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Human rights are an issue for us all - whether or not we are directly involved

Seeing the B52s arriving this month, courtesy of News at Ten, reminded me of the 1980s when the Americans used our bases to bomb Tripoli.

Then, as now over Kosovo, I was struck by the utter futility of unleashing weapons of destruction on innocent civilian populations. Indeed, when the bombers took off towards Libya, I was sufficiently moved to join a spontaneous demonstration in Whitehall. Barred entry to Downing Street, we moved on to Grosvenor Square, from where, following our candlelit vigil, I saw Eero Saarinen's American Embassy epitomising authority and defiance in the dawn light.

Hours later an Italian dentist resident in Tripoli screamed protest at the actions of far-off governments responsible, in his eyes, for the death of his young daughter during the 'carefully' targeted bombing raids.

I confess to knowing little of the difficult negotiations with Slobodan Milosevic, and the atrocities for which he is held responsible are far off, but I do know that remote involvement in the processes of war does, somehow, anaesthetise man's sensibilities towards the outcome - even when he designs weapons, machines for their delivery, or buildings for their manufacture and storage.

We should always deny such tendencies and it is for this reason that I welcome two recent books.

The first, titled simply Auschwitz, charts the long history of that border town, through which architectural historian Robert Jan Van Pelt, and co- author Deborah Dwork, provide a chilling account of the development of Himmler's camp as it grew rapidly to meet the labour demands of the nearby I G Farben chemical factory.

Illustrations show office quarters, a grand visitor centre, the inmates' huts, and crematoria all carefully detailed and constructed to facilitate the 'processes' that ultimately extinguished 1,200,000 lives.

The point here is that the construction of these buildings involved literally thousands of people: designers, manufacturers, 'services' engineers and craftsmen - people who were later to claim a remoteness from these crimes, and an innocence of the purpose of their work.

The second book, published last month, is Neil Belton's extraordinary biography entitled The Good Listener which tells the story of Helen Bamber who, as a relief worker, entered Belsen at the tender age of 20 and has since devoted her entire life to the struggle against cruelty.

Eventually leaving Amnesty International to establish the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, she has recently commissioned our office to design a new treatment centre for her organisation.

This unique project, virtually without precedent, will provide an oasis and bastion of refuge in this troubled world for those of any race, religion, culture and nationality who seek help - help to cope with the traumas, help to help others, often just help in their lonely desperation.

As a result of this work, through which we are learning of unspeakable suffering, of the continuing misuse of force and authority, of 'pseudo- scientific political engineering, and the indiscriminate use of violence to 'solve' ethnic and social differences', we are becoming ever more deeply suspicious of any attempted justification for the control, discipline, invasion or ultimately extermination of 'the human body'.

The Independent reported recently that British universities have £200 million invested in the British arms industry. But criticism of others is easy, and potentially deeply hypocritical: how many in our profession are involved in providing buildings that support the research, commercial, administrative and production facilities from which our arms industry operates?

I am again deeply disturbed by the arrival of the B52 bombers, however well intentioned those who instruct their use might be. Are we happy with the supporting role that our construction industry provides to the arms trade?

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