Wednesday, January 31, 2007

'THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN' - another view of western aid

Whilst the following letter takes a harsher view of the Sachs' formula for using aid as a more effective tool than I would express, the nub of the argument is sound. I felt the most telling point of the Sachs article was the comparison between military and aid expenditures. Yes, he provides a formulaic snapshot of aid interventions, but I think this was more a function of his presumed audience than a reflection of his insights into the roots of poverty in Africa.

In many respects aid is a component of a neocolonial mindset that pervades Western dealings with the developing world. The notion that the intervention of Western technical transfers can be a panacea for developing country problems is patronizing and harmful. Where local change management and community development processes are moving in the right direction, sensibly targeted aid can be of great benefit. Small amounts of seed capital can enable local projects to be sustainable. Capacity development support can be beneficial if the key actors and factors for change are homegrown. Heath and education interventions can be a vital catalyst for social uplift.

William Esterly writes:

"Professor Sachs unintentionally confirms my characterization of his approach as the modern-day heir to the patronizing "White Man's Burden" of a century ago. To Professor Sachs, African poverty is just a technical problem that "the world's leading practitioners" can solve (as described in the thousands of pages produced by Sachs's UN Millennium Project) if only these experts are given enough money for their "proven strategies." This reveals a remarkable naiveté about the roots of poverty. Poverty in Africa is the outcome of much deeper factors such as political elites who seek mainly to protect their own position, dysfunctional institutions like corruption and lack of property rights, and a long history of exploitation and meddling from abroad (the slave trade, colonial depredations, the creation of artificial states, military interventions). It takes breathtaking hubris to assert that this mess can be fixed for the tidy sum of $75 billion. A similar hubris leads to amnesia concerning the many previous generations of technical experts that have ineffectively tried Sachs's "proven strategies" to end African poverty.

Poverty never has been ended and never will be ended by foreign experts or foreign aid. Poverty will end as it has ended everywhere else, by homegrown political, economic, and social reformers and entrepreneurs that unleash the power of democracy and free markets.

Yes, some specific problems are fixable by aid and there has been progress on some already in health and education, as both Sachs and I have noted. But the answers were never so obvious in advance to the "experts." Future solutions will be found by trial-and-error search for what works on the ground (e.g., how to motivate delivery of bed nets to those who need them? how to convince the poor to use them?). Productive searches will come from actors who each take responsibility for one step at a time and get held accountable for success or failure. The unaccountable foreign experts who promise to comprehensively end poverty "at an amazingly low cost," a claim that bears stronger intellectual kinship to late-night TV commercials than to African reality, will accomplish very little."

I do not think these writers are so far apart in reality. Local ownership of development processes is fundamental. When homegrown impetus is established outside interventions can be helpful.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

UNHCR warns that failed asylum seekers should not be returned

AI reports that "earlier this month the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) urged countries not to deport rejected Iraqi asylum seekers, stating that they faced targeted killings and worsening bloodshed in their homeland.

The security situation in Iraq, where more than 20,000 people were reportedly killed in 2006, has deteriorated in the past 16 months. Aid workers in the area warn of a refugee crisis as more and more countries close their doors on fleeing Iraqis.

We know from the work of David Corlett and others that asylum seekers forcibly repatriated have been put in harm's way by our government. Given Australia's responsibility for the Iraq war as a member of the 'coalition of the willing', protection of Iraqi refugees is a moral imperative. This country must not continue down the path of sacrificing our reputation as an upholder of refugee rights to serve the political ends of a 'fear' wedge. We are all demeaned in the process.

Death by hanging - A view from Singapore

Independent Singaporean NGO the Think Centre, has decried the ongoing use of the death penalty for drug mules, while the big fish go free.

Sinapan Samydorai writes "Any humane criminal justice system could not continue to justify the retention of the death penalty based on retribution.

The Singapore government continues to ignore the UN Special Rapporteurs recommendation of 1996. "The Special Rapporteur wishes to reiterate his call on the Government of Singapore to change its Drug Act so as to bring it into line with international standards. The Special Rapporteur considers that the Misuse of Drug Act, which partially shifts the burden of proof to the accused, does not provide sufficient guarantees for the presumption of innocence and may lead to violations of the right to life when the crime of drug trafficking carries a mandatory death sentence."

