Roger Casement: Hedgehog ahead of his time.

AuthorNormey, Rob

Roger Casement, the subject of Jordan Goodman's The Devil and Mr. Casement, was a leader in the modern human rights movements.

Roger Casement was a giant in the modern human rights movement that emerged in the twentieth century. Indeed, Casement courageously, and with great determination and skill, became a major leader in two of the first genuine human rights campaigns in this time.

The first was an investigation of King Leopold of Belgium's misrule in the Belgian Congo, then called nonsensically the "Congo Free State". Casement's 1904 Report was the vital first step in an impressive international campaign to end human rights abuses against African slave labour in the lucrative exploitation of rubber and other natural resources. This brilliant campaign moved beyond the writing of indignant letters to the Times (or one's local newspaper). It started with Casement visiting the Congo, engaging in field research, and interviewing victims, participants and other witnesses. Then came his detailed report.

Casement moved on to investigate a second example of a major, systematic operation founded first and foremost on human rights violations. This second campaign is the focus of a wonderful account by Jordan Goodman in The Devil and Mr. Casement: One Man's Struggle for Human Rights in South America's Heart of Darkness. In 1906, Casement's employer, the Foreign Office of the British Government, sent Casement to Brazil. He was soon asked to become a consular representative to a commission involving rubber slavery by the Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC). The PAC was exploiting primarily the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon region, the Putumayo.

Before delving into Goodman's book, it is worth noting a few pertinent facts about Roger Casement. Although he had a long and distinguished career in the British Foreign Service, he was Irish--the son of a Protestant father and a devout Catholic mother. His father suffered ill health and moved the family often after being invalided out of the army at half-pay. Their impoverished circumstances and his parents' persistent health problems caused considerable anxiety. Tragedy struck when Casement's mother died in childbirth in 1873, when Roger was nine. His father was most devastated, and his health rapidly declined until his death four years later. Despite these unpromising circumstances, Casement maintained a burning desire to make his mark in the world.

Casement's first break came when he landed a job as a shipping...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT