Roger Casement

Irish diplomat, activist, nationalist and poet (1864–1916)

Roger David Casement; 1 September 1864 – 3 August 1916), known as Sir Roger Casement, CMG, between 1911 and 1916, was a diplomat and Irish nationalist. He worked for the British Foreign Office as a diplomat, becoming known as a humanitarian activist, and later as a poet and Easter Rising leader. Described as the "father of twentieth-century human rights investigations", he was honoured in 1905 for the Casement Report on the Congo and knighted in 1911 for his important investigations of human rights abuses in the rubber industry in Peru.

Roger Casement in 1914
Roger Casement (right) and his friend Herbert Ward, whom he met in the Congo Free State
Roger Casement's grave in Glasnevin Cemetery. The capstone reads "Roger Casement, who died for the sake of Ireland, 3rd August 1916"[1].

Quotes

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  • On Sunday evening, natives brought me a mutilated lad, who's right hand had been hacked of quite recently, the cold thread was a century of lalu longa, a Belgian trading society, when i asked why they had not appealed to their commissar, i heard from them, well it is the commissar, it is the Bula Matari, who does these things to us.
  • In 1887 i spend several months on the upper Congo, and i traveled over some of the grounds i now revisit in the absence of 10 years, the country was thickly populated, frequent and populous towns, but many of the inhabitants have been killed by the government, man and woman.
  • Of the persistent mutilation by government soldiers, there can be no shadow of a doubt, should the system maintain forced labor on this scale, i believe the entire population will be extinct in thirty years.
  • Tackling Leopold in Africa has set in motion a big movement – it must be a movement of human liberation all the world over.
  • Caoutchouc was first called 'india rubber,' because it came from the Indies, and the earliest European use of it was to rub out or erase. It is now called India rubber because it rubs out or erases the Indians.

The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement. Casement's 1910 journal, Page 85.

  • That every of of Nordenskiöld's letter to the Anti-Slavery Society is true I am quite convinced. The entire Indian population is enslaved in the montaña and whereon the devil plant, the rubber tree, grows and can be tapped. The wilder the Indian the wickeder the slavery. Where he becomes 'civilised' and can read and write and study "cuenta" [accounts] with his "patron" then he ceases to be an Indian and becomes a "Peruvian" and himself an enslaver. As to the laws - all these South American republics have excellent laws on paper - and no sense of equity in the man behind the paper. The laws are beautiful and simple books - a fool could turn the leaves and apply them - an honest fool would make an ideal judge.

The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement. Casement's 1910 journal, Page 112

  • And the charming Lizardo Arana tells me in Iquitos I shall find "such splendid Indians" here, and he feels sure the result of my journey to the Putumayo will be more capital for the Company! Yes, more capital punishment if I had my way. I swear to God, I'd hang every one of the band of wretches with my own hands if I had the power, and do it with the greatest pleasure. I have never shot game with any pleasure, have indeed abandoned all shooting for that reason, that I dislike the thought of taking life. I have never given life to anyone myself, and my celibacy makes me frugal of human life, but I'd shoot or exterminate these infamous scoundrels more gladly than I should shoot a crocodile or kill a snake.
  • Nevertheless the Barbadians were all engaged by Arana as "agricultural labourers" or "labourers", and if Arana gave them to Colombian "criminals", whose "properties" he has since entirely acquired, and whose system he has maintained, if not indeed developed. I cannot see but that he is responsible quite as much as these Colombian "ruffians", and to the British Government he is solely responsible for the use to which he has put the labourers recruited in a British Colony.
  • Against every member of the Company's higher staff, so far as I can see are not merely alleged, but have been sworn to and published in Iquitos.
  • This Company has not got the means of paying for anything in its Provedura or Store, and yet it daily imposes onerous tasks (apart altogether from rubber collection) on the surrounding people. And they perform these tasks, patient, humble beings, with smiles and compliments and gentle speech to their oppressors. From building these huge houses (this one is fully 45 yards long and as strong as an old three-decker) ckearing great tracts of forest, making plantations of yucca, mealy, sugar canes, &c., constructing roads and bridges at great labour, for these men to more easily get at them - to supplying them with "wives", with food, with game from the chase, often with their own food just for their own pressing wants, with labour to meet every conceivable form of demand. All this the Indians supply for absolutely no remuneration of any kind, this entirely in addition to the India rubber which is the keystone of the arch.
  • The trees are valueless without the Indians, who, besides getting rubber for them, do everything else these creatures need - feed them, build for them, run for them and carry for them and supply them with wives and concubines. They couldn't get this done by persuasion, so they slew and massacred and enslaved by terror, and that is the whole foundation. What we see today is merely the logical sequence of events - the cowed and entirely subdued Indians, greatly reduced in numbers, hopelessly obedient, with no refuge and no retreat, and no redress...

The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement. Casement's 1910 journal, Page 214-215.

  • The Indians who actually prefer their forest freedom to the whip, the cepo, the bullet and the raping of their children are spoken of in terms of reprobation as lazy, idle and worthless - and this by men who never leave their hammocks all day, and whose only "work" is to work crime. They have not cultivated a square yard of ground or done one useful thing with their hands since they came here. Their only use - their sole purpose - is to terrorise and rob. And this is the function of the paid employees; the higher staff of a great English Company! Truly Mr Arana has planted a strange rubber tree on English soil!

The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement. Casement's 1910 journal, Page 250.