On 25 January 2007, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, said: "Singapore law making the death penalty mandatory for drug trafficking was inconsistent with international human rights standards, because it keeps judges from considering all of the factors relevant to determining whether a death sentence would be permissible in a capital case." “In the case of Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, the Government of Singapore has failed to ensure respect for the relevant legal safeguards. Under the circumstances, the execution should not proceed.”

In Singapore drug trafficking carries a mandatory death sentence and is inconsistent with the criteria of absolute necessity and proportionality. When a court wrongly sentences a person to death, the result is irreversible...

Think Centre calls on the government, the members of parliament, to abandon the use of death penalty.

A sentence of life in prison for the most serious offenses would keep us just as safe.

The government could offer more help and guidance to troubled kids before they turn to drugs and crime. Instead of investing in vengeance, it ought to be investing wisely in humanity and human dignity.

Death penalty is a practice from the past like torture and slavery which must be rejected by all decent human beings. The death penalty is a inhumane, cruel and degrading punishment. The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights."

This demonstrates the depth of unease within Singaporean society about the ongoing misuse of the judiciary and the rule of law to serve what are, clearly, political objectives.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Human Rights in Singapore - Two more executed

AI reports Singapore executed two Africans on drug trafficking charges Friday despite pleas for clemency by Nigeria's president, the United Nations and human rights groups.

I encourage people who consider the mandatory death penalty regime to be barbaric to boycott Singapore government businesses and to avoid Singapore as a travel destination. I used to be a regular visitor but will not set foot in the place until these laws are rescinded.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Human Rights in Australia: Another refugee's detention horror

Melbourne Indymedia carries an open letter from a chinese falung gung practitioner abused in the Villawood immigration detention centre:

"To Whom It May Concern:

The following is a statement from Mr Jian Liu. It is his account of the events that took place recently at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.

My case manager from DIMIA (sic) visited me Monday morning on 8th January 2007. She informed me that I was liable to be removed from Australia and that I would be deported back to my home country China on Wednesday, 10th January 2007. She had also brought with her forms that detailed my detention costs and other costs owed by me to the Commonwealth, and she also had documents regarding my removal from Australia.

I informed her that I currently had an ongoing matter before the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. She took a photocopy of my letter / application for Ministerial Intervention from me and left, taking all the documents she had brought with her.

At no point during our meeting was I asked by my DIMIA case manager to put my signature on my removal documents. She took them with her at the end of our meeting and returned to her office to contact the Ministerial Intervention Unit in Canberra in order to verify the status of my application to the Minister.

Later that afternoon my case manager returned and saw me again briefly. She said that she had been informed by the Minister’s office in Canberra that they had indeed received my request for Ministerial Intervention but that a decision was pending on the matter. She also said that regardless of this, my deportation to China would still proceed; meaning that I would be removed from Australia on Wednesday 10th January 2007 as she had oiginally stated earlier that day. She then gave me a copy of my removal document / form and left. Once again, even at this point she never asked me to sign my removal form.

I returned to my room and read the form. On it I saw her signature, and also comments made by her stating that I had refused to place my signature on the removal form. Again I state, at no point in time that day was I asked by her to sign the removal form.

All this time I had been under the impression that I had an ongoing matter before the Minister’s office. Hence, I thought that by law, the Department of Immigration would not be permitted to remove me from Australia while I had an ongoing matter. But once I had been informed of my pending deportation from Australia by my case manager on Monday, I was obviously very distressed as a result. For the rest of the day I was under tremendous stress and quickly sank into depression.

I did not sleep much that night. Tuesday morning (9th January 2007) I woke up after a short sleep and realised that once I would be returned to China, I would most certainly face either immediate imprisonment or more likely, death. I was in a stressed state of mind, to say the least. I felt extremely helpless and hopelessness took a firm grip on me. Driven by the most unfortunate of circumstances, I inflicted self-harm upon myself. I was seriously injured as a result and had to be rushed to hospital. I was immediately admitted to Liverpool Hospital where I received surgery and treatment at the emergency department. I stayed at Liverpool Hospital over night, where the doctors and nursing staff took very good care of me. The staff were deeply concerned for my health and well-being, and I received more than adequate medical attention and treatment.

