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20 May 1999 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Roger Casement: the internationalist

In a lecture titled ``Roger Casement and the foundation of 20th Century Human Rights'', hosted by The Ireland Institute in the Dublin Civic Museum on Wednesday, 5 May, the editor of Casement's Amazon journals, Angus Mitchell, said that Roger Casement ``must be reclaimed not just for those who seek a clearer understanding of the principles underlying 1916 but for those who fight for humanity everywhere. Casement was a unique witness to the horror of his time and was the most international leader involved in the Rising.''

He explained that since 1916, Casement has lain uneasily in the pantheon of republican leaders because uneasiness still revolves around his name, primarily on account of the forged Black Diaries.

Born in Dublin, educated in Antrim, Casement found his work as a shipping clerk in Liverpool before venturing to Africa, turning from a wild Imperial adventurer into a paid up and conscientious British Consul. It was in the Boer War that he was first clearly connected to British Intelligence. In 1903, Casement was asked by the British Foreign Secretary to investigate rumours of atrocities in the Congo and this and a further investigation in the Amazon (1911) saw Casement make the connection between slavery in Africa and Latin America with the denial of human rights world wide. ``You must remember that the cause of human freedom is as wide as the world - that if the slaver wins in Mexico or Peru, he stands, too, to win elsewhere.'' In another letter (August 1911) he wrote:

``If we free the Congo slave we smite the Mexican slaver - international humanity is the only check to international financial greed.''

It is clear that Casement's path to revolutionary sacrifice was based on his experience of a degenerate empire. By 1914, though, Casement was considered the most dangerous enemy that the Empire had to handle. Unlike the other executed leaders, Casement was a household name well before he turned openly to Irish revolutionary politics. His name and myth circulated in Africa, America, in the headwaters of the Amazon, and throughout the Empire. His diplomatic skills were used to court American and German sympathy to the Irish cause.''

When the many dimensions of his ``treason'' became apparent to the masters of the Empire they set out to destroy him and what he stood for. While the imperial justice system and the scaffold achieved the first task the forged diaries achieved the second.

Mitchell pointed out that the use of tarnishing your enemy with the brush of sexual depravity is one used often in history and even in present day politics and that while Casement's sexuality may always be an ambiguous issue, the authenticity of the diaries is a separate issue.

``Much more than merely Casement's reputation hangs on the authenticity of these documents. Casement's authority as a witness to a defining moment in the history of both Africa and South America has been undermined.''

The Ireland Institute can be contacted at PO Box 5467, Dublin 2.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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