Chemical warfare to be discussed at annual peace lecture
The Leeds International Olof Palme Memorial Peace Lecture, jointly organised by Leeds Beckett University and Leeds City Council Peace Links Group, is to be presented on Tuesday 30 June at 7pm at Leeds Civic Hall by Alastair Hay OBE, Professor of Environmental Toxicology at the University of Leeds.
Professor Hay will deliver a lecture entitled ‘Chemical weapons: just history?’, marking the centenary of the first use of a weapon of mass destruction during the First World War.
Dr Rachel Julian, Lecturer in peace studies at Leeds Beckett and co-organiser of the event, commented: “The Olof Palme lecture was first established in 1987 by then Labour Euro-MP for Leeds, Michael McGowan, in memory of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, a peace campaigner and outspoken opponent of apartheid in South Africa. Over the past few years we have had some extremely interesting talks from a range of fascinating speakers and this year looks set to follow on in that tradition.”
Places at the lecture are free and can be reserved at www.olofpalme.eventbrite.co.uk.
At 5.30pm on 22 April 1915, in an attempt to break the stalemate produced by both sides digging in along the line of trenches established during the war’s early stages, the German army released over 168 tons of chlorine gas in what became known as the second battle of Ypres. The green-coloured gas cloud drifted across positions held by French Colonial troops from Martinique creating a four to five mile gap in the Allied line and killed or injured around 6,000 men. All sides used gas during the war resulting in over one million casualties and over 90,000 deaths.
Professor Hay has worked on chemical weapons issues for nearly 40 years, including the investigation of six actual and alleged chemical weapons uses. In 1995, Professor Hay worked with Physicians for Human Rights on the analysis of soil samples collected from sites in Iraq; results confirmed the presence of mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin along with breakdown products of both agents. This study showed that even four years after bombs were used, positive evidence of the chemicals could still be found.
Professor Hay has published widely on chemical warfare issues and is currently involved on work to increase awareness amongst chemists of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, the international treaty which outlaws use of chemical weapons.
Olof Palme was briefly a student at the University of Leeds in the 1950s before his election as an MP to the Riksdag in 1956. Over the next few years he held several ministerial posts, eventually becoming prime minister in 1969. Although he lost his parliamentary majority in 1971, he managed to carry out major constitutional reforms. He was returned to power in 1982. However, on 28 February 1986 he was shot dead as he left a cinema in Stockholm with his wife Lisbeth. These annual lectures have been held to remember his work for promoting peace and security in the world.