Wednesday (10 January 2007) afternoon around 2 or 3 pm, security staff from the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre arrived at Liverpool Hospital. They informed me that I was to be transferred from hospital back to the detention centre at once and that they would be having me discharged from Liverpool hospital and taking me back to the centre. I informed them that I was feeling very sore and that I was in a lot of pain as a result of my injuries. I was in fear of leaving hospital too soon because I felt I required the care of professional medical staff and feared that my condition might worsen or become unstable if I were to return to the detention centre (where I could not possibly be under constant medical supervision).

I also had a toothbrush lodged somewhere along my digestive tract that I had swallowed when I had inflicted self-harm, which doctors had not been able to remove at that time. The security staff then warned me that if I did not comply and resisted returning to the detention centre, I would be taken by force. I was left with no choice other than to comply and leave from hospital.

But before we left Liverpool Hospital, I requested the security staff to allow me to have another x-ray taken in order for the doctors to precisely observe exactly where along my digestive tract the toothbrush was lodged. I felt that was essential because the toothbrush I had swallowed could have been lodged in a dangerous spot. I was refused this by the detention security staff and they said that I had to be returned to Villawood immediately. The security manager from the detention centre (Eddie Peseta) ordered one of his officers to start filming because they were about to use force to remove me from the hospital. The security officer started filming us using a portable video camera. I was under tremendous stress and also a lot of pain, and I quickly obtained a cup of detergent and drank it. They saw me drink the detergent and after I had finished Eddie (the Security Manager) stated that my actions did not make any difference and he grabbed me by my hand and dragged me to the escort van. I was in too poor a condition to possibly resist. While I was in the escort van on the way back, I was in extreme pain and I requested the security staff if I could lie down in order to be more comfortable. One officer named Amir refused my request.

I was brought back to the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre on Wednesday 10th January 2007 around 5 pm. I was first taken to the medical department at Stage 2 of the detention centre, where the nurse was very rude to me and did nothing in the form of a medical check-up except for simply checking my blood pressure. Neither was I seen by a doctor, nor was I psychologically assessed by a psychologist or a mental-health nurse. I had just been discharged from hospital, and in my opinion untimely discharged, and was still in a very poor condition and required medical care and attention.

I was then taken to Stage 1 (where I originally resided before this incident took place) immediately and was placed under 24-hour observation. This meant that at least 2 security personnel were close by at all times, never letting me out of their sight, and never being more than 3 to 5 meters away. Since I have returned to Stage 1, I have not been allowed to have contact with other detainees. I am constantly being kept in an observation cell, with 2 security officers at my door at all times. I am not permitted to leave the cell, neither is any detainee allowed to visit me in my cell.

The most contact I can have with other detainees is if they come to my cell and talk to me from outside my door. I am in a lot of pain and extremely uncomfortable. Since I have returned from hospital, the medical staff at the detention centre have not done much to tend to my injuries and have failed to give me medication. I believe I am being neglected badly by the medical staff. At Liverpool Hospital I was getting the care and treatment that I require under my present physical and psychological condition. Finally today (Thursday 11 January 2007) I was able to see the doctor at the detention centre. I informed him that I was in a lot of pain and felt that the toothbrush I had previously swallowed was making me extremely uncomfortable and painful. He stated that he would have an x-ray appointment arranged for me within three days from today.

The security staff saw me drink detergent in front of them at the hospital. They were aware that I had inflicted serious injuries to myself a day prior to that. They were aware of the seriousness and the extent of my injuries. In my opinion I believe that in light of the injuries I had sustained, I should not have been discharged from hospital so soon. Especially the fact that detention security personnel used force to remove me from hospital leads me to feel and believe that my rights as a human being have been violated; and negligence on part of the medical staff at the detention centre is a continuing violation of human rights.

