James Thackara
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The Human Rights Subtext

The London of the Vietnam period was ripe with human rights interest, responding to the United Nations’ still recent Universal Declaration, in turn reflecting a two hundred years’ speculation on the rights of man throughout the English, American, and French revolutions. The moral reach of the embryonic human rights groups gave a context to the fledgling author James Thackara in his difficult years from 1967-73.  With the Soviet gulags still active and intensifying political turmoil in Latin America, Thackara fell under the compulsion of a role as witness, philosopher, and occasional messenger for this tiny information fraternity of the justice-minded and self-sacrificing.

In 1969, Thackara was at the founder meetings of Survival International, defender of native peoples worldwide, and himself quietly militated behind the scenes to protect indigenous Amazonian land rights. He was a close friend to the Chilean solidarity after the U.S.-supported Allende overthrow; and later during the Clinton regime he eased a rapprochement between the U.S.’s Santiago Embassy and Chile’s alienated radicals. As the anti-Soviet samizdat dissidents gained Western support, Thackara attended meetings of Index on Censorship’s inner circle; and for twenty-five years he met regularly with successive editors and influenced many of the magazine’s issues, and decades later agreed to be interviewed in its pages over his work for Mordechai Vanunu.

He also worked closely with and became a friend to Victor Fainberg - survivor of seven years in various Soviet psychoushki and now the head of CAPA (Campaign Against Psychiatric Abuses) - helping to rewrite smuggled documents and participating in quixotically small demonstrations at the Soviet Embassy on behalf of imprisoned dissidents (Bukovsky, Gluzmann, Borisov, Sharansky). With Fainberg, and through friends in Washington, Thackara arranged a historic, short-lived, link of America’s AFL-CIO with the Russian free-trade union SMOT.

After Chernobyl, Thackara’s lifelong quest to heighten consciousness over mounting nuclear arsenals came to fruition when he organised and led the Nuclear Emergency Trust (NET) inside the new NGO, Article 19 – its membership comprising several dozen influential voices, and as its steering group, Maurice Wilkins (DNA Nobel), Robert Jungk (Brighter Than a Thousand Suns), Frank Barnaby (Freeze), and Tom Kibble of Imperial College (Scientists Against Nuclear Arms). The group’s Herculean first alarms – their size itself anaesthetizing most of terrorized humanity – were the Chernobyl medical crisis, Lyon’s runaway Creys-Malville reactor, and Israel’s violent abduction from Italy of its ‘nuclear whistleblower’, Mordechai Vanunu.

Eighteen years later, just prior to Vanunu’s release, Thackara met with the Archbishop of Canterbury and alerted him to Vanunu’s ordeal and a potential role for the Bishop of the Middle East at St. George’s Jerusalem, where Vanunu was later given asylum. At Vanunu’s release from Ashkolon, Thackara represented Index on Censorship at the prison gates and subsequently gathered four foreign expert-witness affidavits for Vanunu’s Appeal of July 2004 (The Nuclear Regulator Victor Gilinsky, Frank Barnaby, Frank von Hippel, and the Peace Nobel and head of Pugwash, Joseph Rotblat).

Thackara’s early support of the now immense world framework of courts, multitudinous NGOs, and new kinds of governance, involved a few concentrated interludes during each year’s work throughout the forty years following university; the balance was writing time. Still, these discreet world activisms focus a consistent lens within his art.

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