw Casement as the sort of man depicted in Jules Verne’s novels, “the man who is everlastingly exploring and extricating himself from every imaginable difficulty by superhuman tact, wit and strength.”

In 1890 at Matadi, Casement met young Captain Korzeniowski, who found Casement “most intelligent and sympathetic”.   The captain recalled that Casement had “a touch of the conquistador in  him too; for I’ve seen him start into an unspeakable wilderness swinging a crook-handled stick for all weapons, with two bulldogs Paddy (white) and Biddy, (brindle) at his heels, and a Loanda boy carrying a bundle for all company. A few months afterwards it so happened that I saw him come out again, a little leaner, a little browner, with his stick, dogs and Loanda boy, and quietly serene as though he had been for a stroll in a park.”

The Captain later became Joseph Conrad and transmuted his Upper Congo experience into Heart of Darkness.

Casement was intelligent and sensitive enough to appreciate that there was an underbelly to  the colonial enterprise. He was a published poet. One of his poems, in the style of Thomas Davis, writer of the Irish rebel song ‘A Nation Once Again’, included the lines:

‘Prate not of England’s valour in the field

Her heart is sick with lust.

The gold she wins is red with blood, nor can it shield

Her name from tainted league with men of broken trust.’

The ostensible objective of the enterprise had been to benefit the natives,  not to enrich a colonial power. Trade returns showed that the flow of rubber out of the Congo into Belgium was rapidly increasing but there was an unchanging trickle of imports into the Congo. The main import seemed to be guns. The labour force was not being paid. Leopold’s authority in the Free State was absolute, so only he was in a position to embezzle the State’s funds.

Casement met King Leopold in Brussels in October 1900 and challenged him with these reports. The King pleaded that Belgium was only a tiny country wanting ‘a few- only a few- of the crumbs that fall from your well-stocked British table. And yet in England you are suspicious of us!’

By 1903, Casement was British consul in Kinshasa and was commissioned by the British government to write a report on the human rights situation in the Congo Free State.

There were some criticisms that Casement’s visit was too brief, but he had previous experience; he knew what he was looking for and was not surprised by what he found. He was prepared for Leopold’s possible defence that there might have been isolated incidents of abuse. Casement knew in his heart and his head that there was a ‘system’. The cutting off of hands was the deliberate act of soldiers of the administration, “who never made any concealment that in committing these acts they were but obeying the positive orders of their superiors”. The Free State, Casement knew and felt he could prove, was no more than a gigantic and ruthless commercial enterprise.

He was supported by the campaigning freelance journalist, Edmund D Morel, to whom he donated a third of his annual salary. Morel recalled, ‘The weapon which brought Leopold to his knees was forged by two men in straitened circumstances who, so far as they could see in to the future, had everything to lose and nothing to gain.’

The two men campaigned energetically in many countries to bring the abuses to light. In America, the campaign attracted the support of Booker T Washington and Mark Twain. Twain wrote of, “King Leopold II, who for money’s sake, mutilates and starves half a million of friendly and helpless poor natives in the Congo every year”. He described Leopold as “this mouldy and piety-mouthing hypocrite, this bloody monster, whose mate is not found in history anywhere, and whose personality will surely shame hell itself when he arrives there- which will be soon we hope and trust.”

The Casement Report comprises forty pages of the Parliamentary Papers, to which is appended another twenty pages of individual statements gathered by the Consul. The report demonstrated in grim detail how a slave labour force was maintained by systematic brutality including amputations, vicious beatings, kidnappings and killings of the native population by the Bula Matadi soldiers of King Leopold. The report contained long and detailed eye-witness reports.

Casement gave his own eye-witness reports:  “I was  able to institute a comparison between a state of affairs I had myself seen when the natives loved their own savage lives in anarchic and disorderly communities, uncontrolled by Europeans, and that created by more than a decade of very energetic European intervention”.

“On the 25th of July (1903) we reached Lukolela, where I spent two days. This district had, when I visited it in 1887, numbered fully 5,000 people; today the population is given, after a careful enumeration, at less than 600. The reasons given me for their decline in numbers were similar to those furnished elsewhere, namely, sleeping-sickness, general ill-health, insufficiency of food, and the methods employed to obtain labour from them by local officials and the exactions levied on them.”

“Two cases (of mutilation) came to my actual notice while I was in the lake district. One, a young man, both of whose hands had been beaten off with the butt ends of rifles against a tree; the other a young lad of 11 or 12 years of age, whose right hand was cut off at the wrist. . . . In both these cases the Government soldiers had been accompanied by white officers whose names were given to me. Of six natives (one a girl, three little boys, one youth, and one old woman) who had been mutilated in this way during the rubber regime, all except one were dead at the date of my visit.”

The report led to the arrest and punishment of officials who had been responsible for murders during a rubber-collection expedition in 1903 (including one Belgian national who was given a five year sentence for causing the shooting of at least 122 Congolese natives).

Leopold had been granted control of the Congo Free State under the 1885 Berlin Agreement which carved up Africa between the European colonial powers.  The term ‘Free’ signified the free trade that the Berlin Act obliged Leopold to establish for the benefit of all nations who wished to trade there; a condition that the King managed to flout through awarding territorial concessions for rubber extraction to a number of private companies, some of which were mere disguises for his own aggrandizement The British government demanded a meeting of the 14 Berlin signatories. The Belgian parliament, pressed by socialist leader, Emile Vandervelde, forced Leopold to set up a commission of inquiry which could not avoid confirming the essentials of Casement’s report. In 1908, the Belgian parliament took over control of the Free State from Leopold and it became the Belgian Congo.

Casement was awarded a CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael St George in 1905 for his Congo work.

Putumayo

Casement had the chance to do similar work in Peru in 1906 among the Putumayo Indians. Public outrage in Britain over abuses against the Indians had been sparked in 1909 by articles in the British magazine Truth. Following two visits, Casement submitted a report to the British foreign secretary, dated 17 March 1911, in which he detailed the punishments carried out by the British-registered Peruvian Amazon Company.

“Men, women, and children were confined for days, weeks, and often months. … Whole families … were imprisoned–fathers, mothers, and children, and many cases were reported of parents dying thus, either from starvation or from wounds caused by flogging, while their offspring were attached alongside of them to watch in misery themselves the dying agonies of their parents.”

Some of the men exposed as killers in his report were charged by Peru and others fled. The main culprit, Julio Cesar Arana, was never prosecuted. He instead went on to a successful political career, becoming a senator, and died in Lima in 1952 at age eighty-eight.

On returning to London, Casement campaigned on behalf of the Anti-Slavery Society.

Casement was knighted by George V for his efforts on behalf of the Amazonian Indians.

Five years after his Putumayo report to the foreign secretary, Casement’s body was in quicklime at Pentonville prison.

More in Part Two

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Poet's Corner

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Pop Culture From An Old Soul

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The Manchester Review

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