I have been living in Australia since 1999. I have been in custody of the Department of Immigration and detained at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre for nearly a year and a half (17 months). I fled my home country China because I was the victim of ongoing extreme persecution for my practices of Falun Gong. If I were returned to China, I would most certainly face imprisonment, torture, and most likely death. I am in a desperate situation. I feel that I am lost; my future is extremely dark and bleak; and that there is no hope.

I plead to you to take my story into account and consideration and if possible, I urge you to please play a part in attaining justice for a fellow human being with no one or nowhere to turn to.

I take this opportunity to thank you for your time and consideration in relation to my matter.

Yours sincerely,

Jian Liu
Villawood Immigration Detention Centre"

Vanstone may have been sacked for the wrong reasons, but her oversight of DIMA was a disgrace. Kevin 'I am not Mr Bean' Andrews' tenure will doubtless witness another series of human rights violations. The only antidote is to scrap mandatory detention and to hold a Royal Commission into the conduct of this department.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Next May/June will see Australia host the largest military exercises we've ever had in peacetime. Talisman Sabre 07.

Twelve thousand Australian soldiers and nearly l4,000 US troops and sailors will take place in bombarding our shores and fragile landscape, storming our beaches, gunning down 'terrorists' in the newly built urban guerrilla warfare training centre, testing their latest laser guided missiles and 'smart' bombs in some of the most pristine wilderness I've ever seen on this planet - and in 30years of making films, I've seen a lot of this planet.

Idyllic Shoalwater Bay near Rockhampton will cop it all - live aerial bombing, ship to shore naval firings, underwater depth charges exploded in areas where turtles and dugong breed, nuclear subs using high level sonar frequency which zaps the hearing of sea life and mammals, nuclear aircraft carriers inside the so-called Great Barrier Reef marine national park (!), land based artillery firings blasting the hell out of areas where the most amazing biodiversity in Australia is to be found.

Shoalwater Bay covers 740,000 hectacres and is almost unique in our climatic landscape because it is a cross over point for tropical, sub tropical and temperate zones giving rise to an amazing variety of many species of flora and wildlife, birds,sea creatures etc.

Anyone who has seen Al Gore's film has to ask why are we allowing such madness to take place and wanton misuse of resources to further add to the huge level of CO2 put up into the atmosphere in exercises such as these at a time when we all should be combining forces in the War for Our Survival.

These live munitions actions at Shoalwater Bay will run simultaneously with US bombing runs by Stealth, B1 and B52 bombers (just one B52 bomber carries 30 tonnes of bombs -needs three semi trailers to load it up with its bombload...) from Guam to drop their live payload from 5 kilometres high on Delamare bombing range near Katherine NT and live fire exercises involving many Abrams tanks rumbling across the landscape at Bradshaw tank range (surrounded by Bradshaw national park south of Darwin, target practising on country against the wishes of the senior Aboriginal elders, custodians of that country...).

These military exercises and their coordination in both states will be beamed live via satellite from tiny cameras on the tanks, bombers,landing craft, army commanders's lapels etc to the coordinating War Room at Newcastle where the US and Australian generals will call the shots of what is fired next. Son of Star Wars has arrived in Australia!

I don't know how you feel about that, but I am still disgusted that Australia supports the US so sycophantically in this bullshit War on Terror. Our unholy crusade at the latest count had 653,000 innocent people in Iraq killed-even if its half this number comprehensively and methodically counted number, its still a national and immoral disgrace that we have lent our name and support to such a huge number of innocent people murdered in our nation's name.

Next year's Talisman Sabre exercises are a con for blatant continuing militarism of a similar vein post Afghanistan and Iraq. We are now about to pollute our own most pristine areas, far away from the centres of population by letting the US military test their latest weapons here.

There are big plans by British Aerospace and the other arms manufacturers to quietly turn the depressed Rockhampton area into a bigarms manufacturing industrial estate. So not only will we export our soldiers who are the best there is to adventurist wars overseas, we are about to see an explosion in Australia manufacturing and exporting weapons of war.