  • Crippen is caught too! but what a farce it seems - a whole world shaken by the pursuit of a man who killed his wife - and here are lots and lots of gentlemen I meet daily at dinner who not only kill their wives, but burn other people's wives alive - or cut their arms and legs off and pull the babies from their breasts to throw in the river or leave to starve in the forest - or dash their brains out against trees. Why should civilisation stand aghast at the crime of a Crippen and turn wearily away when the poor Indians of the Putumayo, or the Bantu of the Congo, turn bloodstained, appalling hands and terrified eyes to those who alone can aid?
  • if you ever attempt to 'Sir Roger' me again I'll enter into an alliance with the Aranas and Pablo Zumaeta to cut you off someday in the woods of St. James' Park, and convert you into a rubber worker to our joint profit
  • Throughout the greater part of the Amazon region, where the rubber trade flourishes, a system of dealing prevails which is not tolerated in civilised communities. In so far as it affects a labouring man or an individual who sells his labour, it is termed peonage, and is repressed by drastic measures in some parts of the New World. It consists in getting the person working for you into your debt and keeping him there; and in lieu of other means of discharging this obligation he is forced to work for his creditor upon what are practically the latter’s terms, and under varying forms of bodily constraint. In the Amazon Valley this method of dealing has been expanded until it embraces, not only the Indian workman, but is often made to apply to those who are themselves the employers of this kind of labour. By accumulated obligations contracted in this way, one trader will pledge his business until it and himself become practically the property of the creditor. His business is merged, and he himself becomes an employee, and often finds it very hard to escape from the responsibilities he has thus contracted.
  • Perhaps a greater defence than their spears and blow-pipes even and been more ruthlessly destroyed. Their old people, both women and men, respected for character and ability to wisely advise, had been marked from the first as dangerous, and in the early stages of the occupation were done to death. Their crime had been the giving of 'bad advice.' To warn the more credulous or less experienced against the white enslaver and to exhort the Indian to flee or to resist rather than consent to work rubber for the new-comers had brought about their doom. I met no old Indian man or woman, and few had got beyond middle age. The Barbados men assured me that when they first came to the region in the beginning of 1905 old people were still to be found, vigorous and highly respected, but these had all disappeared, so far as I could gather, before my coming.
  • The evidence against the Arana brothers was indeed overwhelming, and had the slightest desire existed in Iquitos to find out the precise truth or to stop the excesses on the Indians the time for action was then when the charges were first made, and publicly made in Iquitos, with a host of witnesses at hand proclaiming their desire to be interrogated and when even Indians themselves, with the scars and wheals of flagellations upon them were actually brought from the Putumayo so that the authorities might examine for themselves these victims of the crimes denounced."


  • I think the whole gang - Arana & President and Prefect & all - are liars and rogues. No offer Arana makes is to be trusted. If I had the money myself I'd buy the rogue out and go out to the Putumayo on a well armed yacht with a party of good shots and have some of the best big game shooting in the world. Why the devil men should go to Africa to shoot 4,000 head head of harmless gazelle or antelope with such fine beasts as Normand, Aguero, Fonseca to stalk - I can't imagine. I wonder if Roosevelt would take the thing up? Also I rather regret no I gave you the blow pipe and poisoned arrows - as I think the big Indian lad might attend next board meeting of the [Peruvian Amazon] Company with me - and exemplify on Arana and McQuibban how the poison arrow works.
  • During the several years that the Arana syndicates have been controlling the Putumayo, and using the government forces in the furtherance of their lawless ends against either Colombian settlers or native Indians the local value of the services rendered by this so-called trading company to the Peruvian Government must have amounted to many thousands of pounds in the matters of passage and victualling alone. The agreement no doubt worked to the satisfaction of both parties. Messrs. Arana and Co (it is really absurd to use the name of the ineffectual London Company at any stage of the business) obtained the military help and prestige of Peru in attacking, murdering and pillaging the Colombian settlers on the Cara-Paraná in securing their rubber and enslaving fresh tribes of Indians, while the government through 'this patriotic action' of the Aranas extended the frontiers of the 'national territory' and became possed of regions to which it had not any moral or lawful claim.

Quotes about Roger Casement

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  • In any inclusive study of the roots of modern British socialism and internationalism, Casement’s collaboration with E.D. Morel should be cited as a critical conjuncture in a tradition of English radicalism and the struggle for the fairer distribution of land.
  • It was a grey afternoon. The windows gave on to the Thames, and against the grey sky the warehouses on the southern bank were, through the gathering mist, lined in an outline of darker grey and black, the tall chimneys uplifted above them. The tide was out, and beside the distant quayside some coal-barges lay tilted on the sleek mud of the river-bottom, with their sides washed by the silver waters that raced seaward. Against this picture, looking outward before the window curtains, stood Roger Casement, a figure of perplexity, and the apparent dejection which he always wore so proud, as though he had assumed the sorrows of the world.
  • Roger looked wonderfully tall and dignified and noble as he stood in the dock. He seemed to be looking away over the heads of the judges and advocates and sightseers, away to Ireland – probably his mind’s eye was fixed on some well-known spot such as Fair Head or Murlough Bay – certainly he had no look of one who was conscious of his awful and sordid surroundings…
    • Roger Casement remembered in London Casement's cousin Gertrude described Casement during his court appearancen in which he was ultimately sentenced to be hanged for alleged ‘treason’ on August 3, 1916.
  • Casement’s belief in solidarity and cooperation between all the people of the world is fundamentally republican. It is a principle that is often ignored or diminished by the opponents and detractors of Irish republicanism. We’re not ‘Little Irelanders’. Our vision is fundamentally internationalist. We stand with struggling people of the world – and we are confident in the fact that they stand with Ireland too. In our own day and age – we reiterate our call for a global response to the current health pandemic. A global pandemic requires a global remedy. We face an enormous responsibility. No-one is safe until everyone is safe. No-one is free until we’re all equal. That is where Casement would have stood.
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