Not particularly drawn to military phrases, we have to 'draw a line in the sand' and say when 'enough is enough'. It's time my friends, to stop this madness and our complicity in it.

With a view to oppose these exercises, a group of people from around Australia with peace activist credentials had a phone link up yesterday and spoke for an hour about our willingness to combine forces and oppose these exercises. We will link with activist residents of Shoalwater Bay (Yeppoon and Byfield) that we made contact with last year during Talisman Sabre 2005.

We plan to put on a big concert at Yeppoon and have people come from all over Australia to take part in that concert and choose, if they wish, to be part of non violent actions to oppose the war and Australia's involvement in such wars.

Through my contact with musicians like Paul Kelly, Midnight Oil (friends from University days), John Butler, Deborah Conway, Robyn Archer, Kev Carmody and actors Judy Davis, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, we intend to put on a big concert which will spill into the evening with relevant films and speakers to raise awareness of just what Australia has signed up for with this new secret treaty then Defence Minister Robert Hill and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer signed with Rumsfeld and Powell back in July 2004. It is that secret treaty which is allowing the Americans to come here and do what they want -without so much as an environmental impact study being done before or after the exercises.

We need people in communities right along the eastern seaboard to be actively involved in this campaign to build awareness amongst your local communities and to take on the role of being local coordinators as the campaign builds over the next six months, to help with the logistics of organising people to come by bus, peace train, cars, planes to be there in June for that concert and weekend leading into week of actions. Some people with work or other commitments will only be able to come for a few days, perhaps the weekend. No matter. We have to send a BIG message to the rest of our apathetic and many indifferent Australians and the government that this is not on any more.

Please look at this website and subscribe to it to keep generally informed of what is happening, how to link up people in your local community if you want to help make this peace convergence a BIG event.

Iraqi refugees

The situation of refugees escaping the Iraq disaster is becoming clearer. The Forced Migration Current Awareness Blog links to several information sources. It is a bleak picture, which will continue to deteriorate.

At some stage Australia will be looking at a major influx of these refugees as part compensation for our culpability in prosecuting this illegal war. All of the grand rhetoric about bringing democracy and freedom to the Iraqi people will be exposed for the cant and hypocrisy it truly is. Of course the main perpetrators will be in retirement by this stage, but their role will be up in neon lights, helped along by those who have documented this egregious episode in international affairs.

On 16 January campaign group Human Rights Watch called upon the Bush administration to share the responsibility of protecting up to two million civilians fleeing war-stricken Iraq. The United States government should significantly increase the number of Iraqi refugees it will resettle this year and "contribute quickly and generously" to the UN refugee agency’s appeal for financial assistance, said HWR. The Howard Government should be required to shoulder some of this burden.

Click here to access the HRW World Report 2007.

Bleak in The Australian

Saturday, January 13, 2007

How Aid Can Work

A critical area of concern in our era of neocon fanatics on both sides of the North-South divide, of unilateralism and of rampant individualism is the diminishing role of aid in relations between rich and poor countries.

The charity model of aid, even dressed up in new clothes by the poverty relief 'illumanati' like Geldof and Bono, is obsolete. A more equitable distribution of the planet's resources is a survival mechanism that world leaders need to activate urgently. The real terrorism is a global polity built on assumptions that will see countless millions of people fall further into extreme poverty.

The economist Jeffrey D. Sachs has written extensively on "How Aid Can Work". He recently published an opinion piece in the New York Review of Books. I recommend this be read by anyone interested in exploring sustainable solutions as an alternative to the current menu of 'quick- fix' schemes and economic militarism. Though written for an American audience, the following is just as applicable to the Australian approach to aid:

"In a very different era, President John Kennedy declared

to those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

It is difficult to imagine President Bush making a similar pledge today, but he is far from alone in Washington. The idea that the US should commit its best efforts to help the world's poor is an idea shared by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jimmy Carter, but it has been almost nowhere to be found in our capital. American philanthropists and nonprofit groups have stepped forward while our government has largely disappeared from the scene.

There are various reasons for this retreat. Most importantly, our policymakers in both parties simply have not attached much importance to this "soft" stuff, although their "hard" stuff is surely not working and the lack of aid is contributing to a cascade of instability and security threats in impoverished countries such as Somalia. We are spending $550 billion per year on the military, against just $4 billion for Africa. Our African aid, incredibly, is less than three days of Pentagon spending, a mere $13 per American per year, and the equivalent of just 3 cents per $100 of US national income! The neglect has been bipartisan. The Clinton administration allowed aid to Africa to languish at less than $2 billion per year throughout the 1990s.

A second reason for the retreat is the widespread belief that aid is simply wasted, money down the rat hole. That has surely been true of some aid, such as the "reconstruction" funding for Iraq and the cold war–era payouts to thugs such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. But these notorious cases obscure the critical fact that development assistance based on proven technologies and directed at measurable and practical needs—increased food production, disease control, safe water and sanitation, schoolrooms and clinics, roads, power grids, Internet connectivity, and the like—has a distinguished record of success.

The successful record of well-targeted aid is grudgingly acknowledged even by a prominent academic critic of aid, Professor Bill Easterly. Buried in his "Bah, Humbug" attack on foreign aid, The White Man's Burden,* Mr. Easterly allows on page 176 that

foreign aid likely contributed to some notable successes on a global scale, such as dramatic improvement in health and education indicators in poor countries. Life expectancy in the typical poor country has risen from forty-eight years to sixty-eight years over the past four decades. Forty years ago, 131 out of every 1,000 babies born in poor countries died be-fore reaching their first birthday. Today, 36 out of every 1,000 babies die before their first birthday.

Two hundred pages later Mr. Easterly writes that we should

put the focus back where it belongs: get the poorest people in the world such obvious goods as the vaccines, the antibiotics, the food supplements, the improved seeds, the fertilizer, the roads, the boreholes, the water pipes, the textbooks, and the nurses. This is not making the poor dependent on handouts; it is giving the poorest people the health, nutrition, education, and other inputs that raise the payoff to their own efforts to better their lives.

These things could indeed be done, if American officials weren't so consistently neglectful of development issues and with many too cynical to learn about the constructive uses of development assistance. They would learn that just as American subsidies of fertilizers and high-yield seed varieties for India in the late 1960s helped create a "Green Revolution" that set that vast country on a path out of famine and on to long-term development, similar support for high-yield seeds, fertilizer, and small-scale water technologies for Africa could lift that continent out of its current hunger-disease-poverty trap. They would discover that the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations have put up $150 million in the new Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to support the development and uptake of high-yield seed varieties there, an effort that the US government should now join and help carry out throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

They would also discover that the American Red Cross has learned— and successfully demonstrated—how to mass-distribute antimalaria bed nets to impoverished rural populations in Africa, with such success and at such low cost that the prospect of protecting all of Africa's children from that mass killer is now actually within reach. Yet they'd also learn that the Red Cross lacks the requisite funding to provide bed nets to all who need them. They would learn that a significant number of other crippling and killing diseases, including African river blindness, schistosomiasis, trauchoma, lymphatic filariasis, hookworm, ascariasis, and trichuriasis, could be brought under control for well under $2 per American citizen per year, and perhaps just $1 per American citizen!

They would note, moreover, that the number of HIV-infected Africans on donor-supported antiretroviral therapy has climbed from zero in 2000 to 800,000 at the end of 2005, and likely to well over one million today. They would learn that small amounts of funding to help countries send children to school have proved successful in a number of African countries, so much so that the continent-wide goal of universal attendance in primary education is utterly within reach if financial support is provided.

As chairman of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health of the World Health Organization (2000– 2001) and director of the UN Millennium Project (2002–2006), I have led efforts that have canvassed the world's leading practitioners in disease control, food production, infrastructure development, water and sanitation, Internet connectivity, and the like, to identify practical, proven, low-cost, and scalable strategies for the world's poorest people such as those mentioned above.

Such life-saving and poverty-reducing measures raise the productivity of the poor so that they can earn and invest their way out of extreme poverty, and these measures do so at an amazingly low cost. To extend these proven technologies throughout the poorest parts of Africa would require around $75 billion per year from all donors, of which the US share would be around $30 billion per year, or roughly 25 cents per every $100 of US national income.

When we overlook the success that is possible, we become our own worst enemies. We stand by as millions die each year because they are too poor to stay alive. The inattention and neglect of our policy leaders lull us to believe casually that nothing more can be done. Meanwhile we spend hundreds of billions of dollars per year on military interventions doomed to fail, overlooking the fact that a small fraction of that money, if it were directed at development approaches, could save millions of lives and set entire regions on a path of economic growth. It is no wonder that global attitudes toward America have reached the lowest ebb in history. It is time for a new approach."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Anti-terror laws: human rights under threat

AI updates the state of play in Australia:

"The Australian Government has responded to the threat of terrorism by introducing laws that undermine the human rights of Australians. The new laws create offences relating to terrorist activity but do not adequately define many of the activities they are supposed to prohibit.

They compromise long-standing protections in the Australian legal system, including the right to silence, the right to a public hearing and the right to choose a lawyer. We recommend an independent review of Australia’s anti-terror laws by the end of 2008 to bring them into line with international human rights standards. Alternatively, the laws should be repealed.

* Write to your Member of Parliament calling for an independent review of Australia's anti-terror laws"

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hewson tells it like it is about PM Howard...sort of!

I am not a great admirer of the former leader of the Opposition, but of late he has made some pithy forays into the parlous state of the Liberal Party, federally and in NSW.

His current critique of the Howard years lets little John off lightly in my book, but then I witnessed some of his government's asylum seeker and aid strategies at close quarters. 'Low rent' does'nt quite get to the nub of it - time will see forensic analysis of some of the more appalling episodes.

So, from my point of view, Hewson has laid into Howard with a feather duster. Hewson is strong on the abject failure to protect the rights of Hicks, and on the latter's continuous demonisation by Howard et al for political purposes.

He is spot on when it comes to the lack of rigour shown by journalists (I use this term loosely) in holding Howard to account. Too many scribes and hacks have either been in thrall to Howard's abuse of power and/or the comfortable incomes they earn doing the bidding of their media bosses. Some of the dissembling, hand wringing interviews I've seen Howard get away with beggar belief in a polity that once prided itself on a robust, independent fourth estate.

Hewson lets Howard off lightly on 'conservatism' and 'not challenging the status quo'. Howard has tapped into a neo-conservative agenda formulated in Bush's America that sees free marketeer ideologues as having won all the intellectual debates on society, the economy and who should run the world (corporate airheads rule ok?). Thus you get unilateralism, rampant abuse of civil rights, a phony 'war on terror' to engender fear and loathing, trashing of key areas of the rule of law, manipulation of aid to bully and bribe smaller countries, 'flexible' industrial relations laws, 'casualisation' of the workforce, 'commodification' of human beings, grubby deals with countries that suppress human rights systematically whilst providing trade concessions, a new lexicon to encompass the phenomena emerging from this brave new world of wanting and getting on demand, and so it goes ...

Despair avoidance requires one to live in hope that a revitalized Labor Party and a fourth estate that has rediscovered its collective backbone will not let Howard escape public accountability yet again in this election year.

Petty in The Age

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hussein execution displays " the new government of Iraq as bullying thugs"

Last night the 7.30 report ran an interview with John Burns, chief Iraq correspondent for the New York Times, about the impact of the Hussein execution. If this is what the coalition of the willing thinks is acceptable behaviour by the new "democratic" government of Iraq, their collective stance on defending human rights and the rule of law has sunk lower than even I had imagined.

The execution will haunt the authorities responsible in many ways yet to be revealed. The state sanctioned killing of this condemned tyrant will transform him into a martyr in the eyes of many in the Islamic world. It appeared as "winners" exacting a cruel and public revenge, rather than the application of due process.

This disgusting episode does not bode well for the immediate future of Iraq and reflects poorly on the world leaders who sanctioned the invasion and occupation.

The images of the hanging that have caused the uproar can be found by following this link.